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THE SISTER OF THE WHITEWASH MAN (Hidden Lives II)

Quiz: Name the successful woman in 1870s Santa Rosa who was a real estate investor. Answer: It’s a trick question (sorry!) because we don’t know her real name. Oh, and by the way: She was a former slave.

On her tombstone at Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery she is Elizabeth Potter. Legally she was C. E. Hudson, which was the only name on her will and how she bought and sold land – except for once when she identified herself as Charlotte E. Hudson. The 1860 census named her as Elizabeth Hudson, and her death notice in the local newspaper stated she was known as Lizzie Hudson. Whatever her name, Elizabeth/Charlotte Potter/Hudson was a remarkable woman. The reason you’ve never heard of her before is certainly because she was African-American and Santa Rosa’s 19th century Democrat paper had a single-minded determination to erase the presence of its black citizens, only mentioning them when there was a shot at grinding them down with ridicule.

(This is the second installment in the series, “THE HIDDEN LIVES OF BLACK SANTA ROSA.” It will be helpful to read the introduction for background.)

Most of what we know about her comes from her tombstone and mentions in her brother’s obituary (there was no obituary for her – she received only that two-line “Lizzie” death notice, which appeared for a single day). From real estate transactions we can guess her net worth was about $7,000 before she died in 1876; at that time in Sonoma County, $10k was the threshold for being considered wealthy.

Her birth name was almost certainly Elizabeth Potter and she was born a slave in Maryland, 1826. Bondage ended when she escaped a slaveholder in Virginia and somehow made her way to Santa Rosa, California. Speculate if you want that “Hudson” was related to a deceased husband, but note she never once used “Mrs.” with any form of her name, as was the custom at the time for widows.

We first meet her locally as Elizabeth Hudson in the 1860 census, where she is part of the household of civil rights activist John Richards, counted as a servant. (A servant was defined as a paid domestic worker.) She was listed as 37 years old and from Maryland. But a few days later, she was listed a second time as a servant for John H. Holman – but this time from Virginia. A double-count mistake like that is unusual, but not all that rare; the respondent for the household was almost certainly one of the Holmans and not Elizabeth herself.

potterplotRIGHT: The Potter family plot at Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

After the Civil War she managed to reach her older brother who had remained in captivity until emancipation, having been sold four or five times in his fifty-odd years. At her urging, Edmund joined his sister here in 1872 and two years later, they became co-owners of 50+ acres north of town next to the county poor farm. Presumably all or most of the $1,200 price was contributed by Elizabeth (this land deal was the only time she used “Charlotte”).

There Edmund and his wife, Martha, made a small farm. Elizabeth may have lived with them as well; it was where she died in 1876.

Elizabeth knew she was dying and a few months prior sold one of her investment properties for the first time, getting $1,700 for a downtown parcel. She also tried to lure more of her family to Santa Rosa; in a poignant bequest in her will, she offered 13 of an even more valuable lot to “any cousin of mine who may come out from the East and attend me in my last sickness and may be here before my burial.” No one came. When she passed away just before Thanksgiving, her 59 year-old brother Edmund – who could read but not write – inherited everything.

Edmund and Martha’s sunset years looked secure. The parcel he inherited was at the foot of Fifth street (where the Post Office would be built decades later) and sold in 1879 for $3,100, which should have been enough for them to comfortably live on for the rest of their lives. The next year the Potter farm was valuated at $1,600, although they had made no improvements – it was still all meadowland. They had a pig and a couple of dozen chickens.

Tragedy struck as Martha died in a 1880 fire (she fell asleep while smoking) and the Democrat newspaper described her agonizing death in lurid detail. This was not at all unusual – the paper routinely spared no ink in describing how African-Americans died; in the following profile it was even reported the old man was found “partially undressed.” It was another routine exercise in racism, as deaths of white members of the community were almost never treated in such a demeaning manner. And it wasn’t limited to the 19th c. Democrat; the same treatment can be found in the Press Democrat as late as 1911.

whitewasherRIGHT: Illustration from “City Cries: Or, a Peep at Scenes in Town” Philadelphia, 1850

What happened during the next few years is a mystery, but apparently he lost his farm and everything else. No legal notice of the property being sold can be found in any newspaper, nor was there any clue as to what happened to his sizable nest egg. He was next spotted in 1884, when the city paid a bill he submitted for $4.02. That likely meant he was now the whitewash man.

Whitewashing was among the lowest menial jobs traditionally held by 19th century African-Americans. It was messy work particularly as ceilings were often whitewashed but it was not dangerous – ignore internet claims that old-time whitewash contained lead – though there were several variations in the formulas (PDF).

He was now living in town at 528 First street and married again in 1890 to Louisa Hilton, a woman 25 years younger who had four daughters. The minister in the ceremony was Jacob Overton (see intro), one of the Bay Area civil rights activists who had earlier kept John Richards and others here in touch with the movement’s progress. There’s no evidence that Potter or his sister (under any of her names) were actively involved in the fight for equality, but it’s still noteworthy he had some sort of connection with a man as hooked-up as Overton.

Living in Santa Rosa proper exposed the Potters to the unquenched racial hatred that still burned here thirty years after the Civil War. In his collection of character sketches “Santa Rosans I Have Known,” Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley recalled being sent on an errand to ask Potter’s daughter for help with housework at his parent’s house. Finley didn’t know the neighborhood and asked Judge Pressley for directions. (Pressley was the Superior Court judge at the time and an outspoken racist, having infamously once said he came to Santa Rosa “to get away from the carpet-baggers, scalawags and ni***rs of South Carolina.”) Naturally, the judge used the boy’s simple question as an opportunity to throw in a racial slur:


One time while a small boy I was sent down to Uncle Potter’s house to notify the aforesaid daughter that her services would be required at our house the following morning. I had difficulty in finding the place, and as Judge Pressley lived in that neighborhood I rang his doorbell and when he appeared, made inquiry. I must have been somewhat embarrassed or confused, for I said, “Judge Pressley, is there a negro lady who lives somewhere near in this vicinity?” Judge Pressley, a southerner of the old school, replied somewhat testily, “There are no negro ladies living around here, but Uncle Potter’s house is just around the corner and I think you will find Mandy or her mother at home.”

His “Uncle Potter” nickname probably emerged soon after he moved to Santa Rosa, and make no mistake, this was not a term of endearment or respect as “Tío” is used in Spanish-speaking cultures. In Jim Crow America, addressing an older African-American man as “uncle” was just the flip side of calling a younger adult “boy.”

As noted in the intro, racism in Santa Rosa’s Democrat newspaper during the later 19th century was usually passive – ignoring the existence of people like Elizabeth Potter and less often flinging around “n word” type slurs. Not so with Edmund Potter; the paper portrayed the 80 year-old man as the town’s laughable resident character.

“Uncle Potter” first appeared in the Democrat on April 13, 1895: “De trouble wid de ladders ob success in use now-er-days,” said Uncle Potter at his home on First street, “am dat they ain’ strong enough in de j’ints. When yoh gets pooty clos ter de top, dey’s liable ter break and drap yer.” Over the following 2½ years there would be dozens more of these aphorisms, metaphors and snarky quips about politicians, all written in pseudo-plantation patois – Gentle Reader may be justly skeptical that a literate man born in Maryland would speak like a Mississippi field hand. More examples:

“De man dat calls hisself a fool will nebbah forgive another for agree!n’ wid him.” “When yoo poke a toad philosophically you can’t tell which way he will jump nor how far, an’ its about the same way wid de avrage jury.” “Politicians am like corkscrews, de mo’ crooked dey am, de stronger their pull.” “De man ain’t been born dat kin live an’ love on bad cookin’. Good cookin’ keeps lub in de house much longer’n good looks.” “Political economy seems to me it’s a sickness kinder like the grip. It comes on with a weakness fer office, and you can’t get shet of it, no way. Bime by it brings on a third-term fit — that’s skeery, I tell you, and there ain’t no economy in that fer po’ folks who do the votin’, and there ain’t no economy for the other fellow, for he ginrally gets beat any way.”

