No doubt about it, Fred J. Wiseman was Santa Rosa’s homegrown Elvis in 1910. Consider this measurement of fame: Wiseman and his airplane appeared at the racetrack that year but he didn’t fly – the winds were bad that day. In a motorcycle race also at the event, a guy set the world speed record but in the Press Democrat, the record-setting got a distant second billing to the introduction of Wiseman and his team to the crowd.

Wiseman-Peters biplane at Santa Rosa racetrack, May 9, 1910. PHOTO: Sonoma County Library

The Rose Carnival that year was to be the first opportunity for the public to see the Wiseman airplane – and likely the first chance for locals to see any airplane at all. It was only a couple of years since the Wright Brothers had become household names and planes of any sort were rare birds indeed, particularly on the West Coast; the first flying exhibitions came to California earlier in 1910, and at the San Francisco show only a single pilot actually flew. Not a week passed without newspapers featuring aviation stories on their front pages, telling of new records set for distance or speed or of terrible accidents. Both Santa Rosa papers avidly covered that sort of news, with added breathless coverage of Wiseman’s efforts to design and build an aircraft in a Windsor pasture. All this (and more!) was covered in the intro, “Fred J. Wiseman, Hometown Bird-Man.”

A week before the aircraft was put on display, the Press Democrat began beating the drums to build excitement. During Rose Carnival weekend it was to be seen in the empty lot at Fourth Street and Mendocino Avenue (current location of the Rosenberg building, which was constructed in 1922). No detail was too small; there were articles about workmen clearing away junk scattered on the lot, building a tent, that it took “three big wagons to haul the airship to town in its many sections” and that there would be a small admission price to view the machine up close, with school kids getting a free peek. The paper assigned Tom Gregory, the best writer in town, to take a spin and describe the experience (he hated it). At the end of Carnival weekend it was promised Wiseman would fly at the race track. “There will probably be one of the greatest assemblages of people gathered there to witness the flights that has ever assembled in this city,” gushed the PD. 

Come the last day of the Carnival, everyone was primed to see a man fly for the first time. “As soon as the airship was brought onto the track the immense throng of men, women and children were all attention,” reported the Press Democrat. “Every movement of the bi-plane as it was wheeled along the track was watched with intense interest.” Alas, the winds were choppy, so nothing to see – except for Wiseman’s wave to the crowd and that little matter about the world speed record (68.7 MPH, if anyone cared).

In the ten weeks following the no-fly at the Carnival, Wiseman was plagued with awful luck. The big tent near Windsor where he and Jean Peters built the plane burned, destroying all their tools, research notebooks, and spare parts. Fortunately the aircraft was moored outside the tent and unharmed. It was brought down to Noonan’s field at the edge of Santa Rosa city limits (North Park, at the intersection of North St. and 15th is a good approximation) where Wiseman crashed it the next day in a test flight, completely destroying the propeller. Repair would be costly because the 7-foot, 6-inch propeller, along with the wing cloth lost in the fire, were the only imported parts used in construction. Damage was estimated at $1,000.

Wiseman and his partners had no time to waste because the plane was due to be shown at the Fourth of July fair in Petaluma. With Peters and Don Prentiss he began rebuilding and remarkably the plane was fixed and ready to fly again, just two weeks later.

Fred immediately crashed again, this time hitting a fence in Kenilworth Park on July 3rd.

Confidence was apparently deeply shaken, both in Wiseman’s flying ability and faith that they really had an airworthy craft. Plans were postponed for a follow-up exhibition flight in Petaluma: “The committee wishes to be positively sure that a flight will be made by the airship before it begins to advertise the event,” reported the Argus, as well as, “Mr. Peters will be at the wheel when it flies again.”

Thus as it turned out, the first official public flight of the Wiseman-Peters airplane happened July 24 in Petaluma, with Jean Peters as the pilot.

Both Peters and Wiseman continued practice flights at Kenilworth Park for the next three months without serious problems, although there was a mechanical failure on one flight that required the engine be sent to San Francisco. Wiseman took a break in September to visit the state fair, where he again competed in an auto race (results unknown, but he apparently did very well) and met with Charles Hamilton, the flying madman who is the topic of the following article and puts Wiseman’s crash record in some perspective.

While at Petaluma that autumn the team built a new aircraft, some 200 pounds lighter than the original. This plane was taken to Reno where exhibition flights were held for a week. They might have stayed longer, had Wiseman not crashed again and destroyed the plane.

Despite the setbacks and particularly Wiseman’s propensity for crashing their expensive airplanes, the Santa Rosa papers never lost faith in their hometown boy. Even when there was no real news, the Press Democrat especially kept cheering away. “Getting Ready To Build An Airship,” read the headline in one non-newsworthy story. “Wiseman Smiles As Airship Flies,” was another, and “New Airship Will Be A Dandy Machine.”

The year 1910 ended with Wiseman et. al. back in Petaluma rebuilding the plane that crashed in Reno. He was now talking about making a 24 mile trip from Petaluma to Santa Rosa. “There will be no flourish of trumpets prior to what Fred Wiseman hopes will be his next accomplishment,” commented the PD. “That will be a great event, not only in the record of Fred Wiseman, but in aviation in this section.” The Petaluma Courier added that he hoped to take Santa Rosa by surprise, landing  “early in the morning in time for breakfast.”

