Next time you're walking in downtown Santa Rosa, take an eyeful of the "Empire Building," and notice that something's wrong. The building itself is quite 20th century - but the clock tower harks back to America in the years after the Civil War. What were they thinking? Slapping an old-fashioned clock tower on an elegant new building does not fine architecture make.

Now the most well-recognized structure downtown, it was originally the Santa Rosa Bank Building, built at the same location of the bank destroyed by the Great Earthquake of 1906. John Galen Howard, one of the top architects on the West Coast, designed the new building at the same time as he was creating the campus for University of California/Berkeley and most of its key buildings and landmarks (Sather Gate, the Greek Theatre, the Campanile, California Hall, Doe Library, for ex).

Howard's drawings of his original design appeared in both local papers in 1908 (the copy at right was taken from the May 16 Santa Rosa Republican - click to enlarge). It shows a building very much in his Beaux Arts style; it would have looked quite at home at the university, and in fact, his exterior for the Santa Rosa Bank resembles an office building version of the Hearst Mining Building, which he had completed the previous year. On the ground floor is rusticated masonry with ornamented keystones above each arch. The roof line has a wide overhanging eave that sits on the top like a crown. The primary difference with what they built was that the overhang was scaled back considerably and simplified. And, of course, a clock tower was added.

To anyone schooled in architecture at that time, the clock tower must have been jarring. John Galen Howard's building was classically-inspired modern architecture, with strong clean lines; the clock tower was in the too-busy Second Empire style from about forty years earlier. Almost identical clock towers can still be found on courthouses and government buildings built 1870s-1880s, particularly in the South and Midwest; the one here in Santa Rosa might well have been ordered from a factory that prebuilt the things. And, of course, Santa Rosa even added the garish touch of a gilded dome with a weather vane on the peak. All in all, it was a bit like the Beverly Hillbillies plopping a double-wide on the roof of their nice mansion to house Jethro's less sophisticated kin.

But why the clock tower at all? In "Santa Rosa's Architectural Heritage," Geraldine and Dan Peterson write that " sentiment toward the clock tower of the earlier building on the site was strong enough that the roof line was redesigned..." If there was any discussion of this in the papers, I've overlooked it - but it's certain that the earlier building did not have a clock tower. The image below is an enlargement of a section from a postcard showing pre-earthquake Santa Rosa, and the old place clearly had neither a tower nor clock.

More likely adding the clock tower was another manifestation of the town's love/hate attitude towards progress, as has been often discussed here. Some Santa Rosans were undoubtedly ecstatic that a world-class modern architect was designing the tallest building in town; but I imagine a few of the powerful good ol' boys looked at the plans and remarked, "put a clock tower up there, like we have back in Missouri - you will see it for miles when the sun hits its glory."

Today no one notices that the building and clock tower clash in style and scale; all focus is on the quaint old tower, and John Galen Howard's building has become simply its base. There are dozens of photographs found on the Internet but none are of the building itself with the tower cropped out; however there are many closeups of the tower alone. And whoever thought of painting the dome gold was inspired - nothing shouts "what a classy place!" like bling.

Obl. Comstock House connection: One of the first tenants to move into the pretty new building was lawyer James Wyatt Oates. A 1914 view of his offices at rooms 300-301 can be seen here in a photograph of junior partner Hilliard Comstock at his desk.

(Right: Detail of postcard showing the Empire Building c. 1917, when it was the Bank of Italy. Both postcard views courtesy the Larry Lapeere Collection)

Colonel Oates' New Offices
Colonel J. W. Oates has moved his law offices into an elegant suite of three offices in the third story of the handsome Santa Rosa Bank Building. The furnishings will be very artistic and everything will be very neat.

- Press Democrat, June 3, 1908

Handsome Structure Completed and Occupied

The Santa Rosa Bank has moved into its magnificent new building on Exchange Avenue, a structure that rises four stories high and ranks among the best constructed buildings in the state, a credit to the well-known and old established financial institution, a monument to enterprise and a prominent landmark in the new and greater Santa Rosa.

The progress of construction of the new bank building has been watched with interest during the months that work has been under way. It is a "Class A" steel structure, and at once appears to everybody on account of its solidity and massiveness. And now that the finishings have been installed, the effect is most pleasing.

The bank's quarters in the new building are ideal for the transaction of business--care having been taken that this should be so. It is admirably lighted and the tiled floor, the fixtures and all other points are in pleasing accord. The work of moving into the new building was begun last night so that everything could be in readiness for the commencement of business on Monday morning.

The handsome furnishings, including the desks, chairs and the furniture are all solid mahogany. The fixtures and finish, also of mahogany, were made by P. H. Kroncke of this city. It is a compliment to Mr. Kroncke and Santa Rosa that such work could be turned out here. Lomont & Co. did the painting and decoration work.

In the right hand corner of the main building is the president's office, attractively arranged and furnished for the purpose to which it will be put. Next in line is the receiving teller's window, then the paying teller's window. The cashier's office and then the bookkeeper's department are all provided. All these departments are thoroughly equipped with everything necessary.. There is a handsome frontage of heavy plate glass. The directors have a nice room. Taken severally and as a whole the furnishings could not have been selected with more taste in order that they should be in keeping with the general appearance of a very fine modern bank building.

The safe deposit department is complete in its arrangement, and the double burglar and fire-proof vaults, and the new book vault cannot be excelled. A personal inspection imposes one with the strength of the vaults.

From the entrance doors on Exchange avenue one steps into the main room, and while the requirements of the bank officials have been looked after in every particular, the comfort and convenience of the bank patrons has not been lost sight of. There are desks and seats and other accessories for their use. An elevator runs from the ground floor to the roof. The three upper stories are fitted up as offices for professional men, and others, and many of them have already been taken, and are occupied. The building throughout is well ventilated and has all modern conveniences in the way of heating apparatus, lighting, etc.

Nearing completion on top of the immense structure is a great clock, whose dial can be seen for miles all around the city. This will be lighted at night and will be the finishing touch to a building of which many larger cities would be just justly feel proud.

The directors of the Santa Rosa Bank are...


Frank E. Cherry was the superintendent of construction, and he naturally feels proud of the results obtained. The building has been completed under the estimated cost by the architects, Howard & Galloway. In fact, at considerable less cost than the original estimate.

It has been suggested to the officials that in view of the fact that the bank building is one the publicly generally would like to inspect that they set apart some evening for this purpose.

- Press Democrat, July 26, 1908

If the newspapers could be believed, 1908 Santa Rosans faced great risk of being run over by a thirty horsepower car being driven at the breakneck speed of 25 MPH.

Although there were several arrests for speeding the previous year, the problem became endemic as more people bought automobiles. "There are several auto drivers in the city who are running their machines very near the danger line," commented the Santa Rosa Republican. "Sooner or later, if the brakes are not put on, there will be trouble... city authorities are determined that the crowded streets shall not be made speed tracks by speed-mad auto drivers."

The speed limit that year was 10 MPH, up from 6 MPH in 1904, then raised to 8 MPH the year after. A quick search of 1908 Bay Area newspapers shows that city speed limits varied between about 10-20 MPH. Oakland had a limit of ten miles per hour for the business district, and 18 MPH in residential areas. In the cross-country races between Oakland and San Francisco via San Jose, drivers were expected to stay below 20 MPH.

