Snapshots from the First San Francisco Flash Mob

July 16th, 2003

At least 150 flash mobbers spun in circles this evening while crossing busy Market Street in San Francisco. They spun and crossed over and over again, back and forth, until the flash mob suddenly disappeared, 10 minutes after it began.

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More photos here. Post links to your coverage in the comments below!

32 Responses to “Snapshots from the First San Francisco Flash Mob”

  1. comment number 1 by: ShoesAC001

    Great stuff. Looks like a big hit. How many people showed up?

  2. comment number 2 by: updog

    from the pix it looks like it was at 5th and market – is that correct? we were walking around that area at around 6:30pm and didn’t see anything…

  3. comment number 3 by: sean

    It was about 1/2 block northeast of 5th and Market, just south of the Powell Street cable-car turnaround.

    (But it would have been difficult to miss from 1/2 block away!)

  4. comment number 4 by: Jane

    I counted more than 300. It was a BIG crowd!

  5. comment number 5 by: sean

    Could be. I’m notoriously bad at estimating crowd sizes.

  6. comment number 6 by: Jane Minty

    Wonderful!! I just love the guy on crutches. It makes me feel good to know we covered both coasts this evening!

  7. comment number 7 by: Lisa

    What a blast!!! Who knew twirling into complete strangers could be so much fun!

  8. comment number 8 by: Jeff

    Funniest thing I heard after the mob was as i was headed up Powell behind four confused tourists. Three of them were amused by “whatever the hell that was” that they just saw, but the one woman was very upset by it. She said if a city has something that goes on like that, there should be a sign or something to tell other people what it is, so they would know about it. She just kept going on and on how they didn’t even know what that was and it was wrong for San Francisco to have things happening that aren’t explained to its visitors.

    Funny stuff…


  9. comment number 9 by: sean

    Jeff: That’s hilarious.

    The funniest thing I overheard was a tourist family: father, mother, 2 kids, with midwest accents. They approached the crosswalk from the South and stopped, confused, about 50 feet away from the curb, for a few minutes. “Do you think we should cross,” said the mother. “Well they’re trying to keep us from crossing. Let’s go,” said the father, then he grimly marched across through the spinners and his family followed.

  10. comment number 10 by: Jane

    I have two favorite comments, both of which were questions asked directly to me:

    Frazzled 40something white guy in a suit: Is this mass hysteria, or just dumb luck??!

    Beautiful, wide-eyed 8 year old Latina girl: Do you know what they’re doing this?
    Me: (cheerfully) No!
    Girl: (in disbelief) Do they WANT to be doing this?

  11. comment number 11 by: tina

    lame! i just found out about this this morning! where would i sign up to get the info for another one?

  12. comment number 12 by: Preston

    OK, so this MOB project thing was so interesting, fun, freeing, comical, amazing and so many other things all at the same time I can’t find the words to sum it up in a short paragraph. I went not knowing if I was actually going to take part and was just sucked in by the whole thing. (As were others, but more about that later.)

    I heard about this about the concept of a Flash Mob about 2 or 3 weeks ago. Read all the articles about the New York Mobs and what they were about, and learned there was one coming to SF in mid July. “Interesting.” I thought. “I’d like to check that out.” So I signed up on the Yahoo group that had been set up. It told me there would be instructions coming soon. A week later the group was gone. Shut down by Yahoo? The organizer? “Da man?” I did not know. All I knew was nothing gained, nothing lost.

    On July 11th I received an invitation to join a yahoo group. I joined and waited. It was locked up tight so I could not post a message asking more details about it. On Sunday the 13th instructions were sent out. Basically they said go to one of three bars near Union Square on Wednesday the 16th at 6:00 and wait for further instructions. So my wife and I met a couple friends there, one of which was the person who invited me originally. I told my wife if they tell me to drink the Coolaid I was out of there.

    At about 5:55 or 6:00 a girl started handing out half sheets of paper. It stated that at 6:20 we were to head down to the cable car turn-around at the end of Powell and linger about so we don’t attract attention, then at exactly 6:27 go to the large crosswalk on market and wait for the crossing signal. When it changes green cross market, but you are to spin clockwise with your arms stretched out. If the DO NOT CROSS signal comes on we were to wait for the next crossing as to not block traffic. If someone asks what you’re doing make something up. Examples were “I lost my wallet” or “I’m on a school field trip.” Just don’t mention anything about the mob project. At 6:37 everyone disburses in different directions without a trace. Simple enough.

