The 1906 earthquake destroyed much of Santa Rosa’s 19th century heritage — and also its chances for a remarkable architectural future.

Santa Rosa was not a town that welcomed architects; many of the fine pre-earthquake houses that still can be seen around town were built sans architectural plans by local contractor Frank Sullivan, and before him, T.J. Ludwig. Even architect Brainerd Jones from nearby Petaluma found little work here; besides Comstock House, he designed only four other Santa Rosa homes and three public buildings during his nearly half-century career. When locals did realize that they needed the services of an architect to build something nice, they went to prestigious big city firms. San Francisco architects drew up plans for the lodge halls, post-quake courthouse, city hall, and high school. It wasn’t until the 1930s and construction of the Junior College that a hometown architect, William Herbert Cal Caulkins, was able to establish an architect’s beach head.

But in the months before the quake, Santa Rosa had a resident world-class architect who seemed itching to transform Santa Rosa, and the town seemed willing to let him do it. His name was William H. Willcox.

It’s unknown exactly when Willcox arrived in Santa Rosa, but the early 1906 newspapers were full of him. Once he unveiled his plans for a convention auditorium that could host more people than any other building ever built in the town, he was the darling of Santa Rosa’s business elite. At a Feb. 1 city hall meeting, $2,800 was pledged on the spot; by a month later, $8,000 had been promised towards construction, and in just a few more weeks — say, by mid-April — the subscription goal of 10 thousand dollars surely would have been reached.

But his Mission Style pavilion, seen here in a Press Democrat illustration, was not his greatest ambition. Willcox proposed to redesign Santa Rosa itself; he wanted to dam Santa Rosa Creek and turn it into an urban lake that would be the centerpiece of the town. Gone would be the blighted red-light district along First Street. From the E St. bridge (for which he also proposed a new boulevard design) to beyond Santa Rosa Avenue, the inviting waterpark would have electric lights, paths and benches, a swimming pool, a section between the bridges over one hundred feet wide for water sports, and a kiosk jutting over the water for bands to entertain. But like his pavilion, his waterpark plans were forgotten after the earthquake.

Willcox is a cipher. As far as I can tell, there’s no scholarly overview of his career or even a reasonably complete catalog of his work. He knocked around the country for more than thirty years, picking up commissions for churches, libraries, mansion-like homes, and state buildings. Besides Santa Rosa, he had offices in New York, Chicago, St. Paul, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and probably other places unknown.

Today William Willcox is identified as a progressive architect who helped define the American “Queen Anne” style in the 1880s. (He was also famous as the Civil War mapmaker whose pen portrayed the famous battlefield of Antietam.) Several Willcox buildings are on the National Historic Register, and his work in St. Paul is particularly well known — see pictures of the Kellogg House and the Driscoll House. His grandest project was the Nebraska State House, which took three years to build and cost over $1.25 million in the early 1880s. Not that he designed only extravagant; in an 1883 house pattern book he presented a novel design for an octagonal cottage, arguing that it was a superior value.

The 1906 earthquake destroyed his vision for the Santa Rosa that might have been; the momentum in town now was for reconstruction, not radical redesign. He was appointed Building Inspector in the days immediately after the quake, and at least through the end of the year through May, 1907 kept an office here with civil engineer John B. Leonard. Small business ads appeared sporadically in both papers (although his name is spelled “Wilcox” in the Press Democrat adverts), announcing “structural steel and reinforced concrete a specialty.”

Although Willcox was 73 when the earthquake tore apart Santa Rosa, his career was still not over. In 1911, he was given a commission by Murray H. Durst. (Obl. Believe-it-or-not sidenote: Murray was one of the brothers behind the infamous Durst hops ranch in Wheatland, where a 1913 protest by agricultural workers ended with four dead and helped launch the nationwide labor movement.)

The millionaire Durst asked Willcox to design a “dream hotel” in Oakland that would occupy an entire city block. It was to cost $2.5 million, be ten stories high, and have a subway station in the basement with an airplane landing strip on the roof (this during the early biplane era, remember). Willcox was paid $1,157 on account. But Durst passed away and his widow claimed she knew nothing of the plans. Willcox sued the estate, arguing that he was still due one percent of the projected building cost. According to coverage in a trade magazine, Durst’s lawyers claimed that the deceased had “permitted Willcox to draw the elaborate plans just to humor the aged architect, and with no idea that the hotel would ever be built.” Years later the courts ruled for Willcox, and the estate was ordered to pay over $23 thousand. But was the design really the scribble of a deluded old man? Not as reported in the Feb. 11, 1919 Oakland Tribune: “on the [courtroom] wall is pinned a picture of it and all those interested in the case admit that it is a thing of beauty…”

Willcox lived a decade more, dying at age 96 the Veteran’s Home in Yountville, where he is buried. In local history, he has only a small footnote as being the guy who decided whether a quake damaged building was safe. Had he arrived a year earlier, or the quake struck a year later, his name might have been immortalized as the architect who transformed Santa Rosa into something of wonder.

