Thank goodness Santa Rosa’s cops were good sports in 1907 when pranksters faked an earthquake at the police station, scaring the willies out of everyone inside. It’s hard to believe that someone even thought up this stunt; “Frightening Pranks to Play on Policemen” must surely be the thinnest chapter in the practical joker’s handbook.

Santa Rosa’s funnymen may have been inspired by Jack London, who loved to pull a similar joke on visitors skittish about California earthquakes, rocking the guest house on his ranch while screaming outside their window. Police at the time were still in their temporary post-quake HQ, which likewise was a small building that could be easily shaken.

Post-1906 earthquake Santa Rosa police station (Image courtesy Sonoma County Library)
Post-1906 earthquake Santa Rosa police station (Image courtesy Sonoma County Library)

The other incident happened a few days later, when someone called the police to report that an “insane man was terrifying the neighborhood,” prancing around a vacant lot while talking loudly and waving his arms. A crowd gathered a safe distance away to watch as officers crept up on him with guns drawn. Whoops! It was just Eugene Gear, amateur actor, preparing to audition for a play, the police told the paper. Then the next day, whoops again – the police had misidentified the man, who was really Orrin Shear.

The Santa Rosa police were lucky Mr. Gear didn’t make a stink about being labeled a lunatic, and Mr. Shear is lucky that cops didn’t have Tasers back then. Very, very lucky.

Sheriff Smith Works “Earthquake”–Amusing Results

The practical jokers could not let the day pass Wednesday without a victim of earthquake scare and the police department was made the butt of the joke.

Having made his arrangements before hand with Mr. Simpson, of Simpson & Roberts, who is erecting the new temporary court house, Sheriff Jack Smith entered the police station shortly after 8 o’clock Thursday morning and entered into conversation regarding the recurrence of a disaster similar to last year. Chief of Police Fred Rushmore, Officer John M. Boyes, Constable S. J. Gilliam, Special Officer Samuels and City Recorder Bagley were the unsuspecting victims.

Simpson’s men placed a lever under one corner of the small building and began to rock it, lightly at first, and then heavier until the boards creaked and strained. Those inside felt the first slight jar, and their uneasiness was plain to be seen, but not until the lockers began to rock and a few boards were dropped on the outside by the conspirators, and the rocking of the building began to assume alarming proportions, was there a panic.

Recorder Bagley had his feet up on the stove reading when he felt the rocking [and] made a quick move for the door, but — “there were others,” and with a unanimous decision without remark, all decided the safest place was on the outside. But the door was small, and all could not get out first. A couple of dogs in the room set up a howl and added to the confusion.

When all had reached the outside and began to look around to see what damage had been done, the hearty laugh of Sheriff Smith and his assistants let the victims into the secret and then all joined heartily in the laugh which was on them. Several agreed they had no fear until the lockers began to rock and the sound of falling boards were heard, and then they believed the Union Trust-Savings Bank was giving way and thought it time to make their “get away.”

All that one needs to say to any of the victims today is to ask if they felt the earthquake this morning.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 18, 1907


Chief of Police Rushmore and Officer Yeager Rudely Interrupt an Actor’s Dress Rehearsal

Chief of Police Fred Rushmore and Police Officer Nick Yeager put a Lou Dillon clip to shame yesterday afternoon when they road their bicycles wildly to Henley street in response to a hurry up telephone call from a well known resident of that section of the city to the effect that an insane man was terrifying the neighborhood.

For an hour the man at the other end of the phone breathlessly explained the supposed lunatic had been acting strangely in a large vacant lot, waving his hands, changing his pose, striding up and down, and all the time talking to himself, pitching his voice to suit the attitude he assumed.

The officers arrived on the scene almost as breathless as the frightened people in the vicinity. They jumped from their bikes and drawing their clubs and cocking their revolvers they sailed forth to take the “insane man” or be taken. The thoroughly frightened spectators went to points of vantage to wait and watch. To make a long story short, the supposed “crazy” man was none other than Eugene Gear, one time property man at a local theatre and amateur actor. He had selected the expanse of occupied ground for a dress rehearsal of a role he hopes to assume. The officers rode back to the police station slowly, but thoughtfully. But the joke leaked out.

– Press Democrat, April 24, 1907

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