GoldenHorseshoeSaloon

THE JEWEL IN THE BOOMTOWN

The first time Santa Rosa had more than a couple of dimes rattling around its coin purse, the town bought itself a present. A really big present.

“It gives us unlimited pleasure to chronicle the fact that a long felt want, in the shape of an opera house is at last to be built in Santa Rosa,” boasted the town’s Sonoma Democrat newspaper in mid-summer, 1884.

That opera house was to be called the Athenaeum (a name usually given to a library or academic/literary salons, not so often public theaters). It filled the western side of D street, from Fourth to Fifth streets and was 80 feet wide. Newspaper readers were repeatedly reminded that it was the largest auditorium in the state outside of San Francisco.

athenaeum1890

The Santa Rosa Athenaeum in 1890. (Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

 

Why a farm town of 5,000 needed an auditorium large enough to hold up to half its population was never discussed. But the mid-1880s were boom times for Santa Rosa, and much of the original downtown was being replaced with entire blocks of new buildings. A new city hall was built along with that pretty little courthouse in Courthouse Square. There were forty other projects under construction at the same time as the Athenaeum, almost all of them made out of bricks. Almost all of them would collapse in the 1906 earthquake, including the Athenaeum.

Outside it looked like a nondescript brick warehouse, but the interior drew high praise. Alas, there are no (surviving) pictures of it – a dilemma I often encounter here, so indulge me a short rant: Except for a couple of postcard views of the exterior, there are likewise no photos of the fabled 40 room “Buena Vista Castle” near Sonoma. Jack London’s Wolf House was nearly complete when it burned down, but there is only a single glimpse of the place under construction and most of it is obscured by a horse-drawn wagon in the foreground. There are no images of the inside – all of which is particularly aggravating because London was a photojournalist. I could name scads of other really interesting-but-lost-forever views just in Santa Rosa during the era when Kodak cameras were ubiquitous; I can’t understand why something was considered picturesque or important enough to be described in a newspaper – yet apparently no one thought of whipping out a Brownie camera to take a snapshot.

Fortunately there are multiple descriptions of the theater which paint a pretty detailed picture. I still wanted to find an image of an auditorium that was a reasonably close match and spent much of the last week prowling through hundreds of photos and period drawings of theater interiors here and in Europe. Two finalists were the Memphis TN Lyceum and the Virginia City NV Opera House, but the former is a little too cavernous and the other lacking architectural details. I could find only one theater that fits comfortably in the Goldilocks zone – and may the goddesses forgive me, it’s the Golden Horseshoe at Disneyland. All important details and proportions match except the Athenaeum was a few seats wider.

Let’s take a look inside the Athenaeum: Start your virtual tour by standing in front of the lovely 1911 Beaux-Arts style Doyle Building at 641-647 Fourth street. This has exactly the same footprint as the Athenaeum, except the stairway to the upper floor was almost twice as wide. At street level there was always a grocery to the west side of the stairs (more about that below) and in later years the Santa Rosa post office was on the corner side.*

The theater occupied the second and third floors. At the top of the stairs was the foyer with the box office. Wainscotting in the foyer used black walnut – a nice signal that you were entering a space that was posh and as permanent as a bank. Staircases on either side led to the third floor, where there was another larger foyer which took up about sixty feet of the top story. This was called the Society Hall and was rented out for banquets and dances when the theater wasn’t booked.

Beyond the top floor hall/foyer, theatergoers took seats in the balcony which wrapped around three sides of the auditorium. Called the “gallery” at the time, the balcony was both suspended from the ceiling and supported with posts. An item in the Democrat paper suggested some were squeamish over the safety of the overhanging balcony. “Let us whisper to the timid, if any such are left, that each of the seven iron columns under the gallery will support a weight equal to two hundred tons, or fourteen hundred tons in the aggregate.”

The gallery had the cheap seats but anyone who could afford better would sit below. There was the parquet circle directly beneath the gallery; like the balcony there was a baluster rail in front. It was (probably) at stage level, which meant the sight lines and acoustics were better than the main floor. The primary difference from the Disneyland theater was that the Athenaeum had more private boxes overlooking the stage; six on each side at the gallery level, and two on either side of the parquet circle.

The stage lights and everything else in the auditorium was lit by gaslights which were individually controlled by a panel. In the middle of the ceiling was an enormous “sun burner” (MORE info) which brilliantly illuminated the hall when turned up full. But what everyone was buzzing about was the artwork – the ceiling and walls were covered with murals. The Sonoma Democrat had the most detailed description:


About the ventilator in the center is a bit of sky, with clouds piled cumulus like, just as we sometimes see them on the horizon, while trailing vines, laden with blossoms seem to be peeping in the windows of some conservatory. The entire ceiling and gallery walls are hand painted, and at each corner a lyre and sprays of vines retain the eye, with elegantly designed borders enclosing numerous sky blue spaces. At the corners are huge clusters of reeds, conventionalized branches of leaves beneath. The area in front of the top of the stage is resplendent with flowers and sprays, and must be seen to be appreciated.

The stage itself was in the classic proscenium 19th century style, with drapery and an olio painted curtain depicting “a villa in the distance, amidst a beautiful grove with a magnificent garden in the foreground.” The artist was Thomas Moses who later became a top artist in this niche, painting scenic drops like this for theaters all over the country, including Broadway.

The official seating capacity was 1,600 although numbers up to a thousand higher were also mentioned. Theaters like this used wooden chairs, not seats bolted to the floor, so it was only a matter of placing them farther or closer together. (The cheapest gallery seats were apparently fixed in place, however.) Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley wrote an appreciation of the old place in 1932, which was abridged in a book, “Santa Rosans I Have Known.” Finley wrote “The theatre itself seated 1700 persons while 2500 could be and frequently were crowded in.”

Finley, who grew up in Santa Rosa, also recalled the Athenaeum box office was a popular place for kids to money launder any counterfeit coin which “sometimes found its way into their pockets without its spurious character being noticed.”

The Athenaeum’s official dedication was the night of July 9, 1885. After the orchestra gave “a preliminary toot or two,” there were remarks by the president of the Athenaeum association and a San Francisco theatrical manager, then an actress read a really bad poem. (“…Through groves of drooping oak, a glistening stream/ Runs, like a silver thread, through emerald green/ And over all is sunset’s purple sheen./ Another change the Mexican appears/ He seems a centaur, horse and man, and spurs./ Across the unfenced valley, like a bird/ He sweeps, amid his startled sleek skinned herd…”) Once that was suffered through, the curtain went up for the performance of a blood-and-thunder melodrama based on Jules Verne’s novel “Michael Strogoff.”

The Santa Rosa paper enthused over everything about the evening (“It was the first time Don Mills’ mule ever greeted an audience”) but glossed over the detail that the theater wasn’t even half full on its opening night. It appears that it would be more than a year before the Athenaeum was actually filled, and that was for a free October, 1886 speech by the Republican candidate for governor. (Predictably, the highly-partisan Democrat sniffed, “His speech was dry, prosy and wearisome, and elicited very little applause.”)

Thus was the fate of the Athenaeum clouded from its earliest days. Although the theater itself was a jewel by any measure, it’s hard to imagine that a hall which was only open  every week or so – and then usually around half empty – could be profitable. When the entire hall was rented out and open for free admission it was sometimes reported filled: Church coalitions brought in famous bible thumpers, political parties had election eve rallies and small groups held conventions – the State Sunday School Association was scheduled to be there in late April, 1906, with plans cancelled because of the earthquake.

Finley and others wrote of the celebrated performers who appeared on its stage. Yes, John Philip Sousa’s famous brass band played a rousing concert and modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller was here. Heavyweight boxing champ James Jeffries tried to jumpstart a new career starring in a play about Davy Crockett (the audience liked it most when he hit things or flexed his muscles) and San Francisco promoters sometimes booked a slate of classical music artists, mainly opera singers past their prime.

But for every highbrow concert by a “tenor robusto” there were twenty performances of hoary melodramas like “Ingomar the Barbarian” or trite comedies such as “James Wobberts, Freshman.” For every serious debate or lecture by someone like the guy predicting the year 2000 there were a dozen touring comedians such as “Yon Yonson,” “Ole Olson,” or vaudeville acts like “Thirty Educated Dogs.” And there were minstrel shows – lots and lots of minstrel shows.

