Gaye LeBaron's recent Press Democrat column (June 28, 2009) laments the demise of real, live, telephone operators and makes a case for the return of their switchboards, while waxing nostalgic: "Operator! Just speaking the word opens a floodgate of memories. 'Operator, get me long distance, please. Yes, I'll wait. Thank you.' It conjures up images of sensible, dependable, friendly women in headsets, sitting at their switchboards, controlling the pulse of the community..." As always, LeBaron entertains us, too, with great anecdotes from operators about their careers of making connections.
(At right: Telephone operators in 1906 Petaluma, when the town had about the same number of phones as Santa Rosa. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)
The beginning of the end, she writes, came with the introduction of local direct dial service in the years after WWII.* Maybe it's a quibble, but that was the last step of a process that started way back in 1905, when the Sunset telephone company first insisted that callers must provide the operator with someone's assigned number instead of just a name or address. As written here earlier, it may seem a small thing today, but it was a bit of a milestone in the history of the way we use technology, being probably the first time that an individual (as opposed to a location or an institution) was associated with such an abstract thing as a series of numbers. Once the rotary dial telephone was available nationally in 1919, it was only a matter of time before every Central Office had the switching equipment to make local operators obsolete.
Her column also reminded me of a 1906 humor item about the befuddlements some faced when asked, "number, please."
* Santa Rosa had the "LIberty" exchange (which we've always used on our Comstock House calling cards, to the confusion of nearly everyone), Sebastopol had VAlley to match its 82x numbers, and Sonoma had WEbster for its 93x prefix.
MIGGLES HAD A TIME WITH TELEPHONE CALL
Mr. Miggles was trying to call up a friend who lived in a suburban town, says the New Orleans Picayune. Mr. Miggles looked up the number, then got central.
"Hello," he said. "Give me Elmsdale two-ought-four-seven."
"Elmsdale? I'll give you the long-distance."
Long distance asked, "What is it?"
"What is your number?"
"I just told you. Elmsdale two-ought--"
"I mean your house number."
"Sixty-five Blicken street."
"Oh, that isn't what I mean. Your phone number."
"Why didn't you say so?" Asked Mr. Miggles, who is noted for his quick temper.
"I did. What is it?"
"Violet Park eight-seven-seven."
"Violet Park eight-seven-seven?"
"And what number do you want?"
"What is your name?"
"My name is John Henry Miggles. I live at 65 Blicken street, Violet park; my house 'phone is Violet Park eight-seven-seven, or eight-double-seven, as you choose; I am married; have no children; we keep a dog and a cat and a perpetual fern and a Boston fern and--"
"All that is unnecessary, sir. We merely--"
"And last summer we didn't have a bit of luck with our roses. I tried to have a little garden, too, but the neighbors' chickens got away with that; the house is green, with red gables; there is a cement walk from the street; I am 40 years old; my wife is younger, and looks it; we have a piano; keep a cook and an upstairs girl; had the front bedroom papered last week and I want to--"
"Did you want Elmsdale two-ought-four-seven?"
"Yes," gasped Mr. Miggles.
"Well, the circuit is busy now. Please call again."
But Mr. Miggles wrote a letter.- Santa Rosa Republican, August 20, 1906
Pity Luther Burbank; his single greatest invention was his own celebrity -- yet he craved solitude and loathed the public that adored him.
As mentioned in an earlier piece on Burbank, he faced an exhausting daily siege from tourists, some assuming they would have a nice visit with him and chat about their begonias, or something. An essay published years later documented his torment: "Passing from the garage to the house he runs the gauntlet of outstretched hands and cheery greetings. He bows right and left and impatiently tells the callers he regrets that he cannot stop to talk with them. At the door a man waylays him and grabs his hand only to be thrust aside. Another more daring than the rest follows him into his study...after Burbank finally sits down to lunch the telephone announces that a party of 75 or 100 persons have arrived in town and wish to be conducted over his gardens. The local Chamber of Commerce secretary protests that the party was sent over by a travel bureau, a plan that Burbank had approved months earlier..."
Burbank was in a quandary. While his business success depended on his continued superstar-class fame as the "plant wizard," he simply couldn't work with adoring fans pestering him, supposedly six thousand in 1905 alone (curiously, that same figure was also quoted for 1904 and 1906). Making matters worse, his home and gardens were not on some remote country road, but just a few inviting steps away from downtown Santa Rosa.
Burbank first tried to fend off the unwelcome rabble by selling permits that would allow someone to talk to him for a few minutes. When that didn't work, he took to adding testy signs around his yard. Posted just inside his otherwise-neighborly white picket fence was the first notice:
NOTHING FOR SALE
ALL VISITORS CALL AT THE DOOR
Further in was another warning:
ALL VISITORS ARE LIMITED
TO FIVE MINUTES EACH UNLESS
BY SPECIAL APPOINTMENT
Those undaunted (or clueless) then had to fill out a questionnaire, as noted in another book. "...Should a person succeed in running the gauntlet of these protective signs, there is still another provision which must be faced. When the inside of the door is reached, this slip is in readiness. I take the current one from the block on a day in May, 1905:"
None of that apparently slowed the ill-mannered tide, and the following year, overt threats were posted on every gate:
POSITIVELY NO VISITORS ALLOWED.
ANY PERSON ENTERING OR TRESPASSING ON
THESE GROUNDS WILL BE PROSECUTED.
As reported in the Press Democrat item below, Burbank -- sorry, "the Friends and Relatives of Luther Burbank" -- also printed a circular that went still further, implying that the ignorant masses were endangering the great man's life by even writing to ask a question or seek work (although Burbank's secretary was already sending a rejection form letter to all job-seekers). It closed with a blunt warning to keep away from him and his property: "The public has no moral, legal or other right to invade his grounds, his home, his private office or his laboratories." The whole tactless missive can be found in a August 5, 1906 New York Times profile:
| First--Mr. Burbank has nothing for sale.|
Second--He is not a nurseryman, not a florist, not a seedsman, not a dealer, and not a raiser of any kind of plants or seeds for sale.
Third--He is an originator of new kinds of useful and ornamental trees, flowers, fruits, vegetables, grasses, and grains.
A great portion of his time is utterly wasted in replying to questions which should never have been asked of him. Even by the most strenuous efforts and with all the stenographic force which can be accommodated, many of his letters have to remain from three to six months before a brief moment of time can be obtained even to briefly reply. Alas! There are only twenty-four hours in each day.
