Busted! The city phoned last week to inform us we were violating Santa Rosa's mandatory water-use restrictions - we were spotted using sprinklers during the day. After hanging up, I searched out the city's drought web page. Sure enough, the new rules are "outdoor irrigation must occur between 8pm and 6am." We did not know that and have adjusted watering accordingly.
The unsettling part of this incident was the thought a neighbor snitched instead of speaking with us directly. The water dept. staffer who called - and who undoubtedly has the only civic job more thankless than parking enforcement - said only the report came from someone "with the city." Looking at the drought web page again, I found "water watch patrols, performed by city staff, are actively looking for water wasting behaviors." Good Lord, it's the return of the Water Police of yesteryear – one of the most peculiar episodes in Santa Rosa's history a century ago. Before getting into that topic, however, let's look at some of the things said about our current situation.
|AVERAGE RAINFALL Santa Rosa gets an average of about 30 inches of rain per season – give or take an inch or so, depending on where you are. Bennett Valley is different from downtown is different from Fountaingrove. While this makes "average rainfall" a bit of a fuzzy target, you can add up all the numbers claiming to represent "Santa Rosa" going back a century and come up with 30.36 inches. (Inexplicably, a search of Press Democrat articles over the last few years finds the paper variously claiming the average is between 31 and 40 inches, consistently skewed to the high side.) Historical data shows a standard deviation of 9.15, so a year with 21 inches of rain would be considered low-normal.|
|ANNUAL VS. SEASON Not so vague is the definition of our rainy season; like most of the state, our "water year" is July through June. It makes no sense at all to discuss rainfall in terms of a calendar year, yet many resources – including Santa Rosa's current Wikipedia page – can be found using calendar year totals. On the city web page linked above, it's claimed "In 2013, Santa Rosa received less than 6 inches of rainfall." That's an alarmist statement and badly misleading; in the 2013-2014 water year, the total was nearly three times that.|
|MISSING HISTORY Any discussion of "average" rainfall should come with the caveat that there are serious gaps in the historical record. In the Santa Rosa rain data between 1903-2010 (LINK) there are months incomplete or missing, and much of the data between 1916 and 1925 appear untrustworthy; move back to the 19th century and there are entire years either blank or have just overall county summaries. There's a (surprisingly interesting) paper on the history of Sonoma County weather stations that discusses the various old records. The Press Democrat occasionally printed the readings going back to 1889, as seen in the illustration below. Recent measurements can be found from UC Extension and many places elsewhere.|
|DROUGHT Is Santa Rosa currently in a drought? Yes, absolutely – a drought is two or more consecutive dry water years, and this is the fourth we have floated near the bottom of the low-normal range, with 2013-2014 way down at an abnormal 17.91 inches. The situation's not good, but not nearly as dire as many other parts of the state. Through the end of May our 2014-2015 year stands at borderline-abnormal 20.65 inches. This is probably Santa Rosa's third worst drought since statehood (see above, re: missing history). Over the two water years of 1862-1864 there was only 29 inches combined, and about the same during the 1975-1977 pair.|
Santa Rosa's water situation was far worse at the turn of the last century, but not because of drought. I've written up various parts of that story in posts that can be found in the archives, and am shamelessly plagiarizing myself herewith. Links back to the original pieces appear at the end.
(RIGHT: Santa Rosa rainfall 1889-1912)
Although Santa Rosa was surrounded on all sides by fresh water (river, laguna, aquifer, even large creeks running through the center of town), the stuff that came out of the faucet more than a century ago was always somewhat foul and sometimes scarce. Part of the problem stemmed from the town having both privately owned and public water utilities with separate pipes running down all the main streets.
The water pipes for the private system belonged to the old Santa Rosa Water Works, better known as the McDonald Water Company, which had been operating since the mid-1870s. Water from the McDonald system was "soft" and considered good tasting, even though an 1891 report confirmed suspicions that its reservoir, Lake Ralphine, was contaminated with hog and human waste (maybe it was E.coli that gave the water its je ne sais quoi).
The municipal system came along in 1896 and was also plagued with problems from the start. City water was unmetered and free, but "hard" and tasted of sulphur. Still, they couldn't keep up with demand because there weren't enough wells and the steam engine pumps were underpowered. Even with the addition of a 1903 well that nearly doubled capacity, the city's pipes were always at risk of running dry and a report the next year explained why: Almost a quarter of the water leaving the reservoir was lost somewhere in broken plumbing - 270,000 gallons just dribbled away every day.
(RIGHT: The 1909 rates for the hated Santa Rosa municipal water system. CLICK or TAP to enlarge)
Caught in the middle between these two "just good enough" companies was the public, stuck with choosing between bad and worse. The McDonald system had no incentive to upgrade its service while the city water works had trouble raising bond money for improvements as long as there was a competitor in the private sector. And it surely did not help that at a 1906 City Council meeting Thomas J. Geary was wobbling between jobs as city attorney and lawyer for the McDonald water system, where he argued that the city water works should be shut down. Along the way, Geary also told the Council the rich were entitled to more water than Average Joe because they paid more taxes.
Santa Rosa's water system was such a mess the town enacted severe conservation measures. Policemen, firemen and city inspectors became the Water Police, empowered to wake you in the middle of the night if someone heard water running. A city inspector was hired to examine toilets, faucets, and other fixtures for leaks, and had powers to issue a $2.50 fine - equal to a few days' pay for the average worker - for each violation. There was also a monthly fee for every water fixture in your home; it'll be 25¢ per month for the pleasure of that bathtub in your house and having an indoor toilet cost another quarter (and worth every penny). Water Police assessed extra charges for nearly everything; watering your lawn cost 1/2 cent per square yard per year, irrigating strawberries and vegetables, 3¢ per square yard.
And then there was the nutty Pavlovian alert system. Lawns and gardens could be watered only at certain times and/or certain days depending whether you lived east or west of Mendocino Avenue; in the scheme used following the earthquake, the east side could use a garden hose between 4 and 8 o'clock, while westerners had the hours between 5 and 9. Starting and stopping times were announced by the Grace Brothers Brewery steam whistle which also sounded to announce lunch time and quitting time. If you're keeping track, all that meant the brewery whistle was sounding at 12, 4, 5, 8, and 9. When that whistle blew I imagine people often just stood still for a moment with their heads cocked, like puzzled dogs, trying to figure out if they were supposed to eat, start, turn off or go home.
Santa Rosa introduced water meters in 1905 with the promise that a family of five or less still could have 350 gallons of free water a day. But old habits die hard and the town kept the Water Police around at least through 1907, when the reservoir was finally patched and covered, a new well drilled, and high powered electric pumps replaced the antique steam engines. Street repairs after the earthquake also fixed many of those leaky pipes.
But water woes continued, now because the town screwed up installation of the new meters. In one outrageous SNAFU, it was revealed that five businesses - including a bakery and one of Santa Rosa's largest saloons - were connected through a water meter for a private residence. The homeowner understandably refused to pay the excess-use water bill so the city shut off the meter, and thus the water supply to the home and businesses alike. Two of the businesses agreed to pay the flat business rate, but the other two balked, leaving the water turned off. "Without the necessary water, sinks and toilets go without flushing and the neighbors are wondering 'how about the sanitary condition' of the block," commented a letter to the editor.
By 1909, most downtown businessmen flatly refused to pay their water bills, viewing the rates as capricious. A liquor store owed $2 a month but a dentist paid only a dollar above the base rate and physicians paid nothing. When others heard their neighboring businesses were getting away without paying, they began ignoring their bills as well. Thus on a fine spring morning in 1909, Street Commissioner W. A. Nichols marched up and down the downtown streets and shut off the scofflaw's water. A standoff began, and soon the Press Democrat reported, "For the last few days block after block on Fourth street has been without water."
After a week without toilets or tap water, about a dozen delinquent businesses paid their bills. At least one major property owner thumbed his nose at the city system and signed with McDonald. But Santa Rosa's intractable policies placed still other companies in a Catch-22. Most buildings had only a single water hookup, yet there could be more than one business at that address. Under city rules, all water was shut off to the building if any of the businesses there were past due. One company caught in the middle was the main downtown grocery store: Erwin Brothers, at 703-705 Fourth street. They went to city hall to pay every cent in arrears and make a deposit toward future payments but the city refused to accept their money - there was another tenant in the building who still didn't want to pay. After nine dry days, the Erwins illegally turned the water on themselves and filed an injunction against the city to keep it on.
What happened next probably had the town buzzing. According to comments from the Erwins published in the Republican, the mayor personally asked them to drop the lawsuit, suggesting, "Why don't you connect with the McDonald system and save all this trouble," foolishly placing Santa Rosa in legal peril, given they were litigants against the city over this very issue. The mayor claimed none of that was true and he hadn't even spoken with them; the Erwins countered with details of the visit, including the mayor had left his kid waiting in the buggy.
The suit was dismissed a couple of weeks later and the business hookup rules fixed, bringing to an end over a decade of various skirmishes in the Santa Rosa Water Wars. For years the city still had two water systems – the McDonald Water Company continued to operate through the Roaring Twenties. The city eventually simplified rates so residents were no longer paying different prices to water their watermelons and flowers. But city water still was hard and sulphurous, so on warm summer afternoons the sprinklers danced wild over Santa Rosa lawns with a golden spray and a faint stench of eggs gone rotten.
SANTA ROSA'S WATER SYSTEM WARS
WATCH OUT FOR THE WATER POLICE
PLENTIFUL WATER, BUT IT STILL TASTES AWFUL
HEAR THAT PAVLOVIAN WHISTLE BLOW
NOW IT'S THE WATER METER WARS
WHEN "BUSINESS FRIENDLY" SANTA ROSA NEARLY CLOSED DOWNTOWN
For further reading: Ample and Pure Water for Santa Rosa, 1867-1926 by John Cummings
Dear sir or madam; the city destroyed your pioneer ancestor's grave marker. You may want to hire someone to make a new one. Sincerely, Santa Rosa.
No mistake about it: Santa Rosa's Rural Cemetery was a real mess in 1951.
"It is a disgrace to Santa Rosa," Fred Cooke, chairman for that year's Memorial Day committee wrote the Press Democrat that May. "I visited this cemetery to arrange for the ceremonies and found it difficult to even drive around the roads. In all my experience, and I have visited many a cemetery, I can say this is the worst of them all."
Another writer, Guy E. Grosse, agreed in letter to the editor a week later. "In some instances [it is] almost a forest, with weeds, underbrush and young trees making it almost impossible to walk through the roads, and in some cases, impossible to locate tombstones."
City Manager Sam Hood was most specific of all, saying the cemetery was a jungle of tangled brush four feet high, including matted undergrowth of sweet pea "about two feet thick."
(RIGHT: View of Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery in 1970. Detail of photograph by Don Meacham courtesy Sonoma County Library)
Alas, the old cemetery had been long neglected, but 1951 was apparently a pathetic low. Overgrown with sweet pea, blue periwinkle, acacia, bramble, poison oak and sapling trees, it must have taken decades to build up enough thicket to conceal a tombstone as tall as an eight year-old child. There were community cleanup efforts in 1907 and 1908, but after that plots were weeded only by the occasional family member – and presumably by undertakers preparing a grave for one of the diminishing number of new burials. The year 1951 as well would have likely passed without anything done had it not been for the vandalism incident.
