Two years since their arrival in Santa Rosa, it was clear the Comstocks had settled in to stay. Well, most of them, anyway.

Starting in 1910, members of the family adopted the custom of alerting the local papers when they were away from town. Someone made a day trip to San Francisco; was visiting in Oakland; enjoying a vacation at Lake Tahoe – all mundane bits of news, but nonetheless events their friends and business associates might find good to know (the operative part of that sentence being that they had local friends and business associates).  Hilliard was 19 years old and studying law with James Wyatt Oates, but he was best known around town for being a top-notch tennis player whose matches were covered on the sports page. At a social club, eldest brother John gave a lecture on bees and a song written by his wife was performed. Despite all odds that the aristocratic, highly educated Comstocks wouldn’t fit in with provincial Santa Rosa, they were fitting in just swell.

Around the end of the year John moved to southern California to study medicine. It was primarily John who brought the family here in 1908; he and sisters Catherine and Cornelia were award-winning leather workers who had been part of Elbert Hubbard’s legendary Roycroft Colony, which was the foundation for the Arts & Crafts movement in America. Calling themselves The Companeros, the Comstocks opened “The Gift Shop” in downtown Santa Rosa, where they sold their own work as well as artwork from many pioneers of the emerging Arts & Crafts style. As John was the shop’s manager and as probably little of their artisan work was sold locally, it would be natural to expect the storefront to close once he stepped aside. Except the opposite happened.

In May, the Press Democrat announced The Gift Shop would move to a larger and more prominent location at 626 Fourth street (which is still currently a gift shop, appropriately enough) where it would be run by Catherine Comstock and Bess Woodward. At the same time, the PD continued, they were forming an “Arts and Crafts Guild” in Santa Rosa to teach apprentices to make works of art that would be sold through the store. All members of the Guild were women.

All of this was a bit radical for 1910 Santa Rosa. Women usually didn’t own businesses, unless they sold ladies’ goods or services – hats or hairstyling, for ex. Outside of training for a profession such as teacher, nurse, or librarian, job opportunities for women were limited to unskilled labor, such as working at a laundry or operating a cash register (we know this because of 1911 complaints over new laws regarding female employees). Nor was downtown particularly friendly to women workers; as they could be arrested if they entered a bar or cigar shop, there were 30+ places off-limits to Guild members. (Matters had actually improved by then, however – for more than a year after the Great Earthquake, there were few, if any, public restrooms available for women.)

The Press Democrat noted John Comstock “still retains control of the wholesale end” which assured readers the business remained properly on a paternalistic even keel, and the Guild was “composed of a number of popular girls of the younger set… who are all personal friends and interested in each other’s welfare…” Although the PD’s condescending article makes them sound like ingenues (if not small children), they were in their twenties and the best and brightest of their generation. A couple of them we have already met: Pauline Olson, who ran Luther Burbank’s “Bureau of Information” and hosted a 1905 Goth-like “Ghost Party” that had people buzzing about it for months, and Hazel Farmer, who along with her mother Dorothy (of Farmer’s Lane fame) went to Los Angeles in 1908 to purchase a car which they drove all the way back to Santa Rosa on horse-worn wagon trails.

The Gift Shop was around at least through 1912, presumably still selling works created by the Arts and Crafts Guild of Santa Rosa. Over the next several years other Comstocks would begin drifting away from Santa Rosa, leaving mother Nellie and brothers George (“Frank”) and Hilliard. Later in the 1910s Hilliard would begin making a name for himself, and it took as long as that for the newspapers to learn how to spell it correctly.


The lecture on “Bees” by John Comstock at a meeting of the Starr King Club Thursday evening was one of the most instructive and interesting that has been given before the Club for some time, owing to its practical side. The speaker showed a familiarity with his subject which made it easy for him to handle it.

The meeting was conducted by Geo. F. King, the president, and there was an instrumental solo by Mrs. John Comstock, vocal solo by Miss Alice Bambaugh, the music of which was written by Mrs. Comstock. The evening proved a very pleasant one, and a large audience was present.

