When the only daughter of the richest family in town gets married you expect a fuss. The engagement will be announced in the press, often with a portrait. The big church wedding would be the social event of the season; the newspapers would describe the bride’s trousseau in loving detail, the bridesmaids and others in the party would be named, followed by a long list of family members and VIPs attending the ceremony.

Thus many in 1891 Santa Rosa were likely surprised to read a small item in the Democrat stating Jessie Overton and Ed Livernash were married one Monday morning. “The wedding was very private, only the members of both families being present,” the Democrat paper reported.

Perhaps they wanted to avoid a showy wedding because of Jessie’s deep piety; not long before that her father, ex-Judge A. P. Overton, had convinced her to leave the convent she had joined as a novitiate. Or maybe they wanted it kept quiet because she was then three months pregnant.

The Overtons probably approved of Ed as their son-in-law, despite his role in creating the family’s awkward situation. He was ambitious, whip-smart, and seemed headed towards Democratic party politics, which would have certainly pleased the old judge. They might have felt differently if they had a crystal ball, however – by the end of the year Ed would be charged with attempted murder as well as being arrested for impersonating an African-American woman.

Most of we wretched souls have life stories that tread a straightforward path, cradle to grave. Not so Edward J. Livernash; he did remarkable and more than a few crazy things; he was brilliant and unpredictable, sometimes cunning and criminally inclined; he had spells when he seemingly had a tenuous grip on reality and had other episodes where he saw the world with greater clarity than anyone around him. Why there is not a book or movie about this guy is a complete mystery.

Jessie was 25 when they married and her new husband was 24, yet he already had a biography of someone who lived a full life.1 He was an attorney (having passed the bar on his 21st birthday) but was mainly a newspaperman, having founded a successful paper in Cloverdale at age 16, which he sold a couple of years later to buy the Sonoma Index (which he renamed The Tribune). After selling that he worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, edited and published a respected literary journal, and at the time of their marriage was editor of the Healdsburg Enterprise.2

livernashportrait(RIGHT: Undated portrait of Edward J. Livernash courtesy of Craig Livernash)

Regular visitors to this dusty digital nook have already met Ed via “THE MURDEROUS SOMNAMBULIST,” where he attempted to kill an elderly Cloverdale man and claimed at the trial he was not responsible because he was in a “somnambulistic state.” This article is about an incident a month earlier when he was arrested for dressing like a woman, but the two episodes were really different sides to the same coin. There are several callbacks below to the somnambulist tale and if Gentle Reader does not have time to (re)read that entire story, please review the synopsis provided below as a sidebar.

While waiting for Jessie to give birth, Ed worked for the San Francisco Examiner during the spring of 1891 and in June paid $1,000 cash for another country weekly, the Livermore Herald. Their baby Alberta was born in August.3

But in September, Ed’s life began to unravel. The Livermore newspaper’s office caught fire and was nearly a total loss, yet Ed continued publishing it by contracting with a printer in Oakland. He began seeing Dr. John W. Robertson, who owned the Livermore Sanitarium and often testified in Bay Area courts during the 1890s as an expert on insanity.

And so we arrive at the afternoon of Saturday, September 26.

The policeman on duty at the San Francisco Ferry Building saw someone who didn’t look right to him. Said the sergeant, “You are a man, sir, masquerading in female attire.” The suspect denied it.

“You are a man,” reiterated the sergeant, gazing at the masquerader sternly. “It is against the law for one of your sex to appear in public in petticoats. I shall have to take you in.” With that the sergeant snatched the black veil away, revealing sharp features, smeared with black grease-paint.

Illustrations from the September 27 1891 San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle
Illustrations from the September 27 1891 San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle

All San Francisco newspapers covered the story, but it’s obvious only the Chronicle happened to have a police reporter at the station house. The Chronicle described the dress as blue sateen “almost concealed under a fashionable traveling ulster” (now called a “duster coat”), a gray hat, black gloves and new leather bag.

From the Chronicle: “‘What is your name?’ demanded the desk sergeant. ‘George Jones.'”

“Nothing of any importance was found about the prisoner’s person but the opening of the satchel created a sensation. First was fished out a pound bottle of chloroform which had not been opened. Next were produced two one-pound bottles labeled prussic acid, likewise unopened…By this time the police were genuinely interested, and pressed Jones for explanations. But he had nothing to say.”

Asked why he was wearing women’s clothes, he said only he planned to play a joke, but would not say who it involved. “I decline to answer that. It would involve the names of some very prominent people, and I would die before dragging their names into the matter.”

Livernash was placed in a cell pending a court appearance on Monday. Later that night he dashed off a lengthy note to the Chronicle which appeared in the Sunday edition. This was his new explanation: “I determined to play a joke I had been planning for a fortnight or so. It was this: To dress as a negress and apply for service to a lady friend in this city, who shall be nameless.”

