If Comstock House was haunted, I expect it would be the ghost of Mattie Oates. This was first and foremost her home; she was clearly the client that architect  Brainerd Jones’ had to please, even though husband James Wyatt wrote the checks (his main concern was “there will not be a parlor in the whole house and there will not be a room in which I can’t smoke,” he repeatedly said). Yet of all the 20th century owners, she had the shortest time to enjoy living here – just nine years, with about a third of her tenure confined as a invalid.

Such little of her remains aside from the house itself. She left no immediate family. We have a blurry picture of her in a group photo of the Saturday Afternoon Club. She once said she wanted Virginia creeper to “run in profusion over the trees,” and the vine still climbs the great oak behind her old home. The only physical artifact is her nearly worn-to-dust copy of the Jewel Cook Book, which we found on a bookshelf in the study (interestingly, none of the Comstocks recalled seeing it before).

Even her presence in that book is tenuous; her name is softly written on an endpage, and there are pencilled notes on a single recipe for drawn butter. Other than that, it appears the book was rarely used, except a dog-eared page for apple dumplings and a recipe for corn muffins torn from a San Francisco (?) newspaper. The book falls open to the page on making pancakes. All basic stuff that suggests the kitchen was somewhat uncharted territory for Mrs. Oates. Which makes it even more surprising to find an item in the April 25, 1909 Press Democrat “Society Gossip” column that she gave a presentation to the Saturday Afternoon Club on “Economics of Modern Cookery.” As the first section of the Jewel Cook Book discusses how to shop wisely and prepare meals economically, it’s a safe bet that these very pages were used to prepare her speech.

Aside from the remarkable fact that a 120-year-old personal book of hers has even survived, it’s not unusual to discover she had such a volume. Probably every home in Victorian America had a copy of this book or another like it; they were often given as wedding presents to new brides (not in this case however; the Jewel Cook Book was published in 1890, and Mattie and Wyatt married in 1881). These books showed you how to prepare hearty grub for the hard-working family, and also served as a reference on how to take care of your household. They offered recipes for gravy and how to remove gravy stains; how to cure bacon and how to cure a headache.

The Jewel Cook Book – or more properly, “Jewel Cook Book: A Compendium of Useful Information Pertaining to Every Branch of Domestic Economy. A Manual for Every Household, Also a Book of Knowledge and Guide to Rapid Wealth” – is a bit more interesting than other housekeeping/cookbooks from that era.* One of the three co-authors was chemist, and there is a lengthy section with recipes for cure-alls, ointments, perfume, toothpaste and whatnot. But what really gave the Jewel Cook Book added value was its section on how to make all kinds of brewed and distilled liquor.

The book also offers many examples of hilariously bad advice. Douse your family in kerosene as a mosquito repellent (“the odor is not noticed after a few minutes, and children especially are much relieved by its use”). If someone is struck by lightning, “shower with cold water for two hours; if the patient does not show signs of life, put salt in the water, and continue to shower an hour longer.” And then there’s the contradictory instructions about treating a bite from a rabid animal: “The only safe remedy in case of a bite from a dog suspected of madness is to burn out the wound thoroughly with red-hot iron,” the authors suggest on page 272. Then in the “Book of Knowledge” section, it’s stated “Spirits of Hartshorn is said to be a certain remedy for the bite of a mad dog…an old friend and physician tried it in cases of Hydrophobia and always with success.”

Alas, the book is not specific about its “Guide to Rapid Wealth,” unless that was a wink towards the section on cooking up moonshine. Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine how anyone would get rich quick by peddling homemade cosmetics or writing ink. Yet they did offer one interesting idea for a home business – I wonder why it never caught on?

New Method of Embalming–Mix together five pounds dry sulphate of alumine, one quart of warm water, and one hundred grains of arsenious acid. Inject three or four quarts of this mixture into all the vessels of the human body. This applies as well to all animals, birds, fishes, &c. This process supersedes the old and revolting mode, and has been introduced into the great anatomical schools of Paris.

