Santa Rosa had that “certain something” in early 1908: Sounds of everyone gagging and coughing, plus a pervasive stench that was like an open sewer mixed with sulphur. O, City of the Roses, by any other name would thy stink be less ironic.

The horrible smell came from the town’s gas supply, which was still used as lighting in most homes. The odor was so foul and unhealthy that Dr. Jesse, Santa Rosa’s Health Officer, reported to the city council in February that the fumes were dangerous to infants and were causing respiratory illness. Two councilmen agreed that it was a serious issue. By the following week, however, everyone agreed problem solved: While the manager of the company admitted no negligence on the part of the business or any employee, he stated “the conditions” had been improved.

The gas in question was neither propane or the natural gas (LNG) that we use today; it was coal gas, more commonly known in that era as “town gas.” Delivered to homes all over Santa Rosa and Petaluma via underground pipes, the pressurized mixture varied depending upon the type of coal used, but according to a 1907 book, it was always primarily hydrogen and methane with about 15 percent carbon monoxide. If the vent was left open without a flame, the seeping gas could be fatal; reports of accidental deaths and suicides in the San Francisco Bay Area were regular items in the local papers. As mentioned in “Santa Rosa: a Nineteenth Century Town” by Gaye LeBaron et al, all school teachers had to pass an annual exam, and one of the questions, c. 1890, was “How would you resuscitate a person asphyxiated by coal gas?”

Manager Cited to Appear Before the Council Next Tuesday Evening and Must Make Explanation

“I would recommend that the city take some action in the matter of the gas furnished for fuel and light by the Santa Rosa Gas Company. The gas as furnished is very deleterious to health, in ‘that it is not properly washed,’ causing bronchial troubles and catarrh when it is burned in closed rooms. It is not right for us to expose our babies to such dangerous fumes.”

Such was the report of Health Officer J. W. Jesse, M. D., to the city council last night. As a result Manager Ralph Van der Naillen was asked to appear before the council next Tuesday night and explain matters.

Councilman Burris stated that he had been informed that the company, now that it has floated its bonds, will soon proceed to install a bigger and more efficient plant here to cost $100,000.

Councilman Hall said that there had been many complaints regarding the gas.

Councilman Reynolds said the matter is a very serious one, and should receive attention.

Consequently “Van’s” familiar figure will be seen at the city hall next Tuesday night.

Fire Chief Muther said the fumes from the gas would turn polished brass black and green in the engine house in a few hours.

– Press Democrat, February 5, 1908
Health Officer Pleased With Improvement in Quality–Professor Van der Naillen Speaks

Health Officer J. W. Jesse reported to the City Council last night that since he made his report a week ago regarding the foul gas that was being furnished by the Lighting Company, the quality of the gas had been considerably improved and he had no fault to find with it now. He said the gas was practically free from the unhealthy fumes of which he had complained.

Manager R. L. Van der Naillen was present and he addressed the council. He said the company was doing all in its power to furnish good gas. As expeditiously as possible, he said, the new gas plant, one of the immense proportions, would be installed. He explained the conditions under which the company is working. He also explained the causes that lead us to the conditions found by the health officer and complained of by many consumers of gas here.

– Press Democrat, February 12, 1908
Manager Van der Naillen Explains to Council

The gas which is being supplied to the city of Santa Rosa has been materially improved since Health Officer Jesse called attention to its being deleterious to health. Such was the report of the health officer to the city council last night. He said that the gas which formerly was so offensive to the nostrils and caused people to cough was now so much better there was hardly any room for complaint at the present time.

Manager Van der Naillen explained to the council the efforts that his company are making to give a good quality of gas for consumption here and told of the difficulties which he had to overcome in handling the plant. He said the purifiers at the station for a long time had to be forced beyond their capacity owing to the great quantity of gas that had to be manufactured here because of the leaks in the pipe to Petaluma. He declared to the council that there had been no negligence on the part of any of the employees which permitted the gas to become of poor quality.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 12, 1908

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1908 was a rough year for kids in Santa Rosa – or maybe it was a year of rough kids.

