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OH, LOATHSOME ME (CHARLIE HOLMES III)

Pity Charlie Holmes; his bad luck streak continued as his wife nearly burned to death.

That misplaced sympathy appeared in a 1901 Press Democrat item (transcribed below). Today we find it offensive the PD would cast him as the main victim, but turn of the century Santa Rosa is a far throw away from the here and now. The odd story of Charlie Holmes – and particularly, the troubled history of his relationships – offers a revealing peek at how much of a dark side our ancestors were willing to tolerate from someone they otherwise admired.

As explored in the previous two chapters, Charlie was front and center for every banquet, holiday parade and amateur stage show. He joined every club he could and was an officer in our local National Guard Company E. Charlie was elected City Marshal (same as being a Chief of Police) in 1898 and was easily reelected two years later.


THE THREE (OR MORE) FACES OF CHARLIE HOLMES

Charles H. Holmes Jr. was surely the most talked about person in Santa Rosa 120 years ago, and that wasn’t always a good thing.

OUR OWN TOM SAWYER
TERRIFIC GUY, TERRIBLE MARSHAL
OH, LOATHSOME ME
BOSS SQUEEDUNCK

As Marshal, his duties included being the city tax collector and on November 19, 1901 it was discovered his office had been robbed overnight. Nearly $1,300 – equal to about two years of a worker’s earnings – was gone, but nobody knew at the time how much was missing because Holmes’ wasn’t paying attention to bookkeeping. Worse, the PD article suggested it was an inside job. If that were true, Charlie was the main suspect but regardless, he was on the hook to pay the money back if it was not recovered.

It was two days after the theft that Margaret Holmes had her accident, her clothes catching fire after she fell while carrying a lighted oil lamp. Charles was still at his office but others in the household came to her rescue. “The flames were extinguished, but not before Mrs. Holmes sustained several bad burns,” it was reported.

The PD did not suggest the accident might be related to stress from her husband’s legal woes. The paper observed, “…Mrs. Holmes is subject to sudden spells of illness…one of the attacks spoken of came on and she fell with the lamp.” More about this in a minute.

At the time the Holmes’ had been married thirteen years and were living with his sister and parents. The former Margaret May Ward came to town as a teenager, having a sister and aunt in Santa Rosa.

It’s good she had family here because it appears Margaret had few, if any, friends. Local newspapers from that time padded their pages with every sort of social item – who attended club meetings, who visited someone after dinner, who spent the day in San Francisco – an endless procession of whos. But it’s rare to spot Margaret doing anything.1 Now contrast her lack of outgoing activities with Charlie’s packed social calendar and a portrait emerges of a couple who were likely estranged for years.

Charlie’s career as a lawman ended in 1902 and he was required to pay back the stolen (?) tax money, as detailed in the previous part of this series. He was back to his old day job of plastering, working mainly in San Francisco. And then came 1904, when he was arrested and charged with statutory rape.

That October it came out Holmes was living in Calistoga with a young woman he said was his wife. The emphasis was on young – although he insisted she was over seventeen (California’s age of consent was then 16), she was not. The “wife” of 40 year-old Charles H. Holmes was actually fourteen.

Holmes was held at the Napa jail for a week as a relative of hers and the Napa District Attorney scrambled to find proof of her age. He was released after posting a $2,000 bond, the girl previously freed the day after their arrests. Near the end of the year the Napa DA dropped charges, mostly on their word and the assurances of her uncle that she was over 17.

What Santa Rosa thought of his adultery/statutory rape is unclear. The Press Democrat suggested it was well-known and had been going on for some time: “Judging from sentiment expressed around town yesterday the arrest of the former marshal did not occasion much surprise among those who knew or had heard of alleged previous familiarity between the man and girl.” The Republican reported the opposite: “The arrest of Holmes on the charge caused great surprise among his friends in this city.”

The girl was Nellie Holmes and both local newspapers were quick to add they were unrelated, the same last name being a coincidence. She and her mother – also named Nellie – lived in Santa Rosa with her aunt, four cousins and her grandmother.2 The eight of them were crammed into a tiny house on First Street across from the Grace Brothers brewery warehouse. There can be no dispute this was the poorest part of town.

Nellie Holmes, probably c. 1915. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library which labeled it as "Mrs. Charles Holmes 1903".
Nellie Holmes, probably c. 1915. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library which labeled it as “Mrs. Charles Holmes 1903”.

Charlie kept a low profile and wasn’t seen much around town. He was still working as a plasterer in San Francisco and presumably staying there as well (it’s unknown whether Nellie was with him or not). Margaret, his mom and sister (his father had since died) were now living on Sonoma Avenue because their previous house had burned down – feel free to also wonder whether that might have been the result of another lamp accident.