1900plays1The melodrama “Chimes of Normandy” and the comedy “Wang” both appeared at the Athenaeum in 1900

 

Ridgway Hall was the only other venue downtown for large gatherings and it was mainly used for dances and county conventions, but the Athenaeum was used for local events, too, including commencement ceremonies and school literary exercises. Locals also put on shows at the Athenaeum; Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Mikado” was produced here and Santa Rosa Attorney T. J. Butts produced a farce he had written, “Misery, or Three Spasms for a Half.” (A few years later, Butts participated in a lecture series on the topic, “What Is the Matter with Santa Rosa?” His position was that “our city government is as good as we deserve,” which gets my vote as our city motto.)

The Athenaeum was completely destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and many commented that it was a good thing it didn’t hit when the theater was occupied. Three days earlier, nearly every kid in town was in there for choir practice before the upcoming Sunday School convention. Ernest Finley wrote the best obit in his 1932 reminisces:


The Athenaeum went down at the time of the earthquake, together with everything else in that entire block…the Athenaeum was built by T. J. Ludwig, active here as a contractor at that time, and its plan of construction was much criticized. Resting on the side walls of the building were great trusses which stretched across from one wall to another and from these the auditorium was practically suspended in air. There was some underneath support, but not too much. There was no regulation of such matters in those days. This type of construction would not now be permitted anywhere. After the building collapsed, investigation showed that certain beams in the great trusses, which were entirely of redwood, had decayed at the edges. It is not improbable that, had the building continued in use many years longer, some of these beams might have given way under the tremendous strain and a holocaust far greater than that occasioned by the earthquake itself might have resulted.

Oddly, some of the early hype about the theater focused on the impossibility of its collapse. The Democrat promised before construction began that it was to be an “earthquake proof building,” and a few days before it opened, the paper offered a commentary on the safety of the Athenaeum and the new courthouse. “This is a good time to kill the idle street talk we hear about one building being unsafe, and another one just ready to topple over…So will Santa Rosa outgrow the little fellows who go whining about the streets. If none of them die until they are killed by the falling of Athenaeum, or the new Court House, they will survive a hundred years, which would be a greater misfortune to the city than the fall of both those substantial and elegant structures.”


*The Athenaeum Grocery was an ambitious effort to create a real food market, complete with canned goods, fresh produce, a butcher and fish counter, and something like a deli offering lunch. “Many a lady dreads the Saturday’s marketing, because she knows that she will perhaps have to walk over the whole town before completing her purchases, but when the new central market is opened it will be different; she may do all of her marketing in the one building, and her purchases will be delivered at the same time.”

athenaeum1906

Santa Rosa Athenaeum, 1906 (Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

 

 

Santa Rosa Athenaeum.

It gives us unlimited pleasure to chronicle the fact that a long felt want, in the shape of an opera house is at last to be built in Santa Rosa. A joint stock company with a capital stock of $20,000 has been organized, and incorporated under the laws of this State for of constructing a solid, substantial and earthquake proof building, on the corner of Fourth and D streets, covering that entire lot, extending through to Fifth street, known as the T. H. Pyatt lot. The building will have an eighty foot front on Fourth and Fifth streets, and will be 200 feet in depth. The seating capacity will be from 1,600 to 2,000 people. Two stores will be fitted up on Fourth street, and a society hall will also front on the same street. A gallery will extend around three sides of the building. The main entrance to the auditorium, will be from Fourth street with side entrance from Fifth aud D streets, so that the hall can be quickly cleared in case of a panic. The stage will extend across the Fifth street end of the building, and will be seven feet from the door. On each side will be three dressing rooms for theatrical companies. Under the stage a kitchen with range and all other necessary equipments, and a spacious banquet hall will be fitted up for the convenience and benefit of fairs, festivals, etc. The structure promises to be one of the most convenient and perfect ever built, and fills a long felt want in this community.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 5 1884

The lot for the Santa Rosa Athenaeum, on the corner of Fourth and D street is cleared, and work excavating for the foundation has commenced.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 19 1884

 

Our Opera House.

We strolled into the Athenaeum on Friday afternoon and found the timbers for the gallery being placed in position, and the scantling for the different partitions being erected. The inside is going to present a handsome appearance. The gallery is semi-circular in form, and the timbers for the “circle” are being bent as they are being placed in position, under the immediate supervision of Col. Gray, whom we saw, with hammer in hand, as busy as any of the artisans. We should suppose that there were about thirty men engaged with hammer and saw, and noted that the work was progressing very satisfactorily.

Mr. Mailer, of the firm of W. C. Good & Co., informs us that the tin for the roof is all in readiness in the shop, and that twelve men are putting the work on the roof, as rapidly as possible. A few days fine weather, and the roof will be tinned. This firm have just received a consignment of ninety boxes of tin for the roofs o( other buildings now in the course of completion.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 28 1885

 

Handsome Ornamentations.

We were permitted to take a view of the ceiling of the Athenaeum, on Friday, as the decorative artists had just completed their work. It is a study in art. About the ventilator in the center is a bit of sky, with clouds piled cumulus like, just as we sometimes see them on the horizon, while trailing vines, laden with blossoms seem to be peeping in the windows of some conservatory. The entire ceiling and gallery walls are hand painted, and at each corner a lyre and sprays of vines retain the eye, with elegantly designed borders enclosing numerous sky blue spaces. At the corners are huge clusters of reeds, conventionalized branches of leaves beneath. The area in front of the top of the stage is resplendent with flowers and sprays, and must be seen to be appreciated. We consider it the most elegant finish we have ever seen in so large a building. The theater will be ready for occupation about the first June. In the main auditorium the seating and finishing touches only remain to be attended to, but the stage and the front hall yet remain to be finished.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 16 1885

 

Ambitions Santa Rosa.

The San Francisco Figaro, of a recent date, contains the following: “It may seem strange, but it is true nevertheless, that Santa Rosa will soon have the largest and most magnificent theatre building outside of San Francisco. Though occupying nearly as much space as our Grand Opera House, it will have only two circles, it is decorated in grand style, is called the Athenaeum, and will be finished about the middle of next month. Good for Santa Rosa, which is one of the most delightful cities of the interior, and a growing one, surrounded by a rich farming region, belted by timber lands almost inexhaustible. With a modesty unusual and worthy of note, the owner of the edifice did not give to it his own name.” Come up and see it Bro. Bogardus, and if we don’t give you a hearty welcome for old time’s sake, we will try it. Call soon.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 6 1885

 

The Athenaeum.

We stopped a moment at the Athenaeum, on Tuesday. Preparations are being made to lay the stone sidewalk, by putting in the curbing. Work on the inside is progressing. Painters are priming the woodwork, and graining has commenced. The railing for the boxes and about the orchestra are placed in position. The handsome railing for the stairways leading to the gallery is being put up. The doors about the entrance to the parquette and dress circle are being hung. The racks and slides for the scenery are being put in place and the lower hall is being graveled for cement pavement.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 13 1885

 

Dedicating the Athenaeum.

In response to an invitation of the Board of Directors of the Santa Rosa Athenaeum Company, a number of gentlemen met at the parlors of Occidental Hotel to consult in regard to the formal opening of the building, now so near at hand. In response to this, there were present…

…The building is nearly completed. The seats in the gallery are about finished. At the ends of the gallery circle, nearest the stage, are six compartments on each side the building set apart by railing as mezzanine boxes. Directly below them, at the terminus of the dress circle, are four elegant boxes, two on each side, decorated very handsomely and elaborately.

We have stated that six iron pillars have been placed beneath the gallery, which support it, so that it is no longer suspended from the roof.

The chairs for the boxes, dress circle and orchestra will arrive in a few days. They are on the way. There are 800 of them.

Work laying the scenery is progressing rapidly, and the stage now begins to have the appearance of business.

The painters and grainers are putting the finishing touches to the main hall, and back stairway, and glaziers are preparing the sash for the numerous windows. The wainscotting in the foyer passages, doors and stairways is black walnut. In the banquet, ball and offices, oak.

The patent stone work for the sidewalk and lower portion of the main entrance is completed and is now hardening. Work laying the basalt blocks in the gutter is progressing.

RECEPTION AND PROMENADE CONCERT.

The Committee appointed, as mentioned above, met immediately after the conference adjourned, and adopted the following programme:
1. Overture by orchestra.
2. Prayer by Rev. J. Avery Shepherd.
3. Remarks by the President. B. M. Spencer.
4. Dedicatory by A. B. Ware.
5. Vocal Music.
6. Remarks by R. A. Thompson.
7. Vocal Solo.
8. Closing remarks by Senator G. A. Johnson.
9. Overture by orchestra.
10. Promenade concert and reception.

