Explain this puzzler: Why didn’t Santa Rosa police in 1912 seem concerned about finding the boys who incited a riot? And here’s another mystery which may (or may not) be related: What happened to our run-of-the-mill hooligans?

Just five years earlier there were regularly stories in the the Santa Rosa papers about hometown hoodlums. Kids as young as 10 were described as “incorrigibles” for their involvement with crimes petty and large: Arson, “immorality,” chicken snatching and armed buggy hijacking. The following year of 1908 boys were mentioned in the papers for stealing horses, burglaries, and trying to derail a train. But after that the kiddie crime wave seems to have subsided. What changed?

One factor was probably the new state laws passed in 1909 that modernized the juvenile justice system. Previously children who committed crimes were treated like minature adults, subject to trial by jury. Sentencing was geared for punishment rather than rehabilitation, with the courts able to send boys as young as 14 to state prison. Judges could be arbitrary and capricious; as an example, consider what happened to that pair of young boys who threw rocks through train windows and placed objects on the railroad tracks. The boy who was ten years old was sent home after promising to be good but his companion, just a year older, was packed off to the Preston School of Industry at Ione (AKA San Quentin for Kids). Under the new laws anyone under 21 would be allowed to stay at home under probation. If their family was too dysfunctional or didn’t want the child, the next step was now to send the child somewhere like “The Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society” in San Francisco, intended for boys “not sufficiently wayward to require assignment to the reform school, and too hard to manage to be placed in family homes or orphanage.” (Longtime readers recognize “the Aid” as the institution supplying most of the child labor used in the Sebastopol child labor camps.)

But the better laws don’t explain the dropoff in local juvenile crimes. Did they continue but the newspapers held back from reporting about them out of a newfound compassion that the articles could damage reputations for life? (Not to mention the embarrassment their descendants may experience a century later after some jerk digs up those old news stories and reposts them to a global communication network.) As smart-alecky scientists love to say, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Perhaps there was an agreement between the Press Democrat and Santa Rosa Republican to engage in some discreet self-censorship; the coverage of Adam Clark, the troubled boy who killed his parents was gentle, almost sympathetic. Other evidence points both ways; one of the items transcribed below withholds the name of a 17 year-old burglar, yet another item published in the same paper about the same time named an even younger boy who committed a similar robbery, and on the front page no less (this boy, however, was not a local).

An easier explanation for the lack of juvenile crime news is that there really was less to report. Santa Rosa and Sonoma county was not the same place in 1912 that it was just a few stressful years earlier. The economic pendulum had swung from the scary months after the 1906 earthquake and the 1907 bank panic to a time of prosperity. A clue that the overall mood had improved was far fewer suicides, unlike the dismal month of March, 1905 when Coroner Frank Blackburn held a suicide inquest nearly every week. And another sign people were happier overall: The Press Democrat, previously a font of invective against Republicans and reformers and anyone else who didn’t kowtow to the Chamber of Commerce, passed through the major election year of 1912 without slinging mud at anyone. Well, hardly anyone.

Not to say that our kids were suddenly little angels; there was, for example, the matter of that riot.

The new Rose theater was apparently nearly full that Friday summer night when the building began shaking and creaking – apparently two or more youths were jumping up and down on the roof (the building was a converted storefront, not the sort of heavy construction movie theater as we have today). Some thought it was another earthquake. “I thought I heard a cry of ‘Fire,'” someone told the Press Democrat. “Many people left their seats and made a break for the front and back exits, and three women fainted,” the PD reported. “Two of them were assisted out in front and another was carried out by the stage entrance. Many people were frightened, and altogether it was very lucky that no one was hurt.”

You will never read about another event so literally close to someone “shouting fire in a crowded theater,” and today the response would be outrage and demand for the perps to be held to account. But in 1912 the response was…meh. The cops looked around a bit but gave up when no suspects fell into their arms. No furious op/ed followed in the papers.

There was even a surprising tolerance for boys carrying weapons. The Press Democrat editorialized against the “slingshot nuisance” in 1911 and mentioned several people had been injured, but a year later kids were still packing and had added air guns to their arsenals. A 1912 PD article warned it was against the law to use them but except for a couple of boys having their slingshots confiscated, nothing more was said. Boys will be boys and try not to put someone’s eye out. Good times.