* Victorian American housekeeping/cookbooks are hard to find today, despite the immense numbers that were sold. These books were printed on cheap paper and poorly bound; with regular use, it’s likely most fell apart in the lifetime of their original owners. A digital copy of the Jewel Cook Book is available for online reading via Utah State University, but I am unable to find another paper copy for sale anywhere. This 1890 book is not to be confused with the “Jewel Cook Book Containing Choice Cooking Recipes” published in 1900 by a stove company or “Jewel Cook Book: Recipes for Good Eating” published in 1940 by the Jewel Tea Co.

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Pharmaceutical companies today urge us to pester doctors for free samples. Wouldn’t it be easier if they just threw drug samples into our yards? That’s what they did in the early 20th Century; I can’t imagine why they stopped. What could possibly go wrong?

What gives this story a believe-it-or-not twist is that drug tossing happened so often that Santa Rosa had an ordinance to prohibit “gratuitous or free distributions of any medicines, nostrums, ware, or remedies for afflicted, sick or diseased persons…where, infants or children can or may possess or use the same.” Okay, I can see how that might be a problem. (One patent medicine that began advertising in the Santa Rosa Republican, and thus was a good candidate for lawn samples, was “Dr. Pierce’s Golden Medical Discovery,” which was mostly alcohol with digitalis, laudanum, and the opium-like extract of wild lettuce to “fortify the body against all germs.”)

The other oddity in the 1909 annals of advertising was the free “cooking school” offered by PG&E. Yes, the gas company wanted consumers to use gas stoves – no surprise there. But at the same time, I don’t recall Standard Oil giving driving lessons to sell more gasoline. Also, the ad campaign seemed ill-planned; PG&E bought full page ads in the Press Democrat with only enough copy to fill a couple of column inches. Needless to say, the PD wrote enthusiastic reviews about the cooking demonstrations.

The secret was that PG&E was acting more like Gillette than Standard Oil; they also sold water heaters and stoves directly to the public: “The demonstration is given primarily to call attention to the use of gas for household purposes and to the stock of ranges, water heaters, etc., carried by the local branch of the Pacific Gas & Electric Co.”

The instructor in Santa Rosa was a disciple of Emma P. Ewing, who had sought to pioneer the teaching of home economics after the Civil War. She was called “the woman who would have taught America to make good bread if America could have been taught,” which hopefully sounded less passive aggressive a century ago.

Here Suzanne Tracy, the author of several cookbooks including “Twelve Lessons in Scientific Cookery,” taught classes. If her recipes are an accurate measure, the food she taught Santa Rosa to cook was awful, usually devoid of herbs and any seasonings other than salt and pepper. Her tomato sauce called for just stewed tomatoes and a little butter, flour, and minced onion. (That sound you hear is every Italian grandmother spinning in her grave.)

Throwing of Medicine Samples Into Dooryards Must Be Checked, Chief Rushmore Says

Complaint has been made to the police that medicine vendors have been throwing free samples of their wares about the yards and on doorsteps in this city recently where children can pick them up and eat it. One man found his baby eating some of the stuff Saturday.

Chief of Police Fred J. Rushmore desires to call the attention of all interested in the matter of the city ordinance governing such actions and declares he will make an example of the first offenders caught violating the law. Any one discovering such distribution going on will confer a favor upon the public as well as the police by immediately notifying the latter that arrests may be made. The ordinance provides: “It shall be unlawful for any person or persons in the gratuitous or free distributions of any medicines, nostrums, ware, or remedies for afflicted, sick or diseased persons to distribute, drop, throw, deposit or leave the same, or cause to be distributed, dropped, thrown, deposited or left in any street, doorway, yard, or place or open lot or otherwise exposed in such manner so that, [illegible microfilm] where, infants or children can or may possess or use the same.”

– Press Democrat, February 7, 1909

Miss Suzanne Tracy, from New York Schools of Domestic Science, Will Lecture.

