Forget Charles Schulz and Peanuts; forget Luther Burbank and his garden. Forget tourism, with its spas and wine tasting (and for that matter, forget boutique wineries). Santa Rosa and the surrounding area are known for one thing alone - it's the home of the Air Force Academy.

Oh, you say, that's in Colorado Springs - and notice how quickly the name of that city comes to mind - but in 1950 the Academy didn't yet exist and its future location was very much up in the air (sorry), with Santa Rosa among the top contenders. The Chamber of Commerce waged a year-long campaign to bring it here, even though it quickly turned neighbor against neighbor and pitted the city against the county Farm Bureau.

When the new year of 1950 began, the whereabouts of a future Air Force Academy was a much discussed topic nationwide. There were already 150 communities in the running, in part because the search criteria were so broad. Col. Freeman Tandy, chairman of the task force screening possible sites in California, said basic requirements were that it be within 50 miles of a major city, be close to all means of transportation, have utilities available and sport natural beauty. He explained they wanted a place suitable for a university more than an airfield with lots of noisy flight operations.

And there was this: Colonel Tandy said the government expected to spend up to $300M to acquire land and build the campus - the equivalent of spending $3.2 BILLION today. When the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce invited the selection board to come here and look around we can only hope there was no obvious drool on the letter.

A survey team from the Army Corps of Engineers was slated to visit in mid-January but there was one teensy problem: We hadn't settled on a location to show them.

With only three days to spare, the Santa Rosa Chamber met with the Petaluma Chamber and agreed they would offer a site between the cities. "It's now a Sonoma county project," said the Petaluma Chamber.

The property was directly across from modern-day SSU on the east side of Petaluma Hill Road. The Air Force was looking for 9,000 acres and the four square miles would be less than a third of that, so maybe they were counting a large chunk of land on the west side of the road - there was no Rohnert Park at the time, remember. It was pointed out that buildings could be on the scenic slope of Sonoma Mountain and part of the site was "a natural football bowl." Sell the sizzle, not the steak.

When the two guys arrived for the tour, a throng of local poobahs swarmed over them like a pack of dumpster raccoons. Reps from the city and/or Chamber for Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Cotati, Forestville and Sebastopol trailed the caravan driving up and down Petaluma Hill Road and out to Crane Canyon Road - although they couldn't see much because of heavy rain. Then it was off to Santa Rosa and its lush Topaz Room for lunch and fine speeches about how everyone thought it would be the bestest choice the Air Force could ever make. Afterwards they all piled back into cars and went off to see the "Sonoma County Airport tract."

Normally you'd expect it would be the last anyone heard of a project like this; competition was fierce from more prominent cities in California and other states in the West. Then suddenly the North Bay became a top contender because General "Hap" Arnold just happened to die right before the survey crew was here.

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.

- Jeff Elliott

Santa Rosa waited twenty years for it to happen. Twenty years! Yet when the big day arrived almost no one was able to enjoy it.

The date was December 22, 1948; the event was the first TV broadcast in the Bay Area (except for test patterns and other experiments). In Santa Rosa, the lucky folks who had a television got to watch an episode of Howdy Doody, a travelogue about Santa Clara county and a hockey match between the San Francisco Shamrocks and Oakland.

During the game Santa Rosa received a shout-out from the station for getting calls from local viewers. The Press Democrat remarked the KPIX broadcast came in "surprisingly well" while the Argus-Courier noted reception was "first class...[with] a number of excellent clearcut, contrasty pictures on the screen. Such deficiencies as loss of the sound component and flickering were still noticeable." So aside from a lack of sound and a poor quality picture, everything went just swell.

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.

- Jeff Elliott

They made a terrible racket, shattering the early morning peace by honking horns and cranking sirens as the caravan entered Healdsburg and rounded the Plaza. Many in town, however, were probably awake and anxiously awaiting just such a signal - that they had pulled off a perfect crime and killed three men.

This is a postscript to the series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa, “THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID” and looks into the most significant of the conspiracies of silence that followed: How people in a small farm town executed a triple murder, then kept the planning behind it and the names of all those involved secret for 65 years. Now - more than a century later - new details have emerged that show the vigilante operation was even more cunning than suspected.

A previous chapter, "VENGEANCE FOR SUNNY JIM" covered events of just that night as reported at the time by first-hand witnesses. Also incorporated were later comments by Clarence H. "Barney" Barnard, the only member of the vigilantes to talk about it. Gaye LeBaron broke that story in 1985 after he spoke to her and in 1989 she recorded an interview which is available on the SSU website.

