One of the stranger tales from the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake was the case of "Dr. C. C. Crandall," a physician who showed up at the Santa Rosa Hospital to volunteer his services in the heat of the disaster. In the following days he apparently charmed all - until it was revealed that he wasn't really a doctor, that Crandall wasn't his true name, and that he was stealing like mad. The man who was actually Hugh W. Dunn fled, only to be tracked down in Portland and returned to Santa Rosa, where the court sentenced him to a year in prison for felony embezzlement. "I presume he congratulates himself as he picks jute at San Quentin," sneered the Press Democrat gossip columnist. But the good Mister Doctor was polite and stayed in touch; the PD also printed a few lines from correspondence he sent to a friend in town. "His letter from the prison was certainly a cheery one under the circumstances," opined the newspaper, wishing him (not) well.
One of the greatest sensations our local gossips have had in many a day was the arrest, conviction, and sentence of "Dr. C. C. Crandall." It simply made everybody doubt their senses. And the jar it gave some of our girls will not efface itself in a day or a week. The "Doctor" was so suave, so agreeable, so gentlemanly, such a philanthropist, coming, as he did when we needed help so badly. In two days time he proved himself such a liar, such a scoundrel! It seemed incredible. I presume he congratulates himself as he picks jute at San Quentin, that he is there, but after all no one found out who he really was. Safe to say, now, nobody wants to know.- "Society Gossip" column, Press Democrat, June 17, 1906
"DR." CRANDALL IS DOING WELL
"I am getting along well here. I have only seven more months to serve and I am already counting the months. Soon I shall be counting the weeks and then the days that I have to remain here," writes "Dr." C. C. Crandall, alias Hugh W. Dunn, the gay young supposed medical man who was sent to San Quentin for a year on a charge of embezzlement, to a Santa Rosan last week. His letter from the prison was certainly a cheery one under the circumstances.- Press Democrat, August 19, 1906
There wasn't much to celebrate in 1906, but hooray for this: Congress finally passed a law regulating the safety of food and medicine. The end of the era of quackery and dangerous cure-anything elixirs was surely at hand.
Except, it wasn't at all. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was all about enforcing truth in labeling, and didn't even mention truth in advertising; it would be another twelve years before the new Federal Trade Commission started to crack down on that kind of fraud. In that interim, the fraudsters would exploit the public desire for "pure food" with new and even more dishonest claims in the newspapers, in magazines, and on billboards.
Santa Rosa was already familiar with food purity issues, thanks to a significant amount of newspaper coverage over a dust-up in 1905 about Grace Brothers beer, and whether it was truthfully "adulterated" with a harmless preservative. Both of the town's papers gave front page coverage to passage of the new federal pure food laws - but afterwards, they also both featured ads that were clearly intended to deceive their readers, as did almost all other papers. (The Press Democrat ran more fraudulent ads than the rival Republican newspaper, but they likewise ran more display ads overall.)
"Pure" and "safe" became buzzwords to spice up advertising. This ad that appeared in the Republican was pushing a "spring medicine" to improve your skin - even though a contemporary formula reveals that it was a sickly-sweet syrup with alcohol and trace amounts of common herbal plants and roots. (The copy reads, "A SNAPSHOT of the condition of the blood is in every face. Pallor, undue ruddiness, pimples, blotches - all tell the tale. If your complexion is not 'just so,' most likely you need a spring medicine. We have the best made. Red Clover Compound, a tonic and blood resolvent. Family size, $1.00.")
One of the worst abusers was Sunny Brook Whiskey, which ran a series of ads in newspapers like the Press Democrat suggesting that their liquor was USDA inspected and approved; some ads even displayed a man wearing an "Inspector" cap and holding bottles. That crossed the line for the government, but the company ignored warnings from the Dept. of Agriculture until Secretary James Wilson personally wrote to them and demanded they withdraw the ads. (CLICK to enlarge)
A special award for Most Contemptible Deception must go to the ad below from Peruna (or PE-RU-NA. as it was dubbed in most ads), which suggests that it could prevent tuberculosis, even cure "incipient" cases of TB. "Since it is well known that consumption begins with a common cold or catarrh, any medicine that can be relied upon to relieve these must be regarded as a preventive of consumption. Thousands of cases of incipient consumption, or chronic coughs, or settled colds, have reported Peruna as being a safe and reliable remedy for these ailments." (Download this PDF for an entertaining overview of Peruna's dodgy history.)
Peruna, which regularly had one of the largest ads to appear in the PD during this era, provided no indication of ingredients in the advert, although it was actually 28% alcohol (reduced to 18% after 1906) with the rest being colored water. Samuel Hopkins Adams' 1905 muckraking article, "Peruna and the Bracers," on this and other high-alcohol patent medicines, was widely read and often cited as one of the reasons the Pure Food Act finally passed in Congress.
(Obl. Believe-it-or-Not footnote: George W. Bush is just four degrees of separation from the boozy quack medicine. The mascot for the Southern Methodist University football team mascot is traditionally a black shetland pony called "Peruna," so named in 1932 because it was supposed to be as "full of kick" as the phony cure-all. The current pony incarnation of Peruna led the school's marching band at the Bush inaugural parade in 2001, and the George W. Bush Presidential Library will be built just a few steps from SMU's Ford Stadium with its Peruna Plaza.)
First, the bad news: Property values were down in Santa Rosa following the 1906 earthquake - but on the upside, at least everyone had a sewing machine.
