THE PECULIAR WAYS WE WERE

Let’s go hunting for the “peculiar” items in the 1910 Santa Rosa newspapers – the offbeat or odd or just damned strange. This time the theme is mostly advertising; Gentle Reader might also want to check out “Did’ja Hear About…” which covers other odd news stories for the year and “The Peculiar is What is Missed Most,” which is the roundup of similar articles from 1909.

Before getting to the funny stuff, some housekeeping is necessary, as this is the final entry for the year 1910. By this time the Comstocks were well settled in to Santa Rosa, as described in a separate item. Also covered previously was the death of Maria S. Solomon, the mother of Mattie Oates, whose demise three weeks into January must have cast a shadow over their fine house on Mendocino avenue. Hints also appeared in the society columns that Mattie’s health was beginning to fail. In April she and Wyatt spent a month in Southern California, where they made auto trips with close friends Mrs. Dorothy Farmer and her daughter Hazel. On their return the Press Democrat gossip columnist remarked “she is well and strong again.”

The new year had started cheerfully for the Oates; on New Years’ Eve, he served as master of ceremonies at a large card party at the Saturday Afternoon Club. There he handed out prizes for events such as the “gentlemen’s noise contest,” where undertaker W. B. Ward’s drum won out over a state assemblyman’s cow bell and the former mayor’s bread pan. Other than that, it was another quiet year for the semi-retired lawyer (he was 60, she was 52). They also spent a week at the ranch of friends near Duncan’s Mills and as was their custom, hosted an extended visit by an ingenue of marriageable age, this time the niece of famed judge Amos P. Catlin. Their other houseguests were the Farnhams, a San Francisco couple often mentioned in the city papers. Mrs. Farnham was a prominent clubwoman and Dr. Daniel C. Farnham was an osteopath and a leader in the “National League for Medical Freedom” – a special interest group set up to fight the creation of a national public health bureau on the claims that it would hamper “individual rights.” As this was completely out of step with the Progressive Era they were widely condemned as tools of the patent medicine makers, who funded their prolific amount of advertising. Whether or not the Oates’ agreed with these aims is unknown, but the connection with the Farnhams could have been long-standing; at a 1911 rally, Dr. Farnham was introduced by Barclay Henley, Oates’ first law partner in Santa Rosa.

Our first 1910 peculiarity is the clever ad above for Joseph Tarzyn, a Russian-born tailor whose shop was at 406 Fourth street. (And no, his name had nothing to do with the popular Tarzan character, whose first story would not appear until 1912.) To the right is another advertisement for Professor Whittier, exhibition roller skater; we met the good professor earlier in another bizarre photo where he seemed to be staring down a row of mismatched kitchen chairs. His “coast to death” involved jumping through fire and here he exhibits “clubfoot skating,” which was surely every bit as offensive as it sounds.

Out at Bodega Bay there was another type of jumping and awkward movement reported as Mrs. John Turner, fed up with being cussed out by her neighbor, pulled out a gun and began making him dance in the manner familiar to anyone who has watched a Yosemite Sam cartoon. “He at first demurred,” the Press Democrat dryly noted, “but when the gun was brought into play he changed his mind, and as one shot followed another, he danced faster and faster, until finally a bullet hit him in the hip which ended the dance.” The cusser was not seriously injured; the cussee discussed the matter with a judge a few days later and was released on parole.

Alas, the papers did not report what happened in the case (as far as I can tell) but it’s likely she only paid the customary fine of $5 for each shot fired; gun violence was not viewed with special concern – recall the 1907 shootout where a member of the Carrillo family did not spend a day in jail after shooting a man in the chest, yet his wife was behind bars for 30 days for public drunkenness in the same incident. And anyway, profane and vulgar language in the presence of a virtuous woman or child was considered as serious as physical assault, so the court may well have viewed Mrs. Turner’s “dance music” as a kind of self defense.

Handguns were also routinely carried and handled without modern concerns about safety – accidents of men shooting themselves through a pants pocket or coat were so frequent I stopped keeping track. That many people were routinely packing heat may or may not seem unusual today (depending upon your politics) but the ad below certainly falls into the peculiar pile. The “Yellow Kid,” an impoverished but cheerful waif, was the best known and best loved cartoon character of the day; using his image to sell firearms is a bit like Colt or Remington licensing the image of cowboy Woody from Toy Story to endorse real shootin’ irons.

The downtown hardware store presented the Yellow Kid in another firearms ad that similarly used a dash of funky speling for whimsy (“You Cant Miss It” his nightshirt read as he carried a shotgun while waving a revolver in the other hand). Unfortunately, someone with the Epworth League of Santa Rosa’s Southern Methodist church didn’t understand a little of that schtick goes a very long way, and their entire notice about an upcoming dance was written in a mock childlike Swedish-Irish (?) patois that was nearly inkomprehensibl:

YU AIR AIST TU A POVERTY PARTY
SEPT. 23, 1910

That us folks of the Epwurth Leeg of the Methodist church, South, air goin to hav in the Leeg rume. If you kant finde it kum tu the church on Fifth an Orchurd streets.

