It had been years since a "psychic" huckster had worked the city of roses and rubes, so Santa Rosa was ripe for plucking by 1908.
Not that the town was completely bereft of soothsayers; the occasional spiritualist slipped into town and announced she was available for consultations via a cheap, two-line ad, where Madame promised she would peer into your future, talk to the spirits, read your stars, and what have you. Although the number of psychic ads dropped off in the year following the great earthquake, the fortune-telling biz appears to have roared back in 1908, perhaps in part because of widespread anxiety following the recent bank panic and near collapse of the U.S. economy. (It might seem that a natural disaster would spur a greater demand for those who claimed mystic abilities, but crisis psychology can defy assumptions; in San Francisco, for ex, reports of suicide fell dramatically after the 1906 earthquake and remained low until the following year.)
As these carny-like fortune tellers came and went, there was also an elite cadre of magicians that allowed the gullible to believe that their diamond-stickpinned selves had actual supernatural powers. Some, like "The Great McEwen" who passed through Santa Rosa with his mentalist act in 1904 (see my earlier "City of Roses and Rubes" series), only used offstage stunts to draw audiences to his performances, but other magicians dishonestly used tricks to convince suckers of their psychic bona fides. Houdini did this early in his career and later felt ashamed for having fooled people into believing he could actually communicate with the dead. Less scrupulous was a man named Grant Chesterfield, who followed a magician's playbook to convince Santa Rosans that he could diagnose their illnesses or peer into their futures by studying the palms of their hands.
Chesterfield arrived in Santa Rosa with a splash at the end of 1908. Large ads appeared in the newspapers daily, either with a photo of him or an illustration of someone's hand to accompany a little story about what Chesterfield discovered there. An article about him - undoubtedly written from copy provided by Chesterfield - claimed he was "endorsed by such authorities as the Press Club of Chicago, practically by the Universities of St. Petersburg." (That he was "practically" endorsed is a nice touch; read that quote again, imagining it in the voice of W. C. Fields as The Great McGonigle.)
From that article and others we learn that he also introduced himself to a new community via the same tricks as stage magician McEwen. He drove a vehicle blindfolded (in this case, piloting a ferry from Oakland to San Francisco) and opened safes by "reading minds." Both were tricks detailed in a 1901 book by "Professor Leonidas" that all of these would-be psychics copied - see link above for more details.
Grant Chesterfield was born in 1862, and first mention of his palm reading can be found in a Salem, Oregon paper from 1898. From newspaper accounts he seemed to work mainly in the Portland area, with occasional trips to California, from San Francisco to smaller cities such as Bakersfield. He was in the Midwest 1912-1913, where he curiously never mentioned his endorsement by the nearby Chicago Press Club. In the prairie states he instead touted himself as the palm reader of choice by politicians, European royalty, and declared he was "looked upon in Eastern cities as a prophet." His trail disappears after a mention in the 1916 Klamath Falls newspaper, and he appeared in the U.S. census exactly once, in 1900. Occupation: "Palmist."
SEES WITH HIS MIND
Most Miraculous Are the Powers of Grant Chesterfield
Grant Chesterfield, the noted thought reader and clairvoyant, who is going to pilot the "Piedmont" from San Francisco to Oakland mole blindfolded shortly, possesses power most marvelous, if the statements of the most prominent citizens of Santa Rosa are to be believed. They claim that he has examined their palms, immediately told them the story of their past, diagnosed their physical condition, described their present situation of affairs, and then proceeded to define for them their future. They further aver that many predictions made by the enigma have already come to pass. Seen at his parlors at the Hotel Majestic, 435 Fourth street. Professor Chesterfield said:
"Possibly some reports are exaggerated, but then you must remember that I have been endorsed by such authorities as the Press Club of Chicago, practically by the Universities of St. Petersburg and a long string of others.
Again among the hotel personages whose palms I have read are the most distinguished of either hemisphere, so I hardly thing this report that you have heard is at all exaggerated."
"But do you pretend to read one's future?" was asked.
"I read the palm, and the future as well as the past is written therein."
"Do you give legal advice?"
"The same as in certain cases I diagnose one's condition and advise according how to recover lost nerve energy and power and what to do to take care of their health in the future. Some have certain business changes they should make, others have marriages, divorces, lawsuits in store for them; still others have mining interests or geographical changes to undergo, and so it runs on."
"How many palms do you read daily?"
"Oh, that's hard to say. In Fresno I read 2000 in several weeks. Now come up another time and I'll give you a reading."
Then the wonder worker, who kept Boston, New York, Copenhagen and other cosmopolitan cities in a flurry, called "next" and vanished into his consultation room.- Santa Rosa Republican, December 29, 1908
From the doorway of his downtown saloon, William Hearn believed he was watching "the entire town go down" that morning of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake. Soon the barkeep saw the "flames as they consumed building after building." and surely wondered if his place would burn. By the end of the day, that entire block was gone. (It was part of the current Fourth st. location of the big Mexican restaurant adjacent to the Empire building.)
