One of the stranger tales from the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake was the case of “Dr. C. C. Crandall,” a physician who showed up at the Santa Rosa Hospital to volunteer his services in the heat of the disaster. In the following days he apparently charmed all – until it was revealed that he wasn’t really a doctor, that Crandall wasn’t his true name, and that he was stealing like mad. The man who was actually Hugh W. Dunn fled, only to be tracked down in Portland and returned to Santa Rosa, where the court sentenced him to a year in prison for felony embezzlement. “I presume he congratulates himself as he picks jute at San Quentin,” sneered the Press Democrat gossip columnist. But the good Mister Doctor was polite and stayed in touch; the PD also printed a few lines from correspondence he sent to a friend in town. “His letter from the prison was certainly a cheery one under the circumstances,” opined the newspaper, wishing him (not) well.

One of the greatest sensations our local gossips have had in many a day was the arrest, conviction, and sentence of “Dr. C. C. Crandall.” It simply made everybody doubt their senses. And the jar it gave some of our girls will not efface itself in a day or a week. The “Doctor” was so suave, so agreeable, so gentlemanly, such a philanthropist, coming, as he did when we needed help so badly. In two days time he proved himself such a liar, such a scoundrel! It seemed incredible. I presume he congratulates himself as he picks jute at San Quentin, that he is there, but after all no one found out who he really was. Safe to say, now, nobody wants to know.

– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, June 17, 1906

“I am getting along well here. I have only seven more months to serve and I am already counting the months. Soon I shall be counting the weeks and then the days that I have to remain here,” writes “Dr.” C. C. Crandall, alias Hugh W. Dunn, the gay young supposed medical man who was sent to San Quentin for a year on a charge of embezzlement, to a Santa Rosan last week. His letter from the prison was certainly a cheery one under the circumstances.

– Press Democrat, August 19, 1906

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There wasn’t much to celebrate in 1906, but hooray for this: Congress finally passed a law regulating the safety of food and medicine. The end of the era of quackery and dangerous cure-anything elixirs was surely at hand.

Except, it wasn’t at all. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was all about enforcing truth in labeling, and didn’t even mention truth in advertising; it would be another twelve years before the new Federal Trade Commission started to crack down on that kind of fraud. In that interim, the fraudsters would exploit the public desire for “pure food” with new and even more dishonest claims in the newspapers, in magazines, and on billboards.

Santa Rosa was already familiar with food purity issues, thanks to a significant amount of newspaper coverage over a dust-up in 1905 about Grace Brothers beer, and whether it was truthfully “adulterated” with a harmless preservative. Both of the town’s papers gave front page coverage to passage of the new federal pure food laws – but afterwards, they also both featured ads that were clearly intended to deceive their readers, as did almost all other papers. (The Press Democrat ran more fraudulent ads than the rival Republican newspaper, but they likewise ran more display ads overall.)

“Pure” and “safe” became buzzwords to spice up advertising. This ad that appeared in the Republican was pushing a “spring medicine” to improve your skin – even though a contemporary formula reveals that it was a sickly-sweet syrup with alcohol and trace amounts of common herbal plants and roots. (The copy reads, “A SNAPSHOT of the condition of the blood is in every face. Pallor, undue ruddiness, pimples, blotches – all tell the tale. If your complexion is not ‘just so,’ most likely you need a spring medicine. We have the best made. Red Clover Compound, a tonic and blood resolvent. Family size, $1.00.”)

One of the worst abusers was Sunny Brook Whiskey, which ran a series of ads in newspapers like the Press Democrat suggesting that their liquor was USDA inspected and approved; some ads even displayed a man wearing an “Inspector” cap and holding bottles. That crossed the line for the government, but the company ignored warnings from the Dept. of Agriculture until Secretary James Wilson personally wrote to them and demanded they withdraw the ads. (CLICK to enlarge)

A special award for Most Contemptible Deception must go to the ad below from Peruna (or PE-RU-NA. as it was dubbed in most ads), which suggests that it could prevent tuberculosis, even cure “incipient” cases of TB. “Since it is well known that consumption begins with a common cold or catarrh, any medicine that can be relied upon to relieve these must be regarded as a preventive of consumption. Thousands of cases of incipient consumption, or chronic coughs, or settled colds, have reported Peruna as being a safe and reliable remedy for these ailments.” (Download this PDF for an entertaining overview of Peruna’s dodgy history.)

