Researching interesting historical characters or events is great fun. Stumbling across disturbing questions about a beloved figure: Not so much.
This is the story of Jake Luppold, who was once the most well-known and well-liked man in town after that guy named Burbank. Between 1901 and 1922 he owned and operated “The Senate,” a saloon at the corner of Second and Main streets (next to the present transit mall) which was the unofficial political hub of Sonoma county, perhaps because it was the closest watering hole to the backdoor of the courthouse. He called himself the “mayor of Main street” which everyone thought was fitting.
(RIGHT: Jake Luppold c. 1918. Detail from photo shown below)
For some time I've intended to profile Jake and have written about him already; in 1908 he had fifteen minutes of national fame after announcing he was going to set fire to his unlucky automobile. That election night Main street was jammed with thousands of people roaring in delight as the car burned at the top of an immense pyre in front of his bar. If you haven't already read "Bonfire of the Hoodoos" you might want to look at it first - that story is a pretty good intro to Jake and his times.
So popular was Jake that there were many hundreds of little items about him in the Santa Rosa newspapers during his lifetime, again only behind L. B. in those first two decades of the 20th century. But after he died in 1922, memories faded fast. By the time an old friend published a memoir in 1964 with a few pages on Jake he was reduced to a footnote in the famous legend of the hoodoo car.
In that memoir is an anecdote which I found so shocking that I felt I could never write about Luppold again. A few years passed and having forgotten about the book I thought a profile of him would be appropriate for the series covering the rise and fall of the roadhouses, as he also had a roadhouse at Gwynn’s Corners (the intersection of Old Redwood Highway and Mark West) until the county cracked down. Finding that anecdote again my reaction was the same - this was one of those stories that should not be told.
But after much consideration and jawing it over I changed my mind; this story should be written and not in spite of the troubling material but because of it. It illuminates how attitudes and knowledge has evolved over the century and raises questions about how we interpret history. The complete anecdote and discussion of it can be found in the final section below, following a bio of Jake.
Jacob J. Luppold may have been born in Germany like his two older brothers, but family genealogists offer no proof of that. He always said he came from Missouri where they "pry the sun up in the morning" and was born in June, 1860 near Bridgeport, an old frontier town near the Missouri River which was already fading away as he grew up. According to the obits he came to California around 1887 and first appears in any official local record in 1890, identifying himself as a farmer near Santa Rosa.
Jake introduced himself to Santa Rosa's Good Ol' Boys Club by buying the cigar store adjoining the barber shop in the Grand Hotel. In the 1890s cigar shops sold more than smokes - they were the spot for gambling, from legal nickel slot machines to sports betting. It's reasonable to assume Jake made most of his money as a bookie; years later he even advertised in the 1904 Press Democrat he had "money to bet on the presidential election and on the total vote which will be polled in New York State. Come early and avoid the rush."
In the summer of 1900 he caught gold fever, selling his cigar store and heading to the Klondike with nine friends. His adventure lasted a little more than two months. He found only enough gold to qualify as a souvenir and told the Press Democrat many would-be prospectors were seriously ill and "it was quite a common thing to see a man murdered" when he arrived.
In short order the 40 year-old Luppold reinvented himself as a saloon man. He leased a building on Main street, where the Senate opened its doors for the first time on January 26, 1901.
At the birth of the Senate was likewise born Jake Luppold, Santa Rosa's gregarious everyman who was every man's friend. He lent money to hundreds of bar patrons in a pinch and many couldn't pay him back, which is how he got stuck with the hoodoo car. He affectionately called his regular customers cheapskates using an old Missouri idiom - when they entered his joint he welcomed them by loudly announcing, "here comes another nickel splitter." Anyone else who said that would have gotten a punch in the nose.
Most saloons offered a free lunch of sandwiches and snacks to wash down with beer, but the Senate spread was renowned. At Thanksgiving and other occasions Jake would go farther and host a free over-the-top banquet sometimes said to include over a ton of food. His 1913 tables groaned with 20 turkeys, 12 geese, 4 suckling pigs, 20 ducks, 20 chickens, and there were always buckets of oyster dressing and other "fixins'" to make sure his guests were properly stuffed. When he shifted his base of operations to the roadhouse from 1909-1912 his tradition switched to "Bull’s Head" barbecues of equal scale, with leftovers sent to the prisoners in the county jail. Hey, they'll be thirsty when they get out.
Jake apparently never married, although there was a little item in a 1907 Press Democrat, "Mr. and Mrs. Jake Luppold went to Boyes’ Springs Monday for an outing," which had to be a mistake. No wife was otherwise mentioned and he lived in a room at the back of the Senate he called "the Nest."
He died on March 6, 1922 at a Santa Rosa hospital from pneumonia after a bout with the flu. The only family he had was a couple of elderly brothers in the Midwest and they didn't come for his funeral. He was buried by friends and members of the Eagles lodge in the mausoleum at (what is now) Santa Rosa Memorial Park.
His obituaries were lengthy and heartfelt, nearly as effusive as the praise heaped on Burbank following his death a couple of years later. "No man had a bigger or more generous heart," the Press Democrat stated in a rare front page obit. He had "a nature which was gentle and good," the Republican stated, "marking a man who endeavored to make the world better for those with whom he came in contact." Both papers mentioned the hoodoo story and his generosity in making loans which were not repaid. "They probably needed the money more than I did," wrote the PD, quoting a common thing he said.
"There was no sham nor veneer about Luppold," according to the Press Democrat. "He was Jake Luppold at all times."
Except maybe not.
The memoir with the anecdotes about Jake is "The Unforgettables," written by Wallace L. Ware and published in 1964. Ware was a prominent lawyer and Sonoma county District Attorney as well as a Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce president and general all-around mover 'n' shaker. (Photos of the Ware family home on College avenue are often used to show 1906 earthquake damage, as the stately home is seen propped up by stilts.) He knew Jake through his father, distinguished attorney Allison Ware who had his son drive him down to the Senate saloon in their buggy. At age sixteen Wallace was part of the Senate gang, standing on the bar reading boxing telegrams with a megaphone. As an adult he remained Luppold's close friend and acted as his attorney.
The anecdote in question appears on page 39 and is quoted here in full:
Luppold's generosity and kindliness never found a boundary; especially for little boys who needed a bath and clean clothes. Whenever he discovered such a gamin--and these occasions were often--he had the unfailing talent of winning the lad's confidence and becoming his chum.|
With his affectionate arm on the child's shoulder he would lead him into the haberdashery of Frank McNamara or George Henderson. (Of course, both of these institutions were on Fourth street.)
Then and there the youngster became possessed of a brand new wardrobe: Two sets of underwear, six pairs of stockings, shoes, three shirts, three neckties, ten handkerchiefs, a sweater of the boy's choosing, a cap, and the best suit of clothes in the store. Jake's command was: 'NOTHING BUT THE BEST.'
But before donning any of this toggery the beneficiary was given a real hot bath, in a genuine bathtub.
The giver carried the bounty to the nearest barber shop. The youth followed eagerly.
In those days the better barber shops maintained public bathing facilities. The toll was 25 cents; time limit 30 minutes. Then a bell rang. This signal was Jake's cue to carry the finery into the bathroom. Then the transition.
The only thing that might be compared to the change was the metamorphosis of the silkworm. This world renowned insect, being gorged on mulberry leaves, spins a silken cocoon, and is endowed by nature to emerge therefrom an exquisite, tremulous, moth.
The two pals strutted like peacocks over to the Senate Saloon where they ate all they could hold from the best free lunch counter ever known to man.
What Wallace Ware thought was a sweet little example of generosity made me recoil in shock: My impression was that it is a clear description of "grooming" behavior by a pedophile.
(RIGHT: Jake Luppold portrait as it appeared in the Press Democrat, May 8, 1915)
I am NOT suggesting history books should be rewritten to state Jake Luppold was a child molester. I'm not a psychologist and there are ethical concerns about anyone, even professionals, diagnosing someone a century later sans legal or clinical evidence. However it is reasonable, even important, to point out his behavior would raise some pretty serious red flags among social service workers today.
Complicating any analysis is that we're looking at these events through double layers of historical dust - we're interpreting this story through what Ware penned over fifty years ago concerning what happened fifty years before that. There was nothing I could find in the original newspapers regarding Luppold and small children - which itself seems odd if "these occasions were often" because so much else was written about his generosity.
In his choice of words, Ware almost seems to be hinting there something amiss: "He had the unfailing talent of winning the lad's confidence and becoming his chum," "his affectionate arm on the child's shoulder," describing the ritual of presenting the gifts to the (presumably nude) boy and then escorting the child to the saloon - which is where he also lived. But that possibility is counterbalanced by Ware being a great friend of Luppold's; he certainly would not have included this story if he dreamed it could be interpreted as anything but the selfless act he believed it to be.
Wallace Ware was a well-educated man and familiar with criminality; as D.A. he was famous for being the prosecuting attorney in every felony case. Could it be he simply didn't see those contacts could have been sexual in nature?