Barnard said the decision to raid the county jail and lynch the gangsters was made the same day that Sheriff James A. Petray was killed. On that night - Sunday, Dec. 5 - a mob of up to 3,000 had attacked the jail to seize them but the sheriff and deputies, reinforced by the Santa Rosa police and fire departments, were able to repel the rioters. It's likely many of the Healdsburg vigilantes were also on the scene and came away with the lesson that brute force was no guarantee of success.

"We could have had 500 men, if we'd wanted them," Barney told Gaye in 1985. "But the fellow who got it all organized, the Captain would only take 30. he wanted everybody to have an assignment and didn't want anybody who was going to get trigger happy and blow it all."

After a day spent organizing the crew, they gathered together for the first time on Tuesday night to begin rehearsing the mission in the back part of the Standard Machine Works building.

They drilled again on Wednesday night and made a final run-through on Thursday before leaving for the county jail in Santa Rosa. Each man knew his role and was expected to act without supervision.

Before they left, Barnard recalled the Captain saying, “If any one of you wants to back out, this is the time. Do it now. There won't be one word said. Nobody will think you a coward. But if you stay, from now on, we're all one." Barney repeated much the same thing in his 1989 interview, except changing the speech to end with, "after tonight, we’ve got an active war."

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.

- Jeff Elliott

It was 1:15 in the morning when Dr. Phillips' phone rang at his home in Petaluma. As he was Sonoma County Coroner, this was not terribly unusual; people inconveniently die at all hours. It's the coroner's job to investigate when there are unusual circumstances and the good doctor was certainly kept busy in late 1920 looking into odd deaths - in the previous few weeks four people were killed when their car or truck was hit by a train and a seven year-old boy was decapitated in an accident at the fairgrounds. But Phillips had never received a call like this one: He was told there were three men hanging from a tree in the old Santa Rosa cemetery and nobody knew who killed them.

This is a postscript to the series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa, “THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID” and covers one of the conspiracies of silence following the murder of the gangsters: The mystery of what happened to their bodies.

As he drove to Santa Rosa he passed around a dozen cars on the highway headed south, which seemed unusual for that time of night. He unfortunately mentioned this to a Press Democrat reporter when he arrived at the county jail; the newspaper took it as evidence that the lynching party came from San Francisco and most papers in the city chased that angle for days, although it was already pretty clear the vigilantes came from Healdsburg or points north.

Before he left Petaluma, Coroner Phillips phoned Frank Welti, the Deputy Coroner for Santa Rosa and ordered an ambulance to be waiting at the cemetery to transport the bodies. After the dead gangsters were cut down they would be taken to the Welti mortuary, which doubled as the town morgue.

Phillips spent nearly an hour at the jail with the sheriff (probably joined by Welti) prior to heading for the cemetery. This was likely when they all had a very earnest discussion about what might happen next - their jobs were not over just because the gangsters were now dead. "He is in a measure responsible for the safe keeping of the bodies until such time as they are interred," the San Francisco Call reported after speaking with Phillips. And until the remains were shipped out of the county or securely buried, there was a clear and apparent risk that someone might try to get access to the corpses or even steal them.

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.

- Jeff Elliott

The air was heavy with mist that December morning, peaceful and timeless, each home in Santa Rosa seemingly alone in the world except for neighboring houses not cloaked by fog. You picked up the Press Democrat on the doorstep planning to scan the ads for Christmas presents, but the astonishing headline dampened any enthusiasm for shopping. Nevertheless, you still put on a hat and went downtown - to gawk at the corpses lying on marble slabs in the morgue.

About 3,000 people (including children) queued outside the Welti mortuary on the corner of Fourth and E to see the bodies of the three gangsters lying in the cold room. When the undertakers closed for noon lunch the crowd patiently waited for them to reopen at 2 o'clock. Nobody wanted to lose their place in line, so stores were empty despite Christmas being only two weeks away.

This is the eighth and final chapter in the series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa, “THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID,” which is not a simple story to wrap up. After the three gangsters were finished off there were still loose threads to address and knots to untangle.

Most significantly were two conspiracies of silence, both of which remain (mostly) secret still today. There was the conspiracy by the Healdsburg vigilantes to snatch the gangsters and lynch them, which they carried out with military precision - and perhaps most remarkably, maintained the discipline to keep completely quiet about it afterwards. Then there was the plan by Santa Rosa authorities to conceal what happened to the bodies out of concern for grave robbers. Finally, there were related things that happened in the days (and years) that followed and must be mentioned to wrap up the story.