When he appeared before the judge he told still another version – apparently expecting no one had read his statement printed in the Sunday Chronicle. He now said it was a joke “to fool my wife” because “he wanted to see if she would recognize him.” He claimed in court the new mother was staying with someone she knew in San Francisco and while he was indeed wearing her clothes, he had taken them and dressed up in the city hotel where he stayed when not in Livermore.

Swiss cheese has fewer holes than that story.

Then there were questions about the poisons and why he was waiting to take a ferry. Again his answers made no sense.

In his letter to the Chronicle, Livernash wrote he intended to pour out the bottle of chloroform but put it in the satchel anyway. The prussic acid was too dangerous to leave in the hotel room so he took it along as well.

While costumed and enroute to his wife, or lady friend, or very prominent people, he suddenly remembered someone from San Francisco was going to meet him in Livermore that evening. That took priority, so he hustled to the Ferry Building to intercept his buddy from making a needless trip. Alas, he was busted before he was able to board the ferryboat.

strangeportraits(RIGHT: Newspapers heavily played up the impersonation angle of the story, illustrating stories with highly feminized portrayals of Livernash. At top is a drawing from the September 29 1891 San Francisco Chronicle and below is an engraving which appeared in many papers nationwide)

In both his jailhouse letter and in court, Livernash said he was inhaling chloroform because of chronic insomnia – although the police reporter noted the bottle was unopened. He said that in Livermore he and his pal were going to use that industrial-size stash of prussic acid for oddball experiments in extracting gold from coins.4

At his court appearance Dr. Robertson testified his patient “is afflicted with insomnia and hypnotism. Hypnotism, a condition not thoroughly understood, is produced artificially by mesmerists and magnetizers, or is produced by the person afflicted. Livernash hypnotized himself.”

SF Examiner: “In Dr. Robertson’s opinion Livernash was not in normal mental condition during his masquerading tour.” SF Chronicle: “the case went on it developed into one which would hold the Society of Psychic Research spellbound with interest…he is not morally responsible for what he does.”

Like the police, Judge Joachimsen showed a great deal of skepticism about the entire story, particularly why Livernash was carrying an enormous supply of an extremely lethal compound. He took the case under advisement and found Livernash guilty of the misdemeanor charge of wearing woman’s apparel in public. Accounts differ as to the fine being $50 or $100.

Newspaper editors across the country (helllooo, Sioux City Iowa!) loved the story and can be found printing a shortened version of the Chronicle’s court reporting over the next few months, the delays presumably due to them waiting for the engraved portrait to be shared. Curiously, that version got the judge’s decision wrong: “After thinking the matter over for a day, the judge concluded to let Mr. Livernash go.”


On October 28, 1891, Ed Livernash paid a visit to a wealthy bachelor in Cloverdale. Days earlier, Livernash had written a letter claiming to be from his father-in-law, stating he wanted to buy the elderly man’s livery stable. Livernash said he would return when his in-law arrived and gave the man a bottle of wine as a gift. The wine was poisoned with prussic acid.

Livernash came back by himself later that night and made smalltalk while supposedly waiting for his relative. Livernash remarked on two portraits on the wall and was told those were the man’s niece and nephew. “I thought you had no relatives,” Livernash said before growing agitated.

Suddenly Livernash pulled out two guns. “Make out your will in my favor or I will kill you, God damn you!” He fired seven times. Four of the bullets hit the victim in the face but incredibly did no serious damage.

The trial opened exactly a year after the shooting. Little new evidence was introduced – the whole defense rested on whether or not Livernash was in a “somnambulistic state” while he was blasting away.

During part of his testimony Livernash was supposedly placed in a hypnotic trance by the Superintendent of the asylum in Napa. He spoke of an elaborate conspiracy against him and that the man he shot was really Judge Joachimsen in disguise. The Napa doctor told the jury he was certain Livernash had an exceedingly rare condition and was not faking. In a commentary section I remarked that during his months at the Napa asylum, it appeared the doctor and patient developed a codependent relationship to use his case to support theories in the emerging field of psychology.

The jury deadlocked 8:4 and a second trial was held, Livernash acting as his own attorney. Jury selection was lengthy because he quizzed them closely “as to their ideas of hypnotism and insanity.” His defense did not include hypnosis again but argued he and others in his family sometimes just went nuts. This time the verdict was not guilty.

What to make of this unusual story? Today Edward J. Livernash lives on as a footnote in LGBTQ history, mentioned in books, academic papers and websites as a documented example of 19th century cross-dressing. That might be true or not; there’s no evidence of gender dysphoria aside from this 1891 incident, and Ed later had plenty of enemies who might have gladly used something like that to attack and discredit him.