Today most of us recognize warning signs of predatory behavior, no thanks to recent painful decades of stories in the news regarding church scandals, Jerry Sandusky and the like. But when Ware was writing his memoir in the early 1960s the concept of child sexual assault was limited to "stranger danger" threats of abduction. (One of the earliest public service films on the topic was "The Stranger," which was made in Santa Rosa by Sonoma county undersheriff Joseph S. Cozzolino. Spoiler alert: It stinks.) Never was it considered then a child molester could be a trusted and familiar figure such as a babysitting neighbor, gift-giving shopkeeper, kindly priest - or the most popular guy in town.
If it's unfair to judge Ware for not sharing our uncomfortable modern familiarity with the trickery of child molesters, we can't criticize the Santa Rosans of a hundred years ago for not being suspicious why Luppold was doting over young boys he found on the street. It was unthinkable in their culture that a creature such as a pedophile could exist - and it has to be noted that even if he was sexually abusing children it wasn't a serious offense then unless there was forcible assault involved. It remained an invisible crime until fairly recent; California law didn't even require child sexual abuse to be reported until 1963.
And finally, maybe there really is no there there - that cynicism has led me to rush to presume the worst, like those who mistakenly squinted hard to find wrongdoing in the McMartin preschool case. As unlikely as it seems now, maybe Luppold really did have a secret, personal charitable mission to aid young boys. Jake grew up in Victorian America and for every villain in Dickens like Fagin who exploited Oliver Twist, there was a nice Mr. Micawber who befriended street urchin David Copperfield.
I would still like to believe Jake Luppold was the man he was believed to be - the genial and generous “mayor of Main street.” But after long pondering what his friend Wallace Ware wrote I just can't shake suspicions he might also have been the “monster of Main street.” We can't forget monsters don't just lurk in dark shadows; they could also be escorting boys to a real hot bath in a genuine bathtub on a bright sunny afternoon.
Jake Luppold outside The Senate, c. 1918. L to R: Henry Carlton, Mr. Harris, Jake Luppold, unknown, and Tom Campion. (Photo courtesy Sonoma County Museum)
The details of the recent purchase of the Luppold cigar store on Main street had to be settled by arbitration. Under agreements alleged to have been made by Mr. Luppold both Ernest Viers and Jesse Bronck claimed the right to purchase the place, and Luppold left the question of priority of claim to arbitration. Charles Winters, J. H. Boswell and Dan Goodman were selected as a jury, the merits of the case were inquired into and a decision was rendered in favor of Mr. Viers. There was no question as to the price, but both Viers and Bronck claimed that Luppold had) agreed to sell to them when he got ready to dispose of the place. The price paid was $250.
J. Luppold left for San Francisco Saturday afternoon en route to Cape Nome.
The steamer San Pedro after some delay sailed from San Francisco Thursday carrying the following named delegation of Santa Rosa ns: C. H. Burger, Clyde Burger, Charles Cook, O. R. Gale, Joe Cook, J. Luppold, J. A. Gould, G. Calderwood, John Hudeon. Attorney D. R. Gale who was in San Francisco Wednesday saw most of them and they were all in good spirits.
On Saturday J. Luppold and George Calderwood returned from Cape Nome. John Hudson, the other member of the party, Is at Seattle and will he here in a day or two.
In talking over the situation at Nome Mr. Luppold, who formerly conducted a cigar store on Main street, said that he did not find Nome the place he expected to.During the time they were up there he and his companions lived in a tent about five miles from Nome. They used their rockers on the beach and the gold they obtained made their wages. That the Nome beach was very rich Mr. Luppold says there is no doubt but it was worked out last year. The reported fabulous wealth taken out from the Anvil mines he says is not true and instead of the amount of gold being $15,000,000, he says $15,000 would. be nearer the mark.
Mr. Luppold brought back with him some samples of the gold found on the beach in the Nome country and also a small phial of the sand. These he left at the Press Democrat office.
There was a great deal of sickness at Nome when he and Mr. Calderwood left, more particularly typhoid pneumonia and some smallpox. A vast number of people have left the place and many others would leave if they had the wherewithal to do so. Food is pretty reasonable at Nome now and there are provisions there to last for a long time.
Shortly after their arrival at Nome, Mr. Luppold says, it was quite a common thing to see a man murdered. Now much of the lawlessness has ended. He saw many of the Santa Rosa delegation there and brought messages back home for their relatives. Both Mr. Luppold and Mr. Calderwood are glad to be home again.
J. J. Luppold has purchased the well known road house at Gwynn’s Corners, and will in future conduct the place as a first class resort. A number of important improvements are to be made and the place will be thoroughly renovated. Mr. Luppold will undoubtedly do well in his new venture.
A new floor has been laid in the Ullrich building on Main street and a new front is being put in. The building will be neatly fitted up in readiness for J. J. Luppold to open his sample rooms. Mr. Luppold expects to open up about January 15.
- Press Democrat ad, January 26 1901
There was a large assembly at “The Senate” on Main street last night, over which J. J. Luppold now presides. The Senate is Mr. Luppold's new place of business and he has a very neat stand. The sample rooms were crowded with friends and patrons and there was plenty of refreshment on hand for the delectation of the inner man.
J. J. Luppold, the well known proprietor of “The Senate” on Main street, and John Glynn were the contestants in a highly exciting race on that street on Wednesday afternoon for a stake of four dollars. The course was over the muddy street from the comer of Third and Main streets to Colgan's blacksmith shop. George Ullrich was stake holder and Robert Ross dropped the flag. About 160 persons witnessed the race which was won by Mr. Glynn.
“The Senate,” as Jacob Luppold’s well-known Main street resort is called, enjoys a good patronage and is one of the leading places of its class in that part of town. Choice wines, liquors, steam and lager, etc., are supplied over the bar, while a reading and lounging room is also at the disposal of patrons. Mr. Luppold opened “The Senate" something like three years ago, and from the first has enjoyed a good, steady trade, and one that is growing constantly.
Jake Luppold's pet ’coon, which escaped from its chain and climbed onto the roof of the adjoining buildings, was the innocent cause of a burglar scare which caused policemen to scale the roofs of buildings in the rear of the Yakima apartment house at Third and Main streets about half past eleven o'clock Wednesday night. It was not so much the 'coon that caused the burglar scare as the man employed at the “Senate,” who climbed the roof in an endeavor to recapture the ’coon.
About half past eleven a hurried police call was sent by Mrs. Label and Police Officers Hanke! and Mclntosh responded. They were informed that a man had been walking about the roof in a very suspicious manner. The officers proceeded to investigate as soon as they could gain an exit to the root by means of a window. The officers searched the premises and caught the “burglar” supposed to be. It proved to be a man as stated, but when the officer sought an explanation. the man replied somewhat jocularly that the man on the roof was him all right, but he was not a burglar, but a hunter after Jake's ’coon. The lady of the household was not overpleased at the scare given her and the people in the apartments. She was right, however, there was a man on the roof even if he were not a burglar as supposed.
J. Luppold is making some neat improvements in the Senate on Main street and is putting in some elegant fixtures. He also owns the hall overhead, and he is turning that into a nice flat in which there will be severa! rooms. When the improvements are completed the place will be a very attractive one.
The appearance of the place is not all that has received the proprietor's careful attention. He is himself a connoisseur in liquids and he knows the best. He does not claim to have all the good liquor in town, or the only good liquor in town. But he has none that is poor. In distilled liquors his specialty is straight goods, but he keeps a small line of blended whiskies as well. There is a full line of wines. He makes a leader of Grace Brothers’ beers, but If you want St. Louis beer he has the A. B. C. and Lemp's; also he has Fredericksburg in bottles. Frank Cootes is Luppold’s head bartender. He is away up In the business, just the same as Luppold Is. Either of them can serve you to the Queen’s taste.
J. J. Luppold, the well known proprietor of the Senate, on Main street, states that by actual count 2,973 people passed through the doors of his place of business during the time the rounds from the fight at Goldfield were being received on Monday afternoon.
Today, in accordance with his usual custom on Thanksgiving Day, Jake Luppold has provided a big Thanksgiving dinner for his patrons and friends at The Senate on Main street. The hours will be from twelve to two o’clock. For the feast Mr. Luppold has eight fine turkeys, four sucking pigs and the other etceteras.
Jack Luppold of the "Senate,” on Main street, is presenting his patrons with a neat stocking decorated with holly berries hidden in which is a bottle of the finest Kentucky bourbon. Accompany the stocking is a check for 366 days on the “Bank of Prosperity.”
J. Luppold will give a bull’s head supper to the public in general at the Senate 103 Main street, Wednesday night at 8 o’clock. “The Mayor of Main street” invites all to dine with him.
JAKE LUPPOLD GIVES THE PRISONERS A TREAT
Following the bull’s head supper on Thanksgiving day at “The Senate" on Main street, Jake Luppold sent a fine large bull’s head and the necessary edible trimmings over to the county jail on Third street to give the prisoners a feast there. The latter thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Luppold's hospitality, as the following signed communication received by him from the Jail on Saturday will attest:
County Jail, Santa Rosa, Cal., Nov. 28. 'OB. — Hon. Jake Luppold, “Mayor of Main street,” city. Dear Sir:
We, the undersigned, prisoners of the county Jail of Sonoma county, Calif., wishing to show our deep appreciation, and express our thanks to you for your kind, generous and substantial remembrance of us on Thanksgiving day, have voted you the best man in Santa Rosa, and ordered this slight testimonial drafted and sent to you as the only means, at present at our disposal, of showing our gratitude.