Special Free Inspection for School Children Here During Rose Carnival Week

From the aviation field on the Laughlin ranch at Mark West word came yesterday that Aviators Wiseman and Peters are putting finishing touches on their bi-plane and will have everything in readiness for the flights in readiness for the flights in Santa Rosa on the afternoon of May 8.

As will be seen in another column, the Wiseman-Peters bi-plane will be on exhibition in this city prior to the aviation meet. It will be housed in a big tent on the big vacant lot at Fourth and Mendocino streets. For the general public a small admission fee will be charged, but a special free inspection and explanatory talk on the machine and its parts will be given the school children on some day during carnival week on which due notice will be given.

– Press Democrat, April 27, 1910

Wiseman and Peters Are Very Much in Demand Now

The fame of the Wiseman-Peters bi-plane has gone far and wide from all over the state. Wiseman and Peters are receiving requests that they furnish aviation meets in many places. Some of the requests are of a very pressing nature, and they are guaranteed substantial financial renumeration. It is needless to say that they feel very much pleased over the attention being given the success of the efforts.

As has already been stated Wiseman and Peters will make their first public flight in Santa Rosa on May 8, the day following the big Rose Carnival, and it will take place at the race track. There will probably be one of the greatest assemblages of people gathered there to witness the flights that has ever assembled in this city.

The Wiseman-Peters bi-plane is considered by experts one of the best if not the best machine that has been constructed. It is the second American machine to be fully manufactured in this country, and that adds much to the importances of the work carried out by Wiseman and Peters…

– Press Democrat, April 29, 1910


Lee Bros. men on Thursday commenced to remove the big girders and other refuse from the big Brush lot on Fourth and Mendocino streets, and on the lot the big tent will be erected which will house the Wiseman-Peters bi-plane for several days during the Rose Carnival, and prior to its removal to the aviation field at the race track. At a small admission fee the general public will be admitted to inspect it. On a special day the children of the grammar grades and of the Ursuline College and St. Rose’s parochial school will have an opportunity to see the airship free of charge.

– Press Democrat, April 29, 1910


The Wiseman-Peters airship was brought into town last night and all night mechanics were at work assembling the big machine so that it can be inspected by the public today in the big tent on the corner of Fourth and Mendocino streets.

It took three big wagons to haul the airship to town in its many sections, and the arrival of the wagons at the tent caused a big crowd to assemble and much interest was aroused.

It will be remembered that the management promised to allow all grammar school children to take a peep at the airship free of charge. True to the premise the children will be admitted to the tent this morning between the house of nine and eleven o’clock, and it is safe to say that very few will omit the invitation. After that hour a small admission will be charged.

The new engine will be installed in the bi-plane this morning and the machine will remain on exhibition until its removal to the race track to be in readiness for the flight on Sunday afternoon.

– Press Democrat, May 6, 1910

Entertainment at the Track Minus Aviation–World’s Record Established by a Thor Motor Cycle

An immense crowd gathered at the race track on Sunday afternoon to witness the racing and the aviation meet. The Wiseman-Peters bi-plane, built by Fred J. Wiseman and M. Peters, was ready to tour the air, but unfortunately the high wind of a choppy nature that prevailed, prevented a flight. The crowd, however, appreciated the unavoidable conditions and in consequence were contented with an inspection of one of the classiest airships ever built in this or any other country–by a number of experts pronounced the best–and saw it driven on the ground the full length of the homestretch with Wiseman mounted in the seat which he or Peters occupies when a flight is made. The boys have a machine that can fly and it is their hope before long, due announcement being given to everybody, to fly over Santa Rosa or at  least give a free exhibition for everybody. They will keep their word. For the time being the airship will be again at the Laughlin ranch at Mark West, where the aviators will add some more finishing touches. No one regretted the wind conditions half as much as they did and that they were unable to fly.

As soon as the airship was brought onto the track the immense throng of men, women and children were all attention. Every movement of the bi-plane as it was wheeled along the track was watched with intense interest. Fred Wiseman, in response to popular demand, was brought before the grand stand and was introduced by Ira Pyle, who manipulated the megaphone. Mr. Peters and Don Prentiss –the latter an assistant builder were similarly honored. There were calls for Ben Noonan, the treasurer and manager of the Wiseman-Peters bi-plane. Mr. Noonan’s modesty, however, kept him in the background. To tell the truth, knowing Wiseman’s daring, he was somewhat afraid that Wiseman would essay to brave the unfavorable wind conditions and attempt a flight.

It was hoped by sundown that the wind would go down and make a flight possible, but instead of going down its “choppiness” increased, and so there was no flight. Prior to the bringing out of the plane the assemblage was entertained with a number of interesting motor cycle and automobile events.

Gets World’s Record

The spectators had the opportunity of witnessing the establishing of the world’s record for motor cycle racing on a dirt track when Earhart, riding a Thor went five miles on his machine in four minutes and twenty-two seconds…It was a wonderful exhibition of speed when Earhart tore along the track at less than a mile a minute speed. The crowd shouted their enthusiasm.


– Press Democrat, May 10, 1910

Tent Burns on the Laughlin Ranch and Wind Blows Aeroplane to Safety

Misfortunes never come singly, Fred J. Wiseman and M. Peters, who spent several months building one of the finest airships ever built in the country, feel the truism of the old saying.