In the bold headline type usually reserved for earthshaking news, the June 5 front page of the Press Democrat screamed: "Vandals Desecrate Graves in Odd Fellows, Rural Cemetery". Beneath two large photographs, the article stated most of the damage was in the section of the Odd Fellows cemetery near Franklin Avenue, with 22 tombstones knocked over or damaged. "The littered ground looks as if a bulldozer had ploughed over the graves," the PD reported. Across the fence at the Rural Cemetery, "several stone and wooden crosses were snapped."
By the following day, it was apparent the overgrown condition of the older cemetery had concealed the vandal's scope: the paper now said, "most of the scattered destruction took place in secluded areas of the rambling rural cemetery, where at least 35 ravaged graves have been counted." A subscriber later wrote he or she counted 87 headstones turned over. The damage estimate there came in at $15,000, with a North Bay Monument quote of over $1,000 to simply right all the toppled markers. In contrast, it was expected to cost only $150 for repairs at the Odd Fellows cemetery. ($15,000 is equivalent to about $140,000 in today's dollars.)
The vandals were quickly caught – schoolboys age 9 and 12, who said they were "just having fun after school." Their parents agreed to pay full restitution. The last we hear of the young hooligans was that "State psychiatrists" would soon be examining them. "Investigating officers who questioned the boys expressed the belief that neither vandal was aware of the sacrilegious nature of the crime."
(For what it's worth: Every 1951 Press Democrat article described the vandalism as being "sacrilegious" or "desecration" – the offense against morality trumped the criminal act – and there was an editorial on the vandalism titled, "Moral Revival Should Start in the Homes." This was in step with the pious tone of the newspaper in that era; every day there was a section on the front or editorial page titled "The Shepherd," with a Bible verse and little homily. In the letters section readers debated bits of scripture continually.)
For reasons unclear, it was decided the monument company needed written consent from relatives of the deceased before they could repair damaged tombstones at the Rural Cemetery. But very few wrote to grant permission; the PD noted "survivors of many whose graves were mutilated have themselves died or moved from the area." Doubtless there were others who lived around here but didn't even know there were family members up on the hill, hidden somewhere under the weeds.
And that was the nub of the problems with the Rural Cemetery; nobody took responsibility for the place. It was outside Santa Rosa city limits. Most of it was supposedly owned by the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery Association, but that organization was long defunct and there were no records to be found. According to the Recorder's Office, the last time a burial plot had been sold was in 1930.
Shift forward now two months. Northern California had sweltered through a long hot summer and nearly every day the papers reported there were fires burning out of control in the forests. About then, City Manager Hood and other officials apparently remembered there was a vandal-friendly, six acre tinderbox right on the edge of town.
"It's getting so we can't sleep night worrying about the situation," Hood told the Board of Supervisors. "We could have a major catastrophe on our hands" if a blaze at the cemetery jumped to surrounding neighborhoods.
Hood's proposal was that a workcrew of twenty prisoners from the county jail should be provided to clear the weed-choked narrow roads winding around the cemetery. Following that there would be a controlled burn, supervised by the city fire chief and firefighters from the state Forest Service.
The only objections to the plan came from Supervisor William Kennedy of Sebastopol, who was worried about setting precedent by using country jail labor. "There are plenty of other cemeteries in the county which aren't in good condition," he said, adding a cleanup at the Pleasant Hill Cemetery was paid for privately. The decision was that prisoners could be used because fire prevention was in the county's interest, but no money would be spent to "beautify" the cemetery, which presumably meant resetting pushed-over monuments. "The resulting improvement of the neglected cemetery's appearance will be only incidental," summarized the PD.
Thus on August 25, 1951, the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery was burned in a controlled fire.
Or maybe not so controlled; a small item in the PD a couple of days later claimed success, with a small qualification:
Some wooden grave markers were inadvertently destroyed, when the burning revealed a number of plots that had lain concealed for years. An attempt will be made to trace families of those whose graves were hidden, City Manager Sam B. Hood said. He indicated that "private arrangements" will have to be made, since most of the cemetery is outside city limits.
It was a true Pyrrhic victory – Santa Rosa had "saved" its historic cemetery, and in the process, destroyed many of the oldest markers that made it historic. It is a loss that plagues historians today.
We can argue the city and county should be held blameless; the thick overgrowth completely concealed the old wood markers from the fire crews and conditions at the cemetery truly represented a serious fire risk. Or we can also argue it was irresponsible to do it in such a great rush and on the cheap. But whether by accident or carelessness, it's difficult to defend Santa Rosa's stance that descendants were responsible to make their own "private arrangements" to replace what was destroyed by the city.
And perhaps the burn may not have been so controlled after all. A few days later a letter appeared in the paper: "For years it has been a disgrace to the community with its majority of unkept lots and weed-covered roads. Now we have acres of blackened fire-swept stubble, smoke-covered monuments, burnt wooden markers and scorched trees."
As the obl. Believe-it-or-Not footnote, there's an unseen player to be spotted in all corners of this story: Hyperactive developer Hugh Codding.
Codding had opened his Montgomery Village shopping center a year earlier – hijacking a chunk of downtown Santa Rosa's mercantile base in the process – and in 1951 was building hundreds of tract houses nearby which were intended to be the foundation of a sister city to Santa Rosa. Just before the cemetery vandalism a wag wrote the Press Democrat to suggest we should surrender and just rename the whole area "Coddingville." Another PD correspondent at the time thought we should beg Codding to "clean up the terrible unsightly condition that exists" at the Rural Cemetery as a civic duty. (Codding didn't reply, but in the same edition a letter from him denied "The Montgomery Village News" was about to become a daily newspaper in competition with the Press Democrat.)
But there are cosmic ironies in Sam Hood's appeal to the Supervisors for an emergency prisoner work crew, which he said was based on the threat a cemetery fire posed to "the Codding Village area." Hood was then new to the post of City Manager, and three years later would be locking horns with Codding over whether Montgomery Village should be incorporated into the city. By eliminating the greatest fire risk in the area, Hood also lost a major bargaining chip – no longer was there urgency for Codding to compromise in order to ensure his sprawling subdivisions were under the protection offered by Santa Rosa fire stations.
EDITOR: There are many men and women buried in the Rural Cemetery who were well known and well liked citizens of Santa Rosa.
When alive and active in making this city "Designed For Better Living" they gave their time, money, labor and they paid taxes and had hopes for the progress of Santa Rosa.
Now they seem to be forgotten, with but few exceptions, and to show how shameful all this is, just take a walk or drive through this cemetery. It is a disgrace to Santa Rosa.
Why do we neglect the respect for our dead? When you read the names on the headstones of many who were well known, and see the condition of them, you wonder why something is not done to care for this cemetery.
Being the chairman of the committee for Memorial Day Exercises, I visited this cemetery to arrange for the ceremonies and found it difficult to even drive around the roads. In all my experience, and I have visited many a cemetery, I can say this is the worst of them all...
..You may say the relatives of the dead should clean it up. Some whole families are buried here and no one left. Others have moved away. Decency demands that some provision should be made to clean this cemetery, at least, before Memorial Day.
I have been told the Board of Supervisors are responsible for this condition and I hope that everyone interested in cleaning up this terrible condition will demand some effort be made to clean up this condition which is a disgrace.
Let us not forget and forsake our dead.
FRED A. COOKE, Commander, United Spanish War Veterans.
- Press Democrat, May 18, 1951
EDITOR: I read with great interest the magnificent article written by Commander Fred A. Cooke...
...Why not call up your favorite supervisor or several of them, and they will possibly arrange to have the county jail prisoners do the clean-up work under the supervision of the city or county park gardeners, or let them use common sense.
Certainly it will not take any amount of brains to do the job. Of course the supervisors may have a better solution for cleaning up not only these graves, but the roads and paths into the plots of our pioneer dead...
...Their resting places are, in some instances, almost a forest, with weeds, underbrush and young trees making it almost impossible to walk through the roads, and in some cases, impossible to locate tombstones, let alone the markers of the revered dead. Shame on you, Santa Rosa and community citizenry. Do you want your lot to be the same?
Why not make it a semi-annual affair to clean up the Rural Cemetery. Then we will be able at least to pass the cemetery without a shudder and be ashamed to drive past it with visitors who have been attracted here by what our Chamber of Commerce and we like to say is a city "designed for living"...
GUY E. GROSSE, Santa Rosa
- Press Democrat, May 24, 1951
EDITOR: I hope that the public will read the following lines and be as serious about the entire matter as I am. I am sincere and have no thought of sarcasm and I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Hugh Codding, and feel that this town and Sonoma County are indeed fortunate in having as progressive a man as he in regard to his terrific subdivisions.
There has been much comment regarding the terrible condition surrounding the cemetery at the end of McDonald Ave., and I, too, feel that this is one of the most disgraceful situations we have in this beautiful city of Santa Rosa.
Everyone feels that something should be done to correct this unsightly condition, but there seemse to be no heads or tails as to what should be done.
Now if Mr. Codding is able to move the bank which was to be built on 4th street to the Codding subdivision in Montgomery Village, and if Mr. Codding was able to get a permit to build a theater in Montgomery Village, and I think if he tries hard enough he will move the court house to Montgomery Village--if all this is possible, why isn't it reasonable to believe that with a little encouragement Mr. Codding could move the present cemetery and clean up the terrible unsightly condition that exists?
HARRY B. FETCH, Santa Rosa
- Press Democrat, June 3, 1951
EDITOR: I am wondering how many have been through the Rural Cemetery since the recent cleanup and just what they think of it.
For years it has been a disgrace to the community with its majority of unkept lots and weed-covered roads.
Now we have acres of blackened fire-swept stubble, smoke-covered monuments, burnt wooden markers and scorched trees.
Surely it is a showplace for a "City Designed for Living" to be extremely proud of.
MARY A. McDANNEL, Santa Rosa
- Press Democrat, August 30, 1951
It's nearly Christmas, 1912. Want a nice gift for your spouse? There's an art auction in Santa Rosa, and the paper says original oil paintings would be sold "at a remarkably low figure." You might even know the guy who painted those landscapes – he's S. Tilden Daken, "the Sonoma County artist."
Other painters blew through Sonoma county with brushes and easels in the first few years of the Twentieth Century, most notably Carl Dahlgren, who was hired in 1908 to paint Burbank creations by one of the publishing groups trying to write a series of books on Burbank's plant breeding. Dahlgren also found time for at least one landscape painting and some sketching on the river ("oh, in your coundy it iss beautiful, b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l!" he raved to a reporter for the Press Democrat in his Danish accent) but he was still a visitor, working out of San Francisco. Daken lived here with his family on Chestnut street (off Sebastopol Ave.) and rubbed shoulders with Santa Rosa's hoi polloi; when the Press Democrat ran a silly 1909 scavenger hunt contest to promote downtown businesses, there he was as question #91, between the Gamble Brothers grocery store and the Harper Hair Dressing Parlor. "What is the name of the eminent artist who came to Sonoma county three years ago and established a studio and school of art?"
