Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon

J. M. Heinold, a German-born Philadelphian, first opened his saloon in the 1880s located at the foot of Webster Street in Oakland, California. The tiny structure he bought for $100 was originally built in 1883 as a bunkhouse for Oystermen out of remnants of an old whaling ship. Heinold with the help of a ship’s carpenter turned the structure into a pub. This pub’s name changed to “First and Last Chance” in the 1920s during prohibition. The pub’s central location near a ferry that ran between Oakland and Alameda made it literally the last chance to drink since the sale and consumption of alcohol was illegal in both these neighboring cities.

Jack London at the Saloon
Heinold's Saloon is now sometimes referred to as “Jack London’s Rendezvous” because the writer Jack London was inspired to write scenes for his novel’s The Call of the Wild and The Sea Wolf  while he visited the pub. One of saloon’s most unique features is its slanted floor. During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake some of the piles that the structure was built upon sank into the swampy ground. The original pub’s clock still adorns one wall—broken it stopped at exactly 5:18 during this earthquake.

In fact, everything in the saloon is original, except the chairs. The tables in the saloon were built using wood that came off the whaling ship. Heinold’s today is the last commercial structure in California that still uses its original gas lamps. A potbellied stove originally placed in the building in 1889 still warms the bar. The saloon's walls are covered in business cards and the hats of former patrons who left dollar bills attached to the wall so they would have money to pay for drinks on their next visit.

Considering the building has been in continuous use since it was first constructed it is not surprising that it has a resident ghost. The current owner, the manager and past and present employees all agree the structure has one spirit that remains. They all agree this ghost doesn’t scare them—in fact some rather enjoy his presence.

The saloon’s owner—Carol Brookman and one of her former employees saw a “fleeting shadow” shaped like a man in a back area of the bar. There is no window in this area that could have cast this shadow. Brookman on several occasions while working alone in the bar has heard loud footsteps. She stated that it seemed they were the footsteps of a man with a “spring in his step” wearing boots. When she has left her office to investigate no one was in the bar.

Brookman’s manager Joe Ferrazzano has had several encounters with this ghost—most often after the bar is closed and he is cleaning up. He states this entity likes to drop things. He has heard what sounded like an entire case of beer dropping just to find nothing amiss. One evening as he swept the floor a beer bottle cap dropped out of nowhere onto his clean floor. Another time J.M. "Johnny" Heinold’s cap fell off the wall and landed at his feet.

One night as Ferrazzano and his son where closing the bar they were startled to find the doors on the bar’s two refrigerators wide-open. These two units are embedded in the original pub’s iceboxes. Ferrazzano found this incident unusual for he believes that there was no way these two doors could have opened on their own—plus the fact that everyone is carefully trained to make sure these doors remain closed at all times.

Ferrazzano believes that the bar’s ghost is that of Johnny Heinold because he feels this ghost appears to enjoy beer. While Brookman believes it is most likely a spirit of a sailor that was probably shanghaied out of the back door of the pub—which leads directly to the old waterfront. She states that many sailors where kidnapped during the pub’s history in order to man ships nearby.

Today Heinold’s First and Last Saloon is still a popular hang out for locals. In 2000 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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