Those conspiracies of silence are more like appendices to the lynching story, so I'm breaking them out into parts of their own - otherwise this wrapup chapter would be uncomfortably long, and the transcripts of sources would be a jumble of mixed articles spanning from 1919 to 1922. So let's proceed here with the telling of what happened right after the Dec. 10 lynching before jumping ahead to discover what became of the hanging tree. 

 

 

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.

- Jeff Elliott

It's the most infamous event in Santa Rosa history, but there's really not much to say about it - as long as you stick to the facts, that is.

There are just four first-hand accounts of what happened at the jailhouse late on the night of November 9, 1920 and the lynching that followed at the Rural Cemetery. The most important came from Clarence H. "Barney" Barnard, who was the only member of the lynching party to talk about it. Almost 65 years after the events, Barnard walked into the Press Democrat office and asked to speak to Gaye LeBaron. His recollections - which appeared in her December 8, 1985 column - rewrote several key parts of the story. She also recorded an interview with him in 1989 which is available on the SSU website (it adds little to what she originally wrote, and Barnard was so confused at that point he was unsure if he had been born in 1889 or 1899).

Setting the record straight is important, but the core of the story remained unchanged: An unidentified group of men seized three gangsters being held at the Sonoma County jail and hung them from a tree. It was not unexpected; after Sheriff Jim Petray's murder and the subsequent riot at the jail, the county was awash with rumors that a lynching was in the works.

This is the seventh chapter in the series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa, “THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID,” and covers just the events of that night, including how Barney's testimony has changed the record. The next (and final) part describes the aftermath and offers thoughts on who led the lynching party and how it was organized.

It was presumed that the attack was being organized in San Francisco or Healdsburg and would most likely come on Tuesday, the day of Petray's funeral. "Frankly, I fear for what may happen after the funeral tonight," an anonymous county official said in a widely reprinted United Press wire story. Sheriff Boyes doubled the guard at the jail and stationed deputies outside.

But Tuesday night passed without incident except to note it kept raining - although it was still early December, they were soon to pass total rainfall from the entire previous year. Wednesday night was calm (but wet) as well. As the arraignments were coming up Friday morning, it looked like there would be no trouble after all. Sheriff Boyes and the others went home Thursday night to a well-deserved rest, leaving Chief Deputy Sheriff Marvin “Butch” Robinson alone on the night desk. 

 

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.

- Jeff Elliott

The weather was dismal and the same could be said of the mood in town. There was little light in the daylight hours; clouds hung heavy like dirty wool and the night differed only by being too dark to see their grayness. There was drizzling rain which sometimes rallied into something heavier. It was like a single miserable day that refused to end.

During those four days between the Sunday night riot and the midnight lynchings, our Santa Rosa ancestors found their situation unsettling and had little hope of their prospects improving anytime soon.

There still was seething anger over the murder of their sheriff and the other officers. They did not have the will to riot again themselves, but every single day there was talk that vigilantes from Healdsburg or San Francisco might descend upon the town for another battle with the sheriff.

Santa Rosa was finally receiving the attention from the Bay Area it had long craved - although it was exactly the wrong sort. Instead of being celebrated as the lovely little city of roses and picket fences, it was now linked to gangsters and the worst crime in memory. Nor would that soon be forgotten; the upcoming murder trials followed by inevitable executions at San Quentin would keep alive the memory of all that happened here.

This is the sixth chapter in the series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa, “THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID,” and describes what was revealed that week both to the Grand Jury and in jailhouse interviews, plus the media feeding frenzy to scoop other newspapers on those details. Questions are also raised about the credibility of key testimony given by a lawman. 

 

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.

- Jeff Elliott

They knew nightfall would bring trouble and it was already starting to get dark - but inside the sheriff's office there was no plan on what to do or even agreement on who was in charge. The telephones kept ringing. A crowd was forming in the street outside that had the makings of a lynch mob.

This is the fifth chapter in the series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa, "THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID," and describes events which happened later in the day of December 5. Just an hour earlier Sonoma County Sheriff James A. Petray and two San Francisco detectives had been gunned down as they were arresting a gangster in Santa Rosa.

Petray was highly popular, demonstrated both by how word of his murder spread with racing speed and the degree of anger it stirred. Normally some sort of public event would be promptly arranged - a ceremony on the steps of the courthouse perhaps, a church service, or better yet, a memorial gathering in his hometown of Healdsburg, far from the jail where his killer was in custody.