Car owners objected to the 10 MPH limit, claiming that their "big engines" would stall if not driven faster. Also at a City Council meeting, Dr. McLeod argued that physicians should be exempt from the speed limit because they might be rushing to an emergency. (This wasn't the first time a doctor wanted special treatment. Dr. Crocker of Healdsburg, who in 1905 struck a wagon carrying a family of five and seriously injured at least one passenger, tried to avoid a fine by claiming auto regulations were unfair.)

Part of the problem was that it was still the age of horses and bicycles, and few could accurately judge how fast a car was moving - and that included some drivers; speedometers, sometimes called "speed-markers," were not yet standard equipment on all vehicles. So the Republican newspaper offered a helpful article comparing speeds of bikes and wagons and cars, pointing out that a bicyclist on a smooth road could easily reach 15 MPH. That article concluded with a sympathetic nod to the motorists, noting that "few of the large automobiles can get down to 5 or 8 miles without 'killing' the engines, the machinery being constructed for higher speed." Still, "there is no doubt that many autoists here get 'speed mad' and drive their cars at a dangerous clip. Some regulation is doubtless needed." The speed limit was set to 10 MPH with a maximum fine of $50.

Given the uncertainties, it was promised that enforcement would be lenient. "While a speed of 12 or 15 miles may slip by the observant policeman, 30 and 35 'won't go,'" a policeman said. Not that everyone slowed down; a month later, it was noted that "Officer Lindley has recently come in for a lot of abuse for arresting automobilists who violate the speed ordinance." (It's also possible, however, that the police department had discovered that traffic violations can be a lucrative cash cow for local government.)

The same article reported George W. Davis had to do some "lively moving to get out of harm's way" of one driver. "The young man at the throttle condescended to blow the horn, but there was never any shutting off of power to prevent an accident. The speed burners seem to think that if they give a man warning they are coming they have done their whole duty. It is then up to the individual to get on the way or be maimed, according to the way of thinking."

Arthur Parent of Petaluma Makes a Speedway Out of Fourth Street Monday

Arthur W. Parent, a young man of Petaluma, who is said to be a reckless auto driver, was arrested by Police Officer Boyes Monday afternoon for making a speedway out of Fourth Street at a time when there were many women and children and vehicles on the street.

When Parent dashed up the street people stood aghast, expecting to see an accident. Police Officer Boyes caught the number of the car and send his bike along at a lively pace. Parent stopped at the local establishment and then Officer Boyes took him over to the police station, where he put up $15 for bail. It's not likely that he will appear for trial for there are too many witnesses as to his speed to make it worth the while. He gave his name to the office when arrested.

According to statements made here Monday afternoon it seems that this young man runs his machine regardless, and has come nearly getting into trouble in Petaluma. The arrest on Monday afternoon should be a warning to several young chauffeurs here who have been doing a little scorching themselves.

- Press Democrat, April 28, 1908

Reporter Tries Out an Auto a Car and a Bike

With the idea of getting some correct information on "speeds" of different classes of vehicles in the city, a Republican reporter this morning paced an automobile, then an electric car and finally himself. The auto belongs to Mr. H. H. Bowers of Sebastopol Avenue, a fine machine of about thirty horse power capacity and about a 40 mile speed limit. With Chief of Police Rushmore and Officer John M. Boyes aboard to see that the newspaperman did not get mobbed or smashed up, the "pacers" started. At the rate of ten miles an hour by the speed indicator the auto was 33 seconds going along Fourth Street from B to A, or a distance of about 490 feet. This is one of the longest blocks in the city. Ten miles an hour spells 880 feet a minute--14 2/3 feet a second, so with this second base, the mathematical timer can follow it out to an infinitesimal figure.

On the upper part of Fourth Street the party paced an electric car and the little speed -marker on the auto caught the big machine going 17 miles an hour. The speed was lower, however on the business portion of the street. To get a more practical idea of what 10 miles an hour looked like, the reporter on a bicycle paced the auto, or rather, let the big 40 horse power machine pace him. He learned that quite a slow speed on the bike will be about 5 miles and the ordinary work on the pedals will reach the 10 mile rate. On the smooth pavement of the bicycle rider, at 15 miles, could easily keep in touch with the gas burner, but at 20 miles it left him behind pumping his "durndest."

Ten miles an hour is not a rapid speed and a passenger can safely jump from the auto at that rate, while 5 miles is slow. A man can walk 4 miles an hour and a buggy or light vehicle will ordinarily travel 12 to 15 miles in that time. Few of the large automobiles can get down to 5 or 8 miles without "killing" the engines, the machinery being constructed for higher speed. On the whole it seems that the auto speed limit proposed to the City Council Tuesday evening is somewhat low. However, there is no doubt that many autoists here get "speed mad" and drive their cars at a dangerous clip. Some regulation is doubtless needed.

- Santa Rosa Republican, April 29, 1908

Dr. McLeod Asks that Physicians When Responding to Emergency Calls Be Given Immunity Bath

At the meeting of the City Council last night Chairman Johnston of the Ordinance Committee, introduced an ordinance making it a misdemeanor for drivers of any automobile, motor car, etc. to drive faster than 10 miles an hour within the city limits of Santa Rosa. Violation of the ordinance is made punishable by fine not to exceed $50. In lieu of payment of which find to be jailed at the rate of one day for each two dollars. In the regular course of the ordinance it was referred back to the Ordinance Committee to report again at the next meeting.

Dr. J. H. McLeod addressed the Council and stated that a physician in cases of emergency would exceed the ten-mile limit, and he thought in cases of life or death the arrest and fining of the physician violating the law should not follow. The doctor spoke from experience, and said the flyer he had to put up was a clear loss as the case he attended was a charity case. City Attorney Ware opined that one law must govern all.

- Press Democrat, April 29, 1908

Speed-Mad Chauffeurs Racing Through the Streets

There are several auto drivers in the city who are running their machines very near the danger line and some day the public will be interrogating in a fierce "why?" It is becoming the usual thing to see a great 30 horsepower car plunging down a city street at a speed prohibited by state, county and municipal laws, and sooner or later, if the brakes are not put on, there will be trouble.

Late Sunday afternoon when the streets were thronged with pedestrians out to enjoy the cool evening, after the blistering day, a big touring car appeared on Mendocino Avenue going north. Five or six young men where the occupants and they were enjoying themselves to the limit. As they passed the residence of Chief of Police Fred Rushmore the machine was not at its greatest speed, but the officer called out a warning. Near Cherry the car had attained a speed of 35 or 40 miles an hour. As the great vehicle rushed roaringly passed it made as much noise and tore up as much dust as a railroad train. At College avenue a carriage containing several ladies hurriedly pulled to one side and the auto slowed down slightly to prevent a smashup. These young man--all well-known-- had been on an all day ride in the country, but had concluded to return to town and take in the streets. The shaded thoroughfares are more comfortable, possibly.