With sincere wishes for many pleasant returns of the day for you, and the assurance that our hearty good will follows you, we are thankfully and respectfully yours, [22 names] ...There are six others who cannot sign their names, but feel Just as kindly towards your honor.
Jake Luppold was here from his new road house at Gwynn's Corners Monday greeting his many friends. Mr. Luppold is planning to give some more of his banquets for which he has been noted in the past, in the near future at his new resort. He is a royal entertainer and a liberal provider.
It is estimated that between four and five hundred persons enjoyed the barbecue given at Gwlnn's Corners on Sunday by J. J. Luppold. The meat was done to a turn and pronounced by many of those present as the finest barbecued meat they have ever eaten. Chef George Zllhart was in charge and he was much complimented. He was assisted by Assistant Chef Marble, Walter Farley, Marvin Robinson and J, Kelly. As usual "Mayor” Luppold’s hospitality was dispensed with a liberal hand. The feasting began about 11:30 o’clock in the morning and continued until nearly 6 o’clock In the evening, people arriving and departing all the time. The barbecue was served on long tables under the shade trees.
Jake Luppold, the well known proprietor of the Gwinn's Corners resort has closed that place and has come to Santa Rosa. He will remain here for an indefinite time, but it is not certain as yet whether or not he will make this city his permanent home. Mr. Luppold may make up his mind to take a European trip for a year or more. For some time past, he has had an ambition to hobnob with Emperor Willie of Germany and discuss the Far Eastern war situation with that august personage, and he is likewise desirous of discussing some of the other important questions of the day with other rulers of the old world. With these ambitions he may decide to cross the pond for a stay. Mr. Luppold's headquarters while in Santa Rosa will be at his former place of business on Main street. He is one of the best known men in the county.
J. J. Luppold, familiarly termed the "Mayor of Main Street,” will shortly engage in business again at his old stand, "The Senate,” on that street. Mr. Luppold contemplates the outlay of considerable money in the practical rebuilding of the property, or at least the carrying out of extensive improvements. "Jake” says “there is nothing like Main street anywhere, and there are no nickel splitters there.”
J. Luppoid, proprietor of the 'Senate' on Main street, has commenced the rebuilding and improvement of the structure. Brick and other material have already been hauled and it will not be long before “Jake" says he will have a building that will be a credit to “Main."
Luppold Entertains Many Friends
Twenty turkeys, twelve geese, four suckling pigs, twenty ducks, twenty chickens and other good cheer composed the big Thanksgiving dinner Jake Luppold, “the Mayor of Main street,” served to scores of his friends at "The Senate" on Thanksgiving Day, The friends were bidden come and eat without money and without price and they did so. They took occasion to sing the praises of the generous hospitality shown by their host.
At the “Senate” on Main street, the genial host, J. Luppold, fed several hundred people with plenty of turkey, suckling pig and the trimmings that accompany a Thanksgiving feast. There was plenty for everybody and all were welcome. This is a Thanksgiving habit of Mr. Luppold’s, which )s very much appreciated by the recipients of his hospitality.
When it comes In riding in an automobile Jack Lnppold, genial “Mayor of Main street” and proprietor of "The Senate," cannot ride in a baby automobile, so Fred Harrell says. Luppold was spinning along the highway near Windsor last week in a little machine which almost touched the ground even though it was mounted on four wheels. Under Luppold’s weight the axle broke and he momentarily expected to see the machine broke in two. “Nothing too good for Main; no nickel spitters [sic] there,” quoth the "Mayor," and the chances are that he will get a big Packard next.
Seven roast pigs were featured in the Thanksgiving feast set by Mine Host J. J. Luppold at "The Senate" on Thanksgiving Day. “Jack” had several hundred guests and they ployed havoc with the porkers in short time. In addition to the pork, there were other good things, and it was certainly a feast fit for a king that Luppold set before the crowd that filled his place of business for a long time on Thursday.
Jake Luppold, the biggest hearted and most generous man who ever resided in this city, is dead. A rough exterior shielded a nature as gentle as a woman's, and many in this city will shed a silent tear in memory of the man who has gone across the Great Divide into the shadowland.
Luppold had been ill for a couple of weeks past, and was being attended to in his little cabin, which occupied the rear of his property at the corner of Second and Main Streets. When he was engaged in business at this location, he erected this cabin, and always referred to it as 'The Nest.' He was taken from this place on Saturday to a local hospital, his condition having developed pneumonia, and it being inadvisable for him longer to remain without the skill of a trained nurse.
The deceased came from the grand old state of Missouri, and he always declared that it was in Missouri that they 'Pried the sun up in the morning', that its bright rays might illumine the earth during the day. He had an inexhaustible fund of humor and witty sayings, and one of his chief jokes was on the 'Natives', and in his generous hearted way he fed all the poor that would come to his place, and then send the remainder of the feed to poor families of this city. There is absolutely no way of estimating the great good done by this splendid citizen, for he was an exemplary man in many ways.
Luppold came into great prominence some years ago when he burned an automobile 'at the stake.' He had been victimized to the extend of many thousands of dollars by L. L. Viers, and the only thing he secured for the bogus promissory notes passed on him was an obsolete auto. This he declared had been a hoodoo, and he named a date on which the hoodoo auto would be burned. Many persons endeavored to purchase the machine from Luppold, and others sought to have him give them the machine, but to these suggestions he remained impervious, and finally the machine was burned and the cremation was witnessed by a large crowd of Santa Rosans. The remnants of the machine are still preserved in the former place of business of Luppold, as were also a photo of Viers and one of the promissory notes given Luppold by this individual who departed hurriedly from Santa Rosa many years ago. The photo and note were framed to preserve them.
Nor was Viers the only man who victimized Luppold and borrowed sums of money from him. Many prominent Santa Rosans made 'touches' for various amounts, and his estate holds innumerable 'I.O.U.s', and promissory notes. So generous was the deceased that he had never learned to say 'No' and all who applied for assistance got it without hesitation. Luppold's first business venture here was when he purchased a cigar and tobacco store in the old Grand Hotel building at the corner of Third and Main Streets.
Beneath his rough exterior beat a mammoth heart and a nature which was gentle and good, marking a man who endeavored to make the world better for those with whom he came in contact. He was one man who engaged in the saloon business who commanded almost universal respect, for he was honest and square, of strictest integrity, and he never lost faith in humanity, although he was badly treated at many times by his fellow human beings. Had Luppold chosen to have engaged in some mercantile line, he would have been a great success, for he drew people to him by his genial good nature and flow of wit and humor. No man in Santa Rosa possessed more genuine friends than this good man who has passed from life's sphere.
The funeral of Jake Luppold was held this afternoon at 2 o'clock from funeral apartments of Lafferty & Smith. The fraternal order of Eagles, nearly all of whom were present, took charge and read the Burial Service. The Pall Bears were...all of whom were old friends of Mr. Luppold. Interment in the Odd Fellows' cemetery mausoleum followed. William Mather offers the following tribute of a friend to the memory of Mr. Luppold...
Want to remember (or discover) what Sonoma County looked like in the 1960s? You're in luck; there's an online archive of documentaries and news footage shot in that decade.
Sadly, it's hard to find unless you know where to look - since this material is not available on YouTube, Google does not list any of it in video search results, even if the exact title is entered. Overall there are thousands of hours in those archives and they are a treasure for anyone interested in what happened in Northern California in the latter part of the Twentieth Century. Here are discussed only those most relevant to Sonoma County, along with a bonus section looking at other obscure - and sometimes bizarre - historical videos per our corner of the woods.
The videos are part of the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive, which sweeps together decades of leavings from major Bay Area TV broadcasters. Maintained by San Francisco State University, the older stuff offers a glimpse of a time we'll never see again - and by that I mean an era when local stations produced educational programs to show they were operating in the pubic's interest, an FCC requirement for having a commercial license. These programs usually aired during the off-off-hours on Sundays and were produced on a zero budget except for film and a little staff/studio time. Quality varies greatly, as one might expect; the footage is sometimes puzzling or as awful as an unedited home movie, but there are also treasures such as the 1953 interview with Frank Lloyd Wright, where he talks for half an hour about architecture and his proposed design for the "Southern Crossing" (a companion to the Bay Bridge which was never built).
There are nine videos in the archive related to Sonoma County. Here are summaries and links to most of them:
PORTRAIT OF PLEASURE (1963) is a half-hour travelogue on Sonoma County. Like most of these amateurish documentaries, the script doesn't add much and is sometimes misleading or outright wrong - apparently Burbank's home and gardens are somewhere near Bodega. But, hey, we're here for the pictures, right? Highlights are the aerial shots near the beginning, scenes of downtown Sebastopol and views of vintage (not then!) cars on Hwy. 101. It was county fair season so there's a long segment which won't be very interesting unless there's someone you know slurping ice cream or watching the cattle judging. Unfortunately, that time wasted on boilerplate footage of carnival rides cuts into most coverage of Santa Rosa, which is limited to a few downtown scenes. The streets are surprisingly empty; the only person clearly seen is on Fourth Street - and surprise, it's a cop writing a parking ticket. Was ever thus.