Sunday afternoon the tent which housed their bi-plane on the Laughlin ranch at Mark West, was destroyed by fire, together with all their tools, the air-chars and valuable papers containing measurements and other data, some engine parts, a big roll of cloth used only for airships, and some personal effects. The airship, which was fortunately moored outside, escaped serious injury.

It was the strong wind that blew the airship to a place of safety in the big pasture field after the fire had burned the strands of rope holding the machine to the outside poles of the tent. The fire caught the cloth on the rear plane and scorched it. Fortunately the fire was noticed and the flames consuming the cloth were extinguished.

The loss is naturally a very heavy one on the builders, but nothing daunting they are going to repair the damage, get another new roll of cloth and new tools, replace their papers and in short, will not let the disaster of Sunday afternoon, shortly after 5 o’clock, stop them in their determination to make of their airship the greatest success possible. All their friends sympathize with them in their loss and congratulate them on their pluck.

– Press Democrat, May 17, 1910


At the time when the strong wind at the race track prevented a flight of the Wiseman-Peters biplane, Fred Wiseman promised that at some future date he would give a free exhibition for everybody who cared to go to the big pasture field on the Laughlin ranch at Mark West.

Pleased beyond measure with the successful flight he made last Sunday morning, and confident that everything was all right with the mechanism to insure successful flights in the future, Mr. Wiseman will give another tryout flight or flights next Monday morning at the Laughlin ranch, and the public generally is invited to come and here [sic] between eight o’clock in the morning and noon and witness the same.

Monday being a holiday many people will doubtless avail themselves of the opportunity thus offered and it is possible that a train can be secured to run to Mark West on that day.

– Press Democrat, May 27, 1910

Wiseman Makes One Pretty Flight But in Another Attempt Wind Strikes Machine

It takes more than a contrary wind, breaking down of an engine, the burning of a tent, the blowing down of a tent, and other accidents to discourage Fred J. Wiseman and M. Peters in their plan to navigate the air in their biplane. Consequently the accident which befell their machine on Saturday morning, when a sudden gust of wind caused it to careen and come down on its side, smashing the propeller and one side skid and other minor damage has not phased the boys and they are already making repairs and mean to make a flight before the thousands of people who gather in Petaluma on the Fourth of July.

Unannounced except to a few friends Wiseman had his airship out in the field on the Noonan place and gave it several runs across the field until about half past nine o’clock Saturday morning. Then the airship raised to a height of about thirty feet and Wiseman made a fine flight for about 150 yards. Two more flights were attempted then came the sudden veer of wind and the airship came down as described from an altitude of fifteen feet.

Fate has apparently been against the boys but they are undaunted. Of course these accidents are very discouraging and possibly would make less determined aviators desire to “yump ye yob.” But not so them.

– Press Democrat, June 19, 1910

Flight at Petaluma Yesterday Morning Is all the Talk of the Town Now

Fred J. Wiseman came to Santa Rosa yesterday morning and dropped in at the Press Democrat office to greet his friends, and his face wore the biggest kind of a smile. The reason for the very apparent good humor had preceded him. However, for a well known Petaluma resident had already reached town with the news that the Wiseman-Peter biplane had that morning made a very successful flight at Kenilworth Park in Petaluma. Fred was a very happy boy and his pleasure is certainly shared by his host of Santa Rosa friends. Fortune has at last smiled upon the efforts of the Santa Rosa boys, and everybody hopes it will continue. They have as has been claimed on many occasions, a machine that can fly. Of course, it takes practice to make perfect even in the flying and understanding of airships, and as Mr. Wiseman stated yesterday, everything cannot be learned in a day or a month. A re-adjustment of a part of the mechanism of the airship was made and now Wiseman and Peters say they are the masters of the situation. Last night’s Courier had this to say among other things of yesterday morning’s flight.

“A few minutes before seven the machine was pulled down to the southerly part of the park and the engine was cranked with J. W. Peters at the wheel. The biplane ran some two hundred yards along the ground before arising. Mr. Peters had absolute control at all times and when off the ground made a flight of two hundred yards at a distance of fifteen feet in the air.


– Press Democrat, July 7, 1910

Declaration Made Concerning the Wiseman-Peters Biplane–Another Aviation Meet

The date of the aviation meet exhibition drill, etc., at Kenilworth Park in Petaluma has not as yet been set. It will not take place on Sunday as many local people think but has been put off until later in the month. The new date will be announced in the local papers in due time. The event was postponed as the committee wishes to be positively sure that a flight will be made by the airship before it begins to advertise the event.

Mr. Peters will be at the wheel of the machine when it flies again and as he has already made several flights in the east, he will no doubt give a good account of himself.

The owners of the big airship state that the huge machine will not be taken to Santa Rosa until it flies back under its own power. –Petaluma Argus

– Press Democrat, July 16, 1910

Wiseman-Peters Biplane Does Its Best Work to Date at Kenilworth Park, Petaluma

Three flights were made by the Wiseman-Peters Biplane in Petaluma on Sunday morning in the presence of a large crowd of spectators, many of whom were from this city, the interest in the success of the machine here being very keen as Fred J. Wiseman is a Santa Rosa boy and he and J. W. Peters and Don C. Prentiss put the airship together on the big Laughlin ranch at Mark West.