    So we leave our designated bar and can see that the other bars were already unloading onto Powell and heading for the cable car turn-around. A huge group. People heading up market wove in and out fighting the flow of bodies like salmon returning to their breading waters.

    We got there at almost exactly 6:27 so we headed for the crosswalk, waited for the green and crossed. There were so many people you could not outstretch your arms to the sides so everyone put them straight up in the air. For some reason, as if it was part of the instructions, as everyone made their first pass across Market they let out a “Whoooooooooooooooooooo” sound. I came naturally and once we reached the other side everyone giggled. It was like everyone had reverted to the age of 8. Not everyone made it across and after a couple of passes the group was almost evenly divided on either side of the street. When crossing it was difficult to not bump into people. Some did this purpose but lightly in a childish sort of way. I was bumped in the forehead with an elbow but it was unintentional and didn’t hurt.

    A man in a gray suit walked up to me and my friend and, thinking he was funny, asked “So….. what’s going on here? I must have missed the memo.” My friend could not keep a straight face and turned away. With a serious look I said “We’re looking for our dog, have you seen him?” He replied “No, really. What are you doing?” Urgently I said “He’s about this big. A little brown Poodle. We can’t find him. Have you seen him?” With a confused look he walked away.

    The first three times I was on the North side of Market I noticed two girls about 19 years old standing there taking the whole thing in and smiling. They looked shocked, amused and curious all at the same time. I crossed Market back to the south side and while waiting for the signal to change again someone asked “I wonder if somebody was just walking by and decided to join in.” From behind me a voice says “I did!” I turn and one of the girls had joined our Mob. Everyone cheered.

    At one point we heard a siren. My first thought was it’s “The Man” coming to smack down the law on us. But instead it was an ambulance racing down market. As it passed the two groups on either side of Market cheered and clapped. I found this a little disturbing but let it go.

    In the end, the Mob disbursed at exactly 6:37 as requested and everyone went his or her separate ways. This was a little sad as we had met a girl named Sarah (with an `H’) at the bar beforehand. She took a few pictures for us. My wife tried to find her but had no luck.

  13. comment number 13 by: ikes

    MUCH better than the nyc events, where everyone is more concerned with taking pictures to enjoy it.

  14. comment number 14 by: Kristin

    had it not been such a great surf day i would’ve been twirling w/ the rest of ya. see ya next time…hopefully :-).

  15. comment number 15 by: KIM

    This is all so surreal! I can hardly belive all of this actually took place, especially in San Francisco!! It almost looks like a scene that happened a few years back in Des Moines, Iowa! People were absolutely crazy, actually spinning so fast that clothing items were being tossed every which way and no one even seemed to notice! The worst of it, however, was the glare from skin so white it had never been exposed to daylight until this absolute craziness started!
    I just keep repeating to myself, “this cannot be happening again!” Personally, I am shocked!!!!

  16. comment number 16 by: aznchopboy

    We should get a Flash Mob in Los Angeles

  17. comment number 17 by: Richard Law

    What a fun event! :.) I’m looking foward to Flash Mob SF #2. I posted some photos:

  18. comment number 18 by: Preston

    Article on the event…

  19. comment number 19 by: mattymatt

    Awesome. I’ve got a couple pix here:
    At one point during the spinning, my glasses flew off of my head, and I’d just like to throw out a message to the guy who couldn’t stop in time and stepped on them: please don’t feel bad, the arm was already broken. So, no harm done.
    I’d also like to point out, because no one else has, that this was a particularly HOT mob. Is it just me, or were there some real cuties spinning around?

  20. comment number 20 by: Hooman

    Crazy craaazzyyy stuff. non-compliance freaks people out, like Jeff’s tourist on Powell street…H I L A R I O U S.

  21. comment number 21 by: walter

    great event! no deeper sense, no protest, no politics!
    congratulations to all people that took place in these first flash mobs!
    if anyone is trying to establish flash mobs in europe, especially in austria, please let me know!