The speed limit was set by the city council June 17, the ordinance went into effect on the 18th. Any auto driver moving more than 10 miles an hour within the city limits may be arrested and fined for the offense $50. Signs will be placed at different points in the city lines for the information of strangers, but the local chauffeurs need no such warning.

"The city authorities are determined that the crowded streets shall not be made speed tracks by speed-mad auto drivers. In the country they may have at out with the supervisors, but in town they must consider slower vehicles and pedestrians." This is the statement of a city official and it means everybody. Ten miles is not a rapid rate and the automobile people complained that it "kills" the engine of the big 40 horsepower machines to slow down to that speed, but this theory will have to be concreted into a fact and moreover law is law. While a speed of 12 work or 15 miles may slip by the observant policeman, 30 and 35 "won't go," the cop says.

- Santa Rosa Republican, June 29, 1908

Police Will Arrest All the Speed Burners

The local officers intend to strictly enforce the city ordinances providing for a speed not exceeding 10 miles per hour in the city limits. Some men have been arrested recently for violating the ordinance, and persons on the streets assert that these men were traveling at a rate exceeding 20 miles an hour. One enthusiastic automobilist who is experienced in these matters, asserts that a machine driven by a local man came whizzing around a corner Thursday evening traveling at a rate of 25 miles an hour.

Recklessness on the part of chaffeurs and automobile owners brings the sport of running machines into disrepute and brings forth the displeasure of the people on the heads of all who run autos. This is not as it should be. There are many careful and conscientious drivers, as compared with the reckless ones, but all are judged hastily with those who break the laws.

George W. Davis came near being run down Friday by a youth who came through town too lively for the speed limit and the safety of pedestrians. It required lively moving to get out of harm's way. The young man at the throttle condescended to blow the horn, but there was never any shutting off of power to prevent an accident. The speed burners seem to think that if they give a man warning they are coming they have done their whole duty. It is then up to the individual to get on the way or be maimed, according to the way of thinking.

Officer Lindley has recently come in for a lot of abuse for arresting automobilists who violate the speed ordinance and this should not be so. An officer should be upheld by all the people for doing his duty, and be made to feel that the people appreciate his efforts to enforce the law.

- Santa Rosa Republican, July 25, 1908

Offender Against Speed Laws Taken Into Custody

Officer John M. Boyes taught an offending auto driver a valuable lesson on Monday, when the man passed through this city at a rate of speed estimated to be about 50 miles an hour. The man was arrested at Petaluma by Constable Jimmy Sullivan on the request of Officer Boyes, who was fortunate enough to have learned the number of the auto driven by the offender.

The car was numbered 12570 and the name of the man arrested with the car by Constable Sullivan was given as McDonald, a San Franciscan. The man called up Officer Boyes after being taken into custody in the southern city and try to "square" the case with the officer, but the latter is not the kind of man that can be "squared" with, and he promptly told the offender that the only way he could secure his release would be to put bail for his appearance here when wanted.

Those who saw the speed developed by the driver passing through the city were wrathy, and the good work of the officer is being committed not only by the public in general, but by automobilists in particular. These men want the laws enforced and will give their aid to the officers whenever they can to prevent infractions of the speed limit.

- Santa Rosa Republican, July 25, 1908

In 1908, Santa Rosans flocked to see the first demonstration here of the latest technological marvel: Something they called "radio." The representative from Marconi's company wowed audiences for four nights talking about messages sent to/from ships at sea and between distant places, all communications in the precise stutter of Morse Code. (The demonstration was actually part of a con game; see here for details.)

What was demonstrated here was really known as "wireless telegraphy;" in that era, the transmission of voice (or music) was called "wireless telephony," and it would still be two years before the first broadcasts could be heard anywhere in the Bay Area from pioneer station KQW in San Jose (although that signal probably didn't reach as far as Sonoma County). Not until after WWI would the the first commercial radio stations in San Francisco begin operating. But even after there was something to hear other than dots and dashes, it was still difficult to listen to; radio was a headphones-only affair until the first electrical speakers appeared in the mid-1920s.

For the first twenty-five years of the Twentieth Century - and particularly the first decade - Santa Rosa was a pretty quiet place. Sounds were more occasional than constant, and rarely interruptive. Here there was no smokestack industry running heavy machines that gave cities of that time a constant low hum. The farm town grew slowly, so there was no ongoing racket of major new construction (except for the months after the 1906 quake).

The private sounds heard from houses were small and likely appealing; someone practicing piano or another musical instrument or singing. Aside from player pianos, recorded music was soft; the graphophone and phonograph of the day had wooden or metal speakers that could barely be heard in the next room.

Outside, there would have been dappled background sounds: The clop of horses and the chug of the occasional automobile, probably the crow of roosters because so many homes kept backyard chickens. Twice a day, everyone heard the garden water schedule whistles, and at night, most everyone would hear the low of cows in Noonan's stockyard at the corner of College and Cleveland Avenues. There were sometimes fire bells heard clanging. In those first ten years of the century, people individually created little noise; many walked or glided silently on bicycles or rode the electric streetcars. There was civic pride in that most of the downtown streets had been recently paved with smooth, noise-muffling macadam (which makes the thumpity-thump around old Courthouse Square from those ersatz cobblestones all that more ridiculous).

In his landmark book on soundscapes, "The Tuning of the World," R. Murray Schafer points out that ambient noise levels generally increase each year all over the world, no matter what the society or whether it's urban or rural. There are no more quiet places; sound is now heavy and continuous, much of it the result of incessant aviation and road traffic. Another major factor was the invention of the radio loudspeaker. Now the little box that was never quiet could be heard everywhere, and soon was.

The crowds at that 1908 exhibition were promised wonderful things would result from the development of the "wireless," and things wonderful surely came to pass, but at a price they could not have foreseen. Some twenty or more years later, there were probably Santa Rosa residents who were in that audience who now found themselves kept awake by dance music playing on a neighbor's radio, as they wondered what happened to the peaceful little town they used to know.

Very Interesting Lecture and Exhibition at the Skating Rink Last Night

H. C. Robinson, representative of Marconi's Wireless Telegraph exhibitions lectured in the Pavilion rink on Monday night to a very large and interested audience on the science and possibilities of wireless telegraphy, giving practical demonstrations of sending and receiving messages without wires, including several feats of ringing fire bells, lighting electric lights and operating danger signals through the mysterious agency of Hertzian waves.

It was perhaps the first working of wireless apparatus Santa Rosa people have ever had the opportunity of inspecting and having the various phenomenon explained by a man who evidently knows the science thoroughly.

The lecturer gave a complete history of the discovery of the wireless principle of transmitting signals through the air. He took it up from long before the time Dr. Hertz discovered his now historic "ether wave" until the present day, when it has become a part of the modern complex civilization, and has passed out of the stage of being a novelty and a curiosity. He told of what progress has been made in the past few years by Marconi and how necessary wireless telegraphy has become in war and peace. He said that nearly every warship and all the great navies is now equipped with wireless apparatus. He told of how the great liners on the ocean keep in touch with the entire world while passing from continent continent. Newspapers are printed on hundreds of the "greyhounds of the sea" daily, through the aid of wireless; ships report themselves hundreds of miles out at sea, passengers can communicate with their friends at home as easily as if they were on land and had the telegraph and telephone at their disposal.