Santa Rosa ladies will welcome the good news that a summer school of cooking is to be opened here next week. Miss Suzanne Tracy, the well-known lecturer and demonstrator of the culinary art will give a series of lectures.. Miss Tracy has been conducting schools this year is Fresno, San Jose and Sacramento, and each lesson has attracted large and enthusiastic audiences. The lady is so well known in her profession that little need be said to herald her coming. She is a graduate teacher from New York, and will no doubt expound the mysteries of cookery according to the latest scientific principles. The astonishing fact about the school is that the lessons are to be free. Mr. Thos. D. Petch, manager of the Santa Rosa Gas & Electric Company, has arranged to have Miss Tracy come here and give a course in cooking. Miss Tracy will instruct in all branches of cookery, including soups, salads, bread and cake making, pies, cooking of meats and vegetables, and various kinds of desserts. She will at her lessons use a gas range and will explain how to regulate the heat in order to receive the best results from the least expenditure of fuel. While these lessons have been arranged primarily for gas consumers, Mr. Petch says he extends a cordial invitation to all ladies to take advantage of the instruction by attending the classes. Announcement will be made later as to the place where the school will be and the time of the lectures.

– Press Democrat, August 8, 1909


The first of the series of ten lectures to be given here by Miss Suzanne Tracy, which was given Wednesday afternoon at the store-room in the Native Sons’ building, drew such a large number of ladies that Manager Thomas B. Petch of the Pacific Gas &  Electric Company, said that it may be necessary to secure larger quarters for the lectures.

The large room had been filled up with a kitchen in one end which contained gas ranges and all the necessary appliances for baking. Miss Tracy took for her subject, “Cakes and Icing,” and gave a very instructive and interesting lecture on the making of cake and icing. The lecture was illustrated by the lecturer who made a cake, baked it, and after making the icing, iced it in the presence of her audience.

Miss Tracy is a lady of charming personality. She thoroughly understands her work and enters into it with enthusiasm. Every afternoon this week she will lecture, taking various subjects each day, so as to give the housekeepers of Santa Rosa a good opportunity to secure valuable pointers on cooking.

The demonstration is given primarily to call attention to the use of gas for household purposes and to the stock of ranges, water heaters, etc., carried by the local branch of the Pacific Gas & Electric Co., at their Fourth street office in the Union Trust-Savings Bank.

– Press Democrat, August 12, 1909

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Can you list 100 businesses in downtown Santa Rosa? Do you also know who owns the company? If so, you might win a hi-tech gadget or cash! Thus was the incentive to compete the Press Democrat’s 1909 “What do you Know About This?” contest.

The contest was sort of a scavenger hunt. The newspaper served up a brief description of 100 businesses, and contestants were required to identify the company along with its street address. The PD warned that it would be a stickler for accuracy: “Answers to be correct must have firm names correctly spelled, and in the usual ‘style’ of the firm. By this is meant that it will not be sufficient to merely say ‘Smith’s,’ or ‘Smith’s Grocery’ when the firm’s correct name and style is ‘John D. Smith & Bro.'” Names of the owners were sometimes demanded and sometimes not, ensuring contestants read the description very carefully: “Study the questions carefully, because sometimes the name of the store as well as the name of the firm and its location is asked for. Then again, sometimes the firm name might be the only thing required.” Golly, could a newspaper contest possibly be more thrilling fun?

It was actually just a clever promotional gimmick for the paper’s advertisers, of course, Herbert W. R. Mallory, a 14 year-old boy won first prize: a “Talk-o-Phone” valued at $25. A $10 gold coin was won by Aletha Hoag in second place, the PD noting her submission “was a model of neatness, being nicely typewritten and prepared with much care.” The week-long contest probably boosted foot traffic for the businesses (even though most contestants apparently were teenagers, and unlikely to be soon in the market for services like electrical contractors or undertakers) and the whole deal was probably soon forgotten.