Over 6,000 visitors were received on his grounds during the year 1904. All the important experimental work was delayed beyond recall, grounds overrun with crowds from day-light to ten o'clock at night, no rest even on Sundays or holidays. Business destroyed, rare plants died from want of care. Attention constantly drawn from legitimate matters, letters neglected, telegrams delayed; meals taken standing, sleep disturbed, health at the point of destruction, visitors calling at all hours, without regard to Mr. Burbank's convenience, each one being under the fixed and unalterable impression that he or she was the one particular one who should be admitted.
This was too much. The question arose, Should he continue his valuable researches undisturbed, or should he be murdered piecemeal as a showman?
The public has no moral, legal or other right to invade his grounds, his home, his private office or his laboratories.
WILL PUT STOP TO ANNOYANCE
People Pester Mr. Burbank With Foolish Questions and Ask for Positions
On account of the great annoyance given Mr. Luther Burbank, the eminent horticulturist, by people writing all kinds of questions, some of them very foolish, and all of them expecting an answer from him, and on account of the scores of applications for positions that pour in upon him, when in reality he has no positions to offer, and is not in the employment business as many of the inquiries seem to imply, a circular letter, making some plain statements, is being sent out in response to the hundreds of inquiries made and it is signed "By the Relatives and Friends of Luther Burbank."
This step had to be taken in an endeavor to check the endless flow of correspondence, much of which is, as stated, altogether unnecessary and including some of the most ridiculous queries imaginable in order to let Mr. Burbank have an opportunity to give more attention to the great work he has in hand.
Hundreds of letters, for instance, come to the Burbank residence, asking the price of this plant or that, or something else. The reply being sent is to the effect that Mr. Burbank has nothing to sell, and that he is not a florist or nurseryman in the ordinary acceptance of the term, as many of the writers evidently suppose. The letter further states that Mr. Burbank places his creations in the hands of the great seedsmen of this country, and in other countries, comprising the greater part of the world, and a list of them is given.
The letter states that as each applicant for a position is received it is registered, and to date no less than 2,552 applications have been made and mail brings more. Attention is also called to the hordes of callers that annually visit Mr. Burbank, on no particular mission except to hinder him in his work, and each caller expecting that it is his or her right to have their questions answered by Mr. Burbank.
As stated the main reason for sending out the circular letter is to check the demand upon Mr. Burbank's time, allow him to devote more attention to his work in giving the world new fruits and flowers, and more important still, give him a little rest.- Press Democrat, February 3, 1906
Rule #1 in advertising is to make products sound less objectionable than they really are, so you'd expect a bottle of something called "Danderine" to be an anti-dandruff medication that probably smelled godawful and burned like hell as you dumped the goo on your flaky scalp. Not at all; for about a half century, Danderine was widely sold, and used as a hair conditioner and styling gel that smelled like aftershave lotion.
In the first years of the 20th century, the company promoted it as a "hair-growing remedy" safe enough for children, such as the manufacturer's daughter seen in this 1906 Santa Rosa Republican ad. In the 1910s, newspaper and magazine ads portrayed young women with waist-length tresses, and the implied promise that using the stuff would make your hair easier to style in the late Edwardian bouffant fashion. Danderine's heyday apparently came in the 1920s, with ads that targeted women with shorter, bobbed hair. Danderine was now a "one-minute hair beautifier" that would make your hair "appear twice as heavy and plentiful."
The "twice as heavy" claim could well be true, after it was used for a few weeks; a 1907 analysis found that about five percent of the borax and glycerin in the formula never evaporated, staying behind in your hair as residue. A later chemical analysis found Danderine was mostly alcohol, with glycerin, boric acid and resorcin (the anti-dandruff part of the formula), salicylic acid (aspirin), capsicum (pepper), and apparently cantharidin, a potentially lethal chemical that's infamously known as "Spanish Fly."
Danderine was so well-known that its advertising claims were repeated like folklore. A 1919 book on public health has the story of a rural Kentucky woman claiming to know someone who hadn't washed her hair in 28 years, yet "had a beautiful suit of hair that reached clear to her knees... [because] every morning she combed her hair with a large comb which she had dipped in Danderine."
Danderine was sold at least through the 1940s, and was followed in the later half of the 20th century by "Double Danderine" shampoo, which promised to "kill the [dandruff] germ on contact. "
In the late summer of 1909, two young men in Santa Rosa mounted their bicycles and headed towards Washington state, where they were determined to see the sights of the great Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYPE). Nearly two months later and with a thousand often-rugged miles behind them, Vic McDaniel and Ray Francisco, sick and tearful, stood on a hill outside Seattle and gazed upon the lights of the Exposition, their road trip having tested them in ways never imagined.
It's a ripping yarn told well in "Two Wheels North" written by Vic's daughter, who coaxed from dad a narrative of that long-ago trek. It is even worth reading twice, first for the coming-of-age adventure and again for the art of the telling. A small sample of Evelyn McDaniel Gibb's fine writing: "I locked my eyes on the dark that was the other side of the canyon. Its blackness wavered lesser, denser, the eerie campfire glows like feeble candles in a room too large. Men's voices also rose and sank and were made of sounds I've never heard. A dozen nights ago when I was a boy, all this might have kept me awake."
Now on the centennial of the trip, and a 72-year-old retired teacher is retracing their route and blogging about it for the Press Democrat (link currently available here, but search their June, 2009 archives for "Bill Harrison" if the file is not found.) Then on July 4, a dozen or more riders will start their "Wheels North" bicycle tour that is expected to reach Seattle in just two weeks. That ride is a search-for-a-cure fundraiser and participants are required to pay $2,000 or $200/day. The Wheels North website also offers high-quality versions of photographs and postcards from Vic and Ray's adventure.
But what about that fair was so compelling to Ray and Vic? The book is slim on details: "From the day we saw the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition traveling tent show I'd talked hard to convince Ray we could bike the thousand miles up there to see the fair... we'd seen the real Siberian Eskimos and listened to the high-hatted spieler tell about the Igorot people from the Phillippines who would cook and eat their puppies where folks could watch, and the Hawaiian girl, Ieka, who would dance her native hula-hula..." That description of the alluring Ieka may have inspired Vic's imagination and teenage libido, but what the boys actually saw would inspire outrage today. Here were human beings on display for public amusement, their entertainment value being their culture's limited contact with the Western world up to that point. Among the people on exhibit were even children, and one of them was about to die.