These air ruls wil be enforced tu thee leter:

1. A kompetant cor of menergers an aids will be in attendunce.
2. The hull sassiety wil interduce strangers an luk after bashful fellers.
3. Fun wil begin tu kommance at 8 o’clock.
4. Tu git into the rum yu wil hav to pay tin sents; tu git enything tu eat yo wil hav tu pay 5 sents.

Kum at Kandle lightin’ an stay until bedtime. No obstreprus er bad boys permitted.

Signed. The Kommity.

But the most peculiar ads of all that year were the campaign ads for a man running for County Surveyor, the sort of political job that usually draws hardly any attention at all. The fellow apparently covered the town with so many little posters it became a newsworthy item for the Press Democrat: “A unique little ‘paster’ is being used by J. C. Parsons, the Democratic nominee for County Surveyor, to further his campaign. It shows Mr. Parsons in action, and was gotten up by him personally. The little pasters are everywhere, and one is produced here for the benefit of our readers.” But it was his big ad in the PD, shown below, that has to win some sort of award for strangeness. (“Worst. Ad. Ever,” as the Simpsons’ character Comic Book Guy might say.) The unphotogenic Mr. Parsons lost by a landslide to the incumbent surveyor George H. Winkler, who promptly died. It was bad enough to lose after spending quite a pile of coin on the ads but as it was apparently known that Winkler had been quite ill for some time, it must have truly stung that the voters still preferred a nearly-dead candidate.

The last peculiarity of 1910 concerns Doc Summerfield, the town’s veterinarian. One evening after supper he pulled a bottle off the shelf and popped down a “digestive tablet.” To his horror he realized that he had picked the wrong jar and had swallowed a mercury bichloride pill instead, “enough to kill several persons,” according to the Santa Rosa Republican.

Let us pause for a moment and contemplate what sort of idiot would keep identical bottles next to each other when one contained a terrible poison and the other had an old-fashioned version of Tums. Let’s also wonder why he had mercury bichloride anyway, which was mainly used in tiny doses to treat syphilis, and ponder further if that meant he was still operating his side business – in 1908 he was mentioned as one of several upstanding Santa Rosans who was a landlord for a brothel on First street.

Summerfield ran to Hahman’s drug store downtown and was given an emetic plus some sort of antidote “hypodermic.” There is no clear definition of what that might have been; medical literature published the following year stated colloidal silver seemed to work best, although the drawback was that large doses might turn the patient’s skin a shade of metallic blue-grey known as Argyria. Three doctors rushed to the pharmacy to attend Dr. Summerfield but there was little they could do except observe (perhaps they all whipped out their pocket revolvers and were taking bets as to whose gun metal would soon match his complexion). By the following day the Doc was doing fine and presumably reorganizing the shelves in his office.

DR. SUMMERFIELD TAKES POISON

Mistook it for Digestive Tablets; Close Call

A mistake that might have been fatal was made by Dr. J. J. Summerfield Friday evening just after he had eaten his supper. Only his presence of mind and promptness saved him from death. He took a tablet containing bichloride of mercury, thinking that it was some of his digestive tablets which he had been taking after each meal.

It was about 8 o’clock when Dr. Summerfield went into the room which adjoins his stables and hospital on First street and in the dark he took down a bottle which he supposed contained his digestive tablets, and took one of them. As he returned the bottle to the shelf he noticed that he had gotten hold of the wrong bottle and that he had taken a mercury tablet, which contained about seven and a half grains of the poison, enough to kill several persons. He immediately ran to the Hahman drug store on Exchange avenue and there told them what he had done and asked for an emetic. Physicians were also called and it was not long before Doctors Cline, Bogle, and Bonar were at the doctor’s side.

Before Dr. Summerfield arrived at the Hahman drug store, a messenger more fleet of foot had preceded him and announced what had happened. Paul T. Hahman had an emetic ready and also gave him a hypodermic. This counteracted the effects of the poison, and later the physicians reached the patient. J. Walter Claypool and Dr. J. H. Rankin remained with Dr. Summerfield  until long after midnight and he was resting easy at the time.

On Saturday Dr. Summerfield was doing nicely, and all danger from the poison he had taken had entirely passed away. It was only the fact that the doctor knew what a deadly poison the stuff was and the promptness with which he went to the drug store for antidotes that he owes his life. Dr. Summerfield  is also a very big, strong man and has a good constitution, which also helped him throw off the effects of the poison.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 26, 1910

I heard of a “patent medicine” party the other night. The idea was carried out not in the administering of medicines to the guests but in the adornment of the rooms with all sorts of advertisements. Prizes were awarded those who proved the most proficient in the guessing contest that located the advertisements with the medicine to which they belonged. It afforded much merriment.

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

FORCED TO DANCE TO THE TUNE OF WHISTLING BULLETS AS MUSIC

Mrs. John Turner of Bodega Bay created considerable excitement on the bay shore Saturday when she compelled Captain Hart, a pioneer of that section, to dance on the beach by firing shots at his feet and between his legs to emphasize her commands.

The trouble is one of long standing. The Turners, husband and wife, reside on the country road, near Bodega Bay, while Captain Hart is a neighbor. They have had considerable trouble of various kinds at various times, so that when the Captain pulled a plank out of the water Saturday and left it on the beach and returned later discover that it had been thrown back into the water by his enemy, he could stand it no longer.