The blame for this shameful “humor” falls entirely on Robert A. Thompson, brother of the paper’s founder and Confederate flag-waver, Thomas L. Thompson. Robert was editor and publisher of the Democrat in those final years before it was sold to Ernest Finley & Co. in 1897. He’s since been portrayed as a serious scholar for having written two important early histories of the county and town.*

What Robert was doing in the mid-1890s was just an updated version of what his brother did with racially-charged language a generation before – titillating the white supremacists in the paper’s audience. Readers would have recognized the “Uncle Potter” dialect and backwoods insights as being in step with the popular “Lime-Kiln Club” stories of the 1880s, several of which appeared in the Democrat and were collected in a 1882 top-selling book, “Brother Gardner’s Lime-kiln Club”. With foolish characters such as Pickles Smith, Boneless Parsons and Elder Dodo, the stories portray African-Americans as dimwitted and/or childlike, seeking (and failing) to mimic whites and white society. And, of course, watermelons were stolen. When teaching about the history of Jim Crow, the destructive impact of this white superiority crap in popular culture merits far more attention than it gets, in my opinion.

potterportraitRIGHT: Drawing of Edmund Potter from the Sonoma Democrat, July 25 1896

While the Lime-Kiln Club was fictional, “Uncle Potter” was not. Edmund Pendleton Potter was a very real, very elderly man trying to make a subsistence living to support himself and his stepdaughters – his second wife had died in 1895, just a week after the first “Uncle Potter” item appeared. Everybody in this small town would have known the whitewash man by sight, and it seems likely the clever sayings attributed to him would have made him target for cruel boys and mean drunks seeking to bully someone for sadistic kicks. Any torment could only have gotten worse after the Democrat printed a drawing of him the following year along with a description that “…He has a keen wit which he punctuates with the apt originality pertaining to his race… He is quite a character and an entertaining talker. Like all his race he has a lively imagination and a highly developed emotional nature…” It was an invitation for people to expect him to perform on request.

Edmund Potter lived to be 91, dying in 1908 and continued whitewashing up to his final day. Obituaries appeared in both the Republican and Press Democrat, although neither paper could be bothered to get his first name right. He is buried in the Rural Cemetery, Main Circle 1, next to Elizabeth and his two wives, although he has no grave marker. His funeral service was conducted by Jacob Overton, the rights activist who had a recurring role in his life which was never explained.


* Robert A. Thompson, brother of Thomas L. Thompson, was County Clerk 1877-1884, then appointed U.S. Merchandise Appraiser in San Francisco 1885-1892. He ran for Secretary of State in 1898 and lost by 0.7% of the vote; he said he would call for a recount but nothing became of it, perhaps due to the expense or because Democratic party officials wanted no part in would have been the first contested office in state history. He first edited the Democrat in 1871 and apparently continued to be involved sporadically until it was sold in 1897. Robert authored two well-regarded local histories and an essay on the Bear Flag Revolt, all of which are available online. At his death he was working on a history of California. Thompson had a renowned library which supposedly contained many unique diaries and other primary sources, but what happened to it is unknown (my personal belief is the family donated it to the California Historical Society in San Francisco and it was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake). He died Aug. 3 1903 and is buried in the Rural Cemetery Main Circle 184.

Top photo: Pamela Fowler Sweeney/findagrave.com
 

NEXT: HENRY W. DAVISON
 

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HUDSON-Near Santa Rosa, Nov. 21, 1876, Lizzie Hudson (colored), aged about 50 years. Funeral from her late residence tomorrow (Tuesday) at 2 o’clock. Friends are requested to attend.

– Daily Democrat, November 20 1876

 

BURNED TO DEATH.—On Sunday afternoon, May 23rd, Mrs. Martha Potter, wife of Edward Potter, a colored man who lives on a ranch near the Poor Farm, fell asleep with a pipe in her mouth, from which her clothes caught fire, burning her so severely that she died from the effects on Saturday evening. Her husband, who was asleep in an adjoining room, heard her struggling with the flames and going to her assistance, tore the clothes from her person, but she was so severely burned about the abdomen that death resulted as above stated. She was sixty-nine years of age,

– Sonoma Democrat, June 5 1880

 

Mrs. Potter’s Birthday Party.

Mrs. E. Potter celebrated her fifty-second birthday, at her home on First street, Wednesday night. About twenty of her friends and neighbors were present and sat down to a fine supper. Mrs. Potter’s health was toasted and every one wished her many happy returns of the day. Afterwards music and songs were rendered. All those who were fortunate enough to be present at this birthday party will long remember the happy occasion.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 6 1895

 

The above is a picture of Edmund Potter, better known as “Uncle Potter”, a highly respected citizen of Santa Roaa, from an excellent pen sketch made by our artist. Uncle Potter is 76 years old and black as coal but his mind is bright and his heart is as kind as any white man. He has a keen wit which he punctuates with the apt originality pertaining to his race. Uncle Potter was born in Maryland and came to California soon after the war set him free. He has lived in and around Santa Rosa for a number of years. Many of his bright sayings have appeared at various times in the “Gossip” column of the Democrat. He is quite a character and an entertaining talker. Like all his race he has a lively imagination and a highly developed emotional nature, if he had his way he would colonize all the colored race in Africa where they could work out their own destiny by themselves. Uncle Potter is wonderfully well up in the Scriptures and is a strict constructionist of the word. He has built his house of faith upon the rock and not upon the shifting sands of doubt.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 25 1896

 

Edmund Potter, the gentleman of color, better known as Uncle Potter, wants to go to Liberia in Africa, where many men and women of his own race and color are located, who speak the English language. Potter thinks he can do them good and he is circulating a petition to raise money enough for transportation. On his arrival in the dark continent he will devote himself to missionary work.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 13 1897

 

UNCLE POTTER DIES SUDDENLY
Well Known Negro Lived to be 91 Years Old

Edwin Pendleton Potter familiarly known about this city as “Uncle Potter,” the well known negro, passed away suddenly at his home on First street Thursday morning. He was in his usual good health early in the morning and had arisen and was about the house when he was taken with a pain in his back just over the heart. He lay down for a time and seemed to be getting better when he was taken with an attack of coughing and attempted to rise up, but sank back, and his step daughter ran to his side, but it was seen that the end was near. He died in a few minutes and before Dr. G. W. Mallory, who was hurriedly sent for, could arrive.

Deceased was born in Caroline county near Denton, Maryland, and was 91 years of age. He came to California and settled in Santa Rosa in 1872 and has resided here ever since. At the time of the war he had a sister who had been a slave in Virginia, but had run away, and after everything became righted he got into communication with her from this city and it was on her account that he was brought here. He was a slave himself and was sold some four or five times. He was twice married and both his wives were buried in the local cemetery and it was the old man’s wish that he be laid away by their side.

At one time “Uncle Potter” was one of Santa Rosa’s wealthy men and formerly owned the site where the new postoffice is soon to be built. He was also owner at one time of the ranch which is now the county farm and hospital. he was a very active man and right up to the time of his death was engaged in business. He was planning for another job of whitewashing on Wednesday and would have made some of the arrangements about his spray machine today.

“Uncle Potter” was of the Baptist faith but had joined the Holiness band here and was one of Elder Arnold’s great admirers. Hie was a great hand to attend church and took a great interest In religious affairs.