Ray and Vic were among the curious who crowded into the tent (which would have been near the main mall entrance today) to see the "Real Siberian Eskimos," as promoted in the large Press Democrat ad shown here. The show was the main attraction found on the Rose Carnival midway that lined Fourth Street, where the Rose Parade would be held that Saturday, May 8. Santa Rosa's festival was quite the event in 1909, with a parade at noon and then an illuminated parade at night.
The Santa Rosa papers didn't say much about what happened in the "Big Arctic Show," but some details emerged from their stop in Oakland the following week. "The people are seen cooking over the flame of walrus oil lamps, making garments of seal skin and sleds of ivory and carved wood," the San Francisco Call reported. "The children play their native games and the men harness and drive the score of wolf dogs that accompany the tribe..." Even the smallest children were on display, and the public was apparently encouraged to handle them. That a newborn died of bronchitis in Santa Rosa may not be so surprising, and given the group's limited exposure to Western diseases prior to this trip, you wonder how many other children and adults became seriously ill or died.
The "Eskimos" were actually members of six families of the Siberian Yupik tribe who lived along the Saint Lawrence Bay in the very eastern-most part of Siberia (also known as the part of Russia that Sarah Palin can see from her house). The Yupik were famed sea hunters and shrewd traders; John Muir wrote an interesting 1881 account of attempting to barter with them -- and failing. According to an essay on the Yupik at AYPE available from Washington state's remarkable HistoryLink.org, an Alaskan firm called the North Star Trading Company had a warehouse on the Bay, and it was a Captain A. M. Baber from that company who convinced Yupik tribal members to join him on a steamer across the Bering Sea for the strange lands of America.
Captain Baber and the Yupiks reached Seattle on September 18, 1908, when he told a reporter from the Post-Intelligencer that they needed to leave nearly a year early to beat the oncoming Siberian winter. "I will find a quiet place on the Sound for the natives and house them this winter," the considerate Baber told the paper, "although it may be possible that I will take them to the mountains if I find that the climate is too warm for them." A month later, a followup story finds them temporarily living in abandoned housing for loggers across Puget Sound from Seattle. As for wintering in snowy mountains, apparently the Captain decided that they would actually be more comfortable performing on the vaudeville stage. Before arriving in Santa Rosa several months later, another HistoryLink essay states they performed as far away as Topeka, and even marched in numerous parades. A January, 1909 review of their stage act in Salt Lake City suggests their program was already polished, with sequences of wrestling and feats of strength by the men, a reenactment of a seal hunt, and performances of traditional dances with music. "Special school children's matinees" were also offered.
After 6+ months rattling around the West and Midwest on trains (which none of them had even seen a year earlier), the opening of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition probably came as somewhat a relief to the Yupiks, even though they were now under constant public observation. They shared the AYPE "Eskimo Village" building with a well-established troupe of Labradorean Inuit and Inuit-descent performers, some who had been touring American fairs for more than a decade. The Yupiks were exhibited in their own area, along with "40 tons of stuff...[presenting] the village just as it was before it was knocked down," as Captain Baber told a Seattle PI reporter. The Eskimo Village was a must-see show on the Pay Streak midway and the second most popular concession of the fair, behind in box office receipts only to an elaborate cyclorama portraying the Civil War battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack.
(At right: The "Eskimo Village" on the AYPE midway. Photo courtesy Museum of History & Industry, Seattle)
No photographs or exact descriptions survive of the doings inside the Eskimo Village attraction, but it's safe to assume that the Yupiks periodically put on a show similar to their now-well rehearsed vaudeville act. Between performances, the public could gawk at them making traditional handicrafts. And speaking of the latter, what happened to all those handmade furs and ivories and leathers that the Yupiks produced during their American visit?
The only hint is found in that SF Call item on their Oakland appearance: "...It is estimated that the skins and furs are worth $50,000, but none is for sale, as the pelts, admitted free of duty, must leave the country." Think about that: With no import fees, valuable raw materials entered the country, were turned into more valuable garments and handiwork, and were then were sent out of the country, apparently without export fees. Where would Captain A. M. Baber, late of the North Star Trading Company, send the finished work, except back to his old company's warehouse in Siberia? From there, the company could profit by importing the goods back into the U.S. If this was indeed the setup, then how was the Siberian Eskimo show different than a sweatshop?
The Yupiks weren't the only racial group exploited at the Exposition. Just this month (June, 2009), Filipino-American community groups in Seattle announced that they were demanding a public apology for the related AYPE "Igorot Village." As noted in a press release, "The zoo-like village reinforced racial stereotypes of Filipinos as a primitive people through displays of spear-throwing, mock battles, semi-nude clothing, so-called headhunters and dog-eating." And even though the point of the fair was to celebrate the Pacific Northwest and its ties to Asia, another big concession on the midway was "Dixieland," where visitors saw a plantation exhibit with "every feature of the happy life the darky lived before the troubles came that set him free."
Nearly four million passed through the fair in Seattle that summer of 1909, and most probably arrived with some of the casual racist views of the day, such as the "White Man's Burden" presumption of superiority, or simple prejudice against people who didn't act or look like Euro-Americans. How sad that many likely went home with their biases reinforced by what they saw at AYPE.
SIBERIAN ESKIMOS COME TO SANTA ROSA
The group of Siberian Eskimos that have been brought to America for the Alaska-Yukon Exposition, have come to Santa Rosa to stay until the Rose Carnival is over. They can be seen this evening and daily thereafter, in the tent on Fourth street west of the Occidental hotel. This group of Eskimos has been exhibited in the chief cities of Oregon, and the newspapers of that state speak most highly of the character of the show. Many scenes of the home life of the Eskimos are given, including their daily occupations and their pastimes, and the sight of them is no douby an interesting study in ethnology. The leading educators of Oregon give their hearty endorsement to the show.
- Press Democrat, May 5, 1909
DON'T FAIL TO SEE MAYOR NAME ESKIMO BABY
Mayor Gray stated last night that he will christen the Eskimo baby at the "Eski Village" tonight directly after the illuminated parade. He will give "Santa Rosa" a medal. Let everybody be on hand to see His Honor name the baby. That "Eskimo Village," by the way, is well worth seeing.