Exactly a year after his Napa arrest for cohabiting with a child, Holmes was again in the news for another awful incident.

In the middle of the night Sonoma Ave. neighbors were awakened “by a series of shrill cries” from Margaret, who was heard to be shouting, “murder,” “police” and “let me go.” The Santa Rosa Republican further reported they “heard sounds of slaps being administered as if someone was chastising a child.”

The night officer was summoned and told “Mrs. Holmes had made the outcry while in a state of epilepsy.” What the Press Democrat had discreetly called “sudden spells of illness” that caused her to be severely burned must have been an epileptic seizure.

The 1905 Republican item suggested the neighbors believed the Holmes were abusive: “…The woman is an almost helpless invalid and the people of the vicinity where she resides declare the woman is not given proper attention and treatment…It is believed that her condition of epilepsy would be removed if her surroundings were changed. The people of the neighborhood feel that Mrs. Holmes is entitled to the protection of the community…”

After reading that article in the evening Republican newspaper, Charles immediately ran to the PD office where he was certain to find a more sympathetic reporter. He claimed not to be at the family home that night (yet was apparently somewhere else in town?) and what the neighbors thought was slapping was really Margaret “clapping her hands while not responsible for her actions.”

A following issue of the Republican stated “the family declare[d she] had been clapping her hands and talking incoherently” and revealed Margaret had been hospitalized repeatedly: “…[she] has been subject to epilepsy which has gradually progressed until at times she passed from the epileptic state to that condition of insanity in which she is wholly irresponsible for her actions. The lady has been taken to private sanitariums in times past and her case has been pronounced hopeless.”

Let Gentle Reader note the Epilepsy Foundation says a only small number of people with epilepsy also have psychotic disorders, and also that emotional stress can lead to seizures.

Little was written in the papers about the Holmes family over the following two years. We don’t know what any of them were doing as the Great 1906 Earthquake struck. Charlie happened to be on the scene of a 1907 shootout at a downtown restaurant (predictably, he was attending a banquet).

Then in May 1907, Margaret was committed to the Mendocino State Asylum for the Insane near Ukiah. She died there of pneumonia the next year. She was 39 years old and it was a few days past their 20th wedding anniversary.

The widower Charles did not dawdle when it came to burying his wife. She died on a Friday. Her remains arrived in Santa Rosa on the Saturday train. The funeral was early Sunday afternoon. If your family read the Press Democrat over breakfast, you had only a few hours notice should anyone desire to pay their respects. If your family read the evening Republican, she was in the ground before you cracked the paper and knew she was even dead.

Margaret M. Ware Holmes is buried in the Rural Cemetery, but not in the Holmes family plot where Charles’ parents were, and where he and his sister would later be. Her grave is next to the parents of “Bud” Parks, who was the leader of Santa Rosa’s brass band. Charlie almost certainly knew Bud well because they both appeared at the same sort of social functions, but it’s doubtful Margaret knew any of the Parks, who died several years earlier. It was just an empty grave site for sale. Today there is no tombstone and likely she never had one.

Soon after New Year 1910 there was a small notice in the Press Democrat: Charles H. Holmes Jr. had married Nellie Holmes in a quiet ceremony. He was 45, she had recently turned twenty. “Their friends wish them much happiness,” the newspaper said warmly.

NEXT: BOSS SQUEEDUNCK

 


1 Whenever I found a mention of Mrs. Charles H. Holmes, a closer look revealed it was usually her mother-in-law, the editor being sloppy and not specifying between Mrs. C. H. Holmes Sr. and C. H. Holmes Jr.
2 Nellie Olga Holmes was reportedly born December 9, 1889 in San Francisco but an inquiry by the Napa District Attorney in 1904 failed to turn up a birth certificate or other documentation. Her Press Democrat obituary gave her age as someone born in 1889. In the June 1900 census she was listed as born in December 1889. Her grandmother was named as Elizabeth Granque, but other spellings included Giauque and Gaigue.

 

sources

Mrs. Holmes Badly Burned

Some people seem to have more than their share of trouble. Thursday night Mrs. Holmes, wife of City Marshal Holmes, met with a very painful accident. Unfortunately Mrs. Holmes is subject to sudden spells of illness and while the other members of the household were upstairs, with the exception of her husband, who was still at his office, she started to walk across the floor with a lighted lamp. While doing this one of the attacks spoken of came on and she fell with the lamp. The burning oil set fire to her garments. The fall was heard by those upstairs and they came to her assistance. The flames were extinguished, but not before Mrs. Holmes sustained several bad burns.