The arrangements for the funeral have not yet been made but will be announced in a day or two.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 4, 1908

 

‘UNCLE’ POTTER HAS GONE TO HIS REST
Aged Colored Man Who Was for Many Years a Resident of Santa Rosa Dies Thursday Morning

“Uncle” Edward Pendelton Potter will no longer be seen trundling his little cart and its whitewash outfit along the streets of Santa Rosa on week days. Neither will he be noticed, dressed in his best black suit and wearing his silk hat, tottering along towards the little Holiness Chapel on Humboldt street where for years he was one of the most regular of Pastor Arnold’s flock on Sunday.

The old colored man, for so many years a noted character about town, is dead. His life of ninety-one years ended suddenly at his humble cottage on First street Thursday morning where a step daughter has kept house for him. A sudden fit of coughing came on, Dr. Mallory was sent for, but before he could reach the house, “Uncle” Potter was no more.

The deceased had lived In Santa Rosa for almost thirty-seven years. Years ago he owned considerable property, but it all slipped through his hands. He was a good old man. and no one could be found about town on Thursday. but what spoke of him kindly, and with words of esteem. He was a Christian and in his humble way he lived his religion. He was a native of Maryland and in the days of slavery he knew what it meant to be sold as a slave four or five times. He was twice married and in the local cemetery he has a family plot where on Sunday afternoon he will he burled. The funeral will take place from Moke’s Chapel at two in the afternoon.

“Uncle” Potter was a very poor man when this world’s gifts are considered. Dr. J. J. Summerfield. as the representative of many of the old man’s friends, who are anxious that he shall be given a decent burial in his own plot, last night started out with a subscription list to collect enough money to have everything neat at the funeral. The people Dr. Summerfield approached last night were only too glad to give a donation towards the burial expenses.

– Press Democrat, June 5 1908

 

“UNCLE” POTTER SLEEPS IN SILENT TOMB

In the family plot in the old cemetery on Sunday afternoon they laid “Uncle” Potter to rest. Many old-time friends of the venerable and respected man gathered at the graveside to witness the last rites. The casket was covered with flowers and these in turn were laid on the newly made grave. The funeral took place from Moke’s chapel and the services were conducted by Elder J. M. Overton.

When the band accompanying the Woodmen’s parade met the funeral procession a halt was called, and while it passed by the band played “Nearer My God to Thee.” The sentiment of the hymn was particularly appropriate in view of the Christian character of the deceased and also because it was one of his favorite hymns.

– Press Democrat, June 9 1908

 

The colored citizens of Santa Rosa offer their heartfelt thanks to Dr. Summerfield and the friends of our departed and much respected fellowman “Uncle Potter,” who so kindly respected his memory with flowers, subscriptions and by giving him a good Christian burial.

The tribute paid by the Santa Rosa band and the W. O. W. touched our hearts. Trying to emulate the life of that grand old Christian, we are, very gratefully.
The Colored Citizens, by
Willis Claybrooks, John W. Dawler, Committee.

– Press Democrat, June 9 1908

 

At the Holiness Chapel at 11 o’clock this morning there will be a memorial service for the late “Uncle” Potter.

– Press Democrat, June 14 1908

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maryharrisjump

THE DEAD GIRL AT FOUNTAINGROVE

On a fine clear winter’s day in January, 1896, Kanaye Nagasawa walked into the office of the Santa Rosa Republican. He must have been a most welcome sight – readers were always interested in the big Fountaingrove vineyard just outside of town – and as a bonus for the newspaper this was right after New Year’s, which is always the sleepiest time of the year for news gathering. Was he bringing in an item about prestigious visitors at the winery, perhaps? That a record-setting number of barrels were sold over the holidays on the East Coast and in England?

Nagasawa brought news, all right, but it came with the request that it be suppressed as much as possible. He likely paid calls on Santa Rosa’s other two daily papers and made the same plea to their editors.1 Thus a day later, in its column of short local items the Republican printed this brief notice, following tidbits about members of the Congregational church having “a real good social time” and Elmer Carter getting a new bicycle:


While laboring under temporary insanity, Miss Mary M. Harris of Helena, Montana, took an overdose of strychnine and died of the same Thursday night at Fountain Grove. A coroner’s inquest was held.

There was no obituary, or even mention that she was only sixteen years old.

THOMAS LAKE HARRIS AND THE FOUNTAINGROVE COLONY

For more on Harris and the colony at Fountaingrove, see “WHEN THE FAIRIES CAME FOR THOMAS LAKE HARRIS” or this overview of his life and beliefs. Read “The Wonder Seekers of Fountaingrove” by Gaye LeBaron and Bart Casey for an excellent profile of this unusual man and a history of Fountaingrove during and after Harris’ leadership.

Nagasawa had good reasons to want the girl’s death kept as quiet as possible; just four years earlier, he and others at Fountaingrove had suddenly found their utopian colony smeared in the national press as being a free-love commune under the sway of a conman who claimed to be the Second Coming of Christ and enjoyed sex with fairies. The titillating stories were exaggerations or outright lies (mostly), and since then the San Francisco newspapers had demonstrated they would use any mention of the winery or Thomas Lake Harris as an excuse to rake the muck again. Who knew how far off the rails they might go once it was revealed that the dead girl was actually the granddaughter of Harris?

His efforts to keep her suicide hush-hush quickly fell apart. A reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle was already on his/her way to Santa Rosa, and the next day would file the first of two articles which included revealing details and a rare interview with Nagasawa. While the Chronicle had some of the most sensationalist coverage over the so-called sex cult exposé back in 1892, this time the reporter was fair and openly sympathetic. The paper did, however, dust off some lurid details about the “House of Mystery” in sidebars, and there are bits of anonymous gossip and commentary which were likely added or embellished by editors to juice up the story.

Shortly before Nagasawa visited the newspaper offices in Santa Rosa, an inquest was held at Fountaingrove. The Coroner’s jury reached a verdict of “death caused from strychnine poisoning by her own hand with suicidal intent, while under despondency.” Part of the mystery surrounding her death concerns that inquest, whose full contents would not be known publicly for several weeks – but before getting into the issues with that, here’s a synopsis of the events as told in the first Chronicle article (transcribed in full below):

Mary Harris was “a very high-strung girl and undoubtedly committed suicide while in one of her fits of temporary insanity,” Nagasawa told the reporter. He continued,


She was very much addicted to outbursts of temper, and while in them was very rude. It became necessary for me to discipline her. I had to lock her in her room Thursday evening. A little later she was heard to scream loudly and repeatedly. Mrs. Parting summoned me, and we went to her room. We found her stretched out on a chair with her arms above her head, writhing in agony. I carried her to bed and tried to quiet her, not thinking she had taken poison. She said she had taken strychnine, and that she had only taken a little in order to scare us. I don’t know why she tried to scare us.
“It was 6:15 P. M. when she took the strychnine, and she died after about three-quarters of an hour of suffering. Before she died she said she had gone to the medicine closet and had taken the strychnine from it. When she said she had taken poison we did not believe her, but she pointed to a package near her and said she only took a little, not enough to kill…For the last four months Mary has been quite out of health and under Dr. Thompson’s treatment. She was subject at times to attacks of insanity, when we watched her with special care, so that she would not injure herself, though we had no real fear that she would.

The Chronicle also interviewed Dr. Charles H. Thompson, the Santa Rosa physician who had cared for the Fountaingrove colony nearly since its beginning and had signed Mary’s death certificate. He did not arrive at the scene until she had been dead for some unspecified period of time (“Miss Harris was dead when he got there and had been dead for some minutes”) and based his cause of death decision on what he was told by Nagasawa and a perfunctory lookover. He did not examine the body, much less conduct an autopsy.