LUTHER BURBANK: A GARDENER OF EDEN (1967) is mostly a generic Burbank bio but it contains some footage I have never seen elsewhere, including film taken during his funeral. Other highlights include a few views of a Rose Parade (I'm guessing c. 1920) and a two minute interview with Judge Hilliard Comstock that begins at the 13:30 mark. Hilliard reminisces about working for him as a teenager and the time Burbank scolded him for eating on the job.
THE STORY OF THE GRAPE (1962) covers that year's grape harvest and crush in the manner of an industrial video along with some sketchy history of the Buena Vista winery. The best parts are the many aerial views of Sonoma Valley and a full segment on the 16th Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival, including the children's parade. There are some nice shots of the Sonoma Plaza and surrounding streets during the festival.
HIGHWAY THROUGH TIME (1965) A drive up Highway 1; the Sonoma County stretch begins at 19:55.
EARTHQUAKE IN SANTA ROSA A ten minute news segment from KPIX on the aftermath of the 1969 earthquake. Includes a short press conference by Police Chief Melvin (Dutch) Flohr, images of downtown and residential damage and the cleanup at the Fourth street Safeway.
Other material in the archive includes an interview with a PG&E spokesman on their intent to build a nuclear power plant at Bodega Head (1963) and a story on Bobby Kennedy visiting a school on the Kashia Reservation (1968). There is also a Jack London documentary which is too dark to watch and has a particularly bad script.
These videos either were made before 1960 or come from sources other than the Bay Area Television Archive. Some of these I have found over the years, lost, then found again, so it saves me grief to offer them all in one place.
THE INNOCENT FAIR is all footage from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. The film has a mysterious past; it was discovered at a Marin junk store in 1961 and aired with narration the following year on KPIX. There are several copies floating about the Internet, but this one is the best quality, even with the station logo in the corner. Skip to 13:30 for the shots of Burbank, Edison and Ford together.
A VISIT WITH LUTHER BURBANK, THE GREAT AMERICAN NATURALIST (1917) is a short produced for the Ford Educational Weekly, a newsreel series the Ford Motor Company distributed free to nickelodeons and movie houses. Seen by an estimated 4-5 million people every week, these productions made the company the world's largest film distributor at the time. A much higher quality copy of this is available for purchase via shutterstock but lacks the title cards revealing its origin.
THE LARGEST OMELET IN THE WORLD (1930) According to the Argus-Courier of May 3, 1930, "eleven Petaluma girls left here early Saturday morning for San Francisco to assist in the ceremonies of preparing the world's largest omelet, which was cooked in a 16-foot frying pan...those who made the trip were Vivian Foster, Hazel White, Janet Perry, Hazel McDonald, Mildred Keller, Lola Hames, Jeane Sweeney, Helen Kenneally, Nettie Rorden, Marie Hames and Dorothy Swan." Why they had to do calisthenics in the frying pan is anybody's guess.
THE LIBRARY STORY (1964?) The old Carnegie library was condemned in 1960 and Santa Rosa was in no hurry to pay for a new one, so for years the town's main library was on the second story above a saloon and a beauty shop on Exchange Avenue. This video, produced by the Friends of the Santa Rosa Public Library, was an effort to shame the town into building a replacement so the children didn't have to hustle past the "Bambi Room" bar to do their homework. It worked; voters approved a 1964 bond and the new main library building was opened in February, 1967. Thanks to architectural photographer Darren Bradley for an interesting blog post on this history and many fine pictures of the current building.
JACK LONDON NEWSREEL (1915) Two minutes of Jack and Charmian supposedly filmed just three days before he died.
????? (early 1960s??) This was apparently for an industrial video or commercial promoting the Italian Swiss Colony winery, but it's such a bizarre 55 minutes of random junk I would love to slip it to conspiracy theorists and watch them spin their wheels. Why all the ominous footage of the deep shadows in the redwoods at Armstrong Grove? Why shots of highway 101 south of Petaluma followed by views of empty beaches? Why do the people in the tasting room scenes apparently not know how to dress themselves - and why do they seemingly never swallow the wine they eagerly tipple? Why keep coming back to the ladies making straw chianti bottles? The film goes black for three minutes and when it returns...hand puppets!! There is a scene in a puppet store and another at the side of a puppet swimming pool. The puppets appear to be arguing. One sits in a puppet chair and dies, or at least falls unconscious. The footage immediately cuts to a real swimming pool, as the camera pans over to show barrels of (poisonous!) chlorine stacked at poolside. This. Explains. Everything.
Petaluma was soooo lucky. Mark Twain, that funny guy everyone was buzzing about, made only a few appearances before he left for the East Coast and Europe, probably never to return out west. Reviewers had been giddy with delight over his recent appearance in San Francisco: "From the beginning to the end, the interest was never allowed to flag," gushed the Chronicle. "Taking it altogether, 'Mark Twain's lecture may be pronounced one of the greatest successes of the season." Other SF newspapers sang with similar praise. Thus on November 26, 1866, you can bet Hinshaw's Hall was crowded with Petalumans expecting to spend a jolly evening. Spoiler alert: They hated him.
The next edition of the Petaluma Journal and Argus offered a review of his lecture with the headline, "REPREHENSIBLE." That fellow who called himself Mark Twain was a complete flop ("...as a lecturer he falls below mediocrity") and the San Francisco papers should be condemned for misleading the public by giving good reviews to such bad entertainers.
Now, wait a minute; today, everyone knows Sam Clemens/Mark Twain was the most celebrated speaker of his time, if not all of American history. Surely that Petaluma critic was as much an idiot as the Hollywood producer who supposedly dissed Fred Astaire's screen test, "can't sing, can't act, balding, can dance a little."
As it turns out, the Petaluma review was truthful, albeit inartfully written (the full review is transcribed below, apparently for the first time since 1866). Evidence found in contemporary papers show Twain's appearances in those weeks were often stinkers - and it seems he knew that but did not know how to improve. Following one lecture he told a friend he felt like he was a fraud who was taking people in.
But that's not the story he tells in his memoir and first popular book, Roughing It, or when reminiscing as he did in his remarks about stage fright made after his daughter's musical recital. In his version, he was nervous about his debut performance in San Francisco, fearful that no tickets would sell and no one would laugh at his jokes. He papered the house to pack it with friends including three "giants in stature, cordial by nature, and stormy-voiced" who were expected to howl with glee and beat their shillelagh on the floor whenever Twain made a funny. Still, he was terrified of failure. From Roughing It:
|...before I well knew what I was about, I was in the middle of the stage, staring at a sea of faces, bewildered by the fierce glare of the lights, and quaking in every limb with a terror that seemed like to take my life away. The house was full, aisles and all! The tumult in my heart and brain and legs continued a full minute before I could gain any command over myself. Then I recognized the charity and the friendliness in the faces before me, and little by little my fright melted away, and I began to talk. Within three or four minutes I was comfortable, and even content. My three chief allies, with three auxiliaries, were on hand, in the parquette, all sitting together, all armed with bludgeons, and all ready to make an onslaught upon the feeblest joke that might show its head. And whenever a joke did fall, their bludgeons came down and their faces seemed to split from ear to ear...|
"All the papers were kind in the morning," Twain finished up, referring to those reviews the Petaluma paper later called "reprehensible." As he didn't write about his subsequent appearances, Gentle Reader was left with the impression all went smoothly after his debut butterflies. And as far as I can tell Twain biographers all take him at his word, speeding past events of that autumn to arrive without delay at his rise to international fame.
It's a great shame more attention hasn't been given to this period, as this was a turning point in his life. "Without means and without employment," as he wrote in Roughing It, he convinced himself public speaking was his "saving scheme," despite having absolutely no experience or training at it. And although the reviews after his debut were often poor, his convictions seemingly never faltered that he would now do this for a living. If nothing else, it's an inspiring story of determination; constructing a Mark Twain from scratch was not easy work.
The topic of Twain's lectures were the "Sandwich Islands," AKA the Kingdom of Hawaii, where he had just spent five months as a special correspondent for the Sacramento Daily Union. The Kingdom was a pretty exotic place to Americans in 1866 and the couple of dozen articles he wrote were well received, but travelogue lectures are not where you usually expect an evening of knee-slappin' humor. Twain destroyed his copy of the speech years later so we don't know exactly what he said, but from snippets and summaries we know the lecture was mainly a travel description of people, places and things along with his wry observations. Or as the Sacramento Union critic wrote, he "seasoned a large dish of genuine information with spicy anecdote."
The advertisements he placed in the papers became celebrated in their own right. Shown here is his first from the Sept. 30 Daily Alta California (CLICK or TAP to enlarge) with its funny blurbs. "A SPLENDID ORCHESTRA Is in town but has not been engaged", read one of them. At other lectures he came up with different items, such as "THE WONDERFUL COW WITH SIX LEGS! Is not attached to this Menagerie". Most famous was the tag at the end: "Doors open at 7 o'clock. The Trouble to begin at 8 o'clock." He varied this line, too; another example was, "Doors open at 7; the inspiration will begin to gush at 8."
Once back in his old Gold Country stomping grounds, he also ran this in the Nevada Transcript and Grass Valley Union:
"After the lecture is over, the lecturer will perform the following wonderful feats of SLIGHT OF HAND, if desired to do so:
At a given signal. he will go out with any gentleman and take a drink. If desired, he will repeat this unique and interenting feat - repeat it until the audience are satisfied that there is no deception about it.