[..]

– Sonoma Democrat, June 20 1885

 

The Athenaeum.

We were permitted to visit the interior of the Athenaeum on Tuesday, and found Mr. Bumbaugh with a large force of painters at work. The main hall has been most artistically and beautifully adorned, and the work is well done.

We met Mr. C. N. Crouse, who came from Chicago to arrange the scenery and mount it. He showed us the drop curtain, which is the finest we have seen in California, not even excepting the famous one at the Sacramento Theater, “Othello relating his adventures.” It represents a villa in the distance, amidst a beautiful grove with a magnificent garden in the foreground, while the whole is enclosed in gorgeous and elegant drapery. It is superb. Mr. Crouse says that nearly all the scenery is now ready. There are one or two set pieces to be arranged, a bridge forty feet long and a cottage scene.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 27 1885

 

The Opening of the Athenaeum.

On Thursday, Secretary C. A. Wright, of the Athenaeum Company, signed a contract with Al. Hayman, the well known theatrical manager, of San Francisco, to lease our new opera house for three nights, viz; July 2d, 3d and 4th.

There will be presented on these evenings, on the 2d, “Michael Strogoff,” on the 3d, “Lights o’ London,” and on the 4th,the magnificent drama. “The Count of Monte Christo.” The Company of the Baldwin Theater will present the plays, and they will be put on the stage in the best manner possible. The scenery will be superb, all most all new. Mr. Hayman has pledged himself to make the opening a credit to the handsome building, and to sustain the enviable reputation his company has gained. It will all be first class in every particular. The orchestra will consist of seven or eight accomplished musicians.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 27 1885

 

A WORD WITH YOU.

We hate to give advice and absolutely won’t scold, but we wish to say to you that this is a good time to kill the idle street talk we hear about one building being unsafe, and another one just ready to topple over, that the town is overgrown, the land given out, and the bugs have taken the country. In point of fact the croaker is the bug that is doing the most harm just now. His idle talk reminds us of an incident which came under our observation. A plant was growing vigorously in a garden. It was thoroughly in sympathy with the soil in which it grew and the air with which it stretched its limbs, but its young and tender branches were covered with the aphide, a pestiferous parasite that mars the beauty while it sucks the life of the plant upon which it feeds.

Fears were expressed to an old gardener that the “bugs” would kill the plant. “O no,” said he, “it will outgrow those little fellows.”

So will Santa Rosa outgrow the little fellows who go whining about the streets. If none of them die until they are killed by the falling of Athenaeum, or the new Court House, they will survive a hundred years, which would be a greater misfortune to the city than the fall of both those substantial and elegant structures.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 4 1885

 

THE TEMPLE OF ATHAENE
Brilliant Opening of Santa Rosa’s Beautiful Opera House

The youth, beauty and fashion of our fair city were out in force at the opening of the Athenaeum on Thursday evening. It must have been the greatest pleasure imaginable to those of our enterprising citizens who took such a leading part in the construction of the beautiful temple of the muses to hear the exclamations of unfeigned delight which fell almost unconsciously from the lips of nearly all present, most of whom had not seen the interior of the building since the work of ornamentation had begun. The comfortable opera chair, the pleasant Mezzanine and elegant proscenium boxes and the superb decorations on every hand.

THE ATTENDANCE.

Was a pleasing surprise to all. Over one half of the seating capacity was occupied, and we noticed in prominent parts of the foyer representatives of every leading interest in our city, and in the dress circle, parquette and boxes the elegant toilets of our pride, Santa Rosa’s fair ones, lent an air most charming to the most novel and really pleasant scene ever witnessed in the “City of Roses” not less than five hundred persons were present, the gallery was about half filled, and the lower portion more than half filled. The gallery was of anything the most sedate portion of the house.

It was 8:15 when Prof. S. L. Parks’ orchestra gave “a preliminary toot or two,” and then began the first overture, and at its close, B. M. Spencer appeared and introduced Mr. Al. Hayman, who spoke in glowing tones of this new building and referred in eloquent terms to the enterprise of those who built this temple to the muses. He then introduced Miss Phoebe Davies, who read the following prologue:

THE OPENING OF THE ATHENAEUM.
INVOCATION.

[..]

All was enthusiasm. The prologue was read before a scene carefully prepared, and as Miss Davies left the scene, the beautiful drop curtain fell, and was displayed to an audience for the first time. Miss Davies was heartily applauded, and the curtain was the signal for another burst of enthusiasm.

[..]

NOTES.

It was the first time Don Mills’ mule ever greeted an audience.

Sosman & Landers of Chicago painted and prepared the scenery which every one so much admired, and it was mounted by C. M. Crouse, one of the most experienced in the United States, and who was brought here by the Athenaeum Company especially to fit up this stage. He had done his work in the most satisfactory possible.

The drop curtain was designed and painted by a special artist employed by Sosman & Landers, and who devotes his entire time to this class of work. His name is Thomas Moses.

An important feature is the nickel plated gas stand, by means of which the gas in any part of the building can be readily regulated. It was made by H. C. Hickey of Chicago.

The lights are perfection. The huge sun-burner in the center of the ceiling and the numerous side lights illuminate the auditorium perfectly.

Let us whisper to the timid, if any such are left, that each of the seven iron columns under the gallery will support a weight equal to two hundred tons, or fourteen hundred tons in the aggregate. General John A. Brewster says so, and he knows. This is independent of all support from the roof.

Mr. Hayman says we can say for him that we have the prettiest and most commodios [sic] theater in the State outside of San Francisco, and that it is perfect in all its appointments.

The acoustic properties of the building are excellent. Each line was as distinctly heard as could be. There is no difficulty in hearing at all in any part of the building. It is a credit to the architect and contractor, T. J. Ludwig.

The painting and graining by C. M. Bumbaugh, is the best in Santa Rosa.

The drapery about the boxes is splendid and is the work of Doubleday Bros.

We must give credit to Mr. Lyons, who has been the foreman of the construction ever since the foundation was laid, for the evident excellence of his work.

The opening was a brilliant success, and to the Board of Directors and officers…we extend the congratulations and thanks of this entire community.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 11 1885

 

The Athenaeum.

Arrangements were completed on Monday to have a sectional floor put in the Athenaeum, so that balls and parties can be given in the main room. This will make a floor of 100×50, and will contain no seats. It will be completed by New Year’s eve, and has been engaged by the Knights of Pythias for that occasion.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 5 1885

 

New Enterprise.

Mr. O. Howell signed a five years’ lease with the managers of the Athenaeum Saturday morning, for the large storeroom under the west half of the theater, where he will open a central market. It is Mr. Howell’s intention to supply a want long felt, viz: a place where the housewife can do her morning marketing in the one store, or as it should more properly be called, the market. There will be the grocery department, butcher’s stalls, greengrocer’s stalls, fresh fish and oyster department, flour and feed department, poultry and game department and lunch counter, where the farmers and their families, when in town over the dinner hour, can partake of a lunch without the expense of the restaurants and hotels. This market will not only be a great success to its projector, but will be hailed as a solution to the problem of the housewife and busy husband, “What shall I get for dinner?” or supper, as the case may be. Many a lady dreads the Saturday’s marketing, because she knows that she will perhaps have to walk over the whole town before completing her purchases, but when the new central market is opened it will be different; she may do all of her marketing in the one building, and her purchases will be delivered at the same time. Mr. Howell has undertaken no small job in consummating his plans to a successful issue, and he appreciates his situation and enters into it with the determination of making it one of the successful and useful institutions of Santa Rosa.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 18 1886

 

Read More

mumbasket

THE ART OF THE UNDERTAKER

Had LinkedIn existed a century ago, his profile would have been the thinnest. POSITION: Assistant undertaker, Santa Rosa CA. EXPERIENCE: 33 years. It would seem like the profile of an inconsequential (and probably boring) fellow, yet he was close friends with some of the best artists in America. Curators from top museums were regularly visiting his modest homes, first on Chinn street in Santa Rosa and then on Vine street in Sebastopol. His name was John Pearson Stanley and he was one of the most interesting people living here around the turn of the century.