– Press Democrat, November 23 1901

 

GIRL’S AGE MUST BE ASCERTAINED
CHARLES H. HOLMES WILL REMAIN IN JAIL AT NAPA PENDING INVESTIGATION
Effort Made to Secure a Bail Bond in This City Yesterday If One Should Be Required by Authorities

Inquiry at the office of Sheriff Dunlap of Napa last night elicited the information that nothing had been done in the Holmes case yesterday, beyond an endeavor to ascertain the true age of Nellie Holmes, the girl with whom Charles H. Holmes cohabited at Calistoga. Holmes and the girl were still in jail last night.

District Attorney Benjamin of Napa learned yesterday that he could find the age of the girl by consulting the records of San Francisco, and he at once sent there for the information. If she is found to be over sixteen years of age the charge is reduced as far as the law goes, but if not the consequences are very serious when it comes to punishment after conviction.

Holmes was visited in jail yesterday by a Napa attorney. An effort was made by a relative of the accused man here yesterday to arrange for a bail bond, if one should be required and pending the result of the investigation. It is not thought one was secured.

William Porter, who married an aunt of Nellie Hoimes went over to Napa from this city yesterday, it being thought that he could furnish absolute information as to the girl’s age. This he was not able to do, and then consulting the records in San Francisco was suggested and adopted by District Attorney Benjamin. Judging from sentiment expressed around town yesterday the arrest of the former marshal did not occasion much surprise among those who knew or had heard of alleged previous familiarity between the man and girl.

– Press Democrat, October 20 1904

 

HOLMES IS IN JAIL GIRL COMES HOME
NELLIE HOMES IS RELEASED FROM DETENTION AT NAPA COUNTY HOSPITAL
Former City Marshal Remains in Custody While Girl’s Age is Being Investigated by the Authorities

Charles H. Holmes was still in jail at Napa last night while the girl with whom he had been living with at Calistoga until the hand of the law was laid on both of them, Nellie Holmes, returned to this city. She was seen and conversed with by a Santa Rosan on the Southern Pacific train last night, and from what she told him, he did not feel very kindly disposed towards the man in jail, made by Holmes’ sister yesterday night and it was learned that District Attorney Benjamin was still investigating as to the girl’s age, and that nothing new had been done in the matter. According to a statement made by Holmes sister yesterday it is likely that bail bond may be furnished her brother today. This is not certain, however.

During her stay in Napa Nellie Holmes was kept in the Napa County Hospital. She was released from there Thursday afternoon on a written order sanctioning her release signed by District Attorney Benjamin. She will have to appear as a witness in the event of the Holmes case coming to trial. What was stated yesterday morning, must be stated again this morning and that is, until District Attorney Benjamin is satisfied as to the correct age of Nellie Holmes, proceedings on the charge of rape will not proceed.

– Press Democrat, October 21 1904

 

HOLMES RELEASED ON $2,000 BOND
FORMER CITY MARSHAL RETURNS TO TOWN AFTER DETENTION FOR SEVERAL DAYS
What Disposition Will be Made of His Case is Still Undecided But Meanwhile He is a Free Man

Charles H. Holmes, former city marshal is in town from Napa. He secured his release from detention at Napa on furnishing a two thousand dollar bail bond. It is not definitely known what the outcome of the case will be. It will be remembered that the man was arrested a week ago last Tuesday in company with a girl named Nellie Holmes of this city at Calistoga. The charge upon which he was arrested was that of rape.

– Press Democrat, October 26 1904

 

HOLMES WILL BE RELEASED
District Attorney of Napa County Finds That Girl Was Over Sixteen Years Old

The charge of rape preferred against ex-Marshal Charles H. Holmes in Napa will probable be dismissed shortly. District Attorney Ray Benjamin has made a thorough search of records to ascertain the age of the young woman and is of the opinion that he will have to dismiss the case against Holmes by reason of the fact that the girl is over seventeen years old.

It will be remembered that Holmes was arrested at St. Helena several weeks ago where he had been living with Nellie Holmes a young girl of this city and passing her as his wife. Holmes was following his trade of plastering. They had rented a single room in the residence of Mrs. Collins mother of the county clerk of Napa County and lived in that one apartment.

The arrest of Holmes on the charge caused great surprise among his friends in this city. He was kept in jail several days while relatives here searched for bondsmen. These were finally secured and the accused man came to this city. The girl with whom he had been living was detained by the Napa county officials for several days. She stoutly maintained from the first that she was more than sixteen years of age. Although the name of the parties are the same there is no blood relationship between them.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 9 1904

 

WOMEN CAUSE POLICE CALLS
Mrs. Holmes Startled Sonoma Avenue Last Night by Cries of “Murder” — Case Investigated

The police department had two hurried calls last night both of which were responded to by Officer Don McIntosh and in each instance the calls were occasioned by women.

