James Kelly (crimper)

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James Kelly
Residence San Francisco, California, USA
Nationality  United States
Occupation Bar owner and crimper
Title Shanghai Kelly

James Kelly, better known as "Shanghai" Kelly, was an American crimp of the 19th century who kidnapped men and forced them to work on ships. The terms "crimping" and "shanghaiing" are used to describe this type of work. Kelly wore a red beard and had a fiery temper to match. A legendary figure in San Francisco history, Kelly was known for his gift of supplying or shanghaiing men to understaffed ships.

Kelly kept a boarding house in San Francisco, variously reported to be on Pacific or Broadway.[1] He also ran a number of bars including the Boston House, at the corner of Davis and Chambers streets near the waterfront.[1] He also ran a saloon and boarding house at No. 33 Pacific between Drumm and Davis streets.[1] These businesses provided Kelly with a steady supply of victims.

In the early 1870s, Kelly was reported to have shanghaied 100 men for three understaffed ships in a single evening. Renting the paddle steamer Goliath, he announced that he was hosting a free booze cruise to celebrate his "birthday", and to say "thank you" to his fellow crimps and runners who had helped him through the years. After leaving port, his bartenders served opium-laced whiskey to his guests, who were then offloaded to the waiting ships.[2][3] His greatest concern – returning from a well-publicized event with a boat devoid of revelers – was alleviated by a stroke of luck, when he learned that the Yankee Blade had struck a rock and was sinking. After rescuing everyone on board, he simply resumed the celebration, and those on the waterfront were none the wiser upon his return.[2]

Actor Robert Taylor played Kelly in the 1967 episode "Shanghai Kelly's Birthday Party" of the syndicated television series Death Valley Days, which Taylor also hosted.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Smith, 2007.
  2. ^ a b Montanarelli, Lisa; Harrison, Ann (1 June 2005). Strange But True, San Francisco: Tales Of The City By The Bay. Globe Pequot. pp. 87–88. ISBN 978-0-7627-3681-2. Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  3. ^ Bacon, Daniel (2000). "The Barbary Coast Trail". GrandTimes. Retrieved 2007-07-23. 
  4. ^ ""Shanghai Kelly's Birthday Party" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. October 7, 1967. Retrieved June 7, 2015.