– Press Democrat, May 13, 1910


A very interesting announcement is that which tells of the forming of a partnership by two of Santa Rosa’s popular and very talented girls, whereby they take over the business of “The Companeros,[“] or the “Gift Shop”, which has been so successfully conducted by John Comstock. They are Miss Catherine Comstock and Miss Bess Woodward.

Miss Comstock’s art work is considered among the finest in the country and both she and her brother are members of art associations in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other cities, in which membership is only gained by proficiency. Miss Woodward has been studying, carefully and untiringly with Mr. Comstock as a teacher for a long time and her work has earned compliments that have come from sources that make them very valuable. She is considered highly proficient.

It is the purpose of the new firm of Comstock & Woodward to move early next month from the Masonic building into a vacant store in the Union Trust Savings Bank building, a few doors further down the street from the present “Gift Shop” and there they will open what is planned to be one of the most artistic gift shops to be found anywhere and one that is bound to attract a great deal of attention and at the same time, do what all the many friends of the proprietors hope will be, a very lucrative business. They expect to open the shop around June 15.

Another important feature in connection with the formation of the partnership and the conducting of the gift shop already mentioned is the organization of an “Arts and Crafts Guild” in Santa Rosa, composed of a number of popular girls of the younger set. The members of the Guild will study among other things carving in leather, the modeling and tinting of plaster, and hand-wrought jewelry. Their workshop will be right in the gift shop and they will study under the personal direction and instruction of Miss Comstock and Miss Woodward. When they have attained proficiency the products of their skill will be placed on sale and thus they will participate in a financial way in the great business that will be inaugurated by the “Arts and Crafts Guild.”

A particularly pleasing feature of the whole affair, aside from the association of girls who are all personal friends and interested in each other’s welfare, and the pleasure of the work along such useful lines, is John Comstock’s assurance that there will never be an over production of the goods manufactured. He still retains control of the wholesale end and says he will find market for every article evolved by the skill of the Arts and Crafts Guild of Santa Rosa in the sale places of the world. The new firm and the
Guild is certainly wished much success.

– Press Democrat, May 21, 1910

Santa Rosa’s latest acquisition for the study of art and subsequent development into the practical is the Arts and Crafts Guild, mention of which was made in the news column of this paper on Saturday in connection with the formation of the business partnership by Miss Catherine Comstock and Miss Bess Woodward, to conduct the “Gift Shop.” The Arts and Crafts Guild is composed of a bevy of popular and clever girls, who are thoroughly interested in leather carving, modeling and tinting in plaster and in hand-wrought jewelry. They are Miss Jean Geary, Miss Dora Pierson, Miss Marian Pierson, Miss Cornelia Comstock, Miss Pauline Olson, Miss May McMeans, Miss Hazel Farmer, Miss Helen Woolsey and Miss Ester Scott. The instructors of the Guild will be Miss Catherine Comstock and Miss Woodward. As has already been outlined, when the members of the Guild become proficient in their work their products will be placed on the market and then will come the development of the practical. The work is bound to be interesting and everybody will, I am sure, wish the girls all kinds of success in their venture. In their stride towards what I feel like calling happy independence.

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


Miss Bess Woodward and Miss Catherine Comstock announce the formal opening of the “Gift Shop” of the Companeros in its new quarters, 626 Fourth street, Union Trust Bank building, on June 10. Mention was made in this paper some time since of the formation of the partnership between these young ladies and the organization of the Arts & Crafts League of Santa Rosa to which a bevy of popular girls belong.

– Press Democrat, June 9, 1910

The formal opening of their art store and gift shop last Friday afternoon by Miss Bess Woodward and Miss Catherine Comstock partook of the nature of a social gathering. It was a large and admiring crowd that thronged the place. The popular girls, who with Miss Woodward and Miss Comstock form thee Arts & Crafts League were all present. Everybody was extending felicitations and wishing the girls success.

– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, June 12, 1910

With a sunburn that is the envy of many of the less fortunate ones who are still in town, Miss Marian Pierson, Miss Catherine Comstock and Miss Cornelia Comstock and Miss Helen Woolsey have returned home after a very delightful time in camp near Lake Tahoe. They report having had an outing of unalloyed pleasure and they certainly look the picture of health and are “strictly in it” in these days when tan is the correct color to be acquired during summer vacations. The Messrs. Comstock have also returned from Tahoe.