According to the story which reached here Monday, the Captain, in addressing Mrs. Turner, used language far more expressive than polite and better fitted for use on sailing vessels than in polite society on land. When he had exhausted his vocabulary and stopped for breath, Mrs. Turner took a turn at telling the Captain what she thought of him, and then ordered him to dance. He at first demurred, but when the gun was brought into play he changed his mind, and as one shot followed another, he danced faster and faster, until finally a bullet hit him in the hip which ended the dance.

Mrs. Turner was taken before Justice Cunninghame Monday, and after some discussion, she was allowed to go on parole until Wednesday, December 14, when the case will again be called in court. Meanwhile it is expected that Captain Hart will fully recover from his wound.

– Press Democrat, November 29, 1910

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BURBANK FOLLIES, PART IV

Over his sixty years, Luther Burbank likely never suffered a month as dreadful as those days spanning New Year 1910.

       
THE BURBANK FOLLIES SERIES

These articles cover Luther Burbank’s association with the Carnegie Institution, which awarded him a subsidy of $10,000 a year “for so long a time as may be mutually agreeable.” The grant began in 1905 and continued through 1909.

Part one explains the significance of the grant and why Burbank was such a controversial figure at the time. Also introduced here is Dr. George Shull, a noted botanist sent by the Institution to study and document Burbank’s methods.

Part two explores Dr. Shull’s relationship with Burbank, whom he found mostly uncooperative. Shull discovered his work was scientifically worthless as Burbank kept few notes – a failure that led to Burbank’s reputation being tarnished in the embarrassing “Wonderberry” dispute.

Part three describes Dr. Shull’s dismay in 1907 to find competition for Burbank’s attention with researchers from the Cree Publishing Company, which had contracted with Burbank to create a ten volume encyclopedia about his work. This section also covers the short-lived plans by Petaluma’s George P. McNear and others to create a Burbank Institute.

Events in 1909 that probably contributed to the termination of his grant are discussed in “Selling Luther Burbank“, including the appearance of Oscar Binner as his new publisher and publicist, plus the short-lived deal for distribution of Burbank products with the controversial brothers Herbert and Dr. Hartland Law.

The dark times began in mid-December of 1909 when his mother died. It was not unexpected – she was 96 and in failing health – but her passing was still a heavy blow; “she had been her son’s constant companion and throughout the years the devotion of one to the other was marked,” the Press Democrat noted in her obituary. She had lived with him or in a house next door his entire life, except for a brief period when he first moved to California. It must have been a lonely Christmas without her in his big house on Tupper street.

Barely a week after her funeral, Burbank found reporters on his doorstep. A San Francisco newspaper had published a rumor that Burbank had lost his $10,000 annuity from the Carnegie Institution. We don’t know which paper published the original story, but in wire service summaries it was stated that the Institution allegedly disliked his “commercialism,” and specifically didn’t approve of the deal he had made with the Law brothers to form a distribution company. The Santa Rosa Republican asked Burbank if any of this was true; “he replied that he had not heard of anything of the kind and felt certain there was nothing in the story published.”

Then on January 16, 1910 – a month and a day after the death of his beloved mother – the New York Times printed the most damning story on Burbank that had ever appeared in a major American newspaper. Headlined “Doubts Cast on Burbank Wizardry,” the article began,

Scientists and Government officials are beginning to examine with a good deal of attention the schemes to which the name of Luther Burbank, the so-called “plant wizard,” has been lent.

Mr. Burbank’s varieties of vegetable, plants and flowers have been exploited for years in the press as standing marvels. He has not hesitated to call them his creations and he has received scientific recognition of the highest character by an annual grant of $10,000 for ten years from the Carnegie Institution to enable him to continue his experiments.

But lately his claims have met with a good deal of criticism…

“Burbank, to my mind, is just a sharp Yankee seedsman,” the Times quoted Dr. B. T. Galloway, Chief of the Washington Bureau of Plant Industry. “Too many of the men who really made great discoveries in the horticultural world died in the poorhouse, for me to be willing to see a man get such renown with so little solid basis for it.”

The paper rehashed at some length a controversy from the previous summer when an English gardening magazine and The Rural New Yorker (“an agricultural publication of high standing”) declared Burbank’s “Wonderberry” was a variety of nightshade that most gardeners considered a weed. The NY Times also brought up Burbank’s non-creation of the thornless “Burbank Cactus” and cast doubt that it was the world-changing discovery Burbank claimed.

“But putting aside the question of the merit of Mr. Burbank’s plants,” the article continued, “scientists feel that of late he has permitted himself to be exploited commercially in a way contrary to scientific ethics.” The article denounced the “lurid advertising” of the New South Farm and Home Company, which was selling farmland in central Florida that Burbank had supposedly attested was perfect for growing his cactus at great profit. Burbank apparently had no connection at all with those land promoters, although their ads quoted letters he had written about general Florida agricultural conditions out of context and used his signature in the ad to make it appear he had endorsed this specific project. The Times apparently did not seek comment from Burbank, making their criticism about any ethical failures on his part less stabbing.

