Sonoma County was at war, and it came as quite a surprise. Not the part about fighting between the U.S. and Japan; anyone who made a passing glance at a newspaper front page in early December 1941 knew the odds of war were almost certain. What shocked us here was to suddenly discover we were probably on the front lines. War was something that happens far away in another country - never in the street in front of your home.

In the first hours after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor our Sonoma County nerves were frayed. Was Japan about to likewise target the West Coast? Civil defense plans were hurried into action with calming remarks from authorities that the situation was in hand. Less reassuring was discovering their top priority concerned getting ready for mass casualties. (For more on Dec. 7 1941 see the previous article, "EYEWITNESS TO INFAMY.")

The next day (December 8) saw frantic mobilization. Hundreds volunteered to guard public utilities from sabotage, direct traffic during an emergency or serve on rescue squads, while 96 men were sworn in as members of the armed Home Guard. Volunteer firemen were ordered to stay on 24 hour alert. In Santa Rosa it was a day like we had never seen before or since: Downtown must have resembled a hive of bees, with all those men rushing in and out of the courthouse, housewives with shopping lists to prepare for wartime food shortages and everyone on the street sharing their worries and any news about relatives/friends in Hawaii.

And then come nightfall, the Army made everything worse.

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 story of Santa Rosa during the opening days of WWII begins with Roy Vitousek: The first American eyewitness to the start of the war. He was from Santa Rosa and Healdsburg - just more proof a local Believe-it-or-Not! footnote will turn up for nearly any chapter of our nation's history. Sonoma County: Come for the wine and the redwoods, stick around for our mile-high stack of intriguing backstories.

It was not long after sunrise when Roy took to the air in his private plane. Taking a quick spin was a Sunday morning ritual for him and his teenage son; there was no reason to believe December 7, 1941 would be any different than all the times before.

After flying for about an hour they headed back to their home base, the John Rodgers Airport (now the Kalaeloa Airport) a few miles southwest of Pearl Harbor. Another small plane was also preparing to land, so they looped around to make another approach. Roy's son, 17 year-old Martin described what happened next:
We zoomed up again and circled around the entrance to Pearl Harbor before making another landing attempt. Suddenly we were in the thick of it. The enemy pilots machine-gunned our plane and I could see their heads in the cockpit and the Rising Sun insignia on their wings very plainly. I guess you'll have to say I was scared and mad as hell.

Their little high-wing Aeronca was now smack in the middle of the initial assault wave on Pearl Harbor. He saw two enemy planes shot down above them and thought another hit the water, although Martin wasn't sure if it wasn't dive bombing. "All in all, we were in the air for ten minutes throughout the first attack before we were able to land."

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 an optimistic town, and has been since the first trains chugged into Railroad Square in the 1870s. But it's not truly a virtue; that optimism is rooted in our bigshots having relentless ambitions to make us into an economic powerhouse. Someday, in their fever dreams, Santa Rosa will be a great metropolis anchoring the northern end of the Bay Area. True, such growth or clout might not happen tomorrow, but it's surely just over the horizon - or so the town's nabobs have told us again and again.

That may be why the Press Democrat had a fondness for stories predicting Santa Rosa's bonny future. Other newspapers also printed those sorts of articles, usually on special anniversaries such as a town's centennial. But the PD needed no excuse to gaze into a crystal ball and their forecasts would pop up at any time.

I've collected a dozen from the first half of the 20th century (likely there are many more to find) and I love these things; usually they're a mix of whiz-bang gadgets that are nearly magical, loopy ideas culled from science fiction and wild c which sometimes actually did come true. Common threads include flying cars, that television will make us smarter and better people and nobody will really have to work hard. Women's fashions are always going to be very, very strange.

