One of San Diego’s most famous celebrities had four legs and a tail. His name was Bum.
Bum the dog made San Diego his home in the late 19th century. He arrived in town in 1886 by stowing away on the Santa Rosa, a steamship from San Francisco. Soon thereafter, he became the well known town mascot.
Everyone was proud to be Bum’s pal. San Diegans young and old gladly provided food, friendship and their front porches for his sleeping place. Bum helped firemen hurry to fires, led parades, and protected the town’s children. We know this today because James Edward Friend, a journalist, wrote about Bum’s life and famous exploits.
Bum was so popular that one local restaurant put up a sign that read Bum Eats Here. When the city of San Diego passed a law requiring dog licenses, Bum’s picture was featured on the license.
Bum was a free spirit. Nobody owned him. But he had a claim on everybody’s heart. He was given free fare on trains, whenever he decided to come or go. He was given special medical attention when one foreleg became badly mangled in a train accident. He was even given a home at the County Hospital by the Board of Supervisors when his arthritis made it hard to get around. Bum was buried on the hospital grounds after his death in 1898.
Bum’s life has come to represent a small chapter of San Diego’s history, back when today’s downtown competed with Old Town and was called New Town. A bronze sculpture of the famous town dog now occupies a shady pocket park in downtown’s Gaslamp District. You can find the exact likeness of the St. Bernard-Spaniel mix lying on the grass not far from the William Heath Davis House, which is a small museum and the oldest wooden structure in the Gaslamp.
The nearby plaque reads:
San Diego’s Official Town Dog
Died November 10, 1898 – Aged 12 Years
Loved by everyone – owned by no one. His name suited him because he arrived as a town stowaway, befriended everyone and “bummed” quality food from the local eateries. As a young dog he survived a scuffle with another dog on the Santa Fe train tracks. Though he lost a foreleg and part of his tail, his spirit was unbroken. He guarded the children, led the parades and fire trucks, and had many adventures. So admired was Bum that the City Council awarded him a lifetime dog license. When he died, children collected pennies for a proper burial.
Another dog sculpture perched on a nearby bench is of Greyfriars Bobby, the official town dog of Edinburgh, Scotland. The love and loyalty of both legendary dogs is the reason San Diego and Edinburgh are sister cities.