- Press Democrat, May 8, 1909
LITTLE ESKIMO BABY DIES OF BRONCHITIS
The little Eskimo baby, whom so many hundreds of people saw named by Mayor Gray last Saturday night in the Eskimo Village on the "Midway," died on Sunday night, and on Monday the little piece of humanity was laid to rest here. Dr. J. W. Jesse was called in and certified that the death was due to bronchitis. The baby was a puny little creature at birth. There were scores at the village on Sunday night, and when they were told that "Santa Rosa" was dead, there were many expressions of regret, particularly from the women and children who were anxious to see the baby.
- Press Democrat, May 11, 1909
Come winter, come rain, and in some parts of Santa Rosa, come mud in the streets so deep that it could sink your car or buggy up to the axle. The only good part of this story is that a friendly electric trolleyman pulled the Brenards' wagon out of the muck. Such an accident was not all that unusual for this part of town; an automobile likewise sank up to its axle a year before.
(This is the last in a mini series on the abysmal quality of Santa Rosa streets in 1906; read more here and here.)
BAD STREET IS PUBLIC MENACE
Accident Narrowly Averted on Sebastopol Avenue While Wagon Mires in Mud
Thursday night about nine o'clock, there came near being a very serious and possibly fatal accident at the crossing of the Northwestern tracks on Sebastopol avenue. Mr. and Mrs. Brenard, who reside on Second street, were returning home with a load of wood and just as they had crossed the railroad, the wagon mired in the street, up to the axle, just as an electric car was coming along and the horses became frightened at the car, nearly causing a serious accident.
Mrs. Brenard undertook to jump from the wagon in her fright and landing in the mud, also mired to her knees. The road bed is very narrow along the electric track there, and Mr. Brenard says he did not see his danger until it was too late, and at that place it was impossible for a wagon to turn around, even were the road such that a turn could be made. They waited there fully half an hour, and finally an electric car came along and hitching onto the wagon, pulled it out of the mud.
The City Council has been wrestling with the problem at the crossing of the electric tracks and the steam road for many months and recently at a meeting Councilman Reynolds offered a suggestion that the steam officials be interviewed, with an idea of getting their permission to allow the electric tracks being moved ten feet further north and thus widening the street on one side, and the placing the electric track at the edge of the street curb. This would be a good means of obliviating the present serious condition there, and such a step should be undertaken at once, before there is a loss of life and property from the unsafe conditions which now exist.- Santa Rosa Republican, February 16, 1906
Here's another reason why Santa Rosa streets were in poor shape; cowboys could still drive cattle herds through town in the early 20th century.
But in 1906, the town passed new rules that cattle, pigs, and sheep could only rumble down specified parts of College Ave. and Cleveland Ave. Unfortunately, the City Council neglected to specify how the animals would get to the designated routes from the Southern Pacific stockyard on North Street, leading a local cattleman to quip that he'd have to airlift his cows.
OBJECT TO THE NEW ORDINANCE
Claim an Airship Will be Necessary to Get Cattle to Slaughter House
The stringent ordinance which was passed by the City Council at their last meeting regulating the driving of live stock through the streets of the city is meeting with considerable opposition from the stock sellers and buyers, for they can see no way, under the provisions of the ordinance, to get in or out of the city, with their cattle, sheep, or hogs when they dispose of them in the local market or at a distance. Under the provisions of the ordinance live stock can be driven on Cleveland avenue from College avenue on the north to the city limits and on College avenue from Cleveland avenue to the city limits on the west.
In conversation with P. H. Noonan, the largest stock shipper and buyer in this section, a reporter learned yesterday that Mr. Noonan does not relish the provisions of the ordinance at all. At present he sees no way, except possibly by means of an air ship, to get live stock from the Southern Pacific depot to the slaughter house, or from any point outside of the city. If some reasonable way can be provided whereby stock can be taken to the slaughter house and corrals, Mr. Noonan would much rather not drive cattle fresh from the Nevada hills, for instance, through the streets recognizing as he does the element of danger undertaken. The first remedy Mr. Noonan suggests is the removal of the Southern Pacific corrals outside of the city limits. The next remedy he would urge is the providing of a road as near the city limits on the west as possible, with a bridge across Santa Rosa creek at some convenient place.- Press Democrat, February 28, 1906
READY TO MOVE CATTLE CORRALS
CHAIRMAN REYNOLDS OF STREET COMMITTEE RECEIVES WORD FROM SOUTHERN PACIFIC
Corrals and Oil Tanks Will be Located Outside of the City Limits When North Street is Opened
The Southern Pacific Company has formally notified Chairman W. D. Reynolds of the Street Committee that it is ready to move its cattle yards and oil tanks outside the city limits as soon as North street is opened so that teams will be able to reach the new location. The Company also urges that the matter be attended to if possible before the winter rains set in.
The new location of the Southern Pacific tanks and corrals will be on the Company's property at the head of North street, and the change about to be made is in conformity with the ordinance passed some time since The tracks [sic] will be raised so as to allow the oil cars to run alongside the tanks and empty themselves by gravity, and the corrals will be constructed in permanent style.- Press Democrat, September 23, 1905
For Grace Brothers' Brewery, 1905 was a miserable year. Just days into January, the Santa Rosa beer makers were smack in the middle of "The Battle of Sebastopol Avenue," with some angry locals demanding the city tear up their railway spur, apparently believing the brewers were in cahoots with the steam railroad. Then in late December, it was reported in the San Francisco Chronicle that an analysis found samples of their beer were adulterated. The brewery made no comment at the time; the substance found was a harmless preservative that had been added to beer for decades. And why should they draw attention to the report? Neither of the Santa Rosa papers mentioned it, after all.
All of that changed a couple of weeks later, when the Santa Rosa Republican printed the worst story imaginable. Grace Brothers beer was adulterated with a substance that was "poisonous" (poison was mentioned three times, acid seven times, in the short article), "like formaldehyde," and "prohibited by the Health Board of San Francisco." Holy Ned! Demand that the sheriff arrest those varmits! Oh, wait -- that would be Sheriff Frank Grace, one of those aforementioned brothers.
