The Story of a Lost Race

by Seana Miracle

In 1897, San Francisco journalist Frona Wait Colburn, published her first work of fiction, “The Dorado,” in which she imagines that the lost race of Atlantis once inhabited San Francisco 11,000 years ago. In her mythical ancient capital city of “Tlamco,” the seven hills of San Francisco were carefully constructed to precisely mark the orbits and diameters of the planets, as well as map out the seven stars of the Pleiades, and align with the three stars of Orion’s belt.

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“Tlamco vanished so completely there were no traces perceptible to the men who founded Yerba Buena on the same peninsula ages after. Its existence would be laughed at by present day inhabitants of San Francisco were it not true that the hills in and around Golden Gate Park are living witnesses to great mathematical skill.

The first denizens built some of these hills and shaped others to give the diameters and distances of all the planets. Who today will believe that Las Papas, or Twin Peaks, show the eccentricities of the Earth’s orbit to one fifty-millionths of it’s full size?”

-Frona Wait Colburn “Yermah, the Dorado: A Story of a Lost Race”

The locations of Frona’s Seven Hills are as follows:

Temple of the Sun: The intersection of Haight and Shrader

Temple of Jupiter: Lone Mountain Campus, USF

Temple of Venus: Alamo Square Park

Temple of Mars: Southwest from Lone Mountain campus

Temple of Saturn: Buena Vista Park

Temple of Uranus: the edge of the Presidio, upper end of Mountain Lake

Temple of Neptune: Strawberry Hill in Golden Gate Park

“The favorite breathing place of the San Francisco of today is the site of what was once the Llama city, Tlamco, stretching from the Panhandle entrance at Golden Gate Park to the beach at the Cliff House rocks. It was a city of seven hills, marking the orbits and diameters of the planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, as well as forming a map of the Pleiades.”

-Frona Wait Colburn “Yermah, the Dorado”

Though the book is set 11,000 years in the past, “Yermah, The Dorado: A Story of a Lost Race” is considered a futuristic work of science fiction. The book was originally published in 1897 at the Sign of the Lark in San Francisco in a limited edition of 500 copies. The original manuscript, notes and plates were all lost in the Great Earthquake of 1906, which Frona had uncannily predicted. In the final chapter of “The Dorado,” the mighty Atlantean Empire that once occupied the area that is now Golden Gate Park, is destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake in a single night. In the 1913 re-print of her book, which had since acquired a new significance, Frona describes her inspiration for the ending, which came to her in a vision while in Golden Gate Park. She explains why she chose not to alter her graphic description of the earthquake scene, which she considers “a pre-vision of what was to come.”

“To me, Golden Gate Park is a hallowed spot. As a place of refuge I saw an ephemeral city reared in a night of stress and misery. The beauty of a rebuilt modern metropolis will but serve to recall the vanished glory of the dream city which was ruled by the man who was the real El Dorado.”

-Frona Wait Colburn

A clever blend of ancient creation myths, Victorian pop culture, Utopian ideals, and childlike imagination, Frona’s first stab at fiction is overflowing with rich, symbolic and visually striking descriptions of mystical ceremonies in an otherworldly, but familiar setting. However, unless (or, even if) you share her passion for esoterica, it lacks a coherent story line, and quickly loses the interest of the reader. “The Dorado” still remains a staggering work of human genius, and retains it’s relevance today, especially in the context of San Francisco mythology. After the book was re-released, one reviewer wrote: “The first impression of the book is the enormous amount of study it represents. Every page is laden with the fruits of the author’s research into antiquities, gathered from sources as remote and elusive as the origin of symbolism in religion. It is however, the history and the tradition of California which furnish the leading motive of the work.”

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Daniel Burnham’s radiating street plan, 1904

Tlamco, the “ancient abode of Atlantean colonists in California,” (now Golden Gate Park) was laid out in circles, with a large temple at the center. From this point (the intersection of Haight and Shrader) were twelve radiating streets, intersected by four primary avenues constructed on the cardinal points. In the center of the city was the Temple of the Sun, it’s dome and spires tipped with gold. In concentric circles around the Temple of the Sun were seven hills which marked the orbits of the planets, each topped with a temple appropriate to the corresponding planetary god. The Llama city at Tlamco was in effect, a giant sun-dial, calendar and time-keeping device, and it’s king, the main protagonist of the novel, an allegory of the Sun God.

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As far as I know, no one has ever bothered to determine whether or not there is any truth to Frona’s fictional claim that San Francisco’s hills accurately measure the orbits and diameters of the planets. However, Frona’s conception of the seven hills of San Francisco as an earthly talisman for the solar system was hardly a new idea. She was most certainly influenced by the temple structure at Rome, the original “City of Seven Hills,” which had a temple sacred to each god on top of every one of it’s seven hills.

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Burnham’s plan for Twin Peaks, 1904


 

Though it was first discussed by Plato, Frona also had more contemporary influences when it came to legends of the lost race of Atlantis. In 1866, Joseph Mendel discovered what is known as “Mendelian Inheritance,” the basis for modern genetics. In 1882, Ignatius Donnelly published “Atlantis, the Antedeluvian World,” in which he posited that Atlantis was not a myth, but an actual place, and that all known ancient civilizations were derived from the same root culture. In 1888, Madame Blavatsky took this idea one step further when she published “The Secret Doctrine,” in which she proposes that there are four original root races from which all races are descended.

Frona was also heavily influenced by Utopian literary works such as Sir Frances Bacon’s “The New Atlantis,” which envisioned a utopian society ruled by Rosicrucian ideals that existed on an island somewhere off the west coast of America.  The capital city of Bacon’s “New Atlantis” was called the “City of the Golden Gate,” and at the time of it’s writing, California was believed to be an island.

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“I knew then that when we had crested that final tortuous pass through the Rockies and dropped down into this valley, that we had crossed a threshold into another world, with it’s own sun and moon, and its own separate race of man.”

– Jim Fergus