About midnight the residents of Sonoma avenue were alarmed by a series of shrill cries of murder police and fainter cries of “Let me go” emanating from Mrs. Anna Holmes [sic] the wife of Charles H. Holmes. The whole neighborhood was aroused and when the officer arrived it was explained to him that Mrs. Holmes had made the outcry while in a state of epilepsy. The neighbors however had heard sounds of slaps being administered as if someone was chastising a child, this fact also being reported to the police.

The woman is an almost helpless invalid and the people of the vicinity where she resides declare the woman is not given proper attention and treatment. It is more than probable that the case will be called to the attention of the proper authorities and an effort made to have Mrs. Holmes removed to an institution where she can at least receive proper treatment. It is believed that her condition of epilepsy would be removed if her surroundings were changed. The people of the neighborhood feel that Mrs. Holmes is entitled to the protection of the community…

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 20 1905

 

Mr. Holmes Statement

Charles H. Holmes called at this office last night and stated that his wife was not suffering from epilepsy at the time of the excitement at his residence Thursday night. He says that she was experiencing one of a series of spells she has had lately in which she temporarily loses her reason. He stated further that the noise heard as if some one was being slapped was in reality Mrs. Holmes clapping her hands while not responsible for her actions.

Mr. Holmes was not at home on Thursday night when his wife’s cries awoke the neighborhood. Mrs. Holmes has been an invalid and afflicted with epileptic fits for a long time. The poor woman is deserving of much commiseration.

– Press Democrat, October 21 1905

 

Feel They Are Doing All in Their Power

Charles H. Holmes and his mother and sister who have the care of the invalid wife of Mr. Holmes feel that they have done and are doing everything for that lady which lies in their power to do. Mrs. Holmes’ condition is at times precarious and for eighteen years she has been subject to epilepsy which has gradually progressed until at times she passed from the epileptic state to that condition of insanity in which she is wholly irresponsible for her actions. The lady has been taken to private sanitariums in times past and her case has been pronounced hopeless. At the present time the mother and sister of Mrs. Holmes are caring for the lady who is practically an invalid and they feel that the lady could probably get better treatment at a proper institution for epileptics and that her removal to such an institution might be advisable. The case is being attended by Dr. J. W. Cline whose prescriptions have always brought her out of the condition of epilepsy and the doctor is giving the patient every attention.

On a recent night when neighbors were called to assist in caring for Mrs. Holmes the lady had a particularly heavy spell and the family declared had been clapping her hands and talking incoherently before assistance came to them. Two strong men were required to hold Mrs. Holmes in her bed for a number of hours until the medicine given her had time to act properly. As Mr. Holmes cannot be away from his employment the care of his invalid wife naturally devolves upon his mother and sister. Residents of the City of Roses have been at the home where the woman was being cared for and have noticed her peculiar mental condition.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 23 1905

 

MRS. CHARLES H. HOLMES CALLED BY DEATH

Mrs. Margaret May Holmes, wife of former City Marshal C. H. Holmes, died at Ukiah on Friday, and her remains were brought to this city Saturday morning. Mrs. Holmes had long been a sufferer and death was a happy release to her. She had many friends in Santa Rosa, where she had lived for many years. The funeral will take place this afternoon and the Very Rev. A. L. Burleson will be the officiating priest. The hour of the funeral will be at half past two o’clock this afternoon.

– Press Democrat, June 7 1908

 

Wife of Charles H. Holmes Passes Away

Charles H Holmes received a telegram Friday afternoon informing him of the death of his wife at Ukiah. The sad message stated that Mrs. Holmes had been taken sick on the day before with acute pneumonia and the disease was too much for her for the following day she passed away.

Her maiden name was Margaret May Ward and she was a niece of Mr. and Mrs. C. M. Bumbaugh of this city and a sister of Mrs. Samuel Brittain. She was born 38 years ago in the state of New Jersey and her parents died while she was quite young. Nineteen years ago she was married to Charles H. Holmes. The remains were brought down on the morning express and the funeral services will be announced later.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 7 1908

 

CHARLES H. HOLMES WAS MARRIED MONDAY

A quiet wedding in this city on Monday was that of Miss Nellie Holmes and Charles H. Holmes, former city marshal of Santa Rosa and a prominent labor union man. The Rev. Geo. T. Baker, rector of the Episcopal church, was the officiating priest. The ceremony was performed at the residence of Mrs. Cox, on Hendley street. Mr. and Mrs. Holmes left for San Francisco in the afternoon. Their friends wish them much happiness.

– Press Democrat, January 11 1910

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