The Bushman of San Francisco – Making a Living by Scaring People

The world famous Bushman of San Francisco, real name David Johnson, has been entertaining passers-by in Fisherman’s Wharf for over 30 years by hiding behind two Eucalyptus branches and jumping out at unsuspecting tourists as they walk by.

The Bushman of San Francisco is an alleged homeless man who rakes in a reported $60,000 a year from his original street performance, with just two Eucalyptus branches and the cardboard box he sits on. David Johnson was born in Indiana, where he worked as a crane operator crane operator, steel mill worker and truck driver before moving to San Francisco. Here he opened one of the first shoeshine stands on Market Street, but arthritis and growing competition from the busy Financial District forced him to look for a new way to make a living. After discovering some fallen branches under a tree, Johnson was inspired to use them in a street act that would eventually make him famous all around the world. Sitting on a makeshift stool, the Bushman hides behind the Eucalyptus branches waiting for tourists to walk by. When they get close enough, he jumps from behind the greenery or waves it in their direction scaring the daylights out of them, to the amusement of nearby spectators, many of whom reward his performance by throwing a quarter or a dollar into his jug.


Photo: Kyledp

The Bushman has been scaring people on Fisherman’s Wharf for as long as anyone can remember and many consider him a true local tourist attraction. But not everyone appreciates his act. Throughout the years, the scary gimmick got Johnson in trouble with the law on more than one occasion. Several boat and restaurant owners have accused him of blocking the sidewalk and deflecting trade from their businesses, while some of his victims complained about injuries caused by his “bushing”.  A man suffered a heart condition after being scared half to death, a retired woman fell back and twisted her ankle, and another lady jumped back and accidentally smashed her mother in the jaw. He was charged with four misdemeanors in 2004, but was cleared by a jury, and the District Attorney dropped all public nuisance complaints. The famous street performer insists that he chooses his targets carefully, trying to avoid people who he thinks wouldn’t appreciate a good scare or might suffer bodily harm. He told reporters he observes how old people are, how they walk, how they breathe, to determine if they are worthy targets.


Photo: Camwilson

According to Wikipedia, at one pint the Bushman’s $60,000-a-year earning allowed him to hire a bodyguard for protection against the unamused who also distracted potential targets and warned him of approaching elderly so he could avoid scaring them. Johnson has a permit for his street performance and contributed to the economy by paying his taxes.


Sources: Tony Quarrington, Wikipedia, Now I Know