Betty Carey rattled around the huge mansion the winter of 1922, alone except for the 20-member staff who served her. She was waiting for a court decision; at stake was whether she could be kept there indefinitely, against her will.

She was a prostitute and a drug user who hated being at the 40-room "castle" outside of Sonoma, but was ordered to be sent there by San Francisco Police Court Judge Lile Jacks. After a month she begged the judge to let her leave, writing she’d “rather serve a year in the county jail than spend a month in the Valley of the Moon.”

“What awful, narrow-minded people are in the beautiful Sonoma Valley!” she wrote, according to the SF Daily News. "They said I was so wicked they wouldn’t have me in the city of San Francisco, that I have actually asked one of the insignificant farmers for a cigarette. I did, Judge Jacks, such a breach of etiquette! Such small town newspaper talk! They said a woman captured me. It took three men to capture me..."

It was true her neighbors in the Sonoma Valley did not want her there, and their "small town newspaper," the Sonoma Index-Tribune, objected fiercely. One reason was because the place was a point of local pride: The old Kate Johnson estate on the grounds of the historic Buena Vista winery, with 645 acres of vineyards and manicured lawns which were once compared to Golden Gate Park. The mansion was a landmark by itself, being probably the largest private residence ever built in Sonoma county and where it was gossiped that Mrs. Johnson had devoted an entire floor to her hundreds of cats. (Not true; see "THE MAKING OF A CRAZY CAT LADY.")

But what the locals really disliked was not Betty's presence. It was the fear that her pending court decision might mean five hundred more Bettys would be coming to live indefinitely at the big mansion in the Valley of the Moon. And all would presumably have venereal disease.

This is part one of our history of the "California Industrial Farm for Women" - usually instead called some variation of "the Sonoma State Home for Delinquent Women" -  which explains the background about why the women were there; part two (coming soon) describes what happened after the Home opened and what became of the building.

It has been an uncomfortable article to write, which is probably why no local historians have touched this topic before. Understanding what happened/why requires wandering down some darker alleys of our past we'd like to forget; it requires coming to grips with how such unjust treatment of women was considered not only legal but embraced as fair and just - as were some unspeakable medical procedures which will make you cringe (or at least, should).

Also difficult to understand is how all this happened just as the women's rights movement was at a historic peak, having just gained clout with the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920. Why wasn't there backlash to the all-male legislatures and all-male courts declaring some women did not even have the basic constitutional right to bail or a trial? Surprise: The loudest voices chanting, "lock her up!" were other women - who believed people like Betty needed to be disenfranchised for their own protection.

This is a complex and grim story; although the Sonoma State Home for Delinquent Women was supposed to reform and benefit the women under its care, its real purpose was to protect men.

The estate where lonesome Betty Carey roamed was purchased by California in 1919 for a quarter million dollars 1920 for $50,000. Legislators didn't seem to mind spending that much money for the grand old place, but from the start some were griping it could be put to better use than housing riff-raff like prostitutes and junkies, with a TB sanitarium or a home for disabled WWI veterans suggested as early alternatives. More on this thread in the following article.

That the state was spending such a large chunk of the budget on any sort of a female-only facility was considered a major victory for women. Starting more than forty years earlier, the W. C. T. U. and other temperance groups began beating the drums for a separate women's state reformatory/prison; up to then female convicts from all over the state were crammed into small quarters at San Quentin. Some improvements were made after a shocking 1906 expose´ revealed there was no heat, rats ran loose and chamber pots were dumped into a hopper in the common room. But the women were still rarely allowed outdoors lest they be seen by the male prisoners, and windows in their quarters were whitewashed to likewise prevent men from peering in.1

RIGHT: Few of the women at San Quentin in the early 1910s were guilty of sex crimes. One exception was Laura Paulson, wife of a saloon and dance hall owner in Burke, Idaho, convicted in 1911 under the "White-Slave Traffic Act" (the Mann Act) for bringing over prostitutes from Washington state

The awareness of how poorly women were treated behind bars came during a period of explosive growth in social groups for women (that same year, the Press Democrat gossip columnist estimated there were 100 women's clubs in Santa Rosa, when the town had a population of about 10,000). After California women won suffrage in 1911 the clubwomen became a formidable political bloc, and before the end of the decade the Women's Legislative Council of California claimed it represented over 187,000 club members throughout the state. Improving conditions for "delinquent women" was among the Council's top priorities - but what did that mean, exactly?

At the 1918 Council convention they urged the state to "establish rehabilitation farms and colonies for delinquent women and to establish a state boarding school for incorrigible public school children whose offenses do not demand reformatory treatment." Take note first of "farms and colonies;" it was long presupposed by prison reformers and women advocates that rural, women-run institutions would transform law-breaking ladies into model citizens. "These pastoral prisons were supposed to accommodate the domesticity attributed to women's natures," explained prison historian Shelley Bookspan, because they could have "schooling and training in marketable female skills, such as sewing, mothering and nursing."2

Second point: Even though the term was widely used, "delinquent woman" had no clear definition. Did it mean a sex worker/drug addict? A woman charged with any crime? Here the Council lumps delinquent woman together with juvenile delinquents ("incorrigible public school children") which implies a D. W. is someone who makes poor decisions and may have committed petty crimes. The latter was indeed the definition earlier in the 1910s when legislators first considered a women's farm; in a 1911 article transcribed below it's stated that a delinquent woman was someone who had committed five or more misdemeanors such as drunkenness, vagrancy or shoplifting.

The clubwomen clearly expected a woman's farm would be used for women who could be rehabilitated and released, but less clear is whether it was believed the place would be used to house all female criminals. Even as the opening date approached, there was uncertainty about who would be sent to Sonoma. Recently released from San Quentin was Dr. Marie Equi, who had served time for sedition.3 Shortly before Betty Carey became the test case, an Oakland Tribune reporter interviewed Dr. Equi, who apparently believed all the women inmates at San Quentin were going to the elysian gardens at Buena Vista:

The girls at Quentin are wild to get on the farm. They are housed in a little square mausoleum being permitted to go out among the green fields but once a week and having nothing to do to occupy their minds...The women inmates at San Quentin are not morons by any cell mates at San Quentin were just the type of bright, pretty 'chickens' that the tired business man cultivates for his amusement. Check-passer, murderers, women of the street, forgers and narcotic addicts mingle together...

But although the April, 1919 act establishing the Home stated it was "to provide custody, care, protection, industrial, and other training and rehabilitation for the delinquent women," none of that would be provided, except for custody and care. And few, if any, of Dr. Equi's cellmates would be welcome. The Home was only for women like Betty Carey - prostitutes who were to be held under an indefinite quarantine because they had diseases considered nearly incurable at the time.

The Home never would have existed if not for the Wilson Administration's obsession with the so-called "American Plan," starting when the U.S. entered World War I and continuing on through most of the 1920s. Like Prohibition which soon followed, this was a morals crusade in the guise of patriotism - in this case, keeping our boys healthy before they went overseas to fight the Germans by attempting to eradicate venereal diseases.

There had been vice crackdowns in American cities before, or course, but the War Department decided the U.S. needed "invisible armor" around every training camp to protect soldiers against "heated temptations." A five-mile radius "moral zone" was established around the camps where no alcohol could be sold; women suspected of being prostitutes could be detained and forced to undergo a blood test and gynecological medical exam. Even though any sexually active woman could have a venereal disease, every woman found to have VD was presumed to be a prostitute - and every prostitute was presumed to have VD. And that meant she could be locked up without due process.4

Besides local and military police, the Commission on Training Camp Activities (CTCA) created its own national Law Enforcement Division and even local public health investigators now had powers to arrest civilian women on suspicion. The dragnet expanded after Congress passed The Chamberlain-Kahn Act of 1918, which was not restricted to the immediate vicinity of military camps. It's usually said 30,000 women were swept up, but Scott Wasserman Stern, the author of an excellent study on the American Plan (see footnote 4), believes that greatly underestimates the true numbers.

The need to lock up so many women created a problem of what to do with them all. Local hospitals and jails were kept full; state reformatories and orphanages were pressed into service and the CTCA began building detention camps. In a believe-it-or-not! twist, the feds decided that former brothels were ideal places to house them - just surround the place with barbed wire and add guards.5

Much of this was being paid for with money personally controlled by President Wilson, including $1 million from the Chamberlain-Kahn Act. And it wasn't just for lockup; the CTCA was also charged with lobbying states to adopt a set of model laws it had written to curb promiscuity. Among the provisions were creating reformatories for women detained on "incorrigibility or delinquency" charges and outlawing all premarital sex. By 1919, 39 states had passed such laws.

To be sure, VD was endemic among prostitutes. A 1917 San Francisco study found 72 percent had syphilis, gonorrhea or both. In that year - just as the CTCA was starting - the city was lenient, allowing women who tested positive to sign an agreement to report to a physician or clinic within a few days. If she was not known to have a disease, a woman paid a $5.00 bail and was released, even though some were rearrested up to four times a night and certainly not retested every time. Under new pressure from federal officials, the bail was increased to $1,000 for the first arrest. As a result of the astronomical increase, many skipped bail and fled the city for places with lax enforcement.

Today it may seem odd that infected women did not eagerly agree to medical treatment, but in that pre-antibiotic era the options ranged from bad to awful; there was no guarantee of being cured - but weeks, months, or a lifetime of pain was assured and side effects could be crippling or lethal.

 Arsenic-based Salvarsan was the first drug that could actually cure syphilis but problems abounded with the treatment: The shot was described as "horribly painful" followed by days of sustained misery - and the drug would be effective only if it were prepared immediately before injection under precise, nearly laboratory, conditions. Repeat for 4-8 weeks.