Although this was a simple and brief item, it proved quite tricky to verify, no thanks to the practices of old-timey newspaper editors to mostly identify people by formal and oblique names. Often adult males usually were mentioned by a pair of initials and surname: "J. W. Oates." Married women almost always were reduced to an appendage of their husband: "Mrs. J. W. Oates."
In this story, we learn that the plantiff was " Naomi E. Davis Moke." Only after much head-scratching did I learn that the names "Davis" and Moke" were linked in two different ways. On the morning of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake, undertaker H. H. Moke lived with his family above the funeral parlor at 418 Fourth st, where his wife and daughter were killed. The building was owned by Moke's former partner, one M. S. Davis. After the quake, the Aetna Insurance Company paid Milo Davis for the loss of his property.
In 1907, widower Moke married Naomi Davis - who soon became one of the first female undertakers in the state - but apparently was no relation to Moke's former landlord. She was the daughter of H. S. Davis, who operated a well-known pharmacy at 517 4th st (directly east of Tex Wasabi's). Naomi was executor of her father's estate, which left her to battle in the courts with the Connecticut Fire Insurance Company. I mistakenly assumed that M. S. and H. S. Davis were likely the same person, and a victim of a typographical error.
Then there's the matter of Attorney F. McG. Martin, who "gave a graphic description of her escape..." Wait - HER escape? That had to be a typo; surely there wasn't a woman lawyer in misogynistic turn-of-the century Santa Rosa, where women were denied restrooms, much less opportunities of prestigious careers. Again, my error: In town was Frances McG. Martin, one of the founders of the suffrage movement in Sonoma County. In her 19th century history, Gaye LeBaron has quite a nice profile of Frances and her two equally remarkable sisters, one a pharmacist and the other a physician (their maiden name was "McGaughey," and it was never explained why all three abbreviated it to "McG.").
Because there were so few surviving letters from eyewitnesses, summaries of the testimony that appeared in the local papers and which were cited in court decisions are invaluable. From testimony in another case, we learned that Fire Chief Frank Muther was pulling on his clothes as he ran towards downtown, and once there he made quick, decisive command decisions that probably saved the town. Besides Hearn, the article below mentions a dozen other witnesses who gave their own account of that terrible day. If court transcripts survive - and they must, given that years later, the California Supreme Court quoted sections at length - there's a substantial body of first-hand accounts waiting in a musty archive for someone to investigate.
READY FOR SUBMISSION
Insurance Case to go to Jury This Afternoon
The fire insurance suit brought by Naomi E. Davis Moke against the Connecticut Fire Insurance Company of Hartford will be completed this afternoon. The case will be submitted to the jury, and it is expected to have a verdict some time during the evening.
During the session Wednesday afternoon William Hearn, J. D. Ward, W. P. Barnes, W. H. Bailey, C. A. Brobeck and Paul Reynaud were on the witness stand. Their testimony dealt generally with the conditions here on the morning of the earthquake regarding the demolition of the buildings. Each of the witnesses testified to having been on the street directly following the seismic disturbance. None knew definitely how the fires which consumed property here happened to catch, and none could tell which particular stores they had noticed on fire early in the morning on that fateful day.
Hearn declared that he was at his saloon at the time of the earthquake, adjoining the Savings Bank of Santa Rosa. He ran to the front door and said he saw the entire town go down and be demolished. Later he saw the fires break out in portions of the devastated district and noted the progress of the flames as they consumed building after building. Ward declared his greatest concern that morning was for any prisoners that might be locked up in the steel cages at the city hall. The city hall was demolished by the shock.
Among the witnesses to testify in the suit Thursday morning were Fire Chief Frank Muther, Henry G. Hahman, James William Duncan, F. McG. Martin, George F. King, F. Bailey, Ed M. Faught and Ernest W. Cornett. The testimony dealt particularly with the condition of things as they were just following the earthquake. Attorney F. McG. Martin gave a graphic description of her escape from the Doyle & Overton building, in which she made her home at that time, and of the fire breaking out just after her escape. She declared that she had left the building apparently before any blaze or smoke could be discovered.- Santa Rosa Republican, November 19, 1908
It was an unusual sight, that foggy morning in mid-August, 1908. Dozens of women, most of them elderly and all of them clearly well-to-do, judging by their fine clothes and elaborate hats, were standing together in a vacant lot. More unusual was that this group of women jointly owned the property - or rather, it belonged to the corporation they had formed to buy it. And more remarkable still, one of the few men on hand that morning was a noted architect with building plans for a meeting house designed under the direction of these same women. None of this might have been noteworthy in San Francisco, Berkeley, or other places where emergent voices for women's rights and suffrage were loudly heard; but this was taking place in little Santa Rosa, California. It was the ground breaking for the Saturday Afternoon Club.
The day must have been deeply gratifying for Mattie Oates, who is seen over the shoulder of architect Brainerd Jones in the only known surviving photograph of her. It was almost four years to the day since construction had started on her fine new home up the street, and here she was again working closely with Jones in her role as chairman of the building committee. Husband James Wyatt Oates had drawn up the papers of incorporation that had made this all possible.
