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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