At the time the wonder drug for gonorrhea was 3-6 weeks of shots with a solution where the main ingredient was mercurochrome. Like the syphilis treatment, though, the compound had to be absolutely fresh and precisely formulated to cure. For women with untreated chronic gonorrhea - which most prostitutes suffered - doctors cut away or cauterized any parts of the reproductive system they deemed infected. Surgical procedures were routinely performed that today would be condemned as types of female genital mutilation.6

But let's presume our misfortunate heroine, Betty Carey, was given the full course of treatment and it worked exactly as hoped. She's now completely STD free. Maybe she sticks around the Buena Vista castle a little longer for followup tests to show that she's really and truly cured; maybe she's required to attend a class on contraception and safe sex taught by someone from Margaret Sanger's new American Birth Control League. But after that, she would be given a pile of condoms and released, right?

Sorry, Betty - that might be the European Plan, but it wasn't the American Plan. Over there prostitutes had to be registered so their health could be monitored for public safety; over there use of condoms was encouraged. Here prostitution was being driven underground by the new, harsher CTCA-written laws; here we didn't even send our boys overseas in WWI with condoms, despite all the Wilson administration's squawking about soldiers "keeping fit" and the president personally directing spending on ways to protect them from VD.

No, the state was not yet done with Betty; besides confinement and care, section one of the delinquent women act also calls for rehabilitation. What did that legally mean? How could Betty prove to a judge and the Board of Trustees that she was rehabilitated - and from what, exactly? Remember: She had not been convicted of prostitution or any other crime, but instead simply ordered to be sent to the Home by a justice of the peace.

Her court-appointed attorney immediately appealed when she was sentenced to the Home. For three months Betty would pace the empty corridors of the mansion awaiting a decision from the state appeals court. If she lost, they could keep her there up to five years.

Betty Carey's fate was to be decided by the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento. As Gentle Reader already knows there's more to appear here about the Home for Delinquent Women, it's not much of a spoiler to reveal now that she lost her case. Badly. But it's the court's reasoning behind the decision that is a true jaw-dropper, and reveals how unjust and unconstitutional the overall concept was.

Had she won any of her points it would have been unprecedented. The first suits against such sentencing appeared not long after the launch of the American Plan; with CTCA encouragement, Seattle police had conducted widespread vice raids, sweeping up "suspicious" and "disorderly" women and men (including labor activists) during the winter of 1917, holding them without bail or court hearings and forcibly starting the painful treatments whether the person had VD or not. Judges dismissed the complaints, ruling the police were acting in the interest of public welfare.7

One of those cases made it to the Washington State Supreme Court in 1918 and set an astonishing precedent. An unelected official - in this case, Seattle health commissioner J. S. McBride - had virtually unlimited authority to declare someone had a contagious disease and thus hold the person indefinitely in quarantine. Dr. McBride even refused to allow those being held to communicate with their attorneys. Not only was venereal disease now in the same category as lethal communicable diseases such as smallpox or plague, it gave police the authority to arrest and deny rights of habeas corpus to anyone they claimed was "reasonably suspected" of having VD.8

It cannot be said Betty had a poor defense. The petition for appeal was brought by Darwin J. Smith, then a statehouse reporter for the Sacramento Bee, and the attorney arguing on her behalf was Charles E. McLaughlin, Director of the State Prison Board and a former judge on the same appeals court. Their defense had five basic points:

A police court doesn't have the power to commit offenders to reformatories

A police court can't commit someone to an indefinite sentence

Commitment to an indefinite sentence is cruel and unusual punishment

It is discriminatory to confine women to reformatories for sex crimes and not men

  It is discriminatory to confine women for soliciting sex yet not men for pimping, which is soliciting sex on behalf of a woman

All were strong arguments, and in another context or another time, at least some should have won the day. But the appeals court turned down everything, even though they had to frequently wander out into legal weeds. You can read the entire decision in a few minutes; it's only five pages. But you might want to first make sure the windows are tightly shut because you'll probably be screaming in outrage.

Let's get the most absurd stuff out of the way first: The court claimed the law couldn't lock up men in the way they were about to incarcerate Betty. Why? Because there was no such thing as a male prostitute ("men cannot commit the crime of carrying on the business of prostitution...a business that can be carried on only by women").

Next: Betty's indefinite sentence couldn't be considered cruel and unusual - because it wasn't actually indefinite. Today we'd call it a Catch-22 situation: "It has uniformly been held that the indeterminate sentence is in legal effect a sentence for the maximum term."

Women had no more legal rights than children. In order to justify Betty's commitment to the Home by a police court judge, the appeals court cited two decisions, one of its own and another from the state supreme court. Both concerned juvenile offenders being sent to reformatories. Part of the supreme court cite stated the police court was just acting in the same role "...which, under other conditions, is habitually imposed by parents, guardians of the person, and others exercising supervision and control..."

The court also used the comparison to juvenile delinquents to make the Orwellian claim that Betty wasn't being incarcerated at all, but merely being required to attend a reform school. Again quoting the state supreme court regarding police courts sending children to reformatories: "...the purpose in view is not punishment for the offense done, but reformation and training of the child to habits of industry, with a view to his future usefulness when he shall have been reclaimed to society..."

The longest, and most important part of the appellate court decision, didn't address any of Betty's complaints; instead, it attempted to justify the need to quarantine and disenfranchise women like her. Prostitutes, the judges wrote, are a unique danger to the rest of "the human kind." They are like "the chronic typhoid carrier - a soft of clearing house for the very worst forms of disease" and that they are "a constant pathological danger no one would question."

...The statute in question does not purport to deal with her as an innocent person. On the contrary, the law appraises her as so steeped in crime and in so exceptional an environment that ordinary methods of reformation and escape are impossible. Every door is closed to her. Every avenue of escape is shut off. The state, realizing this, has undertaken to take forcible charge of this class of unfortunates and extend to them a home, education, assistance, and encouragement in an effort, otherwise hopeless, to restore them to lives of usefulness.

This mix of loathing and compassion matched the clubwomen view, and they likewise shared a belief that Betty and the others had to be locked up until they were rehabilitated. Given enough time, eventually they would have to emerge from their chrysalis as women of adequate moral character - just as Prohibition would surely transform every drunk into a fine sober citizen.

With the court decision lost, Betty was no longer alone at The Sonoma State Home for Delinquent Women, as the "castle" began to fill up with women inmates from San Quentin and other prostitutes sentenced directly from police courts.

As for the "education, assistance, and encouragement" the court promised she would receive, Betty told the San Francisco Daily News she was being treated like an imbecile or a naughty child, with nothing to do except caring for farm animals. "I feel like one of the goats out on this farm," said the woman born in New York City, "I shall never milk these goats."


1 A Germ of Goodness: The California State Prison System, 1851-1944 by Shelley Bookspan, University of Nebraska Press, 1991; pg. 74-75

2 ibid pg. 77-78

3 Under the Sedition Act of 1918, criticism of the U.S. government, the American flag or military uniforms was outlawed. As a socialist and outspoken pacifist while the country was gearing up to enter WWI, Dr. Marie Equi was an early target of J. Edgar Hoover, then a rising star at the Bureau of Investigation office charged with harassing "radicals."
4 The Long American Plan: The US Government's Campaign Against Venereal Disease and Its Carriers by Scott Wasserman Stern; Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, 2015 (PDF). Much of this section is sourced from this excellent thesis.

5 ibid, pg. 384

6 Mercurochrome was not universally accepted as a cure  for gonorrhea, and the medical journals c. 1920 show physicians experimenting with a wide variety of treatments which were frequently torturous. Because it was known that a sustained high fever killed the bacteria, electrical rods or cathode ray tubes (gauss lamps) heated to 112 F were sometimes inserted vaginally for up to four hours a session and repeated daily. The most common form of gonorrheal surgery was removal of the Bartholin glands, which would cause the women agonizing pain during sex for the rest of their lives. And if that wasn't punishment enough, the gynecology department head at the San Francisco Polyclinic Hospital wrote in the 1922 AMA journal that the Skene’s gland also should be cauterized with a hot needle, which would have destroyed nerve endings (PDF).

7 op. cit. The Long American Plan, pg. 389

8 ibid, pg. 393

Collage of San Quentin mugshots, 1918-1919

Agricultural Committee Will Grapple With Delinquent Women Bill
Aim of Measure Is to Take Female Prisoners From Penitentiaries

[Special Dispatch to The Call]
CALL HEADQURTERS SACRAMENTO, Jan. 13.—Thanks to Lieutenant Governor Wallace's determination to accept things for what they may appear to be, a bill designed to establish an indeterminate sentence farm for delinquent women who have been convicted of five or more misdemeanors reposes in the hopper of the senate committee on agricultural and dairy interests.

The bill, which Is a free copy of the New York law for the treatment of delinquent females, has the support of virtually all the women's clubs of California. It provides for the appointment by the governor of a board consisting of the prison directors and two women to have the management of a state farm for the custody of delinquent females. The board is to select a site and upon approval by the  governor purchase it and equip it with buildings for the accommodation of at least 250 inmates. The farm is to take the place of custody for females over the age of 25 who shall have been convicted on misdemeanor charges five times. The sentences are for indefinite terms, but not to exceed 3 years.

The women's organizations framed the measure and gave it to Finn, chairman of the committee on prisons and reformatory, for introduction. Finn sent it to the desk confidently expecting that Lieutenant Governor Wallace would immediately refer it to his committee. The reading of the title "state farm for the custody of delinquent females" was lost on none but Wallace. He gravely referred the measure to the committee on agricultural and dairy interests, A shout of laughter instantly went up, but it failed to perturb Wallace. A farm measure the bill was labeled and to Wallace farm suggested agricultural and dairying.

