It’s always disheartening to attend a city council meeting and find your elected officials are acting like weepy drunks, but thus it was at a Santa Rosa council meeting in 1908.

The agenda item was the 8:30PM juvenile curfew, and the first sign of trouble was that each councilman was motivated to rise and deliver a sorrowful little speech about the need for a curfew because of a few wayward youths, some revisiting their own unhappy boyhood. Discussion turned to the question of how the time of curfew would be sounded each evening, and a councilman said they might be allowed to ring the bell at the new Santa Rosa Bank building. At that suggestion, the council meeting dissolved into pandemonium.

The councilman who proposed a curfew bell applauded his own brilliant idea; another broke out in tears; another council member waxed uncontrollably nostalgic about his recitations at school while yet another lunged towards the telephone to call the library for a poem that he could read aloud.

The hot button that turned them into drooling Pavlovian dogs was the concept of a “curfew bell.” It seems that children of their day were expected to memorize a bit of Victorian doggerel titled, “Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight,” a narrative poem about a man condemned to be executed at the sounding of the curfew bell and who is saved by his lady love who blocks the bell from ringing (read it here, if you must). Driven by the psychological need to redeem their own wanton youth (or as an alternative, see: weepy drunk), the emotional story about silencing the bell transformed into the councilmen wanting the curfew bell to ring, even though they would have to personally take weekly shifts yanking the bell rope.

Presumably after hankies blotted eyes and further maudlin verses were misquoted from memory, council business continued. Another item concerned a request from cigar store owners to be allowed the running of card games. These stores were already permitted to have slot machines, but adding card tables was a matter of controversy also being debated in Healdsburg at this time. To the apparent surprise of the council and the reporter, Fire Chief Frank Muther rose and spoke up in opposition. Muther was there on fire department business, but he also operated the most well-known cigar store in town. Muther concluded his remarks by saying, “…I have seen boys ruined through the gambling games in the back of cigar stores. I have known mothers to come and ask that their boys be protected, and I don’t want to see this council grant this permit.”

At the mention of ruined boys and pleading mothers, you can bet that the sobbing lamentations began anew, and the rest of the meeting was surely lost wandering deep in the weeds.

Councilmen Will Take Turn at the Bank Bell

It was quite an animated discussion the city fathers had over the curfew ordinance Tuesday night. There is a general desire on the part of the public to have the whistle blown at 8:30 in the evening as a warning to straying juveniles that the big bogey man in blue coat and brass buttons is after them. Councilman Bronson made quite a feeling little speech on the perils of permitting little boys on the streets at night, and said something about safeguarding the young, etc. Councilman Forgett earnestly echoed this tender sentiment and referred to Councilman Steiner as a sad object lesson of a young boy being permitted to run at large. Councilman Johnson looked more sorrowful than ever as he thought of his youthful street scrapes at night.

Councilman Barham arose to his feet and said that it was impossible to get either brewery or gas company steam whistles, as those instruments of exquisite melody are used for fire alarms and to call a lineman to answer lamp kicks at all hours of the night. But he was quite sure they could have the use of the big new bell on the Santa Rosa Bank building if they could have it rung at the hour. If no other way was found, he would suggest that the members of the council take a week turn about ringing the curfew, beginning with Councilman Bronson. Then he sat down.

The picture of Bronson swinging the bell clapper, and repeating:
“Curfew, it shall ring tonight–
Curfew’s got ter ring tonight.”
was so inspiring that the tears came in Forgett’s eyes and Barham enthusiastically applauded his own speech.

Johnston, in mind, wandered far away over the sunset English hills where the poem girl first tackled the curfew proposition and Steiner remembered his young school days when he used to speak the “piece” every term and make his teacher and schoolmates tired to death.

Even Frank Muther forgot all about fires and Engineer Tom McNamara quit worrying over the collection of his surveying bills from the property owners. Rushmore slipped over to the telephone and called to the free library if they had among the books a copy of the immortal verses. He wanted to read them to the council. Clerk Clawson began to read the list for a vote on the proposition and before he recovered himself he had voted all the councilmen and all the city employees “aye.” Bronson will probably begin his week as soon as the building contractor gets a ladder up to the bell.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 8, 1908
Cigar Men’s Petition Addressed by Frank Muther

At the meeting of the council Tuesday evening a petition was presented by the cigar dealers of this city asking that they be permitted to conduct card games in their establishments. When the matter was presented, Chief Muther, who is one of the cigar men of the city, addressed the council in doubtful terms and told the officials and spectators that he was opposed to the movement. He commenced by saying: “This is a matter in which I am interested, and I am not speaking as chief of the fire department, but as a cigar dealer. In the interest of the protection of the boys of the town, I want to request that this petition not be granted. It is not asked for a legitimate purpose, but is for gambling. I am not a party to this. I believe in a legitimate business, and the cigar business is legitimate. I have seen boys ruined through the gambling games in the back of cigar stores. I have known mothers to come and ask that their boys be protected, and I don’t want to see this council grant this permit.” Mr. Muther said there were some good men who had signed the petition, but there were those who had signed it for the purpose of getting an opportunity to have gambling games and he was opposed to the whole scheme.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 8, 1908

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