The event must have been memorable for Brainerd Jones as well. From where he stood for the photographer, he could see three of his best creations lined up in a row: The Lumsden House (now the Belvedere), the Paxton House, and Mattie's home, which would become known as Comstock House. For the Lumsdens he had built a very pretty Queen Anne - but for the Paxton and Oates families he had created what were probably the most adventurous designs of his career. These homes were in the Eastern Shingle Style/First Bay Region Tradition that strived to be simultaneously rustic and elegant. And now with the similarly brown-shingle clad Saturday Afternoon Club, he made a final statement in an architectural style that he apparently never used again. A few years later in 1913, Jones would design a building for the Petaluma Woman's Club that had similar dimensions, but was rendered in a far more conservative style.
(RIGHT: Brainerd Jones' drawing of the Saturday Afternoon Club appeared in both newspapers. A different sketch also appeared in the August 13 Santa Rosa Republican, but the microfilm is such poor quality that it's not included here. CLICK or TAP any image to enlarge)
Only the Saturday Afternoon Club could have built such a place. The town was awash in "ladies' clubs" in that era, most with the sole function of planning afternoon card parties and get-togethers held at member's homes; a Press Democrat columnist guessed there were about 100 women's clubs, lodges and societies then in Santa Rosa. But no cards were shuffled at meetings of the Saturday Afternoon Club, where women might discuss a member's report on military tensions in Asia or listen to an amateur soprano from the club's Etude section warble through a program of Schubert lieder. One of the few personal details we know about Mattie Oates concerns a witty presentation on "The Laws of California as related to Women and Children."
The Saturday Afternoon Club was a group firmly in the traditions of the club movement, which was founded after the Civil War and took off around the turn of the century. Members were typically older women from the leisure class who sought intellectual challenge and culture. Such lofty aspirations made them easy targets for satirists and jokesters; think of the scene in "The Music Man" where the mayor's insufferable wife and her dowdy friends clumsily pranced and posed in an ode to a Grecian urn.
The Club was founded in 1894 under the leadership of Jeanette Cochrane, a farmer's wife who found Santa Rosa to be a cultural sinkhole under the sway of dullards, at least as compared to her former home of Santa Barbara. There she belonged to a small "woman's club" that discussed literature and lobbied for civic improvements. The Club here certainly pursued literary matters with gusto, but until WWI it was not very active in civic affairs, perhaps because Santa Rosa had a busy "Woman's Improvement Club" that was tirelessly working for the town's betterment, such as coordinating with the S.P.C.A. to raise watering troughs to make them more humane for thirsty horses and cleaning up the Rural Cemetery. Rarely were members of that group singled out by the newspapers, but the names that did appear were almost always prominent members of the Saturday Afternoon Club, suggesting there was substantial overlap between the groups.
Central to the success of the Saturday Afternoon Club was its clubhouse, and that almost wasn't built, according to a 1994 Gaye LeBaron column. After the land was purchased from Mark McDonald Jr. for $800, all the banks in town refused to give them a construction loan, saying it was "crazy" to to take a risk on a social club, even one that included the wives of every prominent man in town. A wealthy aunt of club member Laura Cragin finally put up the entire $4,375, with another $100 tossed in for architect Brainerd Jones. Yet curiously, none of those interesting details were mentioned in either Santa Rosa paper at the time, which together printed over three dozen approving items about the Saturday Afternoon Club's mission to establish a clubhouse. Nor is Mrs. Cragin seen in the group photograph at the ground breaking. For having brokered a deal that saved the club's bacon, you'd think that she'd at least be rewarded by a snapshot of her throwing a shovelful of dirt.
BEAUTIFUL CLUB HOME AUSPICIOUSLY OPENED
Pretty Scene Thursday Evening at Handsome Structure
The opening of the pretty club home of the Saturday Afternoon Club last evening marks an epoch and a decided step in advance for the City of Roses. The new home will be the center of intellectual and social development, and the scene of many pretty parties and entertainments in the future, as well as the place where splendid musical talent will be heard...
...Mrs. James S. Sweet, the president of the club, made the address of welcome to the assembled guests, and told of the beginning and completion of the work, of the sweet resignation of Architect Brainerd Jones when the ladies proceeded to "prune" his plans, of the painstaking work of Contractor J. B. Durand and his corps of subcontractors....
...Mrs. Robert Potter Hill, former president of the State Federation of Women's Clubs, and Judge James W. Oates made addresses during the evening. Each of the speakers made a talented address, the ladies bringing greetings from the organizations which they represent, and speaking of the pleasures which they had at being present on so auspicious occasion and of the beneficial influence the erection of the Saturday Afternoon Club structure would have on other cities.