(The articles transcribed below do, however, say a great deal about how the press was – and still is – pushing aside hard news when it has a delicious scandal it can serve up instead. The lede for this story should have been that police suspected Livernash was planning some sort of serious crime. From the Chronicle report on his arrest: “The peculiar articles found in the satchel and the fact of the prisoner assuming such an elaborate disguise incline the authorities to believe that they have unearthed something much more sensational than an intended joke.”)

Lurking in the background of Ed’s 1891 misadventures is the question of whether there was something actually wrong with his mind. A sidebar in the somnambulist article discusses some possibilities, but it’s now too late to know if he had real problems or was faking temporary madness to stay out of prison.

But aside from Ed’s shifting excuses for dressing up and having toxic chemicals, when this incident is taken in context with other events around that time a more complex picture appears – and strongly points to him methodically plotting a series of crimes rather than being a madman performing impulsive and irrational acts.

Whether insane or no, he certainly intended to murder the Cloverdale man. He dropped off the poisoned wine and began shooting when he returned and found his victim still alive. His motive was apparently to forge a will making him the beneficiary.

If Livernash was not deranged, then the only explanation must be that he was desperate for money. In that light, recall the Livermore newspaper office burned in early September; just a few days prior, he had taken out a $1,000 insurance policy on it.

So was there likewise some sort of financial motive behind the cross-dressing episode? His “practical joke” explanations made no sense to Judge Joachimsen or anyone else. Either he had a sexual kink for dressing up in public or was intending to travel back to Livermore looking like that.

Perhaps the dress and particularly the blackface makeup meant he was trying to slip into Livermore in disguise. At the time the town only had about 1,400 residents, and Ed Livernash would have been known by many on sight. Yet a glance at a well-dressed, face-veiled, African-American woman in a traveling coat with a large bag might easily be presumed to be newly employed at Ravenswood, the ever-expanding estate just outside of Livermore where the San Francisco elite frequently hobnobbed.

The sole part of his story which was consistent and believable, however, was he intended to meet in Livermore a man named Peter Cunningham.5

Peter Cunningham was reportedly an expert jeweler who had even worked for Tiffany in New York, which might explain Livernash’s uncharacteristic interest in gold plating. It could be why Ed was hauling around two pounds of prussic acid (although at the later Cloverdale trial Livernash would give an excuse for having it that didn’t mention anything to do with Cunningham or jewelry).

But Cunningham was also crazy himself, or at least extremely eccentric. Every year or so in the late 1880s-1890s there would be a rash of San Francisco newspaper stories about him being arrested as a suspected lunatic or for vagrancy – once specifically for being “in the nightly habit of visiting swill barrels in the rear of hotels, bakeries and saloons and picking out pieces of meat and bread.” Each time charges were dismissed after Cunningham gave the names of well-known people as references and produced bank books showing he was actually quite wealthy. In 1898 he was worth exactly $51,559, which was the equivalent of $1.6M today.

Cunningham was unmarried and lived in a house he owned just a couple of blocks from the Ferry Building. In sum: He was a very rich elderly bachelor who appeared to have no family members – exactly the same profile as the man in Cloverdale who Livernash would try to kill a month later with the same prussic acid he was carrying in his satchel.6

Illustration of Peter Cunningham that accompanied the article transcribed below from the San Francisco Call, August 21 1898
Illustration of Peter Cunningham that accompanied the article transcribed below from the San Francisco Call, August 21 1898

Ed’s arrest at the Ferry Building put an end to whatever he planned to do in Livermore, and after being taken into custody “the prisoner cast one last mournful look at the ferry boat and turned away as if resigned to fate,” in the Chronicle’s fanciful description. It was an embarrassing failure in a life that had been surprisingly full of failures – despite his marvelous smarts and law degree, he had never been more than a printer and editor of struggling little country papers.

There will be a final chapter here about Ed (although I humbly beg your indulgence as it will drift ever farther away from doings in Sonoma County) because his bizarre story has never been properly told. Not to give away too much, but he did other things both awful and heroic; he remained a newspaperman for the rest of the decade, entered politics, divorced Jessie (1909) and married Zilla Daisy Shaw Ashby Mayne Dumouriez, possibly the only person on the planet who could match (and exceed!) Ed’s penchant for strangeness.

As for Jessie, she returned to Santa Rosa following the breakup of the marriage, although she and Alberta also lived in San Francisco and spent extended time in Europe while her daughter studied piano.

Her father had died in 1898 but his vast estate wasn’t settled for seven years (he had owned or co-owned much of downtown). The lawyer for the estate was Edward J. Livernash. Yes, he was then the Overton’s in-law but that was still mighty generous of the family, considering Ed had used the name of the late judge in that forged letter sent to the Cloverdale man.