According to Thompson she had been in good health, both physically and mentally. “I never heard that she had fits of insanity. She was a high-strung and high-tempered girl, but I never heard of any attacks of insanity. I believe they had to curb her at times, but did not hear that they had to lock her in her room the other night. As I understand it, she was not locked in, but I believe they did lock her in once before, though that was some months ago.” He later said he had prescribed some sort of medicine for her which was apparently to quell anxiety (hello, laudanum, the Victorian “lady’s friend”).

That article also revealed what little we know about Mary’s background. She was actually 15 years and 7 months old, not sixteen, and had a younger sister who also was at Fountaingrove. They were the daughters of Thomas H. Harris Jr., the youngest of two sons of the mystic.

Both of the Harris sons were deeply estranged from their father; Junior took the name of his mother’s family and started calling himself Leonard Van Arnum, while in 1880, his brother had died en route to California where it’s believed he intended to kill Pops.2

Around 1890 Harris Jr. made some sort of arrangement with his father after the girl’s mother died in Helena, Montana. They were sent to Oakland where they boarded with friends of the colony while attending public school; in 1891 Mary can be spotted on a fourth grade class list with her sister, Pearl, a grade behind. The girls were apparently taken out of school and sent to live at Fountaingrove once Mary completed sixth grade. “They have been with us for the past two and a half years,” Nagasawa told the Chronicle.3

Mary and Pearl did not attend school or social functions in Santa Rosa and few in town knew them; less than a dozen attended Mary’s funeral in the Stanley Addition to Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, all of them connected to Fountaingrove. The absence of contact with other people near her age may have indeed left Mary pitying herself as tragically forlorn, as an anonymous local person (supposedly) opined at the end of the Chronicle article – a notion supported by Nagasawa’s description of Fountaingrove as a busy farm and winery with an attached rest home. There were about twenty members of the original colony still living there and most were elderly. After teenaged Mary and Pearl, the only residents under middle age were a couple of women in their mid to late twenties (the Clarke sisters).

Another theory was voiced anonymously at the end of the article: That Mary may have poisoned herself because she was being forced into an arranged marriage. “It is very possible that some one at Fountain Grove told her that the Father had said she should take some man at the Grove for her partner in life, and that her moral instincts revolted at the idea…I believe that Mary Harris killed herself rather than submit to the embraces of the man who was said to be chosen as her partner for life.”

It seems noteworthy that folks in Santa Rosa were ready to assume it was an intentional suicide, as if 15 year-old girls were routinely killing themselves. Maybe they were persuaded by the effort she made to get the strychnine – which leads to the first real unanswered question: If Mary was locked in her room as punishment over something, how did she obtain the poison from the medicine cabinet? From here on, each new layer of the mystery revealed itself like layers of an unpeeling onion.

“The way in which the people of Fountain Grove tried to conceal the crime has aroused suspicion,” the second Chronicle article noted, raising doubts about how Mary Harris got the poison and disputing whether the girl was insane, as Nagasawa kept saying. Mrs. Emma Parting, the doyenne of the aging little colony, said there was nothing wrong with the teenager aside from occasional “fits of despondency.” It would later come out that Parting was the only person at Mary’s deathbed aside from Nagasawa.

In the day since the paper had first revealed initial details about Mary’s death, the rumor mills in Santa Rosa were now grinding away at full speed: “The belief has become stronger that Miss Harris was forced to suicide rather than submit to a supposed order from the primate of the community.”


While the people of this city have shut their eyes to many things that have occurred at Fountain Grove they are beginning to do a little thinking. As Miss Harris could not have secured possession of the poison had she been locked up she must have gone about the act deliberately. The belief is prevalent here that some repugnant command was forced upon Miss Harris and that rather than submit to it she went to the medicine chest, secured the strychnine, repaired to her room and took the fatal dose.

The Chronicle implied the gossip was about Thomas Lake Harris – then living in New York – pressuring Mary to become the wife of his adopted son, 43 year-old Kanaye Nagasawa. While not addressing the whispering campaign directly, the reporter tossed in a non sequitur paragraph debunking it: “[Nagasawa] has often expressed his views on matrimony and the marital laws of this country. He has said that he does not believe in marriage, but that men and women should select their partners in life as their choice directs them.”4

Drawing of Mary Harris, San Francisco Examiner, January 12 1896
Drawing of Mary Harris, San Francisco Examiner, January 12 1896

 

Despite the unresolved questions about her mental state, the locked door and the strychnine, this story could have ended there since Mary was now buried deep on the hill. But ten days later the San Francisco Examiner produced a Sunday feature: “The Victim of an Ungodly System.” It was classic yellow journalism. It rehashed the twice-told stories of two men who were loosely connected with Harris and who committed suicide years earlier, it darkly hinted about Harris forcing people into marriage and recapped bits of the Chronicle’s coverage, all in the most sensationalist tone possible. Since this appeared in William Randolph Hearst’s flagship Examiner, reprints appeared in more than a dozen other papers. The mysterious death of Mary Harris was now a national news story.

It was probably about that same time when someone at the county courthouse finally bothered to look at the inquest report and noticed several things were amiss. The coroner from Healdsburg hadn’t followed basic rules in requiring witnesses to sign their statements, for starters, and he hadn’t called the only possible expert witness, Dr. Thompson, to testify about her cause and time of death. (The doctor later said he was surprised at not being asked to testify.) The only testimony came from Kanaye Nagasawa and two women who said, yup, we agree with what he said.

And then there was mention in the inquest about the trivial incident when Mary threw herself out a second story window.

The District Attorney’s office called for a Grand Jury to be impaneled as soon as possible to look into all these doings.

Let’s flip the calendar ahead several weeks to reveal the Grand Jury did meet for three days and heard much testimony – yet filed no report on the case. The official statement: “We were also called on to investigate the case of suicide at the Fountaingrove farm, but could not find who was to blame for the young woman’s rash act.”

They were immediately slammed for being a do-nothing Grand Jury and returning zero indictments, even in the scandalous case of an armed robbery of the county treasury where the Treasurer certainly lied about what happened and was likely an accomplice to the theft. The Santa Rosa Democrat reamed the Jury for inaction and ineptitude, particularly when it came to “the Fountaingrove matter:”


The report in that affair is utterly contemptible. They were too cowardly to express any positive opinion after an examination, but content themselves with an innuendo that possibly all may not be right. In effect, they say that Miss Harris might have poisoned herself or she might have been poisoned by the Fountaingrove people. Such a pettifogging subterfuge is neither satisfactory to the public or to the parties who were accused. It only proves the imbecility of the investigators. If they could find nothing suspicious in the death of the young girl they ought to have had the manhood to say so.

Still, many details of testimony leaked out daily, which fleshed out the situation at Fountaingrove. Much remains obscured as if it were viewed through a glass darkly, but combined with info from other sources we can piece together much of what was happening up until the moment when the lethal poison passed her lips.

Gentle Reader is probably asking: Why there was strychnine around the house, much less in the medicine cabinet? Although it apparently didn’t come up as an issue before the Grand Jury, there are many reasons why it might have been there, although any use of it was dangerous and of dubious benefit.

In the late 19th century, much of what passed for medical knowledge was based on pseudoscientific anecdotal evidence; around 1890, small doses of strychnine, compounded with other substances, was variously used as a treatment for indigestion, insomnia, chronic alcoholism, snake bites, asthma, a tetanus vaccine and both as a sleeping potion and an energetic “pick me up” – and these recommendations came from medical journals and pharmaceutical recipe books, not the claims of Doc Cheatum’s Cure-All Tonic. (Don’t feel smug; according to the NIH: “As late as the 1980s, strychnine could still be found in over the counter consumer products such as digestive aids, sedatives, stimulants, and cold remedies”.5)

Much had changed at Fountaingrove since the departure of Thomas Lake Harris, almost exactly four years before the Grand Jury hearings. While many there undoubtedly still believed Harris was God Incarnate, it was no longer a strictly religious colony. “We have no community now, in the sense in which the word is generally used. It is a business proposition,” Nagasawa told the Chronicle in the interview after Mary’s death. Harris had men and women living apart even if they were married. Now, Nagasawa said, “the marriage relations among us are the same as among other people,” with couples living together.