But if there was any hope of defusing the situation any such plan would have needed to made and announced immediately. Further complicating matters was that it was a Sunday afternoon; city and county authorities who could make decisions weren't in their offices or were even reachable - the District Attorney was enjoying a drive in the country.

Nor did it help when Coroner Phillips showed up at the jail to announce he was assuming temporary charge of the sheriff’s office, based on his other official title being the Public Administrator for the county. As he was a physician with no experience at all in law enforcement it was an audacious claim, particularly as he had to push his way through an angry crowd to reach the door. What progress had been made on mobilizing officers came to a halt as they waited for Superior Judge Seawell to come down and make a ruling. It was now past sunset.

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.

- Jeff Elliott

Once that door is opened, events will be set in motion that are impossible to stop. Three men will be dead or dying within minutes, another three hanging by their necks by the end of the week. The town's cultivated image as the lovely City of the Roses will soon be shattered as the savagery of its citizens is revealed. It is about three o'clock in the afternoon of Sunday, December 5, 1920 in Santa Rosa as Sheriff Jim Petray raises his arm to knock on that door.

This is the fourth chapter in the series "THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID" about the 1920 lynching in Santa Rosa. As this part of the story began, the front pages of Bay Area newspapers had been filled for days about the police dragnet to track down members of the San Francisco "Howard Street Gang," who had gang raped a woman on Thanksgiving and two other women a few weeks prior. Five suspects had been caught and arraigned with another twenty believed at large.

San Francisco Detective Lester Dorman and Detective Sergeant Miles Jackson were working fulltime on the pursuit of the gangsters, and the day before these events Sheriff Petray notified them that some of the wanted men were reportedly in Santa Rosa. It was agreed the officers would drive up with three of the victims expected to ID them.

The man they expected to find was Charles Valento, who they mistakenly believed was in charge of the Howard street speakeasy. They also believed they would nab Louis Lazarus, who had been in Santa Rosa for part of the week and may have left as recently as that Sunday morning. It was reported in the Examiner that one of the rape victims had recognized him via his mug photo. (It's unclear whether he was identified before the Santa Rosa visit or if he was wanted only because he was known to be associated with the speakeasy.)

There were two others in our cast of characters you need to know: George Boyd (see previous chapter) and Dorothy Quinlan. Although it turned out she was innocent of any wrongdoing, she was first suspected of being a gang member herself. Had the mob succeeded in breaking into the jail Sunday night it's not inconceivable she might have been lynched along with the men.

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.

- Jeff Elliott

Alfred Hitchcock made the wrong movie in Santa Rosa. Yes, Shadow of a Doubt is a great film, one of the greatest ever made, critics believe. But while he was here filming it in 1942, it's likely he heard about what had happened a couple of decades earlier - or at least, the condensed version still retold today. That gangsters gunned down some lawmen in cold blood, that vigilantes stormed the jail, that the bad men were lynched in an old cemetery.

But there was far more to the story; it had all the elements that Hitchock loved to work into the plots of his thrillers. Once the wheels of the story were set in motion, there was no stopping events. Guilt and innocence were sometimes ambiguous and people uninvolved with the crimes found themselves suddenly caught in situations where their lives were in peril. There was even a MacGuffin - a psychopath who was waving around a handgun so large he could barely hold it.

This is the third chapter of the series, "THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID" about the 1920 Santa Rosa lynchings. And like Shadow of a Doubt, this part began as a smoke-puffing train pulled into the depot at Railroad Square.

It was soon after Thanksgiving when three men stepped off the train. They were all ex-cons - one of them had been out of prison only a few weeks - and they had come to Santa Rosa to hide from the San Francisco police. The city had erupted in outrage that holiday weekend when it was revealed two women had been brutally assaulted and one of them gang raped by what the press called the "Howard Street Gang." There was a police dragnet for anyone believed associated with the group and a list of suspects went out to authorities statewide shortly thereafter. All of these developments were explored in the previous chapter.

They were led here by Terrance Fitts. Santa Rosa was his hometown and he visited here regularly - when he wasn't behind bars. Just two weeks earlier he had returned home to learn his father had unexpectedly died, leaving him nothing in the will. The family home on College Ave. would be vacant until the end of the year, however, and had more than enough room for the three of them (see chapter one).

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.

- Jeff Elliott

They just wanted life in Santa Rosa to get back to normal, or at least something close to it. It was January 1920, the start of the sixteenth month of the Spanish Flu in Sonoma County. As there was no vaccine - or even antibiotics to treat the deadly cases of pneumonia which often resulted - all our ancestors could do was quarantine the sick, plus declaring a community lockdown whenever there was a local outbreak, banning public gatherings of any kind and requiring facemasks.

