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John Ralston

John Ralston is a third-generation San Franciscan, the great grandson of Henry Russell Ralston, a Scottish ironworker who arrived in San Francisco with his brother, the first John Ralston, around 1865, and who with the first John established the Ralston Iron Works on Howard Street about 1870.

The current John was born on May 10, 1942, and as it was just after the United States entered World War II there was a shortage of necessities, including taxicabs. No cab came to the family's Larkin Street address when John's mother went into labor, and John's uncle was called in the middle of the night to take his mother and panic-stricken father to St. Mary's hospital. John's uncle tore over in his vintage 1940 Buick, the party was hustled aboard, and the Buick tore off, but too late. Sixty-two years later, John basks in the satisfaction of knowing that while many San Franciscans boast of being born in such-and-such a neighborhood, he was born in several! Appropriately, May 10th was Mother's Day.

Like his father, uncle, aunt, and two older brothers, John attended the old Lowell on Hayes Street, and he majored in history at the University of California, Berkeley, with an emphasis on Russia and the Soviet Union. The circumstances of his birth having indelibly impressed upon John a love for and fascination with his native city, he began researching San Francisco's history independently after graduating. Two literary sparks that ignited his research were the late William Bronson's The Earth Shook, the Sky Burned about the great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, and Boss Ruef's San Francisco, by the late Walton Bean, distinguished professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley, and a foremost authority on California. In the latter work John first encountered the great editor Fremont Older (1856-1935), and the more he read about this incredible individual and the times in which he lived - and influenced - the more John was determined to produce a biography worthy of Older.

John and his wife Lana, who emigrated from the former Soviet Union in 1979, have formed the Ralston Independent Works (the name commemorates Great-Grandfather Henry's and Great-Uncle John's venture), with several aims: fostering trade between Silicon Valley and Russia; publishing An Authentic Hero, the biography of Fremont Older; and producing a documentary on the Incredible case of Warren K. Billings and Thomas J. Mooney - another story, which like Older's must be retold to each generation. In October 2003 John and Lana presented a mixed-media program on the Billings-Mooney case to the San Francisco History Association, and in June 2004 John gave a program on Fremont Older at the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society's monthly meeting. John and Lana also collaborate on the Encyclopedia of San Francisco website, to help stimulate interest in the SFMHS's monumental plans for a Museum of the City of San Francisco in the Old Mint on Fifth Street. Please visit Ralston Independent Works web site to get familiar with their work.


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