One of the married couples were the Clarkes, who had been at Fountaingrove for about a dozen years and played pivotal roles in the story of Mary Harris. In documents and newspapers their name is spelled both Clark and Clarke (often both within the same item) which made this research project far more difficult, as there was another Fountaingrove married couple named Clark. Future historians, beware.6

Ray P. Clarke and his partner Jonathan W. Lay operated Lay, Clarke & Co., which was the production/distribution side of the winery; they were also the real owners of Fountaingrove, along with Nagasawa. In 1885 Thomas Lake Harris sold it to them for $60,000 when he decided his presence was required full time in fairyland. Clarke, Lay and others from Fountaingrove later moved to New York City in order to establish an East Coast office. There Harris took a dislike to Clarke and sent him back to California because “his low animal quality had caused him to gather about him as natural associates horse racers and a low class of the people of the countryside.”7

Mrs. Clarke is more to our interest, however; “Nettie” acted as guardian of Mary and Pearl and the girls lived with the Clarkes. The couple – and particularly Nettie – thus bear full responsibility for what happened to the girls on a daily basis, including how Mary obtained the poison. That Mrs. Clarke did not make a statement to the Coroner’s Jury is another reason for the inquest report to be viewed with suspicion – and add to that the shocker that Ray Clarke served as one of the jurors, who decided the 15 year-old girl was entirely responsible for her own death with no one else to blame.8

Mrs. "Nettie" Clarke and Nina in the Cottage at Fountaingrove, 1898. Nina is probably her daughter Frances, who was given the fairy name "Ahina" by Harris. Courtesy Gaye LeBaron Collection, Sonoma State University Special Collections
Mrs. “Nettie” Clarke and Nina in the Cottage at Fountaingrove, 1898. Nina is probably her daughter Frances, who was given the fairy name “Ahina” by Harris. Courtesy Gaye LeBaron Collection, Sonoma State University Special Collections

Nettie Clarke was called before the Grand Jury, and as summarized by the Chronicle, she “always spoke of [Mary] as being willful, obstinate and absolutely without any idea of what it was to ‘mind,’ to obey.” Clarke was determined “that stubborn will must be broken.”

Clarke’s sister, daughter and Nagasawa all said the same thing, according to the Chronicle: “Their testimony was an attempt to show that all restraints on the liberty of the girl were in the interest of discipline and according to the instructions of a physician.”


It was reiterated that the girl had a stubborn, willful and disobedient disposition. But when examples of how this was manifested were asked, they could not cite any other than the very common disobediences of children. An effort was also made to show that she was insane, or, at least subject to fits of insane despondency which required her being watched and the denied privilege of leaving the house unaccompanied. It was denied that she was confined to her room except for short spaces of time. It was brought out that about three months ago she tried to escape by jumping from a window twenty feet to the ground. This was given as evidence of insanity.

Dr. Thompson testified he had “given directions for her restraint under conditions,” but again did not say he believed she was mentally ill.

Mrs. Clarke’s idea of “restraint” meant far more than sending her to her room for an evening, the paper reported. “It was one of the features of their life and training that the children were never allowed to roam about the house or go from one part of it to another, prompted only by childish playfulness. If they went anywhere, to another room or another floor of the same house, it must be for some purpose, a useful reason of some kind. That was one of the principles of the community and, the children were required to yield strict obedience to it.”

As Mary continued to assert herself, Mrs. Clarke and the others responded by increasing her isolation.

There were three main residential buildings at Fountaingrove. At the top of the ridge was the enormous “Commandery,” a male dormitory that could house a hundred men. (It spectacularly burned in 1908 like a Roman Candle and would have put Santa Rosa at high risk if the day’s earlier northerly winds had not died down.) The original women’s residence was the two-story Cottage (called by Harrisites the “Familistery”), where the five-member Clarke family lived with the girls and where Mary had jumped out the window. The palatial Manor House where Harris had lived was the “Aestivossa,” which was now the home of Kanaye Nagasawa, Emma Parting and her daughters and many other members of the old colony.

Pearl initially refused to testify before the Grand Jury, then was forced to after the District Attorney threatened the Clarkes with arrest. She and Mary were kept on separate floors, rarely seeing each other. A month before Mary died her sister was taken to the other house (Aestivossa) and Pearl never saw Mary again alive or dead, according to the Chronicle. She had refused to attend her sister’s funeral, which sent tongues wagging.

At Aestivossa, Mary’s meals were brought to her room and “whenever she was removed from one room to another it was Nagasawa or Clarke who carried her,” the report said. It’s difficult to imagine a woman in her late fifties hauling a teenager about, so perhaps the reporter really meant someone kept a firm grip on Mary’s wrist or collar.

“Testimony goes on to show that for more than a year Mary had been trying to escape from Fountain Grove…the one illustration of willfulness of disposition upon which Mrs. Clarke relied was Mary’s repeated threat that she would run away.” The Chronicle also stated the Grand Jury was told “the community was expecting a letter from Thomas Lake Harris as to what should be done with the girls,” which strongly implies they were conceding that Fountaingrove was no place to be raising kids.

And that pretty much wrapped up the Grand Jury proceedings on Mary Harris. The yellower newspapers were disappointed there was no scandal to splash across the front page. San Francisco Call headlines were a bit pathetic in their strain to gin up a controversy: “Mary Harris’ Strange Death”, “Fountain Grove Escapes Censure” and “Breaking a Child’s Heart Is Not a Crime in the Eyes of the Law.”

By contrast, the Chronicle’s coverage was a remarkable example of fair and balanced journalism for its day. Its reporter concluded, “The theory best sustained perhaps by the facts now known, is that suicide was due to unnatural and unsympathetic environment, harshness of discipline and physical illness reacting on a highly nervous temperament.”

To that I would add only the paper should have emphasized that it was apparently an accidental suicide. Nagasawa recalling Mary saying, “she had only taken a little in order to scare us” sadly has the ring of truth. There can be no question Mary desperately wanted to get away from that situation, even it meant being sent to a sanitarium.

While there was no report issued, testimony did mostly quash a popular conspiracy theory – while launching a new one. From the Chronicle: “There has nothing so far leaked out from the juryroom to indicate that her reason for committing suicide was to escape being mated with some one she did not like.” But at the end of the session, this was mentioned: “Part of the discontent which Mary Harris evidently felt may have been due to the fact that she was a Catholic, while those about her were not. Her religion, it is said, was a heritage from her mother.” Reading some of the descriptions of her death in later years, one might think she was a novitiate being held at the mercy of sex-crazed heathens.

In its final story the Chronicle reminded its readers there were still suspicious aspects to the case left unresolved. The Grand Jury accepted the Coroner’s inquest, although he neglected to collect testimony from the doctor, Mrs. Clarke, Pearl and others as to her mental state and circumstances of her death. Instead, the coroner’s jury – again, with Mr. Clarke among the jurors – rubber-stamped Nagasawa’s opinion that the girl’s craziness was the cause of her death:


The most significant feature of the whole matter is the wording of the verdict. Kenai Nagasawa is the only witness who testified in any detail to the circumstances of the death. He gave it as his opinion that “she took her own life while under despondency.” This rather unusual form of expression, the jury, composed of his associates and employees, all men under his influence, parrot-like repeated. There seems to have been no effort to find out any motive for the suicide. Nagasawa, insisting throughout that it was a case of suicide due to an unbalanced mind, says she once jumped twenty feet from a window, as indicating that her mind had been unsettled for some time, but he gives no details to make it clear to any one else that this action was the result of such a mental condition.

