Lost To The World For Thirty Years - a 1901 Newspaper Article
Collected by Joe Thompson

This article, from The San Francisco Call, Sunday, 11-August-1901, tells the story of Agglestein Castro, who returned to San Francisco after 30 years in San Quentin Prison. Agglestein seemed to be a strange name for a Castro, so I assumed his name was really Agustín. I assume the writer didn't care enough about a Hispanic person to check the spelling of his name.

The San Diego Historical Society's Journal of San Diego History (Fall, 2001) has an article about Agustín Castro, who pleaded guilty to second degree murder in 1872 on the advice of counsel and wound up spending almost thirty years in prison: The Challenge Saloon Murder in San Diego, 1872: Augustin Castro's Fight for Clemency By Clare V. McKanna, Jr.

Lost To The World For Thirty Years

How San Francisco, With Its Busy
Life and Modern Inventions, Seems
to a Man Who Has Been in San
Quentin Half an Ordinary Lifetime

"ARE those the automobiles you read about? Are they the horseless carriages? They are a wonder, sure."

As a matter of fact they were cable cars standing in line at the foot of Market street, ready to march at the signal, propelled by a power unseen. But to Agglestein Castro cable cars were as new and unknown a thing as automobiles.

Automobile? "Are those the automobiles?" October, 2008 Picture of the Month.

For he has been shut up for thirty long years, shut up within San Quentin walls, and he is beginning to find that a good many things have happened in those thirty years.

Steam has learned tricks that dazzle him.

Electricity has grown up, stepped out of short frocks as it were, since he saw the last of her.

She has learned to carry cars over the San Francisco hills that he once looked upon as an invitation for alpenstocks. She has learned to carry your voice for hundreds of miles over a wire, and your words even without a wire.

She has grown as clever as the youngster that you send away to college.

Agglestein Castro came to San Francisco the other day tor the first time in thirty years and he tried to say the appropriate thing. He couldn't.

Thirty years ago he shot a man. That is how it came about that San Quentin got hold of him. He doesn't remember to this day that he did it; but after the mescal began to work off they told him that a saioon keeper was dead by the work of his six ehooter in his own drunken hand.

Agglestein Castro is a native of San Francisco whose name dates back to the days when fandagos and bear hunting were more important to this coast than shipping and railroading. He counted among his friends those who bore such names as Noe, Bernal, De Haro and Vallejo. The young men of these families were his fellows on the bear lassoing expeditions: they were his rivals at the dance. Most of them are dead and the rest have forgotten him.

"That's where I was born, fifty years ago," he said, pointing to the summit of Telegraph Hill. There where the old castle stands is the spot which, together with acres and acres more of land, belonged to the Castro estate.

The father was a wealthy man. He. together with two or three other Mexicans, owned over $100,000,000 worth of land in the State. The others died poor, but Agglestein says that his father buried his money somewhere on Telegraph Hill.

He never told anybody the spot, however, so it is no better to be his rightful heir than to be anybody else with a spade on that hill. The father died when Agglestein was still a young man; he was thrown upon his own resources, and he took his mother and his sister and brother to San Diego. There he attempted to support the family on his income from sheep shearing, while his mother made tamales and his sister Querita took in sewing.

The next thing he did was to fall in love, then to be jilted, to take to drink, to get very drunk, to shoot a man, and to be shut up for life in San Quentin. Having been an ideal prisoner, he is now at the end of thirty years out on parole, and if he lets liquor alone he will have his pardon from the Governor. He is now working for Mr. Kohn at San Anselmo, where he was taken directly from prison, and it was only the other day that he made his first visit to town.

"This ferry-beat goes by a different route from what it did when I came across here the last time," he said. "I was going in the other direction," he added.

Thirty years ago, when he crossed in the other direction, he was a young man of 20. Now, although only 50 in years, he is 70 in feeling. He is an old, bent man. He is Rip Van Winkle returned, and not even the dogs know him.