Like One at Eureka It Would Be in Demand for Many Affairs After the Conventions

The proposal before the meeting held at the City Hall last evening when the plans were being considered, for the coming of the great party conventions this summer, for the erection of a pavilion suitable for the use of the conventions while in session, prompted the Republican to interview P. H. Quinn relative to some of the facts about the large pavilion which was erected in Eureka some several years ago. The building is just such a structure as it is proposed to have here, and is such that after the conventions have been held, it would be of real benefit to the community, and would be in demand for many gatherings during all seasons.

Mr. Quinn states that the Eureka Pavilion is built very much on the plan of the State Fair building at Sacramento, and that it is merely a shell well covered on the outside with good weather boarding and a good roof, while on the inside it is ceiled, and has a very fine floor so that it could be serviceable for fairs, dances, or skating–in fact anything in the amusement line. He states that the building there has always been in demand and rents for a good sum–the amount of which he has forgotten–and that it has been a paying proposition from the start.

When the plan was first broached, it was decided to build it as a joint stock concern, and the Occidental Mill Company, which is a large firm in Eureka, was interviewed and agreed to furnish the lumber for the structure and take stock in the company for the same. He suggested that some good reliable party could go from here to some of the great milling companies in the north and interest them in the move here, to furnish the material at a very nominal cost, and thus get a good building at a much less price.

The Eureka building is so constructed that there are two wings and they can be thrown into the main building thus enlarging the auditorium, and beside, there are galleries all around the room and these afford an immense seating capacity. Mr. Quinn is very much interest [sic] in the movement that has been started here, and is of the impression that the erection of such a pavilion as is proposed will be of inestimable value to Santa Rosa, and would be in demand all the time.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 2, 1906


Would Make Pretty Park Along First Street and, in So Doing, Remove Many Objectionable Features There

As in all probability we shall soon have a noble new stone bridge spanning Santa Rosa Creek at E street, let us consider what shall be done toward the betterment of the creek, in at least the portion that meanders through the city.

For years the condition of this stream and its bed has been a menace to the health of our city, and inexcusably, I think, for the opportunities which exist toward raising it to a sanitary condition and making it an exceedingly beautiful body of water has been lost sight of in a perfectly lackadaisical spirit.

The people of Santa Rosa have really a great opportunity within their precincts, in this hitherto neglected stream. Tracts of ground that are too rough and precipitous to be conveniently built upon are quite suitable for parkage and may generally be devoted to such purposes with excellent results. Our city has all the topographical character that it deserves, and it may easily and economically emphasize and dignify the great value of its stream. The ground on either side is difficult to utilize for any other purpose than that of parking, and conversion into a pleasure ground will eliminate its present unsightly and unhygenic character.

Indeed all the elements of what may be termed natural beauty, that is, a landscape characterized by simple and flowing lines, exist; the raw material of forest trees, running water, undulating surface and meandering shore, may be readily appropriated with great effect and so little cost that picturesqueness may be easily obtained. The banks and shelving reaches are now encircles [sic] by many find specimens of foliage, which only need a little cleaning out and trimming. The shrubs and trees are there. With the spell of wildness unbroken the landscape is brimming with natural beauty.

Now let us consider how we may improve this long neglected and despised spot.

Nothing is more delightful than pure clean running water: it is the life of a landscape; the delightful and captivating effect of water in scenery of any description are universally conceded. Its effect is almost magical, and with the blue of a Santa Rosa sky, and its silvery clouds, and the deep verdure of the foliage reflected upon it bosom, which feature could be more delightful or responsive.

Now by damming the lower part of the stream at some convenient point just east of the gas company’s plant with a head of water of greater or less height, the water may be thrown back as desired, and as it is always running clear and pure from the mountains, a constant level will result, sufficient in quantity to maintain at all times an overflow, thus, the stream may partake of the character of a river instead of a creek, developing into an [sic] dignified expanse of water.

