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Muni Poetry - Elegy for O’Shaughnessy

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This article is part of a poetry series dedicated to every Muni route in San Francisco. You can find the poet, Mc "Mack" Allen, on twitter at @that_mc.

Elegy for O’Shaughnessy

“M.M. O’Shaughnessy, Job Ended, Dies” San Francisco Call-Bulletin October 12, 1934

The Chief–
the engineer
that drowned
Hetch Hetchy
& so watered
this thirsty City
lighted street lamps
tunneled Stockton
& Twin Peaks
& Mile Rock
The Chief:
proponent of
necessary bonds
immune to
bureaucratic inertia
against a
hesitant electorate
& resistant to
corporate greed–
The Chief
endured as
grist between
upper and nether
author who
measured hills
mastered grades
manifested Muni’s
first-class service
on a five cent fare
along this
People’s Railway.

Note from the poet: 

This original subject of this poem was to be the 44 O’Shaughnessy, a bus route which begins in Bayview and heads west through Glen Park, then north through Twin Peaks, Golden Gate Park and ends in the Richmond. However, this poem ended up as a tribute to its namesake, Michael O’Shaughnessy, with nothing whatsoever to do with the 44. I will revisit the bus route in another poem.

O’Shaughnessy, an Irish immigrant and civil engineer, was recruited by Mayor James Rolph to develop the necessary infrastructure for San Francisco as it grew out of the ashes of the great Earthquake and Fire. He left his lucrative private business to pursue a practical yet remarkable series of projects including the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and the development of a high-quality transit infrastructure, owned by the public and operated by the municipal government, the first of its kind in the nation: the Muni we know and love. 

He was known to the press and the public as The Chief, and was the very embodiment of the slogan “The City that Knows How.” Master of not only the technical requirements posed by civil engineering challenges, he also knew how to navigate the treacherous landscape of political and public opinion to push through ambitious and innovative projects.

Learn more about O’Shaughnessy here, and here, or in The People’s Railway by Anthony Perles, or read this excellent essay he published in the 1921 National Municipal Review, titled Muni Operation an Unqualified Success.


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