Overall worth of the town declined that year because the tax assessor shaved half off property values of parcels in the "burned and wrecked district." This was quite a generous knockdown for the landowners, and cynics should be forgiven for doubting that there likewise was a matching tax boost over the following years, since most commercial buildings on those properties were actually rebuilt in two years or less.
But the more interesting item from the assessor's office was a summary of personal property in the county: There were 285 typewriters, 2,700 bicycles, 45 bee hives, and 13,470 sewing machines, among other items. In that era, you were taxed annually on all tangible personal property, not just land and vehicles, as we are today. This "Ad valorem tax" on household goods and personal effects was phased out during the Depression years as the state sales tax and state income tax were enacted, but not after decades of complaint about the absurdity of being taxed every year on those wobbly kitchen chairs and moth-eaten wool rugs. And it wasn't even a reliable means of collecting revenue, as one anti-tax group griped in a 1928 pamphlet: "Every one knows how impossible it is to tax all persons on the actual value of their household belongings. Inevitably values will be canceled or overlooked. The cookstove, the piano and the radio catch the assessor's eye. Only the burglar can find the diamonds of the rich."
The last statistical item here finds the Press Democrat proclaiming that the town had grown in population despite the disaster, with nearly 11 thousand residents of Santa Rosa, an increase of about ten percent in two years. But as 1906 wasn't a census year, how did they know that? A closer look at the data show that the paper made a simplistic calculation that every registered voter had to represent exactly five residents. The article continues by noting that the overall county voter registration had declined by several hundred since the presidential election of 1904, which would mean, by their logic, that people were actually leaving Sonoma County in droves.
PROPERTY VALUE IN SANTA ROSA
The Total Assessed Valuation After Deductions are Made by the City Board of Equalization Recently in Session
From the recapitulation of the figures compiled by City Assessor Henry Silvershield and after the deductions made by the City Board of Equalization, it was announced last night at the Council meeting that the total assessed valuation of property in Santa Rosa is $4,524,742. Last year the assessed valuation was $4,754,712.
In making the deductions on account of the destruction on April 18, a basis of fifty per cent reduction on personal property and the same on real estate has been followed in the burned and wrecked district.
But for the disaster on the date mentioned the assessment roll for this year would have shown a great increase over the previous year. The figures given above show for themselves.- Press Democrat, July 25, 1906
2590 WATCHES IN SONOMA COUNTY
Some Odds and Ends Gathered From County Assessor Dowd's Big Assessment Roll for 1906
Two thousand five hundred and ninety watches were assessed by County Assessor Dowd in Sonoma County this year; 6,560 gallons of brandy, 750,000 gallons of wine, 1,000 pounds of hops, 45 bee hives, 6 traction engines, 8,120 wagons and other vehicles, 120 tons of hay, 2,400 pounds of wool, 1,960 cords of wood, 65 tons of coal, 1,115,000 feet of lumber, 285 typewriters, 2,700 bicycles, 1,147 firearms, 13,470 sewing machines, etc.- Press Democrat, August 1, 1906
SANTA ROSA MAKE GOOD GAINS IN POPULATION
Registration Shows a Marked Gain In Two Years
The City Now Has 10,990 as Compared to 9,830, Making an Increase of 1,160 Despite the Frightful April Disaster
According to the registration of voters in Santa Rosa this year there has been an increase of population during the past two years despite the April Disaster. There was a total of 1,966 voters registered here two years ago, and this year the total reaches 2,198, an increase of 232. These figures mean that the population of this city is now 10,990 as compared to 9,830 this time two years ago
The total registration in the county has fallen slightly below that of two years ago, when a presidential contest was bein waged, and this was to be expected. The total for the county will be about 10,000, while two years ago there was several hundred over this number...- Press Democrat, September 30, 1906
A week after the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake came first signs that life in the town was slowly returning to normal. Electric lights were (mostly) on at nights, a couple of lovebirds were married, and someone wounded himself with his revolver.
Frequent incidents involving handguns serve to remind that in 1906, the Wild West days really weren't so long ago, as many men went around town with a pistol in his pants. Nor did the law consider simply packing heat an offense; trouble came only if you fired the gun recklessly (a $5 fine per shot, please) or threatened to shoot someone (or, of course, did). But judging by reports in the papers, the most common use of handguns was to accidentally shoot yourself in the leg.
All of these self-shootings were probably avoidable. For years, Smith & Wesson had offered a "Safety Revolver" that "only the hand of an adult can fire" because of its safety grip, which prevented the trigger from being pulled unless the handle was being squeezed at the same time (a good technical description of how it worked can be found here). Iver Johnson, another large gunsmith, also heavily advertised its "Safety Automatic Revolver" with the claim that it was "the one revolver that cannot go off by accident;" while their gun had no safety lock, the trigger had to be pulled all the way back. Instead, it appears most men carried a snub-nosed "bicycle revolver," of the sort shown in the magazine ad seen here. These were cheap, small, and easily concealed, no small consideration for men wearing jeans or fashionable tight-fitting trousers, such as the fellow seen to the right in this post-earthquake photograph (although that other gentleman might well be hiding a battleship in his ample folds).
While putting a revolver in his pocket on Wednesday night, Attorney A. B. Ware accidentally shot himself in the fleshy part of the leg. The wound is a superficial one and not dangerous. The trigger caught and caused the accident...
