Cannibal Eliot

Cannibal Eliot and the Lost Histories of San Francisco

By Hilton Obenzinger

San Francisco:
Mercury House, 1993
Paperback: $12.95

ISBN: 1-56279-047-1

cannibalIn a masterful interweaving of historical truths and fiction, Cannibal Eliot and the Lost Histories of San Francisco, vividly captures San Francisco through “found” historical documents – diaries, memoirs, interviews, and other first-hand accounts – in a way no ordinary historical text can. From a Spanish sergeant’s diary entry dating from 1776 to the story of San Francisco’s first murder trial in 1828, from a fly-on-the-wall recounting of the rough-and-tumble gold rush era to a bizarre report of looting and romance amid rubble in the Great Earthquake of 1906, Obenzinger creates literary art through historical insight.

Reading Obenzinger’s fictional history is like discovering San Francisco’s past for the first time – but the stories are also about America and the emergence of its western identity. We meet the city’s most colorful characters, both real and imagined. None among them is more remarkable than Cannibal Eliot, an educated New Englander, who, after having been captured on the island of Hatutu by cannibals, was “branded with tattoos crossing his eyes like some barbaric mask.”

Purported to be collected from the archives of Frances Fuller Victor, a disgruntled researcher for historian H. H. Bancroft, the pieces stand on their own as wonderful glimpses into San Frnacisco’s lurid underside; taken as a whole, they comprise a fascinating and fantastic glimpse of the city’s hidden history.

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