Judge Oates was happy in his remarks, and his advice to the ladies on getting rid of the pest known as "knockers" touched a responsive chord in the audience. Judge Oates has been the legal light who has piloted the ladies through the shoals on which they might have wrecked their enterprise, and to him especial credit is due, and which was mentioned by Mrs. Sweet in her opening address. Judge Oates is always heard with pleasure by the people of this city, with whom he is a great favorite, and his well modulated voice was heard to advantage last evening. The speaker suggested that all the members of the male persuasion of the audience should assist the ladies in every way to make their laudable endeavors all the more successful and brilliant. The achievement of the energetic ladies followed the crashing blow which devastated this city less than three years ago, he remarked, was all the more pronounced because of its accomplishments in the face of such an adversity and calamity. Never in the history of the world, declared Judge Oates, had such a blow fallen on a city as Santa Rosa had suffered...- Santa Rosa Republican, December 18, 1908
WORK ON CLUB HOUSE PROGRESSING WELL
Architect Brainerd Jonea was here from Petaluma yesterday looking after the Saturday Afternoon Club's new club house on Tenth street. He expressed himself as well pleased with the manner in which the work is progressing and of the work being done by the contractor. The brick work in the terrace was also commented upon favorably by the architect.
Contractor J. B. Durand has the club house under cover so that the rain will not interfere with the force of men engaged on the job. He sees no reason now why the contract will not be completed well within the specified time limit.- Press Democrat, October 18, 1908
CLUB HOUSE UNDER WAY
Ladies Pleased with New Structure Being Erected
The new structure being erected for the Saturday Afternoon Club on Tenth street is rapidly being pushed to completion. Contractor J. B. Durand has a force of men busy shingling the sides of the structure, and it will soon be enclosed. Some delay has been occasioned in the structure of the roof, as the heavy timbers for that portion of the structure have been ordered direct from Oregon. They will be here at once, and it is expected to have the roof on the structure before the rains set in.
The ladies of the club frequently visit the new structure and are well pleased with what is being done there. The club house, when completed, will fill a long felt want on the part of the ladies of Santa Rosa, and will give them a place where their musicals and other high class entertainments can be staged with proper effect.- Santa Rosa Republican, September 18, 1908
CLUB LADIES BREAK GROUND
Saturday Afternoon Members Start Building
An exceedingly pretty and impressive, tho' informal ceremony took place at 8 o'clock this morning at the site of the Saturday Afternoon Club House on Tenth street near Mendocino Avenue. The building contractors began work at that hour and the members of the club assembled to break ground. The ceremony was begun by the presidents of the organization, Mrs. Finlaw, the "mother president," turning the first shovelful of earth, and starting the work that will go on till a beautiful and artistic club home is completed. Mrs. Finlaw made a short and appropriate address to her sister members and co-laborers and relinquished the shovel to her successor in office. This was followed down the line presidents, who are Mrs. J. W. Oates, Mrs. A. C. McMeans, Mrs. Mark McDonald, Jr., Miss Lulu Leppo, Mrs. T. J. Geary, Mrs. W. E. McConnell, Mrs. James R. Edwards and Mrs. J. S. Sweet, the present presiding officer. Then the vice presidents took a hand, and this finished the official list and the members--the high privates--did their allotted part in preparing for the foundations.
There were present Judge James W. Oates and Professor J. S. Sweet, also Contractor J. B. Durand and Architect Brainerd Jones. John Ross, the photographer, posed the lady builders in an attractive bunch and took several pictures. The shovel will be preserved as a thing sacred in the club house.- Santa Rosa Republican, August 17, 1908
AWARD CONTRACT FOR CLUB HOUSE
Saturday Afternoon Club's Handsome Home on Tenth Street Will Soon Be Under Way
The contract for the erection of the handsome club house on Tenth street for the Saturday Afternoon Club, has been finally awarded to Contractor J. B. Durand of this city. Work will be commenced at once and will be finished as rapidly as possible.
A description of the building and the sketch of the same by Brainerd Jones, the architect, was published in the Press Democrat some weeks ago. The building will cost in the neighborhood of $5,000. An application for a building permit has been filed with the City Council, and will of course be granted.
The chairman of the building board is Mrs. James W. Oates. The members of the club will be glad to know that the work of construction is to be commenced and will be delighted when the building is ready for occupancy. Mrs. James S. Sweet is the president of the Saturday Afternoon Club.- Press Democrat, August 14, 1908
HANDSOME CLUB HOUSE TO BE ERECTED BY THE SATURDAY AFTERNOON CLUB
After some delay incident to certain alterations in the original plans, on Thursday morning the contract was signed with J. B. Durand to erect the elegant new home for the Saturday Afternoon Club on Tenth street, near Mendocino avenue.
This building is the first to be devoted exclusively to club purposes in this city and marks an epoch in the history of Santa Rosa. The ladies of the Building Committee have displayed much energy and business ability in their efforts toward providing the Club with suitable quarters, and they are to be congratulated on the consummation of their undertaking.
The plans, which were drawn by Brainerd Jones, are in the Chalet style of architecture. The exterior is to be wholly in shingles and with its spacious port-cochere, pergolas and porches, forms a very pleasing picture.
