"I am the king of Siam," the young man told the Marshal.

The officer and the hotelkeeper knew very well that he was not the king of Siam, who was not likely to be staying at the United States Hotel in Cloverdale. His name was Ed and he was well known, having lived in the town as recently as five years ago and had come back several times since.

"I am the king of Siam," Ed repeated, adding that he had just killed several men, primary among them a judge whom he had shot 43 times. On a table behind him could be seen two revolvers, one covered in blood.

This scene took place at 2:30 in the morning on October 29, 1891, not long after he had drawn those guns on one elderly man, firing seven times. Four of the bullets hit the victim in the face but incredibly did no serious damage - his forehead was grazed along with the bridge of his nose, an eye tooth was knocked out and a bullet passed through his neck wattle.1 The shaken old fellow walked unaided to a nearby doctor's house where his wounds were dressed.

The next day Ed was taken to Santa Rosa, where a sanity hearing was immediately held in the judge’s chambers. Questioned about the shooting, he "told a story which revealed the workings of a mind that is in the habit of making excursions on its own account," according to the Democrat newspaper, insisting that he had used eight guns to shoot the old man (whom he believed was actually someone else in disguise) 48 times. At the end of the hearing he was committed to the Napa asylum, "there to he held in custody until his sanity or insanity has been demonstrated."

Normally this would have been the end of our story, and Ed would have been salted away at the asylum at Napa or elsewhere for the rest of his life. Yet five months later he was free awaiting trial and walking around Santa Rosa greeting friends. How could this be? That's because he was not your average homicidal lunatic - he was Edward J. Livernash.

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

Dear Luther Burbank: Will you please allow us to honor you by putting your name on our new elementary school? Sincerely, The Board of Education.

That was the gist of their February 1906 request, according to the Press Democrat, and a few days later an article followed about Burbank granting permission, "...but not without many misgivings as to my ability to hold up the reputation of such a fine institution. My deep interest in all children, as well as Santa Rosa in general, will be my apology for accepting this honor."

Sure, old Luther poured on the faux humility a bit too thick, but he really did have a genuine affection for children, although he was never a parent. He wrote and spoke often about education and the importance of nurturing children (including some quirky ideas, such as they shouldn't begin schooling until age ten). Burbank was famously impatient with adults who dropped by his Santa Rosa garden seeking an audience, but he always gave children his full attention, hoping to spark a lifelong love of nature. And for some reason he oddly felt compelled to entertain them by performing headstands and somersaults.

Why they wanted to name school after Burbank was obvious: In the Press Democrat article he was called a "great scientist" and "Santa Rosa's eminent citizen." The year before, Burbank had been awarded a grant of $10,000 a year by the Carnegie Institution. As the prestigious Institution was known for funding only the pursuit of pure scientific research, Burbank suddenly was cast as a celebrity and a genius of world-class importance instead of merely a nursery man who produced novelty flower and vegetable seeds. (The deal ended bitterly for Burbank in 1909 amid a growing number of scientists calling him a charlatan - see the four part "BURBANK FOLLIES" series for more.)

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

"Every village has its idiot" it's said (although Mark Twain might have quipped that was an undercount) but it's more likely every village in early America had a bonafide eccentric. Some had crazy ideas and some were outright crazy; some did or said things that seemed bonkers to fellow villagers but might have been seen as reasonable, even inspired, by those in the know.

In Civil War-era Santa Rosa the town eccentric was a guy named John Morrow. He captured birds and then let them go after tying weights to them. He also created a wind-up toy that could fly a short distance. And then there's this: He patented an invention which could have rewritten the history of aviation.

Before jumping on that story, a reminder that Santa Rosa has been overlooked by historians as a crossroads for many pioneer aviators. Gentle Reader presumably salutes Fred J. Wiseman for making the first airmail flight between Petaluma and here in 1911; lesser known is that one version of his flying machine made here was later among the first handful of aircraft bought by the U.S. military. And although he never flew around Santa Rosa, Blaine G. Selvage made probably the first airplane flight on the West Coast at Eureka in 1909; in the years immediately prior to that he lived here, and is buried (in an unmarked grave) at Santa Rosa Memorial Park.