It is now a common thing, said the lecturer, for news dispatches to be sent from ships, and he mentioned the fact that Secretary Taft received the news of his mother's death by wireless while on board the steamer President Grant in the English Channel.

Not only is wireless used by ships at sea, but America and England are linked together by wireless, and it is only a matter of a short time when cables will be as much out of date as stagecoaches are now in the big cities. Even on the Pacific Coast the seaports, from San Diego to Alaska, are in constant touch with each other, and during the recent telegraph strike much news was transmitted by wireless.

Mr. Robinson went into the commercial possibilities of wireless and told how it would soon supplant the telegraph and cables. There is no doubt about its success, he said, both from a commercial standpoint and in every other way it has reached the stage, where it was recognized as the greatest discovery and invention combined in the present century.

Tonight, Wednesday and Thursday night similar electrician exhibitions will be given by Mr. Robinson. Admission is free.

- Press Democrat, June 16, 1908

Everybody loves a parade: Floats, waving flags, marching bands, all followed by a crew of rowdy punks mocking everything decent and respectable, including the town itself. It was the Fourth of July in Santa Rosa, 1908, and it was the last ballyhoo of the Squeedunks.

(RIGHT: The "Car of State" that was the most prominent float of the traditional parade. "The beautiful Goddess of Liberty, Miss Hope Knapp, [was] surrounded by a bevy of dainty maidens all dressed in white and waving American flags," reported the Press Democrat. CLICK on this or other images to enlarge. Photo courtesy the Sonoma County Library)

Back then, Fourth of July celebrations were a day-long affair that brought out the entire town. "Young America, ably assisted in many instances by old America, too, from dawn until midnight kept the firecracker on the bang. The rip-rap, rocket, red devil, squib, and other varieties kept up a merry roar and sputter," wrote the Press Democrat, and rather poetically, at that. After the morning parade, most people drifted to the park at the end of McDonald Ave. (The former "City Gardens" was really more of a beer garden, owned by the Grace Brothers brewery; it is now the Creekside Park apartment complex at 1130 4th Street.) Here bands played patriotic tunes, kids recited "literary exercises," and the public heard a tub-thumping patriotic oration about battleships along with a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence. The emcee for the entire program was our own James Wyatt Oates. At the end, everyone joined in singing "America" and scooted back downtown, where the real fun was about to begin.

An outsider might have believed he had stumbled upon a parade of lunatics. Led by a man riding a cow, a procession of wagons carried displays that seemed to compete for being the most bizarre. A portrayal of a vacant lot surrounded by a worn fence; a scrap pile; a bush sprouting eggs and umbrellas; a horse watering trough fitted with a crane that picked up rocking horses and lifted them up for a "drink."

But for Santa Rosans, each float was a grand inside joke. The vacant lot represented the new post office building that was supposed to have been built two years earlier. The scrap pile was the city park that the new mayor had promised to create; the eggy bush was a poke at Luther Burbank; and the rocking horse gag was making fun of the S. P. C. A, which had recently paid for raised, more humane watering troughs to be installed in Santa Rosa, although neigh-sayers (sorry) wanted to verify they weren't too high for short horses. (As a capper for the joke, a sign on that float read, "Horse Prohibition.")

Less funny today are the swipes made about women. The "Latest Improvement of the Woman's Improvement Club" float made fun of the suffrage movement by portraying a woman enjoying a bicycle ride while men toiled at housework. Another float presented their elected queen and maids of honor, all men in dresses - a holdover from the 1900 parade, when women seeking to join the Squeedunks were rebuffed and an all-drag royal court was flaunted instead. Boys will be boys pigs.

Swinishness aside, the 1908 crew held true to the spirit of the Squeedunk founders more than three decades before. Gaye LeBaron wrote in a July 5, 1998 column (now regrettably behind a Press Democrat paywall) about their origins in 1876 Santa Rosa:

When the county's honored "First Citizen," General Mariano Vallejo, ended his long oration (in Spanish, with a translator) and the formal portion of the celebration drew to a close, a band of masked men in outrageous costumes seized the podium and began a mock-heroic "Oh Ration," an extemporaneous and outrageous send-up of the venerable Vallejo's speech.

Using the same stentorian tones as the general, the costumed orator began:

"One hundred years ago today, the booming of the patriotic cannon awaked from their heroic slumbers a band of ancient Squeeduncques..."

Boldly mocking a respected man like Vallejo was less a goofy prank than being an act of defiance bordering on subversiveness. (UPDATE: Almost all of that account about their origin was untrue. See "BIRTH OF THE SQUEEDUNKS.")

The Squeedunks again demonstrated this take-no-prisoners attitude when they went ahead with their July 4th parade in 1881, although Santa Rosa had called off regular festivities out of respect for President Garfield, who had been shot a couple of days earlier. Even their name made a anti-authoritarian statement. At least as far back as 1858, "Squeedunk" was a derogatory term for a place where backwards country folk lived. (There is a Squedunk Road in a remote section of upstate New York). Calling themselves "Squeedunks" might be something like today's college students living in modular housing creating "The Trailer Park Trash Association". We'll define ourselves, thank you very much.

Not to say that the 1908 Squeedunks didn't embrace the buffoonery of it all. The Press Democrat had stories in nearly every issue during the weeks leading up to the parade, documenting the latest silliness by "The Ancient and Disreputable Order of Squeedunks," and matters became very silly very fast. At their first meeting at "Temple Bacon" (Bacon's Garage on Main street), committees were formed to organize volunteered horses, wagons, and automobiles; the next week, the groups were merged into the "Committee on Freaks and Skates." It was first announced that the best float would be awarded a "handsome loving cup, of artistic design" but that was changed to a "loving bucket... more approaching this taste and capacity of competitors." (In truth, they gave themselves silver cups, crystal goblets, and other awards that couldn't have been cheap).

Much of the fun surrounded electing the queen. - "vote early and often," urged Charlie Holmes, the driving force behind the group. It cost a nickel per vote, but they decided to also take slot machine slugs and beer checks "because they are some element of value." They refused bread checks, however, as "It is too hot to eat bread at meetings of the committee." (It was common then for some workmen to be partially paid in "checks," which were scrip redeemable specifically for a certain brand of beer, bread, milk, etc.)

Sexist they were, but the 1908 Squeedunks were surprisingly progressive about race for that time. A participant and an early front runner in the queen contest was Quong Sing, a Chinese merchant. Apparently seriously concerned that he might win and not be able to sell fireworks and American flags on the holiday, he had to be talked into staying in the contest (as usual, the PD reported him speaking in pidgin dialect to make it "funny"). Quong raised $15.50 for the parade from his community, which was duly recorded as a donation from "the Chinese Squeedunk Tong Cantonese No. 1."