- Democrat-Republican, April 26, 1906
PARIS DREW BIG REVOLVER
Gets Arrested and Puts Up Cash Bail
Angelo Paris drew a big revolver Sunday evening on L. W. Eberle and was landed in jail for this offense against the peace and dignity of the people. Monday morning he was released on fifty dollars' cash bail by Justice Atchinson, to appear in court next Saturday to explain his action.
The troubles between the men occurred over the opening of a door to permit the cool evening air to penetrate the building in which the respective families of the men mentioned reside. As the result of the altercation Paris declared he would fill Eberle full of lead and produced the weapon in sight to carry out the declaration he had made.
Constable Boswell arrested Paris, and escorted him to the station, assisted by Eberle and Officer Lindley. Later Lindley and Boswell searched the premises and found the gun used beneath the bed clothing. The shells had been extracted. Paris put up quite a fight to Boswell and struck the latter before he was subdued.
- Santa Rosa Republican, July 23, 1906
PISTOL WENT OFF WHEN MAN FELL
An unusual accident happened in a little fight on Main street Saturday night. A local man knocked down a party with whom he had some difficulty, and a pistol in the pocket of the man knocked down went off. The parties to the fight both believed that a tragedy had been enacted, the party down at first being convinced that he had been struck from the bullet from his revolver, and the party who did the knocking felt sure he would be called on to answer to a charge of murder. The incident caused no little excitement for a time.
- Santa Rosa Republican, August 13, 1906
COST HIM $5 EACH SHOT FROM REVOLVER
M. Davis, a brickmason, was arrested Saturday by Officer McIntosh, and fined $10 by City Recorder Bagley for firing his pistol from the scaffolding of the brick buildings on Fourth street. He was under the influence of liquor and mounting the scaffolding where men were at work began to celebrate by firing his revolver. He fired two shots and was forced to pay $5 for each shot.
- Santa Rosa Republican, September 4, 1906
Horrible industrial accidents were common in the pre-unionization days of the early 20th century, and newsy items about them were a mainstay of the Santa Rosa papers, which often described injuries in gruesome detail. More unusual were life-threatening accidents at home such as the pair transcribed below, which are all the more unique because both happened to involve mothers and sons. One wonders at the luck of little Merrill Bowman, who pitched headfirst off a barrel just as two doctors were motoring past, and surely young Master Black of Cloverdale was just going through an Oedipal phase when he accidentally shot his mum through her pelvis.
MRS. BOWMAN VICTIM OF PECULIAR ACCIDENT
Mrs. Charles Bowman of Ripley street was the victim of a serious accident recently, and one that might have proved fatal had a physician not been quickly secured. She was putting up some fruit in a glass, and while screwing a top on a jar, it broke. Her hand came in contact with the jagged glass, severing an artery and a vein. The blood spurted from the wound in streams and great quantities of it were lost.
Dr. Cline made a hurried trip to the injured woman, and she was decidedly weak from loss of blood when he arrived. The severed artery was quickly caught and the flow of blood stopped. Had his arrival been delayed a few minutes, the unfortunate woman would have bled to death.
Merrill Bowman, a young son of the injured woman, fell from a barrel a short time after his mother's accident and landed on his head, cutting that member badly. Fortunately for the young man two doctors were passing in an auto and saw the fall. They rendered assistance and soon had the young man in good condition, barring the wound in the head.- Santa Rosa Republican, June 30, 1906
BOY'S CARELESSNESS WOUNDS HIS MOTHER
While standing by the stove in the summer kitchen of her home in Cloverdale Tuesday afternoon, Mrs. Chas. Black, a prominent resident of that city, was shot in the thigh by her son. The shooting was accidental, and because the lad was so frightened that he neglected to tell how it happened, there was an element of mystery thrown around it. Deputy Sheriff Tom Wilson investigated the matter and then reported it to Sheriff Frank P. Grace and District Attorney Charles H. Pond. Grace and Dr. Jesse went to Cloverdale in the latter's auto and satisfied themselves that the wound was accidentally inflicted.
Wild reports were circulated that Mrs. Black had been assassinated for a sum of money known to be in the house, but this proved a myth. The people of Cloverdale were considerably wrought up over these reports, which gained wide circulation and were at one time believed.
At the time she was shot, Mrs. Black believed something had exploded in the stove, and not until she glanced up and saw the window pane broken did she realize she had been shot. The bullet entered Mrs. Black's hip and has lodged in a dangerous place. Dr. Jesse believes there will be no serious consequences unless complications set in. The boy was carelessly handling a rifle and it was accidentally discharged.- Santa Rosa Republican, August 1, 1906
Early 20th century Santa Rosa tolerated prostitution, and the town's newspapers mostly kept mum about the doings at the dozen or so "Female Boarding Houses" just a few steps away from the courthouse (or at least, until a series of events in 1907 brought the bordellos under scrutiny - but that's getting ahead of the story).
But what did residents call this section of town, centered on the intersection of 1st and D streets? There was a passing mention of it being the "redlight district" in a 1905 article about blight around nearby Santa Rosa Creek, but the small crime blotter item below reveals that it was commonly known as the town's "tenderloin."
"Tenderloin district" was apparently coined in the 1870s to identify a rough part of Manhattan. The earliest reference for San Francisco appears to be 1891, coming into common newspaper usage around 1894.