 Police Given Instructions to Confiscate Air Guns and Sling Shots and to Make Arrests

 The police have given repeated warnings to boys and youths against the use of air guns and sling shots, and Thursday Officer Andrew Miller took a gun and a sling shot away from two youngsters and gave dire warning that hereafter all boys caught with them will be arrfested. It is against the law to use them, and also to shoot the birds which the boys are ruthlessly slaughtering. It behooves parents to see that their sons are not armed with these weapons, if they do not want to pay fines as the police are determined to stop the use of them before some one is dangerously injured.

 This notion of the part of the police department is the result of numerous complaints from people in this city who seek both to stop the killing of the songsters and the danger that result in people being hurt.

  – Press Democrat, February 2, 1912

 Presence of Mind Prevents Serious Catastrophe

 What C. N. Carrington characterizes as a deliberate attempt to break up the business in vaudeville and moving picture entertainments he and his son are building up at the Rose theatre in this city last night caused a small panic at the playhouse and but for the presence of mind of a number of men and women, the immediate breaking forth into music of the orchestra at the call of the leader, Mrs. Joe P. Berry and other diversions, the result might have been very serious. As it was many people left their seats and made a break for the front and back exits, and three women fainted. Two of them were assisted out in front and another was carried out by the stage entrance. Many people were frightened, and altogether it was very lucky that no one was hurt.

 Whether it was as Carrington declares “a deliberate attempt to break up his business or not, or whether boys or men were on the roof and jumped about on it, or possibly shied a brick across just for a lark, unmindful that such horse play might cause death and injury in a panic in the theatre below or not, the excitement was occasioned by a noise on the roof.”

 According to Manager Carrington noises on the roof of the theatre–it is a flat roof and comparatively easy to climb–have been frequent on two or three previous nights. As late as Thursday night some one poked a piece of brick through an opening in the ventilator over the moving picture machine and hit Nick Quintero, the operator, on the head. This lends color to the suggestion that it might have been a prank.

 Many people in the center of the theatre apparently did not know what had happened when others at both ends of the building jumped to their feet and made some confusion.

 “I thought it was a fight,” said one man to a Press Democrat interviewer.

 “I thought possibly from the creaking of the roof that it was a shake,” said another.

 “I thought I heard a cry of ‘Fire,'” said another.

 “One woman jumped over me in an endeavor to get out and pulled my coat over my head,” was another man’s version.

 “I did not hear any shout at all, but could not understand what had happened,” said another.

 “I knew something had happened,” said another.

 “Some people were scared, but I wasn’t,” declared another in a spirit of bravado.

 “I shouted to people to sit down,” was the heroic declaration of another.

  In every big audience there are a number of timid people.

  Two men were seen on the roof, according to the statements of several people. One of them, in his shirt sleeves, ran to the Fourth street front and looked out over the sidewalk as if to see how many people ran out of the building.

  Whatever it was there was a noise on the roof, enough to startle people. Manager Carrington says that one man started to run from his seat some distance from the door, and that he called “fire” as he ran. Whoever this was, Manager Carrington says, he made his getaway up the street as fast as possible.

  Mr. Carrington wishes the Press Democrat to assure all patrons that from now on an officer will be on guard and that there shall be no further disturbance of performances. He naturally very much regrets the fright given people last night.

  Chief of Police Boyes and members of the police department were quickly on the scene and searched the roofs of the theatre and adjoining buildings. Undersheriff Walter Lindsay was in the audience. He says, “I thought at first that the stage end wall was falling out.” Therefore it must have been some noise.

  After the excitement the people went back to their seats and the show proceeded.

  – Press Democrat, June 22, 1912

  School Boy is Taken up for Entering Stores

  Recently the stores of Jenkins Bros. and Roof Bros. have been entered and merchandise and money taken. Cigarettes and chewing gum seemed to be the mania of the robber. From the Roof store less than five dollars in money was taken, while from Jenkins Brothers store but little cash was found. The boy took the cigarettes to school and gave them around, saying that a drummer had given them to his father. He hid them in the back of various stores on Fifth street and when it began to rain moved them to different places. For a week or more the officers have been watching for him and on Sunday morning he was taken into custody and charged with burglary.

  The boy comes of good family and his parents are among Santa Rosa’s most respected citizens. He is but 17 years of age.

 – Santa Rosa Republican, October 28, 1912

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