The flights of Sunday are only the beginning of greater things to come for the development of the “know how” is all that is required. Those who have seen other airships have always said this airship could fly, and it si being demonstrated. While possibly forty feet was the height attained in Sunday’s exhibition by J. W. Peters. It is know that the big bird can go much higher. The enthusiasm created at Kenilworth Park was such as made the hearts of the aviators glad.


– Press Democrat, July 25, 1910


Fred Wiseman of local aeroplane fame, left Petaluma on Thursday for Sacramento, taking with him the engine from the aeroplane that has been housed in the tent at Kenilworth Park since the Fourth of July. According to the Argus Mr. Wiseman took the engine to Sacramento at the request of Aviator Hamilton, who desires to use it in his flights at the state fair, his own engine having proven practically useless.

– Press Democrat, September 9, 1910


Fred J. Wiseman returned from Sacramento on Saturday night. He made a great record in auto racing at the State Fair, adding to his prior laurels. Mr. Wiseman went to Sacramento to see Aviator Hamilton on business and was at the track when the aviator had his serious tumble for a distance of one hundred feet. Hamilton escaped with some serious bruises. He was feeling somewhat better on Saturday morning when Mr. Wiseman saw him.

– Press Democrat, September 11, 1910

Airship Partially Wrecked by Sudden Wind Squall Terminating Most Successful Flight


“Reno, Nov. 17–Wrecked in his most successful flight before the Reno public, Fred Wiseman of Santa Rosa narrowly escaped injury at the race track today when his biplane was practically demolished. Rising 40 feet from the ground the birdman was aught in an air eddy from the grandstand, which he overtopped. This overset his machine, sending it crashing to earth. Wiseman was thrown out, but sustained no injuries. When up about 40 feet the biplane commenced to drop, diving straight toward the earth, where Wiseman managed to regain control and altered its course slightly, bringing it back to an even keel. It plunged to earth, the motor spinning furiously, and struck squarely in an irrigating ditch, this preventing the wheels from revolving and allowing a safe alighting.

“There was a crash when the wheels crumpled underneath and jammed through the bottom plane and one of the wings bent and snapped.

“The birdman shut off his engine as he struck, preventing the propeller from tearing the car to pieces. The sudden shock threw Wiseman from his precarious perch, straight into the wires and stays. He was caught in these and wavered to and fro for a few seconds as the machine quivered. Then he extricated himself and jumped away from the debris.

“The aeroplane will probably be taken apart and the broken planes and mechanism packed away for shipment to California…

– Press Democrat, November 19, 1910


The rebuilding of the Wiseman airship, which was damaged in the accident at Reno, Nev., is in progress in Petaluma, and it will not be long before Fred Wiseman will again take his seat amid the wings to fly aloft.

“This airship sport has automobile racing licked to a frazzle,” Wiseman smilingly observed to a newspaper friend in town on Sunday, when he was asked as to the feeling that came over one when mounting into the air and navigating about in space.

“I tell you one thing–that a man has a far better chance of saving himself in an airship when she commences to drop than he has in an automobile race when the wheels skid or the gear goes wrong.”

Fred Wiseman has the airship spirit. He wants to fly. He says he has a machine now that will fly like a bird. There is no longer any question about it, and but for the squall of wind across the Reno race track there would have been no limit to which he could have attained.

There will be no flourish of trumpets prior to what Fred Wiseman hopes will be his next accomplishment–a flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa. That will be a great event, not only in the record of Fred Wiseman, but in aviation in this section.

– Press Democrat, November 23, 1910
It is to be a Surprise and Wiseman Will Be Here to Eat His Breakfast

Last night’s Petaluma Courier has more to say regarding the coming flight of Aviator Fred Wiseman from Petaluma to Santa Rosa. It is to be a surprise flight. The Courier says:

“A Courier reporter visited Kenilworth Park Thursday afternoon and as usual the men were found busy and preparing themselves for flights.

“The Wiseman-Prentiss squad has removed their engine from the biplane taking advantage of the inclement weather to overhaul it. They have brought about a change in lubricating the engine, having attached taubes to the seat of the operator, whereby he can lubricate the engine while he is on a flight.

“This is a decided advantage over the old system as the operator has plenty of difficulties without turning around to watch the engine. A larger tank has also been installed which will enable the biplane to travel a longer distance without refilling.

“The cross country flight to be made to the county seat will occur shortly. Fred Wiseman will be at the wheel on the occurrence of the flight and has already mapped out his course.

“He will have the park as a starting point, going directly south to Burdell’s station, seven miles below this city. He will reverse at this location and proceed northeasterly following the lower range of the Sonoma mountains for a distance of about five miles then going west to Penngrove, after which he will go north through the valley, following the line of the Northwestern Pacific railroad to the county seat.

“The entire flight will cover a distance of at least twenty-four miles. The intention of the aviator to go south is to tack against the wind which will tend to aid him to ascend faster. He has carefully mapped out this route, finding that he will have less obstacles to pass over his machine and life will be more safe. The aviator will take the county seaters by surprise and he intends to land there early in the morning in time for breakfast.”

– Press Democrat, December 17, 1910

Read More


“Change doesn’t happen overnight,” the saying goes, but in truth, it seems to. Surely you can recall many times when you’ve been surprised to notice a tipping point has “suddenly” tipped – a trend becomes commonplace, or nearly everyone accepts a notion that isn’t very old. My favorite example is this image which was created for the Today Show, comparing St. Peter’s Square during the announcement of Pope Benedict in 2005 and the announcement of Pope Francis in 2013. In the earlier photo, only a single person can be seen with a mobile phone. In 2013, it appears everyone in the crowd is taking a snapshot with their phone or tablet. If you had asked the 2005 crowd if they expected to be at the same event eight years later taking pictures with their smartphone, they would have first asked, “What is a smartphone?” followed by, “why wouldn’t I be using a regular camera?” (As news photos tend to disappear over time, you can also find it here, here and here.)