Charged With Stealing Coin
Rob Maxwell was arrested this morning by Chief of Police Fred Rushmore and Officer John M. Boyes. He is charged with having stolen the sums of $19 and $13.50 from two women of the tenderloin. One of these charges was admitted by Maxwell under the questioning of Officer Boyes, and the accused told what he had done with a trunk key and the purse which contained stolen money. Maxwell spent the night Saturday in the house, and secured the key to a woman's trunk, from which he extracted the purse and coin. Warrants were sworn to before Justice Atchinson.
Maxwell later pled guilty to a charge of taking money and not guilty to a second charge. Justice Atchinson has not pronounced sentence.- Santa Rosa Republican, June 11, 1906
By midsummer 1906, post-earthquake life in Santa Rosa was less about coping with crisis than it was enduring a hundred annoyances. Piles of construction materials had replaced the piles of rubble downtown, making 4th Street shopping difficult, and even dangerous, not to mention the inconvenience for farmers probably being unable to hitch their horse and buggy near the makeshift stores. Other merchants were dispersed to temporary locations on side streets, working from home, or at the business district shantytown thrown together on an empty lot near the corner of 5th and Mendocino.
The greatest disruption was probably social, however. Life before the earthquake was punctuated by endless get-togethers, dances, and card parties hosted by the fraternal lodges and ladies' social clubs, and almost all of these gatherings were on hold since the disaster. The Athenaeum theatre and the Novelty vaudeville hall were both gone, so there was little to do at night, either. So after you've told your how-I-survived-the- disaster story to everyone you knew and tsk'd over their disaster stories, there was precious little to do in Santa Rosa. Maybe that's why the town went crazy as a betsy bug over roller skating that summer.
But Santa Rosa's roller mania wasn't created by the quake. Roller skating was quite a fad that year nationwide, and the San Francisco Bay Area was a hotspot with the famed Idora Amusement Park in Oakland, said to have the largest and best rink in the world. Two downtown skating rinks were opened in Santa Rosa in the weeks before the quake to great success, and the Press Democrat noted that a popular salutation around town was, "Have you had a skate on?"
Then came the earthquake. The urge to put on wheeled shoes was quelled but not extinguished. Three weeks past the disaster, a rink was opened at the old Grace Brothers Park near the Macdonald Ave. and 4th street intersection. Frank Leppo, who had operated one of the pre-quake rinks announced that he was going to build a new one on Humboldt Street. And with no fanfare, Mr. Green and Bowers asked City Council for permission to build a pavilion that would cost about $15,000.
The Pavilion Skating Rink opened three months after the quake. Located in the middle of the A Street block between 4th and 5th (think of their front door as the menswear department at Macy's), it was about 15,000 square feet of no-frill steel and wood construction - a standard warehouse, more or less. The owners instead spent a chunk of money on installing a quality maple skating floor, with two layers of felt underneath to muffle the roar of hundreds of skaters and to make it more springy. Every afternoon they polished the floor using a large slab of marble attached to the back of an automobile, which then "ran around the room at a lively clip."
(RIGHT: "Professor" Franks and his 7 year-old daughter, "Baby Lillian." The Franks toured California roller rinks in 1906, visiting Santa Rosa in late September. Other newspapers described their act including dad skating on 30-inch stilts. The finale of the act had him skating up a special 70-foot ramp and jumping thirty feet, landing with a pirouette. His daughter followed with a similar leap into her father's arms)
It was immediately a terrific success. Santa Rosans packed the place; even if you didn't skate, there was enough seating for a thousand to watch. Within days, the Santa Rosa Republican began running a "Skating Rink News" section on the front page to keep everyone up-to-date on the latest doings at the Pavilion, and the Press Democrat followed with its own front page column soon after. Here was news you really needed to know; that evening there might be a match between Santa Rosa's "polo team" (roller skate hockey) and competitors from Healdsburg or Petaluma, or there could be a grand march where all comers would be given a red, white, or blue Japanese lantern to carry, or there might be an hour reserved for couples near closing. Professionals also came through regularly with "fancy skating" exhibitions. Every day there was something new to see, and you or someone you knew probably saw it.
But skating was just part of the fun. Two months later, Bowers and his partner opened Santa Rosa's first swimming pool next door. At 40 x 100 feet it wasn't modern Olympic size, but then again, competition pools usually don't have a slide, trapeze swing, rings, or an attached skating rink. This likewise was a great success, and come November, they closed the swimming baths for the winter and placed a dance floor over the pool. Now it became "Bowers' Hall," Santa Rosa's ballroom.
Together, the Pavilion and Bowers' Hall became the town center that Santa Rosa never before had. The buildings even functioned as a convention hall for large gatherings, somewhat like the grand auditorium that architect William Willcox had recently hoped to build. in January 1907, more than 3,000 packed into the skating rink on a Saturday afternoon to hear William Jennings Bryan pontificate about America's greatness and its destiny to lead the world.
Ideally Santa Rosa should have offered these venues at a public park, where admission would be free or nearly so (and which Willcox also tried to create here). Bowers charged up to 50¢ a person for some events, the equivalent of something around twelve dollars today. It was an expensive night out in a farm town. Still, gratitude was owed to Bowers and Green for providing a service that probably helped many escape their woes and mourning, at least for a bit.