Today he’s mentioned only by local cemetery buffs because a teardrop-shaped corner of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery bears his name. Back then he was known as the kindly middle-aged – and then elderly – man who arranged the funeral and burial of hundreds and hundreds of local people between 1883 and 1918. He was also popular because he had a knack for growing chrysanthemums and in the 1890s our ancestors were chrysanthemum crazy, with a chrysanthemum festival every year or so. It’s a wonder Santa Rosa wasn’t renamed Santa Crisantemo.

But the reason he had a measure of nationwide fame was because he was such a connoisseur of fine art. His homes were galleries of paintings by William Keith, Lorenzo Latimer, Grace Hudson and others, some whom he encouraged and befriended before their careers took off. Mostly, however, he was renowned as having a remarkable collection of Indian baskets.

Over the years he had hundreds of baskets and appears to have bought them directly from local Pomo weavers. From the 1898 PD:


On Thursday when a Press Democrat reporter passed the undertaking parlors of M. S. Davis on Fourth street, Mr. Stanley was sitting amidst a group of the dark gentlemen examining some of their handiwork in the shape of baskets. One of the little baskets which the Indians had, upon which probably work had been put on and off for three months or so, could have been bought for about ten dollars.

Art collectors and museums were just starting to recognize the incredible artistry of these baskets and word spread about Stanley’s collection. He sold everything he had to the de Young Museum, rebuilt his holdings, and then the Hearst Museum again bought everything he had. He started anew and buyers kept queuing up at his door – two visited on the same day once, and a purchasing agent for “several of the large eastern museums” came to him on a buying trip.

How could an assistant undertaker afford to build collections such as these? The PD reported Mrs. Hearst’s curator “made him a good offer for it” so his occasional forays as a basket art dealer were likely quite profitable. His obituary suggests some of the paintings were gifts, and some may have been bartered; it’s known he gave Grace Hudson and her husband valuable antiques, including a bronze Roman candlestick, a Russian samovar from Fort Ross, a fine Turkish rug and a 49er gold miner’s pan.1 Plus aside from his undertaking salary, Stanley also had an income stream from his side business – selling graves.

Current map of Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery with Stanley section highlighted (see PDF of full color map)

(RIGHT: The full Stanley Addition of 1884)

From the same family that originally owned the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery land, Stanley bought 5.3 adjacent acres at $250 per. This was the property between the cemetery and Poppy Creek; he also acquired the use of water lines across the entire place.2 He added roads to his addition to the cemetery, made other improvements and began selling lots, starting with a low, low sale price of $10 a grave (see advertisement below). That may not seem like much today, but in 1884 most workers were lucky to earn that much in a week.

Even back then, everything involved with caring for the dead was obscenely expensive. In 1883 the Daily Democrat ran a summary of a New York World muckraking article titled, “Undertakers’ Enormous Profits,” which revealed there was a markup of 100 percent or more on coffins and related funeral goods. Stanley knew this before he came to Santa Rosa because he had just spent a decade in Salinas running a combo furniture and undertaking business, a frequent mix in the Old West – Pedersen’s in Santa Rosa sold “undertaking supplies” up to 1906, although they didn’t do embalming and such.

When he arrived in Santa Rosa in 1883, Stanley opened a store here but it didn’t last long; by that September he was advertising a going-out-of-business furniture sale. The ad stated he had decided “to change his business,” and presumably that meant shifting to just the undertaking trade.

From a county history we learn he was an assistant to Milo S. Davis, Santa Rosa’s established mortician: “…Mr. J. P. Stanley, who has active charge of much of his business, possesses rare qualifications, both by nature and training, for performing the last sad rites for the dead and comforting the bereaved hearts of the living.”3

(RIGHT: Ad from the June 20, 1885 Sonoma Democrat)

We also know about his early years in Santa Rosa because he made and collected beautiful things. Before he veered into the furniture and undertaking game he had worked as a jeweler in the Gold Country for a while and became quite a rock hound; the very first mentions of him in the local papers were about his remarkable collection of minerals, some of which he had highly polished. He sent about a ton of them to an exhibit in San Francisco, and the main Santa Rosa drugstore had a display case with over two thousand specimens.

He also created an exhibit of dried flowers that was compared to an oil painting, and which became part of the Sonoma County exhibit sent to the 1887 Great Mechanics’ Fair in Boston (sort of a mini world’s fair). Aside from that we didn’t read much about him in the papers in the years after he opened his cemetery; presumably he quietly went about his unusual double life.

But from 1896 on, he was mentioned in the papers almost every year. Personal items appeared: His son, James, became the sole owner of the art store a few doors down on Fourth street from the funeral parlor where he worked; it was the go-to place for picture frames, lamp shade, and whatnot. And in a Believe-it-or-Not! coincidence, that year his wife here and his mother in Massachusetts died at nearly the same time.

(Years later, James would follow his dad and become a casket maker, which really isn’t surprising – dealing with the dead is one of those trades that often gets passed down through families. When Milo Davis eventually retired he transferred the funeral parlor to Herbert Moke, who was Mrs. Davis’ nephew and grew up in the Davis household. Stanley stayed on and worked for Moke, and still continued after Moke quit and sold the business to Frank Welti.)

Mostly, though, the years around the turn of the century were busy with his chrysanthemums and that parade of visits from artists and art collectors and curators – even the governor came by to see his collection. He opened his home for an art exhibit to benefit his church in 1898; the nattering nabobs over at the Press Democrat seemed gobsmacked to discover there was a major art collection in town and it wasn’t owned by the McDonald’s, Overtons, or other of the town’s wheeler-dealers – but by a lowly assistant to an undertaker.

Stanley built and sold two substantial collections of Indian baskets as already noted, but he apparently never parted with any of his beloved paintings – which made the 1906 earthquake all the more tragic for him. From his eulogy, transcribed below:


When the earthquake destroyed the business portion of our little city, he walked out of his rooms over a shattered pile of bricks and timbers, leaving behind him $20,000 worth of canvases to be consumed by the fury of the flames that swept the district. He loved his pictures, and the loss was a sad blow to him. But he soon accumulated – not so large or valuable – but a rare collection indeed.

Today that $20,000 would be worth over a half million, but the fame of some of those artists would put the modern value of what was destroyed at many times that figure.

He moved to Sebastopol and continued working even as he passed seventy, commuting to Santa Rosa every day via the electric train. In 1907 he sold all interests in his cemetery to his boss, Moke. He died at age 83 in 1918.

There’s a final Believe-it-or-Not! epilogue often mentioned by Rural Cemetery tour guides: John Stanley is not in fact buried in the Stanley cemetery – he’s in Colma’s Mt. Olivet Cemetery. His wife Emily is supposedly next to him, but she had been buried in her husband’s cemetery when she died in 1896, and a couple of years later he erected some sort of elaborate monument for her. Why John would later have her disinterred and them both buried in San Francisco is another mystery of that old graveyard.

1 Days of Grace: California Artist Grace Hudson in Hawaii; Karen Holmes and Sherrie Smith-Ferri, 2014; pg 105

2 Santa Rosa Rural cemetery 1853-1997: a listing of burials in Fulkerson, Moke, Rural and Stanley cemeteries, now known collectively as Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery; Sonoma County Genealogical Society, 1997; appendix pg vi

3 https://books.google.com/books?id=NKI9QAAACAAJ&pg=463

RIP John Preston Stanley, June 16, 1834 – January 11, 1918

J. P. Stanley has boxed up 2,000 specimens of minerals, his own collection, and will ship them to the Mining Bureau 212, Sutter street San Francisco, for exhibition during the conclave. The five cases weigh about a ton, and forms one of the finest private collections in the State.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 28 1883

J. P. Stanley of this city is an enthusiastic geologist and mineralogist, and on Saturday morning showed us a number of beautiful specimens of agate and cornelians that he has gathered in this county. A number of them have been polished to some extent,and are really beautiful and beautifully veined. This is one feature of old Sonoma that has hitherto been neglected.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 4 1883

Cheap Furniture.

J. P. Stanley has concluded to change his business, and is selling off his entire stock of furniture at cost. Parties desirous of good bargains will do well to call on him during the next ten days.

– Daily Democrat, September 20 1883

Jacob Harris to J. P. Stanley, 5-33.100 acres near Santa Rosa; $1,332.50.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 2 1884

A Rare Cabinet.