- San Francisco Call, January 14 1911

Recently Released Political Prisoner From San Quentin Says Newcomers to Delinquent Women’s Farm Here Will Be “Classy” Janes

There has been considerable specilation among Sonoma Valley folks as to the kind of wards the State of California is to care for at the new penal institution at Buena Vista. The former Kate Johnson place known as the Castle was purchased about a year ago to be used as a farm for Delinquent Women and according to Dr. Marie D. Equi, recently released political prisoner from San Quentin, the women are yearning to get here and will be bright, classy Janes. Here is what the Oakland Tribune reveals:

“Girl prisoners at San Quentin penitentiary are the smartest women felons in the United States, according  to Dr. Marie D. Equi, political prisoner, who has just been released from the prison and who says that the latest styles are all the vogue at the Marin county resort.

“The women inmates at San Quentin are not morons by any means,” Dr. Equi declared yesterday. “They roll ‘em down, wear ‘em high and the sleek silk-clad ankle and high-heeled shoe are always in evidence at the parties staged in S. Q. F. D.” The S. Q. F. D. means the San Quentin Female Department, she explained.

The high moral tone at the State prison, however, bars cigarettes for the girls, limits the night owls to 10 p.m., prohibits debutantes from going out unchaperoned, while at the same time countenancing the “shimmy,” the bunny hug” and the “San Rafael Waddle,” Dr. Equi says.

“Western women prisoners are greatly superior in all respects to the inmates of Eastern penitentiaries where the majority in the female departments are morons or lower,” Dr. Equi, a graduate physician of Portland continued.

My cell mates at San Quentin were just the type of bright, pretty “chickens” that the tired business man cultivates for his amusement. Check-passer, murderers, women of the street, forgers and narcotic addicts mingle together - crochet, sew, cook, read books, discuss the latest styles or dance in the big living room to the jazz tunes of a piano, just like their sisters outside.

“These girls are intelligent, not intellectual. Some of them are more intelligent than the intellectual free women. Their wits are sharpened from contact with the world.”


Dr. Equi is beginning a campaign to have the women prisoners at San Quentin transferred immediately to the new farm provided for them near Sonoma.

“Here the women will live an outdoor life and will be able to work and become more self-supporting,” says the Doctor. “The girls at Quentin are wild to get on the farm. They are housed in a little square mausoleum being permitted to go out among the green fields but once a week and having nothing to do to occupy their minds.

“Their removal from the prison to the farm is being held up pending the construction of a hospital. I contend that the women can be transferred and the hospital built afterward...

- Sonoma Index-Tribune, September 3, 1921


San Francisco, December 7.- Following the sentencing of Betty Carey, an alleged drug addict, to the new state home for delinquent women, near Sonoma, for an indefinite term, legal steps will be taken to test the law giving the courts authority to impose such sentences.

This was decided upon today by Police Judge Lile T. Jacks when he announced that he would pronounce sentence sending Betty Carey to the home.

Attorney Harry McKenzie, appointed by the court under agreement with Chief of Detectives Duncan Matheson, to appeal from the court’s judgment in the case, in order to test the law, expressed the hope that the law would be sustained.

Judge Jacks and Captain Matheson also declared their hope that the law would be upheld and thus give the courts clear headway in their efforts to cure the addicts who are brought before them.

The question at issue is whether or not the courts have the right to deprive an addict of his or her liberty for an indefinite period.

- Sotoyome Scimitar, December 9 1921

First Woman for Sonoma Farm

Miss Betty Carey, who lost a Christmas present of her liberty by failing to leave town as she promised Police Judge Lile T. Jacks, was Saturday ordered committed to the Sonoma Home for Girls. She is the first woman to be sent to the new home on court order from San Francisco county.

- Argus-Courier, January 9, 1922

Court of Appeals Upholds Act; Will Operate to  Protect Morality
(By Associated Press leased Wire)

SACRAMENTO, April 10. The constitutionality of the act establishing the state prison farm for women and also the right of police and justice courts to sentence women to the prison farm for a period not exceeding five years, today were upheld by, the third district court of appeals, denying the application of Betty Carey, an inmate of the farm, for a writ of habeas corpus.

Four points were urged by Judge C. E. McLaughlin on behalf of the petitioner in applying for the writ, as follows:

That it was beyond the jurisdiction of the police court of San Francisco where Betty Carey was arrested to sentence her to the prison farm for an indeterminate sentence which might amount to a detention for five years; that the punishment is cruel and unusual; that the act is discriminatory in that it applied only to women and that the legislation can not be general enactment modify an ordinance of San Francisco.

Replying to Judge McLaughlin's first contention, Judge J. T. Prewett of Auburn, as the juristice protem, who wrote the opinion, declared the claim that the police court was without jurisdiction to sentence women to the prison farm was untenable. He cited Supreme Court cases upholding the right of police and justice courts to commit minors to reformatories and he held the same right existed in the matter of sentencing women to the prison farm. He declared the purpose in view is not punishment for the offense done but reformation to reclaim the women to society.

Being that the commitment of women to the prison farm is only for the purposes of assistance and reformation," Judge Prewett held that the incarceration can not be regarded as cruel and unusual punishment.

Replying to Judge McLaughlin's claim that the statute is unconstitutional in that it discriminates against women, Judge Prewett quoted from a Supreme Court decision holding that legislation may be directed to women as a class and that they may be segregated into groups or sub-classed in the interests of public health, safety or morals.

- San Bernardino Sun, April 11 1922

Here is another of those important life rules not taught in schools: Should you acquire an extraordinary fondness for cats, once you die you will be remembered forever as a crazy cat person, and only as that.

First corollary: This rule applies only to women.

"Cat lady" has been a cultural touchstone since the Victorian era, even though the most cat-obsessive famous Americans were men. Doubt it? President Lincoln couldn't keep his hands off any kitty within his reach, enjoyed getting down on the floor to play with them and fed a favorite at the table during a formal state dinner. In 1924 the Washington, D.C. police issued an APB when one of President Coolidge's four cats went missing while a Secret Service agent broadcast a description over the area's top radio station. (Imagine the Fox News fury if a President Hillary had done such things.) Sam Clemens could not bear to be without a cat on his Mark Twain lecture tours and took to renting local felines when away from home. Yet curiously, such details of men's lives are rarely mentioned. Honestly, did you know any of these facts before reading about them here?

Kate Johnson, who died 125 years ago at her mansion near Sonoma, wasn't known as a cat lady until the end of her lifetime. She was EXTREMELY wealthy (worth the equivalent $70 million today) and spent much of that fortune on philanthropy - most famously, founding what's now the Seton Medical Center. She was an amateur painter but a professional art collector; for quite a while she owned one of the most celebrated paintings by an American artist, and the collection was so substantial that the auction for the non-museum quality holdings took three days. And on the grounds of the historic Buena Vista winery she and husband Robert built "The Castle," likely the largest home ever constructed in Sonoma county, centered on a six-story tower with a breathtaking view of the Sonoma valley.

Back to Kate's cat story in a moment, but there is a book yet to be written about the Valley of the Moon during the Gilded Age, when "San Francisco's right-fork-conscious new high society" (as Stephen Birmingham called them in "California Rich") descended upon the valley to build great country estates, where they lived the imagined lives of landed gentry during late 19th century summers. There were stables filled with racing thoroughbreds, private game reserves for hunting and artificial lakes stocked with trout. Grounds were always perfectly tended in competition with Golden Gate Park, which was then being landscaped.

The end of the affluent era was probably marked by the 1904 fire that destroyed Rudolph Spreckels' mansion at Sobre Vista (although it was rebuilt and in the 1920s-30s, his sister-in-law, Alma, again spent lavishly on the estate in a campaign to brand it as the "San Simeon of the North"). But the Gilded Age surely began here in 1880, when Kate and Robert Johnson purchased the 6,000 acre Buena Vista ranch and vineyards at an auction on the courthouse steps in Santa Rosa.

The Johnsons were not interested in wine production, as the sad history of Agoston Haraszthy's vineyard only demonstrated how risky it was after the grapes on the property were nearly wiped out by Phylloxera. Instead they turned the wine cellars into carriage houses and looked upon the beautiful setting as if it were a fresh canvas. After Kate died, a San Francisco paper described what they had done with the 27 landscaped acres around the house: "...[it] is laid out in the same elaborate style as Golden Gate Park, though on a smaller scale...the fountains plentiful and the flora is the most variegated in the valley. Babbling brooks run through the grounds. The little watercourses are spanned by rustic bridges of unique pattern...rustic seats ornament the sward at the sides of the walks and drives."

Postcard of the Johnson mansion at Buena Vista, c. 1900. A later view can be found in the following article

Then there was the mansion which was completed around 1885 and said to cost $80,000, which would be over $2.5 million today. Alas, there's little information about it aside from a couple of exterior views. It supposedly had 40 rooms and was "finished in rare and expensive woods." There is a good chance the state had a set of photographs of how it looked c. 1919, but I am not holding my breath they will ever surface.

Again, this was just their county place; their main residence was in the city at the corner of O'Farrell/Leavenworth streets with 22 rooms - but not that they were there all that much, either. Kate and Robert were often somewhere else buying wonderful things: Art, antiques, and yes...exotic cats.

