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Meredith Eliassen

The music and songs of the (California) Gold Rush in San Francisco reflected the sorrows and hard luck of residents who failed to find fortunes in California’s gold fields and faced mortality far from loved ones. The newspaper Alta California observed in 1851, “Birds of a feather flock together,” describing San Francisco as a miniature world where music reflected nearly “every country on the face of the earth.” A few short blocks from the Latin Quarter lay the heart of Chinatown. Streets reverberated with the bustling rhythms of landfill machinery used to reshape the geography of San Francisco’s waterfront and the transient movement of boardinghouse dwellers dodging firestorms, shanghaiers, and outbreaks of cholera....