Owing to its varied contours and meanders, the shore at some places will steal gently and gradually away from the level of the water, while at others it will rise suddenly and abruptly into banks more or less steep, irregular and rugged. Upon portions of its banks various kinds of wild ferns may be so planted as partially to conceal and overrun and hide rip-rap work or rocks and stumps of trees, while trailing plants will still farther increase the intricacy and richness of such portions. The Virginia creeper, Woodbine or Honeysuckle and other beautiful vines may be planted at the roots of the trees and left to clamber up their branches; and the wild clamatis so placed that its luxuriant festoons shall hang gracefully from the projecting boughs of some of the overarching trees, diffusing a delicious breath and making the walk beneath doubly delightful; while lovely wild flowers, peeping in and out, would yield gaiety and brightness to the parkage which the trees alone could not impart.

Leading from D street and either end of E street bridge, let us maintain walks through the more pleasing portions of the grounds, commanding now and again charming ranges of water scenery, and exhibiting at every portion some new feature, some changed aspect on which one’s thoughts dwell with delight. Let us conduct the pathways, through portions varied in character, and in graceful and pleasing lines, every advantage being taken of the natural contour of the ground. The winding walks, open bits of grassy levels or slopes, shrubs grouped naturally on turf, shady bowers and rustic seats, all agreeably combined, would render these grounds very interesting, instructive, and attractive. Some of these walks might terminate at neatly thatched structures of rustic work with seats for repose and views of the landscape beyond; along the margins of the pathways, where they would be appropriate and in harmony with the scene, might be laced rustic seats.

Other embellishments of interest, such as arbors, vases and plant baskets of different forms, but in keeping with the spirit of the scenery, might be introduced.

The boundaries, on all sides, should be irregularly planted, so that formality will be scarcely perceived, except within. The view from the E street bridge would include a view of all of the principal features.

At the foot of D street and on its axial line, and observable from the present postoffice on Fourth street. I would suggest the construction of a neat and simple kiosk; in properly riprapping at the base of the kiosk and on the line of First street, a concourse may be provided to accommodate a great number of people. This kiosk could be used for orchestral purposes, and the rip-rap work, falling away toward the stream, its surface covered with the garniture of ivy, Cherokee rose or other charming creeper, luxuriant and spendid would be the result.

At both approaches to the E street bridge, along the lines of First street from D to Main streets, and along the approach to Main street bridge, commodious esplanades might be maintained affording uninterrupted water and park views, very agreeable in character.

A convenient place for a dam is to be found just east of the gas works. This dam need not be constructed higher than nine feet, and as the fall is a trifle in excess of five feet from the E street bridge to the bridge at Main street, nearly four feet of water would be constant under the E street structure, and at that place expanding to a width of over one hundred feet, large enough to play water polo and important enough for Venetian sports.

East of the dam a public swimming pool of large dimensions, enclosed along simple and economical lines, but unroofed, could be constructed, with a pleasing entrance way bordered with shrubs, from Main street near the bridge. The water in the pool would be always clear because always [sic] running.

At a point just east of the turn which the river makes before it mixes with the water of Matanzas Creek, and running eastward to the turn of the water west of the railroad bridge, in a gently curving channel line, a stretch of just one half mile is obtained, that would be available for boat racing and other aquatic sports. At some convenient place undoubtedly a boat house would be build and the people of Santa Rosa could amuse themselves in rowing upon the face of a beautiful and healthful river, that is now given over to the deposition of old tinware, offal, and all sorts of baneful deposits and nuisances that at times render the air fetid and dangerous to health by diffusing its deleterious and poisonous gases through the city.

But also you will find on this water front a condition and opportunity so to construct public work that the attractiveness of our city shall be enhanced. You will not only free a neighborhood from nuisances, but preserve the natural character of the locality, and secure the humanizing influences of beautiful environment–all obtained at a minimum care and expense. Let us individualize our city. It is easily done, nature is helping us; let us make it lovely and give it distinction, and by so doing invite visitation and renown, which now obtains in so many towns of our state that only a few years ago were pronounced sage brush plains or chaparral hillsides. Santa Rosa, with possess, is hardly known outside of her own perliews. [sic]


– Santa Rosa Republican, February 10, 1906

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Did you hear about the Ohio voting machine scandal? Either the devices were unreliable or someone tampered with them to rig the election — a machine was discovered that awarded every single vote to one candidate. “The discrepancy was so marked, in this case that an error was apparent at a glance,” reported the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. But the allegations weren’t about the much-discussed electronic voting problems in 2004 Ohio (which still scores about 182,000 Google hits); it was about problems with mechanical voting machines in Ohio more than a century ago. And, like skeptics today, Press Democrat editor Ernest L. Finley argued in March, 1906, that the machines were fatally flawed because there was no paper ballot trail for recounts.