Kate's fortune began with her father-in-law, George C. Johnson, a diplomat and industrialist in Gold Rush-era San Francisco. He was the Norwegian-Swedish Consul General until his death in 1872 (one description called him an "unusually pro-Swedish Norwegian," but I'm unclear if that was a compliment or insult) and among the investors in the Buena Vista winery, being president of the corporation's board for a year. That was the start of ties between the Johnson and Haraszthy families; before buying the whole ranch, Robert purchased about 100 acres of land in Napa from Agoston's son, Attila.

Before any of that, George was a sea captain with a bark (a sailing ship with three masts) hauling cargo for the United States government. His last voyage took him far inland to drop off supplies for "Camp Far West," a small military post on the Bear River near modern-day Wheatland. He ended up berthing his ship permanently at Nicolaus, which was then the Sutter county seat and an important way station for the 49ers. There he became a property developer and agent for the express company shuttling gold dust down to San Francisco. Fifty years later in 1902, a San Francisco gossip newspaper named "Town Talk" printed a tale about how George got his start in Nicolaus; it's most likely a complete pack of lies, but still a helluva good story:

George C. Johnson came to this city in the early fifties, as captain of a bark loaded with United States commissary stores. He sailed up the Sacramento river as far as Nicolaus, tied her up to the bank, spread out awnings and settled down to take his case. With a whole cargo of stores under deck, and his salary accumulating, he didn't worry much about the future. There he waited orders for two hole years when inquiry came from Washington as to his whereabouts. Captain Richard L. Ogden was detailed to look him up and the latter found the bark at Nicolaus. The vessel was enclosed with awnings, and going aboard Ogden found Captain Johnson swinging in a hammock, and his wife sitting in a rocking chair. They presented a picture of solid comfort. On inspection the cargo was pronounced worthless for issue. Ogden sold it at public auction. It consisted principally of pork. Captain Johnson bought it in for a dollar a barrel, and after cleaning off the rust and repacking it, he sold it in Marysville for sixteen dollars a barrel. On the capital thus obtained he went into partnership in this city with George W. Gibbs in the hardware business. He became Swedish Consul, was knighted and died worth three million dollars. The wife who in early days had kept a boarding house in Baltimore became one of San Francisco's Four Hundred. Her only son, Robert C. Johnson, became one of our later day capitalists. His wife, Mrs. Kate Johnson, inherited the estate which had its origin in rusty pork. She was a well known patron of art.

George left an estate worth a million bucks and his son Robert followed the same path, investing in Bay Area real estate and leaving Kate $2 million when he died in Paris in 1889.

Kate's taste in art seems to have been Roman and Greek antiquities, some Japanese objects and lots of oil paintings, particularly by the romantic ultra-realists who pattered themselves after the Pre-Raphaelites. She did not throw money around like William Randolph Hearst but when she saw something she liked, was known for paying the asking price without dickering. She was said to have paid $50,000 for her most celebrated acquisition: The painting Elaine, which she purchased in 1875 and loaned to a San Francisco gallery, where it was promptly stolen by being cut from the frame. The theft was front page news in newspapers all over the state; when detectives recovered it three days later, crowds mobbed the police station in city hall, leading officers to spread the canvas on a table in front of a window so the throngs could see it. For years afterwards she was referred to in the press as "Mrs. Johnson, of Elaine fame" or similar, and when King Kalakaua of Hawai'i visited San Francisco in 1881 he specifically wanted to visit the Johnson's home to see the painting.

With such a solid reputation as a patron of the arts, there was probably no surprise in the tightly-knit art world when it became known in 1891 she had given Austrian painter Carl Kahler a generous commission for an oil painting.

The painting was to be a group portrait of her cats.

"My Wife’s Lovers" by Carl Kahler, 1893

"My Wife’s Lovers" is 8½ by 6 feet and took over two years to complete, as Kahler had to first sketch each of the 42 cats. Also: He had to learn how to sketch cats, having never drawn one before. He was known for portrayals of race horses.

It's doubtful the painting ever hung on a wall in any of her mansions; the same year it was finished in 1893 it was sent to Chicago to be part of the California building's "Woman's Department" at the World's Fair, which ended just about a month before Kate died of pneumonia at the Buena Vista estate.

The painting must have drawn considerable interest because not long after the Fair opened, an article about painter Kahler and Kate appeared in the Chicago Inter Ocean, which then was one of the most widely read weekly newspapers in the Midwest and West. Here the Crazy Cat Lady myth was born, with its demonstration of the second corollary: Once the C. C. L. premise takes hold, there's no limit to the exaggerations and outright fibs that can be larded on to prove the craaazzzy.

Written by Hartley Davis - a freelancer who specialized in lightweight articles about vaudeville, the circus and other entertainments - "Kahler, the Cat Painter" was an interview with the artist and included a subhed, "the history of the California cat ranch." Note the author was so ill-informed as to call the town "Samona":

The Angoras live in royal splendor at Buena Vista, Mrs. Johnson's summer residence near Samona [sic]. She has more than three hundred cats with long tails and pedigrees, and there is a retinue of Japanese servants whose sole business is to look after them. To be sure there are several other pets on the big ranch, but they are merely a back ground to the cats. For instance, there is a fine collection of parrots and cockatoos. Their business is to help make life interesting for the cats...Mrs. Johnson has devoted herself to cat raising for a great many years. She has imported cats from Persia, she has bought them whenever they pleased her, and never bothered about the price. Twenty-five of the cats make up her personal court. They are always in attendance upon their mistress...

Shortly after that appeared the San Francisco Call offered its own article on Kahler, headlined "His Queer Ways" and calling him "a very erratic genius." Included there were anecdotes about Kahler demanding a San Francisco restaurant set up a table for him in the middle of Market street and how he would toss empty wine glasses over his shoulder, building up a pile of broken glassware behind him. The other article described how obsessed he became about painting cats and even took to adding them to his previously finished works. There's an article about him as a cat painter with other examples showing up from an image search for "kahler cat".

Kahler may have been eccentric or maybe even outright nuts, but my guess is he was actually trying to project an "artistic personality" for the sake of publicity. And as the sole source for the Inter Ocean's information on Kate's cats, it would also been to his benefit to portray the situation at Buena Vista as memorably odd as possible - hey, while you're at the World's Fair, be sure to stop by and see my picture of the freakishly pampered pets.

Cat painting is an unusual niche - as well as quite profitable, I'll wager -  and the Chicago paper described, "now his whole artistic soul is wrapped up in cats." Kahler died in the 1906 earthquake, but I'll also bet he never again had to worry about where his next commission would come from. Sad that his good fortune came at the expense of Kate's reputation.

After she died in 1893 at age 60, the San Francisco Call ran a story on what would become of her "feline family." According to the reporter - who had no first-hand knowledge of the scene - "the number of these furry beauties exceeds 200" and they "lived placid lives of mouseless but otherwise highly satisfactory luxury and indolence, their every want supplied by attentive servants in delightful apartments of their own under the wide-spreading roof of Buena Vista, her country seat."

Kate made no accommodation in her will for care of the cats (supposedly she was told pet cats couldn't legally be considered personal property) but the SF Call mentioned "a certain bequest made in her will is understood by those fitted to 'read between the lines' to cover that ground." The deal was that Helen Shellard, an in-law of her late husband, was to use the $20,000 left to her for care of the menagerie in her San Francisco home.

A profile of Shellard in the Chronicle a few months later found the kitties settled in with her on Telegraph Hill. But there were not 300 of them. There were not 200. There were 32 - still a lot of cats, but nowhere near the epic hoard everyone expected.

In the years that followed, Kate Johnson's unfair reputation as the Crazy Cat Lady was cast rock solid. The mansion picked up the nickname of "The Castle," then sometimes the "Cat Castle." It became widely claimed she had devoted an entire floor of the mansion to her cats. According to a letter that appeared in a 2013 issue of the Bohemian, local tour guides were saying Kate's prized cats were abandoned and devolved into a feral colony lurking in the corners at Buena Vista.

It's bad enough that the sketchy 125 year-old cat tales (with new twists added, apparently) are still being told to tourists and written up on the internet, but the real shame is that it has completely overshadowed her real legacy as a pioneer in public health care.

"Kate Johnson, through her own personal experiences, had a keen sense of the suffering of women and children," says historian and Kate Johnson biographer Barbara Skryja. Through "Mary's Help Hospital" (which became Seaton) she "specifically directed that all patients were to be treated no matter their religion, race, creed, or nationality" and were to receive the best care available anywhere - free. The hospital had state-of-the-art equipment and she even made sure the architectural layout reflected the most modern thinking. "She researched the latest medical procedures and hospital designs," Skryja explains.

Unfortunately, what keeps the cat angle in the forefront is that damned painting, which is revered among cat aficionados as if it were something like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Try a Google search for "meowsterpiece painting" and guess what pops up again and again and again.

One reason  "My Wife’s Lovers" is so well known today is because it has been often in the news since the turn of the millenium. (The provocative name might have been another publicity effort by Carl Kahler to sensationalize Kate - although that name appeared in the official World's Fair report, another 1893 description called it simply, "Cats.") It was offered for sale in 2002, sold privately later, then bought for $826,000 in 2015. The following year it was exhibited at the Portland Art Museum.

But the painting's popularity has never wained. After Kate Johnson's death it was among the finer works sold to the "Palace of Art," a cafe on Post street which was a must-visit spot for upscale tourists. During the 1906 earthquake it was among the handful of paintings the owner managed to save - although one of the artworks fell on him, causing severe nerve damage to his arm (weighing in at 227 pounds, the cat painting was probably to blame).

In 1917, 20,000 people in San Francisco paid 25¢ to look at it as part of a charity drive for the "Belgian Babies Relief Fund." In the 1940s it toured the country and remained continuously on display somewhere except for a few years. Along the way umpteen thousands of reproductions have been sold to cat lovers worldwide.