"There wasn't any Tiburon then, and the boat made a long trip in a roundabout fashion and wound up at Point San Quentin." he went on.

"That's the way they took me. Up by boat -- there wasn't any other way to go to San Francisco from the south then. I hear now there's a train that brings you up here -- two roads, aren't there? But in those days a steamer was the only means.

"After we landed at San Francisco we took the old ferry. Well, if we haven't stopped already! and it used to.take the most part of the day to cross."

He was surprised at being already on this side of the water, and he was thoroughly dazed at what he saw when he left the boat. The Ferry building stretched before him. mazelike, with its complex exits and entrances and corrals.

"Why, it used to be a kind of a shed," he said.

When he came out on the town side of it he wanted to stand back and "size it up." and had started to do so when he caught sight of the cable cars which he took for automobiles.

"They are a wonder, sure," he repeated. When they were explained to' him he gazed in rapt admiration at the "no-pushee-no-pullee." He was a little suspicious of them, for all that. He mounted a car with a firm grip on the rod and he sat gingerly in his seat, as if he expected the thing to run away and wanted to be prepared to jump.

giant buildings "The giant buildings bewildered him."

Along Market street he stared stupidly, like a dumb animal. The giant buildings were strange to him: the Intricacies of street cars bewildered him: the throngs of people on the streets -- driving, walking, wheeling -- all confused him.

The old one-story buildings that he had known were replaced by many story office buildings, stores, hotels. Where St. Ignatius Church had been a landmark, at the foot of Powell street, stores now rose and filled the land to the last inch. Where the old buildings had gradually disappeared and had given way to vacant lots, all was now filled in. packed, built full Where empty land had lain in his day now rose the City Hall -- huge. Imposing, unwelcoming. "What's that stone woman and (??? - JT) to represent?" he asked as the statue caught his eye

The large buildings almost frightened him. "Won't they fall down when the next earthquake comes along?" he asked.

As he gradually became accustomed to the motion of the car he compared it with its predecessors.

"We used to ride about town in the old balloon car," he said, and grew reminiscent about the historic "balloon" that was afterward supplanted by the Larkin-street line.

"And then there was the old bobtail car," he went on. "It went out and out and out until it came to Valencia street and there it turned off. I used to go to Woodward's Gardens that way of a Sunday. How are the gardens now? Must have grown to be' pretty fine by this time."

Afterward, when he was taken to the scene of the Woodward's Gardens of his memory, he stood there in deep thought.

"Gee! Here's right about where the swings were," he reflected aloud. "Didn't Querita like to swing, though. I used to bring her here of a Sunday, now and then.

"And the camel. Now, if there" was anything on earth that little Juan liked, it was that camel. He'd rather ride it than be given a harp in paradise. I wonder if that camel's dead now, like all the rest of 'em.

I came out here a lot of Sundays to see balloon ascensions. That's when the crowd came. Pretty gay times, I tell you that. Pretty gay times."

He picked out the spot from which the balloon used to ascend, and the spot where the swings were hung and the spot where the gravity-impelled boat rode its circles.

"Well,'it's a shame to see it gone," he said.

And as he turned away: "It seems too bad that the Sunday crowd, hasn't any place to go now. They must have a dull time of a Sunday."

He was put on the first car for the park.

It was too big for him. He couldn't realize it some way, he said.

"We.'always thought-Woodward's Gardens was big enough for us in those days," he said. "And then there was the old Plaza. I suppose that's gone, too."

He was very much delighted to be told that it was still in use, and, later on, to be shown it in the same old place.

"But you might, think the Chinamen owned it now," he commented. "They do say'that Chinatown's grown a lot. In my day It was just beginning up on Dupont street, and there was such a little handful of the Chinese that they couldn't, protect themselves, and the boys on the streets used to josh them and pitch into them, too, sometimes."

He walked down Dupont street and saw the closely packed buildings. He followed into Grant avenue.