(RIGHT: Samuel Tilden Daken portraits in the Santa Rosa Republican, 1911 and 1912)
The art studio could be found on Fourth street, but there never was a "school of art." He had moved to Santa Rosa in late 1908 hoping to establish an art institute affiliated with a national association of art schools. Plans never advanced past the drafting board, but he was so convincing the Chamber of Commerce included his architectural drawing of the proposed building in its hyped 1909 "Illustrated Portfolio of Santa Rosa and Vicinity" promotional book. Lack of funding probably killed that project but he stuck around, painting redwoods and valleys and geysers and more. Sonoma county is "b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l," after all. In summertimes the family, with two baby daughters born here, enjoyed painting excursions to Yosemite and Lake Tahoe.
Daken also was the focus of a 1911 promotional campaign to distribute prints of three of his Sonoma county views to selected parties in the Midwest and Eastern states with the goal to hopefully "induce them to come to this favored section to make their homes." The printing was done by the Santa Rosa Republican, which patted itself on the back in announcing "This is the most extensive 3-color cut work ever done in Sonoma county...It is superb in every way." In truth, the printing is terrible; with poor registration and the colors oddly washed out, the prints look like the sort of crappy halftone found on baseball cards from twenty years earlier.
Amazingly, researcher Bonnie Portnoy – Daken's granddaughter – has a mint-condition copy of the 1911 "Sonoma County Beautiful" portfolio. With permission the prints are reproduced below and a higher resolution copy of the entire brochure is available at the Comstock House digital library (DOWNLOAD). Bonnie writes and curates the tildendaken.com website and has penned articles about Daken for the Sonoma Historian. She has unearthed a trove of information on him and is preparing a full biography.
There was apparently no East Coast tour by the artist following distribution of the art portfolio, but Daken was busy anyway; "For some time past Mr. Daken has been making displays of the Sonoma county scenes throughout the state, at county fairs and industrial exhibitions, particularly the one at San Jose, where he spent some weeks," the Republican reported. A particularly fine painting, "View of Russian River from Guernewood Heights," was often exhibited and won awards.
But these must have been lean times; until the 1912 auction, there are few mentions in the papers of paintings sold. One of the few known commissions during these years was a pastoral scene painted on the "drop curtain" for the theater at the Union Hotel in Sonoma (now on display at the Depot Park Museum). Before moving to Santa Rosa he lived in Glen Ellen for a couple of years, and in the Sonoma State archives Bonnie Portnoy found he was sued by a storekeeper there for an amount due of $27.35 – about two weeks' average household income at the time – and to settle the paltry debt, he had to turn over two paintings. Adding to his misery, he was summoned back to court because he still owed $2.70 in fees.
The 1912 auction marked the end of his reign as "the Sonoma County artist" and the Daken family returned to San Francisco. This was also apparently the year the Comstocks closed "The Gift Shop" in downtown Santa Rosa, where they sold work by members of the local Arts and Crafts Guild as well as artwork from many pioneers of the emerging Arts and Crafts style. It is left to you, Gentle Reader, to ponder why the town's only two purveyors of fine art both closed studios while Santa Rosa was enjoying its first truly prosperous year since the Great Earthquake.
It turned out his six years in Sonoma county were an idyl in an otherwise bold, tempestuous life. In 1913 he left his family behind and moved to Mazatlan, where he was caught up in the Mexican Revolution, wounded a couple of times and imprisoned as a POW. His marriage ended after he had an affair with Sophie Tucker ("The Last of the Red Hot Mamas"). There were years in Hawaii where he designed a custom diving bell so he could paint underwater
landscapes seascapes. He painted headhunters in New Guinea and silent film stars in Hollywood. He wrote short stories based on his restless adventures.
Examples of his art can be viewed at the tildendaken.com website, but he created an estimated four thousand paintings – if it were possible to view them all and spend just one minute looking at each, it would take nearly three days straight. Until he died at age 59 in 1935, his brushes must have been never dry for a single moment.
ELEGANT THREE-COLOR WORK BY REPUBLICANDaken's Art Portfolios Ready for Public DistributionThe REPUBLICAN office has turned out some of the most artistic printing ever done north of San Francisco in an Art Portfolio issued for Samuel T. Daken, the Sonoma county artist. The work is done in three colors, and represents some of the splendid paintings from the brush of the artist. This is the most extensive 3-color cut work ever done in Sonoma county and it shows the ability of the REPUBLICAN mechanical force to do the best work that can be done.
The three pictures which are reproduced in the colors are "Glimpses of the Sonoma Valley," "Overlooking the Lowlands of Sonoma County," and "Redwoods at Sunset." They are among the best works of Artist Daken, and are to be given free to some persons in an effort to raise funds for an exhibit of Sonoma county scenes in eastern cities.
The portfolios are to be sold at one dollar each. The matter has the hearty approval of the Board of Supervisors.
With the funds thus raised for the disposal of these pictures, an exhibition of the famous Sonoma county scenes depicted on canvas by Artist Daken will be made in all of the principal cities of the east and middle west. Mr. Daken will make this exhibit with the handsome scenes which he has transferred to canvas and it will be a matter of the best kind of publicity for Sonoma county to have these beautiful scenes shown in the eastern states.
All persons should secure some of the portfolios, not only for their intrinsic value and the opportunity presented to secure one of the three paintings mentioned, but because it will enable the beauties of this splendid section to be shown in the east. When the edition has been disposed of Artist Daken will arrange the exhibit at once and start on his eastern journey to give the people there an opportunity to view Sonoma county, and induce them to come to this favored section to make their homes.
The color work done by the mechanical department of the REPUBLICAN office reflects great credit on the force. It is superb in every way, and shows how well all classes of printing can be handled on the up-to-date machinery with which the office is equipped.
For some time past Mr. Daken has been making displays of the Sonoma county scenes throughout the state, at county fairs and industrial exhibitions, particularly the one at San Jose, where he spent some weeks. At this display between ten and twelve thousand people attended daily and viewed the beautiful pictures of Sonoma county scenes and landscapes of different sections of the county.
These three pictures, which are to be presented to the persons purchasing the folios, will be placed on display in the Hotel Overton lobby, where they may be viewed by the people.
- Santa Rosa Republican, November 13, 1911
INTEREST IN DAKEN DISPLAYPictures May Be Seen at Odd Fellows' Hall SundayThe elegant display of paintings from the brush of S. Tilden Daken, the well known Sonoma county artist, is attracting much attention. The display is made at the reception rooms of the Odd Fellows' building on Mendocino avenue, and many visitors are going in daily to inspect the canvasses. The exhibit will be open on Sunday from 10 in the morning until 9 o'clock at night and Mr. Daken will be present during these hours. An invitation is extended to the public to come in and view these elegant works of art.
Daken is the first artist to paint the beauties of Sonoma county scenes, and he has a number of splendid views of this county, including pretty landscapes from various sections. Some of these are from the Pluton [sic] regions, others from the redwood section and still others from the fertile valleys. Persons can find just what they desire in the Daken collection, and these beautiful paintings will make elegant Christmas presents.
Among the canvases displayed are some of the beautiful Yosemite valley, to which place Artist Daken made a number of pilgrimakes [sic], and whose beauties have been transferred to canvass [sic]. The display is well worth seeing, and none should fail to make a visit to it.
- Santa Rosa Republican, December 14, 1912
PAINTINGS TO BE AUCTIONEDDaken Collection to Go Under Hammer Friday EveThe splendid collection of paintings which have been on exhibition at Odd Fellows' hall on Mendocino avenue, will be offered at auction on Friday evening, December 20th. There are about forty beautiful views in this collection, and it is by far the best that Artist Daken has ever grouped together. It represents a number of beautiful landscapes from Sonoma county scenes and some from Yosemite Valley, which is the ideal spot for artists. In variety the collection is one of the finest that could be found anywhere, and the pictures will be auctioned without reservation. The auction will begin at 8 o'clock sharp and it is more than probable that a large crowd of Santa Rosa and Sonoma county people will be in attendance.
Every one is cordially invited to come in and look over the collection of pictures, whether they purchase or not. The pictures will be sold under the second bid, and this will afford a fine opportunity to get a fine example of Artist Daken's work at a low figure. Daken is the Sonoma county artist, and has done more with the brush to make Sonoma county popular and prominent than all the other artists combined.
Edward Curtis, the noted art auctioneer of San Francisco, who conducts a studio at 1700 Van Ness avenue, and who is the greatest art auctioneer of the Pacific coast, will conduct the auction of this splendid collection of paintings. Mr. Curtis has conducted large sales of paintings on the Pacific Coast and in the east, and is a noted critic of all the schools of art. One of the large sales which he conducted was that of the collection of the late Colonel Issac Trumbo. This collection of paintings was appraised at $35,000 and was conducted at the St. Francis hotel in the metropolis.
- Santa Rosa Republican, December 19, 1912
AUCTION SALE OF PAINTINGS ODD FELLOWS HALL TONIGHTS. Tilden Daken, whose likeness is presented in the cut printed herewith, is known all over the state as the Sonoma county artist. It was he who first produced on canvass in great numbers the many beautiful scenes to be found within the confines of Imperial Sonoma. This evening at 8 o'clock at the Odd Fellows' Hall, on Mendocino avenue, an auction of his pictures will take place. This will afford an excellent opportunity to get a splendid Daken picture at a remarkably low figure.
- Santa Rosa Republican, December 20, 1912
After California women won the right to vote in 1911, everyone watched the first elections of 1912 to see whether the winds had changed, particularly concerning one issue: prohibition.
Passage of the amendment to the state constitution had not been easy – it won by a narrow two percent statewide and by four points in Sonoma county. Petaluma, Sonoma, Windsor and Healdsburg all voted against allowing women to vote; local support was only enthusiastic in Santa Rosa, where male voters approved by a 14 point margin. Suffragists were fought every step of the way by a coalition of social conservatives and the national liquor industry, together dubbed the "anti's" in the press.
(This is the third and final article on the campaign for women's suffrage in California. For background see part I, "WILL MEN LET THE LADIES VOTE?" and "THE SUMMER WHEN WOMEN WON THE VOTE.")
Predictably, the anti's carped about the measure passing and there were noises about a Sonoma County recount, but nothing came of it. One of the most vocal member of that faction was state Senator J. B. Sanford (D-Ukiah), also editor and publisher of the Ukiah Dispatch-Democrat, who put his unique spin on the results to make it sound as if men had foolishly decided to force women to vote against their will: "The ballot on Equal Suffrage was not a fight between the men and women, but was rather a fight between the women, and the men were called in to decide the matter...it seemed that a majority of women did not wish to assume the extra duty, but the men have said, 'Ladies, you must vote.'" Still, he encouraged the women of Ukiah to register "...and thus offset the evil that might arise from giving the ballot to some women in the large cities."
Sanford also couldn't resist throwing one final misogynist bomb: "[Women] will have to go to the county clerk's office and submit to many formalities, among which will be to give their visible marks and scars, age and previous condition of servitude, all of which will be open to inspection."
(RIGHT: This April, 1912 advertisement ran in the Santa Rosa Republican a few days before the first local elections where women could vote, one of several display ads that month with a similar voting theme)
Some confusion arose in the weeks following passage. Technically the amendment didn't become law until 90 days after the election, but women were already lining up to register in some places; county clerks added women registrars to help. The first woman to register in Sonoma County on Jan. 2, 1912 was Mrs. Jennie Colvin – a milestone little noticed by either Santa Rosa paper – and she wasn't asked about any scars, or even her exact age; the legislature had changed the voter requirements after the amendment passed, and now the voter only had to swear that he or she was over the age of 21. They still required height be recorded for ID purposes, which caused a minor problem because women at the time wore elaborate hats that could be difficult to position without a mirror. So the County Clerk installed a mirror in the office.