At a moment's warning he will depart out of town and leave his hotel bill unsettled. He has performed this ludicrous trick many hundreds of times in San Francisco and elsewhere, and it has always elicited the most enthusiastic comments.
At any hour of the night, after ten, the lecturer will go through any house in the city, no matter how dark it may be, and take an inventory of its contents, and not miss as many of the articles as the owner will in the morning.
The lecturer declines to specify any more of his miraculous feats at present, for fear of getting the police too much interested in his circus.
The Mark Twain who appeared on stages in those weeks was more or less an imitation of his contemporary and friend who went by the name of Artemus Ward. One of the most popular humorists during the Civil War - Lincoln opened the cabinet meeting about the Emancipation Proclamation by reading aloud a little humor sketch - Ward's stage persona was a backcountry hick who drawled through rambling stories, clueless there was anything remotely funny about his remarks. Audiences ate it up. It was Ward's great success that undoubtedly inspired Twain to try his hand at it.
Those early lectures by Twain included a great deal of clowning. He would open by pretending he did not know there was an audience; if there was a piano available he sometimes was yowling and banging away at an old saloon tune, “I Had an Old Horse Whose Name Was Methusalem" when the curtain went up. From a good profile of Twain's years in the West, "Lighting Out for the Territory:"
|As can best be reconstructed, he simply sauntered onto the stage from the wings, his hands stuffed into his pockets and a sheaf of papers clutched under his arm. He wandered vaguely around the lectern for a bit, looking for the most comfortable place to stand, and then appeared to notice the audience for the first time, the expression on his face registering an equal mixture of surprise, perplexity, and fear. For a long moment he looked silently at the audience while it looked back at him, waiting.|
Once he introduced himself the comic shtick continued as he pretended to be shocked and mystified whenever there was laughter or applause. Describing his debut performance, a journalist in the audience recalled "...the apparently painful effort with which he framed his sentences, and above all, the surprise that spread over his face when the audience roared with delight or rapturously applauded..."
His Petaluma review was certainly the worst. but other reactions were decidedly mixed. Even as the Chronicle called his debut "one of the greatest successes of the season," the back page of the same edition had a little item about running into Twain on Montgomery street and telling him "the envious and jealous" were saying it wasn't worth the price of admission. When he appeared in San Jose the Mercury said "the lecture was entirely successful" while the Santa Clara Argus wrote "the lecture disappointed." For his second San Francisco lecture the Chronicle called his performance unpolished and raw: "Some of 'Mark's'" jokes were very much strained, and others were so nearly improper--not to say coarse--that they could not be heartily laughed at by ladies."
This was not harsh criticism, but that any were negative has to be weighed with understanding he had a "favorite son multiplier." Samuel Clemens was a fellow newspaperman and drinking buddy of everyone in the City and in the Sierras who reviewed his appearances. They all wanted him to succeed, if for no other reason that he used his box office to buy rounds of drinks after the show.
So great was his popularity that the harsh Petaluma review received its own smackdown from the Grass Valley Union:
|Unfortunate Clemens! Why did you blight your lecturing prospects by attempting to pass the ordeal of the corn and spud-producers of the Russian river country? You may do in San Francisco and 'sich like places,' but you ought to have known better than to brave the Petaluma lions in their den...what business had you, Mark Twain, up in that part of the country? Telegraph to the St. Louis and Cincinnati Boards of Commerce that you cannot accept their invitations to lecture - that your lecturing star went down in Petaluma.|
We have that sublime gob of sneer thanks to Santa Rosa's newspaper, the Sonoma Democrat, where editor Thomas L. Thompson was still locked in battle with the Petaluma Argus over the Civil War, by then over a year and a half. (In an adjacent article, the Confederacy-mourning Thompson ranted at length about "the Radical tools and dupes of Abolition despotism.") Thompson was clearly delighted that another editor handed him a cudgel to bash Petaluma and he did so with relish, taunting their critic as not "able to appreciate the entertainment."
By the end of 1866 Mark Twain was on a ship headed to the East Coast. Over the next seven years he would deliver the Hawaii lecture some 150 times, by his count, almost always to acclaim. How did he completely turn it around?
For starters, he must have sharpened his focus once he was facing audiences of strangers and not his personal acquaintances, as was the case in California and Nevada. In the second Chronicle review they noted his weeks performing in front of his old pals in the Gold Country had changed his performance and not for the better: "...He was a little too familiar with his audiences. What will be thought very funny by the inhabitants of the desolated wastes on the other side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, won't do at all in great metropolis like San Francisco."
He also likely improved the writing; the Hawaii lecture he gave in 1873 probably was very much evolved from the original of 1866. His early reviews remarked at how much information he packed in about the climate, volcanoes, weird food, "board surfing" and the native people who were primitive because they did not act or dress like Victorian-era Americans. That didn't leave much time for humor beyond making wry asides; were people filling his theater seats for a geography lesson or to have some laughs?
An incident during the Nevada leg of his tour should have given him cause to reflect: While walking the short distance back to Virginia City after an appearance at a mining town, Twain was held up by masked robbers who took his money and expensive gold watch. It soon came out the highwaymen were really his friends playing a prank and everything was returned to him, but Twain was livid and unforgiving. Why did they do it? Some forty years later, one of would-be brigands revealed they hoped it would cause him to stick around Virginia City and give another talk. And hopefully for that lecture, the robbery - which they had made as scary as possible - would be his topic instead of rehashing those damned factoids about Sandwich Islands.
But it appears his biggest improvement was dropping the stage business - the silly gimcrackery of pretending he had no idea what he was doing in front of an audience. He became less targeted on checking off the list of Hawaii's wonders than sitting back and telling us a story about the place. Here was the emergence of the beloved Mark Twain we all know (well, the Hal Holbrook we all know), the man in the white suit, relaxed in the comfy chair and flicking ashes off his cigar while keeping us spellbound with whatever fool thing that happened to pop to mind. Volcanoes? Jumping frogs? Steamboats and your Missouri childhood? Whatever, Mark, just keep talking. We'll listen to anything you have to say. You never needed the theatrics.
|Unknown illustration, probably from early edition of Roughing It|
Meeting "Mark" this morning on Montgomery street, the following dialogue ensued:
"Mark" -- Well, what do they say about my lecture?
We--Why, the envious and jealous say it was "a bilk" and a "sell."
"Mark" -- All right. It's a free country. Everybody has a right to his opinion, if he is an ass. Upon the whole, it's a pretty even thing. They have the consolation of abusing me, and I have the consolation of slapping my pocket hearing their money jingle. They have their opinions, and I have their dollars. I'm satisfied.
SECOND LECTURE BY "MARK TWAIN"-Platt's Hall has been engaged for to-morrow by "Mark Twain," tor the delivery of his second lecture on the Sandwich Islands, and in addition he promises "the only true and reliable history of the late revolting highway robbery, perpetrated on the lecturer at the dead of night between the cities of Gold Hill and Virginia." The tickets for the lecture are for sale at the book stores, "The wisdom will begin to flow at 8." "Mark" will depart on the steamer of Monday, for a visit to the Atlantic States.
..."Mark" was not as happy in this new lecture as he was in his old one. He was not in very good condition, having of course got alkalied while in the savage wilds of Washoe, and at the same time we fear that he had become a little demoralized. He was a little too familiar with his audiences. What will be thought very funny by the inhabitants of the desolated wastes on the other side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, won't do at all in great metropolis like San Francisco. Some of "Mark's" jokes were very much strained, and others were so nearly improper--not to say coarse--that they could not be heartily laughed at by ladies. However, "Mark," of course, sent the audience into fits of laughing again and again; and as a whole, his lecture was thoroughly enjoyed by those present. "Mark's" travels to the interior, where he has so many friends, have not improved his style. The lecture which he delivered last night might have been polished considerably without wearing down any of the sharp points with which it was ornamented.
"Mark Twain," the Missionary. styled the "Inimitable." by the Mercury, favored a large and appreciative audience at San Jose, on Thursday, with an amusing account of what he heard, saw, and "part of which he was," in the Sandwich lslands. One attraction, he announced, was necessarily omitted. In illustration of Cannibalism, as practiced anciently, he proposed to devour, in presence of the audience, any young and tender cherub if its maternal parent would stand such sacrifice for public edification, but there being no spare infants at hand the illustration was not given. With this exception, the Mercury says the lecture was entirely successful. They want him to do it again.
The Argus, concerning " Mark Twain's" lecture, says: We have long been an admirer of the infutitable humor of the lecturer, as shown in his numerous letters and sketches that have been so widely published but confess that the lecture disappointed us. We expected to hear the Kanakas "joked blind," but had no idea of being treated to such an intellectual feast as he served up to his audience. We never heard or read anything half so beautiful as his descriptions when he laid aside the role of the humorist and gave rein to his fancy. To use the expressions of a wrapt listener to the lecture, "he's lightnin'."
MARK TWAIN.-- The Alta of Sunday last says that Mark Twain is to deliver a lecture in this city Friday evening. We hope this is not a mistake.