Burbank telegraphed his response to the Times the following day. “I am exploited, whether willing or not, and very much against my own wishes,” he wrote, curiously not denying an endorsement of New South Farm and Home. “Does it pay to exploit commercially a proposition which does not stand on a sound basis of character and value?” He also copied a description of the cactus from his catalog, pointing out that while non-prickly cacti existed in nature, his invention was “absolutely thornless.”

Burbank’s letter to the New York Times continued:

It was mutually agreed upon and fully understood, both by the Carnegie Institution and myself, that I should have the privilege of supplementing their inadequate annual aid towards the continuance of my experiments by the sale of my productions as before.

I am now past sixty years of age, have done good work, and no one is dependent upon my efforts. The grant brought with it more care, responsibility, correspondence, and visitors and a full crop of envy and jealousy, and but for the advice of friends I should have dissolved my connection with the institution last year.

Those comments were remarkable because here was Burbank apparently confirming important news – that the rumors were true and he had lost the prestigious grant that served as the bedrock of his scientific legitimacy. The Times’ editor didn’t seem to know what to do with this admission; Burbank’s letter was published as a stand-alone article with the preface that “it was also noted that Mr. Burbank is in the receipt of an annual grant of $10,000 for ten years from the Carnegie Institution that he may pursue his scientific studies unhampered by lack of funds.”

In fact, Institution president Robert S. Woodward had sent Burbank a letter more than three weeks earlier, notifying him that the Board of Trustees had voted to “discontinue subsidies in aid of your horticultural work. It is unnecessary here to set forth the reasons which have led to this action…The probability of such action was also indicated to you in the summer of 1908 on the occasion of my last visit to you. While personally regretting the necessity for this termination of our relations, there appears to be no other course open to the Institution.”1

Thus Burbank’s endowment had ended exactly when the San Francisco paper had published its story about the rumored cancellation. Burbank had lied to the Republican reporter when he said it wasn’t true. Or maybe not; what he actually told the Santa Rosa paper was “he had not heard of anything of the kind.” The official letter from Washington D.C. could not have reached him by that time, and while presumably president Woodward would have telegraphed Burbank promptly after the decision had been made, we don’t know that. It’s certainly possible someone among the anti-Burbank faction on the Carnegie board rushed to leak the embarrassing news to the press before he actually received notice.

The day after Burbank’s letter to the New York Times was published, newspapers everywhere reported that his deal with the Carnegie Institution was terminated – again, this was over three weeks after the Board voted. Like other papers, the Press Democrat excerpted sections of his letter-to-the-editor as if it were Burbank’s press release (and he might well have distributed it as such). To its discredit, the San Francisco Call cut-and-pasted the letter to make it appear to be an interview under the headline “Burbank Discusses Institute’s Action.” Worse, the Call paired the “I am exploited” sentence with a reference to his deal with the Law brothers, removing it completely from the original NY Times context about land scammers in Florida. Not the golden age of journalism that was.

The churlishness apparent in Burbank’s comments must have shocked all but his most devoted admirers. What he dismissed as “their inadequate annual aid” works out to over a quarter million dollars in today’s money – hardly a trivial sum. For those in the public who revered him as a “wizard” here was another all-too-human Burbank, with self-pity and bitterness seeping from his words.

Burbank’s comments left the impression the grant requirements were a burden and great imposition, but we now know that he did little and was uncooperative, even sometimes hostile to researcher Shull (see parts 2 and 3 of this series). In the termination letter Woodward also wrote he expected Shull be able to wind up his report, and Burbank responded, “I shall try to aid Dr. Shull in recorrecting the dictation which I have been giving him the last five years.”2 When Shull returned to Santa Rosa, however, he found Burbank even more intractableā€ˇ and insisting he was too busy. Shull wrote to Woodward, “He says he has no income now, and that his time is worth $500-$600 an hour.”3 In the end, Dr. Shull was able to complete only one small paper which described Burbank’s experiments with rhubarb.

It’s telling that Burbank called the Carnegie grant his lost “income.” He evidently misunderstood it to be an entitlement – a public benefactor’s thanks for years of good works and encouragement for him to continue doing what he was doing. It also seems he failed to understand the advancement-of-science mission of the Carnegie Institution. Asked to provide a summary of his work in 1908 for the Institution’s yearbook, Burbank submitted four pages of hyperbole and descriptions that were more appropriate for advertisement copy.4  His thornless cactus was really popular and yields were amazing; he gushed,  “it means more than the discovery of a New Continent!!” His work was “a heavy burden personally, but to the great world it means a revolution, a new birth in agriculture, horticulture and biological research.” Needless to say, none of that ballyhoo made its way into the dry two paragraphs that appeared in the yearbook.

In Burbank’s defense, it has to be said that there was also a great deal of miscommunication between him and the Institution’s president Woodward. In the summer of 1908 – about a year and a half before the grant would be terminated – Woodward wrote to him in alarm:5

…I deem it imperative to state that a halt must be called upon all these operations if your connection with the institution is to continue.

I wrote you in December, 1904, and it is still my desire, to give you a free hand in your horticultural work and in the expenditure of the subsidies grated you, but it was assumed, of course, that in so doing the good name of the institution would be in no sense jeopardized. Now, however, that the institution is put on the defensive with regard to your connection with it, it is essential for me to point out that your entrance into other fields than those of horticulture, however much this may be desired by the irresponsible public, raises serious doubts as to whether your connection with the institution should continue…

Woodward was particularly concerned because he had received “a large mass of correspondence with regard to the projected institute to be founded in your honor.” Burbank promptly replied that his information was far out of date; he had nothing to do with the proposed local “Burbank College” and anyway, the idea never went very far and had been abandoned months ago.