There was also uncertainty whether or not women would have to pay the poll tax to vote, as that part of the election law named only males. It was was quickly decided that women were exempt unless voters passed another amendment to change the language, which was in a different section of the state constitution. Aside from that issue and the need for mirrors, registering new women voters went smoothly and the county soon had an all-time high of over 17 thousand voters. Republicans outnumbered Democrats more than two-to-one, a proportion that must have unnerved Ernest Finley, editor of the fiercely-partisan Press Democrat.
In an ill-conceived Sunday editorial, the PD suggested women needed a "class in politics" to educate them about the differences between Dems and Repubs so they could be sure to pick the right team. A blistering letter to the editor followed in the Santa Rosa Republican, almost certainly written by the indomitable Frances McG. Martin, titled, "MOST WOMEN ARE NOT IDIOTS".
|It starts out with a request for nonpartisan instruction, and closes with a prayer to "politicians" to tell her why she is a Democrat or Republican...The men and women who worked for the enfranchisement of California women, worked with the hope that women would not prove to be blindly and passionately partisan, and that they would not adopt the methods of the professional politicians and wire puller; but, since the just men gave us the ballot, the women who worked against the cause or were indifferent, have displayed a very lively interest in politics of the old brand. Women are not all idiots, then why should there be such a hue and cry, raised about instructing them as to what they believe and how to prepare and write a ballot?|
Then came the local elections that April. Women were eager to vote; the Republican paper told the story of Santa Rosa Police chief Boyes leaving home before dawn to setup polling places, promising his wife he would later "send an automobile for her and some other ladies in the neighborhood" so they could vote. By the time he returned home for breakfast, Cora Boyes had already gone out and cast her ballot as the first voter in their city ward.
Then there was the matter of the prohibition vote. About twenty California towns had ballot items to decide if their community would go "dry." Locally, Cloverdale held a series of spirited public meetings; at the weekend rally before the vote, Andrea Sbarboro (male), the founder of the Italian Swiss Colony in Asti, made a rare public appearance to speak against the proposal. In the end the township of Cloverdale voted for leaders who promised to clean up the saloons - particularly gambling and serving liquor to minors - but rejected outright prohibition by an almost 2:1 majority. Overall, about half of the towns voting on alcohol went dry; in the Bay Area, only Los Gatos and Mountain View closed their saloons. "FEMALE OF SPECIES AS THIRSTY AS THE MALE," quipped the Santa Rosa Republican headline. In November, however, county voters did pass an anti-roadhouse ordinance, about which more will be written separately.
But suffrage did not equality make; it would still be a decade in Sonoma County before women were seated on a Superior Court jury, for example. And although Senator Sanford tried to frighten men in 1911 with the image of a helpless mother sequestered late at night with eleven leering men, there were five women jurors on that trial in 1922. Turns out they didn't need Sanford's protection at all. Never did.
WOMEN WILL NOT PAY POLL TAXAnother Amendment of the Constitution Would Be Necessary Before Tax Can Be CollectedMany opponents of woman suffrage before and after the recent election declared that the adaption of the amendment allowing women to vote would carry with it the added responsibility of paying poll tax. This, however, is not true.
The right of suffrage was given by the adoption of an amendment to Section 1 of Article 2 of the Constitution of California, and which amendment consisted of stipulating the word "male." Women could not be allowed the right of suffrage without the addition of the amendment.
The liability for poll tax is fixed also by the constitution of the state: Section 12 of article 13 of the Constitution of the State of California reads as follows...
...So it will be readily seen that the women will not and cannot be required to pay a State poll tax without an amendment to Section 12 of article 13 of the Constitution. In the adoption of such an amendment as will require the women to pay a State poll tax the women will now have the right themselves to vote on such an amendment, and if such an amendment is adopted it necessarily must be done with their consent.
- Press Democrat, October 20, 1911
REGISTRATION PROVISIONSSome Changes in Registration Laws Are NotedThe recent legislature made a number of changes in the form of the registration blanks used in the registering of voters for the coming elections. The changes were made mostly for the accommodation of women, as a voter under the new law will not have to give his or her age, nor visible marks or scars. The only requirement about the age is that the voter must swear that he or she is over the age of 21 years.
There might be a little dispute over the question of whether the husband or the wife is the head of the house, but the decision is that this question must be settled in the home.
The question of naturalization is also different from the old blanks. A woman of foreign birth must state how she became a citizen--if she became one by the naturalization of her father when she was a minor, by the decree of the court, or by marriage. If by marriage, she must state when she was married, and if she registered under one name and afterwards married, she must re-register. The same rule applies to change of name by divorce.
- Santa Rosa Republican, January 1, 1912
REGISTRATION OF VOTERS HAS BEGUNRegistration of voters began at the county clerk's office on the new year...Rev. Peter Colvin and wife, Mrs. Jennie Colvin, registered. Mrs. Colvin was the first lady to register...
- Santa Rosa Republican, January 2, 1912
M'LADY YOUR HAT CAN COME OFFBig Mirror to be Installed in the Office of the Registrar of Voters in Court HouseCounty Clerk Feit is to install a big mirror in the County Clerk's office which will add materially to the comfort of the women voters who visit the office for the purpose of registering.
A number of women who have called to register have not been able to give their height and have had to take off their hats prior to standing under the measure. When it came to readjusting their hats without the aid of a mirror, the effort has not proved very successful in some instances.
Hence the providing of the big looking glass by the county clerk.
- Press Democrat, January 28, 1912
MOST WOMEN ARE NOT IDIOTSEditor REPUBLICAN:
Will you please explain the following clipping, taken from the Sunday morning paper?
There has been this past fortnight several expressions regarding the establishment of a non-partisan class in politics for women. If some of the deep-thinking politicians would volunteer to discuss simple political problems from purely unselfish standpoints, they would undoubtedly be listened to with interest and pleasure. Last week one new voter asked: "Will you ask some Democrat and Republican to briefly state through the press, why I am a Democrat and why I am a Republican?" Attention! politicians, tell us why.
It starts out with a request for nonpartisan instruction, and closes with a prayer to "politicians" to tell her why she is a Democrat or Republican. A non-partisan, in politics, is one who is not blindly or passionately attached to any political party, so defined by the standard dictionaries. The men and women who worked for the enfranchisement of California women, worked with the hope that women would not prove to be blindly and passionately partisan, and that they would not adopt the methods of the professional politicians and wire puller; but, since the just men gave us the ballot, the women who worked against the cause or were indifferent, have displayed a very lively interest in politics of the old brand.
Women are not all idiots, then why should there be such a hue and cry, raised about instructing them as to what they believe and how to prepare and write a ballot? The Los Angeles women certainly demonstrated the fact that they could vote more rapidly and mark their ballots more accurately than a great many men voters. Any man or woman who is fit to cast a ballot can master the mechanical part of it in ten minutes. Each voter is furnished with a sample ballot not more than ten nor less than five days before an election. Full directions are printed upon those sample ballots, and the woman voter, as well as the man, can take her time and mark her sample ballot as she intends to vote, take it with her to the voting booth and use it as a model by which to stamp her real ballot.
No woman can vote who cannot read the constitution in the English language and write her name, then why can she not read the able editorials which appear in the leading papers and magazines, and deal with the vital questions of the day. If she have children in the public schools, let her take up with them the study of civics as set forth in a state text book of that name and sold for sixty (60) cents. Any woman can afford to buy one for herself. In the History of the United States, published by the state for use in the public schools--price eighty (80) cents--she will find both the state and national constitutions, and a history of bot the Democratic and Republican parties. If she desires to study Socialism, she can secure the literature of that party at a nominal price, or she can attend the lectures delivered in all parts of the country by the best Socialist speakers.
For a number of years, women, in constantly increasing numbers, have attended public political meetings; in fact, the writer has often heard men complain that the non-voters crowded out the voters; that the tired men had to stand if they wished to hear the speeches, while the women occupied their seats. Now, why do they not know whether they are Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, nonpartisan, etc.? Women have now, as they have always had, men relatives and friends, who are willing to talk over all kinds of questions with them, but why pose as idiots without minds of their own? I sometimes wonder that men gave the ballot to women at all, as so many women disclaim all title to reason and judgement; but I conclude that the men relatives of good, level-headed, conscientious and devoted mothers, sister, wives, daughters and sweethearts, who are strangers to afternoon bridge, divorce courts, etc., felt that such women are in the majority and that they would do their duty toward their homes, state and nation.
Women of Sonoma county, it is our duty to inform ourselves by reading, conversation and observation as to the measures most important to be voted upon, the candidates most likely to carry out the best of those measures, if elected, and vote accordingly; to vote for the best measures and best candidates, irrespective of party lines, and not need to be "told" by somebody just how we must vote; after hearing all sides, let us conscientiously decide that for ourselves.
Let us vote for members of the legislature and congress who are not so anxious to make new laws, as to simplify and embody in plain English the laws now in existence, so that any citizen of common intelligence may read and understand them, and it may not require years for the courts to interpret them.
And let us no longer play at being feeble-minded--the day has passed when that pose appeals to any man whose regard is worth having.
ONE OF THE NEW VOTERS.
- Santa Rosa Republican, March 12, 1912
MANY LADIES VOTING AT MUNICIPAL ELECTIONSome Interesting Happening With the Fair SuffragistsSanta Rosa's first election at which the ladies voted has almost passed into history and that it was all the better for the influence which the ladies exerted cannot be doubted even by those who have heretofore been opposed to the injection of the ladies into politics. Many had caused their names to be placed on the great register, giving their ages, to be permitted to cast their ballots at this election. They are the pioneers in the suffrage cause. The others, who waited until the law made it unnecessary to give their ages, failed to get the privilege of the ballot at the municipal election.
During the hours of the forenoon and afternoon the ladies went to the polls, many preferring to walk and cast their vote than to avail themselves of the time-honored custom of the men to ride in automobiles or buggies. To show that they were awake to the privileges and enthusiastic, some of them were at the polls quite early in the morning.
In at least two instances ladies were absolutely the first to vote...
...At 12 o'clock figures were obtained from each of the polls in the city, and the table given below shows the the total number of votes cast, and the number of women who had voted: [Votes cast to that time: 808 "Ladies": 284]
Many amusing incidents were narrated on the fair sex, one being to the effect that one lady left her ballot lying on the desk after having marked it, and failed to hand it to the judge of election to be placed in the ballot box, and that another lady marked her ballot and then calmly folded it up and placed it in her pocket.
Chief of police Boyes arose at 4:30 o'clock Tuesday morning to go with City Clerk Charles D. Clawson to distribute the election ballots and paraphernalia. Mrs. Boyes asked her husband regarding her going to the polls and he informed her that during the afternoon he would send an automobile for her and some other ladies in the neighborhood. After the chief had gone, Mrs. Boyes arose and dressed herself, wended her way to the polls and when Chief Boyes had returned to his breakfast, the good wife calmly informed him that she had cast her ballot.
- Santa Rosa Republican, April 2, 1912
Here's everyday life in the near future, according to the 1912-1913 Santa Rosa newspapers: Someone in your family might go to the theater after supper to catch the latest blockbuster, but the rest of you will probably watch a movie or something in the living room. As a special treat there may be an occasional trip to San Francisco to see a much-hyped film only playing in certain theaters because it required special movie equipment, which made the audience feel the movie was almost real.