The reliability of voting machines was a hot topic that month in Santa Rosa — a real estate company even used the theme for an ad, seen at right — because the U.S. Standard Voting Machine company was trying to convince the City of Roses to buy them. The issue came to climax at a March 6th City Council meeting. One public speaker complained that the machines were too hard to use: “Many people have tried the machines of late and it has been proven that as a rule they are ignorant of the workings of the machine, and unless there could be a lesson given every day between now and the time of the election, it will be the means of disfranchising a large number of the voters of the city.”

But the most compelling speaker that evening was Democratic Party mover-and-shaker Thomas J. Geary, who argued that the “voting machine is an instrument of bossism” and intended to deprive the people of their rights. As reported in the Republican newspaper, Geary created “considerable amusement” as he “…read from the instructions printed on each of the machines, where in order to vote a straight ticket the voter is instructed to ‘pull back the lever until the bell rings.’ He made considerable sport of the fact that the voter must ring a bell when he goes to vote, and stated that he was not particular about having his vote announced by the ringing of a bell.”

Geary preyed upon a common fear with his remark that the machines encouraged “bossism.” Everyone in that audience knew that San Francisco was under the thumb of corrupt political boss Abe Reuf, whose Union Labor party had won re-election just a few months earlier. Reformers had forged a Republican-Democrat “fusion” ticket that had wide support, but contributing to its failure was that voters had to pick out those candidates individually on the ballot. And the new voting machines probably did make such split-ticket voting more difficult; imagine yourself as Mr. 1905 San Francisco Voter (no vote for California women until 1912, remember) who has never seen a voting machine before. You enter the booth and the curtain automatically shuts behind your back. In front of you is a bewildering wall of brass switches. With only a couple of minutes to vote, searching for the reform candidates was daunting; the path of least resistance was to pull a single lever and vote along straight party lines. *

Adding to the distrust of the machines were sensationalist articles in some of the San Francisco pro-reform papers, warning that Reuf could have rigged them. “MACHINE CAN BE FIXED AND VOTERS MUST BE ALERT,” screamed a headline in the October 31, 1905 San Francisco Call. “GRAVE DANGER LIES IN MACHINE DEFECT.” The Bulletin newspaper also joined in warning that corrupt city bosses might rig the machines with rubber bands attached to the counters for opposition candidates, which would snap the counters back into the neutral position; when the voter pulled the lever to record his ballot, there would be no vote entered for the rubber-banded reformers. (Articles and graphics from out-of-town papers don’t really belong here, but the layout from the Call, seen at right, is remarkable.)

Geary’s gripe about the bell was another exaggerated “danger.” Yes, a bell rang when the voter pulled a lever, but the purpose was to let know that he was now free to leave the voting booth, if desired; a curtain had closed behind him when he entered the booth, and it could not be opened until at least one vote had been recorded, notified by the bell.

Geary’s speech settled the matter; the Santa Rosa City Council voted unanimously to stick with the “Australian ballot system” (what we’d call today a hand-counted paper ballot; candidates and their party affiliations are printed on paper and the voter makes a mark next to the names).

As for the reliability of these early voting machines and the possibility of mischief, it appears that the gizmos received a bad rap. No rubber-band tampering was ever found in San Francisco, and an article about voting machines in a 1905 technical magazine noted that such tampering is “possible but stupid” because the rubber band would be visible to the voter. A scan of 1905-1906 newspaper stories nationwide finds no complaints except in New Jersey, where political bosses placed the machines just in districts inclined to split-ticket voting, thus creating the same obstacles that voters faced in San Francisco. And as for the Ohio machine where all the votes suspiciously went to one candidate, no mention can be found. Either the incident had happened years before, or the Press Democrat was spinning tales.

* Geary’s “bossism” speech marked the second time in a few months that Democrats in Santa Rosa had interjected 1905 San Francisco election politics into local issues. The previous September, PD editor Finley had compared a Santa Rosa reform group to the Citizen’s Alliance, a despised organization of anti-labor thugs. In the San Francisco election, Boss Reuf primarily won by dishonestly linking the reformers with the group.