The Institution was also greatly concerned about the ongoing work for a series of Burbank books supposedly being produced by Cree Publishing, then later Cree-Binner. Burbank repeatedly assured him it was apples and oranges; the other books were intended to be lightweight reading for the general public. When Burbank griped, “I have long been pained, surprised and disappointed that the Carnegie Institution has made no move” to present his work to “the clamoring public,” Woodward replied they had always planned to publish the “popular aspects of your work,” but were scared off when the guys from Cree showed up.6 This was news to Burbank; demerits to the Carnegie Institution for not making that clear way back in 1904, when the terms of the grant was negotiated.

Once the money was cancelled, Burbank did not comment upon it directly, aside from his disjointed letter to the New York Times with its odd swipe that the undoing was to be blamed on the “full crop of envy and jealousy” against him. But he was not quite ready to let the matter go.

Edward F. Bigelow, editor of “The Guide to Nature,” a monthly magazine published by a naturalist society based in Connecticut, inserted himself in the summer of 1910 between Burbank, “the grand, kindly-hearted man, beloved by all who knew him and especially by the school children of Santa Rosa” and “iron-hearted” Woodward (not that Bigelow had any bias). The published article offers snippets from letters written to him by both. Burbank seemed to be on a rampage to find out who was responsible for pulling the plug:

I would ask you plainly why do the Carnegie people refuse to give the full facts, I DEMAND them… I have never desired any publicity, and would always have greatly preferred private life except that it was necessary to mention my new creations in order to sell them to keep the work going; but I now desire publicity and lots of it. the more the better. I wish this thing dug to the very earth and the guilty parties exhibited to the light.

Woodward’s response was measured and polite (at least, until Bigelow apparently became strident). “You are certainly unaware of the thousand pages or more of history bearing on this subject filed in our office,” he replied, but declined to explain the reasons for the termination, “out of consideration for [Burbank] especially. [T]he history of our attempt to cooperate with him in his work should not be given to the public until after his death.” Nothing about it was further said, however, when Burbank died sixteen years later.

But the basis can be found in the minutes of the December, 1908 Board of Trustees meeting, when Burbank’s final year of financial support was approved. Andrew Carnegie spoke in support of Burbank, saying he wanted to “sustain Mr. Burbank in his work” for the benefit of mankind, not the advancement of science, and would even approve in an increase in the amount. Woodward agreed, but pointed out he was often asked “why we, as an institution, are subsidizing a faker.”  The Board resolved “it was desirous of seeing the work brought to an end.”7

While unlikely, it’s possible that Burbank could have stayed on the grant payroll for another few years, given his personal backing from Mr. Carnegie. But it is probably revealing the first reports of the cancellation mentioned Burbank’s association with the Law brothers; given Woodward was already concerned Burbank might be harming the “good name of the institution,” there was no way he could remain part of the Carnegie family if he had been associated with the scabrous Laws. In the end, Luther Burbank lost his lucrative deal with the Carnegie Institution not because of a cabal of enemies, but because of bad decisions by the guy he saw every morning in the mirror.

NOTES:

1Unpublished correspondence December 27, 1909; archives of Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, Santa Rosa, CA
2Unpublished correspondence January 12, 1910; archives of Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, Santa Rosa, CA
3Peter Dreyer, A Gardener Touched With Genius (Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, Santa Rosa, CA), 1985, pg. 180
4Unpublished correspondence September 29, 1909; archives of Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, Santa Rosa, CA
5Unpublished correspondence August 4, 1908; archives of Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, Santa Rosa, CA
6Unpublished correspondence August 15 and September 22, 1908; archives of Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, Santa Rosa, CA
7Dreyer, pg. 173

LUTHER BURBANK’S MOTHER DIES HERE LAST NIGHT
The woman who gave Luther Burbank to the world is dead.

Deeply loved and revered by the immediate members of her family and highly esteemed by a large circle of friends, Mrs. Olive Ross Burbank entered into rest at a quarter past five o’clock Wednesday evening at her son’s residence on Santa Rosa avenue. Her life span lacked but three years and four months of being one hundred years.

The end came so peacefully that it was just a lengthening of the unconsciousness into which she had fallen some days previously and an awakening again in a land where time is not measured by years and where people never grow old or infirm.

Almost up to a week ago Mrs. Burbank was able to take some walking exercise in the garden about the house. She had commenced to show signs of failing, some eight or ten years ago, however. At the close of life came the final breakdown of the system and accompanying pain and suffering, which was relieved by the coming of the silent messenger and the touch that brought peace, winging the spirit of the loved mother and friend to the realms above.

Born in Massachusetts

Mrs. Olive Ross Burbank was born in Sterling, Mass., on April 7, 1813. She came of rugged scotch ancestry. In 1845 she was married to Samuel Walter Burbank and they lived at Lancaster, Mass. Her husband died in 1868. Of the union five children were born, three of whom survive. The latter are Luther Burbank of this city, Alfred Burbank of Riverside county, and Mrs. Emma Burbank Beeson, recently of this city, and Healdsburg, and now of Point Richmond. A stepson is Daniel Burbank of Petaluma.