Kate's mansion near Sonoma sat empty for years, the great white elephant of Buena Vista. It was reported North Bay railroad baron A. W. Foster, president of the California Northwestern, was in talks to buy it for a resort destination but nothing came of it. For a few years after the turn of the century it did become a resort called the "Buena Vista Castle" (rates $10-15/week), then was sold to a man named Henry Cailleaud, who told himself he was a winemaker but wasn't. The Seventh Day Adventists also toyed with the idea of buying it for a colony.

Then in 1920, when the great mansion was not even forty years old, it found a new use even more controversial than the castle of cats. The state of California bought it for "an institution for the confinement, care and reformation of delinquent women" - which meant housing women convicted of prostitution or related offenses, usually with incurable cases of venereal disease. The town of Sonoma howled in outrage.

A cablegram states that Robert C. Johnson. of Buena Vista Farm, located in the suburbs of Sonoma, died in Paris on the 6th inst. Last October deceased while traveling abroad, was taken sick in Paris. He immediately cablegramed Mrs. Johnson of his illness, and hastily leaving her affairs in the hands of an agent, she left Sonoma for the bedside of her sick husband. She arrived in Paris the latter part of October and was a constant attendant at his bedside up to the hour of his death. Deceased was a gentleman of large fortune and the owner of one of the finest country estates in Sonoma Valley, upon which he had expended many thousands of dollars for improvements the past few years.

- Santa Rosa Democrat, March 17 1889

Generosity of Mrs. Kate Johnson.
One-Third of the Estate To Found a Hospital.
Disposal of an Estate Valued at $2,000,000, In Which Many Claims Are Remembered.

The will of Mrs. R. C. Johnson of this city and Buena Vista, Sonoma County, was filed for probate yesterday. The instrument, which was executed on January 10, 1892, and was witnessed by T. B. Barry, a real-estate man, of San Rafael, and M. Taylor, son of Attorney J. M. Taylor of Oakland, and disposes of an estate valued at $2,000,000, and consisting of real estate yielding a monthly rental of $4500: stocks, bonds and notes valued at $60,000, yielding an annual revenue of $4000; furniture, jewelry, works of art and livestock valued at $40,000, and $2970 in bank. This disposition of this immense property marks both the broad-minded and minute generosity of the late Mrs. Johnson. She was noted for her charities in life, but by the law was enjoined from bequeathing more than one-third of the estate to charity.

The chief munificent bequest consists of the decedent's city real estate aud art treasures, together with money, making up in all one-third of the estate, to Archbishop Riordan in trust for the foundation and endowment of a free hospital to be located in this city. Thereafter follow handsome legacies to relatives and a long list of friends, the residue of the estate devised to the living sisters and brother of the testatrix and to the heirs of her deceased sister and brothers.

In the list of kindly bequests a number of dependents are handsomely remembered. Among these are servants or former servants, including Annie Goold, Mary and Annie Gill, John Burke, two Japanese domestics, John Goltenburg, John and Maggie Kusel. Helen Shallard, a maiden schoolteacher, comes in for a substantial sum. Joseph Schoer is given a legacy contingent on his adherence to a certain agreement, understood to be a temperance pledge. Each of the servants in the employ of the decedent at the time of her death, twelve in number, is given $100. Father John J Prendergast, James M. Taylor and Benjamin Bangs are nominated executors, with complete authority to realize on the property, and a request that they close the estate within five years after the death of the testatrix. Father Prendergast and Attorney J. M.Taylor have declined to serve, and Mr. Bangs has petitioned the Probate Court to be appointed executor without bonds. Following is the full text of the will: I, Kate Johnson, of the city and county of San Francisco, State of California, do now make, publish and declare this my last will and testament. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Thanking God for bis undeserved mercies and acknowledging my grateful affection for my friend and father-in-law, the late George C. Johnson, through whom I am enabled to make the following gifts I ask all who may receive them to pray for the repose of his soul. I give, devise and bequeath to Archbishop Patrick W. Riordan of San Francisco, Cal., all my pictures and valuable bibelots; also all that certain real property situate in the city and county of Sao Francisco, State of California, and described as follows, to wit: Horner's Addition blocks numbered 173 and 174, bounded on the north by Twenty-ninth street, on the east by Castro street, on the south by Thirtieth Street and on the west by Diamond street; also my new warehouse, known and deslgnated as the Gibraltar Waiehouse, and the lot on which the same is situated at the southeast corner of Sansome and Gilbert streets; also such a sum of money as will, with the real and personal properly aforesaid, comprise onethird of my entire estate, all ot the same to be held in trust by him to and for the uses. intents and purposes following, that is to say: It being my desire to found and endow a free hospital to be located in said city and county of San Francisco, all said money and property is to be by said trustee paid, conveyed and delivered over to a corporation to be hereafter formed by a society to be composed or the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco and R. C. Tobln, Dr. C. F. Buckley, Dr. W. S. Thorn and Dr. Luke Robinson, or the survivors of them, and such other persons as they or their survivors and successors in their discretion shall elect io fill vacancies la said society; said corporation to be formed under the laws of the State of California; the name of such corporation to be Mary's Help Hospital; the purposes for which such corporation shall be formed to be to receive endowments and acquire property for and establish, erect, maintain and conduct a free Hospital for all sick women and children of the poor, without regaid to religion, nationality or color, excepting such as the officers of the hospital consider dangerous to other inmates, such hospital to be conducted by the Roman Catholic Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul, commonly called tbe Sisters of Charity, under the direction of the board of dlrectors ot said corporation. The place where the principal buslness of said corporation shall be transacted shall be the city and county of San Francisco, state of California, and the number of its directors shall be five and I direct the said trustee, Archbishop Patrick W. Riordan, to pay, convey and deliver over to such corporation when so formed all of the money, property and estate aforesaid.

It Is my wish that the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco be a member of said society and ex-offlcio one of the board of directors of said corporation, and that the others of such directors shall at all times consist of one business man and three physicians, and that the medical stiff of the hospital shall have the right to give clinical instruction in the hospital to sludents and graduates of medicine. I give and bequeath my dear sisters, Sarah J. Dlllaye, Elizabeth Henry, Rispah B. Kellogg, and my brother, Herny Birdsall. and to Jane Birdsall. widow of my brother Maurice, the sum of $25,000 each; deducting, however, from portion of Elizabeth Henry the sum of $8000, being the value of a house and for heretofore presented to her. I give and bequeath to Henry Fenton and Brush Fenton, the sons of my deceased sister Adelaide, $7000 each; to Adelaide Birdsall and Ben Birdsall the children of my deceased brother Ben, $12,500 each; to my nieces and nephews, Florence Vann and Florence Vann, her daughter, and Dlllaye Vann. her son; Fenton K. McCreary, Lizzie Welty, Rlspah Phillips, Sarah Feindel, Adelaide Kendal, Elizabeth Bangs, Suzette Birdsall, Kate Birdsall, Grace Birdsall and Bailey Birdsall. $5000 each; to my nieces Adelaide and Katharine McCreary, $10,000 each; to Benjamin Bangs. $5000; to Ida Johnson, the young girl now living with me, $6000, to be invested by my executors and held for her until she shall arrive at the age of 21 years except that they shall give to her from time to time, such sums thereof, as she shall actually require for expenses. I request that Sister Rosalia, the present superioress of the Technical School in San Francisco, be appointed her guardlan, and I give and bequeath to said Sister Rosalia the sum of $5000 to cover all expenses of her living and instruction; I give and bequeath to my frlends. Mr. and Mrs. H. Humphrey Moore, $25,000 if both shall survive me. If only one of them survives me the survivor shall receive one-half ot that sum; I give and bequeath io William Newton of Flint, Michigan, $10,000; io Julia Shaffer Hamilton $8000; to Mrs. Fied Deakin, $5000; to Bertha Kellogg, May Kellogg. Lillian Marsh, Katharine Marsh and Mrs. Grace Gass, $5000 each; to tbe two daughters, if living, of A. H. Ward, deceased, formerly bookkeeper with George C. Johnson & Co., $2500 each; to Julia Steere, if llving, $2000; to Mary and Agnes Cook, daughters of Harriet Cook, $2000 each; to my dear old friend, Annie Goold, $4000; to Mary Gill faithful and true. $5000; to Annie Gill, $3000; to Mrs. Maria Cahlll, $2000; to John Burk of Sonoma, $1000; to lso and Yone Akiyama $3000, io be equally divided between them; to John and Maggie Kusel, $3000 to be equally divided between them; to George, a Japanese boy now in my employ, $200; to Willie, now my gardener, $500; to Lizzie Cunningham, formerly in the service of George C. Johnson, $2000; to Ernest and George Claxton. $1000 each; to Miss Helen Shallard, $20,000; to John Gottenberg, $1000; to all persons who shall be in my service at the time of my death, $100 each; to Father Brennan, now parish priest of Sonoma, $3000; to Father Sasla, $5000; to the Presentation Convent in Sonoma, $5000; I direct my executors to pay to Joseph Schorr $5000 accordlng to the terms of an agreement signed by me March 9, 1802, of which he has a copy. I give, devise and bequeath to my sisters, Sarah J. Dillaye, Elizabeth Henry, Rispah Kellogg, and to my brother, Henry Birdsall, and the heirs of my deceased sister and brothers, Adelaide Fenton, Benjamin Birdsall and Maurice Birdsall, all the rest and residue of my esstate, the said Sarah J. Dillaye, Elizabeth Henry, Klspah Kellogg and Henry Birdsall each to take one-seventh thereof, and the heirs of Adelaide Fenton one-seventh thereof, the heirs of Benjamin Birdsall one-seveuth thereof, and the heirs of Maurice Bhdsail one-seveuth thereof by right of representation. I nominate and appoint Father John J. Prendergast, James M. Taylor and Benjamin Bangs to be the executors of this will, and no bond shall be required ot them or either of them as such executors; and in case Father Prendergast declines to serve as such executor he is hereby authorized and empowerd to appoint some person as executor in his place. I authorize my executors to sell any or all my property, real and personal, which is not hereinbefore specially devised, or bequeathed, either at public or privaie sale, with or without notice, and without any order, supervision or control of any court. 1 request my executors to settle and close my estate within five years after my death. I hereby revoke and annul all other and former wills by me made. In witness whereof, I, the said Kate Johnson, do to this, my last will, sign my name and affix my seal, in the ciiy and county of San Francisco, state of California, this 19th day of July, A. D. 1892. [seal.] Kate Johnson. On this 19th day of July. 1892. the foregoing will was signed, sealed, published and declared by the testatrix therein named, Kate Johnson, as and for her last will. In presence of us and each of us, who, at her request and in her presence and in the presence of each other, do now subscribe our names as witnesses to the same. T. B. Berry, San Rafael. Cal. Montell Taylor, Oakland, Cal.

