This survey of the 1904 Santa Rosa newspapers ends with 45 posts, 39 on them on distinct topics.

Two types of stories will never be included here unexpurgated: Suicides (at least, the successful ones) and bouts of insanity, although both were mainstays of the old papers. Sorry, but no one casually searching the web for their family surname deserves to stumble upon the horrific description of an ancestor writhing in pain after swallowing carbolic acid. That said, there were two stories from 1904 that lingered on my desk and deserve semi-anonymous mention, both for the poignancy of the tale and the writer’s talent in the telling.

The first appeared in the Press Democrat Feb. 16, with the irresistible headline, “BRIDE OF WEEK A RAVING MANIAC.” The poor woman really hadn’t gone Freddy-Kruger, of course, but had become delusional. “…The attending physician could see no hope for her but to remove her to a place where she could be given the attention given persons who mental faculties have become shadowed…her friends are extremely sorry.”

The March 6 PD sketched a story that intrigues: Only a few days after an Alexander Valley man committed suicide, a wealthy son from one of the earliest and most well-known white families in the county stood on his front porch and pressed the barrel of a rifle against his chest. He died instantly, even as his unsuspecting wife and a woman guest were inside the home. “…He was undoubtedly temporarily insane, as was the case with the other tragic death,” opined the Press Democrat writer. “These seem to be days of suicides, days fraught with unbalancing of mentality.”

There were at least 21 references of Mr/Mrs. Oates in the Press Democrat’s “Personal Mention” column. Most were business trips by Wyatt to San Francisco, Healdsburg, or Sebastopol, but on Feb. 6 he was a “party patron” and on Nov. 1 he was “seriously indisposed with stomach troubles.” The last mention of Comstock House in 1904 was Sept. 15, when the PD reported “good progress is being made with the foundation.”

Some notes for future reference: Santa Rosa’s 1904 population was about 9,000, with 725 telephones. 39 of 40 potential jurors listed their profession as farmer. A December vote for a $75,000 bond for the overcrowded Santa Rosa schools failed to pass.

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I was dreading coming to the end of the 1904 microfilms, to tell the truth. Between the erratic electrical service and the 19th century practice of placing lighted candles on dead evergreen trees (!) I expected the Dec. 26 headlines to read, “TOWN IN FLAMES.” Imagine my surprise when the holidays passed without incident — except for the flaming Santas, of course (UPDATE HERE).

(The “Red Men” and “Council of Pocahontas” have nothing to do with Native Americans, but rather are one of the many white fraternal organizations, to be described in a later post.)

Man With His Head Enveloped in Flame Dashes Through the Crowded Hall — Headgear Was Tied on With Rope Which Made Matters Worse — Pleasure of the Evening Marred

Considerable excitement, a panic and almost a fatality marred the closing moments of the Christmas festivities at Red Men’s Hall last night in connection with the tree and entertainment given under the auspices of the Council of Pocahontas.

Otto Seeman, who played the part of Santa Claus, arrayed in all the trappings of the time-honored visitor, whose flowing white beard and wig, added a thrill of realism at Christmas time to the tree [sic], came very near being incinerated. As it was he was shockingly burned about the head, face, and neck.

When the accident happened Mr. Seeman had mounted a ladder reared against the tree and the flowing wig and whiskers caught the flame from one of the candles. In an instant the flames encircled his head and face. He jumped from the ladder and ran through the crowded hall. Women cried out hysterically and men attempted to grab him to tear the burning mass from his head. He tugged at the cotton and hair himself, but kept on running. A few moments elapsed until some one threw his coat over the flames and smothered them.

What presented a worse aspect is the fact that the wig was securely tied on with a rope… While his burns are undoubtedly very serious it is a miracle that he escaped as he did when it is taken into consideration that the wig was so securely tied. At his home a physician attended to his injuries. The unfortunate happening robbed the occasion of its full measure of festivity and the suffering man was given full assurance of the sympathy felt with him.


– Press Democrat, December 24, 1904



Charles B. Duncan of Sebastopol had a narrow escape from fatal injuries while acting the role of Santa Claus at the home of J. E. Fornachon, where the two families had gathered to celebrate Christmas. He was dressed in a big overcoat covered with cotton, and wore a headgear with cotton beard and long hair in regulation style.