The agent for one of the various voting machines now on the market has tendered the city free use of his machines at the approaching municipal election, with the idea that their purchase will probably follow, together with that of sufficient others to equip the county.

So much has been heard regarding the wonders of the voting machine that one almost hates to admit, even to himself, that the only real argument in their favor is that they satisfy public curiosity as to the result of the election a little sooner than can be done under the present system.

Opposed to this are many disadvantages [sic].

We have yet to hear of a case where anyone has been injured by having to wait until the following morning to ascertain the result of an election; in fact the uncertainty of the few hours first following the closing of the polls is what adds most to the interest of such affairs.

The first argument against the voting machine is that it is a machine and as such is of course apt to get out of order at any time and without warning, either electing the wrong man or invalidating the entire election.

The second, and perhaps the most serious objection, is that the machines now on the market are constructed upon an incorrect principle. They are all built with the idea of encouraging “straight voting,” where the safety and very existence of our present form of government depends upon encouraging the independent voter. Public sentiment is running strong against the “straight ticket” idea, and it is highly probably that before long our laws will be so amended as to do away with the present form of ballot entirely, compelling every voter to exercise his choice for or against each individual candidate, as was the case under the old Australian ballot system. When this is done the voting machines now in use will become worthless, and others built upon the new principal will have to be purchased to take their place. It therefore follows that this is not a very good time to buy voting machines, whether one is in favor of or opposed to them.

The voting machine is different from any other machine in that its mistakes cannot be corrected. The work of the adding machine, the typewriter and the Linotype can be done over again in cases where errors are discovered, but no such rectifying of mistakes is possible with the voting machine. The voter records his wish and goes his way, no one knows where, and he leaves no record of his action save that contained in the inner mechanism of the machine. When later in the day, the machine is found to be out of order, it is impossible to round up all the voters the second time, and so the entire day’s work is lost.

In case the disarrangement is not discovered, somebody is “counted out.”

According to a report telegraphed from Ohio not long ago, when a voting machine was opened at the close of the day’s run it was found that one candidate had received two or three thousand votes and his opponent none at all. The discrepancy was so marked, in this case that an error was apparent at a glance, but if it had been less so it might have never been noticed.

A very strong argument against the voting machine is that it leaves no record of its procedure, and in case a dispute arises as to the correctness of its figures, there is no possible way of settling it. Under the present system it is always possible to rectify mistakes, even after the result has been announced by referring to the returns or recounting the ballots, or both.

The first cost of the voting machine is very heavy; and the money paid for them goes to manufacturers residing in the east. Between elections the machines must be stored, and a thorough overhauling at the hands of an expert is necessary each time before they can be placed in commission. In addition to the heavy expenditure required in their purchase and maintenance, about the same amount must be paid out for assistance as under the present system. Although it is claimed that such is not the case, it is very probable that no real saving is effected by the introduction of the voting machine. Figuring interest on the cost of the investment, wear and tear, etc., and considering the likelihood of having to throw the machine out of commission after a few years’ use, the cost of conducting elections is in all probability considerably greater where the machine is used than under the hand system.

And the entire amount paid out for conducting elections under the present system goes to the citizens and taxpayers of the county.

It may be that some people will contend that voting machines should be introduced here at once, but we are inclined to believe that if such is the case, it is only because they have failed to consider the matter in all its aspects.

As we see it, there is nothing to be gained by the introduction of machines within the city or the county at the present time. The forty or fifty thousand dollars that it would cost can be expended to far better advantage in other directions.

– March 6, 1906 Press Democrat editorial

Council Rescind Former Resolution
Petition Presented and Considerable Oratory Feature of Proceedings

By unanimous vote the members of the City Council at their meeting last night rescinded a resolution passed at a previous meeting providing for the use of voting machines at the coming municipal election. Many citizens were present at the meeting, and when Mayor Overton declared the motion carried, the hall rang with applause.

A petition very numerously signed was first read. It asked that the resolution heretofore passed providing for the use of voting machines should be allowed to stand, and called attention to the use of machines elsewhere, etc. The petition was placed on fine.

Then Attorney L. W. Julliard, representing Frank C. Jordan, agent for the voting machine, stepped to the front. He stated that he had received a telephone message a short time before asking him to appear and stating that owing to a failure to make train connections Mr. Jordan found himself left over night at Stockton and unable to reach Santa Rosa in time for the meeting. Jordan asked that the machine matter be delayed until Wednesday night when he could be present.