The large auditorium, lighted by electricity, will be floored with polished maple. Opposite the stage is a large fireplace and over this is a gallery thirty-six feet in length. From the stage open two dressing rooms provided with all conveniences. The kitchen is to be furnished with a gas range, instantaneous water heater, etc. The auditorium will be wainscoted to the height of seven feet to the plaster line. A unique feature of the finish is the use of stained shakes to ceil the roof under the main rafters.
The acoustic properties have been carefully considered by the architect and the building is admirably adapted to lectures and threatening, while the dancing floor will be unsurpassed in the city. All in all, the new building will be an ornament to Santa Rosa and a credit to the enterprising members of the Saturday Afternoon Club.
[..]- Santa Rosa Republican, August 13, 1908
When the ladies of the Saturday Afternoon Club elect which set of the several plans they are wrinkling their fair brows over, they will begin to build a club home that will be an ornament to Santa Rosa and a joy forever to club women who will dwell therein. The idea uppermost in the minds of the members of the organization is a pretty and commodious club house. It will not be costly nor elaborate in its adornments, but will be simple, artistic and genteel. Club homes are now considered necessary in social and fraternal organizations. The Elks in this city built themselves a splendid place where the cultured members of the order meet and enjoy the social features of their order. It is their rallying point and their home. The local Native Sons are now building a costly temple and it will be their fraternal and social home. Finely equipped club rooms will be a part of construction where the members will gather.
The Saturday Afternoon club house may be a rustic bungalow, wide eves, ornamental galleries, French windows, giving onto grace 11 balconies and terraces, approached by a broad driveway, sweeping in a half circle up through a porte cochere or roofed entrance at the front. The interior will be a large club room, capable of seating several hundred persons, elevated gallery at one end, with ornamental balcony where one may sit and enjoy refreshments and the literary menu from the floor below at the same time. Piano and other musical instruments will be provided for the Etude Section. Flowers and greenery will grow around and over this artistic structure and it will be a home indeed to the Saturday Afternoon Club of Santa Rosa. At the next meeting, the club will choose the plan and the building will begin.- "Pencil Gatherings Among the Social and Other People" Santa Rosa Republican, June 1, 1908
SATURDAY AFTERNOON CLUB FILES ARTICLES
The Saturday Afternoon Club filed its articles of incorporation with the county clerk Thursday afternoon. The ladies are enthusiastic over their project and there were many signers of the club's roll, each taking one share of stock in the proposition. The club is capitalized at $10,000 and the stock is valued at ten dollars per share...- Santa Rosa Republican, March 15, 1907
...A big step in the advancement of club life in our little city was taken on last Monday afternoon, at a special meeting of the Saturday Afternoon Club, held at the home of Mrs. Dr. C. H. Thompson. The object of the meeting was to discuss and decide upon the advisability of purchasing a lot and erecting a modern, up-to-date club house that would not only afford a great deal of pleasure to the members of the club, but would also yield them a good revenue by being rented to other clubs and individuals for social functions and various other purposes. The meeting was largely attended in spite of the inclement weather and the ladies were most enthusiastic and earnest in discussing the proposed plan, and after carefully considering the important question and looking at it from all sides, a vote was taken upon it that resulted in a unanimous decision in favor of building a club house as soon as possible and also an order to file articles at once and incorporate the club under the name of "The Saturday Afternoon Club." Judge J. W. Oates has kindly offered his legal advice and assistance in their future business transactions and the ladies appreciate this generous offer and realize how valuable and helpful Judge Oates can be to them in carrying out such a big undertaking.- "Our Social Affairs, by Madam Trice", Santa Rosa Republican, March 9, 1907
DECIDE ON CLUB HOUSE
Saturday Afternoon Club Will Have Handsome Home
At the meeting of the Saturday Afternoon Club held Monday evening, the members determined to incorporate, purchase the proposed site for their handsome club rooms and erect a large and commodious structure thereon, The meeting was one of the most enthusiastic ever held by the ladies and when it came to a vote on the proposition there was a unanimity of sentiment favoring the club house. Mrs. James R. Edwards, president of the club, presided at the meeting.
The lot which will be purchased by the ladies is one owned by Mark L. McDonald, Jr. It is located on Tenth street facing Joe Davis street, and location for their club house [sic]. The close to Mendocino avenue [sic], and the members believe it will be an ideal election of directors [sic] resulted in the selection of the following to serve in that capacity [sic]...
...The club has decided to incorporate under the name of "The Saturday Afternoon Club," and the articles will be prepared at once and filed. At subsequent meetings of the club the arrangements for the building will be undertaken and architects will be asked to submit plans for the structure. The members can be depended on to erect one of the most beautiful and cozy structures for their occupance that is contained in the City of Roses.- Santa Rosa Republican, March 5, 1907
LADIES TO BUILD FINE CLUBHOUSE
Special Meeting of the Saturday Afternoon Club to Be Held on Monday Afternoon
There is to be an important meeting of the Saturday Afternoon Club, both sections, on Monday afternoon at the residence of Mrs. Dr. C. H. Thompson, on Mendocino avenue, for the purpose of discussing incorporation, for the purchase of a lot at Tenth and Joe Davis streets, and the erection of a club house. It is hoped that all the members will be present and take part in the discussion. Most of the members are very enthusiastic over the probable purchase of the lot and owning their own club house. Mrs. James R. Edwards is the president of the Saturday Afternoon Club. While many lots have been considered it is certain that the club house will be located in or near the location mentioned, which is the locality in which the Saturday Afternoon Club had its origin and development.
