San Francisco's Great Dickens Christmas Fair Review - a fun holiday tradition since 1970

Photography by Greg Autry

All Images Copyright Protected.

 

Mystical Memories of the Fair

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair is held annually from Thanksgiving until Christmas. It started down at the Piers in San Francisco in the early 1970's, and moved to the Cow Palace ( in Daly City) about 10 years ago.   I describe the Dickens Fair as what I'd imagine a perfect Christmas to be, in Old London Town.

 

 

 

 

I only found out about it a couple of years ago, from my wife Sandy (who is from San Jose).  Last year I did my first article for Splash, about the Dickens Fair. In it I talked about the History and the start of the Fair by the Patterson Family (whom also started the Original Renaissance Faires).  This year  I wanted to speak with the performer, vendors,  and folks who are part of the Fair daily.

 

 

First, you must allow your imagination complete reign. Imagine yourself back in London, and Mr. Charles Dickensis the sole person speaking out, about the condition of the times.  What I find so refreshing and so wonderful about today's Fair is the authenticity of everyone in character. Especially the folks who come every year,  many of whom  dress in costume to truly immerse themselves in the spirit of the holidays and the spirit of the Fair.

 

Robert Young as Charles Dickens

 

You'll find all the characters from Mr. Dickens books, they are all around the City. And just as old London might have been there are glorious shops with something for all. There are Pubs to imbibe, and theatres where you can laugh to your heart's content, or perhaps take a peek at a pretty lass or two.  A Northern California tradition, this is where and when the Holidays truly start.

 

Mr Dickens opens the Fair

 

This year I wanted the inside scoop and was fortunate enough to Interview some very special people.  At the Adventures Club I interviewed Mr. Charles Dickens, played for the past 25 years by actor Robert Young. Young was asked to play Mr. Dickens by founding member Phyllis Patterson no less.  Phyllis Patterson passed away in May and this year's Fair is a special tribute to her.  ` Mr. Dickens' imparted to me that the Fair today is a Living History, and that his literary works were indeed social critique of his times.  His critique changed the social fabric of London;  the Politics, Business and Commerce, and Society itself.  And throughout the Fair today you will see Characters and reenactments from Dickens works.  Phyllis Patterson was always a lover, and a teacher, of History.

 

The Bohemian Bar

 

I was allowed backstage into the dressing rooms to meet  Ms. Diana Young, long time performer and now the Director of the French Postcard Review. Truly one of the most hush-hush shows at the Fair, and one of the biggest draws.  The "Naughty" aspect is not to be mentioned to anyone. So, "Shhh" !  

 

Mary the Maid / Cheyenne Danner, Mrs Letitia Everard / Cynthia Howell, Mr Horation Everard / Will Wood

 

Diana recounted to me how back in the late 70s the Fair was held down at the Pier's and ran till late in the evening.  The French Postcard show was actually started  by the performers themselves, for other performers.

Mary the Maid / Cheyenne Danner The Saucy French Postcards Tableaux Review

 

Today the show is referred to as the `Saucy French Postcard Tableaux Review' and indeed is still quite "Naughty". You must be 18 to get-in, and you must get there when the doors open to get tickets, as it sells out daily, very quickly.  I highly recommend it and note that I was not allowed to take photos during the show. I was delightfully allowed this year to do backstage  Portraits of "Mr. Horatio and Mrs. Letitia Everard", played by Actors Will Wood and Cynthia Howell respectively,  and "Mary" the "Naughty Maid" played by Cheyenne Danner 

Mrs Letitia Everard / Cynthia Howell

  

 

I also had a little surprise myself when my wife's Son Alex tapped me on the shoulder. Alex had come to the Fair with his beautiful  Wife Cheryl, and their "little-one" Arlo (Sandy's Grandson). They were visiting the Fair for the first time.  They live in San Jose, but actually read my Splash Article about the Fair last year and decided to come see for themselves.  Cheryl  was in love with all the costumes and already planning her return next year in full Victorian ensemble, along with Arlo. Alex had more pressing matters to be concerned with, and was searching diligently for the Absinthe Bar.  I led them to The Bohemian Bar in Fagin's Alley,  where Manager Rachel holds sway over her rowdy crew.

Arlo & Cheryl

Cheryl

Absinthe Bar Crew

The Bohemian Absinthe Bar

 

 Last I saw them Alex was in deep conversation with the bartender about all the intricacies of distilling the licorice flavored drink. And Cheryl was on her way to the Dark Garden, , to size up a `wenchy' Corset for next year.  Autumn Adamme is the proprietress of the San Francisco Boutique where only the finest of corsetry is produced. The Dark Garden host one of the favorite vendors "booths" at the Fair, with live models posing in Christmas window displays of "Oh-La-la"  corsets and accoutrements . 

Autumn Adamme / Dark Garden Corsets

Dark Garden Corsets

Saucy Mavens of the Dark Garden

 

Then I was off to Mad Sal's Dockside Ale House, in Ale house Alley, to meet the infamous Mad Sal herself.  Sal's is known as shockingly scandalous and not recommended for children. I persisted anyway.   I met Mad Sal, Laura Gregory, and was immediately taken aside, so as to `ave a lil privecy~'  After all, down by the docks `there be all sorts of riff-raff'. There are music reviews, Le CanCan Bijou Dancers, and watch out for the Ladies of the Evening, Sal's `Dockside Roses'. There be plenty of beautiful buxom ladies strutting about as well. Enough for anyone interested to feast  eyes upon.   Mad Sal told me herself, she made a "pretty penny" from her "Dockside Roses".    Mad Sal even invited me back for Church, on Sunday mornings. 

 

Adam & Mad Sal / Laura Gregory

Bet / Frances Lopez & Nancy / Mary Anne butler

Mad Sals

Le CanCan Bijou Dancers

There is so much entertainment, so much food, and so much drink, let us not forget that there are some wonderful  "Booths" to buy everything imaginable for all your Christmas needs.  Mind you, all the shops at the Dickens Fair are in keeping with its Victorian theme. You can finds clothes, candles, perfumes, and books. Of my favorites were the violin Shop, Fiddles 'N' Such where Kristina Dutton surprised me with a private little concerto.

Kristina Dutton FIDDLES N SUCH

 

Another was artist Rebecca Love. Rebecca is a Ceramic Paintress and Sculptor, an Artist who does Ceramic Mask, and Body Castings, among so much more.  I actually met Rebecca many years ago (oh, not too many !), at the Renaissance Faires.  Rebecca has done castings of Sandy's face, and body.  Which I proudly have hanging at home.

Mask by Rebecca love

Rebecca Love

 

Finally I want to thank Ms. Cat Taylor, the Entertainment Director, who was so gracious in making sure I got whatever I needed. I met Cat at the Three Cripples Ale House, as the Queen herself was making her procession through town.   I felt very special  being able to meet and talk with so many people and to get the real inside scoop about the Dickens Fair, to share here in Splash Magazine, with all my readers. 

 

Read more of my Articles here in Splash Magazine, and check out Greg Autry Art & Photo, on my Facebook Page. My commercial Photography can be seen at my Website.  I do appreciate all your comments and feedback, as well as any suggestions for Events to cover for Splash Magazine, relating to Art and Fashion.  

 

Lastly I remind "Ye" that the Christmas tree was introduced to the Christmas Spirit by Prince Albert himself. Christmas is a time to cherish family, friends, and loved ones, and share in the charity of love with all people throughout the world.  Blessings All.      Greg

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