Jessie obtained some of her father’s prime real estate on the corner of Fourth street and Mendocino Ave. The new Exchange Bank was built directly on the corner (architect: Brainerd Jones) and in 1909 she built “the Livernash Block” on the L-shaped property surrounding the bank. The Fourth street side was used for retail stores (including the town’s first Woolworth) and the Mendocino side was professional offices on the ground floor with apartments upstairs. Jessie lived there and Alberta had a piano studio which included a small recital hall.

Jessie Overton Livernash died in 1913 and is buried in the Overton family plot at the Rural Cemetery.

1 The death certificate for Edward J. Livernash lists his birth year as 1868, but all other records, including voter registrations, the 1880 and 1900 census reports and his 1899 passport application all specify 1866.
2 The Livernash family bought the Healdsburg Enterprise in 1890 and sold it two years later, shortly before Ed’s first somnambulism trial and presumably to pay for his three lawyers. The buyer was M. Menihan, owner of the United States Hotel in Cloverdale, where Ed had stayed during the attempted murder. Ed and his siblings Lizzie and John J. continued publishing the paper until Menihan sold it in 1898. Besides running the Enterprise almost single-handed, Lizzie supported her five younger siblings and grandmother and was bitter about the sale, as the new owner promptly told her to get out. In a statement to the Feb. 20 1898 SF Call, Lizzie said: “We were turned out without a dollar. As soon as Mr. Menihan acquired possession of the paper he turned us out bag and baggage.” (The Call reporter confused Menihan as the buyer instead of the seller.) She continued: “Ed had deserted us and brought shame upon us. He has not contributed one cent to the support of our five young brothers and sisters since he was married. He is the cause of the rumor that there is a taint of insanity in our family.”
3 Alberta Pauline Livernash was born in San Francisco in August 1891 (1900 census) or September 13 1891 (1899 passport application). I have not seen her birth or death certificates, but family genealogists have settled on her birthdate as Aug. 15. Until her death in 1920, she was known by the nickname “Pink”.
4 Prussic Acid was the 18th century name for hydrocyanic acid. A combination of hydrogen, carbon, and ammonia, it is the precursor for more practical forms of cyanides used in electroplating and mining, the latter where it extracts gold from low-grade ore. Taken at face value, Livernash seemed to be saying he wanted to create a non-smelting process to remove gold from coins and then plate it on a different coin or something else. If this was an actual plan it would have returned little or no profit, as a $20 gold coin contained nearly $19 worth of gold at 1891 market rates. It would have been far more practical just to use lower-carat raw gold for plating, as others were doing. Prussic Acid is also a fast-acting poison if swallowed or inhaled.
5 A search of online California newspapers, voter registrations, census data and other resources available through turned up only two adults named Peter Cunningham living in the Bay Area during the 1880s and 1890s. The other was Peter R. Cunningham, who lived in Oakland and had various management positions at the Oakland Planing Mills company.
6 Cunningham did have an older brother who lived with him, but that was never mentioned until the subsequent 1898 article, and the brother might not have been around in 1891.



LIVERMORE September 6. – This morning at 5:30 o’clock the Herald office, Bank of Livermore and G. W. Langan’s law office were destroyed by fire. The fire broke out in the Herald office and soon extended to the other two buildings. All three are wrecks…

– San Francisco Chronicle, September 7 1891


A Masquerader Captured at the Ferry.
Chloroform and Poison in His Satchel.
He Is Identified as E. J. Livernash, a Livermore Newspaper Man.

She appeared to be a stylishly dressed colored woman with a dainty mincing gait and she glanced about with a timorous air aw she walked through the Oakland ferry entrance to take the 4:30 o’clock boat yesterday afternoon.

Sergeant Kavanaugh, who was on duty at the ferry, saw the ebon-hued belle but was too astute to be deceived.

Stepping up and clutching her arm, the sergeant said:

“You are a man, sir, masquerading in female attire.”

The object of the sergeant’s suspicions flashed an indignant look at him through her black veil.

“How dare you attempt to insult me, Mr. Officer? I am a lady, if I am black.”

That settled it. Her last hope of escape was gone. The voice was too unmistakably masculine to deceive even a policeman.

“You are a man,” reiterated the sergeant, gazing at the masquerader sternly. “It is against the law for one of your sex to appear in public in petticoats. I shall have to take you in.”

With that the sergeant snatched the black veil away, revealing sharp features, smeared with black grease-paint.

The prisoner cast one last mournful look at the ferry boat and turned away as if resigned to fate. Sergeant Langford turned up and constituted himself assistant captor. The patrol wagon was summoned and fifteen minutes later the hero stood before the booking desk at the city prison.

The prisoner was a sight well worth gazing upon. Not a stitch of masculine clothing was there about him. A blue sateen dress was almost concealed under a fashionable traveling ulster of gray goods with a small cheek. A splendid sample of the milliner’s art – a symphony in gray – surmounted the prisoner’s head. On his hands were a pair of new black gloves. Not the least noticeable feature of the outfit was a brand new russet leather satchel. Everything about the prisoner, in fact, was of inviting newness.