The wildest prediction appeared here earlier in its own article, "SANTA ROSA IN THE YEAR 3000." Author John Tyler Campbell, an attorney who penned the city's first charter and later became a politician and diplomat, predicted in 1913 that a “great upheaval” in the Pacific Ocean would close the Golden Gate Strait. Fortunately, "around the year 1925 Sonoma county built a canal connecting the Russian river to the Petaluma river, through the Laguna, Mark West and Santa Rosa creeks. It was big enough to handle the largest ocean steamships..." Santa Rosa thus became the major seaport on the coast, and in the year 2905 the nation's capitol was moved from Washington D.C. and "built on Taylor mountain after it was graded down to an elevated plateau." Give it a read - it's pretty wacky stuff.

Here's a sample of some of the other futuristic visions that appeared in the Press Democrat: 

 

 

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

Forget Charles Schulz and Peanuts; forget Luther Burbank and his garden. Forget tourism, with its spas and wine tasting (and for that matter, forget boutique wineries). Santa Rosa and the surrounding area are known for one thing alone - it's the home of the Air Force Academy.

Oh, you say, that's in Colorado Springs - and notice how quickly the name of that city comes to mind - but in 1950 the Academy didn't yet exist and its future location was very much up in the air (sorry), with Santa Rosa among the top contenders. The Chamber of Commerce waged a year-long campaign to bring it here, even though it quickly turned neighbor against neighbor and pitted the city against the county Farm Bureau.

When the new year of 1950 began, the whereabouts of a future Air Force Academy was a much discussed topic nationwide. There were already 150 communities in the running, in part because the search criteria were so broad. Col. Freeman Tandy, chairman of the task force screening possible sites in California, said basic requirements were that it be within 50 miles of a major city, be close to all means of transportation, have utilities available and sport natural beauty. He explained they wanted a place suitable for a university more than an airfield with lots of noisy flight operations.

And there was this: Colonel Tandy said the government expected to spend up to $300M to acquire land and build the campus - the equivalent of spending $3.2 BILLION today. When the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce invited the selection board to come here and look around we can only hope there was no obvious drool on the letter.

A survey team from the Army Corps of Engineers was slated to visit in mid-January but there was one teensy problem: We hadn't settled on a location to show them.

With only three days to spare, the Santa Rosa Chamber met with the Petaluma Chamber and agreed they would offer a site between the cities. "It's now a Sonoma county project," said the Petaluma Chamber.

The property was directly across from modern-day SSU on the east side of Petaluma Hill Road. The Air Force was looking for 9,000 acres and the four square miles would be less than a third of that, so maybe they were counting a large chunk of land on the west side of the road - there was no Rohnert Park at the time, remember. It was pointed out that buildings could be on the scenic slope of Sonoma Mountain and part of the site was "a natural football bowl." Sell the sizzle, not the steak.

When the two guys arrived for the tour, a throng of local poobahs swarmed over them like a pack of dumpster raccoons. Reps from the city and/or Chamber for Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Cotati, Forestville and Sebastopol trailed the caravan driving up and down Petaluma Hill Road and out to Crane Canyon Road - although they couldn't see much because of heavy rain. Then it was off to Santa Rosa and its lush Topaz Room for lunch and fine speeches about how everyone thought it would be the bestest choice the Air Force could ever make. Afterwards they all piled back into cars and went off to see the "Sonoma County Airport tract."

Normally you'd expect it would be the last anyone heard of a project like this; competition was fierce from more prominent cities in California and other states in the West. Then suddenly the North Bay became a top contender because General "Hap" Arnold just happened to die right before the survey crew was here.

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 waited twenty years for it to happen. Twenty years! Yet when the big day arrived almost no one was able to enjoy it.

The date was December 22, 1948; the event was the first TV broadcast in the Bay Area (except for test patterns and other experiments). In Santa Rosa, the lucky folks who had a television got to watch an episode of Howdy Doody, a travelogue about Santa Clara county and a hockey match between the San Francisco Shamrocks and Oakland.

During the game Santa Rosa received a shout-out from the station for getting calls from local viewers. The Press Democrat remarked the KPIX broadcast came in "surprisingly well" while the Argus-Courier noted reception was "first class...[with] a number of excellent clearcut, contrasty pictures on the screen. Such deficiencies as loss of the sound component and flickering were still noticeable." So aside from a lack of sound and a poor quality picture, everything went just swell.