- San Francisco Call, December 10 1893

Fate of Mrs. Johnson's Many Cats.
The Executors of Her Will in a Mild Quandary.
Understood to Cover the Care of the Angora and Other Cat Beauties.

When Mrs. Robert Johnson died, a few weeks ago. she left many behind to mourn her loss. She was a good woman in the truest and broadest sense of the word — good to her family and friends, good to her servants and good to all who, being unfortunate in a worldly sense, appeared to her for assistance.

All these she remembered by generous bequests in her will; large sums of money were left to her relatives; her friends were most substantially remembered; her servants each received a material expression of her good will and appreciation of their faithful services, and as for the poor the fact that she left nearly one-third of her large property to Archbishop Riordan, in trust to build for them a free hospital in our city, shows that they were not forgotten or overlooked.

One thing, however, surprised the community in general when this will, full as it was of loving thoughtfulness for the welfare of others and kindly recognitlon of pleasant relations with her friends, and the humbler members of her household, was made public and that was this: Careful as Mrs. Johnson had been to make provision for so many whom she beloved and valued she had utterly forgotten or neglected to take any legal steps to insure tne future comfort and well being of a large number of dumb friends who had occupied an enviable place in her immediate world during her life.

Not one word was said in the whole carefully considered document regarding the disposal or care of the beautiful Electioneer horses, the valuable Holstein and Jersey cattle, the prize-winning dog, the cockatoos, paroquets and canaries tbat the loving-hearted woman of wealth had gathered around her in her lovely home in Sonoma County. More than this, not one word was said about the little animals which were Mrs. Johnson's especial pets, the graceful and beautiful cats which lived placid lives of mouseless but otherwise highly satisfactory luxury and indolence, their every want supplied by attentive servants in delightful apartments of their own under the wide-spreading roof of Buena Vista, her country seat.

Of these wonderful cats many tales have been told, but they nave been mostly apochryphal since no Turkish harem is never more jealously guarded from the intruslon of strangers than have always been the rooms devoted to the occupancy of these fortunate feline pets. It has been stated that the number of these furry beauties exceeds 200, and that they are the gentlest, the best trained, the most affectionate and the most altogether lovely of any 200 cats that ever existed, as such they may be since they are the millionaires their kind, and have had every advantage that money could give them since their first advent into this world of cats. Nearly all or them are Angoras — the favorite pet cat of civilization —  but rumor has declared that among them are members not only of the tortoise shell or Spanish family, but of the bluish-gray Chartreuse, the Chinese, with pendulous ears, the tricolored Tobolsk and the twisted-tailed Madagascar breed.

However true this may be, certain is that Mrs. Johnson was very fond of every member of her numerous feline family, and that while she lived they suffered for nothing for which the heart of the most pampered cat could wish. Now, however, that the kind mistress to whom they were each and all so dear is no longer here many have wondered how it will fare with the pets that she can no longer care for. Dogs, horses, cows and birds have a special value both in the eye of the law and in public estimation, but cats are in a way outcasts. They are not legally property and although one can give them away they are notoriously averse to such a procedure themselves, and do not easily transfer their affections to strange people, while strange houses are an abomination in their eyes to be deserted at the earliest opportunity. So it is that cats in wholesale quantities are hard to dispose of satisfactorily, and so it is that the executors ol Mrs. Johnson will find themselves, as one of them expressed it yesterday, "with a lot of white elephants on their hands."

Although Mrs. Johnson made no written statement in regard to her wishes concerning her cats, a certain bequest made in her will is understood by those fitted to "read between the lines" to cover that ground. Miss Helen Shellard, a connection through marriage of Mrs. Johnson's family, is a beneficiary to the amount of $20,000, and it is stated that a portion of the income of this sum is to be used by her in caring for the cats and kittens of Buena Vista.

"We are in a rather peculiar position as regards these especial animals," said one of the executors when inquiry was made concerning them, "Miss Shellard will probably take charge of them eventually, but as it is no small task and expensive to look after and feed so many in the way to which they have been accustomed, it will not be possible for her to do so until she comes into her legacy, which may not be for some months yet, as legal processes are slow. We wish to get an order from the court allowing us a certain sum for their maintenance until the property is settled, as is done in the case of livestock in general, but cats do not come under this head, there are no property rights in such animals, legally they do not exist, therefore it is very doubtful if any such provision can be made for them. Certain its, however, that they will not suffer, as Mrs. Johnson's relatives would alter nothing of that kind, although as far as the estate is concerned they have legally no right to any share in it."

- San Francisco Call, December 31 1893

Miss Shellard's Family of Angoras.
Bequeathed to Her by Mrs. Johnson.
Thirty-two Felines Find Shelter and a Happy Home.

In one of those old residences on Telegraph hill, facing Montgomery street, between Union and Green streets, lives a refined woman, Miss Helen Shellard. Miss Shellard has unwittingly become the subject for gossip in the neighborhood, not because of any special act of her own, but because of the presence in her house of a colony of Angora cats, a sight of which would make a fancier turn blue with envy. There are cats in the parlor, cats up stairs, cats down stairs, cats outside, cats everywhere, presenting in their entirety a collection of felines never before seen in a private residence anywhere.

"Everybody who passes the house," said Miss Shellard to a CHRONICLE representative yesterday, "stops and tries to get a peep at my pets. When I go to the door the boys yell, 'There goes the woman with 200 cats and twenty thousand a day!' The impression has gone abroad that I have 200 cats in my house, but the number is actually thirty-two."

Miss Shellard explained that the cats had belonged to Mrs. Johnson, the millionaire, who dies some months ago. Long before her death Mrs. Johnson had intended to make some provision for her feline pets in her will, but she was advised that this could not be done, inasmuch as cats were not recognized in law as personal property. This grieved Mrs. Johnson sorely, and she often spoke of her pets to Miss Shellard, a distant relative of the deceased. She expressed the hope that Miss Shellard would take care of the cats after her death. Miss Shellard promised to do so, and in conse- [text missing] she showered with impartial freedom upon them.

"As a luxury," said Miss Shellard, "these cats are expensive and troublesome. I have been in possession of them only since February 1st, but I have become so attached to them that I would dislike to part with them. People visit me every day with offers to purchase some of them, but I have so far declined all offers. They were a legacy to me, and as such I hold them to be sacred."

Owing to a report that Miss Shellard had 200 cats on the premises the neighbors were beginning to protest with vigor, but when it became known that the number was actually thirty-two their visions of sleepless nights were soon dispelled, and tranquility was restored.

- San Francisco Chronicle, March 13, 1894

Another Feast of Rare Chances.
A Sacrifice of Miscellaneous Art Works Will Follow the Gems in Oil.

The auction sale of Mrs. Kate Johnson's art collection was resumed yesterday at Golden Gate Hall, with no visible decrease in the two former days' attendance. If anything there were more ladies present than usual, the sale of rugs, works of art and miscellaneous articles other than oil paintings, being sufficient to draw them thither in large numbers. Most of the paintings disposed of on the day previous had been removed from the hall during the forenoon, and in consequence the exhibition feature of the sale was in a large measure destroyed.

There was no improvement whatever noticeable in the bids offered and accepted. The new-comers were determined to enjoy as big a "snap" as those who had been in attendance from the start, and the latter showed no indication of bidding any higher than usual, even tor the sake of downcast art. One of the paintings passed on thhe previous day was the first to be sold. It was Hugho Fisher's "Returning to the Fold," and was purchased by Christian Weiss for the sum of $175. Keith's productions brought extremely low prices and Tom Hill fared no better. His large canvas, "The Saco River, Maine." which was valued at $5000. was purchased by Edward Bosqui for $800, and one of Keith's twilight landscapes became the property of E. E. Potter for $100. Schmitzberger's painting, "Dogs and Cats," was one of the gems ot the collection and was purchased by Frank J. Sullivan for $100.

The collection of paintings was disposed of during the afternoon, and the evening was devoted to sacrificing the plaques, Japanese screens and the magnificent Persian and Turkish rugs.

Following are the purchasers of the more valuable oil paintings and water colors: Water color, Summer landscape, by R. M. de Longpre, Mrs. John Wise, for $110. Oil painting, landscape, by Keith, C. W. Tuttle, for $60. Oil paintging, Rustic Bridge, by Wores Mrs. I. W. Hellman, for $28. Oil Painting, A Narrow Escape, by Schmitzberger, F. J. Sullivan, for $190. A. Keith, landscape, H. F. Fortman, for $190.