Today, however, the contest’s questions present a unique glimpse into the very different world of 1909 Santa Rosa. Who knew that opticians made house calls? Or that a dry cleaner would re-curl and clean your feathers? Or that a certain drayage company always painted its wagons yellow? Or that a garage would send a car to take you anywhere in town for a 35 cent fare? There’s much more detail about these businesses than found in their ads, and there’s also red meat here for genealogists; many of the names mentioned in the contest’s answers rarely appeared in the papers, if it all.

Unfortunately, I can’t transcribe the entire text as I usually do. The questions fill two pages set in 8 point type and clocks in at about 13,000 words, which is too much to pound out with my poor, aging fingers. I attempted to OCR the pages (using Google Docs, which has the best OCR I know of), but the image quality is too poor, even after enhancing brightness and contrast – the original Press Democrat microfilm for the entire year of 1909 is the worst quality I’ve ever encountered, and nearly unreadable.

As a compromise, I’ve entered below the names of all businesses and owners (when given) so they can be found by Internet search engines. For anyone seriously interested, I’ve also made available a cleaned-up copy (PDF) of the contest questions and answers in the Comstock House digital library (WARNING: This is a 14M file that will probably take several minutes to download). But to provide a taste of the contest, here are some of the more interesting questions and answers:

* Number 1.–This is Number 1, and it stands for a cigar store of that character, to which is appended in the rear the same kind of a billiard and pool hall. The location is central, and the brands of imported and domestic cigars dispensed cover a wide range of variety. Smoking and chewing tobacco–and don’t forget the chewing gum–of all kinds, and supreme quality. There is always something doing around this popular place. If you are down town evenings hunting for your friend the odds are that you will find him here. This place is conducted by a firm, and the names of both members rhyme exactly. Give the name and number. Bailey & Bailey, 439 Fourth.
* Number 7.–This is not the drug store that advertised a liniment so strong that, applied to the stub end of a dog’s tail, it caused the tail to grow out again and then again applied to the severed piece picked up from the dust of the street, from it grew another dog. But the goods they sell are reliable, dependable drugs, in every case just what they purport to be. This store was started soon after the memorable event of three years ago, and at once took rank as one of the leading pharmacies of the city. It is conducted by a firm of young men who have spent many years of their lives in Santa Rosa, and whose acquaintance oreaches out to all parts of Sonoma County. They are prescription pharmaceuticals and chemicals. They put up a Witch Hazel cream that has a large sale and also Cold Tablets that have demonstrated their merits in hundreds of cases. Their line of druggists’ sundries is very large and they also carry a large line of cosmetics and medicines of all kinds. They are away “up” in the profession as well as the procession, and now it is up to you to give firm name and street number. Belden & Upp, 443 Fourth. 
* Number 9.–This is one of the live grocery stores down toward the Northwestern depot, and they make a specialty of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as fancy and staple groceries and provisions. Their place is the Santa Rosa depot for Oak Grove butter, than which there is none better made. They also handle the Sperry flour, which needs no “boosting.” This firm has been doing business here about three years, since before the “shake.” They are live men. Give firm name and street number. Fehrman & Peters, 129-131 Fourth 
* Number 18.– This firm makes a specialty of dealing in foods and liquors that are guaranteed under the Federal Pure Foods and Drugs Act. The Government spends many million dollars to protect you from impure foods, but you must do your part by patronizing a firm that deals exclusively in the pure kind. This firm has a large grocery and liquor store on lower Fourth street, selling goods at both wholesale and retail. They have been doing business here twenty-two years. Before the great shake-up or shake-down, whichever you may call it, they were located at 315 Fourth. Where are they located at this time and what is the name of the firm? N. Bacigalupi & Son, 134 Fourth. 
* Number 30.– What meat market is it that at one time was doing business on the present site of the Press Democrat building, where they were burned out on December 20, 1906? They are still running and doing a flourishing business. For a time they did business on Second street, then they moved to their present location. They pride themselves on the very best fresh and cured meats, sausage, etc. They put up also a fine brand of kettle-rendered lard. Give name and street number. Feliz’s Market, Sisto J. Feliz, 540 Third. 
