Chasing the mechanical dragon

A coin operated ‘opium den‘, found in the Musée Mécanique antique mechanical arcade on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

For only 25 cents you can see some rather glassy-eyed Chinese gentlemen, a door which reveals a skeleton, and a dragon that appears through the window.

It’s no coincidence that this somewhat eccentric piece of carnivalia originates in San Francisco, as it was the first place in America to ban smoking opium.

The city passed the ‘Opium Den Ordinance’ in 1875, timed to take advantage of the growing anti-Asian sentiment that had grown during the gold rush in which many immigrants from China had settled in the area.

The episode was perhaps the first modern drug scare, with moral panic making the papers and opium being blamed for a whole range of social ills, well beyond its actual impact.

These days, the last echoes of the turn of the century scare can be mechanically animated for anyone with a quarter and a curious mind.

Link to the Musée Mécanique website (thanks @aleksk!)

One Comment

  1. michael
    Posted August 5, 2010 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    that’s really funny you posted this. i saw this machine the other week as we were walking through the musee mechanique and i even took a picture of it because it was so darn old and racist.


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