And as the annus horribilis of 1906 came to an end, two dances at Bowers' Hall helped close the year on a pleasant note. The week before Christmas there was a dignified "Grand Masque Ball," and then on New Year's Eve, a decidedly UNdignified "Sheet and Pillowcase Masquerade." There dancers wrapped their bodies in a bedsheet and covered their head with a pillowcase with two holes cut for the eyes. "The amusing feature is that often it is hard to tell whether your partner is a gentleman or a lady, and times have been when men have had men for their partners, much to the amusement of all," promised a blurb in the Republican. It's another of those moments that make me yearn for a time machine; how fun it must have been to watch everyone in their boiled sheets struggling to dance like clumsy ghosts, while next door, others dressed in their Sunday best glided gracefully around and around until at last the new year came.
RINKS ARE MERRY
Large Crowds Patronizing Roller Skating Here
"Have you had a skate on?" is a popular salutation these days in Santa Rosa.
The skating rinks which opened Saturday evening at Ridgeway hall and Red Men's hall are doing a land office business every night and in the afternoons many take the opportunity to become acquainted with the fascinating pastime.
- Press Democrat, March 28, 1906
"Billy" Cowan Shows Skaters How to Skate
Attorney Willaim Finley Cowan is nursing some strained ligaments of the arm and wearing one of these member is splints as he result of an attempt to use roller skates at a local rink Friday morning. He was formerly one of the best skaters in Santa Rosa... [when] he was something like twenty-three years younger and over a hundred pounds lighter...Those in the vicinity declare that an earthquake had occurred when "Billy" hit the floor, but their fears were soon dispelled.
- Santa Rosa Republican, March 31, 1906
FINE SKATING RINK SOON TO BE OPENED
The new skating rink which is being erected on A street in this city is one of the most pretentious affairs of the kind to be found in this part of the state. Messrs. H. A. Bowers and I. L. Green, who are financing the rink, state that they expect to have the place completed by the last of next week and will be ready then for their opening.
The rink is a splendid building, 74x200 feet, and is being constructed of rustic, [sic] with a pressed steel front in imitation of bricks. There will be room for some four hundred skaters on the floor, and seats will be provided for one thousand spectators, while the hall will be large enough for convention purposes and will hold fully 3500 people on such occasions. Already there is some talk of having the coming lecture of William Jennings Bryan in this building next fall.
One of the most interesting features of the ring is the manner in which the floor will be laid. Mr. Bowers stated this morning that he will have each of the floor joists covered with a thickness of felt before the roof floor is laid, and on top of this first floor there will be a complete covering of felt before the maple floor is placed in position. This will make the floor flexible, and also overcome the disagreeable noise of the skating.
Adjoining the rink Mr. Bowers is having his large public bath house erected. The excavation for the swimming tank is being rushed to completion at the present, and when completed will be 40x100 feet, while the building itself will be 60x120 feet. The baths will be fitted up in the latest manner, being equipped with slide trapese, rings, and the like and will be connected with the skating rink so that there will be an opportunity to pass from one to the other.
The feature of the swimming tank will be the incline floor that is to be laid, giving the bathers any depth of water they may desire. When completed the rink and baths will be the best to be found anywhere and no expense is being spared to fith them up right.
- Santa Rosa Republican, July 12, 1906
UNIQUE MANNER OF DRESSING DOWN FLOOR
At the New Pavilion Skating rink in this city, the manager, H. A. Bowers, has contrived a very unique way to dress down the floor for the skaters. He secured a large piece of marble nearly two feet square and about four inches thick, and every afternoon just after the rink has been closed to visitors, an automobile is run into the building and hitched to the stone. Then the fun begins. The auto is ran around the room at a lively clip, dragging the stone, and giving the hardwood floor a splendid satin surface.
The marble grinds off all the rough and uneven places on the wood and gives the surface a smooth and pleasing finish. After the marble has been used, then there is a large pad, arranged nearly four feet square, which is faced behind the machine, and in a short time there is absolutely no dust to be found on the floor. Another advantage in the method is the doing away of all chalk and other applications. This makes it especially pleasing for the ladies, as there is no danger of soiling the white clothes while skating. Mr. Bowers' plans is certainly a very unique one, and by test has been found to do its work to perfection.
- Santa Rosa Republican, July 26, 1906
AUSPICIOUS OPENING OF SKATING RINK
The new skating rink of Bowers & Green opened as scheduled Saturday evening, and there was a perfect crush of visitors to the new place of amusement. The large pavilion was crowded, many visitors going into the galleries to witness the animated scene on the floor below. The management had provided generously for the opening night, but the attendance exceeded their expectations, and the number of skaters was greater than there were skates on hand. Many had to be turned away because all the skates were in use. More than two thousand persons were in the pavilion, and a more auspicious opening could not have been desired...
- Santa Rosa Republican, July 23, 1906
SKATING RINK NEWS
The attraction at the Pavilion Skating Rink this evening will be the presence of Joe Waldstein, the world's champion skater...Waldstein will be present Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings, and for these three evenings the management has decided to charge an admission of 25 cents. On each of the evenings mentioned there will be a grand skating march led by Mrs. Bender and Mr. Waldstein and much interest is being taken in the event.
This afternoon there was a practice by the ladies preparatory to the march this evening.
- Santa Rosa Republican, July 31, 1906
SKATING RINK NEWS
Tonight a potatoe [sic] race will be the chief amusement. The one who gathers the most potatoes and covers the distance in the shortest time will be given a new pair of skates.