That may not seem much different from today, except: The movie at the local theater would be black and white but have sound synchronized from a recorded cylinder. Being watched at home would be a silent, flickering image shown by a hand-cranked machine. And what made the movie in San Francisco worth the trip was it being in color, made possible by the theater having a special color projector.
There were several methods of adding color or sound to movies in the early 1900s, but this isn't cinema technology history 101; the topic here is limited to what was mentioned in the local papers, and in the spring of 1912 the excitement in Santa Rosa was the opportunity to see movies in "natural color."
(Your obl. Believe-it-or-Not! factoid: 1912 was also the year when the word "movie" first appeared in the papers, and it was almost always used in quotes to show it was slang. The origin of the word is unclear, but the first use I can find is in a 1911 Central Valley newspaper where it was mentioned as being coined by "a bright El Centro youngster.")
"Kinemacolor" movies were quite the rage that season; the Cort theater in San Francisco sold out for a month (including most matinees) with a three hour Kinemacolor spectacular showing the pageantry of the coronation of King Edward VII as emperor of India. The film itself was 150 minutes – the longest movie produced up to then – with the show padded out with a live speaker and "orchestra rendering Oriental melodies" (a fragment can be seen here). Also produced were Kinemacolor travelogues along with hundreds of short comedies and melodramas with titles like, "Dandy Dick of Bishopsgate" and "Detective Henry and the Paris Apaches." In New York J. P. Morgan's daughter threw herself a party showing Kinemacolor home movies of the hostess colorfully prancing around the family's Italian villa. Editors at both Santa Rosa papers were clearly excited such a high-falutin' event was coming to town – and it would be free admission, too!
The Kinemacolor films were shown in the Native Sons of the Golden West ballroom (that impressive red brick building which still stands at 404 Mendocino Avenue). The big Columbia theater in town couldn't be used because a special Kinemacolor projector was required. The film – which ran through the projector at twice the speed as normal – was still black and white, but alternating frames were captured through a red or green filter and the projector had a synchronized red and green color wheel. More about the process is explained in a BBC documentary (the five minute section on Kinemacolor begins at 13:23) and in a video showing how the frames were merged. The result is awful; when there is any movement onscreen red or green fringing follows like a ghost. How anyone could watch such a thing for more than a couple of minutes without suffering a ripping headache is a mystery, as is why Kinemacolor was widely praised for its "natural color."
But even if the color effect was far from perfect (far, far, far away) at least it was a free evening at the movies; perhaps there would be scenes from exotic lands or an exciting yarn about those "Paris Apaches."
"There were pictures, true to life in color, of aeroplane flights, of automobiles busy about the factory," promised an ad disguised as a Press Democrat news item. "Views showed the process of molding brass castings. The lighted furnaces and the men pouring the metal made the scenes seem real. They showed improved machinery turning out its products. Then there were views of the men and women at work, and leaving the factory." As exciting as it might be to watch factory workers shuffling home at the end of their shift, the movie was actually an industrial film produced by a company to sell cash registers. "All the residents of Santa Rosa, especially the business men, are invited," chirped the advertisement.
Okay, so maybe color movies with actual entertainment weren't in Santa Rosa's immediate future – at least there would soon be sound movies in the theaters and films to watch at home...right?
The movie projectors mentioned for home and local theater were versions of Edison "Kinetophones," which were also called Phonokinetoscopes and Kinetoscopes, the latter also being Edison's name for the peep show cabinet he had introduced twenty years earlier (old Thomas Edison may have been a maniac for inventing things, but he certainly fizzled when it came to naming them).
Like many papers nationwide, the Press Democrat in January 1913 ran a front page story on Edison's announcement that he was about to revolutionize the entertainment industry. Where there had been earlier gizmos which played music on a phonograph while a movie was shown (including some of Edison's peep-show boxes), his Kinetophone "delivers at the exact instant of occurrence on the film any sound made at the moment such action took place. Every word uttered by the actors is recorded and delivered in time with the action," Edison boasted. A segment of the short sound film made to introduce the system can be viewed on YouTube and it's still impressive to watch, once you keep in mind it is over a century old.
Edison should have ended the press conference with the demo; regrettably, he went on to say that thanks to his Kinetophone, performers would no longer have to tour – they could make "talkies" at the studios, which would probably be located in New York. "Entire operas will be rendered," Edison told reporters. "Small towns, whose yearly taxes would not pay for three performances of the Metropolitan Opera company, can see and hear the greatest stars in the world for 10 cents." The press twisted those egalitarian visions into a doomsday prophecy. "EDISON SEE FINISH FOR STAGE" was the PD headline, and the San Francisco Call warned the Kinetophone "Will End 'Legitimate' Careers."
"Legitimate" performers soon discovered they had nothing to fear (although you gotta love how the SF Call put the word between cynical quotes). It may have worked flawlessly with engineers back in the lab, but real projectionists in real theaters struggled to keep the record and film in synchronization and often failed. Having never seen such a screwup before, audiences howled. Remember the end of "Singing in the Rain"?
But even at its best, Edison's Kinetophone was a not-ready-for-primetime invention. Sound was recorded on large Edison cylinders which offered six minutes of playback (instead of the usual four) so forget the option of watching those entire operas Edison promised – most of the Kinetophone productions were of vaudeville acts. As the amplified loudspeaker was still years away, sound came out of a big metal horn behind the screen, making dialog hard to hear in all but the smallest theaters; one of the most popular Edison films was a comedy where two characters thought the other was deaf, causing the pair to continually shout at each other.
The Kinetophone wasn't the only half-baked Edison invention Santa Rosa learned about in 1913. Just a few days before the Kinetophone announcement, the front page of the Press Democrat displayed the ad at right for the "Edison Home Kinetoscope." It had no sound because there was no ability for it to synch with a phonograph, but it could show a film nearly twice as long as a Kinetophone, thanks to the bizarre, non-standard film it required.
Although the arc lamp was electric, the person standing in the silhouette was turning a crank which advanced film containing three streams of images side-by-side. The person acting as the, um, designated cranker, turned it one direction until the film stopped after about six minutes; the film gate was then shifted to the middle position and the projectionist cranked backwards – the images on the middle strip of film were printed in reverse. After another six minutes the film stopped again and the film gate was shifted to its final position, with the machine to be cranked forward. A photo of this ingenious layout can be seen here.
The ad proclaimed it was "not a toy," but despite the high price (it cost up to $100, or about $2,500 in today's dollars) it really couldn't be taken seriously, either. Each image on the film was merely about 6mm wide so resolution wasn't nearly as good as a 35mm film shown in a theater; nor was there pin registration to pause the film for a fraction of a second while it is being projected, resulting in vertical "motion blur." And although the owner's manual claimed it could throw an image thirty feet and a promotional photo shows a bright, clear image at about half that distance, the low resolution images and teensy arc lamp (with no reflector, either) meant that 3-4 feet was probably all that was practical.
As the Press Democrat ad noted, Home Kinetoscope owners could watch the same movies as were being shown in theaters – limited, of course, to titles produced by Edison's studio. About 250 were listed (amazingly, copies of most still survive) and sold at prices from $2.50 to $20. A service was available to exchange your boring old films for others by mail, using pre-paid coupons purchased from dealerships such as the one on Fourth street.
The Home Kinetoscope was a flop, with only about 500 sold in the U.S. Nor did the sound Kinetophone system last very long; Edison and his staff continued tinkering with it for the next two years and in 1914 a magazine wrote, "Mr. Edison is at work now on some vital problem dealing with the synchronism effect and has promised that the day is near when the world's greatest singers will be heard in grand opera scenes, with voice and action concretely reproduced." But when a fire later that year swept through Edison's West Orange, New Jersey complex and destroyed all Kinetophone negatives, Edison created no further talkies. Shortly after that he also discontinued making motion picture equipment of any kind, despite having ads running for a new, top-end theatrical "Super Kinetoscope."
And at about the same time, the last Kinemacolor film was made. Public interest in the odd system still remained high; they were starting to produce feature films and much-desired footage of early WWI battlefields and armaments. But their undoing was their constant drumbeat about displaying "natural color." A competitor challenged this on their patent claim and Kinemacolor lost, because it could not, in fact, display any form of the color blue.
MOVING SCENES IN NATURAL COLORUnique Entertainment Will Be Given Here on Monday Afternoon and EveningMuch interest is taken in the public moving picture entertainment that will be given at Native Sons' Hall next Monday afternoon and night. The pictures will show the famous Kinemacolor process.
Kinemacolor, the new motion picture process in nature's colors, is an English invention and was developed in all its details by an American. The process is fairly simple and somewhat similar to the three-color process in printing.
The camera taking the subject resembles the ordinary moving-picture camera, save that it operates at double the speed and interposes alternate red and green colored filters by means of a rapidly revolving wheel operated by a very nicely timed mechanical device, 1-32 or a second is devoted to the production of each picture, of which there are sixteen to the foot of film. This film is remarkably sensitive to the colors of nature, is produced by an American concern.
The films are developed in absolute [illegible microfilm] reproduction of the colors on the screen, the picture made through the red filter is projected through a similar red filter, and the green picture through a green filter. These appear upon the screen 32 to the second, too rapidly for the eye to detect the color changes that take place. As a consequence, the colors blend harmoniously, giving the remarkable effects which you are about to witness.
120 feet of film moves through the delicately adjusted apparatus starting and stopping 1920 times in one minute. You can readily see from these figures that it would be absolutely impossible to hand color or tint this enormous quantity of film with such gorgeous hues as are shown by this marvelous process, Kinemacolor.
- Press Democrat, March 8, 1912
Rare Treat for Santa RosansWonderful Moving Pictures Are Shown in Natural Colors At Business ShowTHE FIRST TAKEN IN AMERICAScientists and photographers have worked for years on processes for photographing in Nature's own colors. The solution of their problem has been found.
By the Kinemacolor process, moving pictures are now taken in colors and thrown on the screen with the motion and tints of actual life. The Kinemacolor film differs from other moving picture films in that it is not colored by hand nor by chemicals.
The first Kinemacolor pictures made in America were taken at the plant of the National Cash Register Company, Dayton, Ohio.
While A. J. Strayer, the local representative of that concern, was attending a business efficiency convention at the N. C. R. plant, he saw these pictures.
There were pictures, true to life in color, of aeroplane flights, of automobiles busy about the factory, of scenes at the N. C. R. Country Club, where baseball, tennis, running races, horseback riding and games are enjoyed Saturday afternoons during the summer.
Views showed the process of molding brass castings. The lighted furnaces and the men pouring the metal made the scenes seem real.
They showed improved machinery turning out its products.
Then there were views of the men and women at work, and leaving the factory.
Fireless locomotives drew their loads to and from the receiving and shipping platforms.
The green grass, the shrubbery and the vines clinging to the walls, made pictures in color which no artist could equal.
Mr. Strayer asked that the film be shown in this city at the earliest opportunity. His request was granted.
These beautiful pictures in natural colors will be shown in the Native Sons' Hall, March 11th at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p. m.
All the residents of Santa Rosa, especially the business men, are invited to see these Kinemacolor views.