* Number 39.– What is the name of a pleasant rooming house on Fourth street which has 34 well-kept well ventilated rooms? The name indicates that there had been a fire in times past. The building is new and modern and every accommodation is offered those who make their home here permanently, as well as those who come just for one or more days. Every room is an outside room, and all have running water. When you are stopping in Santa Rosa you will find this place very central and desirable. Give name of house, name of propriortress and street number. The Phoenix, Mrs. Dora Grissim, 416½ Fourth 
* Number 66.–What is the name of an all-day and all-night restaurant which advertises itself as the “only American restaurant in Santa Rosa”? They serve meals and short orders in splendid style and have a very liberal patronage among all classes of people. This restaurant has been in existance for about twenty years. The present firm in charge have been conducting the same for only a few months, but they understand their business and are making a fine success. The name of the restaurant is the same as that of a New England city. Give name and street number. Boston Restaurant, 409 Fourth. 
* Number 77.– Now, who is the one man in this city who sells stationery, books and kodaks? There is only one man in the city who keeps the whole combination mentioned. It is up to you to find him. He has been located here five years–just got in in [sic] good time to get it “good and plenty” when the earth rocked and the fires raged. At that time he was on the south side of Fourth, near B. He is carrying a large line of the three articles mentioned, which covers a multitude of items. His prices are very low. He is also agent for the San Francisco morning dailies. Give his name and street number. Temple Smith, 611 Fourth. 
* Number 82.–What is the name of the new garage just around the corner from Fifth street? Also give name of proprietor and street number. Has been running but two months but is going some, just the same. Cars for hire day or night, and bus fare anywhere in the city is only 35 cents. Packages delivered for 10 cents. Keeps gasoline and oil for sale. The owner has lived several years in the city and has a wide circle of acquaintance, from which he draws a big patronage. You can always get an auto here for atrip to the country or surrounding towns at reasonable rates. Auto Garage, G. V. Saunders, 450 Mendocino. 
* Number 88.–The man who writes the signs of the city is almost as important a personage as the man who writes the signs of the times. The old-fashioned sign with a period or a comman between each word and now and then a corectly [sic] spelled word, has gone out of business in every circle where intelligence dwells. The signs in Santa Rosa are a credit to the city as well as to the man, or men, who wrote them. The man who did most of the work is still here and his right arm has not yet lost its cunning. He does all kinds of work and does it right. He makes a specialty of raised and metal letters, and gilding on glass. Also does cloth, banner, and wall signs. You know him. Give his name and the street number of his shop. G. W. Salisbury, 512 Fifth. 
* Number 94.–Repairing shoes by electricity. Like everything else this branch of industry is likewise to be dominated by the “juice.” It has been a steady conquest–ever since Ben Franklin sent up his kite, and the end is not yet. This establishment makes repairs “while U wait.” Does not even place pa bar against the man who neglects to bathe his feet. Does good word and at very moderate prices. Just a few doors off Mendocino. Been here two years. Who is he? Give name and location. Cut Rate Shoe Repair Factory, Dan Picken, 541 Fifth.

(RIGHT: A 1906 Press Democrat ad for a “Talk-o-Phone.” This was the “Souza” model; the Talk-o-Phone Company named each model after a famous living musician without permission)

The believe-it-or-not twist to the contest is that the grand prize “Talk-o-Phone” was rather lame, and maybe not even worth the 25 bucks. Phonograph players – called “disk talking machines” in 1909 – were coveted entertainment centers of the day, and new models cost 2-3 months salary for the average worker. But Talk-o-Phones hadn’t been made for some time; after years of lawsuits by Victor over patent infringement, the manufacturer declared bankruptcy. Besides copying the Victrola’s mechanism, the Talk-o-Phone Company of Toledo, Ohio even ripped off their advertising. Where Victor famously had Nipper the dog with an ear cocked in recognition of “His Master’s Voice,” Talk-o-Phone first had a parrot “learning some new ones.” Santa Rosa stores hadn’t advertised Talk-o-Phones in the papers for ages, and this “prize” had likely been sitting on some store’s back shelf gathering dust.