"Dupont street has been widened a lot since I last saw it," he said.

When he was told that the lower part of it had outgrown its old name and must now be called Grant avenue he disapproved.

"Dupont street was good enough in my day," he said.

Out at the Cliff he felt more at home than he did in town. The Cliff House is not the same building that he knew,'but it is the Cliff House for all that, and the same pleasure resort as ever. "But it seems queer to come here on a car," he said. "We used to drive out here by way of Tyler street."

Out at the Cliff "We used to drive out here by way of Tyler street."

It was the turn of somebody of this generation to question him then. Where in the world was Tyler street?

"Why, Tyler street -- "he couldn't see how Tyler street could have disappeared -- everybody must know Tyler street. For it was by this name that he remembered the principal driving avenue of the town -- Golden Gate avenue as we know it.

vessels "He stared at the vessels."

Returning to the water front, he stared at the vessels and ferry-boats, all so increased in numbers since he had seen them.

"Where's the old El Capitan?" he said; "and where's the Chindu Wan?"

They, too, had gone.

"I'd like to hear the calliope playing again," he" said; "the old calliope that used to cross every, afternoon on the Chindu Wan. There used to be a crowd of kids to listen to that."

The ferry system puzzled him.

"What's this talk of the broad gauge and, the narrow gauge?" he asked. "I never heard of more than one way to get to Oakland."

"It was the old El Capitan that used to take us over there," he went on to explain. "It ran between here and the Oakland wharf."

The mole is new to him.

"It's a big heap of dirt. It must have taken plenty long to build up. There was a good job for some fellow that didn't have cash."

His mind runs on hard times, for they are associated with his last recollections of San Francisco.

"And the trains?" he asked. "I suppose the trains run down the coast to San Jose just, as they used to?"

He was assured that they were just as they used to be.

"I'd like to have a look at them, just to see them coming in and going out again. I used to watch them a lot. Yes, It's a lazy man's trick to watch the trains, and I had a lazy streak in me. But when I worked, I worked. That's because I'm a Mexican."

When he was told that he might go to the station, he tried to lead the way. He did not leave the Market-street car at Third.

"Guess it's so long since you've been on a car that you don't remember to get off," his guide said.

"What do I want to get off for? Oh, you can't fool me now, even if this is my first day on cable cars. I know how to get to Market and Thirteenth streets Just as well as the next man."

"Third and Townsend" is a phrase that he never learned.

Back in the center of town and loitering along the streets he seemed suddenly to realize how he had been "rubbering." "I don't want to make you ashamed of me, because of my staring like an owl," he said. "So I'll keep my head down and turn my eyes up. I'm no farmer."

His first ride in a modern elevator threatened to be his last. A quick ride to the height of some dozen stories made him reel so that he was not sure of his balance for a quarter of an hour after he had left the "airship," as he called it.

A trip to the Chutes at night was what made him happiest. There were no sad associations to be recalled, but there were endless wonders to be seen.

He roared with laughter when the first boat shot the chutes.

"Something broke loose." he cried as the party slid over the water and when he was told that there had been no accident, that this was an amusement for amusement seekers, he only laughed again.

"I don't want any of that kind of fun," he said, only half-convinced.

Lion "The lion Wallace absorbed his attention."

The lion Wallace absorbed his attention for at least ten minutes. His roar seemed to startle the man. No wonder, when he has seen and heard only the monotonous noises of the prison for these thirty years.

Returning in the electric cars his wonder broke out afresh. Again he exclaimed that he "couldn't get it through his head how those wires were rigged to tow the cars along." Having boarded it, he got off just as it was starting in order to look under it and see how the wheels were "fixed."

As he was dragged up again to an outside seat he heaved a long sigh.

50 more years "I'd like to have fifty more years to live, for this is a new world."

"I'll tell you what," he said: "I'd like to have fifty more years to live, for this is a new world."

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Last updated 01-Nov-2007