This survey of the 1905 Santa Rosa newspapers ends with 72 posts, 63 on them on distinct topics, more or less.

This was the year that Santa Rosa made first strides away from its rougher Wild West days. Electricity was almost reliable and telephones were now so ubiquitous that “Hello Books” were needed to lookup all the numbers. Autos became a familiar site around town, and Santa Rosa could now boast of having 21 cars along with a real gas station. Some downtown streets were paved, and the City of the Roses established a speed limit of 8MPH, slower around corners. The electric line — formally known as the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway — was established, linking central Sonoma County with a modern little interurban trolley system, though the rail link to downtown was connected only after a violent confrontation with the steam railroad in the Battle of Sebastopol Avenue.

Luther Burbank was at or near the pinnacle of his fame in 1905, having been awarded an annual grant from the prestigious Carnegie Institution for scientific research — but true to character, Burbank was found pitching pseudo-science nonsense to the local horticultural society a couple of weeks later. This was also the happiest year for Jack London, who bought his celebrated ranch outside of Glen Ellen and married his true love, Charmian. Jack drew attention when he rode into Santa Rosa that May on horseback, accompanied by the Alaskan Husky that was his inspiration for his current novel, White Fang.

There was great excitement nationwide about that summer’s Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, and a civic group was formed to “work to advance our Imperial Sonoma” at the fair. But aside from some olive oil sent by the Rincon Heights Olive Co. and chicken hatchers sent from the Petaluma Incubator Company, Sonoma County was conspicuously absent among California communities and regions appearing at the fair.

There were far fewer notices of business trips or other travel by Mr/Mrs. Oates in the papers than in 1904, presumably because they were settling into their new grand house, which was introduced to Santa Rosa via a unique newspaper feature that read like a birth announcement. A housewarming and house full of guests followed, surely occupying the family long into summer. While Oates was one of the lawyers representing the electric railway in its conflict with the steam line, his only other newsworthy lawyerly appearance that year was when he represented a silent consortium that bought the entire Santa Rosa bond issue to the astonishment of other bidders. And finally, something of his human side was shown in a nonsense item about Oates and his neighbor launching a backyard “skyship.”

Reviewing the 1905 blog postings, I’m chagrined to find that it has taken me one whole year to write about this one year in Santa Rosa. At this rate, I’ll never make it to the era of the Comstock family, for which these early 20th century years are mostly prelude. But it’s impossible to read these old newspapers without wanting to retell at least a few of the stories long forgotten in those pages. How everyone met downtown on Saturday summer nights for shopping and a sing-along with the band on the courthouse balcony; how the same downtown turned into a little Las Vegas when the ponies were running at the track, with illegal gambling everywhere — and how there was a running conspiracy between the newspapers and authorities to keep quiet about this to protect Santa Rosa’s “good name abroad.”

Some stories are so odd as to defy belief without an original article as supporting evidence; I would have scoffed if told that robin pot pie was considered a tasty dish by many — but a local man was caught smuggling a box of birds to a San Francisco restaurant. A balloonist visited Santa Rosa and gave an exhibition that included parachuting, but alas, the balloon-jumping aeronaut here was a young woman; until recently, his act had featured a parachuting monkey named “Jocko.” (Parachute or no, I imagine there’s only so many times that one can hurl a monkey from a terrifying height into a crowd of spectators before some sort of tragedy ensues.) And then there was the local motorist ticketed for speeding who later made a citizen’s arrest of the same policeman, forcing the cop to arrest himself for spitting on the sidewalk. I wonder if Robert Ripley, then 14 years old, remembered some of these oddities when he was inspired to start his “Believe it or Not” column of oddities.

Other stories must be written to set the record straight. Chief among these in 1905 was Sonoma County’s awful role in the eugenics movement, where thousands of young people were forcibly sterilized at the State Home in Glen Ellen, women for excuses such as being “sexually delinquent” and men for being “passive sodomists.” Almost nothing has been written about these horrors by local historians.