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

They made a terrible racket, shattering the early morning peace by honking horns and cranking sirens as the caravan entered Healdsburg and rounded the Plaza. Many in town, however, were probably awake and anxiously awaiting just such a signal - that they had pulled off a perfect crime and killed three men.

This is a postscript to the series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa, “THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID” and looks into the most significant of the conspiracies of silence that followed: How people in a small farm town executed a triple murder, then kept the planning behind it and the names of all those involved secret for 65 years. Now - more than a century later - new details have emerged that show the vigilante operation was even more cunning than suspected.

A previous chapter, "VENGEANCE FOR SUNNY JIM" covered events of just that night as reported at the time by first-hand witnesses. Also incorporated were later comments by Clarence H. "Barney" Barnard, the only member of the vigilantes to talk about it. Gaye LeBaron broke that story in 1985 after he spoke to her and in 1989 she recorded an interview which is available on the SSU website.

Barnard said the decision to raid the county jail and lynch the gangsters was made the same day that Sheriff James A. Petray was killed. On that night - Sunday, Dec. 5 - a mob of up to 3,000 had attacked the jail to seize them but the sheriff and deputies, reinforced by the Santa Rosa police and fire departments, were able to repel the rioters. It's likely many of the Healdsburg vigilantes were also on the scene and came away with the lesson that brute force was no guarantee of success.

"We could have had 500 men, if we'd wanted them," Barney told Gaye in 1985. "But the fellow who got it all organized, the Captain would only take 30. he wanted everybody to have an assignment and didn't want anybody who was going to get trigger happy and blow it all."

After a day spent organizing the crew, they gathered together for the first time on Tuesday night to begin rehearsing the mission in the back part of the Standard Machine Works building.

They drilled again on Wednesday night and made a final run-through on Thursday before leaving for the county jail in Santa Rosa. Each man knew his role and was expected to act without supervision.

Before they left, Barnard recalled the Captain saying, “If any one of you wants to back out, this is the time. Do it now. There won't be one word said. Nobody will think you a coward. But if you stay, from now on, we're all one." Barney repeated much the same thing in his 1989 interview, except changing the speech to end with, "after tonight, we’ve got an active war."

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 1:15 in the morning when Dr. Phillips' phone rang at his home in Petaluma. As he was Sonoma County Coroner, this was not terribly unusual; people inconveniently die at all hours. It's the coroner's job to investigate when there are unusual circumstances and the good doctor was certainly kept busy in late 1920 looking into odd deaths - in the previous few weeks four people were killed when their car or truck was hit by a train and a seven year-old boy was decapitated in an accident at the fairgrounds. But Phillips had never received a call like this one: He was told there were three men hanging from a tree in the old Santa Rosa cemetery and nobody knew who killed them.

This is a postscript to the series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa, “THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID” and covers one of the conspiracies of silence following the murder of the gangsters: The mystery of what happened to their bodies.

As he drove to Santa Rosa he passed around a dozen cars on the highway headed south, which seemed unusual for that time of night. He unfortunately mentioned this to a Press Democrat reporter when he arrived at the county jail; the newspaper took it as evidence that the lynching party came from San Francisco and most papers in the city chased that angle for days, although it was already pretty clear the vigilantes came from Healdsburg or points north.

Before he left Petaluma, Coroner Phillips phoned Frank Welti, the Deputy Coroner for Santa Rosa and ordered an ambulance to be waiting at the cemetery to transport the bodies. After the dead gangsters were cut down they would be taken to the Welti mortuary, which doubled as the town morgue.

Phillips spent nearly an hour at the jail with the sheriff (probably joined by Welti) prior to heading for the cemetery. This was likely when they all had a very earnest discussion about what might happen next - their jobs were not over just because the gangsters were now dead. "He is in a measure responsible for the safe keeping of the bodies until such time as they are interred," the San Francisco Call reported after speaking with Phillips. And until the remains were shipped out of the county or securely buried, there was a clear and apparent risk that someone might try to get access to the corpses or even steal them.

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

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