Makes Home With Son

It was in 1877 that Mrs. Burbank came to Santa Rosa, two years after her son, Luther Burbank, had made his home here. Since that time she had been her son’s constant companion and throughout the years the devotion of one to the other was marked. She was deeply interested in his work in the creation of new fruits and flowers and each of his successes meant just so much joy for her. She used to smile as she related how when he was a mere baby Luther had a love for flowers, even to the extent that his tears would turn to laughter if a flower was pressed into his baby hands.

Mrs. Burbank was a remarkably active woman. She has friends here who remember when she first moved to Santa Rosa. Then despite the fact that she was seventy-five years of age, by her looks and actions she could easily have passed for fifty. She was always kind and solicitous for others. “Mother’s Birthday” will no longer be celebrated as it has been for many years at the Burbank home on each recurring April 7. They were red letter days in the Burbank household. Her room in the Burbank household was where the summer’s sun lingered longest, and where through the open window the sweet perfume of the Santa Rosa rose and the other of her son’s flower creations could come.

Some Reminiscences

In the little school Mrs. Burbank attended in Massachusetts she had as a classmate the little girl who was the “Mary” giving the nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” It was to that school that the lamb followed Mary.

Mrs. Burbank was over six years old and attending school when the late Queen Victoria was born.

Interment at Sebastopol

The funeral will most likely take place on Friday afternoon at one o’clock from the residence and the interment will be in the family plot in Sebastopol cemetery. The funeral will be strictly private.

– Press Democrat, December 16, 1909

NOTHING TO WIERD STORY
Frisco Paper Says Support is Withdrawn

A San Francisco paper of Wednesday has a long rambling story purporting to give the action of the trustees of the Carnegie Institute, in which it is declared the institute has decided to withdraw the financial support guaranteed to Luther Burbank of this city.

Mr. Burbank has never heard of such a matter, and it is hardly probably that there is anything to such a wierd [sic] story. When asked by a REPUBLICAN representative concerning the matter Wednesday afternoon, he replied that he had not heard of anything of the kind and felt certain there was nothing in the story published.

The work which Mr. Burbank  is doing is far too important to humanity for the Carnegie Institute to withdraw its support, especially as it was pledged for a specific number of years. This institute does not do things in that manner, and it is an improbable story given to the public.

The cause assigned for the withdrawal of the support of the institute was the commercialism of the work carried on by Mr. Burbank. It is a well known fact that the amount of financial aid which the institute has given him annually is more than expended in carrying on the thousands of experiments which he has underway. For this reason Mr. Burbank sells the rights to new species which he creates. It is declared in the article published that the company formed by the Law Brothers for the exploitation of Mr. Burbank’s works is responsible for the alleged withdrawal.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 29, 1909

CARNEGIE AID HAS BEEN WITHDRAWN
Luther Burbank Confirms the Report–Idea of “Commercialism” Old Not Exist in Understanding

Some time ago the report was mentioned that the Carnegie Institution has withdrawn its financial aid towards the development of Luther Burbank’s experiments. The appropriation was $10,000 a year. Mr. Burbank has confirmed the withdrawal of the support and in an interview wired to the New York Times on Monday had this to say of the matter, regarding the announcement that the withdrawal had been because of “commercialism” in the disposal of products:

“It was mutually agreed upon and fully understood, both by the Carnegie Institution and myself, that I should have the privilege of supplementing their inadequate annual aid towards the continuance of my experiments by the sale of my productions as before.

“Am now past sixty years of age, have done good work, and no one is dependent upon my efforts.

“The grant brought with it more care, responsibility, correspondence, and visitors and a full crop of envy and jealousy, and but for the advice of friends I should have dissolved my connection with the institution last year.

“Personally, I have no desire for wealth or fame, a thirst for these is the root of may evils. My ambition has been to leave the world better for having passed this way. To be misjudged is a passing trifle, to have lost a life of honest, earnest labor is a tragedy.”

– Press Democrat, January 19, 1910

CARNEGIE SURPRISED AT WITHDRAWAL OF AID

The newspaper interviews at Del Monte on Thursday Andrew Carnegie stated that he was surprised at the announcement some time since that the Carnegie Institution had withdrawn its financial aid to the research work done by Luther Burbank. He said that while he did not usually interfere in the conduct of the business of the Institution he would inquire into the Burbank matter.

– Press Democrat, March 12, 1910

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1906 EARTHQUAKE: THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS

Every year, the Santa Rosa newspapers yielded new insights regarding the Great Earthquake. Here are the nuggets from 1910 and 1911:

HOW THE INSURANCE WARS WERE WON   Much has already been written here about the earthquake insurance wars (introduction and wrap-up), but in brief: Immediately following the disaster, there was considerable anxiety as to how much and how soon the insurance companies would pay for losses. A few small insurers declared bankruptcy and did not pay at all, but most eventually offered settlement, although usually for less than the value insured. The worst case was the Connecticut Fire Insurance Company, which flatly refused to pay its handful of Santa Rosa customers because they said the earthquake voided the fire insurance policies.

