Showbiz was tough in 1905; sometimes there would be hecklers in the audience, sometimes a rotten tomato thrown. And when it was really, really bad, sometimes there would be a dentist waiting to beat you up outside the stage door.
Not much is known about “Professor Faits” (or “Fates,” or “Fait”), except that he had a hypnotism act similar to that of “The Great McEwen,” who played Santa Rosa in 1904. Both McEwen and Faits appeared to be following guidelines from a 1901 how-to book, Stage Hypnotism, which not only tutored would-be Mesmerists on trances and the like, but taught them how to promote themselves. McEwen chose to publicize himself with the trick of driving a buggy around town blindfolded; Faits used the simpler stunt of having supposedly hypnotized subjects asleep in the display window of a local store. And by appearing in Sonoma County, both hypnotists were following the book’s suggestion of targeting small towns because pickin’s were easier than in the cities.
There the similarities between McEwen and Faits ended. McEwen’s visit was a smashing success, probably due to equal parts to skill and personal charisma; it didn’t hurt either that the Press Democrat’s editor appeared to be an enthusiastic (and rather gullible) fan. By contrast, newspaper coverage of Faits’ “window sleeper” promo was perfunctory, and there was tepid enthusiasm for his shows (“the program is entertaining, instructive and at times very amusing”). By the last night, poor Faits, who had made the further mistake of booking himself into the largest theatre in town, was reduced to giving away tickets to fill seats.
Bad luck also plagued Faits’ visit to Santa Rosa. During one performance there was an accident with a photographer’s flash lamp that “burned two of the fingers of his hand so that the flesh dropped away from the bones,” the Santa Rosa Republican reported. By the end of the week, it’s safe to bet that Faits-the-Great was looking forward to leaving the City of The Roses and heading south to his next engagement at that nice little egg town to the south, Petaluma.
Oh, if only he knew.
During his last Petaluma show, two men in the audience began heckling. An experienced showman like Faits surely would have known how to deal with such disturbances; but maybe because it was the final night in town, or maybe because he was short-tempered because his burned fingers ached, he didn’t cope well. There were words and he ordered the men from the theatre. They left — as far as the front door.
When Faits and his two assistants exited the theatre at the end of the night, they were jumped by Walter Hall and two other men. Hall punched Faits in the mouth and likewise bloodied up Faits’ male assistant. Afterwards, police were called and charges were filed against Hall. He was arrested, made bail, and the next morning paid his fine of $25 (!) for three counts of battery.
The story could end here and be titled something like, “Professor Faits Worst Week Ever.” But there’s more: Who was this Petaluma guy named Walter Hall, who seemed so determined to cause trouble? Was he a local ruffian, a drunk looking for someone to pummel? Not at all; Doctor Walter C. Hall was a prominent 23 year-old dentist. He was also a man with a broken heart — and therein lies the other half of this tale.
Hall was married to his childhood Petaluma sweetheart, Abbie Nay. Years later, when her obituary appeared in newspapers the length of the state, it was noted that she was once known as “the most beautiful girl in Sonoma County.” No pictures can be found in the papers of the day, but she was described as small, with golden blonde hair, and an aristocratic bearing. The marriage to Hall was her third. She married her music teacher while still in her teens, and had two children. They divorced, and less than a year later, in June, 1902, she married James P. Treadwell.
Abbie’s second husband, “Jimmy” Treadwell, had inherited part of a fortune. Papers of the day commonly erred both by stating that he was worth “millions” (he wasn’t) and that the family money came from the famous Treadwell mine in Alaska (it didn’t), but he really did have a trust fund income of $1,000/month (worth over $100,000 today) and was worth somewhat short of a half-million. He also had the reputation as a playboy with an eye for actresses — one threatened him with a breach of promise suit and horsewhipped him in 1897 — and as a sometimes violent drunk.
A little over three months into their marriage, in early October, 1902, Abbie and Jimmy were vacationing at the famed Rubio Pavilion near Pasadena. They began arguing and Jimmy drew a gun. They struggled. He struck her on the head with the revolver and she ran away, bleeding. Then Jimmy supposedly shot himself. Twice. There were no witnesses.
Although he was shot both in the chest and in the center of his forehead, the jury ruled it a suicide. “No one for a moment would doubt the statement of this lady,” the coroner said. In the days that followed, other details were revealed: Jimmy had written his Last Will and Testament just a few days before his death, leaving Abbie his entire estate.