On Thursday night the rink will be run by the polo team, at which time there will be a polo game and possibly a ladies' tournament. The entire management will be turned over to the polo boys, and Captain Burris will act as floor manager. The time for closing will be extended a half hour longer than the usual time for closing, and one and a half hours will be devoted to ladies and escorts only. The boys are desirous of making a good showing on that occasion, and have planned to make the evening a very interesting one for the spectators.
- Press Democrat, August 21, 1906
BATHS ARE OPENED WITH LARGE CROWDS
The opening of the baths at the Pavilion Rink yesterday afforded a large number of people no little amusement and pleasure in bathing. The night was filled with good water and just nicely warmed and long before the noon hour there was a large crowd in the water. Early in the afternoon every bathing suit was taken and many of the patrons of the place remained in the water for a long time. They seemed loath to leave the sport.
- Santa Rosa Republican, September 4, 1906
SKATING RINK NEWS
Last night at the Pavillion Rink, the grand march was presented in a very pleasing manner by a large number of the best skaters of the vicinity. There were many new and very pretty figures introduced, among which was a lantern march in which each skater carried a Japanese lantern of red, white, or blue, and as the march progressed they produced a very pleasing effect. Tonight there will be another grand march, and after the march plain skating will be the order of the evening.
Monday night will be mens and boys night and there will be many games played. The main feature of the evening will be a two-mile race for a purse of $25...
The new floor that has been laid over the big tank has been completed and there will be a first class dance given tonight. Butler's orchestra will furnish the music for the occasion,
- Press Democrat, November 10, 1906
SHEET AND PILLOWCASE MASQUERADE BALL
Considerable interest is centering in the Sheet and Pillowcase Masquerade which is announced to take place at Bower's hall next Monday night. The idea is something novel and there will be a large attendance. The reason the plan is proving so popular is that it is no easy to secure the costume for the event. All that is necessary to make it complete is to have a sheet wrapped around the body up to the arm-pits, and a pillowcase over the head, having cut two holes for the eyes.
The amusing feature is that often it is hard to tell whether your partner is a gentleman or a lady, and times have been when men have had men for their partners, much to the amusement of all.
Butler's orchestra will furnish the music for the event, and the admission will be twenty-five cents for spectators and fifty cents for maskers.
- Santa Rosa Republican, December 26, 1906
Jaded survivors of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake might have thought they'd seen everything, but five weeks after the disaster came astonishing news: The man who promised he would live forever hadn't.
Thomas Lake Harris, Santa Rosa's most famous adopted son prior to that guy named Burbank, had died at age 86 in New York. He'd actually died two months earlier, but his remaining followers hadn't mentioned it just in case he was, you know, testing them or something. They announced his death in May, just as the weather began to warm up and presumably assured them that this was not a drill.
Harris is mostly forgotten now outside of his Fountaingrove connection, and in truth, he wasn't well known in his own day except by the most avid fans of spiritualism. See the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica for a decent overview of his life, but there's much more to his story.
Some brief background: His utopian ideals built upon what he called "theo-socialism," which was really a blend of two belief systems that were well-known in the mid-19th century: Fourierism, with its goal of social equality in a classless, gender-blind society, and the mystical christianity of Swedenborgianism, which viewed heaven as a kind of enhanced reality, and that anyone who was spiritually advanced could communicate with the angels who lived there. Harris also borrowed from Swedenborg the belief that certain breathing techniques could create a supernatural hotline.
But Harris did far more than serve from a buffet of warmed-over philosophies; he invented a cosmology that sounds like a great-great grandfather to Scientology. All planets in the solar system were peopled with highly spiritual beings, and the moon, which had Lunarians living on the far side, originally circled the destroyed planet Oriana, which was where evil originated. Harris also wrote (very, very bad) poetry about the spiritual "interspace" of the fairies called "Lilistan," where he had a "counterpartal marriage" with the Lily Queen, who gave birth to their two celestial children. Seriously.
The year of crisis came in 1891, sixteen years after he began his utopian colony at Fountaingrove, when Harris suddenly fell into the media's hot spotlight. Famed British writer Margaret Oliphant published a memoir of her late cousin Laurence, who in 1867 had walked away from a promising political career as a reformer M.P. in order to live in an American hayloft in service of Harris, joined by his mother, Lady Oliphant, who "washed the pocket-handkerchiefs of the settlement," and later his newlywed wife. Harris was painted as an didactic cult leader who endlessly poked into every cranny of his followers' lives. The Oliphants also donated something over $90,000, no small change in Victorian America.
Trouble also arrived in 1891 in the form of Alzire Chevaillier, a young woman who apparently imagined herself as among the new breed of muckrakers with a specialty in spiritualism, but was really a gadfly seeking celebrity for herself. Ms. Chevaillier - "suffragist, sociologist, spiritual scientist, philanthropist, nationalist, magazine writer, and reformer" - and her mother were guests at Fountaingrove for six months before she left in a huff, "thoroughly disillusionized." She told reporters that she was going to present damning evidence of immorality and fraud to the President of the United States. (For a full account of the Alzire Chevaillier episode, read Gaye Lebaron's rollicking good essay, "Serpent in Eden.")