[..]- Press Democrat, March 3, 1907
ORIGIN OF THE LADIES' CLUB
How Saturday Afternoon Club Came Into Existence
The Saturday Afternoon Club, Santa Rosa's foremost organization in music and literature, whose handsome club house was dedicated Thursday evening, was founded by five prominent ladies of this vicinity. Many years ago a meeting was held at the resident [sic] of Dr. William Finlaw, on Mendocino avenue, the ladies present being guests Mrs. Dr. Wylie, on McDonald avenue. The idea of forming the club was broached and discussed by these ladies, and from that inception the stately edifice has arisen to crown their splendit efforts.
The ladies were Mrs. Martin Cochrane of Kenwood, Mrs. William Finlaw, Mrs. A. C. McMeans, Mrs. Mark L. McDonald, Sr., and Mrs. J. G. Wylie.
The first officers of the club were Mrs. Finlaw, president; Miss Nellie Porter, vice president; Mrs. McMeans, secretary; Mrs. McDonald, Mrs. Wylie and Mrs. Cochrane, committee on constitution and by-laws. At the next meeting of the ladies, which was held at the residence of Mrs. Finlaw, the constitution and by-laws of the club were presented and adopted.
Miss Nellie Porter, who was chosen vice president of the club, was to have been president of the club, was to have been present at the original meeting, but was unavoidably detained. She was chosen an officer in her absence.- Santa Rosa Republican, December 18, 1908
Rule of thumb: While you're getting beat up, it's never a good idea to become trapped in a barber's chair.
The brawl that started at the Blue Wing saloon in downtown Santa Rosa spilled over into the barber shop next door. One fighter was caught in the chair, where his leg was broken in two places and an arm broken as well. So frenetic was the action that even someone who tried to break up the scuffle was thought to have a broken arm.
BONES BROKEN IN A FIGHT
George Cogswell Sustains Several Injuries
In a fight at the Blue Wing saloon at First and Main streets Sunday afternoon between George Cogswell and James Campion, the former sustained a number of broken bones. One of his legs was broken in two places, and he is said to have also had one bone of his right arm broken. He became entangled in a barber chair and it was while thus entangled that the bones of the leg were broken. The man's injuries were dressed by Dr. J. W. Jesse after which he was taken to his home near this city.
A peacemaker, who endeavored to separate the combatants, was also injured, and for a time it was believed he had sustained a broken arm.- Santa Rosa Republican, November 16, 1908
FIGHT IN BARBER SHOP
The fight Sunday evening in which George Cogswell sustained a broken leg took place in a barber shop adjoining the Blue Wing saloon. S. H. McKee, of the Blue Wing, declares this barber shop has no connection with the business whatever.- Santa Rosa Republican, November 19, 1908
You took a risk driving, riding a buggy, or even walking at night in Santa Rosa's 1908 neighborhoods; streets were frequently dark because the electricity was off, and unwary travelers might crash into wet-cement barriers or hit the piles of building materials that were obstructing streets and sidewalks. So bad was the situation that the Press Democrat - loathe to expose any flaw in the town whatsoever - openly called for contractors to put out 19th century kerosene lanterns to alert the public to the dangers.
The PD was prodded to mention the issue after a woman was thrown from her buggy and seriously injured when the horse became spooked by an unexpected encounter with a pile of stuff blocking the street. The newspaper also complained that there was some sort of wire fence across the freshly-poured sidewalk at College and Mendocino Avenues "which could not be seen even with the light burning, [and] was a snare when the light was out."
This item states that "the electric lights [are] going out nearly every night for a time," and the previous article revealed there was a steam whistle for summoning a lineman to "answer lamp kicks at all hours of the night" ("kick" was common slang for "complaint" at that time,
so I presume that meant customers were reporting electric outages and
providing light bulbs was a service of the electric company).
Santa Rosans were understandably angry that the power company couldn't keep the lights on, and a couple of weeks after these incidents, the Chamber of Commerce demanded answers from the superintendent of the Santa Rosa Lighting Company. Alas, he told them, he only did as he was so ordered by a PG&E engineer in another county: "I receive a message from Napa to cut out the street lights until further notice. Out they go."
WARNING LIGHTS SHOULD BE PUT OUT
A number of building and sidewalk contractors are growing careless and indifferent regarding the matter of putting out lights at night where obstructions are left in the streets and sidewalks. The matter is one of importance as was shown last Saturday night when a runaway was caused which resulted in a lady receiving a compound fracture of her arm and a fine buggy was demolished.
With the electric lights going out nearly every night for a time, contractors should use lanterns. A wire fencing was left across some new walks on Mendocino street at College avenue Thursday night which could not be seen even with the light burning, was a snare when the light was out. A number of other obstructions were left unguarded in different parts of the city.