Nagasawa’s statement to the coroner also differed significantly from what he told the Chronicle later that same day. At the inquest there seemed to be no question that he immediately knew she was in serious condition because she was having convulsions. They mixed an emetic and gave it to her with no effect. In that account he held her hands as death approached. The version found in the paper showed a considerably less empathetic Nagasawa; he and Mrs. Parting didn’t believe her when she said she had taken poison and tried to quiet her down. There was no mention of convulsions or administering an emetic. Was there a life-or-death difference between the two scenarios? Probably not; the doctor was 45 minutes away and there was nothing else that could have been done in 1896. Still, the District Attorney absolutely should have asked Nagasawa to reconcile these very different accounts.

No, there was no conspiracy to poison the troublesome child, and there’s no hint that Nagasawa was lying in order to cover up a crime. But it still rankles that no one at all was held to account for how those two girls were mistreated for so long – today, a Grand Jury would surely indict Kanaye Nagasawa, the Clarkes, and the whole lot of them for criminal neglect and abuse.

After it was clear the Grand Jury wasn’t going to hand down indictments, a reporter from the Call asked Nagasawa for an interview. He declined to answer any more questions concerning the death of Mary Harris, saying only that “silence is power.”

The only loose thread in our sad tale concerns what became of Pearl. Little was written about her personally at the time, except for Dr. Thompson telling the Grand Jury “there was a most marked difference between the dispositions of the two girls.” The San Francisco Call – a paper that wanted to sensationalize her sister’s death – suggested she had an intellectual disability: “Pearl Harris is only 14 years old and has the innocence and ignorance of a girl of eight years.”

A book about Thomas Lake Harris states Pearl soon made her “escape” from Fountaingrove, but no details are found about where she went. Years later, Harris’ wife, Jane, corresponded with Pearl and summarized the letters in her diary.9

In 1904 Pearl was 22 and “living with a kind Swedish lady in Colorado.” She had changed her name to “Bettina” and Harris was sending her $20/month. While offering that pittance of support, her grandfather was also telling her she was disinherited, apparently claiming Thomas Jr. was not her father. “She knows she is not related by blood and makes no claim.” Yet in another diary entry shortly after, Jane remarked, “the child – only surviving one – of Leonard Van Arnum – has been brought into the relation of foster-child to us.” (See above, re: Junior’s name change.)

The final mention appeared a few months after Thomas Lake Harris died and his will was accepted by probate. Jane wrote, “Little Bettina has won our love and confidence in signing a Waiver to any claim.”


1 Besides the daily Santa Rosa Democrat, Ernest Finley’s Evening Press had debuted on Jan. 2, the same day as Mary’s death.

2 Harris Jr. name change: A Prophet and a Pilgrim; Herbert W. Schneider and George Lawton; 1942, pg. 484-485. John Harris murder plans: The Wonder Seekers of Fountaingrove; Gaye LeBaron and Bart Casey; 2018, pg. 107, and also A Spiritist Spider; San Francisco Chronicle, February 10, 1885.

3 Why they were pulled out of school was never explained, nor was it mentioned whether the girls were adopted by their grandfather, as he had once adopted Kanaye Nagasawa. It’s also unknown if the children were sent directly to Oakland or if they first lived for a while at Fountaingrove; the paper quoted Nagasawa as saying cryptically, “her father brought her and her sister to San Francisco to make their home with us, and we brought them here.” Since Thomas Lake Harris was at Fountaingrove until early 1892, he certainly could have known the girls personally.

4 Further showing sympathy to Kanaye, the Chronicle article gently conceded he had “not confined himself to facts”, but also pointed out he had made those misstatements at the end of a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. Besides having to speak with this Chronicle reporter despite the paper’s history of hostility to Fountaingrove, on January 3 he had testified at the inquest, visited Santa Rosa to arrange for Mary’s funeral (and plea to the editors to downplay the events), all followed by the Fountaingrove cookhouse and laundry burning down in a kitchen fire that threatened the whole place. “In the interview Nagasawa showed that he was greatly disturbed in mind, but he ascribes this to the excitement caused by the suicide and the pecuniary loss by the burning of the kitchen house for the hired help.”

5 Strychnine Toxicity; Jenna Otter and D’Orazio; U.S. National Library of Medicine 2019

6 The Clarkes were Ray Paul Clarke (often misspelled as “Roy”) and Annette Celia Clarke (called “Nettie”) who came to Fountaingrove around 1884 along with her sister, Mary Babcock. The Clarkes had two adult daughters, Frances Gertrude, 24 in 1896 and who was given the fairy name “Ahina” by Harris, along with Elinor/Elenor (called “Nora”), who was 29 in 1896 and married Dr. Frederick Webley two years later, the newlyweds continuing to live at Fountain Grove. The Clarks were Samuel Clark (a bookkeeper) and Parthenia Clark, who had been part of Harris’ original religious colony at Brocton, New York.

7 The Wonder Seekers of Fountaingrove; Gaye LeBaron and Bart Casey; 2018, pp. 152-153. Per the sale see also Primate T. L. Harris; San Francisco Chronicle, March 10, 1885.

8 According to Sonoma County Historical Records Commissioner Steven Lovejoy, in 1896 it was perfectly legal for the husband of the guardian (or even somebody suspected of killing Mary!) to serve as an inquest juror. It wasn’t until 1905 that language was added to the Penal Code restricting people from jury duty who might have some personal connection to either the deceased or someone who might be considered a suspect.

9 A Prophet and a Pilgrim; Herbert W. Schneider and George Lawton; 1942, pg. 484-485.
"Aestivossa," where Mary Harris died. The building was demolished in 1969 for the Fountaingrove subdivision. Courtesy Gaye LeBaron Collection, Sonoma State University Special Collections
“Aestivossa,” where Mary Harris died. The building was demolished in 1969 to make way for the Fountaingrove subdivision. Courtesy Gaye LeBaron Collection, Sonoma State University Special Collections

 

sources

SECRET OF FOUNTAIN GROVE SUICIDE
Was She Driven to Death by Despair?
NO PROOF OF HER INSANITY
MISS HARRIS LOCKED UP BY THE JAPANESE.
A Pathetic Funeral – Theory That the Girl Preferred Death to Dishonor.

Special Dispatch to the Chronicle.
SANTA ROSA, January 4. – The mystery of the suicide of Mary H. Harris, granddaughter of Thomas Lake Harris, the old primate of the Brotherhood of the New Life, at Fountain Grove, near this city, remains unsolved. People at the grove adhere to the story published in to-day’s “Chronicle,” and claim that the suicide was committed while the girl was suffering from one of her periodical attacks of insanity.

The story of the attending physician, however, does not bear out the claim that the girl was insane. The few citizens of Santa Rosa who deign to discuss the matter differ widely in their opinions. For the last three years, since Thomas Lake Harris left here, the colony at Fountain Grove has prospered, and has not come into that notoriety which periodically occurred when Primate Harris himself was here, Santa Rosans believed that the peculiar community had settled down to the business proposition of wine-making and farming, but the events of this week have caused much talk.

On Thursday Miss Harris committed suicide. On Friday the large kitchen and boarding-house caught fire and burned down. The two events were almost unknown in this town, as it is the practice to suppress the news of any unusual occurrence at the community. The funeral of the girl was held privately and not a dozen people attended.