The brewery hit back hard with a half-page ad -- significantly, in the Press Democrat only -- defending the purity of their suds: "Grace Bros. Special Brew IS A PURE BEER." They also ran a front page notice, offering a $1,000 reward to "any reputable chemist" who found adulterants in any of their products.
Although the Santa Rosa Republican story was sensationalized, irresponsible, and factually wrong, the newspaper still gets an "E for effort" for mentioning anything about a local public health issue, a topic normally taboo in the Santa Rosa papers. But contaminated, even deadly, food and drink was much in the national news in 1905; just a few days before the San Francisco report on adulterated beer came out, President Teddy Roosevelt said in his State of the Union message that any consumables "debased or adulterated so as to injure health or to deceive purchasers should be forbidden." A few months afterward, in mid 1906, he made good on that promise and signed into law the nation's pioneering Pure Food and Drug Act.
The Republican's article also mentioned adulterated milk, which may seem odd in an item about beer. But at that time, Americans were most likely to associate impure food or drink with milk. Bad milk was the example used frequently by reformers in speeches and magazine articles because contaminated milk was responsible 1 in 3 cases of infant mortality. But the problem with milk wasn't added preservatives, as the Santa Rosa paper implies, but diseased cows, filth, and improper handling.
(While we're setting the record straight: Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," with its horrific portrait of the meat packing industry, often gets credit for inspiring the Pure Food law. But while the book was serialized in a socialist magazine in 1905, it didn't have wide readership until it was published in book form a year later, when the debate over the need for new laws was settled. Credit for educating the nation belongs mostly to the National Consumers' League Pure Food Committee, which spent years barnstorming the nation for safety regulations -- good background here.)
But was the Grace Brothers beer truthfully "adulterated?" Salicylic acid is aspirin, for all practical purposes. Since the 19th century, brewers knew that adding an ounce or less of aspirin to a barrel helped prevent it from going bad in those pre-refrigeration days. An 1885 manual on brewing notes that it helps preserves beer in hot weather, but cautions that it was strictly a short-term stabilizer: "...salicylic acid frequently, after the lapse of a few months, causes the beer to acquire a most peculiar and objectionable flavour, which nothing afterwards appears either to alter or remove. It is difficult to describe this flavour, but when once tasted it will never be forgotten, and a man must be very thirsty who will drink a second glass of a beer that has acquired it..."
City of San Francisco chemist Gibbs tested 275 samples of beer and malt liquors, finding 30 of them contained salicylic acid (he also found salicylic acid in 7 out of 120 white wines). A beer blogger found a 1906 New Hampshire report where 13 of 79 beers sold were preserved with salicylic acid.
A natural plant hormone, salicylic acid is mainly found in nuts and fruits, with highest doses in spices and herbs. It has long been used as as a food preservative, and still is; according to the 2004 edition of the Bowes & Church nutritional guide, it can be found in some beers and other alcoholic drinks, tea bags, and soft drinks. Contrary to the Santa Rosa Republican article, a salicylic acid overdose in Grace Brothers beer would be impossible; a 150 lb. adult would have to drink 180 gallons at one sitting -- about 10x his weight.
Found Salicylic Acid In Beer Made Here
Grace Brothers' Brewing Company of this city, together with many other elsewhere, has come under the ban of a report made by City Chemist Gibbs of San Francisco on beers brewed in this State which contain adulterants, which report has been filed with the Health Board of that city. The report of Chemist Gibbs shows that beer made by the local brewery contains a quantity of salicylic acid, which is used as a preservative. This acid like formaldehyde and boracic acid, are poisonous in quantities if taken continuously the former being prohibited by the Health Board of San Francisco from being used as a preservative for milk. Milkmen of the metropolis are heavily fined when they are found to have used it.
There is no great danger from salicylic acid unless it is used continuously or in quantities. To the continuous user of anything containing this acid, there is danger of being poisoned. The acid is not a food, and when taken into the system has to be worked off by the system. It is possibility of the the collection of a quantity of this acid in the system that causes danger to persons who are continually taking the poison into their systems.
The report of City Chemist Gibbs covered an analysis of two hundred and seventy-five samples of beers and malt liquors, and of these fifteen firms were reported by Gibbs as containing the salicylic acid as a preservative.
- Santa Rosa Republican, January 6, 1906
PUT UP $1,000 FOR A REWARD
Grace Bros. Deny Absolutely Published Charge Regarding Their Product
As will be seen by the advertisement appearing in another column, Grace Bros., the well-known brewers, have deposited, $1,000 with the Press Democrat in refutation of the published charge that their beer contains adulterants. They called at the Press Democrat office last night and denied the charge absolutely and before they left put up the sum mentioned and offered it as a reward to be paid to any reputable chemist who would find salicylic acid or any other adulterant in any beer manufactured by them. A report filed on December 21 by the city chemist of San Francisco and published in the newspapers of that city the following morning is the basis of the charge. The Chronicle's report of the matter read as follows:
["]The eighth report of City Chemist Gibbs file with the Health Officer yesterday contained the results of the analyses of 275 samples of malt liquors.
["]The value of the inspection, said the Chemist, "cannot be measured by the number of arrests. Many manufacturers are forced to adulteration by fair competition."
["]He comments upon the good effect of a notice sent out on July 20th warning liquor dealers that an inspection was being made. It was noticed that the larger dealers generally improved their product when they discovered that an investigation was in progress, while some of the smaller manufacturers continued to put out inferior or adulterated products regardless of their reputations.
["]The samples found objectionable either from the presence of salicylic acid or from the presence of sulphurous acid in quantities exceeding forty milligrams per liter are given below...["]
From a perusal of the above, it would appear that even if the charge were true, it would not be such a very serious matter, for most of the big breweries are included in the list. Th lists published by the other San Francisco papers contain many names in addition to those given in the Chronicle's list. Grace Bros. however, deny the charge absolutely, so far as it affects them, and their offer would certainly appear to indicate that they know what they are talking about for there are no strings on it. They are of the opinion that their name was included in City Chemist Gibbs list through some clerical error.
- Press Democrat, January 9, 1906
Riding a bike on the sidewalk was a misdemeanor in 1906 Santa Rosa, but it was never clear why they were avoiding those nice, broad streets seen in the old photographs. A few months earlier, the Santa Rosa Republican even had printed a lengthy letter to the editor attempting to justify sidewalk riding. Now, we find out why: After ten days of drenching rain, the unpaved streets are finally in decent enough shape that one could almost ride a bicycle over them. Yikes.