By coincidence or no, 1891 was also the year Harris declared that he had achieved immortality...sort of. He published no fewer than three pamphlets that year, two of them (Brotherhood of the New Life, The New Republic) proclaiming that his frail body now had been restored to youthful vigor, thanks to his "finding the touch of the last rhythmic chord that leads the harmonic vibrations into bodily renewal." In "Brotherhood of the New Life," he vowed "never to publish another word respecting my discoveries unless I should pass safely through this final ordeal." There he also denounced the Oliphant memoir and "nasal purveyors of the Sensational Press, who prowl about the kitchen middens."
Troubles peaked after the new year, as Chevaillier gave lectures in San Francisco and Santa Rosa where she melodramatically demanded that either she or Harris should be sent to state prison. Harris was a "vampire," a lecherous fiend," and a "horrible sensualist," she charged. He was the "greatest black magician today" who had boasted to her that he had psychically murdered Laurence Oliphant.
The San Francisco papers ate it up (the Santa Rosa press, not so much) because her charges squared with assumptions that Fountain Grove was a "free love" commune - although the main complaint in the Oliphant memoir was that men and women were kept separated even if they were married. Harris said he personally had been celibate since 1855. But at the same time, most of his writings circled around different aspects of sexuality. Besides the clumsy odes he penned to his mystical fairy wife, Queen Lily, a core part of Harris' belief system was that God was bisexual, not asexual, an "All Holy Two-in-One," and Christ was the "second Eve-Adam" that he named "Divine Yessa-Jesus."
But a week after Chevaillier denounced him at the Atheneum theatre on Fourth Street, enough was enough for the immortal man. Harris fled Sonoma County, but not before marrying his long-time disciple and secretary, Jane Lee Waring. Predictably, the San Francisco Call headline sneered that Harris was "No More a Celibate," slyly adding hypocrisy to their list of accusations against him.
Harris and earthly wife Jane moved to Manhattan, where he mostly retired. Nothing came of ideas to launch new communities in Florida, Canada, and one in Mexico that would be entirely Japanese. Gaye Lebaron uncovered architectural drawings that show he had fantasies about building a palatial complex on the Upper West Side that would also be called Fountaingrove and which would include a "hundred bowers of love's repose."
Even though he was no longer a local, Harris was still catnip to Bay Area newspaper editors, particularly at The San Francisco Call. That paper was dismayed that a Grand Jury wasn't held to investigate the (apparently accidental) suicide of his teenage granddaughter at Fountaingrove in 1896, four years after Harris had left. The Call also produced a special Sunday section on Harris in 1901 seen at right (CLICK to enlarge) that portrayed him as a wild-eyed Svengali, and in 1908 - two years after Harris died - the Call reported that his old house at Fountaingrove had been lost to a fire with the headline, "'Free Love' Home Burned to Ground."
There are two epilogues worth telling about the story of Thomas Lake Harris:
|At the end of 1906, 77 year-old widow Jane Lee Waring Harris - always affectionately called "Lady Dovie" by him - showed up at Fountaingrove for the first time in 14 years and announced her intention of living there for the rest of her life. Whether or not she stayed awhile is unknown, but she died in San Diego ten years later (cause of death: "Changes").|
|The notion that old Harris had unusual powers has found new life in the Internet age. Some write that his breathing techniques to reach a transcendental sexual state were a form of Tantric Yoga; others see his breathing to reach an intimate connection with the spirit world as part of ritual magic. Googling for "Thomas Lake Harris" and "sex magic" or "tantric" returns hundreds of hits.|
Thomas Lake Harris DeadA month ago Thomas Lake Harris died at his home in New York at the age of eight-six years. Our older readers will remember his coming to this county and the founding of Fountaingrove by him. He was a man of fine ability and culture and an author of excellent repute. Many years ago he received the orders of knighthood in Santa Rosa Commandery No. 1, Knights Templars, and continued a member thereof as long as he lived. Several years ago he removed to New York, which was the home of his later years. He had many warm personal friends in Santa Rosa.
- Santa Rosa Republican, May 23, 1906
BACK HOME AT FOUNTAINGROVE
Mrs. Thomas Lake Harris Returns to Santa Rosa After an Absence of Many Years
Mrs. Thomas Lake Harris, widow of the late Thomas Lake Harris of Fountaingrove, has arrived here from New York, after an absence of many years. Mrs. Harris made a very pleasant trip across the continent to Santa Rosa in four days, and is enjoying the best of health.
Mr. and Mrs. Harris left Fountaingrove for New York in 1892. Mr. Harris died on March 20 last. This is Mrs. Harris' first visit since her departure in 1892.
Mrs. Harris, who is probably best known here as Miss Jane Waring, is a sister of Colonel Waring, the noted sanitary engineer. He was at one time a commissioner of New York and did much to reform sanitary measures there and in other great centers of this country and abroad.
Mrs. Harris' friends here will be interested to know that it is her intention to make her permanent home in Fountaingrove. Her deceased husband was a member of Santa Rosa Commandery, Knights Templar.
- Press Democrat, December 6, 1906
It was a surreal little pocket of normalcy in the very heart of chaos. Work crews on 4th Street were still piling rail flat cars high with debris, even as shop keepers with horse-drawn wagons were jostling to bring in corrugated iron sheets and lumber to build ramshackle stores. And right next to it all, on the fringes of the grounds of the fallen courthouse, were men quietly sitting at desks in the open air, ready to collect your taxes, ready to stamp your deed, ready to marry you. Welcome to post-earthquake Santa Rosa, 1906.