REPREHENSIBLE.-- The gentleman who enjoys a wide celebrity on this Coast as a spicy writer, over the non de plume of "Mark Twain," delivered his lecture on the Sandwich Islands, in this city, on Monday evening last. While we accord to him the merit of being a spicy writer, candor compels us to say that as a lecturer he is not a success. We say this through no desire to be captious, but simply because it is literally true. As a newspaper correspondent Mark Twain is a racy and humorous writer, but as a lecturer he falls below mediocrity. In this connection we think it not inappropriate to address ourself to the editorial fraternity on this Coast, and to our San Francisco contemporaries in particular, in relation to the reprehensible practice of disguising the truth in reference to the qualifications and ability of persons who sell their talents for a valuable consideration, and too frequently "sell" those who go to hear them, innocently expecting to be instructed or amused. To remedy these evils we must begin at the fountain head. San Francisco occupies that proud eminence, and what she has of intelligence and real worth we delight to honor. She possesses an array of talent and varied accomplishments of which she may justly be proud; but her journals have apparently yet to learn to discriminate between stars of the first and ninth magnitude. They seem to lack the power of discrimination, and bespatter with printer's ink all aspirants for public fame, without any seeming regard to their fitness or ability to meet the requirements of the public. Through their fulsome praise the public expectation, in the interior, is worked up to the highest pitch of expectation, and as a consequence nine times out of ten is doomed to disappointment. These frequent dampers upon public expectation has rendered the people so suspicious that lecturers of real merit are frequently mortified by finding themselves facing an audience that would be a discredit to the attractions of a hand organ.
POKING FUN AT PETALUMA.— The ridiculous comments of the Journal and Argus upon “Mark Twain’s” lecture in Petaluma, which we noticed at the time, have called forth some pretty sharp remarks from various quarters. The Grass Valley Union lets off steam in this manner: “Unfortunate Clemens! Why did you blight your lecturing prospects by attempting to pass the ordeal of the corn and spud-producers of the Russian river country? You may do in San Francisco and “sich like places,” but you ought to have known better than to brave the Petaluma lions in their den. What Mud Springs was to the Californian who crushed a certain young lady’s musical aspirations with a few well directed word-shots, silencing the match-making parent forever, Petaluma is in a lecturing way. Have not the Petalumans had Lisle Lester and other lecturing and reading stars up their way, and what business had you, Mark Twain, up in that part of the country? Telegraph to the St. Louis and Cincinnati Boards of Commerce that you cannot accept their invitations to lecture—-that your lecturing star went down in Petaluma.” There is a mistake here, through which injustice has been done to the people of our neighboring town. They had no fault to find with “Mark Twain.” On the contrary, his humorous and instructive lecture was highly appreciated by them. The editor of the Journal and Argus is the dissatisfied individual on whom Clemens wasted his wit. Not being able to appreciate the entertainment, he at once pronounced “Mark Twain” a failure. Evidently, when doing so, in the opinion of the press of the State, he followed the example of Dogberry of old, and displayed his ears rather prominently.
In the autumn of 1897, Santa Rosa women were threatened by a mysterious man who choked two and apparently chased several others. The memory of those events remained strong enough for Jack the Choker to eventually become Jack the Meme.
Before diving into the descriptions of what happened that year, some background is essential to view events through the eyes of women living here. Their fears that a manic killer might be in town were absolutely genuine.
Our story began nine years earlier with the Jack the Ripper murders in London. Probably you already know all that's needed - during the autumn of 1888 a serial killer murdered several prostitutes in gruesome ways. The person responsible was never caught or identified, leading armchair detectives to spin theories which supposedly solved the case. That fascination with the Ripper continues to this day; visit casebook.org, where at any time of day or night you can find freshly posted essays by real adult human beings arguing feverishly the maniac who went on a killing spree over 125 years ago was positively so-and-so and everyone who disagrees is an ignorant yutz. Personally I don't really care whodunnit, but find the socioeconomic context of the times pretty fascinating.*
Far removed from the gory coverage by London's sensationalist tabloids, the U.S. press gave the story a paragraph or two at most, and then only after the catchy "Jack the Ripper" name caught on. West Coast papers hardly mentioned it at all. But as years passed, the number of mentions grew in the American newspapers as it evolved into the preeminent gothic murder mystery. The story was being continually refreshed as someone would confess/be arrested as a suspect or there was another possible Ripper murder.
Newspapers in both England and America also began labeling any gruesome murder as a Jack-the-Ripper killing. The Brits implied as often as possible that the deed might have been done by the original Jack, but here in the U.S. we had a Mexican Jack the Ripper in New Orleans and a Chinese Jack the Ripper in Montana. These were single crimes of passion or mania, however, and not the work of a serial killer.
Not until 1894 and the appearance of "Jack the Strangler."
That year three Denver prostitutes were strangled to death within a couple of months. A fourth woman being strangled managed to break free and scream. Police arrived as he was trying to cut her throat and although the women of the Red Light District insisted he was the killer, police charged the man with only assault, waving him off as "nothing more than an ill-tempered Italian."
Skip forward about a year and a prostitute was found strangled in San Francisco. Within a few weeks two others were similarly killed, others nearly so. After that third death, in March, 1896, the Chief of Police said he believed "the Denver strangler has come to San Francisco." Two other attempted stranglings were reported, one woman describing the attacker as an Englishman about forty years old. Hmmm...
At the end of March police in Los Angeles caught a man actually strangling a woman. He told the police he had come to L.A. from San Francisco. "The officers believe it was his purpose to kill the woman, but on the police register he is simply charged with battery," reported the San Francisco Call.
Sightings continued: Another man who moved from San Francisco tried to strangle a prostitute and two nuns in Oregon and Washington; he was caught and sent to an asylum. There were a handful of other possible Jack attacks in San Francisco in the spring of 1896, then nothing until the next year - and it was in Santa Rosa.
One evening in October, 1897, Sarah Pomeroy, a 64 year-old nurse returning home from visiting a patient was attacked near the corner of Fourth and E streets. Suddenly a pair of hands were gripping her throat. She was able to loosen his fingers enough to scream. The man slugged her in the face hard enough to knock her down ("the blow must have been a very hard one," the Republican commented, "for the lady is quite fleshy"). When she spoke to reporters the next day her left eye was almost swollen shut and her cheek was bruised.
Then two nights later, 15 year-old May Kearns was assaulted near the corner of College and Fourth. With his hands around her neck, she was dragged into the adjacent vacant lot and thrown to the ground. He put his knee on her chest and squeezed her throat. After a moment he released her and she screamed. He kicked her twice, hard.
Two nights after that, a man jumped a fence and approached two little girls playing in their yard after dark. He ran when their father came out in response to their screams. It reporting on that event when the Daily Republican dubbed him "Jack the Choker."
That made three attacks within a week, all between 6:30 and 7PM, shortly after sunset - but there the pattern ends. The nurse was old enough to be the grandmother of the girls; the teenager's account sounds like a sexual assault but Mrs. Pomeroy's seems more like an attempted robbery. And none of them were prostitutes, of course, the victim of choice of "Jack the Strangler." Had he sought out those women, just two block away Santa Rosa offered the largest Tenderloin District between San Francisco and Reno (see the "Wide-Open Town" series).
The Republican followed with one of the most unusual articles I have ever seen in the old papers (and that really says something). Headlined "Jack the Choker" - by then the paper was headling all related stories that way, even as the Press Democrat studiously avoided the nickname - a second headline announced, "Ladies need no longer fear the mysterious stranger." Citing an interview with the City Marshal, the paper reported police had their "Official Eye" on two men who were the attackers. The short item also stated three times the police did not have evidence to arrest either man.
You don't have to squint too hard reading between the lines to see the article was meant to quell panic. It's impossible to believe women in Santa Rosa were not drawing comparisons to the earlier "Jack the Strangler" attacks in the City and were justifiably scared.
About a week later, both papers reported one of the suspects had left town. "The finger of suspicion pointed so strongly toward him as the individual who had been doing the 'choking' act here that he concluded to leave town rather hurriedly," the Republican remarked. The attacks stopped, or at least none included assault. A month later a young woman was reportedly chased near downtown by a man wearing black. Shortly before the string of attacks, the PD had offered a little item about a stranger in black "acting suspiciously" by loitering at night, but neither paper made a connection between him and the choker.
Two years passed before there was a reprise of the attacks in Petaluma. There were a couple of reports of a stranger pursuing young women on D street, then Clara Ivancovich, the 48 year-old wife of a prominent doctor, was stalked on Sixth street before the man clutched her throat. She managed to scream and push him away. "A fellow has operated in Santa Rosa and got a reputation as a woman choker," reported the Argus Courier next day. "We hope he has not come here."
This time police nabbed and named a suspect: Bert Richardson (or Richards), a young barber who had arrived in town just a week before. He was seen loitering in the area at the time, drunk and supposedly "acted queerly." A hat found near the attack fit him but he produced a similar hat of his own and had an alibi. Mrs. Ivancovich could not identify him positively. He was not arrested, but was fired from the barber shop.