- advertisement in Press Democrat, March 8, 1912
NO ADMISSION TO SEE PICTURESFirst Kinemacolor Entertainment TonightEverybody is invited to attend the lecture and exhibition of the Kinemacolor pictures at the Native Sons' Hall this evening, and the entertainment is absolutely free. The pictures to be shown are the first to be taken by a new process of moving pictures, that show nature in all of her wonderful moods and colorings. Flowers are shown in their original tints without any hand coloring.
The lecture is delivered by H. C. Ernst, who arrived here on Monday with his operators of the moving pictures. A. H. Walker and E. C. Deveny. included in the entertainment are many beautiful scenes of landscape gardening and suggestions for the beautification of homes, and the adornment of the exterior and interior of residences. The progress of the past twenty-five years in machinery is graphically shown, it being greater than all the progress of the ages preceding that time.
The reproduction of flowers and nature in the original colorings is the latest thing in the moving picture world and these pictures are the first to be taken and the first that have come to this city. They are interesting, educational and instructive, and should attract a crowded house to the Native Sons' Hall this evening. No admission is charged, the expense being defrayed by the National Cash Register Company. Arthur J. Strayer is the local representative of the company, and he has arranged for the entertainment of the people of Santa Rosa by his company.
- Santa Rosa Republican, March 11, 1912
EDISON SEE FINISH FOR STAGESays His New Invention, the Kinetophone, Will Put the Legitimate Actor Our of Business and Reduce Prices to Minimum
New York, Jan. 6--Thomas A. Edison, in an interview today declared that he believed the legitimate stage doomed as the result of the completion of his "Kinetophone." The success of its operation in the last few days was such as to make him believe that the $2.00 theatre must give way to the cheaper show with the better talent. He was sure that there would be no more barnstorming companies. The inventor declared that not one out of fifty had the right to spend the price of a theatre ticket. He believes that the legitimate action must leave the stage as more money is to be made acting for the new machines.
- Press Democrat, January 7, 1913
COLUMBIA WILL PRESENT EDISON'S KINETOPHONEMorris Meyerfeld, Jr., head of the Orpheum Circuit, announced Wednesday that the Orpheum and affiliated theatres have secured the American rights for Edison's latest invention, the kinetophone, by which talking motion pictures are presented, and that it will be put simultaneously in all the playhouses of the circuit in about three weeks. The kinetophone recently was demonstrated successfully and promises to revolutionize the career if the stage profession in some respects through its ability to transmit not only the actions, but the voice of the performer. The inventor has declared it will result in the stars leaving the legitimate stage to work for the "movies."
Manager Crone of the Columbia Amusement Company has arranged to have the kinetophone at one of his amusement houses in the near future, which will give the lovers of "movies" a chance to see this latest invention by Edison.
- Santa Rosa Republican, January 20, 1913
She is the symbol of the mysteries and misinformation surrounding the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake. Her name is at the top of the memorial stone at the Rural Cemetery, but it is not her real name. She is buried with a child who was supposedly hers, but more likely was a girl she never saw. The only person who knew her fled without telling anyone how to contact her loved ones, leaving her remains unclaimed in a mass grave.
All we know about her with complete certainty is that she died during the April 18, 1906 earthquake in Santa Rosa, California. On the death certificate she is named Mrs. Cecile Heath. On the newspapers death lists she appeared usually as "Miss Excelsa," which was a misspelling of her vaudeville stage name; the earthquake came the morning after her second performance at the town's tiny theater.
I've been seeking more information about Miss Excelsa for over five years, off and on, combing old newspaper microfilm, theatrical playbills and official documents, always drawn back by the pathos in her story and because it is the last major untold tale of the disaster. I was also intrigued because unexpected secrets and mysteries kept coming to the surface as I dug deeper.
There are three people involved: Miss Excelsa, her husband, and her stage partner. The life of one of them (Excelsa) has an end but no origins that can be traced; we know when her husband was born but have no record of what happened to him; for her partner's story we have a middle but no beginning nor end. Never have I encountered a personal history with so many different loose and mismatched threads.
Some time ago I promised myself I would wrap up the search and write a piece once I found pictures. Well, I've found pictures.
With the caveat that there are still more caveats in this tale than make me completely comfortable, here is the executive summary: On the day of the earthquake her name was Mrs. Excelia George ("Cecile Heath" was provided to the coroner by W. A. Douglas, the stage manager at the Oakland theater where she had performed a few weeks earlier). The whereabouts of her husband, and whether they were still married or he was indeed living, is still unknown. Her stage partner – who left Santa Rosa quickly after the quake, leaving Excelia's identity a mystery – was her husband's ex-wife, having obtained a divorce several years earlier after he abandoned her for Excelia.
"FRED HEATH" is at the core of our story, having married both women and introduced them to his unusual performing act. He was born Frederick P. George in 1866 or 1867 in Pittsburgh, the son of a day laborer. His appearance as a three year-old in the 1870 census is the only official document that can be found for any of them – aside for Excelia's death certificate with the wrong name.
Years later, Fred told a magazine he began performing when he was only about twelve. In the theatrical trade papers the team called Heath and Latta can be spotted performing "gun spinning" and "drill exercises" in the early 1880s. It was essentially the same act that Fred would later perform with his two wives.
(RIGHT: "Fred Heath," National Police Gazette, September 2, 1899)
Gun spinning was simply a kind of baton twirling using a rifle, and the gun was probably always loaded with blanks for a bang-up finish. It was called an "Arabian" or "Turkish" act because it was introduced to America by acrobatic troupes from the Middle East (usually Morocco, Syria, Algeria or Lebanon) performing in circuses, amusement parks and vaudeville programs – you can see it on YouTube in the 1899 "Arabian Gun Twirler" short film. The performance also usually included a sword fight.
Besides gun spinning, the act performed by Fred and his wives likewise included mock combat with swords and rifles with bayonets. While their performance evolved over time to include comedy, it remained identified as an "Arabian" novelty act; the Oakland Tribune used the shorthand of "Arabians" to describe Excelia and her partner just a month before the 1906 earthquake. It's also possible they routinely darkened their skin or used makeup to appear more "Middle Eastern" in sync with American racial presumptions.
The Heath et. al. act also included a Zouave drill, which continued their military-Arabian theme. Many kinds of 19th century infantry regiments were called "Zouave," but in the popular imagination of Fred's day it specifically meant the Algerian Arabs who wore elaborate colorful uniforms. The Zouave drill was a high speed, high precision rifle drill – there's a period film of Zouaves in Buffalo BIll's Wild West Show also available on YouTube. For Fred and his partners it provided an excuse to have a great costume as they did more stunts with their firearms.
The partnership of Heath and Latta broke up in 1884, when Fred was about eighteen (nothing at all can be found about Latta's gender or age). The new team of Lynch and Latta called themselves "Champion Zouave Drill Artists of the World" with the male-female partnership of De Rossett and Heath continuing the drill and bayonet combat routine. All four worked together for a couple of years in the touring stage spectacular "Michael Strogoff," which was a popular adaption of a Jules Verne potboiler. A biographical sketch claimed Fred married in 1885, which is about the time he was first mentioned in the trade press along with Marie de Rossett.
MARIE DE ROSSETT was Fred's wife and longest stage partner, but nothing can be found about her before they teamed up to twirl. If this was her introduction to showbiz, it must have seemed an appealing way of life; for the next five years they had steady work with established touring companies. After the Michael Strogoff troupe they performed with an opera company; in 1889 they even ventured to form the "Humpty Dumpty Specialty Company."1
(RIGHT: "Marie De Rossett" Boston Sunday Post, October 27, 1907)
The next major sighting of the pair appears in "Old Slack's" theatrical memoir, where he mentioned Heath and DeRossett were part of The Sam T. Jack Creole Company, a famously all-black burlesque show.2 Their involvement with the group seemed to be evidence one or both of them were African-American – and most likely Caribbean, because Sam T. Jack had prominent Cuban connections. But newspaper reviews mentioned there was an "Egyptian pastimes" portion of the show, where Marie and Fred were presumably wearing "Arabian" makeup on stage. (The memoir also includes a fun description of the couple using their rifles to guard the entrances to the owner's private railway car while a hot poker game was underway.)
But the easy life was coming to an end. They were hired for a few weeks to be part of "Pain's Last Days of Pompeii," an outdoor pyrodrama with fireworks in Harrisburg, PA (more about the spectacle here) followed by a few months as part of the Night Owls Beauty Show. That was a true burlesque show, which in that era was a cross between the American minstrel show and Parisian follies, featuring women who flashed a bit of petticoat or stocking and performed some form of can-can dance. It also included women dressing up as men – particularly as soldiers – which was popular in 1890s burlesque because it provided a reason for them to wear tights on stage; there's a poster of a Night Owls performer in a military costume much like the kind worn by Marie and Excelia.
Thus far it was easy to chase the pair at their various engagements because they were frequently mentioned in the press, at least in passing. But in the spring of 1892 a year-long gap began. Did Marie have a baby? Was someone ill? No, a large ad the following year announced they had experienced a "grand success" in Europe. (Most vaudeville performers didn't bother with actual continental tours and only lied about appearing before kings and queens – which if all were true, the poor royal dears would not have had time for a wink of sleep.)
The billing for 1893 was reversed: Marie was now the "first and only female soldier in the world," and assisted by Fred. They apparently expected to make quite a splash; they were quite wrong. They appeared in New York but were listed far down on the vaudeville bills, and then toured smaller cities such as Milwaukee and Buffalo. For the next two years they disappeared again from mention in the trade press – possibly they resorted to working the Humpty Dumpty shows, or other productions that required soldiering. Then in 1895, a small classified ad appeared in the top vaudeville newspaper: "WANTED An Expert Gun Driller for Partner." The ad was placed by Fred Heath. He never performed with his wife again.
Marie De Rossett returned to vaudeville as a solo act. From the reviews we find her doing the same stuff – Zouave drill, gun spinning and bayonet work – only now she was doing them alone. She was a member of at least two burlesque companies and may have done some chorus dancing and singing (she was called a "Soubrette" by the reporter covering the divorce). But mainly she was a two-bit performer in two-bit theaters. She had fourth billing of ten novelty acts at the Tuxedo Club in Newark. At another place she had fifth billing, below "Prof. Kreisel's Dogs, Monkeys and Cats." On some bills she was not featured at all, just another nobody listed down at the bottom of the ad in tiny print.
Then in 1897 a theatrical bill appeared with a name not seen before: "Excelia, gun juggler."
EXCELIA was an unusual woman's name, found mainly in the late 19th century with women who were French or French Canadian. We can't be positive that was really her name because no records at all can be found, but it was the name she consistently used onstage until just a year before her death. She was supposedly born in Paris (see the Police Gazette bio) in 1876 (death cert.) but without knowing her full maiden name there's no way to find her immigration documents; most likely the clerk didn't know what to do with a name like hers and either shortened it to "E." or badly misspelled it.
(RIGHT: "Mlle. Excelia," National Police Gazette, December 23, 1899)
And like Fred and Marie, she also can't be found in the 1900 U.S. census. Knowing the stage manager thought she was called "Cecile," I looked under all the rocks for that name and stumbled over an assortment of nearly matching Heaths and Georges named Cecelia, Cecilie, Cealea and other variations. Considering the search was not for a John Smith-type name, there were a remarkable number of close calls – there's even an Excelia married to a Fred at about the right time, but he was a Massachusetts leather cutter and she lived to a ripe old age.
