Blackout! In the week after Pearl Harbor, Santa Rosa was hit with “future shock” as the war descended upon us. The blackouts drew everyone’s fevered attention; they made it apparent our lives had changed for the worse – and would likely stay unsettled for a long, long time.

Later they discovered there never were enemy bombers - the reports were all false alarms issued by the Army or hysteric rumors, such as the story of a dogfight with a dive bomber over San Francisco Bay.1 Yet the fear was real and personal; it was the enemy reaching into your home, threatening the very lives of you and yours.

Problem was, there was no "How to Blackout" manual - so when the first two air raid alerts happened on the night of Dec. 8-9, no one knew what to do. There were no blackouts anywhere in the county for the first alert although during the later one Santa Rosa and Petaluma managed to at least turn out streetlights. (Full story found in the previous article.)

Directions from the Office of Civilian Defense appeared in newspapers nationwide on December 9th but were less than helpful: "Put out lights. Stay away from windows."

Considering the urgency of the matter - had there really been bombers, that is - you'd expect authorities and/or the press would have offered guidance on how to follow the rules besides sitting in a pitch-black hallway or windowless room for hours (just imagine what hell that would be for families with little kids).

By the end of the week commercial options were available; the paint store began selling "heavy blackout paper" at 6¢ a sq. yard. Lumber dealers were suggesting plywood ("after the emergency is over, panels can be salvaged and used for cutouts, furniture. built-ins, even wall-coverings"). Pedersen's Furniture would install blackout window shades and the linoleum store advertised blinds made out of linoleum. Civil defense insisted neither blinds or shades were adequate - windows had to be covered with dark cloth or all lights must be doused. The City Council backed that up by passing an ordinance making light leaks punishable by a fine up to $250 or 90 days. Police were also allowed to walk into any building to click off a light.

All well and good, but there was one other teensy problem that first week of the war: Santa Rosa had no air raid signal.

The rest of this article can be read at the 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

- Jeff Elliott


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