It appears there was far more juvenile crime than in recent years, possibly continuing the trend of 1907’s summer of the incorrigibles, where the newspapers reported robbery, arson, burglary, armed buggy hijacking, and habitual chicken snatching. Came 1908, and hooliganism was so rampant that the kiddie crime docket must be split across several posts, this one specializing in the breaking-and-entering variety.

The little boy who crawled through a school window and stuffed his pockets with scissors (which could be of high quality and quite valuable in that era) apparently stole them in a crime of opportunity – although he and his buddy crossed other lines by trying to hock the shears and lying to police. Far more sorrowful is the account of 8 year-old Tom Downey, caught attempting his second (known) break-in. “He is a hardened little criminal,” one of the papers editorialized.

We know little of the back stories of these children, except for egg and chicken thief William Heliel, who spent a few years at reform school after attempting to derail a train. But we know nothing about the Bowman boys, who robbed a barber shop, lumber yard, dry goods emporium and hardware store. Yet of them all, their stories may be the most sympathetic; they seemed to be thieving only for practical things needed to survive.

Eight Years Old and Caught Entering a Store

On Sunday Probation Officer John M. Boyes arrested a small boy named Tom Downey, aged about eight years, who is an incorrigible, and detained him in jail. The youngster recently broke into the skating rink and on Sunday was found attempting to enter the rear of the store of Kopf & Donovan on Third street. He is a hardened little criminal and his relatives have been unable to do anything with him.

He claims to have made a trip back east as far as Montana, though eight years of age; and considerable trouble has been experienced with him in the past by the officers. It is not yet known what will be done with him, but he will probably be sent to some house of correction. The case will come before the probation court.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 18, 1908

Youthful thieves the Peculiar Stories of Escapades

Fred Janssen and Louie Volpi, two youths of this city, are in trouble over the theft of about thirteen pairs of scissors from the school building at South Park. They are both in custody, and will be given a hearing at once. Both lads put up several stories in response to questions by officer John M. Boyes that show them to be among the most accomplished liars that have ever been taken up by the police.

While walking out Main street Friday morning, officer Boyes noticed two small boys break and run as if their lives depended on it when he approached. He attached but small significance to the speedy retreat of the lads. Later in the afternoon he found one of them in Johnson’s pawn shop, endeavoring to dispose of a dozen pairs of shears. This lad was Fred Jannsen. Instantly the officer recognized the lad by his cap and high lace shoes as one who made the speedy “get away” in the morning. He took the lad to the police station and questioned him, and the lies that Janssen told almost convinced the officer that the boy came by the scissors honestly. He first declared he had received them through purchase from Tulare, and referred the officer to the postoffice clerks as authority for the statement. The officer went to investigate and found that Janssen had lied. The boy next said he found them in a vacant lot at Sebastopol and Santa Rosa avenues, then changed the lot to Mill street and Santa Rosa avenue, then the scene changed to the South Park school yard, then to an ash barrel in the yard. Finally the lad admitted he had stolen the scissors from the school building.

Janssen located Louie Volpi as his companion in crime and for a time Volpi “stood pat” on the assertion that the scissors were found in the ash barrel. He finally admitted he had lied and that the boy first arrested had stolen them. He declared Janssen had told him to say the scissors had been found by the ash barrel and he did so.

The boys were playing ball in the school grounds and the ball was thrown through a window. In recovering the ball from the structure, Janssen had gone inside the building. He saw the scissors, the temptation to steal them overcame him, and according to Volpi, he came out with his pockets bulging. Volpi denies that he entered the building or had anything to do with stealing the scissors.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 4, 1908

Fred Janssen and Louis Volpi have been placed on probation by City Recorder Bagley pending developments regarding their theft of thirteen pairs of scissors from the South Park school building Friday. The lads have proven to the officers that they have little regard for the truth, and if their behavior does not materially mend they will be sent to the reform school. The boys secured the scissors by entering through a window and then tried to dispose of them at a second hand store. When captured by Police Officer Boyes they told all kinds of lies in an effort to escape detection, but finally Volpi confessed.

– Press Democrat, January 5, 1908
Paroled Boy From Ione Again Committed Crime

Today a warrant was issued for the arrest of William Heliel, at present a resident with his parents at Bellevue, on the charge of grand larceny. This young fellow, who is 17 years old, is alleged to have carried on quite a business of stealing poultry and eggs, his last being 125 chickens and ten or twelve dozen eggs.