According to the newspaper story about Marie's divorce, Fred and Excelia began living together in 1897, the same year she appeared on stage as a gun juggler. "Mrs. George charged that he had conducted himself improperly with another young actress at a Third avenue theatrical boardinghouse. He won this gay soubrette for his own, and made her his stage partner." No mention was made of when Marie and Fred separated, but he began performing with Excelia just a few months after her juggling debut.
Fred and Excelia's act was more than Zouave drill and twirling; now they were promoting themselves as comics and sharpshooters. Reviews can be found praising their "transformation scenes" and her marksmanship, but the comedy aspect was not described. Given vaudeville's fondness for slapstick, it's easy to imagine the scenario might have involved him portraying a gruff drill sergeant while she was the insouciant private, similar to the opening of Charlie Chaplin's 1918 comedy, Shoulder Arms.
Marie's divorce was granted, and later in 1899 the Police Gazette – sort of the National Enquirer of its day – ran the photos of Fred and Excelia shown here, along with a thumbnail bio of them. Due either to the reporter's incompetence or Fred's guile, all mention of Marie was replaced by Excelia. It has them marrying in 1885 (when Excelia would have been nine) and Excelia performing with him in all the touring companies mentioned above. The newspaper article on Marie's divorce is equally flawed; it's claimed she was then 21, which would have meant she was only six years old when she and Fred first teamed up to spin guns.
By 1903 the team of Excelia and Heath had been together for a half-dozen years. There's no question they were more successful than Fred's partnership with Marie, but that may be due to the steadily increasing popularity of vaudeville. But then in the autumn, they disappear from all mention. Like the situation with Marie exactly a decade earlier, we don't know if they anonymously joined a touring company, decided to quit, or someone fell sick – or maybe died. The trail of Frederick P. George, AKA Fred Heath, abruptly ends after an appearance that October.
It was an odd couple that first appeared on stage during July, 1905 in a little theater in Connecticut. "DeRossett" was Fred's first wife, her name slightly altered; her partner was "Excella," his second.3 Fred was nowhere to be found; perhaps he had moved on to wife number three and quietly retired. Like with the women in this story, research turned up many Fred Heaths and Fred Georges who almost-but-not-quite fit his shoes.
(RIGHT: Novelty Theatre ad, Santa Rosa Republican, April 17, 1907)
DeRossett & Excella apparently reverted back to the old act Marie did with Fred. The few small reviews that exist describe gun spinning, juggling and mock combat – no more mention of comedy and shooting. They called themselves the "Girls Behind the Guns" which adds to the confusion because there was another act, "Clinton & Beatrice lady sharpshooters" which also used that nickname.
Through the theatrical calendar in Billboard magazine we can follow their travels west, ever drawing closer to Santa Rosa: Cleveland before Thanksgiving, South Bend before Christmas, Minneapolis at New Years'. They reached the West Coast two months before the earthquake.
In California they joined the Novelty Circuit, the smallest of all vaudeville chains in the state, with just six theaters. As discussed here earlier, the acts who appeared at Santa Rosa's Novelty Theatre were usually has-beens or wanna-be's, those whom were somewhat popular entertainers long ago and those whom were popular entertainers last summer at parties back home. With Marie at the top of the bill and them apparently performing an act that was considered stale a dozen years earlier, they were definitely in the classic-oldies category.
And then this happened: April 18, 1906.
Excelia was instantly killed in the earthquake, a man named Eugene West wrote to one of the vaudeville papers, and Marie was severely injured. Who Mr. West was, and how he came to know these details, is unknown – he was not one of the performers here at the time.
No mention of Marie appeared in the post-quake Santa Rosa papers, so her injuries were apparently not serious enough to delay her from escaping town as fast as possible, leaving others to deal with Excelia's body and puzzle out her identity. (Even in the chaotic days following the earthquake, some remains were shipped out of Santa Rosa.)
Like the rest of the press, the theatrical newspapers were hungry for any details about the great disaster on the West Coast and as performers fled eastward, they published every scrap of information available. Almost all of the news came from people who experienced the quake in San Francisco. Santa Rosa was ignored except for a letter from Fred Gottlob – another player on the bill with Marie and Excelia – who told his tale of being trapped under fallen beams in the Grand Hotel for several hours.
But while these trade papers churned out lists of every player of every company that was in San Francisco at the time, Excelia's death merited only a couple of lines in a couple of papers. Her real name was not given; probably no one at the papers knew anything about her, and likely anyone who did know her didn't see the itty-bitty notices. This may be the greatest surprise in the whole story; the theatrical world was exceptionally clannish, with every sneeze and hangnail reported. (Literally so – while Fred and Marie were in Europe, one of these papers had an item about her tearing off a nail during a performance.) For a member of their fraternity to violently die while on tour and not be memorialized in some way is a shocking oversight.
Our story doesn't quite end with Excelia's unmourned death. Most important of what is still left unresolved is the matter of the little girl who came to be associated with her. Was Excelia her mother?
(RIGHT: "Mlle. Excelia," National Police Gazette, September 2, 1899)
"Miss Excelsa" appeared on the April 19 casualty list, so it was immediately known she had died – but it was never mentioned where it happened. Then on April 21 this item appeared: "The remains of Miss Excelsa, the Novelty actress, and a little girl, identity unknown, were found this morning and taken to the morgue. The body of the latter was taken from the ruins of the Ramona lodging house" (south side of Fourth st. between Exchange avenue and B street). As discussed in a previous article:
|In the casualty list that appeared in the same edition, there were separate entries for "Excelia, Miss, Novelty actress," and "Little girl (unknown), Ramona Lodging House." But the following lists counted the child twice - both as "Little girl" and as part of "Excelsa, Miss, Novelty actress and child." Apparently everyone forgot that the only connection between the two was that they were found on the same day.|
The only possible way to tie them together would be to demonstrate Excelia was also staying at the Ramona, and would have been very unlikely. Vaudeville players and other traveling entertainers religiously followed "route books," which were pocket-sized references that guided them from town to town. They listed important details about the theaters such as size of the stage and what electricity was available (they were divided between AC and DC back then). They told you where to get your clothes washed and where to get your handbills printed. They told you where to stay – and that was almost always a hotel and not a boardinghouse. The 1906 theatrical guide lists the Occidental and Grand hotels, both of which collapsed in the disaster and together caused the majority of fatalities. When fellow performer Fred Gottlob and his wife were trapped under timbers, they were staying at the Grand. Excelia was probably there, too.
Comment is also needed regarding the strange circumstances that came to bring Excelia and Marie together here that fateful morning. For Excelia to form a partnership with her husband's ex-wife (or maybe, her ex-husband's ex-wife) seems as if it might have been a mite awkward, particularly since she was named as "the other woman" in bitter divorce hearings. And don't forget, we're not talking about two people running a bakery – the partnership in question involved high precision, high speed handling of real guns and real swords. It was a situation where you would not want to have the most fleeting concern the other person might harbor unresolved anger issues.
What they shared – besides a history with Fred – must have been their certainty that this was their best available option. They were mature women, Excelia about thirty and Marie probably a little beyond forty. It was 1906 America, when employment opportunities available to women were hard, menial (usually, both) and certain not to pay very much. But they had mastered this weird skill and already had the props, the costumes, the scenery. So, what the hell. But by the time they reached Santa Rosa, the tour had a depressing familiarity. Fred and Marie were ultimately a flop; on her own Marie was an even greater failure. And here they were on the other side of the continent, playing the smallest hall in the smallest theatrical circuit in the state. Next stop: Mining camps?
Excelia's death ended their failing partnership, but Marie still did not retire. In 1907 Marie de Rossett, the "Military Maid" and "the Girl Behind the Gun" was again spinning rifles. Her last known booking was September, 1908, at a regional fair in Canada. Then she finally stepped offstage into deeper shadows, which we cannot follow.
1 Shortly after the Civil War, producers discovered it was much easier to sell out all the seats in theaters by offering vaudeville-like shows aimed at children. "Humpty Dumpty" was the first and most famous of these productions, with Mother Goose characters singing, dancing and pantomiming a story loosely based on nursery rhymes. Featured were spectacular stage effects and crowd-pleasing novelty acts (trick roller skating! dancing monkeys!) plus lots of broad slapstick humor with sly topical jokes slipped in to amuse the parents. The show was an immense money-maker that was revived every few years through the turn of the century, followed by spinoffs such as Humpty Dumpty Abroad, Humpty Dumpty's Dream and so on. The original play included a Zouave drill and bayonet combat and presumably Fred and Marie were offering a slick drop-in for that segment of the show to theater companies planning to stage Humpty Dumpty.
2 The Sam T. Jack Creole Co. was particularly famous for popularizing the cakewalk and being the first company to present African-American performers not wearing burnt cork on their faces. Multiple references state the company was all black, which was not true; besides occasional white performers such as Heath and De Rossett, the troupe sometimes included Egyptian women who performed "Scenes of Oriental Splendor." But curiously, the Creole Co. was unable to perform in Louisiana because the troupe contained no actual creoles. One Louisiana paper called for them to stay away because the show's "'creole beauties' is in reality composed of mulatto women and negroes."
3 We can only guess Excelia tweaked her unusual Christian name to Americanize it for easier pronunciation (was it ExSEElia or Exehluh?) and spelling. If so, it was a mistake; "Excella" was spelled with one L about half the time and then became "Excelsa" in the newspapers casualty lists. Not a single misspelling of "Excelia" could be found during the years she used that as her stage name. It should also be noted that she was identified as Excelia on the April 21 casualty list in the Democrat-Republican. Perhaps this shows there was someone in Santa Rosa who knew her correct name; but as it was so badly misspelled otherwise, it could be a "broken clock is right twice a day" coincidence.
1906 EARTHQUAKEAt the Novelty This WeekThe program at the Novelty theatre this week proved its popularity Monday evening by the repeated encores given the various participants. The overture by M. R. Samuel was a medley of popular song successes, Colonial Intermezzo, "Prescilla." This was followed by the moving pictures showing the latest mystery of the "Missing Jewel Casket." L. Blanche Gilman in the monologue act, "An April Fool," is a former Santa Rosa girl. She was encored. Dave Yoder was recalled twice to repeat the chorus of "Goodbye Sweet Marie," as an illustrated song. De Rosette and Excella, the girls behind the guns, gave some sensational work as gun jugglers and fencers. Dainty little Pearl Hickman, in her singing and dancing act as a soubrette, was given a hearty encore. Mr. and Mrs. Gottlob & Co., present their rural comedy sketch, "Government Bonds," which is a real New England home scene, in a manner to delight all. The closing feature is another set of moving pictures, showing "The Critic at a Vaudeville Show," which are very entertaining.
- Press Democrat, April 17, 1906
Mr. and Mrs. Gottlob, who were playing at the Novelty theatre the week of the disaster, are safe at Denver. Joe Cowen has received a letter from them written from that place.