(RIGHT: Members of the 1908 incarnation of the "Ancient and Disreputable Order of Squeedunks." This is the only known surviving picture of early Santa Rosa Squeedunks. Photo courtesy the Sonoma County Library)

The boys also raised a fuss over the suggestion that the queen wear a "directoire" or a "peek-a-boo waist" (the former was a tight-fitting floor-length gown; at the time, a "peek-a-boo" was apparently any blouse with open lace or a sheer material covering the arms, cleavage, or shoulders). These styles were "not becoming for fleshy people," protested one Squeedunk, and "John Walker says he has worn clothes pretty near all his life and he is not going to leave them off now." It was agreed that the royal court could wear "chest protectors" beneath their garments.

All in all, it was a great success, the event ending as District Attorney Clarence Lea read the "Declaration of Indifference," and another member read the "Squeedunk's Poem." Their satirical paper, "The Truthful Lyre," sold like hotcakes. Once the prizes were awarded, it was announced, they would be exhibited in the display window of a downtown store. "Due announcement will be made of the time of the display so that there will be no danger of overcrowding in front of the store."

Obl. Believe-it-or-not epilogue: As bizarre as it was, the wacky parade by men wearing grotesque masks was not the most remarkable thing that happened in Santa Rosa on July 4, 1908. As evening approached, there was a hot air balloon ascension and parachute jump by "Captain Hamilton, the noted aeronaut." Hamilton jumped from the balloon, and fell directly upon the skylight at Moke's funeral home on Third street, raining broken glass into the chapel and frightening Mr. and Mrs. Moke, who were apparently entertaining at the time. "I'm not a dead one just yet," Hamilton quipped. Long time readers might recall that back in 1905, "Professor" Hamilton was in town for a show where his wife was the jumper, and earlier that year, he had been touring with a parachuting monkey named "Jocko." You could not make this stuff up, honestly.


This evening at the rooms of the Chamber of Commerce there will be a meeting of the Squeedunks to arrange for the parade on the Fourth of July. All members of the old organization who provided the fun in the parades in the days gone by and all new enthusiasts are asked to be on hand this evening. Eight o'clock is the hour of the meeting.

- Press Democrat, June 16, 1908


Charles H. Holmes, who years ago was orator at the last Squeedunk parade of consequence given here, on the memorable occasion when Virgil Moore edited "The Truth Lyre" as a special Fourth of July number, announced yesterday afternoon that the voting for "queen" of the Squeedunks will commence today. Holmes is a "cracker jack" when it comes to being a funmaker on Squeedunk Day and he will take an active part in this year's celebration. There will be a meeting of the Squeedunks tonight at Bacon's garage.

- Press Democrat, June 18, 1908


"The Ancient and Disreputable Order of Squeedunks" held a largely attended meeting Thursday night at the "Temple Bacon" on Main Street to arrange for the part the Squeedunks will take in the great celebration here on Fourth of July. There was a large gathering of the old Squeedunk clan as well as a number of novitiates and it is safe to predict that there will be all kinds of merriment when the Squeedunk parade makes its escape on the afternoon of the Fourth.

"It was a great meeting tonight," said the Arch Squeedunk, at its conclusion when discussing what has been accomplished. "We branded about 150 victims."

"The Grand Chief Grafter and the Keeper of the Records and Bale Rope were among those present. The Gold Dust Twins' sat in meeting by request. There'll be lots doing on the Fourth and don't you forget it."

The following committees were appointed...

...Charles H. Holmes the noted Squeedunk speaker, will be the orator of this occasion. "The Declaration of Indifference" will also be specially prepared as well as the "Squeedunk's Poem."

- Press Democrat, June 19, 1908


It was announced last night that the candidates for the Squeedunk queen are Jack Smith, Frank Dowd, Doc Miller, Doc Somerfield, Joe Ridgway, Aubrey Barham and Quong Sing.

It was reported that Quong Sing, if elected, would resign in favor of Doc Cozad, but upon being interviewed he denied the rumor. He claimed this report was started by Sam Gilliam to injure his chances, and if elected he will serve to the best ability.

The committee says it is only interested in seeing the handsomest and best citizen elected. The queen will have the right to appoint his own the maids of honor.

- Press Democrat, June 20, 1908


At the time of going to press the following vote for the Squeedunk queen was handed in at this office:

Jack Smith, 80; Dr. Bogle, 40; Dr. Sumerfield, 45; Dr. Cozad, 42; Aubrey Barham, 64; "Uncle Bill" Smith, 3; Frank Dowd, 60; Dr. Miller, 128; Quong Sing, 120.

Election fraud is already being charged. Dr. Summerfield claims that Aubrey Barham wants to be elected so that he can appoint his friends as maids of honor, and thus dispense political patronage. Aubrey refuses to withdraw claims, and says that he has positive information that Summerfield has hired 14 new stablemen to pack the vote. The committee promises both to enforce the purity of election law.

- Press Democrat, June 21, 1908


The Ancient and Disreputable Order of Squeedunks held a regular meeting last night at the "Temple Bacon." There was a large and enthusiastic attendance. Many new features were listed. Jim Johnston, "the big red one," will send a float from Forestville. In the queen contest a dark horse appeared with 160 votes at first jump. The vote stands: ... Quong Sing was told while in Bower & Mercer's the Drs. Miller and Summerfield would beat him unless he voted for himself. So he voted five votes and paid his 25 cents, treated the boys and went away. In a little while he returned, and seeing that he looked worried, he was asked with ailed him. He replied: "I don't think I can be queen. You see, I sellem fire clackers, I sellem flag. Be queen no see me nobody buy." It was explained to him how disappointed every one would be, and that he would "spoil the Fourth" and that it would be "wrong to let Summerfield, Jack Smith and the other boys run alone." So he said, "all lite I stay."

- Press Democrat, June 23, 1908


Watch for the Squeedunk posters today and watch the leaps and bounds in the queen voting contest. When the votes were counted last night it was found that Quong Sing is slowly gaining on Dr. Summerfield and Dr. Miller, although a "black horse" in the race is forging ahead. It was reported last night that a bunch of votes had been handed to Nathan Rosenbaum, but up to the time of going to press the report has not been fully verified. "I'm in the hands of friends," said Frank Dowd last night when told of the day's gain for him in the voting contest. "So am I," echoed Jack Smith, who was in hearing distance, and who had made a substantial gain. Jake Luppold, "the mayor of Main Street," threatens to put a candidate in the race with Summerfield and Aubrey Barham, and if he does his friends, "the nickle splitters," will have to look out. Meanwhile "Jim" Johnston and the other ones anxious to be "maids of honor" to the queen, are waking in breathless expectancy to know if [the] position is to be thrust upon them. Vote for your choice at a nickel a vote. Charles Holmes says, "vote early and often."

- Press Democrat, June 24, 1908

"Sore Head Breakfast" for Disappointed Contestants--"The Dark Horse" Appears--Announcements--Don't Vote Bread Tickets

It was discovered by the committee in charge of the queen contest for Chris Stengel was the dark horse, and a large vote had cashed for him yesterday by the never treat club. Caterers Lewis O'Brien and Walter Farley have promised a cow had breakfast to the new queen and her maids of honor. They will also serve a sore head and breakfast to the defeated candidates.

The "Ancient and Disreputable Order of Squeedunks" fairly bubbled over with enthusiasm at the meeting held last night when final plans for made for the great feature parade and exercises that are to furnish the best sidesplitting remedy for the blues in the big pageant her on the Fourth.

