Thursday, March 17, 2011

I'm not who I say I am

Now with authentic yellow teeth!
(Tetracycline, not tobacco, is to blame …)

In time for St. Patrick's Day, I'm ready to reveal that Shawn Turner is an alias, a ruse, a cover. I'm really Michael Kearney, a 185-year-old (or 184? I'm starting to forget) dry-goods clerk from Kilfenora, County Clare, Ireland, by way of Boston and a long boat ride. Don't ask.

When I'm not drawing pictures as this Turner fella (which was harder to learn than I thought), I haunt my adopted home, the original center of Sacramento. A luckless layabout I am (which is to say, not much of a stretch in portraying Shawn Turner), spending my days escaping my boss Mrs. Polhemus and her ceaseless chores by spiriting unsuspecting Old Sacramento visitors through my old haunts in the city's underground.

The Old Sacramento Underground is a misnomer, but the truth more than makes up for it. It's not so much underground as it is where the city of Sacramento used to be, before the stubborn landed gentry literally lifted the city — buildings, streets and all — out of the alarmingly regular floodwaters of the Sacramento and American rivers. (Who knew that if you built a city right on the low bank of the state's major river, and around the corner from a wild mountain river, that the rivers would overflow their banks during heavy winter rains? Quite a surprise, that.) It was lift the city or move, and the Powers that Were were not about to abandon the nexus of unprecedented trade that resulted from the 1849 gold rush, and continued as the Big Four built a railroad to cross the Sierra. (Fun-like fact: "gold rush" was not applied to the gold rush until years after it took place.)

The visits underground resume in April, and shortly after, the tours will include a vast new "lost" portion of the original city as it looked when miners and speculators first landed these shores and unwisely chose this spot for a city.

Stop by. See the city as few have; few as old as we, anyway. Quite a few sesquicentenarians tour guides, spry for their age, can a spin some tales for you, of flood and fire and cholera and various and sundry disreputable acts. And every word of it true, or I'm not Shawn Turner … that is, Michael Kearney.

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