- Press Democrat, October 2, 1908
It's always disheartening to attend a city council meeting and find your elected officials are acting like weepy drunks, but thus it was at a Santa Rosa council meeting in 1908.
The agenda item was the 8:30PM juvenile curfew, and the first sign of trouble was that each councilman was motivated to rise and deliver a sorrowful little speech about the need for a curfew because of a few wayward youths, some revisiting their own unhappy boyhood. Discussion turned to the question of how the time of curfew would be sounded each evening, and a councilman said they might be allowed to ring the bell at the new Santa Rosa Bank building. At that suggestion, the council meeting dissolved into pandemonium.
The councilman who proposed a curfew bell applauded his own brilliant idea; another broke out in tears; another council member waxed uncontrollably nostalgic about his recitations at school while yet another lunged towards the telephone to call the library for a poem that he could read aloud.
The hot button that turned them into drooling Pavlovian dogs was the concept of a "curfew bell." It seems that children of their day were expected to memorize a bit of Victorian doggerel titled, "Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight," a narrative poem about a man condemned to be executed at the sounding of the curfew bell and who is saved by his lady love who blocks the bell from ringing (read it here, if you must). Driven by the psychological need to redeem their own wanton youth (or as an alternative, see: weepy drunk), the emotional story about silencing the bell transformed into the councilmen wanting the curfew bell to ring, even though they would have to personally take weekly shifts yanking the bell rope.
Presumably after hankies blotted eyes and further maudlin verses were misquoted from memory, council business continued. Another item concerned a request from cigar store owners to be allowed the running of card games. These stores were already permitted to have slot machines, but adding card tables was a matter of controversy also being debated in Healdsburg at this time. To the apparent surprise of the council and the reporter, Fire Chief Frank Muther rose and spoke up in opposition. Muther was there on fire department business, but he also operated the most well-known cigar store in town. Muther concluded his remarks by saying, "...I have seen boys ruined through the gambling games in the back of cigar stores. I have known mothers to come and ask that their boys be protected, and I don't want to see this council grant this permit."
At the mention of ruined boys and pleading mothers, you can bet that the sobbing lamentations began anew, and the rest of the meeting was surely lost wandering deep in the weeds.
CURFEW SHALL RING TONIGHT
Councilmen Will Take Turn at the Bank Bell
It was quite an animated discussion the city fathers had over the curfew ordinance Tuesday night. There is a general desire on the part of the public to have the whistle blown at 8:30 in the evening as a warning to straying juveniles that the big bogey man in blue coat and brass buttons is after them. Councilman Bronson made quite a feeling little speech on the perils of permitting little boys on the streets at night, and said something about safeguarding the young, etc. Councilman Forgett earnestly echoed this tender sentiment and referred to Councilman Steiner as a sad object lesson of a young boy being permitted to run at large. Councilman Johnson looked more sorrowful than ever as he thought of his youthful street scrapes at night.
Councilman Barham arose to his feet and said that it was impossible to get either brewery or gas company steam whistles, as those instruments of exquisite melody are used for fire alarms and to call a lineman to answer lamp kicks at all hours of the night. But he was quite sure they could have the use of the big new bell on the Santa Rosa Bank building if they could have it rung at the hour. If no other way was found, he would suggest that the members of the council take a week turn about ringing the curfew, beginning with Councilman Bronson. Then he sat down.
The picture of Bronson swinging the bell clapper, and repeating:
"Curfew, it shall ring tonight--
Curfew's got ter ring tonight."
was so inspiring that the tears came in Forgett's eyes and Barham enthusiastically applauded his own speech.
Johnston, in mind, wandered far away over the sunset English hills where the poem girl first tackled the curfew proposition and Steiner remembered his young school days when he used to speak the "piece" every term and make his teacher and schoolmates tired to death.
Even Frank Muther forgot all about fires and Engineer Tom McNamara quit worrying over the collection of his surveying bills from the property owners. Rushmore slipped over to the telephone and called to the free library if they had among the books a copy of the immortal verses. He wanted to read them to the council. Clerk Clawson began to read the list for a vote on the proposition and before he recovered himself he had voted all the councilmen and all the city employees "aye." Bronson will probably begin his week as soon as the building contractor gets a ladder up to the bell.- Santa Rosa Republican, July 8, 1908
OBJECTS TO CARD GAMES
Cigar Men's Petition Addressed by Frank Muther
At the meeting of the council Tuesday evening a petition was presented by the cigar dealers of this city asking that they be permitted to conduct card games in their establishments. When the matter was presented, Chief Muther, who is one of the cigar men of the city, addressed the council in doubtful terms and told the officials and spectators that he was opposed to the movement. He commenced by saying: "This is a matter in which I am interested, and I am not speaking as chief of the fire department, but as a cigar dealer. In the interest of the protection of the boys of the town, I want to request that this petition not be granted. It is not asked for a legitimate purpose, but is for gambling. I am not a party to this. I believe in a legitimate business, and the cigar business is legitimate. I have seen boys ruined through the gambling games in the back of cigar stores. I have known mothers to come and ask that their boys be protected, and I don't want to see this council grant this permit." Mr. Muther said there were some good men who had signed the petition, but there were those who had signed it for the purpose of getting an opportunity to have gambling games and he was opposed to the whole scheme.- Santa Rosa Republican, July 8, 1908
Your house burning down? Don't even consider calling the Santa Rosa Fire Department, said Chief Frank Muther in 1908; instead, dash over to the nearest fire box and pull the alarm.