- Santa Rosa Democrat-Republican, May 2, 1906
Mr. and Mrs. Fred Gottlob, who were playing in Santa Rosa, state: "We were buried for nearly three hours beneath timber and plastering. The suffering of my wife and myself while waiting for someone to dig us out was indescribable. We were pinned down so that we could not move hand or foot. We were in the Grand Hotel, a three story brick structure, and had been asleep several hours when the shock came. My wife was thrown out of bed into the middle of the floor, but I managed to keep in. The roof and whole building fell in, burying everyone. The timbers and beams were within an inch of my face, and I nearly smothered. My wife, a few feet away, spoke to me, and asked if I was hurt. All about, people were groaning and calling for someone to dig them out. After a time men began digging over us, telling me to keep up courage and that we would soon be safe. The earthquake occurred about 5 o'clock, and it was 8:15 before we were finally taken out. We were not injured except for several bruises, but I never want to go through such an experience again as long as I live. My wife was in a very nervous state, and we had to leave town in avery short time. Before leaving someone took us to a Mr. Carrington, a real estate man of that city and he gave us clothes (for we had on only our night robes) and gave us something to eat. Several hours after the 'quake, a newspaper was issued in the middle of the street, from one of those little presses. The papers sold like hot cakes. I procured one and will have it framed."
- New York Clipper, May 5, 1906
Eugene West, of West and Henry, writes: ...Miss Excela, of De Rossett and Excela (gun spinners), who were playing the Novelty Theatre at Santa Rosa, was instantly killed, while her partner and Pear Hickman (Soubrette) were severely injured at Santa Rosa.
- New York Clipper, May 12, 1906
DEATHS IN THE PROFESSIONMISS EXCELA, of the team of De Rossett and Excela, female gun spinners, was killed at Santa Rosa Cal. on the morning of the earthquake, April 18. The team was playing the Novelty Theatre in that city.
- New York Clipper, May 12, 1906
Santa Rosa suffered very much by the earthquake and fully two hundred and fifty people were killed or injured. Miss Excella, a performer playing at the Novelty Theatre, was among the unfortunate ones. She was on the team of DeRossett and Excella, and did a gun-spinning act.
- Billboard, May 12, 1906
Pearl Hickman, Santa Rosa--Safe. 855 Grove
- Watertown Daily Times, May 3, 1906
HEATH AND LATTA...Heath and Latta in drill exercises...
- NY Dramatic Mirror, 1881
...Heath and Latta...
- New York Clipper, January 5, 1884
...Lynch and Latta, in their well-executed zouave drill...
- New York Clipper, January 12, 1884
...Heath and Latta...
- New York Clipper, April 26, 1884
LATTA and LYNCH, The Champion Zouave Drill Artists of the World. Past two season, Andrews' "Michael Strogoff" Co., assisted by DE ROSSETT and HEATH, Engaged last season as special attraction C. D. HESS ENGLISH-OPERA CO., in Musket and Bayonet Drills, Bayonet Contests, etc., etc. The equal to which haa never yet been placed before the American public.
- New York Clipper, March 12, 1887
HEATH AND DE ROSSETTHeath and De Rossett and T. G. Scott have organized a new "Humpty Dumpty" Specialty Co., which with twelve people and a uniformed brass band, will take the road Jan. 20 opening in New York or New Jersey. The principals will be Heath and De Rossett and the Scotts (Tom and Lillie).
- New York Clipper, December 28, 1889
The Sam Jack Creole Co., out of Boston in 1890 had the following people: Heath and DeRossett...Old Slack happened to drop into Sam T. Jack's Creole Car while enroute to Chicago not long since. I had a hard time effecting an en- terance as Heath and DeRossett, with gun and fixed bayonet, guarded both doors, but as they thought I was the subject that was to be sacrificed for the Sun God, at the next stand they let me in.
- Old Slack's Reminiscence and Pocket History of the Colored Profession from 1865 to 1891
Heath and De Rossett are in their seventh week with Pain's fireworks at Harrisburg, Pa.
- New York Clipper, July 18, 1890
...a novel military spectacle, entitled "Blue and Gray," which, besides parading the charms of the hand-some girls of the company, Introduced a number of good specialties. In the olio that followed there were some new features. Fred Heath and Madame De Rosett gave a really remarkable bayonet, drill and combat
- The Times from Philadelphia, November 24, 1891
[Night Owls Beauty Show] Heath and De Passette, besides appearing in "The Blue and the Gray," gave an exhibition of bayonet and drill exercises which was remarkable.
- Brooklyn Standard-Union March 22, 1892
Miss De Rossett, of Heath and De Rossett, the rifle drill experts who have been making a successful appearance at the Middlesex, England during the past fortnight, met with a painful accident while performing at that establishment, Aug. 31. In the mimic combat with her partner, Miss De Rossett had the nail of one of her fingers torn off. A physician bound up the injured finger but the pain was so excessive that Miss De Rossett fainted twice.
- New York Clipper, September 24, 1892
...Rossett and Heath In combats....
- NY World July 9, 1893
...De Rossett and Heath, who provide a European novelty, consisting of a sensational military drill...
- NY Press July 9, 1893
...Miss De Rossett, the first and only female soldier in the world, assisted by Fred Heath, will present a very original and entertaining military novelty, with muskets, broadswords, and bayonettes...
- The Milwaukee Journal, Aug 5, 1893
Of the vaudeville artists appearing in the theater the most notable are Heath and De Rossett in their realistic military assault-at-arms, with broadswords and bayonetted muskets. Miss De Rossett's performance is the first of its kind ever attempted by a woman. They come straight from Europe.
- Buffalo Courier, September 25, 1893
EXCELIA AND HEATHWANTED
An Expert Gun Driller for Partner
Address Fred Heath, 128 Berriman St., Brooklyn, N.Y.
- New York Clipper, September 28, 1895
(at Proctor's 23d St.) Excelia, gun juggler...
- NY Dramatic Mirror Aug 7, 1897
...Excelia and Heath, comedy entertainers...
- Buffalo Courier, February. 6, 1898
(Comedy Company) Excelia and Heath are wonders in their transformation scenes; and the shooting by Miss Excelia is well worth seeing
- Yonkers Statesman Jan 17, 1899
EXCELIA AND HEATH."Fred" Heath was born in Pittsburg, Pa., and made his professional debut in the same city in 1879 as a gun spinner and juggler under the team name of Heath and Latta. In 1885 he was married and he and his wife, Excelia, who was born in Paris, France, have worked together ever since, having played a part in the "Michael Strogoff" company, Robert Manchester's Night Owls company, "Sam" T. Jack's company and many others, as well as the principal theatres in America and Europe. In 1893 they conceived the idea of introducing comedy into their act and it proved to be a grand success. They are at present filling summer engagements at the parks in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.
- National Police Gazette, September 2, 1899
...Frederick and Excelia Heath...
- NY Tribune February 4, 1900
...Fred and Excelia Heath, comedy duo...
- NY Dramatic Mirror February 10, 1900
...Excelia and Heath, the sensational gun spinners with electrical rifles...
- Chicago Tribune, February 10, 1901
...Excelia and Heath, gun spinners...
- NY Dramatic Mirror January 19 1901
Heath and Excelia have a wonderful reputation for their work with firearms and during the week wil perform many seemingly impossible feats in the line of sharpshooting; also some very difficult juggling with the different weapons used in their act.
- Lockport NY Journal August 23, 1902
...Heath and Excelia...
- NY Dramatic Mirror Oct 3 1903
DE ROSSETT AND EXCELLADeRessette and Excella, two Arabians who also carry their own special scenery for a new novelty act, will make their first Pacific Coast appearance at the Novelty and they will no doubt be the talk of the town after their opening Monday.
- Oakland Tribune March 3, 1906
The bill opens with a great novelty act, De Rossette and Excella, "The Girls Behind the Guns," who do some wonderful gun spinning and juggling that for women is the best seen here in many moons.
- Oakland Tribune March 6, 1906
MARIE DE ROSSETT...Marie De Rossett gave an idea of her skill in a Zouave drill and bayonet exercise...
- Boston Daily Globe November 3 1896
...Marie De Rossett named as part of Fay Foster Company
- Trenton Evening Times November 20, 1896
...Marie De Rossett named as part of Fay Foster Extravaganza Company as part of "Grand Olio" group
- Boston Sunday Post January 10, 1897
...Marie De Rossett, the champion female gun manipulator in the world...
- Bridgeport Herald February 20, 1898
MARIE GEORGE GETS A DIVORCEHer Husband Preferred Another Soubrette to His Pretty Wife.NOT THE CASINO FAVORITEGeorge Is Now Playing in the West Under the Name of Frederick Heath.Marie George, not the Casino favorite, but one of the "Gay Masqueraders," now playing in Brooklyn, tripped into the Supreme Court yesterday in company with a bunch of a dozen or more lively soubrettes, and after relating a touching tale of domestic unhappiness to Justice Nash, she walked out with an absolute decree of divorce tucked away in the bosom of her sealskin cloak.
The former Mrs. George's stage name is Marie de Rossett. She is a handsome dark-haired young woman of less than 22 years, who has made a name for herself on the variety stage through her beauty and ability to perform difficult "stunts."
Her former husband's name is Frederick P. George, who is professionally known as Fred. Heath. Mrs. George charged that he had conducted himself improperly with another young actress at a Third avenue theatrical boardinghouse. He won this gay soubrette for his own, and made her his stage partner.
Mr. George was not in court when the case against him was called. It was explained that he was out in Kansas City, following his profession in company with the young woman whom he seemed to prefer to his pretty young wife.
Mrs. George was the first witness examined. When her counsel asked, "Who are you?" her hat almost jumped from its fastenings as she suddenly threw back her head. Several of the soubrettes in the room began to laugh, and one of them went so far as to volunteer to tell the justice who she was.
Finally the young woman replied: "I am Mrs. Marie George. Do you think anybody else would be suing my husband for a divorce?"
"I hope not," replied her counsel, and then Mrs. George resumed the history of her life. Again her counsel interrupted: "Who are you? What do you do for a living?"
"Well, I declare," she smiled, "isn't it foolish of me? Why I am a--well--I am at present a burlesquer in the 'Gay Masqueraders.' I was married to my husband on February 27, 1895, and he left me about two years afterward."
Mrs. A. Fielding, who maintains a professional boarding-house at No. 363 Third avenue, testified that George had lived in her house with another woman for two years.
Mrs. George's counsel said she did not want alimony, but the justice allowed her $20 a month, any way, and signed a decree in her favor.
Some of the young soubrettes became so deeply infatuated with the spicy proceedings in the divorce court that they remained for the rest of the afternoon.
- New York Morning Telegraph, January 19, 1899
Judge Nash, of the New York Supreme Court, granted a decree of divorce to Marie De Rosett from her husband, Fred. P. Heath, on statutory grounds. She was represented at the trial by Attorney M. Strassman.
- NY Dramatic Mirror January 28, 1899
De Rossett is introduced and she shows what a woman is capable of doing with a gun.
- Boston Post January 31, 1899
...Marie DeRossett... (4th billing of 10 novelty acts in Tuxedo Club burlesque show "the burlesque is new and not of a trashy order")
- Newark Daily Advocate October 21, 1899
...Marie DeRossett... (5th billing, below Prof Kreisel's Dogs, Monkeys and Cats)
- Boston Daily Globe August 10, 1902
...Marie de Rossett the Military Maid
- Boston Post, Oct. 27 1907
...Marie de Rossett, "the Girl Behind the Gun," went through the manual like a true soldier...
- Boston Post, Oct. 29 1907
...Marie de Rossett Is certainly the champion gun spinner and her act went with great applause...
- The Billboard June 6, 1908
Marie DeRossett (Provincial Fair) Quebec
- The Billboard September 1908