Right now, a word of advice. If you're at all susceptible to fun, don't miss the Squeedunks.

At last night's meeting Charlie Holmes showed up fresh from a week's outing at a nearby village, bringing with him all the latest ideas that had flooded his brain while enjoying the exhilarating ozone of the country. He is to be the orator for the Squeedunks and when it comes to that he is hard to beat.

Here are some announcements: All those who intend entering features in the Squeedunk parade must report to C. C. Donovan. All those who are willing to donate horses and wagons for the parade are requested to notify Virgil Butts at the office of County Tax Collector Collins on Third Street, and Lester Brittain at the office of county assessor Frank Dowd. All those who want horses and wagons for their displays are instructed to notify these gentlemen as soon as possible.

Just a word about the horses and wagons. It makes no difference how ancient or disreputable the horse or wagon may be, if both can go, loan them to the committee. If a few oats or some bale rope are needed to make them go, apply them. There need not be any putting on of frills. The Squeedunks will see to that.

It was reported at the meeting that two enthusiastic citizens, supporters of rival candidates, so far forgot themselves as to pummel each other's anatomy. This is hardly right in the opinion of the committee, as some one may get hurt and be unable to come in at the finish with the requisite votes.

The committee wishes to register a kick. It has offered no objection to beer checks or slot machine slugs being voted for nickels because they are some element of value. But when it comes to voting bread tickets the committee considers it is time to call a halt. It is too hot to eat bread at meetings of the committee.

- Press Democrat, June 27, 1908


Last evening there was a parade of the newly organized Native Sons' Drum Corps, and it was a call to arms of the Squedunks for their meeting at the Bacon garage. The boys drum well and attracted considerable attention on the streets.

Captain Sanborn stated last night that the corps will be out tonight in parade to attract the crowds out to the baseball benefit ball and fete at Grace Brothers Park.

- Press Democrat, June 27, 1908

Candidates for Squeedunk Queen Are Kicking

Like a bolt of lightning out of a clear sky, like a stroke near unto death, came the announcement to the Squeedunk queen candidates that whoever was the elected lady, she or he would have to wear a peek-a-boo waist. This decision came after a secret meeting of the Committee on Robes and Coronation. Both the peek-a-boo and the directoire or [sic] split up the side skirt were suggested for the queenly outfit. Some of the committee had never heard of the garment, consequently were at first disposed to look with favor on the skirt until Will Rohrer, who introduced the matter, exhibited a picture of a lady clothed or rather unclothed in the Frenchified dress.

After Mr. Rohrer had tranquilized the indignant committeemen he in language drawn quite mild explained that it was really a classic skirt and considered exceedingly proper. But the display was too much. W. W. Skaggs, the chairman of the committee looked the other way while they blushingly turned the directoire down.

The committee, however, compromised by accepting the peek-a-boo and Mr. Billy Rohrer was notified that bids would be received from Santa Rosa and Healdsburg clothing houses for the supply of an elaborate royal peek-a-boo for the Squeedunk clean. But trouble is on. The candidates all say if elected they will not wear the waist and every blessed one of them, including Quong Sing, threatens to withdraw from the contest.

John Walker says he has worn clothes pretty near all his life and he is not going to leave them off now.

Aubrey Barham says he sunburns easily and he would be a blister before he rode three blocks unless it happens to be a cloudy day, and he can't afford to take that chance.

Doc Summerfield says he has an English strawberry mark on his right shoulder that can be seen a mile and blast him if he is going to make a spectacle of himself exhibiting his body in that matter.

Quong Sing says in China ladies were plenty of clothes and it really would not be honorable for him to dress less than his countrywomen.

Colonel C. C. Donovan says the wihinas of Honolulu, the meztizo of Manila and the geishas of Yokohama and the barmaids of London haven't got to the peek-a-boo yet. As the "uncrowned" he cannot sacrifice propriety for a queen's crown.

Jack Smith modestly thinks that kind of garment not becoming for fleshy people, as the transparency of the fabric accentuates the wearer's attractiveness and the masculine does not desire that attention--to himself.

The other candidates have filed their objection to the waist and it is believed that the committee will substitute for her majesty's robes.

The loving cup of handsome finish and artistic design has been changed to a loving bucket. This will be more approaching this taste and capacity of competitors. All those who have features, vehicles and horses for the Squeedunk parade will see Colonel C. C. Donovan, Captain Virgil Butts or Corporal Lester Brittain. These gentlemen compose the committee on freaks and skates and with them everything goes. Louie O'Brien is fixing up a rare "hand out" for the queen and the maids as they ride through the parade.

- Santa Rosa Republican, June 27, 1908

Friday Cook "Squeedunk Queen"

As the result of the never-to-be-forgotten election in Geyserville Friday Cook was declared the popular choice for queen. Queen Friday is the right one in the right place. This is what his can campaign slogan declared. He will select his maids of honor within the next few days and they will be taken from among the leading citizens of the Geyserville community.

- Press Democrat, June 27, 1908

"Peekaboo" Incident is Closed--Plot to Bust Quong Sing for Queen in Discovered

The controversy over the wearing of Peekaboo waists that arose and for a time seemed likely to disrupt the galaxy of aspirants for queenship honors in the Squeedunk realm, has been satisfactorily adjusted. Articles of agreement have been drawn up whereby the queen and the maids of honor may fortify themselves by wearing chest protectors beneath their peekaboos. This provision has wiped away all obstacles as regards details of the royal costumes.

A monetary surprise was given the committee last night when the Chinese Squeedunk Tong Cantonese No. 1 presented the Tong Santa Rosa Squeedunks with a donation of $15.50 towards the celebration. Charley Quong Sing, not with any selfish motive of making votes thereby, collected from the Chinese residents the sum named. Quong is still in the race for queen and said last night if he wins he will ride in the parade, "dressed alle same 'Melican queen."

Last night there was a large gathering of candidates at Chief Frank Muther's place. Upon investigation it was discovered that the Dr Miller, Dr. Summerfield, Jim Johnston, Willis Gauldin, Jack Smith and John Walker had combined to beat Quong Sing. Quong has fireworks for sale and the plan was to get Quong to withdraw under threat of prohibiting the use of fireworks on the Fourth, which matter chief Muther was to bring before the council. It was stated that he had already promised to appoint Councilman Fred Forgett one of the maids of honor. Forgett, when seen, refused to commit himself, but the committee are hopeful of getting "Billy" Nichols to turn state's evidence. It was also announced at the Dunk McKinlay had offered his services to the committee.

A show at the Richter on Thursday night for a benefit for the Squeedunks is one of the possibilities.

- Press Democrat, June 28, 1908

Numerous Good-Natured Hits Presented and Cleverly Carried Out--Immense Crowd Witness Parade

The great Squeedunk parade "broke loose" about 3 o'clock as agreed, and attracted an immense crowd. There were more people on the streets than during the hour set for the morning procession. The bits were all clever, and the various ideas splendidly worked out. In fact, the general opinion seems to be that it was one of the very best Squeedunk parades ever seen here.