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


Hillyard [sic] Comstock, of Santa Rosa’s best tennis players, will participate in the state tournament that is to be held at Berkeley. He will be entered in the championship and the handicap events and hopes to do pretty well in the latter. He went to Berkeley Monday morning to be at the courts when his matches are called. James R. Edwards and W. H. Pyburn Jr. will play in the Del Monte tournament when that contest is begun in the near future.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 22, 1910

“The Crafters,” an eastern publication, devotes considerable space in its current issue to a writeup of “the Companeros” of this city, devoting considerable space to the well known attainments of John Comstock. It also prints an excellent portrait of Mr. Comstock and pictures of some of his art work and also of his sister. The article also mentions in a very complimentary manner the artistic work done by Miss Comstock and Miss Bess Woodward and the Arts and Crafts Club of this city, composed of a number of our talented girls. As the “Crafter” only devotes its columns to the doers of arts and crafts that count the publication just mentioned is particularly pleasing.

– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, December 4, 1910

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Some of the pioneer airplane pilots specialized in speed, or distance, or altitude; Charles K. Hamilton specialized in crashing spectacularly.

While researching Fred J. Wiseman’s first flights in 1910, it came as a surprise to learn he crashed their aircraft three times, once causing major damage to the plane (see previous item). By comparison, Wiseman’s partner Jean Peters also flew the biplane often and had not a single mishap  – that we know of. Was Fred a bad airman? In one of the very few quotes from him that year. he seems to come across as flippant and reckless: “This airship sport has automobile racing licked to a frazzle,” he confidently told a Press Democrat reporter. “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.”

(RIGHT: Charles Hamilton in July, 1910. Photo:

But Wiseman’s record doesn’t look so bad compared to some others, particularly since about ten flyers had died to that point. Consider the performance of his friend (acquaintance?) Charles Hamilton; he crashed at least seven times in 1910 (a Feb. 1911 wire story claimed there were “two score” by that point), four of the accidents involving life-threatening plummets from the sky. Loathe that I am to quote a Wikipedia page, the entry for Hamilton summarizes him well. He was “nicknamed the ‘crazy man of the air…known for his dangerous dives, spectacular crashes, extensive reconstructive surgeries, and ever present cigarette’ and was ‘frequently drunk’. He survived over 60 crashes.”

Hamilton also had a local connection. Before he was flying planes, he was “Professor” or “Captain” Hamilton, the parachuting hot-air balloon pilot who appeared in Sonoma County in 1905, 1908, and twice in 1909. At first he piloted and landed the balloon only; the jumper here in 1905 was his girlfriend/wife/sister (we don’t even know what year he was born, much less his family connections). Before that, he had a parachuting monkey named “Jocko.” I would not be surprised to learn the first of his “extensive reconstructive surgeries” had something to do with pitching a terrified monkey overboard at 500 feet.

Before long Hamilton ran out of parachute jumpers (human or no) and began jumping himself. Sometimes this did not go well. During his 1909 performance in Santa Rosa, he was left dangling with his parachute caught in overhead wires until a PG & E lineman rescued him. Worse, a year before he had fallen through the skylight at Moke’s funeral home on Third street, frightening the undertakers. “I’m not a dead one just yet,” Hamilton quipped.

The September, 1909 Santa Rosa jump was possibly his last. By the end of the year he was on the East Coast learning how to fly from Glenn Curtiss, then the hotshot American aviator, having just set the world’s speed record. Hamilton was a quick study; a few weeks later he was competing at the first West Coast flying exhibition in Los Angeles (discussed here). There he gained confidence when he glided to safety after his crankshaft broke, and learned that air shows paid a helluva lot better than flinging himself or a monkey over the side of a balloon. He won $4,500 in prize money at the event, using his winnings to lease the racing plane that Curtiss had used to set the record for speed. Hamilton’s aviation career was launched.   