About three years ago the boy was arrested, charged with trying to wreck a train of cars at Bellevue, and was sent to the Ione reform school. A short time ago he was released on parole, but it appears that this was clemency thrown away, for he recommenced a career of crime immediately on release. His relations consider him incorrigible and wish to see him in confinement again.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 20, 1908
Two Brothers Lodged in Jail Sunday Night on Charges

Sunday night the officers discovered a boy trying to cut his way into the rear of Fred Hesse’s cyclery on B street, and in attempting to make his escape the boy dropped a large knife. He was soon arrested and proved to be James Bowman, and the knife was recognized as similar to one which had been reported as stolen from the hardware store of Potter & Son a few nights ago. Bowman was accused of having burglarized Potter’s store and admitted the same, and when the officers went to the young man’s home in the northern part of the city, they found that he had taken from the hardware store a lot of ammunition, fish hooks and lines, a reel, a razor, two dozen knives, a pair of pliers, and a fruit check punch. The latter evidently for the purpose of tampering with his fruit checks during the summer work.

At the time the officers were at the house getting the things which the boy had stolen, they met his brother, Tom Bowman, coming home with a load of wood on his back, and he was arrested and charged with petty larceny.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 25, 1908
They Robbed Lowry Barber Shop and Denio Store

Officers Lindley and Yeager Monday learned who robbed Denio’s store on lower Fourth street, Mrs. Lowry’s barber shop and Smith’s second hand store some time ago. The energetic burglars are the Bowman boys, living on North street, who were arrested Sunday, James charged with breaking into Hess’ store and Potter & Cunningham’s store, and Thomas Bowman for stealing wood. One of the boys had on a pair of trousers which he had taken from Denio’s place and several other articles from that store were found in their possession. Ton Bowman admitted that he broke into the Lowry barber shop on D street and stole several razors several months ago. The boys also confessed that they stole lumber from the Fitts yard.

James Bowman made a complete confession, and it clears up several housebreaking affairs that have been bothering the police for some time. He was held by Justice Atchinson to appear for trial in the Superior Court on $500 bail.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 26, 1908

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Quiz time: What’s more absurd than a lawsuit over the ownership of a dead dog?

You should read the earlier articles to relish the profound craziness of this feud over Queen, “a valuable varmint dog.” The case began in 1905 (1904?) and rumbled through the courts even after the pooch was killed in the Great Earthquake. Judge Seawell finally ruled in 1907 on who owned Queen, ordering Mr. Peterson to pay Mr. Frese $25.00 (heaven knows what all the legal bills were by this time). But even though the question of ownership of a deceased dog was settled, the courtroom combat began again in 1908 over a new crucial legal issue: Who owned her puppies? “There is a whole lot of principle as well as dogs mixed up in this case,” a wag remarked to the Press Democrat court reporter.

“The Dog Suit” Still on the Tapis and “The Pup Suit” Is Yet to Figure in Legal Annals

The end is not yet. The dead “Queen” is to be resurrected and her good points extolled once more in legal oratory in Judge Seawell’s department on the Superior Court. Not only that but the recovery of her progeny is to figure in another battle in the hall of justice. The latter consists of two well developed pups.

“Queen,” it will be remembered, has been dead nearly two years now. About the time of the earthquake this now celebrated canine expired from shock, leaving two little puppies to shift for themselves. “Queen” — the dead one–was alive when the litigation started, in which J. H. Frese figures as plaintiff and U. G. Peterson is defendant.

It was for the recovery of the dog that the first suit was brought. It started in the Justice Court some three years ago and from there went on appeal to the Superior Court, where it has been on trial and in many other phases since. Last Monday the suit of Frese vs. Peterson came up on a motion for a change of judgment and was set down for hearing next Monday by Judge Seawell.

Attorney Thomas J. Butts, who is counsel for the plaintiff, stated yesterday that he is going to bring another suit against the defendant for the recovery of the offspring of the deceased “Queen.” They are said to be very valuable dogs. “There is a whole lot of principle as well as dogs mixed up in this case,” someone ventured yesterday. It might be added that it costs something, too.

– Press Democrat, February 8, 1908

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