PAGE ONE: Bailey &  Bailey; Ketterlin Brothers; St. Rose Drug Store, Wm. McK. Stewart; Kopf &  Donovan; Dixon &  Elliott; Sonoma County Fruit &  Produce Co.; Belden &  Upp; Ideal Cyclery, Howard &  Muenzer; Fehrman &  Peters; Santa Rosa Planing Mill, P. H. Kroncke; California Oyster Market &  Grill, Athanasiu &  Apostolides; Grand Central Market, Wm. Steinbring; W. W. Felt; Dohn’s Express &  Storage Co.; Crystal Dry Cleaning and Dyeing Works, Geo. B. Pierce; Hattie, McKinney &  Titus; Santa Rosa Marble &  Granite Works, Kinslow Bros.; N. Bacigalupi &  Son; Acme Cyclery, Henry Jenkins; Depot Market, Joseph Dont Jr.; Santa Rosa Garage, S. D. Burris; Bauman &  Milburn; New York Pork Store, Wm. Sukalle; M. C. Yoell; E. T. Briggs; J. W. Andrews; H. K. Kagee; New York Shoe Store, L. Demeo; J. W. Wood; Feliz’s Market, Sisto J. Feliz; Lomont &  Co.; Dr. J. E. Jobe; Grand Central Market, Cummings Bros.; L. H. Thalman; Campi Restaurant and Lodging House, P. Bianchi; The Castle; The Missouri Shoe Store, B. Tobias; Grant Patterson; The Phoenix, Mrs. Dora Grissim; C. M. Bruner; Moke &  Ward; W. E. Case; Domestic French Laundry; David Glickman; Flagler’s; Keegan Bros.; Dan Behmer

PAGE TWO: A. C. Smith; Dr. V. Hoffer; Juell’s Drug Store; Santa Rosa Furniture Co.; Lewis &  Son; A. J. Pommer Co.; J. H. Potter &  Son; McHarvey’s; Muther &  Son; The Ladies’ Arcade, Mrs. I. Rusden, Miss Annie Scott; Santa Rosa Transfer &  Storage Co., A. D. Sund; Hodgson-Henderson Co.; Coon &  Bent; W. C. Davis; R. C. Moodey &  Son; Santa Rosa Department Store, A. T. Sutherland; Brooks Clothing Co.; Ayers &  Paul; Boston Restaurant; Sherman, Clay &  Co., F. L. Vanderlip; R. Isabel Waddington; Wiley B. Allen Co.; McConnell-Prentiss Co.; Sterling Cyclery, Burmeister &  Walker; James A. Brown; Cnopius &  Co.; New Method Cleaning Co.; Field Bros.; Palace of Sweets, C. T. Sherman; Temple Smith; Pierce &  Pillar, Santa Rosa Glove Co.; Neil Sinclair; W. H. Upton; A. Bryant; Auto Garage, G. V. Saunders; Union Trust-Savings Bank; Lawson-Rinner Optical Co.; Dr. H. G. Hewitt; Frank Berka; Hoyt Brothers; G. W. Salisbury; The Monarch Cyclery, Marlatt Bros.; Gamble Bros.; S. T. Daken; The Harper Hair Dressing Parlor; J. C. Mailer Hardware Co.; Cut Rate Shoe Repair Factory, Dan Picken; Fashion Stables, Wm. Hockin &  Sons; Houts Auto Co., O. L. Houts; Sonoma Tent &  Awning Co.; The Cash Cyclery; Campbell &  Coffey; A. M. Hildebrandt

— Press Democrat, June 2, 1909

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