“What is your name?” demanded the desk sergeant.

“George Jones.”

And after giving this cognomen, not another word could the prisoner be induced to say.

Nothing of any importance was found about the prisoner’s person but the opening of the satchel created a sensation. First was fished out a pound bottle of chloroform which had not been opened. Next were produced two one-pound bottles labeled prussic acid, likewise unopened. After these discoveries two keys, attached to long metal shanks and evidently taken from some hotel were found; then came four small satchel keys, $82.45 in money, a lady’s gold watch, a razor, a pocket knife, a package of black grease paint, a paper of hairpins and other minor articles of utility, some used by the sterner sex and some by the gentler.

By this time the police were genuinely interested, and pressed Jones for explanations. But he had nothing to say. Sergeant Kavanaugh rushed up stairs and noticed Chief Crowley. Then Detective Ben Bohen came down to investigate, followed shortly by Detective Rogers. A trusty brought hot water and Jones was ordered to wash up. Then all hands, including Chief Crowley, who had just arrived, took a good look at Mr. “George Jones.”

They saw a short, slight, sharp-featured young man about 25 years of age. The Chief and the detectives shook their heads. They did not know him.

“Come, now,” said Chief Crowley, “tell us all about this, Jones.”

“I will tell you privately,” was the answer; “I won’t talk here.”

So they took him into the city prison hospital.

“It was all intended as a joke,” Jones began.

“Upon whom?” interposed Chief Crowley.

“I decline to answer that. It would involve the names of some very prominent people, and I would die before dragging their names into the matter.”

A ticket for Livermore which the prisoner had attempted to throw away was here produced.

“What were you going to do in Livermore?”

“I am employed there as a printer. I was a reporter at one time and have also dabbled in law.”

“Yet you didn’t know it was against the law to masquerade in female attire?” demanded the Chief.

The prisoner became suddenly mute.

“What were you going to do with those bottles of poison?” resumed Chief Crowley.

“I use the chloroform myself.”

“And the prussic acid?”

Again the prisoner was mute.

Thereupon the prisoner was conducted to a cell. There may have been no facetiousness intended, but he was assigned to one of the “bird cages” usually occupied female prisoners.

The prisoner was identified later as Edward J. Livernash, a country newspaper man. He was at one time editor of the Healdsberg Enterprise, and recently bought and ran the Livermore Herald, the office of which was destroyed by fire about two weeks ago, an adjacent bank building being consumed at the same time.

What Livernash was doing with three pounds of poison and hotel and satchel keys are things which the police would give a good deal to know. The peculiar articles found in the satchel and the fact of the prisoner assuming such an elaborate disguise incline the authorities to believe that they have unearthed something much more sensational than an intended joke. At any rate they refused to admit him to bail, although the $82.50 found on his person was more than sufficient for cash bail for the misdemeanor of masquerading in feminine attire.

Livernash’s Peculiar Explanation of His Queer Action

About midnight Livernash, who was still in the city prison, sent to the Chronicle office the following statement written in his own hand in the form of an interview with himself and requested that it be printed as his explanation of the cause of his arrest:

“I am publisher of the Livermore Herald. I got into this unpleasant but somewhat ludicrous fix through a clumsy attempt at practical joking, and of course will readily establish my entire innocence of any questionable motive. I’m deucedly sorry the affair has happened, but I’m trying to look on it as valuable in curing me of my propensity to joke.

“I came to town to-day to meet my brother and by appointment saw him at the Lick House, where I had a room for several days. I intended to return to my home by the 4:30 o’clock train, having business needing attention there tomorrow.

“I have been feeling unwell for several days, and felt especially so to-day. I happened to inhale a little chloroform recently, during one of my spells of restlessness, and I liked the results, save for the after effects. So this morning I bought some of the preparation and put it in a small grip intending to take it home with me. But when I found myself unusually ill after luncheon I concluded not to use the drug, fearing after all that it would do me more harm than good. I didn’t pour the stuff away but intended to.

“I went to bed in my room and on arising felt bright and well. Then it was that I determined to play a joke I had been planning for a fortnight or so. It was this: To dress as a negress and apply for service to a lady friend in this city, who shall be nameless. I dressed, and was about to go to her home, when I remembered that I ought to save a friend of mine from an unnecessary journey in search of me, so I went directly to the ferry in search of my friend. Not finding him, I supposed he had gone aboard the steamer. I arose to get a ticket to Oakland and return in order to meet him, but I was conscious of being much stared at and grew ashamed of my folly, and concluded to back down, get into a corner of a car and return home without further nonsense. I bought a ticket and as I was boarding the boat was arrested.

“As to the acid found in my grip, I placed it there to-day to avoid the risk of accident from having it in my bureau. I bought it in quantity of a wholesaler, and intended to use a little of it in testing for myself a statement made to me by the friend last mentioned as to plating silver with gold.