Santa Rosa Jack of 1897 and Petaluma Jack of 1899 were undoubtedly different people, but it showed the monicker "Jack the Choker" was firmly part of Sonoma County lore. After the Petaluma incidents the Press Democrat began having fun with it, telling readers there was a "Jack the Hugger” at Stony Point because a fellow was "very near getting into serious trouble by attempting to hug the fair daughter of one of our oldest settlers." On Christmas Eve before the turn of the century, the paper joked, "First we had Jack the Ripper, then came Jack the Choker, and now we are confronted with Hobson the Kisser. And the question before the house is whether the world is progressing or retrograding."
In the spring of 1900 a two-line ad appeared in the PD with the headline, "Jack the Choker In Town". The advertisement continued, "He is looking for a location to get into business but is unable to do so without calling at 304 Mendocino St. and purchasing one of Ciaypool’s nobby suits." The gag may have brought a chuckle when some first read it, but the store ran the stupid thing for nine months. Hopefully Ciaypool’s knew more about "nobby" looks than they did about humor.
The last historical appearance came in 1902, a full five years after the attacks. Two women walking home were confronted by a man who sprang from the shadows and said, "How would you like to be choked by 'Jack the Choker?'" The women screamed and ran while the man, presumably just some local jerk, was not caught.
There's an ugly devolution here. A name which was an object of terror for women and children became something of a punchline men considered funny. Even originally calling him "Jack the Choker" had a bit of a wink to it, sounding much less menacing than something like "the Santa Rosa Strangler." The Republican further watered down the name's association to violence against women with a story headlined, "Jack the Spitter," describing a guy who hocked up tobacco juice on downtown store windows.
But it's the menswear ad that rankles most. Lots of people make money off the name of Jack the Ripper; in London there are competing tours and a museum and lots of books to buy - but no store goes so far as claiming the well-dressed man wears their serial killer suede or shaves with their Ripper razors, much less expecting customers to have a laugh about their nod to monstrous deeds.
|* The Jack the Ripper murders came at a time of great unrest in England. A replay of the French revolution seemed possible, with each year even more terrible and violent than the last. There were London riots and terrorist acts including the bombing of the House of Commons and London Bridge. History books now tell us the reasons for this violent dissent included high poverty, chronic unemployment, racism against immigrants and agitation by the Ireland independence movement, but to the average Londoner (and Queen Victoria), the big problem was that the police couldn't control the streets. That the police were unable to catch the Ripper only confirmed their incompetence in the public's eye, while boosting fears that the have-nots were dangerous and possibly insane.|
A BRUTAL ASSAULTA Ruffian’s Attack on a Lady here Tuesday NightGrasped Her Around the Throat and When She Screamed tor Assistance Hit Her
A most brutal attack was made Tuesday evening about 8 o’clock on a widow lady named Mrs. Pomeroy, who resides in the neighborhood of Washington street.
Mrs. Pomeroy was returning home after visiting her sick friend Mrs. Stearns on Fourth street. When ahe was walking between the residence of Dr. Savage and the home of Dr. Clark a man stepped up behind her and put his arms around her and told her not to scream.
The frightened woman called for assistance. The ruffian who held her told her stop. She called again and then the man dealt her a violent blow in the face and left eye. The blow almost stunned her. The man then made off. Undoubtedly the man’s motive was robbery. Mrs. Pomeroy can give only a very slight description of the man as it was quite dark.
- Press Democrat, October 27, 1897
BRUTAL ASSAULTGirl is Roughly HandledWAS ALMOST CHOKEDWhen She Screamed for Help The Fiend Kicked HerFifteen Year Old May Kearns the Victim of an Outrageous Hold Up
Great excitement prevailed here on Thursday evening over a murderous attack made upon Miss May Kearns, the fifteen-year-old daughter of James J. Kearns, the butcher, by a brutal fiend about half-past six o’clock that evening.
The girl was handled in a fiendish manner by the monster, and narrowly escaped being choked to death by him. Shortly after the occurrence a PRESS DEMOCRAT representative called at the Kearns residence on Stanford street, and heard the girl's story. She was then in a state ot exhaustion over the rough treatment she had been subjected to. Her eyes were bulging out ot their sockets as a result of the choking, and her throat and neck bore the marks of the fiend’s grasp. Miss Kearn's story is as follows:
"About half-past six o'clock this evening I was returning from town, having been making some purchases for mamma. I was walking along on the sidewalk on Fourth street. When opposite Mr. Doyle’s house I heard a man's footsteps coming behind me. The man commenced to spit and blow with his mouth. I thought of running away, but then concluded I wouldn’t as I thought the person might be somebody I knew and was playing a joke on me. Before I had time to think further-—I was then by the vacant lot at the corner where College avenue runs into Fourth street--I was seized from behind by the man, who clasped both his hands so tightly around my neck and throat that I was almost choked to death. So nearly was I choked that I went on my knees. The man dragged me inside the lot and threw me down, keeping his grasp on my throat all this time, and knelt on my chest. He held me there for several moments. His hands would release their grasp for an instant and then they would tighten again. The man muttered something, I couldn’t understand what he said. I managed to gasp out that I would go with him if he would let me alone. I thought this was the only thing to do to save my life. He let me get up and I walked a few steps toward the edge of the sidewalk. He told me not to look around at him. I told him to pick up my hat and packages, which had fallen in the lot. I made a few steps forward and screamed. The man rushed toward me muttering something, and gave me two violent kicks. He then ran through the lot and down College avenue. 1 ran over to Mr. Doyle’s and screamed for help. Mr. Doyle came to the door and I told him what had happened, and he at once telephoned for the police. Mr. Doyle went over to the lot and brought me my hat and packages, and I was taken home."
Description of the Man
The description of the fiend given by Miss Kearns is as follows: “As far as I could see, I just managed to turn my head a little when he grabbed me, the man was a little taller than I am, (probably about five feet four inches tall). He had on a light hat, the front of his shirt was of a light color. I could not see whether it was a white shirt. He wore a white collar and had on a black tie. His coat and vest were of a dark color and he wore light pants.”
Upon receipt ol Mr. Doyle’e telephone message Officer Yoho was quickly on the scene and took the girl home. Officers Yoho, Hankel, Boyes and Shepard then scoured the neighborhood for tha man. The search was kept up all the evening.
When Miss Kearns arrived home her family was thrown into a state of great excitement. Mrs. Kearns was sitting in the parlor awaiting her daughter’s return. When she came in her appearance was such a shock to Mrs. Kearns that she swooned away. From the girl’s mother and grandmother it was learned that she looked terrible. Her eyes bulged out and she was trembling with terror aod excitement.
The assault is believed to have been the work of a crank who has a mania for choking women. Some people incline to the belief that he meant to abduct the girl. One thing is certain, had he been captured he would have been roughly handled last night.
It was thought that the ruffian was the same man who assaulted Mrs. Pomeroy outside the Savage residence on Fourth street about the same time on Tuesday evening. When Mrs. Pomeroy screamed he did not kick her, but dealt her a heavy blow in the face. The police, however, think differently. Mrs. Pomeroy’s vague description of her assailant was that he waa tall and slender. Miss Kearns is confident that she would recognize the voice and person if she should happen to run across him.
- Press Democrat, October 30, 1897
JACK THE CHOKER.The Mysterious Assailant of Women at Work Again.TRIED TO ASSAULT TWO GIRLS.Discovered in the Nick of Time by an Angry Father--Took to His Heels and Run Away as Usual.
At 7 o'clock Saturday evening Lita and Charlotte Martin, aged 9 and 7 respectively, daughters of J. C. Martin, a carpenter residing on Riley street, were playing in the yard surrounding their home.
The parents of the children were eating their evening meal at the same hour, when they heard one of the little girls scream as though very much frightened. Rushing to the door Mr. Martin saw a man approaching the girls. He called to the fellow and asked what he was doing, but without replying the man leaped over the fence and ran down Riley street towards Fifth as fast as his legs could carry him.
Mr. and Mrs. Riley took the children into the house and quieted their fears as best they could. Lita, the eldest girl, said she saw the man come up to the fence and stop to look at them. He then leaped over the fence and started toward them, when both girls screamed. Then her father came to the door and the man ran away.
Mr. Martin could not see the man very plainly on account of the darkness but he thinks the fellow was either a negro or had a mask on his face. He thinks the man wore a brown suit of clothes.
Mrs. Martin and the children were so frightened that Mr. Martin could not leave them; consequently the news of the incident did not reach the officers until Sunday morning.
- Santa Rosa Republican, November 1, 1897
JACK THE CHOKER.LADIES NEED NO LONGER FEAR THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER.The Police Say They Have Their "Official Eye" on the Two Men Who Did the Deeds.
City Marshal Steadman stated to a REPUBLICAN reporter Tuesday that there was no longer any secret in police circles as to the identity of the parties who have been harrassing [sic] the ladies of this city.
The police have had information for some time, they say, as to the identity of the man who assaulted Mrs. Pomeroy, the aged widow lady, and while the evidence of guilt is not absolutely conclusive, they state that they have every reason to believe that the man they suspect is the guilty party.
The police also believe that they could in an hour's time lay their hands on the person who assaulted Miss Kearns. As in the case of Mrs. Pomeroy, the evidence is not absolutely conclusive, but is sufficiently definite to warrant a well-founded belief.