John Bland Morrow apparently arrived in Santa Rosa during early 1865, then 28 or 29 years old. A letter to his parents from Virginia City survives, where he told them he was earning a good wage although many men couldn't find any work at all: "I have an advantage over most of the sharps, for when I get broke, I fall back on Science. So I went to work at Gold Hill Machine Shop at five dollars a day - in Gold." (He also described to his Pennsylvania folks an unusual plant in Nevada called a "cactus.")

Morrow signed his letter as the "Secretary of the Nevada Territory Engineers Association," and always listed his profession as a machinist or mechanic - except in Santa Rosa, where he was a "tinner" (tinsmith). After about three years here he moved to San Francisco along with his friend Harry Rich.

Nothing about Morrow appeared in the local newspapers while he was in Santa Rosa, but much was printed about him afterward, particularly in Healdsburg's weekly Russian River Flag:

John Morrow— Formerly of Santa Rosa, but now living, we believe, in San Francisco. Some years ago, our attention was called to this person, by what was then regarded as a somewhat novel eccentricity. He was engaged in catching various kinds of fowl, carefully measuring their wings, estimating the force and velocity of their motion, and loading them with weights, to find what each could carry. Some time afterward. passing through Santa Rosa, we heard of a small machine worked by a spring, that flew through the air like a bird. But few had seen it and by many it was regarded as a doubtful rumor...

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

Should you find yourself in 1876 Santa Rosa, don't expect too much. The pretty little courthouse in Courthouse Square wasn't yet built; neither was the McDonald mansion. It was a frontier village of no particular interest except for one thing - it had the only iron bridge in the West.

I don't usually give away the ending of an article, but bridges aren't the most riveting topic for most, and I fear Gentle Reader might otherwise drift off to other entertainments. So here's my Executive Summary:

Santa Rosa's current downtown plan calls for demolishing the city hall complex and restoring Santa Rosa Creek to a natural condition. With the creek exposed the roadway will have to be rebuilt as a bridge. It would be appropriate to model it's appearance after the "Iron Bridge," Santa Rosa's most famous 19th century landmark and early tourist attraction.

When the Iron Bridge was built the local newspaper commented that Santa Rosa was "a city of bridges." Today there are dozens of places where city streets cross over our many creeks. If the city is serious about creek restoration, it could re-embrace that old slogan and draw better attention to the more important bridges that stretch above them.

Until the first train entered town in 1871 and stopped at today’s Railroad Square, travel to Petaluma and points south could be iffy during bad winters.

The first bridge over Santa Rosa Creek was built in 1859, after a year of twisting arms at the Board of Supervisors - they didn't want to spend any money on "improvement" until the county was completely debt-free (oh, how things have changed).

Up to that point, there were fords on the creek where the banks were worn down enough for a wagon or stagecoach to cross the usually shallow waterway. Even after that first bridge was built, attorney T. J. Butts recalled some avoided using it:

I was in Santa Rosa when the first iron bridge in the state was built over the creek on Main Street. It had been the custom up to that time for farmers to drive down the bank and ford the creek when coming to town instead of crossing the old wooden bridge. When the matter of building the new bridge came up before the Board of Supervisors, one old gentleman, who was a well-known man in this town and was a trustee of one of the colleges here went before the Board to protest against the bridge, and in his speech he said: “We don’t need no bridge and if you put that bridge thar, whar are ye goin’ to set yer tire, and whar are you goin’ to water yer critter?”

The Santa Rosa newspaper assured readers the wooden bridge was high enough "the water can never actually rise to the bridge." They were wrong. Two years later in 1861, a big storm took out the middle pilings causing a dangerous sag, while approaches on both sides were washed away. The same thing happened again in 1864.

A replacement was built in 1865 and the Sonoma Democrat promised it would be a "bridge that will withstand the floods, and be an ornament to the place rather than an 'eye sore,' such as was the old one." But wooden bridge II had its own problems and by 1868 it was also unsafe, the deck having holes and planks worn thin.

Each round of repairs cost nearly as much as (and in one case, possibly more than) the cost of building a new bridge. And after Santa Rosa was officially incorporated in 1868 the question of who owned the bridge was first raised; neither the town nor the county wanted to pay for expensive maintenance and repairs. A judge finally decreed that it belonged to the town in 1875, after the Petaluma road was reborn as "Santa Rosa Avenue" and new additions on the other side of the creek were unofficially dubbed “South Santa Rosa." (I swear, if there's ever a version of Trivial Pursuit Santa Rosa, I'm gonna slap a paywall on pages like this and really clean up.)