Abbie returned home to Petaluma as a widowed, divorced, mother of two, and a very, very, wealthy woman. There she reconnected with old flame Walter Hall, and they married at the end of 1904. Later accounts of her life say that their relationship was tempestuous, and they separated a few months later. This would bring us right to the time that young Dr. Walter C. Hall, having lost the girl of his dreams and her fortune, found himself in the alley behind the American hotel in Petaluma, waiting to beat the crap out of a poor magician who had only asked him to behave.
Walter and Abbie divorced in 1908, the dentist charging her with desertion. She did not contest the complaint. Abbie married again in 1912, this time to a man named Georgesterff. Like all of her other marriages, this one didn’t last long; she died about six months later of TB.
Fait/Faits toured as a magician at least until 1910, and probably endured much razzing over the incident, particularly since accounts found in the Santa Rosa Republican and elsewhere claim that he was knocked unconcious by the dentist’s punch. An item can be found in a paper in far away Amador County, where it was also noted that he had performed in the town many times. Doubtless every place he had ever appeared picked up the story; it would’ve been hard for editors to resist a tale with such jokey potential. Faits died in San Diego in 1940. The San Diego Historical Society appears to have archive materials donated by his daughter.
Almost immediately after his divorce was final, Dr. Hall married another local woman, “credited with being one of the most beautiful girls in her section of the country,” the Press Democrat reported. “She is a pronounced blonde.”
(Story update available here)
FAITS IS SAID TO BE A GREAT HYPNOTIST
Professor Faits, the hypnotist, who appears at the Athenaeum tomorrow night, is said to be very clever in his art and press notices in other cities where he has appeared speak very highly of him and the performance. The San Luiz Obispo Tribune says among other things:
“Last evening Prof. Faits gave another and an entirely different exhibition from the previous evening. To say that the performance is wonderfully clever and entertaining would be slight praise in view of the wonderful things he does. The cabinet work was decidedly the best that has ever come under our notice, and the Resto Capio was simply marvelous.
“This evening there will be an entire change of program. Mind reading will be the principal feature. The professor will do many wonderful things blindfolded. He will devine the thoughts of members of the audience, and locate hidden articles, and select a couple whom any person thinks of as being engaged to marry. We heartily recommend Prof. Fait’s exhibitions as being worthy of the best turnout that San Luiz Obispo is capable of. Go tonight and be edified.”
– Press Democrat, July 16, 1905
THIS MAN TO HAVE A RESTLESS SLEEP
Professor C. W. Faits who is giving a week of interesting demonstrations of the wonders of hypnotism, psychic phenomena, thought reading and modern spiritualism. At the Athenaeum will [sic] give a public exhibition this afternoon at 2:30 o’clock in the window of Mailer’s hardware store. On Monday he placed a young lady in a peaceful hypnotic sleep and she remained motionless until awakened in the theatre in the evening. Today he will place a man in a “restless” sleep for the same period, and prior to his awakening in the theatre he says he will make him so restless that it will require several strong men to keep him in bed. The program is entertaining, instructive and at times very amusing.
– Press Democrat, July 19, 1905
WONDERFUL WORK OF THE HYPNOTIST
Much attention was centered Wednesday afternoon on the work of Prof. C. W. Fates in placing a young man in a “troubled” sleep, in the show window of Mailer’s hardware store. The subject showed all the signs of nightmare and late in the evening was taken to the Athenaeum and awakened after unsuccessful efforts to get from his watchers [sic]. Before he was awakened he broke away from the grasp of four men.
A large and deeply interested audience witnesses the Professor’s work Wednesday night. This evening he will give the cabinet work among his other demonstrations. The attendance is increasing nightly.
– Press Democrat, July 20, 1905
TONIGHT WILL BE FAITS’ LAST HERE
This will be the last night of Prof. C. W. Faits entertainments at the Athenaeum. No one who has seen him has anything but words of praise for his work. The program tonight will be especially interesting. The coupon published in another column, if presented at the box office tonight, will entitle any lady to a reserved seat for the performance.
– Press Democrat, July 23, 1905
ASSAULTED THE ACTORS
Dr. Walter Hall went into Judge King’s court on Monday morning and paid a fine of $25 imposed by the court on three charges of battery. The doctor entered a plea of guilty and paid the coin.