The town's city hall briefly operated from the ad-hoc business center cobbled together at a vacant lot on Mendocino, but soon moved to the sidewalk in front of their old digs on Hinton, across from courthouse square. Note the large jug under the table, which presumably held water. (Detail of image courtesy California Historical Society. Click to enlarge)
These casual arrangements were not without their benefits, as a couple discovered they could drive right up to a judge in their car and be married on the spot.
The Supervisors have decided to erect temporary county buildings on the plaza lawn. Permission was granted by the City Council very willingly yesterday afternoon. Work will begin at once. Plans will be prepared for new permanent buildings without delay.- Democrat-Republican, April 25, 1906
AUTOED TO WEDDING
Pretty Ida Wassaman Rides to Altar in a "Chug Chug" Machine
An automobile whizzed up to Justice Atchinson's court in the tent on Hinton avenue Monday afternoon bearing a pretty bride-to-be to her marriage. She was Miss Ida Wassaman and her wedding to Wesley Buleis was performed by Justice Atchinson in the presence of relatives and friends.- Press Democrat, September 11, 1906
This wraps up the core 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake series (except for a discussion of the relief fund, which requires peering into the following year). There are still a slew of coming items that touch upon the disaster in some way - search for the tag "earthquake 1906" to review them all. I have also corrected and/or added new material to some (okay, most) earlier articles since they were first posted, so you might want to take another look at them.
There's still lots of original research that could be done, particularly in creating a better estimate of how many people died, a topic discussed previously in "Body Counts, Part II." In San Francisco, city archivist Gladys Hansen and others expanded their fatality list from 478 names to over 3,000, finding many who were critically injured in the city but died elsewhere. There's no question that similar research here would turn up far more than the 76 known killed; the majority of serious injuries in Santa Rosa occured in hotels and rooming houses, where almost everyone was an out-of-towner - a salesman, someone traveling through, a friend or family relative.
Casualty hunting aside, researching the 1906 San Francisco disaster is a far easier task than examining its little sister in Santa Rosa. There are at least four books currently in print that promise to reveal the "true story" of what happened in the jeweled city, and each successfully tells its particular aspect of the tale (the best of the lot, in my opinion, is Fradkin's "The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906"). Each of those books has the advantage of building upon a mountain of previous writings about the disaster; in Santa Rosa, however, the record is mostly blank.
Santa Rosa was not San Francisco, where three ultra-competitive dailies rushed out special editions with the latest details (and rumors), printed at regular newspaper plants in nearby Oakland. Santa Rosa's media was limited to a flyer-sized edition cranked out on a newsletter press at the town's business school. Nor did the local press have journalists experienced in wrestling with such a momentous story; the muckraking editor of the Republican apparently fled town after the quake, leaving the narrative of Santa Rosa's most dramatic days in the hands of Press Democrat editor Ernest L. Finley, who had no newspaper experience outside of publishing his own small town daily.
No descriptions of what actually happened in Santa Rosa that awful morning ever appeared in the meager editions of the Democrat-Republican paper, which is quite understandable; with space at such a premium, best to use it as a broadsheet, informing residents about the whereabouts of displaced persons and temporary locations of stores, reports on disaster related civic matters, and whatnot. And besides, newspapers in that era often didn't report on news that was already common knowledge; for example, it was never announced in the Democrat-Republican that all Santa Rosa saloons were closed after the quake, even though that was a significant event for all residents (well, all male residents). Yet even though space was so tight, column inches were available for daily updates about the situation in San Francisco, and by the end of the month, there was room for sensationalist tidbits about a midwestern scandal and LA murder.
But the silence over events of those traumatic days continued after normal publication of the Press Democrat and Santa Rosa Republican resumed. No recollections appeared on the first anniversary, and the paper didn't even print a major 1908 speech that described the aftermath, and which was written by the PD's own former city editor for the dedication of the new courthouse. Finley himself skated over the quake in his 1937 county history, and wrote directly about those days only once and with nostalgia, describing how he whipped together the temporary printing plant.
Finley was also an indefatigable civic booster and no fool, so it can be assumed that he minded his words knowing there was widespread national interest in Santa Rosa's calamity. Left intentionally unmentioned were probably a hundred details to downplay the awfulness of the situation. For example, farmer Martin Read brought eggs to sell a few days after the quake and noted in a letter that there was a smell from bodies still unrecovered. Had Finley even mentioned something like that, it surely would have been republished in newspaper headlines as, "Stench of Death Lingers Over Santa Rosa." Instead, fluff fillers such as this appeared in the Democrat-Republican: "Property in Santa Rosa will soon be at a premium, and worth more than ever before, because Santa Rosa is going to be a better and more prosperous town than it has ever been."
There's also a gaping hole in our knowledge because of papers missing on the microfilm for both the Press Democrat and Republican between May 3-18 (presumably a snafu at the town library, which archived the newspapers). We can somewhat reconstruct what happened in this period by looking at what was picked up by other editors. In this period the official death count was upped to 69, the city declared the official value of damage at $3 million, labor was compulsory for any able-bodied male expecting food from the relief donations, and the city declared it was nearly out of cash for clean-up efforts. All stuff important enough to make the Oakland and San Francisco news, but much is obviously lost that might have filled in the picture. A major area of research can yet be done in reading microfilm of nearby papers - Petaluma, Healdsburg, Sebastopol, and Napa - to see if there's other gleanings from those editions of the Press Democrat, and further hints at what Finley didn't say.