When the only daughter of the richest family in town gets married you expect a fuss. The engagement will be announced in the press, often with a portrait. The big church wedding would be the social event of the season; the newspapers would describe the bride's trousseau in loving detail, the bridesmaids and others in the party would be named, followed by a long list of family members and VIPs attending the ceremony.

Thus many in 1891 Santa Rosa were likely surprised to read a small item in the Democrat stating Jessie Overton and Ed Livernash were married one Monday morning. "The wedding was very private, only the members of both families being present," the Democrat paper reported.

Perhaps they wanted to avoid a showy wedding because of Jessie's deep piety; not long before that her father, ex-Judge A. P. Overton, had convinced her to leave the convent she had joined as a novitiate. Or maybe they wanted it kept quiet because she was three months pregnant.

The Overtons probably approved of Ed as their son-in-law, despite his role in creating the family's awkward situation. He was ambitious, whip-smart, and seemed headed towards Democratic party politics, which would have certainly pleased the old judge. They might have felt differently if they had a crystal ball, however - by the end of the year Ed would be charged with attempted murder as well as being arrested for impersonating an African-American woman. 

 

 

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

Pity any ancestor who went to Santa Rosa grade schools around the turn of the century. Besides readin' writin' and 'rithmetic, there was also plenty of squintin' and crowdin' and freezin' by the kids. Classrooms were heated by a single potbelly stove; there often weren't enough desks and lighting was poor (no electricity, apparently). One school didn't even have indoor plumbing.

Those were some of the shocking details found in a 1904 expose of conditions in Santa Rosa's three elementary schools. Or perhaps we should say there were six, because each was so overcrowded some students were taught in outbuildings not intended for human occupancy.

The flagship of the town's public school system was the Fourth street school, currently the location known as Fremont Park. (It was renamed Fremont school in early 1906, following a popular trend to rename schools after people rather than a location.)

Built in 1874 and meant to hold 600 students, it was soon packed to the brim; in 1878 - when it was first used as a combined grammar and high school - there were over a thousand. That number dropped by about half after the high school was built on Humboldt street (1895), but the Board of Education was still regularly told the place was overcrowded. Classrooms were intended to hold about forty desks, and a particular class could be smaller or far larger. One year they had to split seventh and eighth grades into morning and afternoon sessions to accommodate all the students.

The 1904 expose found school children still enduring mid-Victorian era conditions. Lighting in the rooms was described as "very dark," "very bad," "little short of criminal," and "vile." Half of the second graders - fifty kids - were being taught in a "temporary one story building with a low thin roof." (The reporter probably meant "tin roof," as the article also says there was no ceiling.)

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 a small thing, done privately not to draw attention and happened every morning just before Rosenberg's Department Store opened its Fourth street doors. Clerks paused their fussing with the stock; floor managers stopped setting up cash drawers; accountants in the offices upstairs stopped accounting and janitors let their mops rest in the buckets. Those who were sitting down, stood. A crackly 78 RPM record played over the store's PA system and they all sang the "Star-Spangled Banner" along with it. They were honoring Malcolm Walt, a member of the family both literally and figurative - he was the nephew of owner Fred Rosenberg and had been a coworker before enlisting in the Navy Reserve (Malcolm was then serving in Honolulu, a fraught place to be in December, 1941). They were also honoring all the other Malcolm Walts who were in uniform, some of whom were starting to be named in the local newspapers as missing or presumed dead.

In the week after Pearl Harbor, Santa Rosa stumbled down an unmarked path. We didn't know how to respond to an air raid alert (which were always false alarms) and we couldn't even settle on what an air raid alert should sound like. It was unclear who was making critical decisions; was it the sheriff, police chief, district attorney or a civil defense committee (which came in city, county, Bay Area and federal flavors) - or the Army? These topics were visited in "CITY OF WAR AND ROSES."

During that second week of wartime Santa Rosa tapped its long list of citizens who had signed up as civil defense volunteers, creating a network of 1,000 air raid wardens and assistants to patrol their block during blackouts. (When there was no volunteer for a block, mail carriers were asked to make recommendations.) A pair of students used thumbtacks to mark where the lived on a huge map of the city.

The indefatigable women's clubs held a summit at the Saturday Afternoon Club to plan what each of the 50+ groups in town would do for the war effort. As many women belonged to more than one club, it would be quite a commitment for some, particularly as there was other charity work underway; 200 women were already fanning out through the neighborhoods to raise $18,000 as Santa Rosa's share of the Red Cross war fund campaign.

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

Yes, Wyatt Earp was in Santa Rosa! His brother, Virgil Earp, was too! But, uh, not the ones you think - they were the nephews of the famous lawman and gunslinger. Yet it's also true their legendary uncle Wyatt passed through town at times.

On one of those occasions the Santa Rosa Democrat interviewed the famed man in 1889 and wrote, “Wyatt Earp is little given to talking about himself. And yet he has a reputation as wide as the continent — a fame made by deeds rather than words.” Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp (let's call him "Wyatt B." for short) may have been modest, but since his death in 1929 there have been hundreds of books, movies and TV shows about him, Tombstone Arizona and the iconic gunfight at the O.K. Corral. A simple Google search on his name currently returns almost eight million hits.

Just scratch the surface of that enormous canon of work and you'll find there's lots of misinformation - a common theme includes authors insisting other authors are lazy, liars, if not bonafide idiots - and one of those false claims is that he owned or managed a stable in Santa Rosa, which you'll even find that in his biographical Wikipedia entry. It's conceivable one of the nephews did so, although there's no evidence of that either. Here's what we know of Wyatt B. Earp in Santa Rosa from the newspapers of the time...

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

Blackout! In the week after Pearl Harbor, Santa Rosa was hit with “future shock” as the war descended upon us. The blackouts drew everyone’s fevered attention; they made it apparent our lives had changed for the worse – and would likely stay unsettled for a long, long time.

Later they discovered there never were enemy bombers - the reports were all false alarms issued by the Army or hysteric rumors, such as the story of a dogfight with a dive bomber over San Francisco Bay.1 Yet the fear was real and personal; it was the enemy reaching into your home, threatening the very lives of you and yours.

Problem was, there was no "How to Blackout" manual - so when the first two air raid alerts happened on the night of Dec. 8-9, no one knew what to do. There were no blackouts anywhere in the county for the first alert although during the later one Santa Rosa and Petaluma managed to at least turn out streetlights. (Full story found in the previous article.)

Directions from the Office of Civilian Defense appeared in newspapers nationwide on December 9th but were less than helpful: "Put out lights. Stay away from windows."

Considering the urgency of the matter - had there really been bombers, that is - you'd expect authorities and/or the press would have offered guidance on how to follow the rules besides sitting in a pitch-black hallway or windowless room for hours (just imagine what hell that would be for families with little kids).

By the end of the week commercial options were available; the paint store began selling "heavy blackout paper" at 6¢ a sq. yard. Lumber dealers were suggesting plywood ("after the emergency is over, panels can be salvaged and used for cutouts, furniture. built-ins, even wall-coverings"). Pedersen's Furniture would install blackout window shades and the linoleum store advertised blinds made out of linoleum. Civil defense insisted neither blinds or shades were adequate - windows had to be covered with dark cloth or all lights must be doused. The City Council backed that up by passing an ordinance making light leaks punishable by a fine up to $250 or 90 days. Police were also allowed to walk into any building to click off a light.

All well and good, but there was one other teensy problem that first week of the war: Santa Rosa had no air raid signal.

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

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

Older Posts