Also called the “red devil” for his shock of ginger hair, Charles Keeney Hamilton was one of the most famous men in America for a few glorious months. His career peak came that June, when he won $10,000 for making the first roundtrip flight between New York City and Philadelphia (as a precaution because he was flying over twenty-two miles of open water, he wrapped three bicycle inner tubes around his waist). The New York Times ran a full-page feature, “Charles K. Hamilton Tells How To Run An Aeroplane.” As the public was crazy over everything flight related that year, the wire service illustration shown to right appeared in many papers accompanying generic aviation stories, with Hamilton more prominently displayed than his mentor Curtiss or the Wright brothers.

Municipalities everywhere wanted to host an air meet that year, and Hamilton was raking in money by charging $4,000 for an appearance. Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley, wearing his hat as president of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, met with Hamilton in Fresno to try to arrange for him to fly here.

He put on quite a daredevil show that included going into a steep dive and pulling out twenty feet from the ground. “There were persons present yesterday who believed that before Hamilton quit for the day he would disrobe, stand on his head, throw away one plane [wing] at a time and come in on the carburetor,” gasped the NY Tribune. Part of the thrill for show goers was the chance Hamilton would set some new record or have one of his horrific accidents. In March he was attempting to skim low over the water in Seattle and had a pitchover, the biplane somersaulting end over end. During a novelty race with an auto at the California state fair – apparently using an engine on loan from Wiseman – he crashed nose down, leaving spectators amazed that he wasn’t killed on the spot. He destroyed an experimental aircraft on a test flight and an engine failure at 200 feet in December led to another smashup. And it was even something of a miracle that he had completed his famous Philadelphia-New York flight given that he broke two propellers, one when he made an emergency landing in a meadow that turned out to be a swamp.

Hamilton’s career flamed out as quickly as it had started. He flew little after 1910 and his last known flight was in Feb. 1913 at Jacksonville, Florida. True to form, he crashed the plane – this time jumping out seconds before impact. He died of tuberculosis in 1914 and his obituaries were small, appearing mostly in towns where he had once wowed the locals with his death-defying stunts.

Successful Balloon Ascension Feature of the Celebration at Sebastopol on Monday

Professor Hamilton, the aeronaut, made a successful balloon ascension and parachute jump from Sebastopol on Monday afternoon. His ascent into the heavens was witnessed by thousands of people in the Gold Ridge City and for miles around. All over the section people were out waiting for the big balloon to rise. There was much speculation as to where Professor Hamilton alighted and where the balloon fell. The man landed on the Solomon place and the balloon came down on the electric railroad near Bassat station some distance below Sebastopol. It was a very successful exhibition in every respect.

– Press Democrat, July 7, 1909


Professor Hamilton, the aeronaut who made the balloon ascension here Admission Day, attracted a large crowd of persons to witness his trip into the heavens. He went up a great distance into cloudland before cutting loose his parachute. The descent in the huge umbrella like affair was very graceful.

The aeronaut landed on terra firma just in front of the Henry M. Forsyth residence on upper Fourth street. By a strange freak he came down between two sets of wires and the canvas parachute clung to the wires. The trapeze on which Professor Hamilton did his “stunts” which sailing through the air was within a few feet of the ground at the time, so there was no drop for him to make to reach the earth.

Clancy Sherman, one of the linemen of the lighting company, ascended a pole after some delay and pulled the huge bag off the wires, for this he was awarded with liberal applause.

The ascent and descent were as thrilling as those ever get to be and was particularly pleasing to the children.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 10, 1909

Charles K. Hamilton, whose great flight from New York to Philadelphia on Monday is chronicled in another column, is the aviator whom the Chamber of Commerce committee endeavored to secure at the time the giving of an aviation meet here under the auspices of that organization was being considered. President Finley visited Fresno for the express purpose of securing Hamilton, and he agreed to come providing he could possibly arrange to do so, but on reaching Phoenix, Arizona, Hamilton found that his manager had made engagements without consulting him, which made it impossible to keep the tentative engagement made for Santa Rosa. When the local committee found it could not secure Hamilton, the matter was dropped. Hamilton has been in Santa Rosa, however. He is the same Hamilton who made the parachute jump at the Fourth of July celebration given here two years ago, under the auspices of the Native Sons, the ascension being made from the Court House grounds.

– Press Democrat, June 14, 1910

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