(RIGHT: Crowds waiting for the ferry at the Monte Rio Landing, 1910. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

It appears the Russian River resorts reached such a tipping point in the summer of 1910 when there was a jump in the number of visitors. “Already thousands of campers are at the different places and daily more are arriving. After the Fourth of July it is expected that a great many more pleasure and recreation seekers will journey to the famous river,” commented the Santa Rosa Republican. “The trains coming from the resorts on Sunday carried about 18 coaches and two engines, the coaches being crowded.”

The Russian River resort scene had been growing steadily for more than a decade, with a new place or two opening every year. If you wanted to get away for a few days to swim and paddle around in shallow water or even just lounge away like a sloth in a tent-cabin, it was the best spot in the Bay Area. Although many resorts were more or less the same, some filled a particular niche. Mirabel Park was popular with groups holding Sunday picnics, Camp Vacation (near Bohemian Grove) had tennis courts, and so many Santa Rosans descended upon Rio Nido that it seems much of the town was there at some point over the summer, judging by the frequent notices that appeared in town papers. That history was discussed in an earlier offering, “When we Summered in Lost Places,” and all that continued, as shown in items below.

So what made 1910 different? For starters, it was the first season after the Northwestern Pacific (NWP) line finally connected with the narrow gauge railway coming up the coast. This meant someone in San Francisco could reach the most popular resorts at the west end of the river – Camp Vacation, Monte Rio, and that year’s new hot-spot, Monte Cristo – without taking the NWP to Fulton and changing to the slooooow river local that crawled along with over a dozen stops along the way. This was also the year that electricity came to the resorts, so roughing it was no longer quite so rough.

But the special sauce drawing the crowds, I believe, was live music. For the first time (at least, that I’ve encountered in the papers) a resort was promising there would be great dancing. “The Santa Rosa band will furnish music for the dance, and this is a sufficient guarantee of the excellence of the terpsichorean revelry,” blurbed the Republican newspaper about the opening of Monte Cristo. “The dancing platform is one of the best on the entire river, and has ample floor space to accommodate large numbers of dancers.”

As everyone familiar with local history knows, the Russian River scene exploded in the years around WWII as the top Big Bands in the country performed at the resorts, with jitterbug dancing and hot jazz making the area a showcase for the best in popular music. In order for that to happen, however, visitor’s attitudes needed to first shift away from viewing the resorts as less a get away place into a go to destination. “The bungalows on the river and the cottages at the seaside are the strong attractions now,” wrote the Press Democrat’s gossip columnist in 1910, striking a prophetic note. “Summer is on.”

Will Form New Depot Site at Monte Rio

Work on the big fill at Monte Rio, where the broad gauge and narrow gauge trains will meet, is progressing rapidly. A large gang of workmen are employed at the present time, and the railroad company has run a trestle out over the slough where the fill is to be made, so that it will be an easy matter to dump in earth and arrange for reclaiming a valuable spot.

The new depot site will be on this spot where the fill is being made, and the Northwestern will reach the depot with a graceful curve on the east, while the North Shore train will come in on the west side of the depot. There is considerable work to be done there before the new depot site will be ready.

Other improvements are being carried out at Monte Rio and Rio Campo and a work train is being also used. Things are lively there now, in preparation for the coming vacation season. The railroad companies expect to do a great business this summer in hauling visitors to the redwood section.

All of the resorts along the river are planning improvements, and are anticipating entertaining the largest crowds in their history during the coming months. There is no question but the redwoods section about Guerneville is the most popular places in the entire state for summer outings.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 1, 1910
“Rionido” Makes First Contract For Juice

The Russian River Light and Power Company has begun stringing wires on its poles recently set leading from Sebastopol to Monte Rio. This will furnish electric current for all the resorts on Russian river which require it. The wires will all be placed and ready for the turning on of the current on June 1st. The actual work it is estimated can be done in about fifteen days.

From Monte Rio the wires will be run at once to Occidental, when the work of setting the poles has been carried out. Contracts have been entered into with the Westinghouse Electrical Company for the transformers required and the secondary work is to be done by the Metropolitan Electrical and Construction Company of San Francisco.

Rionido, the pretty summer resort which was formerly known as Eaglenest, is the first of the summer resorts to have electric lights. Manager Ellis, of the Russian River Light and Power Company, states that he will have the wires into Rionido in a few days. Thomas C. Mellersh, manager of Rionido, is determined to have his resort the most up-to-date in the county, and will spare neither pains nor expense to make it so. The formal opening of Rionido occurred on Tuesday, June 10, when the dining room was thrown open to the public…

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 14, 1910

Nestling amid rosebushes and a picturesque woodland is the country home of the Frank Woolseys at Mt. Olivet. The Woolsey ranch has for years been noted for its hospitality and its welcome to visitors. It is ideally located, specially for such a delightful gathering as took place there last Sunday afternoon, when Mr. and Mrs. Frank Woolsey and their charming daughters, the Misses Louise and Helen Woolsey, entertained a large company of friends at tea and the accompanying pleasures of an outing in the country. They also entertained a few friends at luncheon prior to the larger gathering. The invited guests from this city either drove out in automobiles or went by train, the latter stopping conveniently at “Woolsey”…

“Monte Cristo,” the Frank Leppos county home on Russian river, was thrown open last Monday by Mrs. Leppo for the entertaining of the ladies composing “The Spreaders.” The club members were delightfully entertained and returning to town gently pleased with the outing.

– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, May 22, 1910

Frank Leppo Arranges For Comfort of Guests

The formal opening of Monte Cristo, Frank Leppo’s splendid new summer resort on the Russian river, will be one of the events of the season in that section. The Santa Rosa band will furnish  music for the dance, and this is a sufficient guarantee of the excellence of the terpsichorean revelry.

All the arrangements for the pleasures of a large attendance have been perfected by Mr. Leppo, and he has left nothing undone which could in any manner add to the pleasure or comfort of his guests. Busses will be run from Monte Rio’s hotels to the new resort, in order that patrons may be in attendance at the dance and those who wish to go from this city to attend can find accommodations at the Monte Rio hotels.

Monte Cristo is one of the prettiest places on the river, and all who have visited it are delighted. There are many handsome cottages on the grounds, and it has leaped into popularity with rapid strides from the first.

Indications point to a large crowd being present at the dance, and that they will have a jolly time is a foregone conclusion. The dancing platform is one of the best on the entire river, and has ample floor space to accomodate large numbers of dancers. Mr. Leppo will give his personal supervision to the grand opening ball, and he knows how to conduct elaborate affairs.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 17, 1910

Mr. and Mrs. Harry L. Hall and Mr. and Mrs. Ney L. Donovan are spending the week-end at Monte Cristo, the country place of the Frank O. Leppos, and attended the ball in the evening.

Mrs. James W. Oates and her guests Miss Myrtle Hamell and Mrs. Martel and Mrs. Blitz W. Paxton were among the visitors at Monte Cristo on Saturday and spent a delightful day.

From all accounts the picnic of the Irene Club at Rionido must have been one of the most enjoyable ever. It occurred last Wednesday and the members left this city on the morning train and carried with them well-filled luncheon baskets. The lunch was made up on innumerable dainties for each member contributed to the feast. I was assured by one of the Irenes after this manner: “The Irenes can cook and don’t you forget it.” Delighted! Cooking is a very useful and necessary accomplishment. The exhilarating weather, the swimming and the hiking and the pleasures of the outdoor life were all features of this never-to-be-forgotten outing at Rionido. At noon everyone was perfectly ready for the meal, which was spread in the dining room at the bungalow of Mrs. Charles A. Wright, Mrs. Wright being a charter member of the Club. During the enjoyment of the many courses of menu there was much laughter and merriment. some of the members returned home in the evening while others remained overnight with friends and returned the following day.

– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, June 19, 1910

Thousands of People Camped at the Resorts

The year 1910, from all present appearances, is going to be one of the most profitable that the owners of resorts along Russian river have ever had. Already thousands of campers are at the different places and daily more are arriving. After the Fourth of July it is expected that a great many more pleasure and recreation seekers will journey to the famous river.

The popularity of the river as a place of amusement is easily attested by the fact that nowhere in California may the same amount of travel be found for such a short run. The trains coming from the resorts on Sunday carried about 18 coaches and two engines, the coaches being crowded. From one end of the river to the other people come to seek places to spend the summer months. As a place of recreation it would be hard to find one that could surpass it. San Francisco go there by hundreds to enjoy the bathing. Each day sees the river crowded with bathers. Extra precautions are being taken this year to prevent casualties. Expert swimmers have been stationed along the different places and they keep a constant look out over the people.

Not only is it a place for bay cities people, but Sonoma county [garbled typesetting] parties it would be hard to surpass. Many board the train from the cities along the route and attend the dances there on Saturday evening and spend Sunday bathing and boating. Many new boats have been added to the supply by the different resorts and at times the river is crowded with the little craft. Passengers in their raillery have often said that the resorts are so close together and the trains so long that the engine is at one station before the rear coaches have passed another.

A number of resorts are making preparations for the Fourth of July. Hundreds of people will go to that section to enjoy the two days’ vacation and adequate quarters will be provided. Many of the camps will celebrate with exercises, while a majority will confine their sports to a grand ball in the evening.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 25, 1910

Socially this week has certainly been the calm before the storm. After those memorable seven parties in nine days people have been taking a breathing spell. The bungalows on the river and the cottages at the seaside are the strong attractions now. Summer is on.

– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, July 10, 1910

Read More


Okay, we’ve got good news, bad news: Tonight you’ll see something beautiful and astonishing. Then you just might die horribly. Such was what residents of Santa Rosa and elsewhere expected as they awaited the appearance of Halley’s Comet in May, 1910.

This would be no faint astronomical drive-by; the comet would be unusually close to Earth, which meant it would be easily visible without a telescope and even take up a large swath of the sky – just before daybreak on May 16, the tail was measured at 90 degrees long. It promised to be quite a show and Santa Rosans didn’t want to miss it, although the best viewing time would be after three in the morning. So many people called the Press Democrat requesting a wakeup call if the comet was visible that the paper assigned a “Comet Editor” to collect phone numbers.