CLEAN STREETS RESULT OF RAIN
Absence of Mud and Slush Causes Considerable Comment on Part of People
One of the most noticeable results of the heavy rains of the past ten days in this city, was the remarkable manner in which the streets of Santa Rosa dried up Friday morning after the sun came out. Over ten inches of rain has fallen during the storm, and usually after such a season of rough weather, the streets are in very bad condition, but Friday the paved streets were washed clean and soon became dry, while the other thoroughfares of the city were in excellent condition, and one could almost ride a bicycle over them.
It is certainly a great satisfaction to see the main street dry and clean and the absence of the string of wagons which are usually engaged in hauling away the mud and slush of the street. Possibly the weather man has solved the problem of how best to clean the streets, and that the time will come when the pavement will be washed by the use of large sprinkling wagons built expressly for the purpose of drenching the pavement.- Santa Rosa Republican, January 20, 1906
BICYCLE RIDERS ARE PAYING FINES
Disobey the Ordinance Regarding the Use of Sidewalks in This City and Nine Citizens Pay Five Dollars Apiece
Within the last two or three days nine persons have had to give up a little five dollar gold piece in Police Judge Bagley's court in fines for having violated the ordinance which makes it a misdemeanor to ride bicycles on sidewalks.
Despite the warning note published more than once that a special police officer was on the lookout for violators of the law, no heed was paid. The city's treasury will continue to be enriched at the rate of five per as long as the bikes are ridden on the sidewalks, and the vigilant officer remains on the alert.
It would also save considerable ruffling of feelings in the matter of impounding dogs if the tags are purchased promptly. The work of impounding untagged dogs, stray horses, etc., is also a part of this special officer's duties.- Press Democrat, July 18, 1906
Rarely did the Santa Rosa papers print police logs, but here's a summary of Dec. 1905 arrest statistics; interesting that three of 38 arrests were for verbal offenses. Presumably "driving on walk" meant a buggy with a horse -- automobile operators were still called "chauffeurs."
At the Marshal's Office
During the month of December many matters passed through the office of City Marshall Severson. There were 38 arrests made, for charges as follows: Drunk, 25; riding bicycle on sidewalk, 1; peddling without license, 1; using language to provoke quarrel, 2; profane language, 1; driving on walk, 1; misdemeanors, 7. The offenders were taken before City Recorder Bagley who administered justice in the following doses. Fines, 20; jailed, 11; dismissed, 5; two yet to be disposed of. Receipts from selling licenses and use of city ambulance, $18.50; taxes collected, $1792.95.- Santa Rosa Republican, January 5, 1906
What would the world be like in that far-distant year of 2000? Hard to believe, but apparently everything will be powered by electricity - which, of course, will be transmitted through air.
One of the more interesting evenings in early 1906 Santa Rosa was the presentation by "the Wizard of Electricity" Reno B. Welbourn, a popular science speaker on the Lyceum and Chautauqua lecture circuits. What he demonstrated were machines that are toys today and principles which now are shown at high school science fairs, but in 1906, this was all gee-whiz stuff.
The review that appeared in the Press Democrat was skimpy, but a fuller description of "In the Year 2000" appeared in the Aug. 6, 1910 Nebraska State Journal. Welbourn blew a whistle into a microphone to power a light bulb; used an early version of the fax machine to transmit a picture of the President; and what was probably the dramatic highlight of the show, used a magnesium flare to simulate the sun, powering a solar cell to drive a motor, likely similar to this model Stirling engine. Not that the future would be a utopia; Welbourn also demonstrated weaponry, including a noiseless gun equipped with a silencer, and showed how explosives could be detonated at a distance using a solar cell.
Little of this tech was cutting edge, even in 1906; some inventions were already a decade old or more, such as the photovoltaic selenium cell and the fax (which he probably called a "scanning phototelegraph"). What made the presentation unique was how he tied each demonstration into wireless technology, either radio or Nikola Tesla's experimental near field power transmission.
The wireless electricity angle never came to pass because the effect didn't really work beyond laboratory conditions (good demonstration video here) but that wouldn't be known until years later, and Welbourn can't be faulted for believing the kinks would be ironed out someday. And Tesla was eventually proven right, in a way; his predictions of a wireless global communications network sounds very much like the real world that came about in the 21st century.
But Welbourn did overreach in his predictions of how all this would be tied together. According to the Nebraska paper, "airships and trains might be driven with power generated miles away and sent through the air...in the future a traveler in the Andes, far away from home, might cook his supper over an electric stove deriving its heat from Niagara power." The newspaper also reported, "Electricity was generated from sound and a light was made to glow with the force of sound. A motor was driven by the same force. The sound was made by a whistle and an acoustic engine which was in tune with the whistle made the wheels turn. 'The time will come soon,' the speaker declared, 'when a man will play a fiddle on his back porch while the music saws wood.' The light generated was shown in a small bulb."
Welbourn was obviously a good speaker, a good scientist, and a man of wit. His lecture also included a demonstration of a water engine (probably an early version of Tesla's bladeless turbine), and predicted it would be the power generator of the future. But, he reassured readers of the Santa Rosa Republican, "he did not want to create any uneasiness among the wood dealers in Santa Rosa at the present time."
WIZARD OF ELECTRICITY
Reno B. Welbourn Will Speak Here on Thursday Night
"In the Year 2000" is to be the topic of the lecture in this city on Thursday evening by Reno B. Welbourn. Mr. Welbourn is familiarly known as the "Wizard of Electricity," and it is said that this effort will be one that will be very attractive and instructive for old and young. It is one of the attractions of the Lyceum course. The lecture will be delivered in the Athenaeum.
"In the Year 2000" is Mr. Welbourn's greatest work. It was prepared at the request of hundreds of people from all parts of the country. The invariable questions brought forth by the previous efforts, night after night, were: "Why not give is a bit of prophecy, and show us what scientists are doing for the future[?] Why not let us into the secrets of the laboratory that we may cross the borderland of discovery and see in the experimental stage the wonderful things which future generations will be most likely to make practical?" The American people have always craved prophecy. The magazines are full of it. They recognize that all progress depends upon the ability of the people to look ahead and see what is coming. And so it came about that "In the Year 2000" was produced; but it required five years of unremitting labor to do it.