The Woman's Improvement Club woman out riding a bicycle, while the joshes [sic]. One float dedicated to this organization was labeled "Horse Prohibition," and showed a watering trough some twelve feet high to which it was necessary to elevate the horses by means of a derrick. Imitation hobbyhorses were used, of course, and as they were raised one by one into the air much amusement was caused.

Another good one was supposed to show Burbank's "latest creations." There were all kinds of rare and unknown plants, eggs were growing on bushes, an umbrella or two had sprouted, numerous successful "grafts" were exhibited--and all the time the typewriter was working overtime.

The new federal postoffice building "built two years ago," was represented by a vacant, hay-grown lot, surrounded by an old-fashioned wormwood fence.

The "Latest Improvement of the Woman's Improvement Club" showed a woman out riding a bicycle, while the men-folks were at home running the sewing machine, washing the dishes, getting dinner, taking care of children, etc.

"Gray Jim's New City Park" was a scrap pile. An immense sea-serpent was labeled "What They Found in the City Water." The "New National Bank Building" was portrayed by a rusty coal-oil can with a smaller coal-oil can for an annex. Some of the others were "The Municipal League Accuses Frank Muther of Stripping Tobacco." "What Santa Rosa Got for Her $200,000 Bond Issue," Fred Rushless (Rushmore) on a Fishing Trip." "Chris Donovan in Japan." "Mayor Gray and His Carnival Attendants," etc. etc.

- Press Democrat, July 5, 1908

Balloon Ascension One of the Most Successful Features of the Big Celebration

"I'm not a dead one just yet," remarked Captain Hamilton, the noted aeronaut, when he struck the skylight over Moke's undertaking parlors Saturday night in his descent from the clouds in his parachute. If the framework had not saved him he would have come through the skylight and dropped to the floor in the chapel connected with Moke's establishment. When his parachute struck the glass there was a lively smashing and it startled Mr. and Mrs. Moke and others. Hamilton was not cut by the glass.

Thousands of people witnessed Hamilton's ascent and descent both of which were very successful. It took the big balloon some time to fill up with gas, and consequently the ascent was made a little later than scheduled. But everybody was pleased and Captain Hamilton was a much complemented man. The balloon fell some distance from where Hamilton alighted.

- Press Democrat, July 5, 1908


Will Rohrer rode In the Squeedunk parade on Saturday, an Ideal queen of the Squeedunks. He looked royalty itself. His maids of honor were Frank McNamara, Charles Smith, Roney Noonan and Ed McNamara and they all looked very fetching. Calvin Rohrer and Carl Patterson were the maids.

C. C. Donovan was the grand marshal and he rode a cow at the head of the parade. Virgil Butts was the president of the day, Chas. H. Holmes, who cut off his mustache for the occasion, was the orator. Clarence F. Lea read the "Declaration of Indifference," and President Butts read the poem.

The Squeedunk paper, "The Truthful Lyre," sold like hotcakes, and there are still a number of copies left for those who want them. It is a very neat souvenir of the day.

- Press Democrat, July 5, 1908

Committee Holds Final Meeting and Winds Up Business Connected With Very Successful Feature

Thursday night the Squeedunk committee of the Fourth of July celebration held its final meeting, paid all bills and generally wound up the business. After the payment of all bills there will be there will be a small surplus in the treasury which will be deposited in a local bank to the credit of the "Squeedunk fund," which will be a neucleus [sp] for future celebrations.

It will be remembered prior to the celebration that the committee promised some prizes for best and most original "hits" carried out in the parade. Thursday night the committee announced the award of prizes as follows:

Bacon Brothers, Main street garage, first prize; Charles Body and Albert Bacigalupi, second prize. August Kopf and Ed Rohrer, best sustained "take off." Roy Enders, consolation prize.

Of course the prizes will be something of great value. When they are secured they will be placed on exhibition in the show window of the McConnell-Prentiss Company on Fourth street, and they are sure to be greatly admired. Due announcement will be made of the time of the display so that there will be no danger of overcrowding in front of the store.

- Press Democrat, July 17, 1908

Q: What lubricant would prevent a man from being crushed to death beneath a locomotive turntable? A: Wood alcohol, apparently.

A gentleman who tippled overmuch found himself in the Railroad Square area one evening in 1908, looking for a place to have a bit of a lie down. The big turntable used to turn around the California Northwestern steam locomotives looked like a cozy spot, so he crawled underneath. The next thing he knew, he was dead.

Or so thought the train's crew, at first bewildered as to why the turntable stopped moving, then alarmed to find a lifeless body gumming up the works. As they were waiting for the Coroner, the former corpse began twitching and moaning. The man rose, asked the crew for the direction of Sebastopol, and tottered off into the night. When the police arrived, they told the skeptical officer, "He is not here, but when we called for the patrol he was dead."

BONUS 1908 DRUNK STORY: An inebriated man became so enamored by a poster of a pretty actress appearing at a Petaluma theater that he "began to make violent love" to the billboard (the Press Democrat just meant kissing, unless "kissing" was a euphemism for something not to be mentioned in a family newspaper). Believed to be insane, he was arrested and taken to the county jail in Santa Rosa. The next morning he appeared before the Lunacy Commissioners and convinced them that he only puckered up because he was liquored up.

Frank Hatton Discharged by the Lunacy Commissioners on Charge of Insanity Here Thursday

His love promptings fired, it is said, buy an over indulgence in "high balls" and "cocktails" in Petaluma, Frank Hatton, a San Francisco man temporarily stopping in the southern city, began to make violent love to a lithograph displaying the attractive face of a theatrical star appearing at a Petaluma theater. It was charged that he kissed and kissed again the picture on the bill board and his conduct was that of an insane man in the eyes of a number of people. He was violent and was finally captured and brought to the county jail in this city.

When brought before Judge Seawell on Wednesday he appeared to have recovered his senses and the effects of too much booze had vanished. Thursday morning when he appeared before the court and Lunacy Commissioners J. W. Jesse and P. A. Meneray he was questioned and admitted his foolishness in over indulgence and his osculatory assault on the picture on the wall. He was discharged and possibly his experience in a cell set apart for insane people will do him good. The doctor agreed that it was a case of too much liquor.

- Press Democrat, June 19, 1908

Man Apparently Killed in the Turntable at the Depot Last Night--Coroner Sent for by Train Crew

A corpse at the Northwestern Pacific depot Monday night would not wait the arrival of an undertaker or Coroner Frank Blackburn, the just walked off into the night without as much as giving any name. Incidentally Engineer James Ahern, Fireman Goodman and Brakemen McPeak and Ferguson were given the scare of their lives.

After the arrival of the last train from San Francisco Monday night the big locomotive was run onto the turntable for the purpose of being turned around. The motive power for moving the turn table was furnished by the members of the train crew whose names are given above. They had the table and the great iron horse on top of it turning merrily when all of a sudden the thing refused to go any further.

"Hold on boys," cried Engineer Ahern, "someone must have got down underneath the table."

The torch was brought and to their horror the men discovered that the body of a man was wedged in under the turn table, and that it had stopped its further movement. A hasty examination was made of the man's body, but there was no sign of life.