“I took the grip as it was for the sake of having something in hand and merely added to its contents a few trifles needed in my masquerade and a razor I had just bought and did not wish to leave on the bureau top.”

– San Francisco Chronicle, September 27 1891


The Masquerading Livermore Editor Is an Auto-Hypnotist.
During One of His Hypnotic Conditions His Wife Roused Him by Wagging His Right Wrist Exactly Forty Times.

Edward J. Livernash, editor and proprietor of the Livermore Herald and owner of a part of the Healdsburg Enterprise, who was arrested Saturday at the Oakland ferry dressed in woman’s clothing and with face blackened by cork, is described by Dr. John W. Robertson, an expert in nervous disease, as a man subject to strange hypnotic conditions.

Less than a year ago Livernash married Miss Jessie Overton, daughter of ex-Judge Overton, the Santa Rosa millionaire. She at one time determined to become a bride of the church, and took the while veil. Her father was much opposed to her becoming a nun, and she yielded to his opinions, left the sisterhood aud subsequently married young Livernash, who is an attorney-at-law as well as editor, author and publisher.

Last week the office of the Livermore Herald was destroyed by fire, and only two cases of type were saved. The proprietor, who estimates his loss at $1,000, is having the paper printed in Oakland until he can procure a new supply of material.


Yesterday he was tried before Judge Joachimsen on the charge of wearing woman’s apparel in public. The police officers proved the arrest at the ferry and the garments that Livernash wore when arrested.

Then the young man told his story to the Court. He described strange dream-like conditions that control him at times. He is greatly troubled with insomnia and somnambulism. At night when he sleeps he lives over the work of the day or events in his past life, or sometimes seems to see himself doing things he would not do in his normal state, yet has no will power to control his actions. He awakes more tired than on going to bed.

On the day that he was masquerading in black face and skirts he came to San Francisco, and at the Lick House had a consultation with his brother about their mother, who is very ill. About 2 o’clock in the afternoon he went to bed, hoping to sleep, as he had not rested the night before.

He awoke at 4 o’clock, but instead of putting on his trousers and other garments he donned long stockings, patent leather shoes, a white skirt, a dress, a cloak and a hat, all of which were the property of his wife.

He blackened his face and then walked out of the ladies’ entrance to the Lick House.

“Why did you dress like that?” asked the prosecuting attorney.


“To fool my wife,” he replied. He explained that Mrs. Livernash was visiting at a house on California street, and he wanted to see if she would recognize him. He intended to put on her garments in a room at the house where she is staying, and why he thus arrayed himself at the Lick House he could not tell.

When about to go out to California street he remembered that he had an engagement at Livermore with Peter Cunningham, and took a car to go to the ferry in order to intercept his friend. In the car he noticed that people stared at him, and at the waiting-room at the ferry he tripped twice on his dress skirt. He noticed that he was attracting attention, became dizzy, purchased a ticket for Livermore, explaining that seeing people watching him he thought if he could get on the Livermore train he would be safe, because the conductor knew him. He was arrested at the ferry landing.

Of the chloroform and hydrocyanic acid found on him he said he had bought the chloroform intending to inhale some to produce rest, as he was very nervous and particularly depressed on this day that he was to play the joke on his wife. The acid, he said, was to be used for some experiments in removing gold from coins to be used for plating. He had a letter from his friend Cunningham explaining the sweating process.


Dr. John W. Robertson, for two years a physician at the Napa Asylum for the Insane, has been treating young Livernash for some time. He testified that his patient is afflicted with insomnia and hypnotism. Hypnotism, a condition not thoroughly understood, is produced artificially by mesmerists and magnetizers, or is produced by the person afflicted. Livernash hypnotized himself. Sometimes when in a hypnotic state he knew his condition and would tell his wife how he might be aroused from it. He told her once to move his wrist forty times, and at the fortieth movement he came from under the hypnotic influence.

Another time he told her to put a drop of alcohol in his hand. She did so and he awoke.

During one spell he told her to give him some water. He drank half the water in a glass and threw the remainder over himself. Instantly recovering his normal condition he blamed his wife for throwing water on him.

He also was a somnambulist, and one night wanted to climb out of a window to walk on a balcony when there was no balcony there.

In Dr. Robertson’s opinion Livernash was not in normal mental condition during his masquerading tour.

Judge Joachimsen reserved his decision until to-day, and incidentally expressed surprise that a wholesale druggist should sell two pounds of hydrocyanic acid to a stranger.

– San Francisco Examiner, September 29 1891


Editor Livernash’s Queer Defense.
A Strange Story Sustained by a Doctor.
A Good Subject for Investigation by the Society of Psychic Research.