During these five years Mr. Welbourn enlisted the attention of some of the greatest men of science in the world, and was fortunate enough to secure the personal assistance of Nikola Tesla, Lord Kelvin, Sir William Crookes, Signor Marconi, and many others both in this country and Europe. No better testimonial of Mr. Welbourn's ability and standing could possibly be written. He prophesies that those things will be which must be. He meets the great problems of life face to face and shows, by the most wonderful experiments ever produced on the lyceum stage, how they are going to be solved.
- Press Democrat, January 2, 1906
"TWO WIZARDS IN ONE TOWN"
Welbourn Connects His Name with that of Burbank in Pleasant Manner
Reno B. Welbourn, the wizard of electricty, arrived in Santa Rosa this morning and is spending the afternoon seeing the city, and arranging his outfit for the entertainment this evening.
In speaking on various matters in his room today, he seemed pleased with the fact that he was in the city of Luther Burbank, and ended with the saying, "Two wizards in one town." Welbourn is a very interesting person to talk with, and is full of the experiences he has had with meeting most of the great scientists of the world. Speaking of the entertainment he stated that since he started on this tour he has been compelled to eliminate many of the numbers of the program as at first announced, but that he has replaced them with numbers that are far superior to the others.
Considerable was said during the conversation about the statement that he would illustrate the burning of water, and he said that this feature of the program would be presented, and that whether it would be the coming fuel or not was not for him to say, though he firmly believes that it will be realized some day. However, he did not want to create any uneasiness among the wood dealers in Santa Rosa at the present time. He is a firm believer in the future of the electric energy and looks forward to the day when it will be the material used for the lights, cooking and heating purposes of the public.
- Santa Rosa Republican, January 4, 1906
ELECTRICITY IN YEARS TO COME
An Instructive Lecture Delivered by Reno Welbourn Last Night
There was a large and appreciative audience present at the Athenaeum on Thursday evening when Reno B. Welbourn, "The Wizard of Electricity," delivered his lecture "In the Year 2000." The lecture was an illustration of the development of electricity. All of the various uses to which wireless electricity has already been put in the commercial world was shown. Wireless telegraph, telephone, fire and burglar alarms, automatic signals and lights, and the transmission of power were a few of the wonders demonstrated for the benefit of the audience.
The lecturer also explained sound, music, and light power which would run a motor, and numerous other marvels of present day knowledge of electricity which he declared would be worked into practical use in the years to come.
- Press Democrat, January 5, 1906
Right after Christmas, 1905, the Norton family of Santa Rosa sold their home, said their goodbyes, and headed east with their three children to meet the Lord in the upper Midwest. But the Nortons apparently hadn't gotten the memo: The 1906 Dies Irae had been called off, and now the prophecy was an indefinite promise that Jesus would be coming back Real Soon Now. Before 1916, definitely.
The Nortons were bound for the House of David, a religious commune in Benton Harbor, Michigan that was founded just two years earlier by Benjamin Purnell, a charismatic Kentucky preacher who claimed that he and his wife were jointly the seventh and last "Messenger" who would presage the second coming of Christ. In 1902, Purnell prophesied that the millennium would come four years from then -- later upped to 1916 or when all the signs would be in place, whichever came first -- and that his "elect" (144,000 men and 144,000 women) would, at that instant, become immortals in the flesh. His followers were always seeking portents that those good End Times were really nigh, and they celebrated on hearing news of the 1906 earthquake. One wonders how the Nortons must have felt about the boast that a church leader had "called down" the quake, which also meant death for so many of their former neighbors in Santa Rosa.
The House of David never came close to the tipping point of that many converts; at most, there were around a thousand members in Benton Harbor (there were 500 living there at the time of the California quake, according to a newspaper account). But despite the smaller than expected numbers, the enterprise thrived, becoming almost entirely self-sufficient with a dairy, fruit and vegetable farms, a state-of-the-art sawmill, a jam and jelly factory, and much more. The operation was also profitable, thanks to all that free labor provided by converts (as well as the requirement that new acolytes, such as the family from Santa Rosa, turn over all earthly possessions), and the House of David would come to sprawl over 100,000 acres of prime land in southwest Michigan.
Articles on the "Flying Rollers," as they were dubbed by newspapers of the day (it's an obscure Old Testament reference unrelated to the "Holy Roller" nickname for Pentecostals), loved to mention that men were forbidden to shave or cut their hair and sometimes offered drawings, helpfully educating readers how a person of European descent might look like with long hair. But except for those who chanced to cross paths with Purnell's small band of missionaries, few outsiders had actual contact with members of the faith. That all changed, starting in the 1920s.
After WWI, Americans were most likely to read about the House of David in their sports pages, as the church fielded a semi-pro baseball team that barnstormed around the country. Although players were an unusual sight with their often waist-length hair braided into a tight ponytail, it was a serious team, good enough to even win exhibition games against major league teams. They also wowed fans between innings with a fast-paced version of catch they called the "Pepper Game" -- think of the Harlem Globetrotters with a baseball (short film clips here).
If you didn't follow sports in the 1920s, perhaps you danced to the music of one of the House of David touring bands (although the musicians weren't allowed to dance themselves). Both male and female bands hopped around the country, often playing large halls. The ten-piece jazz group, "House of David Syncopep Serenaders" even appeared at Harlem's legendary Cotton Club.
But if you were anywhere near the upper Midwest, you probably thought of the House of David as a destination amusement park that attracted 200,000 visitors a year during the mid-1920s. The all-free entertainment included a vaudeville stage, bandstands for the House of David musicians, a 3,500 seat baseball field for the House of David non-touring teams, bowling alleys (they invented an automatic bowling pin setter) a miniature railway system with 11 rideable trains, and souvenir stands where artisan treasures and trinkets in jewelry, ceramics, leather or wood could be purchased and often customized with your name. And of course, there was an auditorium welcoming visitors in for religious lectures.
Give the Purnells their due; in only fifteen years or so, they transformed a fringe religious community that newspapers had pigeonholed as a "queer cult" into an entertainment empire worth a fortune. Their apocalyptic dogma was no longer mentioned in the press, and as far as I can tell, no newspaper mentioned that embarrassing detail about Jesus' failure to show in 1916. Not that their religious past was entirely forgotten: As Purnell began collecting animals for his amusement park zoo, some papers printed rumors that the colony was building a modern Noah's Ark. Ummm.....could they know something we don't?