Peruna, which regularly had one of the largest ads to appear in the PD during this era, provided no indication of ingredients in the advert, although it was actually 28% alcohol (reduced to 18% after 1906) with the rest being colored water. Samuel Hopkins Adams’ 1905 muckraking article, “Peruna and the Bracers,” on this and other high-alcohol patent medicines, was widely read and often cited as one of the reasons the Pure Food Act finally passed in Congress.

(Obl. Believe-it-or-Not footnote: George W. Bush is just four degrees of separation from the boozy quack medicine. The mascot for the Southern Methodist University football team mascot is traditionally a black shetland pony called “Peruna,” so named in 1932 because it was supposed to be as “full of kick” as the phony cure-all. The current pony incarnation of Peruna led the school’s marching band at the Bush inaugural parade in 2001, and the George W. Bush Presidential Library will be built just a few steps from SMU’s Ford Stadium with its Peruna Plaza.)

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First, the bad news: Property values were down in Santa Rosa following the 1906 earthquake – but on the upside, at least everyone had a sewing machine.

Overall worth of the town declined that year because the tax assessor shaved half off property values of parcels in the “burned and wrecked district.” This was quite a generous knockdown for the landowners, and cynics should be forgiven for doubting that there likewise was a matching tax boost over the following years, since most commercial buildings on those properties were actually rebuilt in two years or less.

But the more interesting item from the assessor’s office was a summary of personal property in the county: There were 285 typewriters, 2,700 bicycles, 45 bee hives, and 13,470 sewing machines, among other items. In that era, you were taxed annually on all tangible personal property, not just land and vehicles, as we are today. This “Ad valorem tax” on household goods and personal effects was phased out during the Depression years as the state sales tax and state income tax were enacted, but not after decades of complaint about the absurdity of being taxed every year on those wobbly kitchen chairs and moth-eaten wool rugs. And it wasn’t even a reliable means of collecting revenue, as one anti-tax group griped in a 1928 pamphlet: “Every one knows how impossible it is to tax all persons on the actual value of their household belongings. Inevitably values will be canceled or overlooked. The cookstove, the piano and the radio catch the assessor’s eye. Only the burglar can find the diamonds of the rich.”

The last statistical item here finds the Press Democrat proclaiming that the town had grown in population despite the disaster, with nearly 11 thousand residents of Santa Rosa, an increase of about ten percent in two years. But as 1906 wasn’t a census year, how did they know that? A closer look at the data show that the paper made a simplistic calculation that every registered voter had to represent exactly five residents. The article continues by noting that the overall county voter registration had declined by several hundred since the presidential election of 1904, which would mean, by their logic, that people were actually leaving Sonoma County in droves.

The Total Assessed Valuation After Deductions are Made by the City Board of Equalization Recently in Session

From the recapitulation of the figures compiled by City Assessor Henry Silvershield and after the deductions made by the City Board of Equalization, it was announced last night at the Council meeting that the total assessed valuation of property in Santa Rosa is $4,524,742. Last year the assessed valuation was $4,754,712.

In making the deductions on account of the destruction on April 18, a basis of fifty per cent reduction on personal property and the same on real estate has been followed in the burned and wrecked district.

But for the disaster on the date mentioned the assessment roll for this year would have shown a great increase over the previous year. The figures given above show for themselves.

– Press Democrat, July 25, 1906
Some Odds and Ends Gathered From County Assessor Dowd’s Big Assessment Roll for 1906

Two thousand five hundred and ninety watches were assessed by County Assessor Dowd in Sonoma County this year; 6,560 gallons of brandy, 750,000 gallons of wine, 1,000 pounds of hops, 45 bee hives, 6 traction engines, 8,120 wagons and other vehicles, 120 tons of hay, 2,400 pounds of wool, 1,960 cords of wood, 65 tons of coal, 1,115,000 feet of lumber, 285 typewriters, 2,700 bicycles, 1,147 firearms, 13,470 sewing machines, etc.

– Press Democrat, August 1, 1906

Registration Shows a Marked Gain In Two Years
The City Now Has 10,990 as Compared to 9,830, Making an Increase of 1,160 Despite the Frightful April Disaster

According to the registration of voters in Santa Rosa this year there has been an increase of population during the past two years despite the April Disaster. There was a total of 1,966 voters registered here two years ago, and this year the total reaches 2,198, an increase of 232. These figures mean that the population of this city is now 10,990 as compared to 9,830 this time two years ago

The total registration in the county has fallen slightly below that of two years ago, when a presidential contest was bein waged, and this was to be expected. The total for the county will be about 10,000, while two years ago there was several hundred over this number…

– Press Democrat, September 30, 1906

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