No arrests have been made, partly because of insufficient evidence and partly because prosecuting witnesses have not been forthcoming. The police state, however, that the ladies of Santa Rosa have now no cause for alarm. No further assaults need to be feared from the two suspects and it is not likely that "Jack the Choker" will make any more trouble in this city.
- Santa Rosa Republican, November 9, 1897
SKIPPED.A "Jack the Choker" Suspect Leaves Town HurriedlyA figure that has been familiar on our streets for sometime has disappeared. The finger of suspicion pointed so strongly toward him as the individual who had been doing the "chocking" [sic] act here that he concluded to leave town rather hurriedly. Such characters can be spared.
- Santa Rosa Republican, November 19, 1897
It is reported that the suspected choker of young women here, left Santa Rosa early Friday morning.
- Press Democrat, November 20, 1897
JACK THE SPITTERARRESTED BY FRED GULDIN WEDNESDAY MORNINGThe Man Who Expectorates on Show Windows in the Dead of Night
Fred Guldin, the south B street tailor, has been driven nearly to distraction by the stains of tobacco and saliva that appeared every morning on his nice clean shop window.
Tuesday evening he vowed in his inmost soul that he would catch the miscreant. In company with Bruno Meyer he passed the midnight hours waiting for the man who had injected the misery into his erstwhile peaceful life.
At 5:40 they heard a footfall on the sidewalk. A moment later the window received a nicotine charged bath.
Guldin and his lieutenant sallied forth and captured the enemy in the act. He was marched to the county bastile and stowed away in a cell to mediated on his sinful act.
- Santa Rosa Republican, December 8, 1897
A MAN IN BLACKAnd a Young Woman Who Was Badly FrightenedFollowed By a Strange Man on Mendocino Street Late Sunday Evening
On Mendocino street, about a quarter to 10 o’clock Sunday night, a young woman employed at a residence on College avenue, was nearly frightened to death.
She was going down Mendocino street and when opposite Mrs. Tate's tamale parlors she noticed a tall young man wearing a long black coat and with a slouch hat on his head. The man started to follow her. At Ross street she crossed the street to the other side. The stranger crossed also. When she reached the sidewalk the girl started to run. The man ran also. The girl never lost her presence of mind, but ran as fast as she could and outdistanced her pursuer. They raced to the corner of College avenue and when the girl entered the gate leading to her employer's home the man fell behind. Officer Hankel was notified and the police kept a sharp lookout for the man in black. If he is caught a warm reception will be given him. The young woman was nearly frightened to death.
- Press Democrat, December 22, 1897
Santa Rosa Has a Man in Black
For several evenings an unknown man, dressed in black clothes, has been terrifying women in remote parts of town. On Sunday evening he chased a well-known young woman almost frightening her out of her wits. The officers have not yet found him but he is believed to be either a crank, a lunatic or the counterpart of "Jack the Choker" who was ordered to leave town a few weeks ago.
- San Francisco Chronicle, December 22, 1897
IMAGINED SHE SAW JACK THE CHOKER
A young woman who resides in the western portion of the city came down Fourth street rather hurriedly Thursday night and told some of her friends that she had intended going up the street to make a call but that on the way she saw a man who she believed was “Jack, the Choker,” When she saw the man she said she turned aronnd and went back so as not to allow him to follow her.
- Press Democrat, March 26, 1898
Santa Rosa is worked up over the antics of a strange man, who is given the name of “Jack the Choker.” He stops unescorted women on the street at night, chokes them for a minute, and then disappears. —Marysville Appeal
- Press Democrat, April 2, 1898
"JACK THE STRANGLER".Makes a Cowardly Assault Upon a Lady on the Street.A Man of Similar Description has Frightened Ladies in Other Portions of the City.
The cowardly acts of "Jack the Strangler" are being enacted in this city.
Last evening, while returning from choral practice at Guild hall, Mrs. Dr. Ivancovich was assaulted on the street by a fellow and subjected to rough treatment, as marks on her neck plainly show.
Mrs. Ivancovich had left the hall alone, as she had a cold and wished to reach home as soon as possible. This was about 10 o'clock and the streets were deserted. She walked briskly up Sixth street, and when in front of the Lovejoy residence near A street she saw a man emerge from the opposite side and follow her. She walked straight ahead, the fellow following only a few feet behind, until in front of George Spottswood's on Liberty, where the sidewalk was wide, she stepped aside to let him pass, but instead of passing he grasped her by the throat with a firm grip. She screamed and the fellow let go. Mrs. Ivancovich thought he had mistaken her for someone else and she upbraided him for the assault, wherewith he clutched her throat again and pressed harder than before. The lady had on a high fur collar that protected her neck and she was able to scream. This she did so loudly that the fellow, thinking someone would hear the cries and come to the rescue, gave his victim a push and ran in the middle of the roadway down Sixth street.
George Spottswood was aroused and came to the lady's aid but the fellow had gotten away.
Mrs. Ivancovich was seen this morning at her home on Walnut street, and had not even then recovered from the shock of her adventure with the maniac or cowardly assaulter. She said the fellow was a young man, with a newly-grown dark mustache...and gave the general appearance of a gentleman, not a tramp.
During the scuffle he did not say a word and only seemed determined to choke his victim into insensibility...A fellow has operated in Santa Rosa and got a reputation as a woman choker. We hope he has not come here.
Sunday night a man answering a like description followed two East Petaluma girls across the D street bridge and up D street, keeping about three feet behind them all the time, not saying a word but crossing the street when they did and determined not to lose them. Women are becoming afraid to be on the streets at night.
Last evening about 11 o'clock Daniel Brown saw a stranger like the above, and some young ladies on D street were chased by a man and ran into Wickersham's place.
- Argus Courier, November 7, 1899
JACK THE CHOKER.Petaluma Excited Over the Actions of a Mysterious Stranger.
PETALUMA, Nov. 7.— Considerable excitement is aroused in this city by a mysterious stranger who has been assaulting ladies on the streets after dark, rushing up behind them and attempting to choke them. The choker has been given chase by citizens, but succeeds in making his escape. The entire police force is out on his trail.
- San Francisco Call, November 8 1899
"JACK THE CHOKER".A Young Man Arrested on Suspicion of Playing That Role
Bert Richardson, a young barber working in a Western avenue shop, was this morning detained on suspicion of implication in Monday night's choking affray. The actions of Richards [sic] on Monday evening were very strange. He was intoxicated and seen in the neighborhood of B and Sixth street by several passers. He acted queerly and kept constantly in the vicinity of the corner. His description talies [sic] very well with that published. The police found a hat at the scene of the choking affair and the hat fitted his head perfectly. He told certain parties that he had lost his hat but to the police he denied this. The victim of the fiend's work could not positively identify him and he was released. He was "fired" from his job. The man may be innocent but the circumstantial evidence seems strong against him. The young man's folks reside in the lower end of town. They came here from San Francisco a week ago.
- Argus Courier, November 9, 1899
WAS HE THE CHOKER?Arrest of a Young Man at Petaluma Upon Suspicion
According to the Petaluma Courier, the police of that city are of the opinion that they have the man who so roughly handled a number of ladles on the streets of that city Monday night. The young man in question is known to have been intoxicated on Monday evening and was seen in the neighborhood of the scene where Mrs. Ivancovlch was attacked, both before and after the occurrence.
Thursday morning Marshal Collins took him to his office in the city hall where Dr. and Mrs. Ivancovich were in waiting and he was confronted by Mrs. Ivancovich. She stated that the man tallies with the description of the fellow who attacked her but she did not care to swear positively that he is the man, so he was released.
A hat found near the scene fitted the young man, but he produced another hat exactly like it and stated that the hat in the possession of the police is not his at all. He told the police where he was on Monday night, but they found that he had told them his whereabouts on Sunday night.
- Press Democrat, November 11, 1899
"Jack the Hugger” at Stony PointA correspondent from the Stony Point district writes as follows: "We have a ‘Jack the Hugger’ in our district. The latest report is that he came very near getting into serious trouble by attempting to hug the fair daughter of one of our oldest settlers. Not long ago Petaluma had “Jack the Choker” and before that Santa Rosa had a similar visitor.
- Press Democrat, November 25, 1899
First we had Jack the Ripper, then came Jack the Choker, and now we are confronted with Hobson the Kisser. And the question before the house is whether the world is progressing or retrograding.
- Press Democrat, December 24, 1899
Jack the Choker In TownHe is looking for a location to get into business but is unable to do so without calling at 304 Mendocino St. and purchasing one of Ciaypool’s nobby suits.
- Press Democrat, April 11, 1900
GIVEN A BAD SCARE"JACK THE CHOKER” SPRINGS FROM SHADOW OF CHURCH UPON TWO WOMENTheir Lusty Cries for Help Caused Him to Disappear and Officers Seek In Vain for the Miscreant
"How would you like to be choked by 'Jack the Choker?'"
With these startling words uttered in a rough tone a man suddenly sprang out from the shadow of the Methodist Church on Fourth street about 9:30 o'clock last night and addressed Mrs. D. R. Seawell and her daughter, who were on their way home. He made a lunge toward them as if he did not care to wait for an answer to his query. The ladies screamed lustily for help and started to run. The man disappeared rapidly. Officers Hankel and Llndley were quickly on the scene and made a search of the vicinity, but this fellow had made good his escape.
- Press Democrat, December 20, 1902