  22. comment number 22 by: grip

    Be real people. If this is meant to be nonconformist-organic-sporadic event, why do you all need to reach each other via expensive technology to plan for days to make it happen? Bored dot-commers and creatives do not a trend make. This is like a bunch of silly high-schoolers in Cure t-shirts laughing at all the jocks for being “conformist,” then looking down to find out they’re all wearing the same Urban Decay nail polish. If a bunch of people are calling a bunch of other people conformist, your all conformists. Flashmobbing is the least organic idea to come along in 10 years. Perhaps that counts for something.

  23. comment number 23 by:

    Dear “Grip:”

    I see you have a lot of cheese to go with that whine.

  24. comment number 24 by: Silje

    This hole “flash mob” sounds a bit crazy, but it`s kind a fun that a lot of strangers can meet like this. Maybe someone could arrange something like this for single people?! ;o)

  25. comment number 25 by: aos

    Great stuff!Want it to happen here in Norway too…

  26. comment number 26 by: Lars

    It is going to happen in Norway to, just join the forum 🙂

  27. comment number 27 by: junior

    i would like to participate in one how do i find out more in fo ??!!!

  28. comment number 28 by: Johnnie Mac

    Best idea ever.

  29. comment number 29 by: nickflyer

    anyone live in eastern iowa or western illinios??? davenport, moline, rock island, bettendorf??? would be fun to organize here

  30. comment number 30 by: Amy

    Ripping on tourists! Oh you’re SOOO cool. If something tangible could be accomplished, this “flashmob” boredom might actually be a worthwhile idea. Tourism is a major source of income for many cities and I find it funny that Californians would be trying to allienate tourists since their economy SUCKS. Y’all need all the help you can get! JUNKBOND rating anyone??!! Way to validate what the rest of the country is saying about Californians being Ooh-so-stupid. When you grow up and realize what a waste of time “flashmobs” are and that you’re (ONCE AGAIN!) helping only your selfish ass………..the MILLIONS AND MILLIONS of us who realize this (which is why we don’t show up – duh) will be waiting for you to submit your entry level applications for employment. Why is it that the little girl knew this was stupid bulls$%&, but a grown up little girl couldn’t figure that out? for grip: you are RIGHT….you can come over for some delightful selections of wine & cheese anytime…..

  31. comment number 31 by: wskinn2

    Love you guys, sounds like a blast, and it is good to see strangers who are not afraid to interact at large. We used to do things like this when we were teens, but only in groups of five or so. We would do simple things like stand outside movie theaters and all stare at the same blank point in the empty sky while passers-by paused to try and see what we saw. But (always a but isn’t there) we did not do this in a location that would disrupt traffic, confuse a person in their place of business, or hamper the rest of the world in any fashion. I applaud your creativity, but wonder if you have unleashed a tool that could be used in anti-social fashions you do not yet comprehend. It is a sad truth that no matter how frivolous and fun our activities appear to be, there is always someone out there who is thinking of a way to use an idea for their personal gain, regardless of the consequences to others. Unfortunately, when you interact with the general public, it is always wise to consider the effect you have on others. Who takes the blame, guilt, and responsibility when the unexpected happens? Who in the mob has considered the effects a flash mob may have or an extremely claustrophobic person who is suddenly buried in humanity in their otherwise sleepy little neighborhood store? What of the young artist, rushing to make a touchy meeting that may make or break his/her career who is suddenly detained by people milling in a street in front of their cab? And on a more personal level, what of the college student trying to get to ticket master before the last tickets sell out to a hot concert who gets trapped in a mob on the way to the ticket booth and misses the show? I love the absurd, wacky and spontaneous, but I also ponder the unintended response. It’s just something to think about. Were I in your enviable shoes, I’d try to keep these occurrences in EXTREMELY public, but harmless venues. Place like parks, open spaces, and public plazas. There you can draw the attention, amusement and even the Respect of the people who are too caught up in their insecurities to join you. If you choose locations that inconvenience others you will be regarded as a mere public nuisance and the light hearted fun social aspect of this delightful idea will be lost under the weight of public scorn and disgust.

    My heartfelt best wishes to you.

  32. comment number 32 by: Siddhant Sinha

    Cant wait to join Flash Mob#2!!!

    I even have a new idea of what to do!