Adding to the sour mood in Santa Rosa was the Rose Carnival was cancelled for 1920 - the third year in a row. Preparing for the Carnival was normally a major pastime in town that kept people busy for months, forming committees and subcommittees on everything from building floats to deciding what to feed members of the band afterwards.

So there was considerable excitement when it was announced there would be a "Burbank pageant" here and it would involve a small army of performers and workers, starting with original costumes for 250 dancers. Heck, this even could be a bigger shindig than the Carnivals!

There were a few teensy problems: There was very little time to prepare as it was scheduled for only five weeks away, not the Carnival's usual five months. Rehearsals were impossible for most of January because Santa Rosa was under lockdown until the 26th. And also, no one knew what a "Burbank pageant" was.

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.

- Jeff Elliott

She stumbled down the darkened street, her face bloody and swollen. This was an industrialized section of San Francisco and no workers were around at such an early morning hour, particularly on that day because it was Thanksgiving. Nearly two blocks away she found an apartment building on a cross street where she roused a middle-age couple and begged them to telephone the police.

The woman was 22 year-old Jean Stanley. She had just escaped from a gang hangout where her friend, Jessie Montgomery, had been repeatedly raped. The public outrage following that vicious assault would set into motion the events which would soon lead to six men dead in Santa Rosa, three of them slain by a gangster's bullets and three hanging by their necks in the Rural Cemetery.

This is the second part of the series, "THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID" about the 1920 Santa Rosa lynchings. Although everything described below happened in San Francisco, this chapter aims to clear up misinformation concerning the crime and its victims, which were the sparks that lit a very short fuse.

For research I scoured all news coverage in the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle between November 1920 and February 1921. I found almost everything written about the events since then relied upon the earliest accounts - which often had errors large and small. More trustworthy details appeared in trial testimony and particularly the summary prepared by the state Attorney General's office (transcribed below for the first time), although even that report didn't cover some critical and shocking facts that came out late in the proceedings.

A broader goal is to offer context about what else was going on around the time of the lynchings, particularly to show the vigilante act in Santa Rosa happened amid a wave of vigilantism which suddenly swept across other cities in the state. And finally, before we get started, please note the stories about the gangsters who committed the crime and their punishments are not found here; for that background I again point Gentle Reader to the e-book, "The Fall of San Francisco's Notorious Howard Street Gang." Only two of the six men are mentioned here by name; from the viewpoint of our narrative, the rest can be thought of as interchangeable, faceless monsters.

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.

- Jeff Elliott

Anyone with the slightest interest in local history knows the story: About 100 years ago, a San Francisco gang sexually assaulted some women. Police tracked gang members to Santa Rosa where a shootout killed the Sonoma County sheriff along with two policemen. The gangsters were captured and taken to the county jail. A mob stormed the building and took the men to the Rural Cemetery, where they were lynched from a tree.

But that's not the whole story - far from it. Parts haven't been reexamined since events happened in 1920, and many details have never been revealed. And like the twice told tales about the 1906 earthquake in Santa Rosa, some of what has been written about it over the years is distorted or flat wrong.

It's also a surprisingly difficult story to tell because it is Rashomon-like, with three quite different ways to frame it. All versions interconnect as their storylines converge around the men who were about to be lynched - but each has people and places which are important to that viewpoint alone.

There's the San Francisco version, which is mainly about tracking down the Howard Street Gang and prosecuting them. Besides the assorted gangsters the main players are the District Attorney, police and politicians. This story winds up in 1928 with the capture of the last fugitive gang member. To learn more, you can't do better than "The Fall of San Francisco's Notorious Howard Street Gang," which can be downloaded as an e-book for three or four bucks.

The Healdsburg version has a narrow focus on seeking vengeance for the murder of Sheriff James Petray, who was from there and very well liked. Those who raided the jail and hanged the gangsters were not a typical liquored-up lynch mob - they acted with deliberation and precision, leaving many to presume they must have been San Francisco lawmen. Not until 2008 when the last member of the vigilantes died (at age 108!) was it confirmed they were all from Healdsburg and had conducted military-style drills prior to the operation.

And then there's the Santa Rosa version, which you're about to read. This story ends abruptly about one o'clock in the rainy morning of Friday, December 10, 1920 when the last of the gangsters twitches and dies in the beams of auto headlights. The main takeaway for this version is that the gangsters haddn't picked Santa Rosa as their hideout by throwing a dart at a map. One of them - the very worst of the lot - was a hometown boy, who by a quirk of fate just happened to have access to a big empty house here.