The suspicions of those who take an interest in Fountain Grove were aroused by the attempt to suppress the news of the suicide of Miss Harris. The Evening Press alone mentioned either the suicide or the fire. Kanaye Nagasawa, Japanese manager of the Fountain Grove Vineyard Company, made the following statement of the suicide:

“Miss Harris was a very high-strung girl and undoubtedly committed suicide while in one of her fits of temporary insanity. She was very much addicted to outbursts of temper, and while in them was very rude. It became necessary for me to discipline her. I had to lock her in her room Thursday evening. A little later she was heard to scream loudly and repeatedly. Mrs. Parting summoned me, and we went to her room. We found her stretched out on a chair with her arms above her head, writhing in agony. I carried her to bed and tried to quiet her, not thinking she had taken poison. She said she had taken strychnine, and that she had only taken a little in order to scare us. I don’t know why she tried to scare us.

“It was 6:15 P. M. when she took the strychnine, and she died after about three-quarters of an hour of suffering. Before she died she said she had gone to the medicine closet and had taken the strychnine from it. When she said she had taken poison we did not believe her, but she pointed to a package near her and said she only took a little, not enough to kill.

“Mary M. Harris was 15 years and 7 months old, a daughter of Thomas H. Harris of Helena, Mont. Her mother died when she was quite young and her father brought her and her sister to San Francisco to make their home with us, and we brought them here. They were with us for several years, all the time in fact but about six years, when they were boarding with our friends and attending school in Oakland. They have been with us for the past two and a half years.

“For the last four months Mary has been quite out of health and under Dr. Thompson’s treatment. She was subject at times to attacks of insanity, when we watched her with special care, so that she would not injure herself, though we had no real fear that she would.”

Dr. Thompson does not exactly verify the story of Miss Harris being in ill health and subject to fits of insanity. He said: “I have been attending physician at Fountain Grove for sixteen years. The case of Miss Harris is a sad one. She recently had slight trouble with her bowels, but on the very day of her suicide she recovered. She had never been in ill health otherwise. No, I never heard that she had fits of insanity. She was a high-strung and high-tempered girl, but I never heard of any attacks of insanity. I believe they had to curb her at times, but did not hear that they had to lock her in her room the other night. As I understand it, she was not locked in, but I believe they did lock her in once before, though that was some months ago.”

The funeral of Miss Harris took place this afternoon. It was a very quiet affair. Undertaker Stanley went with a hearse to Fountain Grove, three miles from this city, and brought the body to the cemetery. The hearse was followed by three carriages, Rev. Mr. Shepard, the Episcopal minister, and a friend of Thomas Lake Harris joined the funeral procession, if it could be called such, at the City Cemetery. Previously those who died at Fountain Grove were buried at the City Cemetery, but the community recently purchased a 20×20-foot plot in Stanley’s Addition to Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, with ground for twelve graves. When the hearse and carriages reached the cemetery the hearse went by a lower road to the plot, and the few people who attended the funeral went in carriages to the top of the hill, fifty feet from the grave, and watched the proceedings from the carriages. Only the short interment service of the Episcopal church was read at the grave by Rev. Mr. Shepard.

The pallbearers were Ray Clarke, Kanaye Nagasawa, Undertaker Stanley and three Japanese who are employed at the Grove. The only people who witnessed the burial, besides the pallbearers, were Mrs. Clarke, Mrs. Parting, Miss Parting and Dr. Thompson. No other remarks were made except by the minister, and as soon as the interment services were read and the coffin lowered into the grave, the people left the cemetery without any demonstration. The funeral was conducted in the most perfunctory way as a ceremony which could not be omitted.

The fact that the suicide of Miss Harris was followed in less than twenty-four hours by a fire at Fountain Grove is regarded as a peculiar coincidence, though people in this city pay little attention to it. The truth is people believe that the community is run much better since Harris left here nearly four years ago. Few young men and few young women, except the Harris sisters, have been here for three years or more, and most people think Fountain Grove is now run on strictly business principles. The Fountain Grove people do all their trading in Santa Rosa and people seem to believe that patronage, like charity, covers a multitude of sins, and they make no inquiry…

…Kanaya [sic] Nagasawa, manager of the Fountain Grove Vineyard Company, is a very shrewd Japanese. He is very reluctant to talk about the community and those who remain as remnants of the colony started by Thomas Lake Harris. After repeated questions he said:

“There are about twenty members who live at Fountain Grove, besides the laborers we employ. These are Ray Clarke, his wife and two daughters, Fred Weberley, Mr. Coles, Ari, a Japanese, Mrs. M. E. Parting, the two Misses Parting and some elderly ladies, besides Miss Harris, a girl two or three years younger than her sister who committed suicide. There are but five men at Fountain Grove, besides the hired help. They are three Americans and two Japanese.

“The stories that men and women ever bathed together nude at Fountain Grove is not true. Some years ago a hydropathic doctor treated people at the baths, but the men and women were separate. He is now dead. The marriage relations among us are the same as among other people. Mr. Clarke and his wife live together. None of the others are married. In fact, we have no community now, in the sense in which the word is generally used. It is a business proposition. We have between 400 and 500 acres in grapes…”

While none of the people on neighboring ranches say openly anything more about Fountain Grove than the citizens of Santa Rosa, they privately express their opinion regarding the suicide of Miss Harris. Few doubt that the girl really committed suicide, but they differ as to the reason. Some believe that Miss Harris, a high-tempered girl, took poison because of her pride being hurt when locked in a room like a schoolgirl, but not many accept this theory. The majority believe it was a deliberate suicide, because she was dissatisfied with her mode of life. These people are about evenly divided as to the reason which drove her to suicide. One man, who knew the girl well, said:

“I believe Miss Harris committed suicide because she did not like to live at Fountain Grove and be kept from all society. She was high strung, and having been educated at a seminary in Oakland, she wanted to see more young folks. There were really none at the grove. She undoubtedly had social aspirations, and having met many young ladies and young gentlemen when in Oakland, she longed for congenial company. She was ambitious and would have liked to shine in the social world. At Fountain Grove she was shut off from all companions of her age, and seeing no better future, I believe she became desperate and took her life.”

Another man, who was once a member of the community under Harris’ regime, is not so generous. He said: “I cannot say I know why Mary Harris committed suicide, but I will tell you what I believe. I think she was a pure, high-minded girl, who did not believe in the doctrines of her grandfather. It is very possible that some one at Fountain Grove told her that the Father had said she should take some man at the Grove for her partner in life, and that her moral instincts revolted at the idea. I know whereof I speak. Harris did have the custom of saying that he had received revelations from God that certain men and certain women should become partners for life, and he was obeyed. I don’t know that he forced these connections. To my rememberances, he only suggested them, rather forcibly I will admit, and he may have ordered them at the start. I believe that Mary Harris killed herself rather than submit to the embraces of the man who was said to be chosen as her partner for life.”

– San Francisco Chronicle, January 5 1896

 

SANTA ROSA SUICIDE STILL A MYSTERY.
What Caused Mary Harris’ Despondency?
THE SECRET WELL GUARDED.
SHE WAS NOT IN ILL HEALTH NOR INSANE.
First Statements of the People of the Community Shown to Be Untrue.

Special Dispatch to the Chronicle.
SANTA ROSA, January 5. – The secret of Miss Mary M. Harris’ suicide is still held by the people of Fountain Grove, and they will say little. What evidence can be obtained seems to substantiate the theories of persons formerly connected with the colony who are now disgusted with the practices of the place. The belief has become stronger that Miss Harris was forced to suicide rather than submit to a supposed order from the primate of the community. Kanaye Nagasawa, the Japanese in charge of the Fountain Grove ranch, claims that the girl had been long suffering from ill health and that in a temporary fit of insanity she took her life, while locked in her room for disobedience. In the interview Nagasawa showed that he was greatly disturbed in mind, but he ascribes this to the excitement caused by the suicide and the pecuniary loss by the burning of the kitchen house for the hired help.