J. P. Stanley has had an elegant case put in J. W. Warboys’ drug store, in which are tastely arranged over a thousand specimens of minerals, from all parts of the world. Mr. Stanley is an enthusiastic mineralogist, and has over two thousand specimens, collected daring the past sixteen years, from all parts of the earth. A portion of this collection has been on exhibition at the rooms of the State Mineralogist, and Mr. Stanley has a letter from him referring to them in the highest terms. Among the samples on exhibition are numerous rare and beautiful stones from this county, among which are actinolite, chalcedony, jasper, agates and silenite. Some of these are highly polished and present a beautiful appearance. Many are not aware of the fact, that, as beautiful samples of these classes of stones can be found here as in any other part of the world.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 4 1884

C. De Lange to J. P. Stanley, lot 6, block 1, J. Davis’ addition to Santa Rosa; $1,700 [editor’s note: This property sold by Conradus DeLange is a typical residential lot on College avenue.]

– Sonoma Democrat, November 15 1884

J. P. Stanley has purchased five and one half acres adjoining the Rural Cemetery on the east, which he proposes to improve and subdivide into burial lots. The ground selected is very suitable for the purpose, and he proposes to afford all an opportunity to obtain plots at low prices. The intervening fence will be removed shortly, roads graded, etc.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 27 1884

John P. Stanley to Patrick Gleason, a portion of Stanley’s addition to Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery ; $l.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 21 1885

We would call the attention of our readers to the advertisment of J. P. Stanley in relation to his addition to Rural Cemetery. All the fences have been removed, and lanes and drives laid out so as to make this a part of the original cemetery. For a few days lots can be obtained at reduced rates, and persons will do well to call and make their selections early.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 20 1885

A Work of Art.

J. P. Stanley has displayed not a little ingenuity and exquisite taste in the arrangement of a boquet of pressed flowers, composed of varieties commonly in bloom in Santa Rosa gardens during the winter months. The boquet is of pyramidal form, on a dark ground work, and surrounded bv a handsome and costly gilt frame. So perfect and vividly lifelike are the flowers, that at first glance they would be taken for a painting in oil, but upon closer examination the true and delicate tint, so often exaggerated by the brush but seldom imitated, discovers the deception which has been practiced on art. The tastely piece of workmanship is to be sent to Boston with the Sonoma County exhibit, and will be invaluable as an illustration of the mild and balmy climate of the land of the setting sun.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 24 1887

J. P. Stanley is making a number of improvements in the grounds of his addition to the Rural Cemetery.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 22 1887

J. P. Stanley is making a number of improvements in his addition to the Rural Cemetery.

– Daily Democrat, December 12 1889

Death of Mrs. M. A. Stanley.

J. P. Stanley has received a message announcing the death of his mother, Mrs. Mary A. Stanley, at North Attleborough, Mass.

DEATH OF MRS. STANLEY.
An Estimable Lady Passes Away Monday Night.

After a short illness Mrs. Emily C. wife of Mr. J. P. Stanley died at the family residence on Fifth and Chinn streets, Monday evening at 9 o’clock. Deceased was 60 years of age and was born in Rhode Island. She was the daughter of J. P. and the late Lydia W. Goodwin and sister of Mrs. M. R. Britton and Mrs. E. L. May of San Francisco. She leaves one son, James F. Stanley. She was an estimable lady who had many friends. The funeral of Mrs. J. P. Stanley took place Thursday afternoon. Services were held at the home and at the grave by Rev. R. L. Rathbone and Rev. E. H. Hayden. The pall-bearers were Judge R. F. Crawford, A. B. Ware, W. E. McConnell, E. F. Woodward, E. Brooks and R. M. Swain. A number of friends of the deceased were present from Penngrove, San Francisco and other places.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 24 1896

J. F. STANLEY.
Dealer In Fine Artist’s Materials, Picture Frames, Wall Paper, Window Shades, Cornice Poles, Moulding, Etc,-434 Fourth St., Opp. Occidental Hotel.

Prominent among the beat stores of of the city is the one belonging to the above gentleman; it has been established for ten years, and was purchased by him three years and a half ago.

One of the largest stocks in this part of the state is carried by this house, and it is seldom that a patron asks for anything that is not forthcoming. The most of the stock ia shipped to this store direct from the east, thereby getting the lowest prices hy saving the middleman’s profit, and getting the newest and freshest goods. For this reason patrons are able to get at this store the finest goods at the prices that are charged at much larger cities.

Those wishing anything in the various lines carried could do no better than to call at this store.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 21 1896

A Beautiful Bloom

Thursday morning J. P. Stanley placed on exhibition in the window at the M. S. Davis undertaking parlors a beautiful variety of the chrysanthemum, an imported species from Japan. The bloom was greatly admired by a large number of people. The variety is known by the name, “Tbe Emerald,” or the green chrysanthemum of Japan.

– Daily Democrat, December 4 1897

Erected a Sarcophagus

On Wednesday Fisher and Kinslow of this city erected an elegant sarcophagus of Scotch granite in Stanley’s cemetery over the grave of the late Mrs. J. P. Stanley. A fitting tribute to the memory of that good woman.

– Press Democrat, February 26 1898

Collection of Indian Baskets

J. P. Stanley of this city has one of the best collections of Indian baskets in the state. For years he has been collecting the baskets and has them in many artistic designs. Al one time Mr. Stanley had over two hundred Indian baskets, which were very much admired. On Thursday when a Press Democrat reporter passed the undertaking parlors of M. S. Davis on Fourth street, Mr. Stanley was silting amidst a group of the dark gentlemen examining some of their handiwork in the shape of baskets. One of the little baskets which the Indians had, upon which probably work had been put on and off for three months or so, could have been bought for about ten dollars.

– Press Democrat, March 26 1898

At the Stanley Residence

At the residence of Mrs. J. P. Stanley about the last of this month, tbe ladies of ths Congregational church will hold an art exhibition, that is Mr. Stanley has consented to let them show off the many wonderful curios in the art line to he found at his home. Mr. Stanley has probably one of ths finest collections of Indian baskets on the Pacific coast, worth hundreds of dollars. Of tnese beautiful baskets he has over one hundred specimens. Then he has a number of paintings by the “Turner of America,” Keith; and also by Latimer and other artists. The art exhibition at Mr. Stanley’s should and will be a fine event.

– Press Democrat, May 7 1898

Art Exhibit at Mr. Stanley’s

On Friday afternoon and evening of this week the ladies of the Congregational church have an art exhibition at the residence of Mr. J. P. Stanley. This exhibit should prove a great attraction and should be well patronized, for everything choice in the art line will be on view. Mr. Stanley’s splendid collection of Indian baskets, the famous paintings which adorn the walls of his home, and other curios of endless variety and worth, will all be fonnd worthy of inspection, and the opportunity given should be embraced.

– Press Democrat, May 25 1898

THE ART EXHIBIT
Beautiful Display at the Home of J. P. Stanley
The Exhibition Will Remain Open this Afternoon and Evening—A Grand Success

Art in perfection was shown at the exhibition held under the auspices of the ladies of the Congregational church, at the pretty home of Mr. J. P. Stanley on Friday afternoon and evening. Rather, it should be said, Mr. Stanley kindly allowed the ladies the freedom of his “museum,” for such every room in the house could well be named, to exhibit to the public the many rare specimens in art collected by him, and in that way, by charging a small admittance fee, benefit their church.

Owing to the unpropitious weather the attendance on Friday was small. Realising that many who otherwise would have attended were prevented from doing so by the rain, the ladies have decided to keep the exhibit open Saturday afternoon and evening, when all who can should attend.

The exhibit is very nicely arranged in three rooms, not forgetting the elegant display in the hall.

Adorning the walls of the rooms are masterpieces of such renowned artists as Latimer, Keith, Deacon, Holdridge, Edmondson and Prof. Davenport, and some excellent work by Miss Edith Olson of this city.

Then there is to be seen one of the finest displays of Indian basket work in ths west, composed of scores of baskets of endless variety, made by Indians of many tribes; a display of minerological specimens from every quarter of the globe, a rare collection of antique china, and other delights of the antiquarian. Too much praise cannot be bestowed on the whole exhibit.

– Press Democrat, May 28 1898

A Unique Present

On Wednesday J.P. Stanley received a unique specimen to add to his famous museum of Indian relics. His friend, Dr. Hudson of Ukiah, sent him a “cowtee,“ or Indian dress made of bark. Mr. Stanley prizes this addition to his treasures very highly.

– Press Democrat, October 22 1898

Inspected Mr. Stanley’s Collection

Curator Wycomb, director of the Park museum, at San Francisco, spent Wednesday in Santa Rosa, the guest of J. P. Stanley. Mr. Wycomb came up to inspect Mr. Stanley’s fine collection of curios, and on Wednesday afternoon went up to Ukiah to see Dr. Hudson’s famous collection of Indian baskets.