By then the bridge was in such rough shape only pedestrians were allowed, the horse-drawn traffic going over the new (1872) bridge on Third street just west of the railroad tracks. While Santa Rosa was hand-wringing over what to do about repairs, into town came Mr. R. Higgins, a salesman with impeccable timing.



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

The eyewitness heard the first shot and turned to look up the side street. He saw the doctor standing on the sidewalk and pointing his pistol at a man across a backyard fence as more shots were fired in rapid succession. The victim slumped to the ground while the doctor pocketed the gun and headed downtown. Someone who passed him thought he was whistling.

This unfortunate event happened on a cool April evening in 1900, near the corner of (modern day) Seventh and Mendocino. The shooter was Dr. Samuel S. Bogle, a 32 year-old physician who had been in Santa Rosa less than two years. The victim was James M. Miller, a Civil War veteran aged 60 who owned a paint and wallpaper store across from the courthouse.

Neighbors who heard the shots rushed to help Miller, carrying him into his house. "I'm done for, I'm done for," Miller said. "Why should a man treat me like that after what I've done for him? If I get up out of this I'll fix him." 

 By this time, the eyewitness had reached the office of Dr. Jesse a couple of blocks away. When the doctor was told the shooting involved Bogle and Miller he presumed it was Bogle who had been shot - Miller had blabbing all over town that he was going to "fix" Bogle for not paying a bill.

 Meanwhile, Bogle had arrived at the sheriff's office, where he went to surrender and turn over his gun. No deputies were present at the time so he gave himself up to the county jail's cook. He also visited his lawyer (a former state senator) and by the end of the evening was arraigned and freed on $10,000 bail.

 On the advice of his attorney Bogle didn't speak to reporters, but the Press Democrat still cobbled together a story which was summarized by the San Francisco papers and wire services.

The PD wrote that Bogle passed Miller's sideyard as he was walking downtown after supper. (Bogle and Miller were next door neighbors, a coincidence which had nothing to do with the bad blood between them.) Miller was outside and saw him. Insults were passed and Miller rushed toward the gate with a knife in his hand. Bogle pulled his gun and fired, striking Miller twice.

Dr. Jesse told the paper Miller was expected to survive. He had a flesh wound on a forearm and the other bullet hit the middle of his left hip, passing between the tail bone and top of the femur before exiting the other side above his groin. 

But Dr. Jesse was wrong. Miller died three days later of peritonitis, the bullet having punctured his intestines. Bogle was rearrested and charged with murder.


The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. 


- Jeff Elliott

It was like winning the Sweepstakes, or maybe better - Luther Burbank was being asked if he would like to hang out with the most famous man in the world.

"We would appreciate it very much if you would consent to head a Committee to go to Sacramento, to greet Mr. Edison and escort him to San Francisco," the letter read. "We believe that nothing could be more fitting than that the Wizard of the West should extend welcome and greeting to the Wizard of the East on his visit to California."

The odd wording might have caused Burbank to wonder if it was a prank, and a followup note would ask him to also meet with the Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion. But it was from the San Francisco Examiner, and closed with "...Of course, it is understood that you will be the guest of The Examiner' in so far as all the expenses are concerned." Oh, Luther, you lucky duck - it had been a long time since he had been offered something without being expected to make a "donation" in return.

Burbank accepted the offer immediately, writing back "Mr. Edison and myself have been long distance friends for some time," which was a little white lie. While Burbank may well have mentioned the inventor at some point, there's no record of any prior correspondence between them in either the Burbank or Edison archives.

It was October, 1915, near the end of what was otherwise a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad year for Burbank. Although it was not yet publicly known, both the Burbank seed company and Burbank Press were teetering on bankruptcy due to inept management, and after having exploited his name to peddle worthless stock to Sonoma County residents and others. His future was far from secure and it was possible he might have to sell his precious farms as well as the rights to every plant he still owned. If you don't know that part of the Burbank story or need a refresher, see "THE UNDOING OF LUTHER BURBANK, PART III."

Burbank was to escort Edison to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) - the world's fair in San Francisco whose legacy can still be seen in the Palace of Fine Arts. He had a small role in the fair's creation, having been among the hundred notable men who were part of a 1912 junket to Vancouver and back, promoting the upcoming event at all major cities along the way. (He was toasted at a banquet but told the audience he wasn’t much of a speaker unless the topic was about something like “spuds.”)