Editor E. J. Livernash of Livermore, who was arrested at the ferry Saturday for masquerading in female attire with his face blackened, was given an opportunity to explain his escapade yesterday in Judge Joachimsen’s court. As the case went on it developed into one which would hold the Society of Psychic Research spellbound with interest. An attempt was made to prove that Livernash is a rare example of a hypnotic patient – a man who has occasional lapses of memory and loss of mental control during the existence of which he is not morally responsible for what he does.

The prisoner was neatly attired in his proper habiliments when he appeared in court. He appeared to be in a condition of suppressed but intense nervousness, and this is the story he told:

“My great trouble,” said he, “is restlessness and insomnia. For some months past I have been in a state verging upon nervous prostration. When I retire at night I generally fail to get refreshing rest and wake up in the morning frequently more exhausted than when I retired.

“I began to go to school when I was 7 years old,” continued Livernash. “At 14 I left school From 16 until now at 25 I have been engaged at intervals in publishing newspapers. I have also been a reporter. When I was 19 I began to study law and was admitted to practice on my twenty-first birthday. I have always been engaged in hard mental work and it has affected my health seriously. Very often, when I go to bed at night, instead of sleeping healthily my mind goes over all the incidents of the day in very vivid dreams. I have often while resting thus gone over the most trivial details of things that happened many years before. During my real waking hours in the day time my will-power very often is not strong enough to recall the past with anything like the same distinctness.”

“Have you any recollection of the events of last Saturday?” was asked.

“I have a distinct recollection,” Livernash replied. “I came to the city in the morning from Livermore and put up at the Lick House, where I had had a room for several days past. My mother’s health is in a critical state, and I came down mainly to consult my brother as to what should be done for her. Through the day I was weary and unwell, becoming gradually worse. I went out and got some chloroform, with the idea that inhaling it would calm me. I saw my brother and we made arrangements for the care of our mother.

“At 2 o’clock Saturday afternoon I felt the need of sleep. I meant to try the chloroform but decided not to, as I was afraid of its effects. A little before 4 o’clock I woke up and proceeded to carry out a plan which I had for some time in mind. This was to black my face, put on woman’s clothes and call upon my wife who was visiting in this city, and play a joke upon her without revealing my identity. My original plan had been to assume this disguise in a vacant room in the house where my wife was staying.

“Now I had promised to meet a friend in Livermore that evening. After I was dressed in the woman’s clothes, in which I meant to play the joke upon my wife, I remembered my appointment. As I did not intend to go to Livermore, it occurred to me that as he would probably leave San Francisco on the 4:30 o’clock boat I could meet him at the ferry.”

Livernash claims to have but a very confused recollection of what happened on the way from the Lick House to the ferry, but he remembers starting to go aboard the boat and also remembers the fact of his arrest.

Dr. Robertson of 705 Sutter street gave the technical part of the testimony for the the defense. Livernash has been under his treatment for the past two weeks.

“He is,” said the doctor, “one of the most pronounced instances of hypnotism that ever came under my observation.”

“What do you mean by hypnotism?” demanded the counsel.

“Hypnotism is a thing generally misunderstood,” waa the expert’s reply. “It is a condition of trance, which may be induced by a mesmerist, or may be induced by the patient himself, without even the intention of so doing.”

“And is the subject conscious of what he is doing while in the hypnotic state?”

“That is just as it happens. Sometimes the subject is partially conscious and sometimes absolutely unconscious as long as the hypnotic trance lasts.”

Dr. Robertson continued, giving a history of Livernash’s case since the young man has been under his treatment. When asked if he considered that the prisoner was morally responsible when he dressed himself in woman’s clothes on Saturday, the physician replied that in his professional opinion. Livernash would never have done such a thing if he had been in complete possession of his faculties.

Judge Joachimsen took the case under advisement and will give his decision this morning.

Dr. Robertson told a Chronicle reporter later that he had never known a man of such peculiar hypnotic temperament as Livernash although the latter’s brother presents a case full or interest to experts.

“The brother,” said the physician, “was taken with epileptic fit not long ago and it required six men to hold him. He acted vindictively toward all six of the men, but when he came out of the fit he had no recollection of what had happened. The next time he had an epileptic fit, however, he remembered perfectly all that happened on the previous occasion and all his former vindictiveness against the men who had held was revived. He put a pistol in his pocket and started for this city from Healdsburg with the intention of shooting one of the men who had held him during the former attack. Fortunately he came out of the trance before he found the man. Yet if he had shot him while in that hypnotic trance he would not have been morally responsible.

The case of Editor E. J. Livernash is one that well recommends itself to any one who is interested in psychic research.

– San Francisco Chronicle, September 29 1891


Livernash, the Female Masquerader, Is Found Guilty.