– Press Democrat, January 28 1899

 Dr. Hudson of Ukiah, the well known expert on Indian baskets and relics, was the guest of J. P. Stanley.

– Press Democrat, September 13 1899

Amadee Joullin Visits Santa Rosa

Amedee Joullin [sic: Amédée Joullin], the famous painter of Indian life was in town on Thursday to Inspect J. P. Stanley’s splendid collection of Indian baskets and other curios. He was very much pleased. In conversation with a reporter Mr. Joullin said that Mr. Stanley’s collection of Indian baskets was certainly the most marvelous he had ever seen. He said he doubted very much if there was a more complete collection anywhere. In some of the baskets he said he found exquisite color blending. The other curios in the collection are very good. Such a collection, the visitor said, was worthy of a prominent place in one of the national museums. While in this city Mr. Joullin was the guest of C. H. E. Hardin at the Hardin residence on Fifth street. He returned to San Francisco on the afternoon train to be present at the reception given Bernard, the distinguished French architect, whose plans were accepted for the new buildings at the State University.

– Press Democrat, December 16 1899

Mr. Stanley’s Indian Baskets

J. P. Stanley was in Petaluma Wednesday in connection with Miss Connolly’s funeral. While there the Argus says that be sold his second collection of Indian baskets and relics to a representative of Mrs. Hearst. Some time ago Mr. Stanley sold his fine collection of baskets and curios for the art museum in Golden Gate park. He at once commenced work on a second collection and had gathered together a large quantity of baskets when Mrs. Hearst’s agent came along in quest of baskets. The agent was greatly taken by Mr Stanley’s collection and made him a good offer for it. In about a week the deal was closed and now Mr. Stanley is free to again commence a collection.

– Press Democrat, July 25 1901

Indian Baskets Bought by Mrs. Hearst

PETALUMA, July 27.– J. P. Stanley, a well-known collector of Indian baskets and curios, has sold his splendid collection of baskets and curios, has sold his splendid collection of baskets to Mrs. Phebe Hearst. Mrs. Hearst will donate the collection to the State University Museum. Dr. Philips Mills Jones secured the collection for Mrs. Hearst.

– San Francisco Chronicle, July 28, 1901

Mrs. Smith of San Francisco, a well known collector of Indian baskets was in town on Saturday.

Professor Wilcomb, curator of the Park Museum, San Francisco, was in town on Saturday, the guest of J. P. Stanley.

– Press Democrat, September 29 1901

Dr. J. W. Hudson of Ukiah. an authority on Indian relics and baskets, was the guest of J. P. Stanley on Wednesday.

– Press Democrat, May 22 1902

MAY BE INDIAN IDOL
Curious Specimen of the Ancients Unearthed while Man Was Plowing

While engaged in plowing on his place on the Guerneville road, three miles from this city, a few days ago, H. T. Noel unearthed what is considered to have been an idol of the nomadic tribes of Indians who formerly roamed about this country at will. It is a well preserved head and face presumably of an Indian god, carved in stone, with well defined features. Mr. J. P. Stanley, who is an authority on Indian habits as well as their skilful work along the lines of art, and others are of the opinion that the article discovered, which is now on exhibition at the Press Democrat office, is a valuable specimen.

– Press Democrat, January 28 1904

H. H. MOKE ASSUMES CONTROL OF BUSINESS

It is rumored on the best of authority that Herbert Henry Moke of the undertaking establishment of M. S. Davis will shortly assume control of the business by the retirement of its old and esteemed head, Mr. Davis. Mr. Davis has been in business here for thirty years and no man is better known or more generally respected than he is. He feels, however, that he would like to take a rest from business cares. Mr. Moke has been with Mr. Davis since boyhood and thoroughly understands the business in all its details. Mr. John P. Stanley, who has been connected with the establishment for many years will remain with Mr. Moke after he has taken over the business. It is rumored that the deal will be consummated in a day or two.

– Press Democrat, January 4 1905

The presence of Governor and Mrs. Pardee has added interest to several of the parties of last week, notably the dinner at the Woodward residence, and Mr. Spencer’s euchre party on Tuesday evening. Mrs. Pardee is especially interested in Indian baskets, and during her visit here, she visited Mr. John P. Stanley’s rooms with Mrs. Henry Hahmann, and enjoyed Mr. Stanley’s, collection of Indian curios and fine paintings.

– Press Democrat, December 17 1905

J P Stanley to H H Moke, July 27 07 —all int, rights and privileges in Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery.

– Press Democrat, July 31 1907

NOTED INDIAN PANITER A VISITOR IN THIS CITY

Dr. Hudson of Ukiah, accompanied by his wife, Grace Hudson, a noted Indian painter, were visitors in Santa Rosa yesterday, and were guests of John P. Stanley, an old-time friend of theirs. They witnessed the coronation of Queen Nancy, and will participate In the festivities today.

– Press Democrat, May 16 1908

BUYING INDIAN BASKETS
J. P. Stanley Disposes of a Number of Fine Specimens of Indian Work

Miss Grace Nicholson and A. Hartman of Pasadena, were in this city on Monday and while here bought from J. P. Stanley a number of Indian baskets and curios. The Pasadenans are traveling through this section. and in Mendocino and Lake counties buying baskets, etc. Miss Nicholsen buys for the collection in several of the large eastern museums. On Sunday she and Mr. Hartman, her brother-in-law, were in Healdsburg.

– Press Democrat, August 14 1908

J. P. STANLEY QUITE ILL AT HIS HOME

…Mr. Stanley, up to the present time, has led a very active life, despite his age, and it is hoped that this factor in a measure will help his recovery. Up to the fore part of the present year he has made regular trips to and from his business in Santa Rosa, hardly missing a day, and his genial face has been sadly missed by those who make the daily ride…

– Sebastopol Times, May 25, 1917

GRAND OLD MAN HEARS SUMMONS TO FINAL REST
James P. Stanley Crosses Great Divide Thursday Evening After Day of Unconsciousness at His Hill Home in Sebastopol.

AS GOOD and kindly a soul as ever breathed passed from earth into the presence of its Maker when John P. Stanley died on Thursday night.

 Nearly eighty-four years of age when the end came, his had been an active life almost up to the last. Of course, as legions of his friends will remember, the past few years he had manifested bodily weakness, but still his mind was bright and clear and he look pleasure in the things of life.

 Hundreds of friends today will pause as they read the death notice of the grand old man and will remember many of his kindnesses. For years his business had brought him In touch with hundreds of sorrow stricken hearts and on such occasions he was ever to the fore with the word that brought solace.

During the latter months of his life Mr. Stanley had suffered several severe illnesses and had more than once been in the shadowland, returning to diminished health and strength with the same, kindly smile and the same spirit of thankfulness that friends were so kind and attentive.

Wednesday night Mr. Stanley relapsed into unconsciousness and remained in this state until the end came on Thursday night in his attractive little bungalow on the hillside in Sebastopol, just across from his old and true friend. Arthur B. Swain, the latter and his good wife always most attentive to see that he had the little things that made life happier for him.

The deceased was a great lover of art. He was a warm friend of Artist William Keith, Mrs. Grace Hudson and Artist L P. Latimer and on numerous occasions they presented him with some of their choice paintings. Other artists had a firm friend in Mr. Stanley. As late as Christmas he received as a gift two of Keith’s pictures and a Hudson painting. He was an art connoisseur and many valuable works of art adorned his rooms. He was a great lover of pictures and antiques, old furniture and the like. He was also a profound lover of Nature and particularly her flower gifts. For years the Stanley garden here raised rare and magnificent chrysanthemums and other blossoms and they were his delight.

He was a friend to all alike. He loved children and young people and was never so pleased as when he was in their company. He used to tell the writer years ago that he liked to be in the company of young people. To this association he attributed his wonderful vigor when three score and ten had passed.

Years ago the deceased’s wife passed away here and her death was a great sorrow for the pioneer. He is survived by a son, James P. [sic] Stanley, and a grandson. Other relatives survive and are in the east.

In the death of Mr. Stanley Santa Rosa and Sebastopol and the community generally has lost an honored and upright citizen and all hope that there was an abundant entrance for his soul into the realms that are brighter than day as a toward for his uprightness of life and his smoothing of the pathway of sadness for so many while here below.