Ladies and gentlemen, get ready to meet Terry Fitts.

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.

- Jeff Elliott

This would be a nice weekend to put some flowers on the grave of your Great-Great Aunt Virginia, who passed away during the Spanish Flu pandemic - so grab some posies and trek over to where she was buried in 1918. Is she still there? Why, yes. A cemetery is a place with people who generally don't move around much. This is widely considered to be a good thing.

Should you find yourself lost in the cemetery, there's usually an office (or at least a telephone number) where someone in charge can direct you to Aunt Ginny's most permanent address. That helpful person would have had little trouble finding her because the major cemeteries in central Sonoma county have a map and a master index of names. Sometimes very old records might not be perfect, but overall the picture of who's located where would be still mostly complete (see sidebar). The sad exception was always Santa Rosa's Rural Cemetery.

At some point in the early 20th century the burial listing book for Rural was lost. Or maybe it never existed - there's no proof it did, although it's difficult to imagine how the historic cemetery could have functioned otherwise. If Virginia was supposed to be buried in the family plot, it would be a really good idea for the mortician to know exactly where to dig.

So the ultimate mystery of Santa Rosa's Rural Cemetery centers on discovering how all its records were destroyed, and when - but until that can be answered (if ever) the adventure lies in trying to recreate the burial listing book.

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.

- Jeff Elliott

It is where you might dream when you dream of Elysium. A gently sloping hill, dappled sun through the wild oaks, trails likely following the paths of cows that wandered there before the Civil War, greenery trimmed (but certainly not manicured) bestowing the peace of woods in its scent and hush.

Today this is the state of Santa Rosa's Rural Cemetery but until the late 1990s it was decidedly unlovely, choked with weeds, sapling trees, vetch and poison oak. Stories about the cemetery's abysmal condition are legion. It was said to be so overgrown at times that a hearse could not reach gravesites and caskets had to be carried in. A worker clearing brush came across someone's home - a vagrant had burrowed deep into a bramble patch and set up camp.

The cemetery has seen its moments of drama and chaos; there's the mass grave of 1906 earthquake victims and just steps away is the scene of the 1920 lynchings. But mostly it has been an uneventful place - although it also has mirrored the city's maddening pattern of chronic mismanagement. As often documented elsewhere here: A problem develops into a crisis and a quick fix is applied, only to find the same problem return (sometimes in a slightly different guise) and often worse.

This chapter about the Rural Cemetery tells the story of its changing conditions; the following article covers the extraordinary efforts made over a century by volunteers to document who lies there, and where.

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.

- Jeff Elliott

Without doubt, it is the most important book on Santa Rosa history ever written.

The new edition of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery book is out and it's unlike anything that came before. Normally such a listing of burials is a dry reference work only used by genealogists or someone seeking where great uncle Fletcher is buried on the hill. This is more like an encyclopedic collection of grand short stories, more than five thousand tales long.

Volunteers Sandy Frary and Ray Owen dedicated nearly fourteen years assembling the material via primary source research, scouring all manner of databases and conducting interviews with descendants. The result is both highly accurate and readable; although he may not be your great uncle Fletcher, you'll enjoy meeting him.

The co-authors were well-suited for this kind of project. Sandy worked at the County Sheriff’s Office for a quarter century and since then has spent years as a volunteer at the Coroner’s Office researching old records. Ray had 33 years of experience in security background investigations with the Army and U.S. Civil Service Commission (now the Office of Personnel Management).

The book will be available June 1 and cost around $40. To order, phone the Santa Rosa Recreation & Parks Dept. (The exact price and contact number will be updated on SantaRosaHistory.com when determined.)


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.

- Jeff Elliott

Divorces are too easy to get and sought on a whim. A divorce harms the community more than the divorcing couple, so only an elected official can decide whether a bad marriage should be dissolved. The public has a right to know any and all accusations and embarrassing details about a couple seeking divorce. A wife or husband might lie about what happened during their marriage unless they face cross-examination in open court.

That snide little handbasket of equivocation, intimidation and false assumptions didn't come from clergy nor sanctity-of-marriage moralists; these were arguments made by top California judges in the mid-1910s, who viewed an option to bypass their judgeships as a threat to their authority.

What angered them was that married couples were using a new state law which made divorce less costly - not to mention being faster than waiting months for their date to come up on a Superior Court docket, usually jammed up with criminal and civil proceedings.