Two of the complaints were sworn to by Prof. Fait. One charged battery upon the professor and the other charged battery upon the person of Miss Effie Jensen, who assists Prof. Fait in his performances. The third complaint was sworn to by George Satterwhite, who also assists Prof. Fait in his exhibitions.
It appears that at the Unique theater on Sunday night, during the performance of Prof. Fait, Dr. Hall and Sam Swartz occupied seats and created a disturbance. Prof. Fait approached them and asked them to desist and some words passed.
After the performance, as Prof. Fait and his assistants, Miss Jensen and Mr. Satterwhite were approaching the rear entrance to the American hotel on Kentucky street, they were assaulted by Dr. Hall who struck Prof. Fait in the mouth with his fist, cutting his lips open and spattering blood all over the professor’s dress shirt and coat. Mr. Satterwhite also received a blow on the face that caused blood to flow. In the melee Miss Jensen was so roughly handled that a charge of battery was sworn to in her case also. She was not struck by anyone, however.
Prof. Kenney, who says he feared trouble, accompanied Prof. Fait and his party. He interfered and finally succeeded in putting a stop to the struggle.
Sam Swartz and Roy Hooper were with Dr. Hall at the time of the assault but did not, it is said, participate in the scrap.
Dr. Hall was arrested Sunday night and gave bail for the sum of $100 for his appearance in court Monday morning.
Prof. Fait and party left Monday morning for Sonoma where they will give entertainments.
It was reported Monday that Prof. Kenney, who is determined to stamp out rowdyism at the Unique, will cause the arrest of Dr. Hall and Mr. Swartz on a charge of disturbing the peace of the people who were present at the theater Sunday evening.
Another disturbing element at the theater Sunday evening was a local character known as “White Horse.” That individual, who was drunk, let out a series of whoops the moment he stepped inside the door. He was quickly ejected, however.
– Petaluma Argus, July 31, 1905
Disturbance at the Unique
During Professor Fait’s hypnotism performance Sunday evening a disturbance arose. It was caused by Samuel Swartz and Dr. Walter Hall as stated by several eye witnesses, who sat on one of the front seats. Professor Fait remonstrated with Swartz who was the first to offend and then the disturbance was increased by Dr. Hall. They were induced to leave the theatre, but, with Roy Hooper, waited beside the American stables where Professor Fait and Miss Griffith, his assistaint, were taking advange of the passage that leads to the back entrance of the American hotel from Kentucky street. Dr. Hall struck Professor Fait but Professor Kenney who had suspected trouble followed and intervened, thus preventing further attack on Professor Fait. A man named Wells belonging to the Fait party was also beaten by Dr. Hall because he was starting out to find a policeman.
Dr. Hall states that he was not the only one to blame for the disturbance but is game enough to take the punishment.
Samuel Swartz says that he never opened his mouth during the whole evening. He says the man on the stage pointed out the wrong man when he indicated that Swartz was the guilty party. Samuel says that Dr. Hall and himself were on the way home when they met Professor Fait, and that Dr. Hall claimed that the professor owed an apology for what he had said in the theater. Wells interfered and the doctor hit him. Then Professor Fait picked up the woman and swung her between himself and Hall with such force that if Hall had not caught her she would have fallen to the ground. After this he called Dr. Hall away and they left.
Dr. Hall appeared before Judge Kig [sic] this morning. He pleaded guilty and was fined twenty five dollars for battery.
– Petaluma Courier, July 31, 1905
HYPNOTIZED A HYPNOTIST
Dr. Walter Hall of Petaluma Knocks Out Professor Fait and His Troupe
Dr. Walter C. Hall, a prominent dentist of Petaluma, was fined $25 for battery in Justice King’s Court in that city last Monday. It appears that Dr. Hall and a companion named Sam Swartz attended the Sunday night performance of Professor Fait, the hypnotist. The two men created a disturbance and had some words with the Professor. After the performance the men followed Fait and his two assistants, Miss Jensen and Mr. Satterwhite, into the street. The Petalumans assaulted three of the show people, the hypnotist getting a severe blow in the mouth. Hall showed himself to be scrapper and cleaned out the whole troupe.
He was arrested Sunday night on three charges of battery sworn out by the show man and his assistants. Dr. Hall gave bonds in the sum of $100 for his appearance and Monday morning paid his fine of $25. The Professor’s long, stagy clothes were ruined by the dental hypnotist.
– Santa Rosa Republican, August 1, 1905