One of the strange angles to the story is that Connecticut Fire paid every single claim without fuss in San Francisco, and was praised by the SF Chamber of Commerce in November, 1906 as being one of the very few “dollar-for-dollar” companies. What was not mentioned at the time was that the Santa Rosa Chamber went to war over the double standards. As described in a 1910 Press Democrat article:

…the Connecticut advertised broadcast that it was “one of the few companies that settled all losses growing out of the earthquake and fire of April 18, 1906.” The facts being exactly to the contrary, several thousand circulars were sent out by the local Chamber of Commerce calling attention to the false claims being made by the Connecticut, and showing that of all the companies doing business here at the time of the fire  the Connecticut was the only one that had failed to settle on some basis or another. These circulars were sent to nearly every important commercial organization in the United States.

The 1910 Santa Rosa papers also printed the appellate court decisions against the insurance company, which revealed further bits of lost history.

As explained in the series’ introduction, the legal fight was over the “fallen-building” clause in the insurance policies: If the contents of the building were on fire before the structure collapsed, the insurance company had to pay up (the Santa Rosa policies were all coverage of store inventories, not the buildings). To win, the insurance company lawyers only had to convince a jury that any part of the building fell down before fire destroyed the goods.

(RIGHT: Fourth street and Mendocino intersection after the 1906 earthquake. Image courtesy Larry Lapeere)

Given that eyewitnesses encountered a scene on Fourth street of such absolute destruction that they often could not identify particular buildings, it seems like the insurance company should have won every one of these suits with ease. But while it was always safe to presume some trial witnesses perjured themselves to help their fellow Santa Rosans triumph over the insurance company, the appellate decisions show serious mistakes were made in the conduct of the trial and the suits were ultimately won by the Santa Rosa shopkeepers via legal hairsplitting, not the merits of any evidence.

The appeals court likewise showed bias towards the Santa Rosa plaintiffs. In the Moodey shoe store case, they refused the request for a new trial although they found the trial judge had completely misinformed the jury about the fallen-building clause. Superior Court Judge Denny told jurors it meant that “some functional portion of the building, the falling of which would destroy its distinctive character,” and it didn’t apply as long as more than three-fourths of the building was intact, even if the roof had collapsed along with the front falling away. All of these ifs, ands, or buts apparently tumbled out of the good judge’s vivid imagination, but, hey, the appeals court ruled that didn’t matter because the jury ended up deciding that no substantial parts of the building fell before the fire.

Bias was even more obvious in the appeal for the Davis pharmacy case. The insurance company lawyer wanted a mistrial because there was an objection to asking Fire Chief Muther and J. D. Ward, material witnesses on the scene, “do you know whether it fell by fire or otherwise?” The appeal was denied – although the justices had to twist logic into a pretzel to provide reasons why.

First, the Court of Appeals didn’t like how that question was phrased: It implied Muther and Ward had “actual knowledge” of what happened. Since they weren’t there when the building fell down, any answers would be merely opinion, which “could have added nothing to the probative force of their testimony.” Note the point that their opinions didn’t matter.

The Court also disagreed with the insurance company’s argument that “the very issue in the case” was whether the building fell down because of fire or earthquake. The cause of the structure’s collapse, said the Court, didn’t matter at all – unless it fell down before the stuff was burned. Thus “why” and “when” were disconnected into separate issues, unless perhaps they weren’t.

But even while the Appellate Court ruled opinions didn’t matter and the sequence of events probably didn’t matter, they wrote, “…from the facts to which the said witnesses testified only one inference could be drawn and that is that the earthquake virtually destroyed the building…” Ward had described that section of Fourth street as being “all a mass of debris tumbled down[,] I couldn’t exactly distinguish where the Davis drug store was, but they all looked the same.” Muther had also testified the earthquake had caused the damage to the drug store building.

In other words, despite (non-opinionated) testimony that the building’s collapse was caused by the earthquake before the fire started, it wasn’t important that the jury ignored this key fact in deciding their verdict.

Reading that decision, one gets the impression that the Appellate Court really enjoyed slapping the insurance company around (not that’s necessarily a bad thing), making the point they lost the case despite having all evidence in their favor and the Davis lawyer making a stupid mistake. It was testified that Davis wanted to enter the wreckage to rescue his prescription book, but was prevented by two policemen who feared an aftershock could trap him in the debris. The trial should have ended at that moment; there could be no further debate as to the condition of the building before the fire. But Davis had died before the trial began, so the story was hearsay; the trial judge would have excluded it if the Davis lawyer was awake at the time and had objected. As the jury was apparently determined to ignore evidence in the insurance company’s favor, this little anecdote had no bearing on the trial, and was not part of the appeal. The only reason for the Appellate Court to mention this at all was to simply rub the insurance company’s nose in it.

THE MAGNITUDE OF THE TRAGEDY   Local history buffs still are heard to claim (boast, actually) that the 1906 earthquake had a relatively greater impact on Santa Rosa than San Francisco. That dubious honor is certainly not true and is based on skewed interpretations. The amount of property damage is routinely exaggerated; much of Santa Rosa’s business district was flattened or burned but not all of it, and only a handful of homes were seriously damaged. By contrast to the fourteen commercial and municipal blocks here with buildings lost to fire or collapse, nearly 500 city blocks were destroyed in San Francisco and a quarter of a million people were left homeless.

