February 17, 1863: San Francisco
Chinese New Year’s….lasts two weeks, but the police grant them the privilege of firing firecrackers only three days. I do not know the reason for their burning so many firecrackers, but I believe it has some religious significance. I thought I had seen firecrackers before, but became convinced that I had not. All day [today] there was a continuous roar of firecrackers. About sunset I strayed through the main Chinese street, where the wealthier merchants live and have their places of business. From the roofs of the houses the “crackers” were in progress. At home we see Chinese crackers only in small packs about four inches square and one inch thick, the crackers all of a size and red. Not so here; they have not only these small packs, but immense ones, containing vastly more. I have seen them over a foot long, with partly small and partly large crackers—the latter yellow and large and thick as a stout man’s thumb, exploding with a noise like a musket. Most of the crackers are in bunches about three times as large as those in vogue among boys at home about July 4.
But to get back to my story—one scene will describe many. On the top of a store is a crowd of twenty or thirty men (Chinese)—packs of crackers are lighted, hurled in the air, and allowed to fall in the street. A part of the time twelve men are lighting and throwing out the packs—a hundred crackers in explosion at each instant, making a continuous roar that can be heard over the whole city. As twilight comes on, the night becomes more picturesque. The roar, not only of this place, but of a hundred other places in the city, the dense volume of smoke that rises from the burning powder, the crowds of Chinese in the streets below—all conspire to produce a grand effect. Some of the wealthier houses spend as high as $600 for firecrackers alone.