This alternative way of obtaining a divorce was decades ahead of its time - the concept of family court simply didn't exist during the early part of the century (California didn't get around to serious marriage reforms until the Family Law Act of 1969). And besides deserving a place in our history books for that reason it should be mentioned as part of the struggle for women's rights, as the conflict starkly pitted the powerful all-male judiciary vs. a class of (almost entirely) female plaintiffs.

By now Gentle Reader has probably guessed that this divorce option wasn't available for very long, and the whole episode was quickly forgotten - this is the first time it has been discussed since then, as far as I can tell. One reason it vanished from memory was probably because almost all of the events played out in Sonoma County, then still politically a rural backwater.

Forgotten, too, is this Believe-it-or-Not! nugget: In 1915, a Santa Rosa woman served as a Superior Court judge. It was the first time that had ever happened in the history of the United States.

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.

- Jeff Elliott

Note to Santa Rosa: When things are so bad that you're on the side opposite the Women's Auxiliary, you might want to rethink your position.

It was 1923 and the smell of tort was in the air - among other things. Pressure was coming from neighborhood groups, which were either threatening suits against the city or demanding Santa Rosa sue its worst polluter. The state Board of Health was sending threatening letters to city hall because nothing was being done to fix serious violations of public health laws. And then there was the lawsuit filed early that year by a man who charged the city was responsible for his young daughters being sickened with typhoid and diphtheria.

What all of these complaints had in common was that they involved Santa Rosa Creek in some way - either something bad was being intentionally dumped into it or the city's inadequate sewer farm was overflowing and flooding the adjacent creek with raw waste.

None of these were new problems. Complaints to the City Council about the abuse of Santa Rosa Creek dated back over thirty years, to 1891. Ordinances against pollution were passed but not enforced and court orders were ignored - as for the sewer farm contaminating the creek, the city was violating a perpetual restraining order going back to 1896.

Last month (Feb. 2021) I was part of a Historical Society of Santa Rosa webinar about Santa Rosa Creek. My portion, "The Stink of Santa Rosa Creek" covers much of the history of pollution in the decades around the turn of the century, but I did not have time to discuss the pivotal year of 1923, when prospects greatly improved. This article is a companion to that presentation and wraps up the story.

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.

- Jeff Elliott

"Honest & Fearless," someone scrawled under a snapshot of him in the California archives, but many more were inclined to denounce him as a disgrace to the State Senate in which he served. He claimed to be speaking on behalf of the natural order intended by "God Almighty," but critics argued he was the mouthpiece for the liquor industry. He insisted he was just defending the traditional domestic roles of women; a great many saw him as a bully demanding continued discrimination against them.

State Senator J. B. Sanford (D-Ukiah) was the de facto leader of those in California opposed to women's suffrage during the years before the October, 1911 vote in the state. Every voter was mailed a pamphlet with excerpts of his "grandmother speech" which mocked suffragists and their demands for equality.

His hateful and misogynistic opinions may seem ridiculous today but in viewing history, context is everything. The passage of suffrage in California is all the more remarkable once you realized how extreme Sanford's views were, and that so many male voters agreed with him. San Francisco, Alameda, and Marin Counties all opposed giving women the right to vote, and suffrage was likewise defeated in Petaluma, Sonoma, Windsor and Healdsburg. It won in Santa Rosa by 14 points, which gave it the boost to pass in Sonoma county overall by four percent. See "THE SUMMER WHEN WOMEN WON THE VOTE" for more background.

As part of the Petaluma Library & Museum suffrage centennial exhibit, we put together a "pseudo-radio play" that imagines a 1911 interview with Sanford. In it he reads a portion of that infamous speech and has a short debate with Frances McG. Martin, the eloquent President of the Santa Rosa Political Equality Club who frequently jousted with Sanford on the editorial pages of the Santa Rosa Republican. In the production almost all of Sanford's remarks and most of Martin's are drawn directly from original sources.

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.

- Jeff Elliott

It happened without any warning: "Santa Rosa's Public Library will close at 6PM today and suspend services until another building can be found," the Press Democrat article announced on November 17, 1960.

What town closes down its library? And can they even do that? Oh, sure, the old building had its faults, everybody knew. The building could be overcrowded after school or on weekends and the shelves were so full that books were also piled on the floor, which had something of a slant.

Behind those ivy-covered walls the place was thick with sentiment. Three generations of Santa Rosans had warm memories starting with children's story hours, of later reference desk help with homework, of taking home lightweight books to pass the time or stronger reading to sharpen one's wits. Out-of-town newspapers had classified ads to help find a new job or place to live that wasn't here; magazines presented stories and pictures of places to dream they could someday see.