The following also secured valuable paintings at a sacrifice...

- San Francisco Call,  November 11 1894

Bidding Was Not Brisk at the Johnson Sale.

Rare old Roman marbles, quaintly carved Venetian statues, beautiful bronzes, swords of the days when there were Daimos in Japan and each wore two, and rare old clocks— all, all went under tbe hammer at Golden Gate Hall yesterday at figures that must have made the angels weep. An heroic "Mercury" in bronze was ruthlessly knocked down by the auctioneer for a few paltry hundreds, while any number of exquisite cameos went at prices which were cut as artistically as the articles themselves.

Another fashionable crowd attended the sale of Mrs. Kate Johnson's wonderful collection of the masterpieces of art, and, while the bidding was lively, competition was not nearly as  keen as it might have been. An immense number of smaller articles sold rapidly, and many mansions in San Francisco and adjoining cities will be adorned by bits here and there of this really magnificent collection.

One of the most notable saies of the day was of the two Venetian carved pieces, "Children at Play," which were sold to Dr. Bingham for $270.

C. de Lange bid in another fine Venetian piece. "The Maskers," for $230.

Two beautiful Roman lamps were knocked down for $75 apiece to John Hinkel and E. J. Page. Even the beautiful life-size statue by F. Simmons, the "Promised Laud," only brought the sum of $450.

- San Francisco Call,  November 14 1894

Welcome to the 650th entry appearing in this journal, which sifts down to 1.3 million words posted over a decade - enough to fill eleven meaty academic books. Should that wobbly leg on a coffee table fall off, such a stack might well serve as an emergency prop.

Overviews are usually reserved for 100x milestones but it's been over three years since a "best of" item appeared here. It might also be a while before I reach #700 - not that I am writing less, but articles are now lengthier and more footnote-ier on the average, some multipart stories composed of tens of thousands of words.

For those unfamiliar with the territory, this is (and will remain) a warts-and-all accounting of Santa Rosa and its environs, researched via original newspaper coverage and other primary sources. Any mistakes discovered are corrected with errors acknowledged, and the borders between documented fact and opinion are (hopefully) always clear. The survey article for the 500th milestone speaks about the origins of this journal and offers another selected list of stories, of which only a few are duplicated here.

THE FORGOTTEN FIRES OF FOUNTAINGROVE AND COFFEY PARK Santa Rosa was very, very, lucky in 1908 and 1939 when major fires burned at the same locations destroyed in 2017. Had the winds shifted on either occasion much of Santa Rosa could have burned. Also popular are the bonus details about the Santa Rosa Municipal Airport, which was between Piner Road and Hopper Ave.

WHEN THE FAIRIES CAME FOR THOMAS LAKE HARRIS After the guru of the former Fountaingrove commune died in 1906, his followers left his body untouched for three months - he was supposed to be immortal, after all, so maybe he just was in a really, really, deep sleep. Even after he was buried, Harris's supposedly scandalous life remained catnip to Bay Area newspapers; when the big Fountaingrove dormitory was destroyed in 1908 (see above item) a San Francisco headline read, "Free Love’ Home Burned to Ground."

THE GRAND MANSION SANTA ROSA THREW AWAY It was the grandest, most beautiful house ever built in Santa Rosa, and a century ago this was a town with no shortage of grand and beautiful homes. Hundreds attended one swank affair in 1903, with an orchestra on the balcony and San Francisco chefs in the kitchen. Elaborate evening gowns and diamonds glimmering in myriad electric lights, the rooms perfumed from honeysuckle, azaleas, carnations and roses – overall an ostentatious show of wealth by the scion of an old Sonoma County family with enough money to act like aristocrats. Then in 1969 the grand mansion disappeared - and why it came down will make you want to scream.

THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF OTHO HINTON Probably America’s first criminal celebrity, "General" Hinton was a conman extraordinaire. Newspapers in the Midwest and beyond reported every sighting of the infamous mail robber as he was arrested, escaped, was arrested again and escaped again; Hinton sightings were reported all over the country and in Cuba, making him something of a mid-19th century Elvis. He lived for a time in Hawai'i where he declared himself a lawyer, then moved to Santa Rosa after the statute of limitations expired on his felonies. Here he practiced law, but only after the county Bar Association quizzed him on "charges touching his moral character." But as always, Hinton could con anyone into believing he smelled sweet as a rose, and in the years around the Civil War he convinced locals he was the town's benefactor while actually doing little beyond making pompous speeches. After his death in 1865 the street on the east side of Courthouse Square was named after him.

THE WICKERSHAM MURDERS Sarah and Jesse Wickersham were members of one of Sonoma county's most esteemed families, and their horrific 1886 murders became nationwide news after their Chinese house servant was named as the only suspect. There was zero evidence he committed the crime, but anti-Chinese sentiment then was at its peak on the West Coast and he made a perfect villain. Although the inquest testimony pointed to a robbery gone wrong, in that swirling torrent of racist hate and fear no one questioned why he would murder the couple in cold blood for no apparent reason.

THE CRIME OF DR. BURKE Although no one was killed, the Burke case was Sonoma county's crime of the 20th century; newspapers in East Coast cities and small Western mining towns alike were often publishing daily courtroom updates, sometimes with front page headlines. The crime in question was the 1910 attempted murder of his mistress and their baby – by blowing them up with dynamite. This nine part series follows the unfolding suspenseful story.

THE CASE FOR ARSON AT WOLF HOUSE Jack London didn't spend a night in the baronial home he named “Wolf House” before it burned down in 1913. A forensic report in 1995 concluded the cause of the fire was spontaneous combustion, but that theory leaned heavily on evidence that is now shown to be provably wrong. That reopens the possibility of arson, and there's a strong suspect: Jack’s disturbed brother-in-law who quarreled with him a few hours before the fire.

NEW REVELATIONS Think you generally know what happened in Santa Rosa on April 18, 1906? Sorry; details found in the Petaluma Argus change the story significantly. The big takeaway is that the interim newspaper published by Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley covered up the worst news about the disaster. There was serious looting and the stench of burned bodies and animals lingered over the town for days. Most significant was confirmation of a massive explosion at the Haven Hardware store, which was so huge it took out one side of the block on Fourth street, killing at least eight. As it turns out, Haven Hardware was one of two places in town that sold gasoline.

SEEKING MISS EXCELSA "Mrs. C. Heath" is named at the top of the memorial stone at the Rural Cemetery, but in 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 Santa Rosa’s tiny theater. Hers is probably the most poignant story of what happened that day, because her stage partner – the only person in the Bay Area who knew anything about her - left Santa Rosa at once after the quake. Her backstory remained an unsolved mystery until now.

THE 1906 EARTHQUAKE GRAVESTONE: WHO LIES BENEATH? Buried along with Heath in the mass grave are others whose presence reveals the chaos during the aftermath of the quake. There is someone listed on the tombstone who is actually somewhere else and there are certainly more people under that concrete slab than the sixteen claimed.

SELLING LUTHER BURBANK Always seeking the financial independence that would allow him to concentrate on his plant breeding, Burbank repeatedly stumbled into deals with dodgy characters through no fault of his own. Probably the worst was a 1909 plan to sell Burbank’s seeds and live plants directly to the public. The main investors were the Law brothers, who owned the Fairmont Hotel and other blue-ribbon real estate. But the brothers made their fortune through a quack medicine and pyramid scheme (which they still owned) that was singled out by medical journals and muckrakers as one of the worst of all the insidious medical frauds. It seems likely the Laws sought out a partnership with Luther Burbank - one of the most respected men in the nation - so he could be called as a character witness, should they ever be enmeshed in a wrongful death lawsuit.

THE UNDOING OF LUTHER BURBANK Burbank expected his set of “Methods & Discoveries” books would establish his legacy as a great scientist and provide a steady income, thanks in part to a $300,000 bond issue in late 1912, only a few months after Burbank Press was formed. What he did not know was that the man directing his publishing company was a fugitive on the run with several aliases, wanted for a previous stock scam as well as bigamy after having abandoned his wife and children.

THE PRICKLY LUTHER BURBANK The spineless cactus was Burbank’s moon shot – an odyssey with the goal of creating a hybrid that would be as important to mankind as his namesake potato, where deserts would be turned into pastures and croplands. But never would the desert bloom in vast cactus farms; spineless varieties were more delicate than the spiny forms, sensitive to cold and not as drought tolerant. His variety grew best only in places with year-around rainfall or with wet, mild winters and dry summers. Places like Santa Rosa, California, for example.

MARTIN TARWATER, MOST HAPPY FELLA Had Martin Tarwater behaved himself, he would have died peacefully at home near Mark West Creek and been quickly forgotten. Instead, he did something so crazy that he was immortalized in one of the best stories written by Jack London. At age 66 he joined the 1897 Yukon Gold Rush, despite having no experience with prospecting or, for that matter, surviving in extreme weather conditions. Despite the awful conditions, Tarwater kept such a cheery disposition he appeared to be nuts. A correspondent to the Press Democrat wrote of coming across “Mart” alone in the wilderness that winter merrily bellowing out an old music hall tune.

ED MANNION HAS SOMETHING TO TELL YOU “Grizzly Bear wanted for bull and bear fight Main Street Petaluma, reply to the judge”, read the ad in a San Francisco paper a month before the town's centennial celebration in 1958. “The judge” was Ed Mannion, Petaluma’s unofficial historian and sometimes columnist for the Argus-Courier. Mannion had a wild sense of humor for his time but took history research seriously, tapping primary sources for information rather than repeating hand-me-down stories. He wrote so much there are probably mistakes which I don’t know enough to spot, but so far I’ve only found one glaring error – and to his credit, he found it himself some years later and corrected it.