Legal troubles began as early as 1907, when the state of Michigan found that the House of David was less a religious association than a business, and forced it to change legal status. There were vague accusations against Purnell of "immorality" (read: statutory rape) from 1909 onwards, and by 1916, former members were charging in court that he was having sex with teenage girls, afterwards assigning them to marry randomly selected men in the colony. Of course, intimacy with their new husbands was forbidden because celibacy was a central tenet in Purnell's gospel.
Similar suits followed, and Purnell went into hiding for four years. It later came out that he never left the compound during that time, but was an invalid under the care of a small cadre of trusted aides. Even most of his followers apparently thought he was away; it would be bad if the true believers saw the Seventh Messenger -- a man they believed immortal -- wasting away. Benjamin Purnell was fatally ill with a combination of TB, diabetes, and heart disease.
A 3-month trial in 1927 ensued, and the judge's comprehensive 191-page decision (fully reprinted in the Benton Harbor newspaper and generally summarized in a period survey on religious cults) revealed that the House of David had many skeleton closets, and might have been more accurately called the Stalag of David. Children were poorly educated (Purnell's own son could not read or write); members were not allowed to leave the grounds without passes from the office; all outgoing mail was read and censored; the women who managed housing, called "sweepers," were expected to eavesdrop and inform on fellow members; detailed records were kept of the required monthly personal confessions; "scorpions" who dared to leave the cult were forced to sign blanket affidavits asserting there was no wrongdoing.
Most damning, however, was discovery that members were given "perjury books" instructing them how to testify regarding questions asked about "Benjamin and the girls."
As it came out at the trial, a select group of girls age 12 and older always lived in rooms next to Purnell, and he socialized exclusively with them. Thirteen testified that he had coerced them into sexual intercourse via religious arguments, such as he was really "testing their faith" or suggesting they would become immortal as well. Judge Fead wrote in his judgement: "The general trend of the girls toward Benjamin's quarters was too pronounced and regular to be entirely accidental....This is not true of all the girls but there was a general trend which brought a large number of them to Benjamin's residence. It was not at all so with the boys...The conclusion is that Benjamin, from the founding of the colony, has had immoral relations with a large number of girls and women of the colony, and that such relations have been imposed on them by the force of Benjamin's position and power as spiritual and temporal leader."
The court decreed that the commune was to placed into receivership and Purnell banned from the premises, members allowed to visit him only under "proper protective conditions." Purnell died eleven days later.
Your obl. Believe-it-or-Not footnote: In 1960, a sensationalized account of Purnell's sexcapades appeared in a dimestore novel, "King of the Harem Heaven," which was quickly pulled from the shelves after the colony sued the publisher for libel. But in 1972, Purnell's great grandson was convicted of murder, despite a defense psychiatrist testifying that the defendant had read that book over and over as a youth, coming to identify with his ancestor as a "powerful, smart, and somewhat magical man," the boy not realizing that the author was portraying Purnell as a psychopath.
SANTA ROSANS WELCOME SAVIOR
Are Preparing to Leave for Michigan Where They Will Meet Their Lord
There will be an exodus from this city Wednesday of parties who are going to meet the Lord. There are several Santa Rosans in the party and they are starting for Benton Harbor, Michigan, where they claim the Lord will appear shortly after the New Year, and where they hope to welcome the Heavenly Visitor. They are now disposing of their property and will hasten to the eastern city to extend a welcome to the Coming King.
The pilgrimage from this city will be headed by Mr. and Mrs. C. J. Norton, and they are very enthusiastic over the trip that they soon will take. The advent of the Savior has become their chief topic of conversation, and they are kept busy answering the various questions that are propounded to them by those who are curious about the purpose of their proposed trip east. It has been revealed to them that the Lord will reveal himself to a company of people composed of 144,000 of those who have been faithful, and that they will be the ones who are permitted to remain on the earth and inherit the same with all other good things that have been prepared for the truly good.
These Mr. Norton says, are the members of the house and Lineage of David who have been dispersed over the earth because of sin and now the time has arrived when they shall be gathered as the chosen ones, and those who do not avail themselves of this opportunity will be doomed to everlasting punishment. Mr. and Mrs. Norton expect to be joined on the trip by large companies from many cities of the state, including Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other points. The trip will be made with considerable anticipation, as would naturally follow from those who are anticipating the final coming of the Lord to gather in those who have gone to meet him, and who are looking for his coming.
Santa Rosa people will doubtless regret the loss of Mr. and Mrs. Norton from the community, but will rejoice that they are going to be privileged to meet their Lord, and hope that they may be found in readiness when the Master comes to reward his servants "whether it be noon or night."- Santa Rosa Republican, December 26, 1905
DEPARTED TO MEET THE LORDMr. and Mrs. Charles J. Norton Have Gone to Benton Harbor, Mich., Expecting to See Savior
Mr. and Mrs. Charles Norton departed on the afternoon train over the Southern Pacific en route to Benton Harbor, Michigan. They are going to meet the Lord as they believe, in that city, according to the story published in the Republican several evenings since. Mr. and Mrs. Norton are accompanied by their three young children, and were accompanied on the first stage of their journey celestial to Oakland pier by a number of relatives.
The people who left this afternoon are under the impression that the Lord will reveal himself to them and to his chosen people, numbering 144,000, at the Michigan city, early in the coming year. They have an abiding faith in this belief, and in carrying out their plans sacrificed their property here on Boyce street to obtain the finances needed to travel half way across the continent.
Mr. and Mrs. Norton assert that others from this city will also journey to meet the Lord in Michigan, and they expect to make their home there for some time to come. It is the belief of these people that they will be permitted to live and inherit the earth after the Lord has manifested himself to them in an unmistakable manner. The Santa Rosans believe they will be enaged [sic] from mortal to immortal on obtaining the expected vision of the Savior of Mankind.- Santa Rosa Republican, December 28, 1905
Still Await His Coming
Letters have been received from Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. Norton who recently left here for Bar Harbor [sic], Mich., to join others of the same faith to "meet the Lord." The letters are dated from the "House of David" and tell of the colony of the "Lord's chosen" who have gathered from all parts of the earth to await His coming. The colony is said to have all the conveniences that "modern science and ingenuity has invented from the greatest to the smallest."- Press Democrat, January 17, 1906