Like people in the rest of the country, locals began planning “comet parties” lasting through all or most of the night. The PD ran a tongue-in-cheek item about what to wear at a comet party: “If the party is in the nature of a private or family reunion the guests may go more or less decollete, or simply in ‘nightie…'” The gossip columnist noted some were actually having little parties with friends, starting with a midnight snack followed by a few hands of cards until it was time to wander out to the yard or porch. Those with autos drove out in the country. One man was nearly arrested for climbing the big rubble pile of bricks at the corner of 4th and D streets (which also reveals that debris still remained downtown more than four years after the great earthquake).

Halley’s big show actually gave two performances; early May, as it was approaching us from the sun and only visible in the pre-dawn hours, and then from May 20 onwards, visible between 8PM and midnight. The latter was less exciting except there happened to be a lunar total eclipse one night; time travelers, set your dials for 9PM on May 23, 1910, and bring a good camera (and please, don’t apply annoying Instagram filters to the picture). But for two nights in the middle of all this, the comet wasn’t visible at all as the Earth passed right through the comet’s tail. And that was when every living thing on the planet was killed. From the San Francisco Call:

BOSTON, Mass.. Feb. 7.— A telegram received here today from Yerkes observatory states that the spectra of Halley’s comet shows very prominent cyanogen bands. The fact that cyanogen is present in the comet has been communicated to Camille Flammarion, the distinguished French scientist, and is causing a great deal of discussion as to the probable effect on the earth should it pass through the comet’s tail. Flammarion is of the opinion that cyanogen gas would impregnate the atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet.

A version of that wire service story appeared in papers everywhere three months before the comet became prominent, giving the public plenty of time to figure out that cyanogen was more or less deadly cyanide, and it couldn’t be good for your cute little planet to be swimming in the stuff for seven long hours. Unfortunately, no newspaper explained (as far as I can find) that Earth would be only in the edge of the tail so it really was more like wading than swimming, and that everyone survived quite nicely a much more serious contact with a comet tail in 1861.

But the papers really failed by warning about the end of the world just on the reputation of Camille Flammarion, described in some places as “one of the greatest living scientists” and an “eminent astronomer.” True, he had been a founder of the Astronomical Society of France in the 1880s, but now he was a 68 year-old card-carrying crackpot who not only believed there were canals on Mars, but that the weather there was quite nice and supersmart Martians were hoping we’d pick up the phone and communicate with them. Oh, and he had written a novel about the world ending because of a comet.

The threat wasn’t real, but the fear of it drove a few mad. At least two people supposedly dropped dead at the sight of the comet. A man in Arizona was scared it was chasing him. A watchman at a San Bernardino mine believed it was going to hit the earth, and thought for some reason the best thing to do was nail both hands to posts; after nailing one of them he discovered he no longer could manage to hold a hammer and rescuers found him in great distress.

Mostly, however, folks seemed to dismiss the risk or acknowledged it with a nervous chuckle. The society columnist for a Washington paper offered a bit of doggerel suitable for an invitation:

On the seventeenth night of May, don’t fail
To come and dash with me
Into Halley’s comet’s streaming tail,
If we die, we’ll croak in glee.

A merry crowd will gather here
To meet the comet blazing;
In wit and bowl we’ll drown our fear
And watch for sights amazing.

(If it is a dancing party, add the lines:)

Into the gases we’ll go prancing,
If we pass, we’ll pass a-dancing.

Sadly, local humorist Tom Gregory didn’t address this possibility in his item on comet party etiquette. What does one wear for an end of the world get-together? Something more formal than a “nightie?” Something less?


“Won’t you please phone me when the comet appears?”

Many people know that the newspaper men in the Press Democrat office necessarily keep late hours, and the above show the kind of requests that have been coming into this office galore for several days past. Shortly after three o’clock this morning when the comet was visible something like a score of telephones rang in different houses in response to the request to tell when the comet appeared. If you want to be called let the Comet Editor know, and if there are not too many of you, you will be called all right.

– Press Democrat, May 12, 1910

In a large vacant space formerly occupied by the Athenaeum and Hahmann building, Police Officer George Matthews about 3 o’clock on Tuesday morning noticed a man acting very suspiciously. He was dodging in and out among the piles of brick. Every once in a while he climbed up on top of the brick pile. Then he assumed a crouching attitude. Then he would gaze upward into space. Matthews investigated with due precaution and discovered that the man, acting so suspiciously was none other than “Bud” Parks, who had left his bed early in the morning to take a peep at Halley’s comet and his movements among the brick-piles was for the purpose of getting as good a view as possible of the sight in the heavens.

– Press Democrat, May 13, 1910

The social editor of the Press Democrat was requested to give in detail what one should wear at Comet parties. The query was passed on to Tom Gregory for answer. The answer:

“If the party is in the nature of a private or family reunion the guests may go more or less decollete, or simply in “nightie.” If the lawn has been sprinkled and the starry visitor with caudal of asteroids cannot be received from the door or window, it is well to hunt up a pair of slippers. Should the reception take place up on the next block, the decollete should be supplemented with a shawl or “hubby’s” overcoat. If the “nightie” is retained it may as well be covered with a bath-robe. Should the bath-robe be unable to be found–as may be the case–the piano cover or a rug will be a practical substitute. Whatever worn it might be well to meet the comet on blocks where the street lights burn dim. The comet will give enough illumination for his own exhibition.”