OUR LOVEABLE, AWFUL HISTORIAN The most cited history of Sonoma county is probably the 1911 version written by Tom Gregory, and that's unfortunate. He was a popular, maybe even beloved, fellow around Santa Rosa but he wasn’t a scholar or historian as much as he was a storyteller - and that is why his book is so godawful. Errors discredit probably every page; at times his book resembles nothing more than the TV series “Drunk History,” where someone is liquored-up and asked to recount some great moment in history which they only half remember from school. That said, if I could go back in time to his day there's nothing more I'd like to do than have a beer and hang out with Tom, listening to him spin wild tales. He was the closest we've ever had to Mark Twain.

THE SEDUCER’S SCHOOL Around 110 years ago, "professor" Forest C. Richardson ran a little business school on Fourth street which was mainly attended by “poor girls, struggling to get along in the world and make something of themselves.” Only after a Santa Rosa woman died from a botched abortion in 1909 was it discovered he was a serial sexual predator who was preying on his students. When any of them became pregnant he gave them some sort of pill that was supposed to induce miscarriage. Richardson - who was married with four kids - was arrested after signing a lengthy confession and the Grand Jury indicted him on criminal assault (rape) and furnishing drugs for illegal purposes (abortion). He was sentenced to four years in San Quentin.

THE MAN WHO STOLE BODEGA BAY Tyler Curtis married the widow of Captain Stephen Smith (who owned the vast Mexican land grant of Rancho Bodega), making him the richest person on the Sonoma county coast during the early decades of statehood. Over the following years he acted with methodical guile, destroying the lives of everyone around him, robbing Smith's children of their inheritance, then wasting much of the family fortune in a Quixotic attempt to become mayor of San Francisco. He embezzled the modern equivalent of a million dollars from an insurance company and after his wife died, proposed to five or more women in the city. He fled to Europe and the East Coast, posing as a wealthy Californian who had found himself in the embarrassing position of asking for loans until he could sort out complicated business deals back home. After Curtis died in New York City ("a victim to rum and loathsome diseases") one of Smith's sons told the press he suspected Curtis had poisoned his mother.

THE BATTLE FOR SANTA ROSA HIGH After its old high school burned down, Santa Rosa had the will to quickly rebuild a fine modern school and soon was ready to break ground. Then suddenly the project was stopped indefinitely by Sampson B. Wright, an anti-tax crank who filed a series of lawsuits 1922-1923 to block the project. He accused county officials of crimes that could send them to jail, including criminal conspiracy, election fraud and felony misappropriation of public funds. His underlying gripe, however, was that he didn't want a centralized high school in Santa Rosa and thought school buses were a frivolous luxury. Public anger at Wright was so great there was a community meeting called to discuss what to do about him, with a notice given that violent measures would not be discussed. He finally dropped his lawsuits and the school opened in 1924 - the same year his wife filed for divorce on grounds of extreme cruelty, particularly because he refused to pay for electricity in their Santa Rosa home.

SONOMA COUNTY AND EUGENICS "The California Home for the Care and Training of Feeble-Minded Children" at Eldridge took in youths which were mentally handicapped or had severe epilepsy in the early 20th century, But once Dr. Fred O. Butler became superintendent in 1918, it became virtually a factory operation for forced sterilizations. A study four years later found 4 out of 5 of these operations nationwide were performed in the state, with the justification being “mainly eugenic, also for the physical, mental or moral benefit of inmate, also partly punitive in certain cases.” Almost half of the women were there because they were classified as sexually delinquent, with notes in their records that they were “passionate,” “immoral,” “promiscuous,” or similar; most males were sent there for sterilization by their families because they were “masturbators” or gay. Dr. Butler’s house of eugenic horrors continued through WWII and after, even as the Nazis were being rightly condemned for the same practices.

SANTA ROSA, WHERE THE REVOLUTION (ALMOST) BEGAN America was a fragile place in the spring of 1933, with considerable fury towards the banks which were foreclosing on family farms in record numbers. Sonoma county found itself in the national spotlight over the upcoming auction of the 50-acre farm James Case owned near Forestville, where he grew cherries and apples. The Sebastopol bank refused to delay foreclosure and already had a deal to sell the farm at a profit immediately after the auction. The newly-seated FDR administration got involved in seeking a compromise, as did the governor; the banker only dug in further and like a cartoon villain, vowed he would get his hands on the Case ranch. On auction day 3,000 people were jammed together in front of the courthouse in downtown Santa Rosa as the Press Democrat described a “grim determination and anxiousness” in the crowd, “somber, serious, not a smile on a single face.” But just as the sale was about to begin, it was announced that Judge Hilliard Comstock had ordered it cancelled. Case and his supporters were jubilant, both for him personally and what it would mean for other farmers now that a Superior Court judge had set such a precedent. Had Comstock not ruled that way, the mob's actions could have gone in any of a number of directions – a riot, an attack on the courthouse, even sparking a national populist uprising which could have squelched the New Deal reforms before they took root.

TWO MARTYRS FOR THE FLAG OF THE BEARS The history of the Bear Flag Revolt and the short-lived California Republic is overdue for a revision; what is told today is almost entirely just the American side of the story, which was cast in stone near the end of the 19th century. That version memorializes all things heroic about the Revolt, particularly the story of how the flag was designed and the martyrdom of a couple of Bear Flag rebels named Cowey and Fowler. Forgotten was that many Americans at the time had mixed feelings about ousting the Mexican government, and missing are the voices of the Californios, whose only sought to coexist on their rancheros. Then it spun out of control as someone on the Californio side killed Fowler and Cowie and someone on the American side killed the a pair of teenagers and their elderly uncle. Lofty principles were forgotten and it became a gang war, each side hunting the hunters on other side, both sides wanting to absolve what they did by claiming the other guys drew first blood.

HEAR THAT LONESOME CHICKEN BLOW "Betty," Petaluma's giant plaster advertising chicken, sat on her nest at the south end of town for nearly twenty years. She survived the indignities of obscene graffiti and sometimes there were messages concerning the pitiable intelligence or lack of personal hygiene possessed by some local football team, which was always quite informative. Then in 1938 someone used dynamite to blow her up. Suspicion turned to Santa Rosa and years later the crime was finally solved via an anonymous confession: "We got together a bunch of guys and somebody said it would be a great idea to blow up that big, ugly chicken. If you came from Santa Rosa, that seemed like a hell of a good idea."

LET’S GO DOWNTOWN AND SEE SOMETHING WEIRD On any given Saturday around 1914, chances were you could pay a dime and watch performers do things on stage which demonstrated more self-delusion than discernible talent. That was the peak year for vaudeville in Santa Rosa with two theaters downtown presenting comedians, singers, novelty whistlers, birdcallers, "barnyard humor," midget boxers and blackface “shouters,” not to mention a couple of acts which were apparently just young women doing calisthenics. There was Miss Livingstone’s skating bear, Captain Webb’s seals, a steady procession of dog and bird acts plus two “goat circuses.” As awful as it sometimes was, vaudeville was still live theater and it’s a shame it’s completely gone; lost was the tolerance for everyday people to entertain each other for an evening without expecting perfection.

SONOMA COUNTY, FAMOUS FOR SHARKS AND LUCKY BEANS Starting in 1909, Sonoma and other North Bay counties sponsored a man named Mondula Leak in an official traveling exhibit on rails. "Mon" visited everywhere in the country except the West Coast, which probably kept local Chambers of Commerce from realizing how damned strange his operation really was. One train car was dedicated to local attractions - “the creations of Luther Burbank,” redwood trees, samples of major crops and so on. Admission to that car was free, but to step aboard the other cost 25¢ (15¢ for kids) and that second car was the real draw, with oddities such as a giant stuffed shark, a "California ostrich," live monkeys, “Peruvian Cavies” (guinea pigs) and an alligator. Sometimes there was an x-ray machine so you could see the bones in your hands. In short, it was all much like a carnival sideshow showing stuff that had nothing to do with Sonoma county or anywhere else in the North Bay. Many communities around the country charged hefty fees on circus-y exhibits like that or banned them outright - but since Mon could claim part of it was free and “educational” he had a cloak of legitimacy. After that ended in 1915, Leak settled down in Georgia and inverted his scam; now he expected businesses and Chambers in the state to pay dues to his "association" which would provide promotional space in an Atlanta warehouse. As every Sonoma county item should properly include an obl. Believe-it-or-Not! ending, please note an associate of Mon's later embraced this business model and used it to organize the modern Ku Klux Klan.

The title of this essay, by the way, refers to "A Thousand Kisses Deep" - not the recent movie of that name, but the original Leonard Cohen poem. Fans debate exactly what it means; it seems the "thousand kisses" stands for the big, messy stack of memories we've collected over our lives that define who we are, and how we flounder about trying to make sense of them. In 2001 Cohen obliquely wrote in the Toronto Globe and Mail, " live your life as if it’s real. But with the understanding: it’s only a thousand kisses deep, that is, with that deep intuitive understanding that this is unfolding according to a pattern that you simply cannot discern."

Sorting through those memories can be confusing and stir emotions; sometimes you look backward and see things you regret, sometimes you're simply perplexed about how things happened. That's not unlike how historians grapple with the past, trying to understand why events unfolded as they did - or whether they actually took place as generally presumed. If only a diary or letter would turn up to answer a riddle; if only we could go back for a blink in time to witness a critical moment of the event itself, the puzzle would be forever solved.

If only.

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