But as this blog sails into the Earthquake Year, let’s look back on old 1905 and all fake a sneeze as an excuse to get drunk with a grandchild, thus helping the youngster “cultivate the habit” for the “glow of health” (amazingly, this ad was not a one-off; the next year the brewer produced an even grander version showing grandpa looking decidedly more squiffy than sniffly).

And with brew in hand, let’s contemplate again my favorite story of the year, the one about the motorist who arrests the cop. Did I mention that the policeman was spitting on the sidewalk at night — and during a downpour? You couldn’t make this stuff up, really.

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There were two really good parties in 1905 Santa Rosa, and you weren’t invited to either of them.

Not a week passed without the papers describing a party or three. There seemed to be no end to the social clubs that apparently existed for no other reasons than to throw parties. Mattie Oates was a prominent member of “The Bunch,” which rented a hall at least a couple of times a year for a big shindig, including one on New Year’s Night, 1906. More common were ad-hoc clubs that were an excuse to get together and play cards at a member’s home. One such ladies’ group was the Fork Club, which awarded the best player a silver fork, and was actually a spinoff from the Cup and Saucer Club, which gave away… wait for it… cups and saucers.

If the house party was thrown by a family, it seems that there was an unwritten rule that there had to be an associated theme, such as the “Dutch Colonial” prizes given out at the housewarming at Comstock House. Cute, but despite the effusive praise always doled out by the society editor, these events sound pretty bland; you sit with your friends around card tables and play “500” (or another variation of Euchre) until someone scores high enough to win the fork. Play you next month for the dishware?

One party stood out far away from the others: The women’s Ghost Party on Monroe street. Here the house was tricked out with glow-in-the-dark effects (this is 1905, remember) and guests were expected to dress as ghosts, devils, or demons. None of the guests were allowed to speak or unmask until two games of dominoes were played. No giveaway of trinkets here. The whole affair sounds as if it was quite novel, interesting, and, well, Goth.

But the big social event of 1905 was the coming of Alice Roosevelt, daughter of President Teddy.

Alice Roosevelt was the 20th century’s first true celebrity — someone famous for the sake of being famous. She was the darling of her age, adored and reviled in equal measure. With an annual allowance more than her father’s salary as President of the United States (coming from separate trusts established by her late mother’s parents), she lived a life of luxury among the super-wealthy Newport set; “I care for nothing except to amuse myself in a charmingly expensive way,” she wrote in her diary.

She smoked cigarettes, drove an automobile, stayed out late unescorted, gambled with bookies, and smuggled booze into a formal dinner where alcohol was not served. A family friend remarked that Alice was like a “young wild animal that had been put into good clothes.”

Newspapers were always eager to print the latest true-or-no reports of “scandalous” behavior by the First Daughter, and now that Alice was 21, it was decided that she would be sent tagging along with Secretary of War William Howard Taft on a four month junket to Asia. The train caravan loaded with the Roosevelt-Taft entourage arrived in San Francisco July 4, and Alice celebrated Independence Day by shooting at telephone poles with her revolver (!) and slipping away from her chaperones for a visit to the city’s notorious Chinatown. But the day before the boat sailed, she was the guest of honor at that all-male bastion of power, Bohemian Grove.

This was not a Sonoma County party or even a San Francisco gala society luncheon, but a West Coast reception for Alice as ambassador to the White House. There were at least 140 guests, including the California Governor, elected officials at the national and state levels, European nobility, Cabinet members, judges, military leaders, noted scholars, and even Mrs. Phoebe Hearst. But the only three invited guests from this area were Rep. McKinlay of Santa Rosa and his wife, plus Luther Burbank.

In her autobiography she mentioned the banquet in passing (“we lunched at the Bohemian Club Grove, where the Bohemian Club, one of the most famous organizations in the country, holds its annual ‘jinks,’ in the sun-flecked gloom of the great redwood trees…”) but as described in the Press Democrat article below, there was more to it than a lunch in the woods: “As the guests alighted from the train they were greeted by music from a male chorus concealed on the mountainside,” and apparently it only got more luxe from there.