– Press Democrat, May 15, 1910

(RIGHT: Illustration from the New York Sun)

“Mr. and Mrs.——-” request the pleasure of your company. To see the Comet. From twelve-thirty to three-thirty, morning.”

There is no mistaking the fact that Mr. Halley, astronomically and socially, furnished considerable diversion to the social calendar of Santa Rosa last week as far as late at night and early morning functions are concerned, and while the invitations may not have been quite as formal as the one suggested–having been mainly to the response of the tinkling of the phone-bell — the “R. S. V. P.s have not resulted in the disappointment of host or hostesses.

The assemblies have been held principally on porches, in front yards, street corners, or any place of vantage in easy access; decorations Nature as revealed in rose blooms and moonlight. I might add that the gowns worn in some instances had a rainbowy effect, but everybody wanted to see the Comet and no time was given for the preparation of party dresses.

In several instances Santa Rosa set the social pace in informal comet parties, where friends have gathered about half-past twelve to enjoy light lunches, play a few games of euchre or five hundred, and wile the time away until the watch on the outside announced Halley’s big sight in the heavens was ready for the evening. Several ladies and gentlemen who own automobiles, have driven into the country so as to get a better view of the comet without the near-earth dash of light furnished by the electrics in town interfering.

For several mornings to come Halley’s comet will continue to promote star gazing and it is affording lots of fun, too.

– “Society Gossip,” Press Democrat, May 15, 1910

This Journal’s Observer Notes the Unseen Transit of Halley’s Star Attraction Across Sonoma County

It cannot be said that the comet’s tail is The Light That Failed because it didn’t hit us with any perceptible results. Even the scare Professor Halley’s mysterious illumination shed around on humanity was not amiss, not a miss. Even the sinner in a general way, I mean the sinner not in any special line of sinning, when he heard that he and his frailties would be shown up in the white flame of that burning thing, did doubtless cease his unrighteous work, even if it was only while he was scurrying for his comet-tail-proof cellar. As per arrangement made a million more or less years ago–and concurred in by this journal a few days ago, the Halley contribution to astronomy began to brush its light across Sonoma county at 5 P. M. Wednesday. Accurately speaking, it was not quite as per arrangement, the agreement with the professor being that the transit would begin earlier in the day. But the starry combination when it reached the near neighborhood of the planet Venus boggled and slowed down on its orbit…

…The earth entered the tail 16,000,000 miles from the nucleus and fully as many more miles of the light-flood swept over us to be lost in the void beyond the globe. They are millionaires in the matter of miles out in the measureless interstellar territory. Distance is no object, when they mark off a star’s stunt through the solar spaces. And they are as prodigal with time as an American city official is with the public coin. While the sun, comet, earth and Santa Rosa were in conjunction–for seven hours–the illuminant particles of the tail, making a fleece of light as thin and as bodiless as vacuum, were washing us in their unknown white fire. The composition is unknown, although for several centuries every astronomer under the sun has been giving us a different chemical formula of it so simple that any drug store clerk could have a comet-tail of his own. We have been told that it largely contains cyanide of potassium, or hydrocyanic acid, or prussic acid, or oil of bitter almonds, or–or cyanogen (which is the word I am trying to get; still, the others belong to the same family). Cyanogen is the active principal of prussic acid and will kill even at long range, if not taken in exceedingly homeopathic doses with a physician and a pretty professional nurse at hand for emergencies. During the transit no person in Santa Rosa experienced any prussic acid sensations, although several living in the eastern portion of the city said they smelt bitter almonds, I imagine it was the tannery.

Regarding the disasters, cataclysms, holocausts and other unpleasant happening attendant upon comets, none has been reported to this office at this writing. There is no evidence relevant, competent and material, that the troubles of Mr. Taft are in any manner connected with Halley or his periodical phenomenon; of the Ballinger or Wickersham may be attributed to the cyanogen in the comet’s tail. Col. [Teddy] Roosevelts’s appearance in Europe simultaneously with the starry wonder is not universally accepted as one of the prognostications of peril. The proposed visit of Mr. Hearst to England during the national mourning time for the dead Edward [VII, King of England] may be significant of two sad events bumping together…It was reported from Sebastopol that the auroral display was “on” in the southwestern heavens, but investigation proved that it was only a brush fire on the Blucher Rancho. A startling rumor flashed down from Fulton that a man in that town had been struck by a meteorolite [sic]. Later advices somewhat modified the account and told that he had been kicked by a vicious mule. At least in the county there was no sting in the comet’s tail. Notwithstanding other observers and other localities are now trying to discredit the tail part of the show, we do not. If we are to believe that a pile of rocks, 100,000,000 miles in diameter has traveled on its elliptical orbit 4,000,000,000 miles, swishing its tail 32,000,000 miles long and 13,000,000 miles wide, and is halted by Venus when 14,000,000 miles distant from that charming lady star–I say, when we are handed all these millions and millions of miles to get over before we can get to even “a reasonable doubt” of our own insanity and when we are told that a flood of light composed of nothing, and more vacant than vacuum, blown here and there by the mere undulations of sunshine, will touch us, and we get that through our “cocoanuts,” why,–it DID touch us, and we will stick to the belief as tenaciously as the cat that sat down on the flypaper.
Tom Gregory, Observer.

– Press Democrat, May 20, 1910

Read More