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

John Preston Stanley was a native of Massachusetts and was born June 16 1834. His early years were spent on a farm but he later became a jeweler and came to California in 1858, settling In Amador county, at a place called “Olita,” an Indian word meaning “home.”

He remained there in business until 1867 when he went to Sutter creek and was in business there until 1873 when he went to Salinas and embarked in the furniture and undertaking business.

Mr. Stanley came to Santa Rosa in 1883 and engaged in the hardware business with two well-known residents of that day, under the firm name of Stanley, Neblett & Julliard, being located at Second and Main streets, the center of business activities of the city. His old partner, C. V. Julliard, passed away only a few weeks ago. [sic: The man involved was W. B. Stanley, not John, and that business failed in 1880]

He was for many years with the late M. S. Davis in the undertaking business and remained with the Welti Bros., when the latter purchased the business after the fire of 1906 up to within a few months ago when he was compelled to give up active life.

He became well known through his interest in art, his fine collection of paintings by California masters and his collection of Indian basketry and Indian relics.

The fire of 1906 had destroyed his then fine collection. among which were several fine Keiths, a loss that can never be replaced. Mr. Stanley at once began another collection and through his wide acquaintance was able to get a notable gallery together at his home in Sebastopol.

He was married in 1871 to Emily Goodwin of San Francisco, who died in 1896. One son survives, James F. Stanley. Deceased was a member of the Odd Fellows fraternity for more than 53 years and was a past grand of Salinas (California) lodge.

– Press Democrat, January 11 1918

J. P. STANLEY IS AT FINAL REST
Remains Taken to Mt. Olivet Cemetery Monday Following Funeral Services in Odd Fellow Hall Sunday.

The remains of the late John P. Stanley were taken to San Francisco and laid to their final rest in Mt. Olivet cemetery, as requested by the deceased before his death.

The funeral in Odd Fellows’ hall Sunday afternoon was very largely attended by members of the Congregational church and Santa Rosa Lodge of Odd Fellows, the two organizations under whose auspices the services were held and the many friends of the deceased…

– Press Democrat January 15 1918

TRIBUTE TO LATE JOHN P. STANLEY

Attorney Rolfe L. Thompson, an old and valued friend of decedent, delivered the eulogy which is remarkable for the temperateness with which the many and varied virtues of Mr. Stanley were exploited. He said in part:

[..]

His little bungalow on the hill overlooking Sebastopol, surrounded with a luxury of plants and flowers; embellished within by an unusual selection of antique furniture; an assortment of Indian baskets and curios, and rare paintings from the brushes of Keith, Latimer, Welch, Hudson and a number of other famous artists, was a veritable dream of comfort and pleasure, where his many friends were always welcome, and where they frequently enjoyed the hospitality of this grand and kindly man…

…Those who were fortunate enough to have visited his apartments in this city before the earthquake will recall with astonishment the rare and valuable canvasses from the brushes of noted artist which he then possessed; and the collection of Indian baskets probably never elsewhere equaled, and which was sold to Mrs. Heart for thousands of dollars.

These strange and silent children of nature – the basket-makers – were one and all his friends. They trusted and loved him. These great and famous artists were his personal friends, and highly prized his friendship. When the earthquake destroyed the business portion of our little city, he walked out of his rooms over a shattered pile of bricks and timbers, leaving behind him $20,000 worth of canvases to be consumed by the fury of the flames that swept the district. He loved his pictures, and the loss was a sad blow to him. But he soon accumulated – not so large or valuable – but a rare collection indeed. These, and memory, are all that is now left to us…

…Officiating as he has for many years in the burial of thousands of the dead, none could surpass him in the grace, the precision and the nice little details with which he ingratiated himself into the hearts of the bereaved families. With deft hands he arranged the tributes of flowers; with silent tread, well modulated voice and genuine sympathy he moved about and performed his task. It seemed marvelous that one who had experienced the trials attendant upon that now picturesque journey across the plains by means of the historic old prairie schooner and ox team; the rough life of the mining camps in the days of ’49, and the harrowing ordeal of caring for the dead, that it is possible to preserve so happy a disposition; such a love for art and literature and flowers and antiques, and such a genuine sympathy and pleasure in the company of his fellow men, as he possessed…

– Sebastopol Times, January 18, 1918

Read More

aprilfoolFB

WHO’S THE APRIL FOOL?

Whatever else is in your family history, you can count on this: Your great -great (-great?) -grandpa probably was a wild little terrorist.

Several articles have appeared here earlier describing the bedlam of Hallowe’en in the years around 1900-1910, as boys prowled the streets in search of opportunities to inflict damage. Most common was removing front yard gates (sawing them off, if necessary) and hiding them some distance away. Other popular vandalisms included throwing paint on buildings, trampling gardens and dismantling a wagon or buggy. One year the Santa Rosa Republican suggested “parental floggings” and Petaluma had “special officers in plain clothes and bicycle police” on patrol. Still, it was worse in other places and some newspapers took to printing tallies of Hallowe’en deaths, which were usually caused by pranksters being shot as prowlers.

Hallowe’en tricks like gate stealing began appearing in the papers in the mid 1890s, but before that Hallowe’en hooliganism was rare; Oct. 31 was all about parties, costumed or not, and there was often dancing as most of these soirées were for young adults. Kids apparently kept to themselves after dark, whispering frightful stories about haunted places and divining their futures with Hallowe’en charms. (“…if you swallow a thimbleful of salt repeat a verse of poetry and go backward into bed, you will see your fate.” – Petaluma Courier, Oct. 29, 1884.)

But these kids in late Victorian America weren’t any better behaved than the ones who followed – they were probably worse. The only difference was that they conducted their mayhem on April Fool’s Day instead.

San Francisco Call, April 2, 1900

 

 

The worst was probably on April 1 in 1897, when about twenty boys ransacked Santa Rosa High School, trashing furniture and lab equipment. They were caught only because they were stupid enough to ring the school bell, drawing the attention of police.

The Petaluma Argus wrote in 1884 that “a mob of young hoodlums” with boys as young as eight were roaming the streets, ripping off front gates, trampling flowers and terrifying residents with tic-tac noisemakers (a homemade gizmo described in depth in one of the earlier Hallowe’en items). The town was being held under siege by its own children: “…A house cannot be left vacant for a short time without having number of windows broken out by boys, and during the fruit season trees are broken and fruit destroyed through pure deviltry.”

In the same issue Carrie Carlton, the Sonoma Democrat’s correspondent in Petaluma, wrote that April 2 was “the day that the Petaluma small boy feels the bad effects of late hours, having sat up until midnight or thereabouts trying to accomplish the big job of unhinging all the gates in town and piling them up promiscuously where least likely to be found; the day that lone women may be seen walking forlornly through the streets looking for that which is lost and cannot be found…”

Most of the April Fool jokes popular back then are still familiar. The victim is tricked into eating soap/something else that tastes foul (or inhaling something that causes a sneeze). A prank letter lures victims into an embarrassing comedy of errors. Coins are glued to sidewalks, or a dollar bill is tied to a string. A load of manure is ordered to be delivered to the victim’s home. A pat on the back means the victim now wears a sign reading, “kick me” (or worse). There is a frightening surprise – an exploding cigar, a mouse in the sugar bowl.

Some of the old tricks are long out of fashion. A passerby is asked to help by picking up a package, unaware that the box is attached to a fire hydrant or other immoveable object. As it was apparently the habit back then to kick hats lying on the sidewalk, jokesters put bricks underneath. And in the horse and buggy days it was considered funny to con a victim into running a time-wasting errand. The latter probably faded in popularity after it was widely reported in 1886 that a guy named Tom Rogers sent a message to the doctor in Kaufman, Texas concerning a woman gravely ill three miles out in the country. The doctor made the trip and discovered he hadn’t been called. Boiling with rage over the stupid prank, he returned to town and viciously stabbed Rogers to death.

April Fool’s Day wasn’t limited to kids, although the age cutoff for gate theft and noisemaking seemed to be about 18. Most famous among the local grownup pranksters was “Doc” Cozad, who once phoned lots of men and told them to don their best suit and rush to the Press Democrat office because the paper wanted photos of prominent citizens. (For April Fool’s Day in 1907 the tables were turned when some of Santa Rosa’s movers-and-shakers surprised him with a perfectly choreographed prank).

