In the beginning there was Ernest L. Finley. He bought the old Sonoma Democrat in 1897, merged it with his own newspaper, the Evening Press, becoming the owner, editor and publisher of the new Press Democrat.

That's the version of the paper's beginnings as told on the PD's "about" page, on Wikipedia, by the Northern California Media Museum and in various columns and feature items published in the paper over the last 75-odd years.

Trouble is, that's not actually true. The new paper was a partnership, and Finley wasn't even the key player - he was one of two business managers. The founding editor and the person greatly responsible for the Press Democrat's success was Grant O. Richards, although it's rare to find mentions of him after the 1930s. And even before he was erased from the picture, items about the paper's earliest days just mentioned Richards "left the firm" or "sold his interest" to Finley. Neither of those claims were true either, as he killed himself while still editor (although I guess that would qualify as leaving the firm).

The PD - and the city of Santa Rosa itself - has polished Finley's reputation to a gleam ever since his death in 1942, inflating his role in positive events such as founding the paper. But it's particularly unfair to build up Finley at the expense of Richards because it steals away the place he deserved in the history books. Not to mention that townsfolk of his day would have been gobsmacked to learn such a man would become so completely forgotten; hell, everybody in 1890s Santa Rosa probably wished they were Grant O. Richards.

Should you be very lucky, you might meet someone who has that one in a million billion quality which makes everyone (s)he meets fall at their feet. Call it ultra charisma, magnetic charm or even stardust, you are absolutely absolutely devoted to that person from the first meeting. Grant Oswald Richards had that magical ability; people not only really, really liked him, but they couldn't help themselves from jabbering about how much they loved the guy - scroll down through some of the excerpts in the sources below. Such people can become very powerful (and dangerous) when drawn to politics or religion; we should probably be thankful Richards wanted only to be a very good newspaper editor in small towns.



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

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