And not to overlook that the building was a landmark - the library had been a centerpiece in two major motion pictures, with the Chamber of Commerce touting it as a tourist attraction.

Whatever was wrong with the old place, couldn't the damage be fixed?

No, authorities said. Or maybe yes - with the caveat that everyone would hate how it looked afterwards. But it wasn't really that simple a question because the real, unspoken answer was this: "Don't ask the question because we've already made a decision." And what the city and Library Board of Trustees had decided to do was tear the building completely down and replace it with something they had already committed to build. Landmark, public will, and everything else be damned.

The given reason for padlocking the doors was that the building wasn't up to fire codes and was structurally unsound. A letter to the Trustees from City Manager Sam Hood told them to immediately "move out of the building or close it" (i.e. shut down all town library services).



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.

- Jeff Elliott

The high school auditorium was packed that Sunday morning in 1937 with people from all over Sonoma county. Uniformed boy scouts ushered the last of the audience to their seats as an announcer hushed the audience. Promptly at 10:30, the speakers crackled to life with a recording of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Waiting at the microphone for the music to finish was a 67 year-old man. "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. With the playing of the national anthem, station KSRO, voice of the Redwood Empire, takes the air for the first time." He continued with the required sign on announcement before ending: "This is Ernest Finley speaking and I now turn this fine new radio station over to the people of the Redwood Empire for their use and enjoyment."

Finley wasn't really handing over KSRO to the public, of course - he was the sole owner of the station as well as the two newspapers in town, the Santa Rosa Republican and the Press Democrat, where he was also editor and publisher. The papers would promote the station which would promote the papers. So cozy was this little media empire that the broadcasting studios were in the PD building on Mendocino Ave.

After an invocation by the rector of the Church of the Incarnation and playing a recording of religious music, the live program continued with 15-minute salutes to Marin county and seven communities in Sonoma. Usually the mayor said a few words which were followed by music from someone in that town - there had been talent contests over the previous weeks to choose the artists. Santa Rosa was represented by a singer and Walter Trembley, harmonica virtuoso; Cloverdale sent Glen Bonham, imitator.

There were other live performances that day woven between recorded music before the big dedicatory program at 3:00, where the mayor of San Francisco spoke and the KSRO orchestra performed, along with others. The hour long program closed with an audience singalong.

And that was pretty much the end of the first broadcast day, September 19, 1937. The station signed off at 6PM, having only a permit to operate from dawn to dusk. This was typical of little commercial stations all over the country; night hours were only for the high power clear channel stations that could sometimes be heard for a thousand miles. With its 250 watt (!) transmitter, KSRO reached from San Rafael to Ukiah - but came in as far away as Eureka and San Jose when conditions were ideal.

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.

- Jeff Elliott

"I am the king of Siam," the young man told the Marshal.

The officer and the hotelkeeper knew very well that he was not the king of Siam, who was not likely to be staying at the United States Hotel in Cloverdale. His name was Ed and he was well known, having lived in the town as recently as five years ago and had come back several times since.

"I am the king of Siam," Ed repeated, adding that he had just killed several men, primary among them a judge whom he had shot 43 times. On a table behind him could be seen two revolvers, one covered in blood.

This scene took place at 2:30 in the morning on October 29, 1891, not long after he had drawn those guns on one elderly man, firing seven times. Four of the bullets hit the victim in the face but incredibly did no serious damage - his forehead was grazed along with the bridge of his nose, an eye tooth was knocked out and a bullet passed through his neck wattle.1 The shaken old fellow walked unaided to a nearby doctor's house where his wounds were dressed.

The next day Ed was taken to Santa Rosa, where a sanity hearing was immediately held in the judge’s chambers. Questioned about the shooting, he "told a story which revealed the workings of a mind that is in the habit of making excursions on its own account," according to the Democrat newspaper, insisting that he had used eight guns to shoot the old man (whom he believed was actually someone else in disguise) 48 times. At the end of the hearing he was committed to the Napa asylum, "there to he held in custody until his sanity or insanity has been demonstrated."

Normally this would have been the end of our story, and Ed would have been salted away at the asylum at Napa or elsewhere for the rest of his life. Yet five months later he was free awaiting trial and walking around Santa Rosa greeting friends. How could this be? That's because he was not your average homicidal lunatic - he was Edward J. Livernash.

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.

- Jeff Elliott

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