Since most houses and businesses had telephones, his advice seemed backwards, even cruel; it may be rough for some homeowners to sprint up to 3-4 blocks to the closest box (and everyone knew exactly where they were, right?), or someone caring for small children or the infirm might be a wee reluctant to leave helpless family members in a building that could become engulfed in flames. Bur strange as it may seem today, Fire Chief Muther was right; if a fire was indeed serious, the only hope of controlling it was via someone first pulling the lever of that little red box.
Like most towns of its size, 1908 Santa Rosa did not have a full-time fire department. The on-call firefighters - including Frank Muther - had to rush directly to the blaze from wherever they were at the time, hopefully arriving at the scene at about the same time as the pump truck. But in an age before cell phones, pagers, or even radios existed, there was only one sure way to direct the firemen to the vicinity of the fire: Ringing a loud bell or otherwise making a noise using a code that corresponded with a particular fire alarm box.
The technology for these "fire alarm telegraphs" went back to before the Civil War, and Santa Rosa
probably had a Gamewell system, as almost all communities used by the turn of the century. (UPDATE: This was verified by a Jan. 20, 1909 PD item.) Here's how it worked:
Santa Rosa had only 23 alarm boxes, and the town was small enough that they were probably all connected together in a single electrical series, like a string of christmas tree lights. The low-voltage circuit was (battery?) powered from the fire alarm office.
The alarm boxes used a clock-like mechanism (which had to be routinely rewound by the fire department) and when someone pulled the lever, the spring motor came to life, turning a wheel that had a unique pattern of teeth that corresponded with the number of the box. As the wheel slowly turned, each tooth briefly interrupted the circuit (see this YouTube video for the mechanism in action).
This sent a sort of slow-motion telegraph message to the fire alarm office, which activated another device that punched holes in a paper tape matching the pattern of clicks sent from the box. That paper strip could in turn be fed automatically into a tape reader that rang a bell, flashed a light, sounded a klaxon, or anything else. Another YouTube video clearly demonstrates the entire system. On that video an alarm box with a wheel configured to transmit "27" sends out two clicks, pauses, then sends out another seven. After a longer pause, the pattern repeats. Next in line, the paper tape enters the reader where the holes gong a bell twice, pause a bit, then ring seven times more. Listening and counting, the firefighters knew they should head for the location of alarm #27.
And it wasn't just the firemen who knew where to find a fire; the Press Democrat frequently published the alarm codes, using them as column fillers when there wasn't enough advertising, as shown here. (Note that the linotype operator wasn't bothering to reset the often-used text, and the reused letters were gumming up with ink; is that "Hazel" street or "Haxol"?) The public memorized these codes as well. Chasing fire engines was popular sport.
Here's the final obl. believe-it-or-not twist: between the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake and completion of the new firehouse in 1909, where was the fire alarm office and its clever machinery located? Apparently everything was controlled from the Grace Brothers Brewery. A July 8 item in the Santa Rosa Republican (see following post) shows that their steam whistle was being used for fire alarms. While it's possible that an automated relay system could have forwarded the alarm code from the temporary firehouse, the story below shows that no alert sounded at all for the fire that was telephoned, which meant that there was no way a fireman could intervene and directly toot the beer baron's whistle.
MUST TURN IN ALARMS
Chief Muther Makes Order For Fire Department
The fire department was summoned by telephone early Wednesday morning to the residence of Mr. and Mrs. P. F. Johnson on College avenue, where a chimney fire was causing some uneasiness. The fire burned briskly and the galvanized iron cap on the chimney was red hot. There was no fire between the ceiling and the roof, and the services of the firemen were hardly required.
The property belongs to the Misses Hahman, and no particular damage resulted from the chimney fire.
The department ran straight down B street to Ross and then turned east to the scene of the fire. Many who saw the department go along B street attempted to follow, and soon became lost and went down into the lower portion of town. Fire Chief Muther got a belated start owing to the fact that no alarm was given and was unable, like others, to follow the department. He arrived at the scene of the fire somewhat tardy.
Chief Muther will insist in future on all persons summoning the fire department by means of the alarm system, that the public and the firemen may know where the blaze is supposed to be. This is a step in the proper direction, for with the still alarm the trained firemen are not notified of the blaze, and if there is a fire they should be present to do the work directed by the chief in extinguishing the blaze. Persons desiring the department should bear in mind that they should got to the nearest box and turn in the alarm in the regular manner. In the case of the fire Wednesday morning an alarm box was within one block of the scene of the fire, and if the house had been blazing there would have been no trained members of the department present to fight the blaze.