What’s surprising is how often adults seemed to attempt actual crimes only to claim, “April Fool!” when caught, like the fellow in Philadelphia who was interrupted during an armed robbery and claimed he was just kidding. On April 1, 1876, a man went to the Santa Rosa Bank to deposit a roll of $20 silver coins in a wrapper from the Savings Bank of Santa Rosa. When the roll was weighed it was found to be slightly lighter than expected, so it was unwrapped and revealed to be simply an iron bar. “Serious results might have followed this very trick,” commented the Sonoma Democrat. In 1910 two autos in Santa Rosa were stolen and driven away for joy rides. Although the cars weren’t returned until one of them got stuck on a country road and had to be towed back to town, “a visit to the police station was threatened, but nothing came of it,” according to the Press Democrat. Try any of those stunts today and see if the “hey, it was just April Fool!” excuse still works.

Hallowe’en and April Fool’s Day switched places as the most riotous children’s holidays near the turn of the century, and April 1 mostly settled down to being more of an excuse for a party or dance – although I’ll bet guests sometimes eyed the refreshments suspiciously, wondering if the eclairs might actually be filled with soap. Aside from ads for such get-togethers, the newspapers most often declared the day passed without incident except for “usual” April Fool pranks.

Likely the last truly original trick happened in 1932 when an Argus-Courier staff writer received an important call. He dutifully took notes and at the appointed time, used a handkerchief to cover his desk telephone and sat back, patiently waiting for the phone company to blow all the dust out of the line.

San Francisco Call, April 2, 1901

 

April Fool. —Everybody was on the look-out on Saturday last, April fool’s day, to victimize any person or persons that came within their jurisdiction. Several very good jokes were perpetrated, the best one of which was the sending of a number of parties to the stable of James P. Clark to see a certain blooded animal which bad been lately imported here. Jim showed the “thoroughbred” to all who applied, and the joke was fully appreciated.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 8 1871
 An April Fool Joke.

All Fools’ Day came as usual and was numbered in the past. Many pranks were played on unsuspecting individuals and which were innocent in their character, but one person whose name has not yet been called to mind, thought to take advantage of an innocent custom and turn an honest penny at the time of creating merriment by the joke. So the said unknown individual procured a bar of iron of the dimensions of a twenty-dollar silver roll and wrapped the same carefully and neatly up in a paper having the card of the Savings Bank of Santa Rosa upon it, and passed it in to the cashier of that institution, who in turn passed it to Mr. Prindle and he to Mr. Gray, and he to Mr. Hopper. Mr. Hopper took it to the Santa Rosa Bank to deposit it when it was placed upon the scales and found to be some two or three dollars light. Then Mr. Hopper unrolled the paper and the bar of iron was exposed to open day, and Hopper was hopping mad. Mr. Gray returned it to the Savings Bank, and there the joke ended. This is carrying a joke rather beyond the limits, and serious results might have followed this very trick.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 8 1876

About one o’clock Sunday morning the fire bell commenced ringing, causing the few people who were awake at that hour to hurry out in the streets in order to ascertain where the fire was. The bell had only rung a few times, however, when it suddenly ceased, and a conviction slowly dawned upon the minds of the alarmed ones that they had been sold. “April fool!”

– Sonoma Democrat, April 7 1883
Carrie Carlton’s Letter. Petaluma, April 1st.

The day that the Petaluma small boy feels the bad effects of late hours, having sat up until midnight or thereabouts trying to accomplish the big job of unhinging all the gates in town and piling them up promiscuously where least likely to be found; the day that lone women may be seen walking forlornly through the streets looking for that which is lost and cannot be found; the day that the principal of our public schools generally gets the biggest dose of April Fool! And just here we are reminded by the presentation of another of those ominous little notes that have been fluttering down upon us all the morning, that it is the day in which you are immensely fooled as to the amount of money you owe people…

– Sonoma Democrat, April 5 1884
Malicious Mischief.

It has been the habit for several years past, in this city, on the eve of April 1st for a mob of young hoodlums to parade through the principal residence streets and commit misdemeanors that should not be allowed to go unpunished. On Monday evening last a large number of boys, ranging from eight years up to eighteen, were out until a late hour taking gates from their hinges and carrying them several blocks from where they belonged. They also rang door bells, played tic-tac and similar tricks. There is nothing funny or smart in any of these April fool jokes and this sort of nonsense has been allowed to go unpunished so long that the boys pay no regard to personal rights or property of others. No one objects to boys having all the fun they want so long as they confine themselves to harmless sports, but when a band of young hoodlums go around unhinging gates, tramping through flower gardens and indulging in like malicious mischief it is time that they be stopped. There is certainly a law against this sort of mischief and it should be enforced. It would be a very salutary lesson if a few of the boys engaged in this business were arrested and fined. If parents will allow their children to run around at night and indulge in all sorts of mischief unrebuked, it would be fitting for the City Marshal to attend to that branch of precocious youths’ educations. A house cannot be left vacant for a short time without having number of windows broken out by boys, and during the fruit season trees are broken and fruit destroyed through pure deviltry. It is a poor protection to persons trying to beautify their premises to allow every small boy in town to steal gates and carry them away and tramp among the flowers like a wild animal. There was once an ordinance in this city compelling boys under eighteen years of age to keep off of the street after eight o’clock, evening, but it must have been repealed as the boys are out in full force every night long after that hour.

– Petaluma Weekly Argus, April 5, 1884

“April fool’s” day was an inglorious one for many. It was from morning till night that people could be seen doing decoy errands or carrying attractive placards on their backs. These idiotic jokes might have provoked a little fun in the days of the royal jester, but in this age of civilization it is amazing how many unhung sots there are who made themselves conspicuous figures on the first of the month by their silly, chestnutty and daft perpetrations.

– Healdsburg Tribune, April 4 1895
SOME WERE WISE OTHERS FOOLISH
SOME APRIL FOOL JOKES HAVE BEEN PERPETRATED ON THE UNWARY
Many Citizens Saw to it That Their Front Gates Were Moved to a Place of Safety

On Thursday evening many citizens mindful of the coming of the April fool joker removed the front gates leading into their yards to a place of safety until the time when the old time declaration, “April Fool’s Day is past,” etc., should arrive and the danger of molestation should have passed. Others forgot the advent of the joker and in consequence they may find their gate in somebody elses back yard.

Early Thursday evening some jokers must have been at work in the vicinity of the High School building, judging from the appearance of a buggy on the porch over the basement entrance to the building. No one seemed to know how it got there.

A well known citizen on Humboldt street chancing to go into his yard for a moonlight stroll discovered that had unawares become a florist. On the front lawn a sign had been reared bearing the legend, “Pansies for Sale.”

At Fifth and Humboldt streets some one found a chair suspended from a pole.

On Humboldt one of the street cars left outside the barn was propelled by hand power at a quicker clip down the track that the equine strength usually forming the motive power could have done.

A great many people and the officers on the outside beats kept on the lookout for the enacting of jokes which partook of too serious an aspect. It is reasonable to suggest that after the first few moments after the discovery of a missing gate or what not, the discomfiture of feelings will give way to the realization that “boys will be boys.”

– Press Democrat, April 1 1904

The usual trick April fool packages decorated the sidewalks in the business streets on Thursday and quite a number of local people “bit.” The brick in the hat was also very much in evidence.

– Petaluma Argus-Courier, April 1, 1909

A well known local man ate some soap on Monday under the impression it was candy. Another man tried in vain to talk through the telephone which had been doctored up so that he could not get central. Numerous other pranks were played.

– Petaluma Argus-Courier, April 1, 1909
APRIL FOOL JOKE TURNS ON JOKER

Some time last night two automobiles were found to be missing by their respective owners. A hunt was made for the machines. It transpired that after all the supposed theft was an April fool joke. Two jubilant youths took the cars for the joke of the thing, invited friends to accompany them and drive out into the country. The joke was turned on one of them, at least. His machine “got stuck” out on the Sonoma road, and a telephone message had to be sent to town for some one to come out and haul the car in. At first a visit to the police station was threatened, but nothing came of it.

– Press Democrat, April 2 1910
POLICE HAVE ORDERS TO ARREST DISTURBERS

Chief of Police Boyes has issued orders to his officers to see that the law is strictly obeyed in regards to the interference of private property particularly on April Fool’s eve. The practice of past years in removing gates, etc., will not be tolerated and the police department wish the public to take heed to this warning as it will he strictly enforced. A great many complaints have been received regarding this practice and the officers are going to put a stop to it.

– Press Democrat, March 30 1917

 

 

Read More