Alice married a few months later, and newspapers predictably had a field day over her White House wedding, many publishing special supplements with pictures suitable for framing (the PD offered a large front page spread with photographs). Valuable gifts poured in from world governments, as if it were the wedding for President Teddy himself. King Edward VII gave her a gold snuffbox with his portrait in diamonds; the Kaiser sent a bracelet with his portrait in diamonds. The Cuban government had to be talked out of giving her an entire bedroom suite studded with jewels. So many presents were sent that many went directly to storage, and over sixty years later, an inventory found stacks of wedding gifts that were never opened.

After the ceremony was over, Alice embraced her stepmother and thanked her for the wedding. Edith, who had been at loggerheads for a decade or more with the willful daughter of Teddy’s first wife, reportedly said, “I want you to know that I’m glad to see you go. You’ve never been anything but trouble.”

(This 1902 photo of Alice gazing into the camera is one of the few to show the full effect of her eyes, which were much commented upon. The Wikipedia entry is quite good for more about her life. All quotes and anecdotes found here, however, come from “Princess Alice: The Life and Times of Alice Roosevelt Longworth,” which I highly recommend, and her memoirs, “Crowded Hours,” which I do not.)




Great Hospitality Shown Distinguished People on Thursday–Elaborate Luncheon Served in Natural Amphitheatre While Sweet Music Steals Over the Woodland–Luther Burbank One of Guests

The special train bearing Secretary of War Taft, Miss Alice Roosevelt, and some two hundred other guests of President and Mrs. A. W. Foster of the California Northwestern railroad, arrived here on its way to Camp Bohemia Thursday morning at 10 o’clock.

A large crowd had gathered at the depot and when the train stopped to take on Luther Burbank, Judge and Mrs. Albert G. Burnett and Congressman and Mrs. D. E. McKinlay of this city, Miss Alice Roosevelt appeared on the rear platform and waved acknowledgement in the greetings extended by townspeople. Secretary Taft appeared at a car window, but did not come out.

All who saw Miss Roosevelt were charmed with her appearance. She was simply, yet elegantly gowned in lavender and white and wore a hat to match. Her intelligent face and winsome smiles reflected the sunny disposition which she is said to possess at all times, and she impresses one with the assurance that she is a hearty, unaffected American girl.

Camp Bohemia is in the redwoods, on the beautiful Russian river, about four miles from Guerneville. It has been made famous as annual meeting place of the Bohemian Club of San Francisco. On every hand forest giants tower to the skies, some being three or four hundred feet in height. As the guests alighted from the train they were greeted by music from a male chorus concealed on the mountainside and this proved to be only one of a series of pleasant surprises planned by the thoughtful host and hostess.

After spending something like an hour wandering through the giant grove enjoying its beauties, the attention of the guests was directed to the elaborate luncheon which had been prepared and which was spread on an immense circular table built beneath the redwoods in what is known as the amphitheatre. A beautiful fountain sprayed in the middle of the space surrounded by the table and ferns and choice California fruits were used for decoration.

The luncheon was served under the direction of the Bohemian Club’s famous chef and the orchestra under the direction of Prof. Vogt contributed the feast progressed, several of the selections having been composed especially for the occasion. The photographer accompanying the train took some fine pictures of the party at luncheon.

President Foster opened the speech-making by introducing Judge W. W. Morrow who was followed by Senator George C. Perkins, Governor George C. Pardee, Mr. Cheesebrough of San Francisco and Secretary Taft. The speeches consisted principally of felicitations. Secretary Taft ended his remarks by proposing a toast to “Our Alice.” At the table Secretary Taft sat next to Mrs. Foster and Miss Alice Roosevelt on the right of President Foster. Congressman “Nick” Longworth of Ohio sat next to Miss Foster.

After enjoying the elaborate menu, many of the guests rested on the lounging seats provided while others, including Miss Roosevelt, wandered through the grove again enjoying its beauty and grandeur…

…An entire carload of choice fruit was provided and four cars were required to transport the provisions and service. Fifty people were on hand to minister to the comfort and convenience of the guests. The luncheon menu was as follows: Oyster cocktail in grape fruit, consomme royale in cups, pecan nuts, ripe olives, roast squab, roast chicken, new peas, Roman salad, Parisienne potatoes, ice cream in own form with whipped cream, strawberries, fancy cakes, coffee, champagne, cordials, white rock water.