Councilman Wallace moved that the former resolution passed by the City Council allowing the use of voting machines be rescinded. Councilman Donahue seconded the motion. Then the debate on the question began, and Mayor Overton gave anyone who desired to speak an opportunity to do so.

John Robinson, the well known proprietor of the Eagle hotel, was not slow in accepting the Mayor’s invitation for an expression of views. Mr. Robinson said there was no doubt but that the agent of the voting machine had fully explained his wares to the council, and he could not be blamed for endeavoring to get business for his company. He thought, however, that possibly the passing of the resolution two weeks ago was a little hasty, and he mentioned Mayor Overton’s desire as expressed at the time to have the matter considered further. The speaker called attention to the complications of the mechanism he had seen men contend with when they attempted to practice voting on a machine, and he did not mince language when he declared with some emphasis that the use of machines here on election day would practically disfanchise a great many good people. He though that if the resolution was not rescinded it would be a very serious mistake.

Attorney Julliard in behalf of Mr. Jordan took the floor to extol the virtues of the machine and if he had been speaking for himself and also was the agent, his argument could hardly have been more persuasive. He said that the arguments against the use of the machines could almost as well be applicable to the Australian ballot. He cited elections in other cities and towns where machines had worked, presumably like a charm.

Before Colonel Julliard spoke, Councilman King said he would like to hear what the Hon. T. J. Geary had to say, Mr. Geary being an interested but silent looking-on at the proceedings. Colonel Julliard had his inning first, and during the course of his remarks he (Colonel Julliard) called attention to the incorrect statement published in an evening paper stating that Mr. Geary was in favor of the machines.

Mr. Geary spoke forcibly and eloquently in opposing the introduction of voting machines here at the present time. He said it was no stroke of economy to use the machines because there would have to be the usual election officers and other matters to provide for. He said he was opposed to voting machines as at present constructed which were in direct opposition to the tendency of the people in their use of the ballot. Voting machines, he declared, with much emphasis, were made for the benefit of the bosses and for the depriving of the people of their rights. They were made, he said, to permit the bosses’ coercing the people and were used as a means to get them to do their bidding. Things had come to such a pass he declared that it was often a choice between two sets of bosses nowadays, and people under the pretense of freedom had become abject slaves of bosses and of bossism. The tendency of the times, he said, was to destroy the bosses and there was also a strong tendency against party tickets, and a growth of an intelligent sentiment which demands that people thing and vote for themselves. Amid applause the speaker declared the “voting machine is an instrument of bossism.” He went on to say that he believed the present ballot law would be changed within two years.

Colonel Julliard replied to some of the things the previous speaker had touched on, and said that out of courtesy to Mr. Jordan the matter might be laid over until Wednesday night when that gentleman could be here.

Mr. Robinson said he had learned through the public press of the city and in other ways to show that the people generally did not want the voting machine.

J. L. Jordan said he preferred and he thought the majority preferred that the coming election should be voted in the old way.

In further proof of his statements Mr. Geary brought in a minature voting machine which had been place in the anteroom for inspection, and his reading of the directions and the explanations afforded considerable merriment and drove home to a clinch some of the claims he had made.

The vote on the question was then called for and Councilmen Reynolds, Donahue, Brown, Wallace, King and McDonough all voted a hearty “Aye,” and the spectre of the voting machine at the coming city election vanished. The city will pay the cost of the freight in bringing the voting machines here as agreed.

– March 7, 1906 Press Democrat

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Humor goes rotten faster than eggs, as Will Rogers (or someone, might possibly have) said (or not), but nothing ages with the speed of editorial cartoons. Yesteryear’s op/ed jabs are now oblique. Why is the President showing a diplomat his pocket watch? Why is that Asian man drinking from a teacup? Why is that ear of corn angry? I’m sure these cartoons brought readers of the day a wry smile or a sage nod of the head, but now they might as well be hieroglyphs.

But history doth repeat, and the themes in the cartoon below, from the October 6, 1906 Press Democrat, need only to be slightly updated to be timely today. The original context was the run-up to the Bank Panic of 1907, when major banks were at risk of failure unless the government provided bailout money. Oh, and there was also a wave of high-profile bankruptcies, a credit crisis, a real estate bubble, and greedy Wall St. speculators. Does any of this sound familiar?

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