Miskatonic University Press

Spade and Archive

aaronsw code4lib libraries literature

The Mystery House: How a San Francisco Mason Solved a Real Estate Mystery—and a Literary Secret, from the noir issue of California Freemason (!) is about Bill Arney, who lived in apartment 401 at 891 Post Street in San Francisco: the apartment where Dashiell Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon and the model for detective Sam Spade’s apartment in the book.

I’ve been in that apartment! In February 2008 I went to a meeting hosted by the Internet Archive about planning the Open Library. I was out in San Francisco for two days. The first was the meeting, at the Presidio where the Archive then was.

That was the day I saw Aaron Swartz, though I never talked to him. He committed suicide just under five years later. I did talk to Brewster Kahle, who happily is still with the Archive and still pushing the limits of access to knowledge. Here’s a blurry photo with Swartz on the left and Kahle on the right:

Aaron Swartz and Brewster Kahle
Aaron Swartz and Brewster Kahle

The room was full of leading library technologists of the time, generally from the Code4Lib world. I was out of my depth and don’t remember contributing anything, but I was damned glad to be there. It was a mind-blowing day (not just the ideas floating around, but seeing the IA’s servers, for example) and then a memorable evening after.

The Dashiell Hammett Tour cover
The Dashiell Hammett Tour cover

The next day Don Herron generously gave me a solo Dashiell Hammett tour. He knows Arney and when we got near he called to see if we could come up to see the apartment. We could. I went into Dashiell Hammett’s apartment! This was Sam Spade’s place!

And that was just one part of the tour. Herron knows Hammett’s San Francisco like the back of his hand, and he showed me where various stories had been set, where Miles Archer was shot, and many other places, as well as covering a lot of city history. He does an incredible job, and if you’re ever in San Francisco, I highly recommend the tour. Read some Hammett beforehand if you haven’t, but even if you’re not a great fan, it’s a perfect combination of guide and subjects that makes a great introduction to the city.

What a city. I packed in hours more walking that day, including City Lights and later drinks at the Top of the Mark. Those two days in San Francisco was the best short trip I’ve ever had.