Should we be surprised that chain letters were appearing in mailboxes ‘way back as 1906? Probably not, but it’s interesting that they were still so unusual that the local newspaper deemed them newsworthy and necessary to debunk. If our ancestors were really so gullible, we are fortunate that the heirs of recently deceased Nigerian millionaires hadn’t yet discovered the U.S. mails.

According to a often-cited web article on the history of chain letters (Ex cathedra, variations of this sort of “Letter from Heaven” began circulating in the late 1800s, but didn’t really take off until postcards became so popular in the early 20th century. That web page describes this exact message as a luck chain letter that started in 1906 and continued to circulate for a few years.

An “Endless Chain of Prayer” Traveling Through the Country is Said to be a Hoax

The endless chain of prayer that originated, according to rumor, with Bishop William Lawrence of the Episcopal Church of Massachusetts, and indignantly repudiated by him with emphatic denial of its authorship, recently struck Sacramento, and is having its run, the Union says.

The prayer is one for mercy to all mankind, followed by a statement that those who rewrite the prayer and sent it on enchain shall experience some great joy. It is added that it has been said at the Holy Feast of Jerusalem that whoever rewrites the prayer shall be delivered from some great calamity. Each recipient of a copy of the written prayer is requested to rewrite and send it to nine or ten friends. It has been traveling about Sacramento the last three weeks very diligently, somewhat enlarging Uncle Sam’s postal receipts. It may reach Santa Rosa.

It is regarded as a hoax, pure and simple. The religious press has denounced it as such and the clergy everywhere has blacked its eye mercilessly. Perhaps no one has spoken more bodly [sic] and incisively upon the subject that the Right Rev. Bishop W. H. Moreland, who says it is merely an appeal to the superstitious; that Bishop Lawrence, who was alleged to have been the author, is a level-headed prelate and a clear thinker, and did not, could not have concocted such a scheme, Bishop Moreland says Bishop Lawrence did everything in his power to deny the statement that he was the author of the letter. The letter, Bishop Moreland says, is not worthy of being called a prayer, as it appeals only to fears and superstitions. He considers it an affront to the hearty instincts of any man.

– Press Democrat, October 26, 1906

The “Prayer Chain” Arrives

Mention was made the other day of the “endless prayer chain,” that would probably reach Santa Rosa before long. It has arrived and quite a number of Santa Rosans have received copies from friends, known and unknown, asking them to rewrite and forward the prayer to their friends. One young lady received the prayer from a friend in Petaluma so it is evident it has reached there also.

– Press Democrat, October 27, 1906

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A vignette of life in 1906 Santa Rosa, when storekeepers just threw waste paper into the street and expected the city to clean it up. No wonder their kids tossed orange peels on the sidewalks as they walked to school.


John White, deputy street commissioner, will make an example of some of the Fifth street merchants if the practice of throwing papers on the streets is not discontinued at once. The street is the principal business thoroughfare of the city and each morning is littered by waste paper carelessly thrown from business houses. It is cleaned frequently by the street department, but never looks clean only while the men are at work. Mr. White will cause the arrest of merchants who persist in littering the street after this warning.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 19, 1906

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Gentlemen, place your bets: Santa Rosa’s horse races were long popular with the San Francisco gambling set (see “Wide-Open Town” series), but as of October, 1906, they could now lose their shirts on something else running at the track: Motorcars.

The premier auto contest followed a short card of regular horse races on Santa Rosa’s old mile track. There were two car races; the first was a formal ten mile handicapped race, the winner to receive a silver cup. Trouble plagued contestants; 13 cars entered, but only five were on the track that day, and one of them broke down in the second lap. The other race was a “free-for-all” that was won by a Locomobile, which became in 1908 the first American-built car to win an international competition.

The best speed in both races was about ten miles in 13 ½ minutes, or an average of over 45MPH – not shabby at all for cars of that era.

Preparations For the Meet in Santa Rosa on October 26 Which Will be Under Driving Club Auspices

The horse races that are to take part her on October 26 under the auspices of the Sonoma County Driving Club, mingled with automobile races, are attracting much attention and interest. Special excursion trains to be run here from Ukiah and waypoints will bring large crowds here and San Francisco is interested in the auto races. The following from a San Francisco paper has this to say about the latter feature:

“Quite a number of the local dealers are planning to take part in the automobile races to be held next week at Santa Rosa. Arthur Van Valin has made arrangements to take a thirty-five horse power Studebaker to the meet, while J. H. Jackson of the Berkeley Automobile Company says he will probably enter one of his American machines in the special handicap event.

“While several large cars are expected to compete, at least one or two of the smaller horsepower machines will take part in the ten-mile handicap race. The J. W. Leavitt Company will enter one of the fourteen horsepower Reo cars. The handicap which it will receive from the larger machines will give the little car an equal chance for the prize.

“Should the American and Studebaker cars race on equal terms, a good speed test should result, both of these machines being rated among the fastest touring cars in the city. Jackson gave his machine a test on the road to San Jose and Almaden last Sunday; when he took part in the run of the San Jose Automobile Club to the latter place. Although he did not let the car out to the limit, over forty miles an hour was registered at times by the speedometer.”

– Press Democrat, October 20, 1906
Spectators Liked The Chug-Wagons in Contest

The ten mile handicap automobile race was won Friday afternoon at the Santa Rosa Stock Farm track by the Buick car, which was propelled to victory by C. S. Howard. At the completion of the tenth lap Howard was given the signal that he was the victor and he leisurely tolled off another mile, just for luck. When he came to the grand stand and halted he was presented with the handsome silver loving cup provided by the Sonoma County Driving Club.

Howard had only four competitors in the race, out of thirteen cars entered. Accidents of various kinds to the remaining cars kept them from participating. These accidents were to parts not usually carried as emergency supplies and could not be obtained until the evening train arrived from the metropolis. An attempt was made to have the club postpone the auto races until Saturday afternoon, but this was not considered advisable.

In the race were a $2600 Studebaker car, driven by L. Allen, which came in second, and a $3700 Studebaker, which was the scratch car, secured third place…The high priced Studebaker car was the favorite and was believed to be a winner. At the second lap the “sparker” failed to work properly and for eight miles VanValin, the driver, stood on the top of his car, propelled with his left hand and kept vigorously at work with his right hand on the machinery.

Between the handicap and free-for-all race for autos, VanValin was unable to get the “sparker” to working properly, but nevertheless he entered the second contest. This was by far the prettiest and most interesting race of the day. The Studebaker car was in the lead until after the fifth mile, when the Locomobile, driven by A. D. Whitehead, gradually forged ahead and won the race by about fifty yards. Many of the spectators thought the driver of the Locomobile was Charles Talmadge, in his Rambler car. He was seen on the track just previous to the race, and this gave rise to the belief. These local people cheered lustily for Talmadge only to find that he was not driving the car. It gave added enthusiasm to the race, however.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 27, 1906

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