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.