E. J. Livernash, who was arrested for masquerading in female attire by Sergeant Kavanagh on Saturday evening last, was found guilty by Judge Joachimsen, Tuesday, and ordered to appear Wednesday morning for sentence. His honor held that the hypnotic idea was not tenable. That Mr. Livernash, a lawyer and journalist, should array himself in female attire at a hotel and then glide out on the street, take a street car, go to the ferries and purchase a ticket for Livermore while waiting for one Cunningham, under the pretext that he was going to play a joke on his wife, who lived on California street in this city, was an improbable story. His honor had never been hypnotized save by Prosecuting Attorney Martin Stevens or Attorney J. H. Long, and then he thought that “paralyzed” would have been the proper word. Therefore he did not believe in such bosh: hence the order.

Detective James Rogers recovered a wig worth $40 which Livernash had hired from Goldstein & Cohen on the pretext of using it for a masked ball. It was in the Property Clerk’s office. —S.F. Post.

Edward J. Livernash, the Livermore publisher who was convicted of masquerading as a negro woman at the ferry in San Francisco, appeared before Judge Joachimsen for sentence. The case was continued until to-day, when a motion for a new trial will be argued.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 3 1891


What is Thought of His Joke at His Home.

Livermore, Sept. 28. — The arrest of Editor Livernash has caused much excitement here. He came here four months ago and bought a newspaper from W. P. Bartlett for $2000, paying $1000 cash. A few weeks ago a fire in his office burned out his establishment, but an insurance policy taken out a few days before covered his loss. He was in town Sunday afternoon, and he repeated his statement that he was merely playing a practical joke. The presence of so much poison in his satchel caused a great amount of speculation here.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 3 1891


Editor Livernash’s Sentence.

E. J. Livernash, editor of the Livermore Herald, convicted of misdemeanor for having masqueraded in female attire around the ferry landing, was sentenced by Judge Joachimsen, in San Francisco, Friday, to pay a fine of $100 or be imprisoned in the county jail for fifty days. His counsel gave notice of appeal to the Superior Court, and Livernash was released on $600 bonds pending the hearing of the case.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 10 1891


Peter Cunningham, an old man of fifty years, dressed in rags, after being found guilty of vagrancy yesterday morning by Judge Rix declared that he was worth $36,000, and gave the names of several reputable citizens as references. The Court gave Cunningham till this morning to prove what he said under promise of a new trial.

– San Francisco Examiner, June 19 1889



Peter Cunningham, an old miser, was convicted of vagrancy by Judge Conlan yesterday, although he has $51,559 on deposit in six banks and is the owner of real estate in the city and a ranch in the country. He was arrested last Tuesday night on Bush and Sansome streets by Pollceman Tom Langford, who committed suicide the following night, and Special Officer Rowland. Several officers testified in court yesterday that Cunningham was in the nightly habit of visiting swill barrels in the rear of hotels, bakeries and saloons and picking out pieces of meat and bread, which he took to his home at 316 Davis street. When arrested several scraps were found in his pockets. He and an old beggar had been seen to run a race to get first to a swill barrel. Special Officer Rowland said that on one occasion he had given his dog a juicy leg of mutton to eat and Cunningham had taken it from the dog. He was also in the habit of going along the streets in the daytime and picking up odd things.

Cunningham, in his own defense, denied that he purloined stuff from swill barrels, but he appeared to know something about whether they were boxes or barrels, and that some of them were locked. He produced six bank books, showing that he had, as he said, about $52,000 on deposit. He admitted that he very frequently took some meat and bread that a Chinese employed in a saloon on Front and California streets used to leave at the foot of a palm tree in front of the saloon for newsboys.

Judge Conlan said it was one of the worst cases that had come before him. If a poor man had taken meat and bread out of swill barrels, there would be some excuse for him but there was no excuse for the defendant, who, although a wealthy man, was, in his opinion, “an inveterate bum.” It was not necessary that a man should be a drunkard or an associate of known thieves to be a vagrant, and he had no hesitation in saying that the acts of the defendant constituted him, in the eyes of the law, a vagrant. He would convict him of the charge and order him into custody to appear for sentence to-morrow morning.

Cunningham was was up on a similar charge before the late Judge Campbell in February last, and the case was dismissed. He was therefore considerably taken aback by the judgment of Judge Conlan, and instructed his attorney to appeal the case. He had given his attorney, E. S. Comyns, his bank books, but later insisted upon their being given into the custody of the police.

“I am not a vagrant,” said Cunningham when seen in the City Prison, “and this is a job on the part of the police. I have lived here since 1856, and should be allowed to live my own way. I do not need to work, as I have plenty of money, which I honestly earned. I was born in the west of Ireland and am a jeweler by trade. I worked for Tiffany in New York before coming here, and worked for some of the leading jewelers in this city. I speculated in stocks and was successful, and then I gave up work. I have an elder brother living with me and have relatives in the country. I suppose they call me an old miser, but that is none of their business.”

– San Francisco Call, August 21 1898

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