It’s also said there were proportionately more casualties in Santa Rosa, which is discussed on the 1906 earthquake FAQ page. That might be true if you play with the numbers – namely, that you select the highest estimates of those killed here and compare it to a low count of the population. The key part of that equation is knowing how many people lived in Santa Rosa at the time and that’s no easy thing. Not only was 1906 between the decennial years of the national census, there was ongoing debate as to what constituted “Santa Rosa.” The city was physically so small that anyone could bicycle from one end to the other in ten minutes, yet additional thousands lived just outside the city limits. The newspapers groused that Santa Rosa needed to expand its borders, but it was never seriously discussed in that era. (I suspect that they wanted to keep the town looking small but affluent as to attract investors to buy any municipal bonds.)

Finally in the 1910 census, a better picture emerges: There were 13,560 people in the entire Santa Rosa township that year with 42 percent of them living outside of city limits. It is fairer to use the overall township count when comparing the earthquake outcome because San Francisco included its entire footprint on the peninsula.

Working backwards from those numbers, it would place the earthquake population in the high 11,000s, which is also the figure that emerges from estimates by the company that published the city directories (see FAQ).

Bottom line: The best estimate we can probably ever make is that about 0.7 percent of the overall Santa Rosa population was killed in the 1906 earthquake, slightly less than half the percentage of fatalities in San Francisco.

POPULATION OF SANTA ROSA AND PETALUMA TOWNSHIPS

Washington, March 10–The population of Santa Rosa township, including Santa Rosa city, is 13,560, according to the thirteenth census. The population of Santa Rosa township outside of the city is 5,743.
The population of the city by wards is…7,817.
The population of Petaluma township, including Petaluma city, is 8,787.
The population of Petaluma township outside of the city is 2,907.
The population of the city by precincts is…5,880.

– Press Democrat, March 11, 1911
POPULATION BASED ON SCHOOL CENSUS

The population of Santa Rosa is 10,851 as shown by the school census of 1910 just recently completed, based upon the estimate used by Job Wood, Jr., who is probably the leading expert of the state on school census figures and their relation to population. For fourteen years Wood has been connected with the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction, being assigned to the census department. He has made a special study of the matter, and has arrived at his knowledge by comparing the school census with other computations of the population of the bay cities for many years. The last federal census and the various other computations such as the post office directories, city directories, school censuses, which included the whole population, etc., have all been used by him in determining the percentage.

The school census as reported to County Superintendent of Schools DeWitt Montgomery by the Census Marshals, reached a total of 1,973, or 63 more than a year ago. Mr. Wood declares that the population averages five and a half persons per census child which makes a total for Court House School district of 10,851. The usual average of computation, taking the state as a whole has alway been five, which would make the total 8,865.

– Press Democrat, May 24, 1910

MUST PAY SANTA ROSA CLAIMANT
Appellate Court Decides Against the Welching Connecticut Fire Insurance Company in the Fountain Case

Sacramento, March 3–In the case of O. Fountain vs. the Connecticut Fire Insurance Company the Third District Court of Appeal this morning affirmed the decision of the Superior Court of Sonoma county ordering the insurance company to pay Fountain for losses on merchandise in Santa Rosa caused by the earthquake and fire of 1906.
[..]
The course pursued by the Connecticut Fire Insurance Company in regard to its Santa Rosa claims aroused much hostile criticism, and resulted in its being dubbed “the welching company,” a name that it will be apt to retain for a long time. Immediately after the fire, Manager Smith curtly notified his Santa Rosa policyholders that he would not pay, and he stuck to it. Later, the Connecticut advertised broadcast that it was “one of the few companies that settled all losses growing out of the earthquake and fire of April 18, 1906.” The facts being exactly to the contrary, several thousand circulars were sent out by the local Chamber of Commerce calling attention to the false claims being made by the Connecticut, and showing that of all the companies doing business here at the time of the fire  the Connecticut was the only one that had failed to settle on some basis or another. These circulars were sent to nearly every important commercial organization in the United States.

 – Press Democrat, March 10, 1910

SANTA ROSA INSURANCE SUIT WON IN THE HIGHER COURT
The Full Text of Judge Burnett’s Opinion Given Here

A copy of the opinion in the suit of Naomi E. Davis (now Mrs. H. H. Moke) against the Connecticut Fire Insurance Company to recover the sum of $1,000, a policy the late Henry S. Davis had on the stock in his drug store on Fourth street at the time of the earthquake and fire disaster on April 18, 1906, which opinion affirmed Judge Denny’s decision in favor of the plaintiff, has been received here. It was written by Judge Albert G. Burnett, and concurred in by the other justices of the Appellate Court, and is as follows…

– Press Democrat, April 2, 1910

CHIPMAN’S DECISION IN MOODEY INSURANCE SUIT
Full Text of Opinion Interests Many Santa Rosans

Presiding Justice N. P. Chipman of the Appellate Court, wrote the decision affirming the judgement of Judge Denny in the suit of R. C. Moodey against the Connecticut Fire Insurance Company which was in favor of Mr. Moodey…the jury rendered a verdict for $500.00…

– Press Democrat, April 21, 1910

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