As Santa Rosa closes streets and girds to manage a flood of visitors for a bike race, it should be remembered that the town handled three or four Big Events like this every year a century ago.
There was usually the Rose Carnival in the spring followed by the Fourth of July, both with parades and grand floats. Then there were the races - horses before 1908, then mostly autos afterwards. On election nights there were bonfires (immense pyres really) in the streets with impromptu parades for the victors, complete with marching bands. And sometime during every year there was a circus or other touring entertainment that drew most of the town's population along with those from the surrounding villages and farms. In the age before television, radio and real movies, enjoying an event with your neighbors was a memorable thing.
Call me Mr. Cynic, but whenever I read that 'everybody and her brother' attended a Big Event, I've wondered: Why weren't burglars busy ransacking their neighborhoods of darkened homes? Where were the pickpockets drifting through packed crowds with their agile fingers? Reports of crimes like these were mainstays of the San Francisco and Oakland newspapers. Petty thievery was not uncommon locally, but more often it was opportunistic misbehavior of juvenile "incorrigibles" - stolen chickens, bicycles and the like.
But the 1909 California Grand Prize Race drew a huge audience from the Bay Area, and apparently their criminal underclass leeched along with them. The event was a more tempting target because it wasn't just a celebrated cross-country auto race; Fourth street was closed off for a carnival sideshow to promote AYPE (the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition about to start in Seattle), and Santa Rosa held the Rose Carnival the previous day, which included an illuminated parade that evening. All of downtown was filled with crowds packed tight as pickles, the only lighting coming from festive Japanese lanterns and the feeble wattage that fell out of store windows. Pickpocket paradise.
And sure enough, a gang of five pickpockets was nabbed - yet incredibly, not prosecuted and just sent out of town on the train. Homes on Mendocino Avenue and North Street were robbed, the burglars taking jewelry and a large sum of cash. And, as the Press Democrat remarked, "there may be others." As the items stolen were so valuable, it's hard to imagine that the thieves were kids, or that these were the only homes hit.
Still, it was a swell day for Santa Rosa, and for a while everyone stepped out of small town life to enjoy the thrill of living in a big city. Those robbed that weekend enjoyed the city life thrill to the fullest.
PICKPOCKETS ARE UNDER ARRESTDetectives Taylor, McPhee and Green Assist Local Police on Rose Carnival Day
The police made six arrests Saturday and Saturday night of pickpockets and men under suspicion. In the case of two, the goods was [sic] found on them. There was reported to the police during a half dozen cases of work by the light-fingered gentry, and the officers kept a close watch as the throngs moved up and down the streets during the evening.
To aid the local police officers keep their eyes on strangers of the light-fingered variety wandering into town on Rose Carnival day Detective McPhee and Detective Taylor of San Francisco, and Detective Green of Oakland, were in this city on Saturday.
Detective Taylor had not been long in town before he recognized a gang of five pickpockets from the metropolis. They were just commencing to work in a dense crowd of people. Taylor watched them and one of their number caught sight of the officer and ran off. This gang were [sic] sent out of town on the afternoon train.
- Press Democrat, May 8, 1909
BURGLARS AT WORK HERE LAST NIGHTResidences of Frank D. McGregor and F. H. Hankel Entered and Articles of Value Taken
Burglars operated in Santa Rosa Saturday night while people were downtown participating in the festivities of the closing hours of the rose carnival.
Up to midnight at least two citizens had reported at police headquarters that their residences had been burglarized and money and articles of value stolen. There may be others.
When Mrs. Frank D. McGregor and Miss Mabel McGregor returned to their home on North street they discovered that burglars had preceded them. Two gold watches and jewelry belonging to the ladies, some of the articles keepsakes, were found to be missing. They telephoned Mr. McGregor at the Fifth street stables, and he communicated with the police.
Another thief entered the residence of F. H. Hankel on Mendocino street, and stole ninety dollars in cash from that home.
- Press Democrat, May 8, 1909