"Go up town and send in a message to the Coroner," said Engineer Ahern, "we must get the body out of there as soon as possible."

The messenger started up town to call the Coroner, and the other members of the train crew stood around in silence, as they supposed in the presence of death, feeling mighty glum at the gloomy ending of the day's work.

Suddenly there was a twitching of the hitherto motionless body, followed by a groan.

"Get a doctor and not the Coroner. Call the ambulance. Do anything, but he is come to life again," shouted Ahern, and he at once knelt beside the man and commenced to rub his chest. This treatment improved his condition rapidly, and before the patrol wagon could arrive he stood up, rubbed his eyes, said he would use some wood alcohol out of the bottle he carried in his pocket, and which did not break in crushing process, upon his sore head and chest, inquiring the way to Sebastopol and struck out.

When the train crew had recovered their composure, "No. 21" was given the merriest kind of a ride around the turn table and the men went off to their supper. Engineer Ahern said later in the evening he never was so surprised in his life to see a dead man come to life.

It is supposed that the man went asleep at the turn table, and possibly may have taken a "night cap" before laying down to what miraculously did not mean the last, long sleep for him. He was a short, rather heavy set man, and was quite well dressed. No doubt today he will feel rather sore from the pinching given him in the turn table Monday night.

Police Officer Nick Yeager responded to the call for the ambulance and hurried to the turn table with the wagon, and when he got there the "dead or dying man" was not in sight. "He is not here," said the trainmen, "but when we called for the patrol he was dead."

"Sounds mighty fishy," quoth Yeager, somewhat disgruntled and out of breath. "But hurrah for the corpse, anyway."

And the casket rode back empty on the floor of the patrol.

- Press Democrat, November 17, 1908

The married couple accepted that he was dying, but they just couldn't agree what to do with his body afterwards. He wanted his remains cremated; she couldn't stand the idea. So a deal was struck: For six months after his death, the mortician would hang on to his corpse. If she still opposed his wishes at the end of that time, she could bury him.


Given the historic prominence of the Oates and Comstock families, it's usually easy to find a "6 degrees of separation" link to Comstock House. This route, however, is a bit unusual:

Dana L. White (I) was a member of the Shaker community at Harvard, Massachusetts, from about 1838-1863.

In 1843, when he twelve, a utopian commune called "Fruitlands" was established nearby. Founding members included the family of Louisa May Alcott (II), who was about a year younger than Dana White. Although the commune only lasted a few months, it is possible that the children met, given that Fruitlands was based partially on Shaker principles and that the fledgling community had to trade handmade goods for food.

Around 1862, Alcott adopted a 4 year-old boy named Francis Edwin Elwell (III) who became a noted sculptor.

His son, Alcott Farrar Elwell (IV) married Helen Chaffee (V) and in 1907, Helen and another young woman were the guests of honor at a fancy soirée held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Wyatt Oates, where a little orchestra was tucked behind potted palms in the library.
Cremation was still a pretty exotic affair back in 1908 America, outside of the the San Francisco Bay Area. There had been only about 48 thousand cremations nationwide since record-keeping began in 1876, and nearly 1 out of 3 was performed in this area.* (Two crematories were operating in San Francisco since 1895, and one in Oakland followed in 1902.) Strongly opposing cremation were Catholics and other orthodox christians whose belief system demanded that a corpse be buried ready and waiting for a physical resurrection on judgement day. Someone who wanted cremation was probably a "free thinker," a member of the Masons or Odd Fellows, or belonged to a religious group such as the Quakers. And that was the background of Mr. Dana L. White, who had been raised as a member of the "United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing," also known as the "Shakers."

White was probably an orphan when he taken in by the Shaker community at age seven. The movement was then at its peak, with about 6,000 members. That figure may seem small and cultish today, but it was a lot of people around 1840; today it would be the equivalent to a good-sized California city such as Richmond or Ventura (or any other cities with a pop. of about 103k, such as Wichita Falls, South Bend, or Cambridge). The Shakers viewed death as a dust-to-dust proposition. In their monthly journal, "The Shaker Manifesto," letters and essays can be found calling for "rational burials" and ridiculing the notion that someone's "never-again-to-be-animated form" would actually rise from their graves as "distasteful," "false theology" and "idiotic."

In the end, however, Mr. White did not win his post-mortem debate with his widow. He is buried in the Stanley section of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery.

Obl. Believe-it-or-Not footnote: Although he died in 1908, Mr. White might be another victim of the 1906 Santa Rosa Earthquake. The article below notes that he returned to town just a week before the disaster, and "was an invalid, and was nearly always bedfast" from that point on. He suffered from acute asthma for much (or all) of his life, and a man who lived about three blocks away died of pleuritis a few days after the quake, his lung problems presumably exacerbated by the great clouds of dust kicked up by the collapsing buildings and the fires that burned for two days. (Mrs. White was listed in the 1908 city directory as living at 914 Santa Rosa Ave, which would have been directly south of the modern Highway 12 overpass.)

*pg. 450, British Medical Journal, February 25 1911

Widow Opposes Cremation; Body Lies in a Vault Until Decision is Made as to its Disposal

The body of D. L. White, who passed from life January 30, reposes in a private vault at Stanley's Cemetery. Mr. White himself favored cremation as the correct disposal of the remains of the dead, but his wife viewed that with disfavor. When he knew that death approached, he discussed the matter with the woman who was soon to be widowed, and the two agreed that when he had passed away he should placed in the vault for several months, and taken out when the window felt reconciled to incineration of the body, or, if her feelings remainder the same after a half a year's reflection, she still opposed cremation, she should then dispose of it by burial.

Although Mr. White had lived many years in Santa Rosa, he was not well known here. Much of the time he was an invalid, and his acquaintances were consequently few. Those who knew him and had great admiration for his character. Studious, well informed, and possessed of high intellect, he was a charming companion for those who did know him. He was born in Boston, 77 years ago. At the age of seven he was placed in a Shaker community at Harvard, Massachusetts, and remained there until he was 32 years of age. He received a thorough education in literature, and was trained as a druggist, also as a botanist, the Shaker medicament being purely botanical. At the age of 32. He left the Shaker settlement. Much regret at parting was felt, both by himself and by those he left behind. He was an Indian Territory pioneer, and also a pioneer in Idaho. He was a miner in the latter territory and for a while had 180 men working for him. Although he prospered greatly while in good health, he saved no fortune; for he was a lifelong sufferer from asthma, and had frequently to abandon work and business, and spent large sums in travel and for treatment. After six years in Idaho he came back to Santa Rosa. For two years he was a partner of Jack Atkins, an old-timer now passed away.

Mr. White was married in Santa Rosa in 1873, to Sally Ricklifs, daughter of the late Peter Ricklifs. After a few years here, Mr. and Mrs. White removed to Truckee. He was in the drug business there seven years, and then went to Fruitvale. They again returned to Santa Rosa just a week before the great disaster of April, 1906. During all of his last residence here, Mr. White was an invalid, and was nearly always bedfast, with his wife as his constant and devoted attendant. His end was peaceful, painless, and calm. Deeply religious, and confident of the future, he had no fear of eternity.

- Press Democrat, February 8, 1908

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