Friday A/V Club

The Great Opium Bonfire of 1914

Friday A/V Club: That time the authorities set 10,000 packages of opium, morphine, and cocaine on fire in San Francisco's Marshall Square



"Ten thousand packages of morphia, opium, and cocaine and several hundred pipes, centuries old, beautifully carved, and ornamented with gold and jewels were made into a funeral pyre at San Francisco," Technical World reported. It was 1914, and the war on opiates was still young. To demonstrate its commitment to the fight—and, the magazine adds, "as a warning to the Chinese and others engaged in the smuggling of opium and morphine into this country"—the State Board of Pharmacy was publicly burning the contraband.

It seems to me that this sort of public bonfire runs the risk of getting a bunch of spectators high, but I am not an expert on the ideal conditions for inhaling opium fumes. In any event, if a chunk of the city did enter a narcotic haze that day, Technical World failed to note it. It did mention that the mayor suddenly suggested, right before the burn was to begin, "that it would be well to save the oldest and most elaborately decorated pipes and present them to the Golden Gate Museum. His suggestion was acted upon, and several pipes, known to be more than two hundred years old, were rescued." Kind of odd not to think of that until the last minute, but I suppose it's better than thinking of it two days later.

The San Francisco Chronicle informs us that the contraband on display was linked to approximately 1,200 drug convictions. With numbers like that, this crackdown would clearly be a cakewalk. Here's one last quote from Technical World's 1914 dispatch: "All signs indicate that the illicit traffic will ultimately be stamped out in the West."

You can watch the big burn here:

(This is the 200th edition of the Friday A/V Club! To check out the past installments, go here.)