The cotton caught fire on his sleeve and like a flash he was enveloped in flame. Considerable excitement ensued. Before Mrs. Duncan and Mr. Fornachon could tear off the burning coat and head-trappings, Mr. Duncan was severely burned about the face neck and hands. His hands and arms suffered the worst. Mrs. Duncan was also burned about the hands and arms. Mr. Duncan is a brother of E. E. Duncan of the Press Democrat typographical staff.

– Press Democrat, December 29, 1904

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The stormy 1904 election ended with Santa Rosa’s two newspaper editors locked in intransigent battle, each fighting the good fight right to the bell. But the next morning a surrender was announced; the Press Democrat crowed that the rival Santa Rosa Republican was being sold post haste.

The PD didn’t have it quite right. Allen Lemmon was indeed stepping down as editor, but he was leasing, not selling, the Republican to a pair of young out-of-town newspapermen. (It would also turn out to be more of a sabbatical than retirement, but that’s leaping ahead.)

Today Allen B. Lemmon and his Santa Rosa Republican are footnotes as the town’s “other”newspaper and its editor. Even intrepid genealogists rarely check its archives, obvious because Press Democrat microfilms always have far more scratches and other signs of wear; SSU’s reel for the latter months of 1904 was even unopened until this project began.

The Republican deserves more respect from the history books. It provided an important counterbalance to the conservative Press Democrat (see posts on the 1904 elections) and stayed true to its party-of-Lincoln roots by keeping Southern lynchings and other racial violence at the forefront. It also provides a much-needed way to verify the accuracy of the PD’s reporting; even in the small sample of 1904 items examined here, a case was found where the Press Democrat omitted a key detail that changed the story entirely.

While its reporting and writing were always first-rate, the Republican was looking a little frayed at the cuffs by 1904. Ad revenue was clearly down; sometimes a two-column hole would appear — on the front page, no less — reading only, “This space reserved for” (a local merchant whose ad would appear up to several days later). Lemmon regularly filled space by inserting over-sized advertisements to sell building lots in his own “La Rosa Place” subdivision, apparently between modern-day Juilliard Park and the highway 101/12 intersection. And at least twice, the recurring slot for “Cremo” cigars presented hand-written copy, probably scribbled at the last minute when the expected ad art didn’t arrive in time. As the example here shows, a copy writer Lemmon wasn’t.

Lemmon certainly deserved a rest. Besides editing the Republican and peddling real estate (available on the installment plan for $10/mo), he was also the town’s postmaster. It must of been a wrenching change on the morning of November 11 to awake and realize that he only had two full-time jobs demanding his attention that day, then later that evening opening “his” paper to find other names on the masthead for the first time since 1887.


Report Has it That the Change Will Soon Be Made But Editor Lemmon Says Not Just Yet

For some time there have been persistent rumors to the effect that the Santa Rosa Republican has been purchased by Mr. James, business manager of the Sacramento Bee and W.B. Reynolds of the Oakland Enquirer., and that the ownership would pass into their hands after the election, or about the twentieth of November. Last night, Mr. Lemmon was seen by a reporter in regard to the matter.

“There is a story afloat, Mr. Lemmon, that you have sold the Republican. What have you to say?”

“The Republican is not sold,” declared Mr. Lemmon emphatically, “there have been a number of stories told regarding the matter but I own the Republican and may own it forever. I have not sold the Republican.”

It is understood as stated above, that the agreement to sell takes effect at the date mentioned, and as Mr. Lemmon says the paper may not technically be sold at the present time but the formal transfer will soon be made. Mr. James is now in this city but could not be seen last night.

– Press Democrat, November 9, 1904


Today the management of the Republican passes into new hands. Mr. W. H. James and Mr. W. B. Reynolds have leased the paper, and, under the agreeement entered into, may eventually own the same. Both are practical printers and young men of ability and extended newspaper experience. For several years Mr. James has held a responsible position on the Sacramento Bee and Mr. Reynolds has been similarly connected with the Oakland Enquirer. They should prove a very strong newspaper team and we commend them to the many good friends of this paper.

For nearly seventeen years the writer has been responsible for the editorial and business management of the Republican. He is a bit tired and has considerable other business to attend to. Hence the change.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 10, 1904

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