At the expo he had been honored with a designated "Luther Burbank Day" - although it wasn't the spotlight some of his biographers have suggested. June 5 was also "Denmark Day" and "American Library Association Day." Burbank received a commemorative plaque and a few speeches were made at a reception in the Horticultural Palace. So all in all, "Luther Burbank Day" was more like the "Luther Burbank Hour" and thousands of little flower seed packets were donated to the PPIE to give away to visitors.

The Examiner had no role in luring Edison to the expo, and hustling Burbank to Sacramento to intercept the train for the "wizard meets wizard" moment was the newspaper's clever way of getting its nose into the tent. Hearst's paper dominated coverage of Edison's four days in San Francisco to the extent that Gentle Reader would be forgiven for believing they were behind the visit and all related events at the fair. They even printed Burbank's letter agreeing to meet Edison's train, which gave Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley a case of the vapors because the letterhead revealed Burbank lived in Santa Rosa. "Both this city and Sonoma county gets notice which is read probably by a quarter of a million people regarding location of wizard’s home," he gushed.

Burbank must have cringed reading that; more than anything else he wanted to be left alone, but almost daily was already besieged by tourists seeking to meet the "wizard."

The Chamber of Commerce and Finley were surprisingly insensitive to Burbank's plight in the run-up to the PPIE. While the Burbank seed company was planning on advertising “Luther Burbank’s Exhibition Garden” near Hayward specifically to attract fans there instead of making a trek to Santa Rosa, the PD was ready to exploit him as a tourist attraction: "many hundreds of strangers will come within our gates, lured here by the fact that Santa Rosa is the home and work place of the greatest of scientific horticulturists, Luther Burbank..."

Given Burbank's desire to keep out of the limelight and people from tramping around in his experimental gardens, he sent a most unexpected telegram to the PD once Edison arrived:

San Francisco, Oct. 18. Herbert Slater. Santa Rosa: Mr. and Mrs. Edison and sister, and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford will visit Santa Rosa, if possible, on Friday. No bands; no racket. They wish to come quietly. Luther Burbank."

The Chamber and Finley ignored their wishes, of course, and began planning a blowout reception.

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

Santa Rosa is tinkering with Fourth street again, hoping to keep its moribund business district from completely withering away during the Age of Coronavirus. The latest effort is to close off traffic on the 500 and 700 blocks (but not the 600 block), allowing restaurants and bars to setup more outside tables. The city will keep the blocks closed at least until January 31, 2021 but according to the PD, over 70% of the businesses on those blocks want the street closure to be permanent.

Go back about four decades, however, and tell people that Santa Rosa was going to block cars from Fourth street in 2020 and expect surprised reactions - because they would have expected the city had already done that.

Our story begins almost exactly 45 years ago in 1975, as the City Council clears the last major obstacle to final planning for the Santa Rosa Plaza Mall. The city would allow the developer to sink Third street so part of the shopping center could be built above it while lower Fifth street and A street would be folded into the mall plans. The matter of a Fourth street passageway between B street and Railroad Square was still unsettled - that's a major story by itself and will be handled in a future article.

As much of the money to pay for that would come from the federal government, the Housing and Urban Development Dept. (HUD) had to give its blessing to the project. Its report from earlier that same year declared the mall would be generally a good thing for Santa Rosa, but there was concern that having it downtown could suck the life out of the existing business district: "...the older area could lose business, tenants would move elsewhere and the decline of another area of Santa Rosa would begin, possibly recreating a situation similar to that which necessitated urban renewal in the first place."

To mitigate those concerns, the city and the Downtown Development Association - DDA to its friends - hired a respected San Francisco urban planning company, EDAW Inc. Their mission was to create "a complete, cohesive physical design plan" to "provide the necessary linkage" between the mall and the downtown core. So once again it was time to play Let's Redesign Downtown - that ever-popular game in the 1960s that had enriched many out-of-town consultants. (Those layouts were discussed here in the series, "YESTERDAY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.")

Given what they had to work with, their redesign was innovative. Like earlier plans there was an emphasis on streetscaping with lots of trees (primarily plums and magnolias). There was far more parking than we have today and it envisioned a free "people mover" shuttle looping continually between the garages and the stores.

But the highlight was turning Fourth street into a "meandering semi-mall" closed to traffic except for the people mover. Riley street would also become pedestrian only.



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

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