– Press Democrat, July 7, 1905



Many Fair Women Masquerade as “Ghosts” and the Party Scheme Was Very Cleverly Carried Out

Mrs. Edson C. Merritt and her sister, Miss Pauline Olson, were the hostesses at a “ghost party” last night at the Merritt residence on Monroe street at which a large number of their lady friends were guests and ghosts. The hostesses made the most elaborate preparations to have everything as realistically ghostly as possible. In face the scheme throughout was very cleverly conceived and carried out.

None but “ghosts” went to the party, as far as their outward appearance betrayed. The fair guests masked in most approved ghostly style, and in the array there were “hob goblins,” two or three impersonations of “his Satanic majesty,” and all kinds of ghosts.

The decorations of the handsome home were in accord with the general plan of the party. For instance when the guests passed into the house, they had to pass under portals of weeping willow. The creepy sensation that phosphorous in a dark room will produce was not forgotten and conveniently in view were several skulls and cross bones, numerous plicards and pictures, while ghostly colors were arranged so as to give the effect if was intended they should. In addition there were drapings of white sheets, etc.

It is somewhat hard to imagine such a state of affairs, but with all due respect to the ladies, quietness was preserved and in fact no one was allowed to speak during the first two games of dominoes. After that the “ghosts” were permitted to remove their masks and talk. Then they were the merriest of ghosts and a delightful time was passed and all present declared that it was the best planned and sustained party scheme they had ever witnessed. None but the fair sex were present at this party…A dainty supper was enjoyed and after midnight the ghosts “glided” to their own happy homes.

– Press Democrat, February 25, 1905

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Press Democrat editor Ernest L. Finley hated the rival newspaper so much that he couldn’t shut up about it.

From March 1905 until the earthquake the next year, Finley churned out reams of rebuttals, snarky little put-downs, and mean-spirited parodies about the Santa Rosa Republican, as introduced here in “The Newspaper Feud of 1905.” Some days it was all he wrote about on the commentary page, and sometimes his jibes were so oblique that readers would have needed to search out weeks-old back issues of the Republican to make any sense of his animosity. Finley emerges the worse for it, coming across as a petty, thin-skinned bully.

The entry below is on par with many other attacks, unique in only that it crystallizes several of Finley’s favorite themes: His rival editor is a newcomer from the city who is unfamiliar with “country ways,” and thus has no right to express opinions on any local matters. This also reveals Finley’s parochial prejudices that make him sound like a bit of a geezer, although he was actually only 34.

Yet Finley was always a talented writer, and this op-ed finds him at his most lyrical with the fine turn of phrase, “he is as full of advice as an ordinary pumpkin is full of seeds.” Finley further wins this blog’s award for obscurity with his false praise, “not a pipe man…could fool him.” I can’t find a definition or similarity in any of my vernacular dictionaries, or even in other papers of the era. “Pipe man” may be derived from the French verb piper, which means to dupe or cheat someone.

The new editor of the Republican is worrying considerably for fear that the Mayor and Common Council will not be able to handle the city’s affairs to the best advantage, and is very sure, he says, that if he were only in their place he could improve upon things considerably.

He is as full of advice as an ordinary pumpkin is full of seeds, and it is really remarkable what a vast fund of useful and reliable information he possesses regarding every department of the city government.

It might not be a bad idea to turn the management of the city over to him for awhile, just to learn how public affairs should really be conducted. He is fresh from Alameda county, where they always do things right, and has not yet had time to take on country ways. He is still just as smart as anybody, and there is not a pipe man in the business that could fool him on anything. Also, it is very apparent that the conduct of his own business requires very little of his time, so it would not be any imposition to allow him to take up the task alone as it might be with other people.

Such opportunities as this do not present themselves every day.

– Press Democrat, June 21, 1905

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