Lot 46 of 382:
1915 Photo of notorious Chinatown inter-racial couple  

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Lot closed - unsold
$200 - $300

1915 photograph of notorious inter-racial couple in San Francisco Chinatown


San Francisco




Photograph on verso of post card, 3½ x 5½",  of a Chinese man and Caucasian woman. Stamped in upper left corner, Panama Pacific Exposition 1915, with ink note “Wedding Gown”, and inscribed in ink on verso “Mr. and Mrs. Wing Sun Yue, dug from the Ruins, 535 Grant Ave, San Francisco”

Period photo of the most notorious inter-racial couple of San Francisco after the Earthquake: The 50 year-old “angel of Chinatown”, Ella May Clemmons and her common law husband, Wong Sun Yue

Clemmons (who falsely suggested a relation to Mark Twain) became an eccentric missionary in San Francisco Chinatown after divorce from her second husband, a rich East Bay grower, in the 1890s. She spent eight years working out of a Chinatown shanty, getting reluctant locals inoculated against Bubonic plague and starting a Catholic Sunday school for Chinese children.  After the 1906 earthquake and fire, while building a wooden refugee house among the debris, she fell in love with Chinese laborer Wong Sun Yue, an opium addict who married her in a Chinese ceremony, as inter-racial marriage was then illegal in California. Together they opened a curio shop on Grant Avenue, where they sold tourists odd ‘Relics Dug from the Rubble’, including photographic postcards such as this which Ella May autographed, her earlier cards adding the note that she was the sister of Katharine Gould, a former stage actress (and onetime bareback rider for her aged lover, Buffalo Bill Cody) who had married and divorced one of the richest men in the world, the son of “robber baron” Jay Gould. Ella May, while offering $1 tours of Chinatown, delighted tourists with the romantic tale of her own unconventional marriage until Wong Sun announced that he already had a wife in China and returned to the old country in 1922, leaving Ella May to become an aging Chinatown legend - until she died, under suspicious circumstances, in 1935, her fourth (common law) husband being suspected of her murder.

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Very good.

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