While the people of Fountain Grove will not speak to outsiders, some words have been dropped which positively contradict the statements of Kanaye Nagasawa. Mrs. M. E. Parting, an elderly lady whose heart is in the social idea formulated by Thomas Lake Harris, but who is strictly honest, has made some statements which go to show that the Japanese manager of the large vineyard company has not confined himself to facts.

Mrs. Parting has told outsiders that for some time past Miss Harris has suffered from fits of despondency, though the cause of these fits is unknown. She has admitted that Miss Harris was never troubled with ill health, except slightly on rare occasions. On the morning of January 2d, the day on which Miss Harris committed suicide, she wrote a letter to Dr. Thompson telling how Miss Harris had recovered her health. This disproves Nagasawa’s statement of Miss Harris’ illness. After the death of the unfortunate girl Mrs. Parting told a friend that Miss Harris had not been locked in her room for disobedience, but that she had committed suicide in a fit of despondency which no one could explain.

Nagasawa claims that Miss Harris had been locked up in her room as, in a fit of temper, she had been very rude. Had Mary Harris been locked in her room she would not have been able to get to the medicine chest, from which she secured the strychnine that she took with deadly effect.

While the people of this city have shut their eyes to many things that have occurred at Fountain Grove they are beginning to do a little thinking. As Miss Harris could not have secured possession of the poison had she been locked up she must have gone about the act deliberately. The belief is prevalent here that some repugnant command was forced upon Miss Harris and that rather than submit to it she went to the medicine chest, secured the strychnine, repaired to her room and took the fatal dose.

The way in which the people of Fountain Grove tried to conceal the crime has aroused suspicion. Though a doctor, the Coroner and the minister were summoned few people knew about the mysterious suicide until they read of it in the Chronicle. Dr. Thompson was summoned, but before he could get to the grove the girl was dead. Coroner Young of Healdsburg was summoned, but he went through the formality of an inquest without looking into the facts. Undertaker Stanley was engaged to bury the girl, and his duties were carried out in a perfunctory manner, as stated.

At the funeral of the unfortunate young woman few people were present. The services were held before the time which was announced to only a few friends. Some of the older members of the mysterious colony were present, but the dead girl’s sister was not allowed to attend the funeral. This absence of the girl’s only relative has caused much comment.

Kanaye Nagasawa explained the small attendance at the funeral by saying: “We do everything so as to gain as little notoriety as possible. Some of our people are sick and could not attend; others are busy, as we must not neglect our business interests, even though a death occurs. We wish to do everything in a simple way.”

Nagasawa is the controlling spirit at Fountain Grove since Harris left for New York. He has often expressed his views on matrimony and the marital laws of this country. He has said that he does not believe in marriage, but that men and women should select their partners in life as their choice directs them. He has also made many remarks to show his admiration for young American girls. He is a Japanese of good education, who is said to have been duped by Thomas Lake Harris into putting $100,000 into the Fountain Grove scheme, but who, upon having his eyes opened, made the best of the bad investment and determined by good business management of the Fountain Grove Vineyard Company to make himself whole. He now rules the colony as Harris ruled it before, though he does not lay traps for converts. He governs the colony as though he were on an independent island, and the people under him believe he is the representative of Thomas Lake Harris, whom they look upon as the vice-regent of God.

The principal feature of Nagasawa’s government is that all the doings of the people in the colony be kept an absolute secret. No member of the community is allowed to converse with other people except on simple business propositions which involve few words. Whenever a photograph of the grounds at Fountain Grove or of any individual is taken the negative is destroyed by Kanaye. Occasionally visitors from Santa Rosa are received. They are royally entertained by Kanaye, but the other members of the community are kept in retirement…

…The wonderful magnetism of Thomas Lake Harris has still its hold on the people of Sonoma county or Kanaye Nagasawa is a worthy successor of that wonderful man. All trespassers upon the land of the Fountain Grove community are driven away by the Japanese laborers, whom Nagasawa hires to work for the colony as they are cheap and will not tell any secrets.

– San Francisco Chronicle, January 6 1896

The Chronicle was in error in its statements in a recent special dispatch from Santa Rosa that no newspaper of that place on Saturday, except tbe Evening Press, contained any mention of the suicide at Fountaingrove. The real facts were that tbe suicide occurred Thursday night and tbe fire on Friday morning, but neither was known in Santa Rosa until Friday morning. The Santa Rosa Democrat of Saturday contained all tbe information on tbe subject that could be gained. —Sen Francisco Chronicle.

We are obliged to our contemporary for the above courteous correction.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 11 1896

 

 

THE MYSTERY OF FOUNTAIN GROVE.
Cause of the Death of Mary Harris.
SHE WAS DRIVEN TO SUICIDE.
THE GRAND JURY INVESTIGATING THE CASE.
Life of a Motherless Girl in the Community Founded by Thomas Lake Harris.

Special Dispatch to the Chronicle.
SANTA ROSA, February 13. – The Grand Jury and District Attorney have at last undertaken to probe into the mystery of the death of little Mary Harris, the sixteen-year-old suicide of Fountain Grove. Witnesses have beer closely examined today and yesterday and the saddest stories of desolate childhood that ever were listened to have been revealed. Whether or not all has been learned about the circumstances that led to the suicide that there is to learn the Grand Jurors have learned a great deal. The evidence they have heard will not, it is said, warrant an indictment, but will [be] a report which will move every lover of childhood.

Mary Harris, motherless and renounced by her father, was sent by her grandfather after he took her from the Oakland school to live in about as desolate an atmosphere for a child as could well be imagined. She and her sister, two or three years younger, were immured in what is practically a community of recluses. They were without playmates of their own age. They were without, as it would seem from the testimony adduced, the sympathy of companions of any age. They were not even allowed to associate with each other. They were never allowed to leave Fountain Grove ranch with its dull routine of existence and for several months before she sought escape by death, she was practically a prisoner in one of the community houses. She was under a tutelage which, however kind may have been its motive, was seemingly unsympathetic, and against it she chafed.

Mrs. Clarke, who seems to have been acting in place of a parent, always spoke of her as being willful, obstinate and absolutely without any idea of what it was to “mind,” to obey. This was the reiterated description of the child’s characteristics made to Dr. Thompson and indicated to the Grand Jury. The necessary corrollary of this, in her own mind, was that stubborn will must be broken. And so it was in the unnatural and unsympathetic surroundings that Mary Harris lived for two or three years. Testimony goes on to show that for more than a year Mary had been trying to escape from Fountain Grove; and finally escape seeming hopeless, and life under such conditions unendurable, she committed suicide. Such seems to be the fair deduction from all the testimony heard.

So isolated does the Fountain Grove community live and so closely were the two grandchildren of Thomas Lake Harris kept, that few people in Santa Rosa from which place Fountain Grove is only three miles distant knew that the girls were there until they read of Mary’s suicide in the Chronicle. The mystery that surrounded the death and the secrecy observed regarding it led the District Attorney’s office to think that an investigation would not be out of place. The present is the first Grand Jury impaneled since the suicide January 2. Assistant District Attorney T. J. Butts brought the matter to the attention of the Jury and subpoenas were issued for several members of the community. The first one was for Pearl Harris, a younger sister of Mary. When a deputy Sheriff went to Fountain Grove to serve it, Roy Clarke refused to let the girl come before the Grand Jury. Nagasawa, the head of the community, was in San Francisco.

The Sheriff returned to the District Attorney for instructions, and was told to bring the girl and arrest all who resisted. Under this threat Mrs. Clarke brought the child to the Grand Jury room. Her testimony was that Nagasawa, Mrs. Parting the latter’s sister and two daughters lived in the house formerly occupied by Thomas Harris and the Clarke family in the other community dwelling. The two children lived with the Clarkes, but on separate floors, rarely seeing each other until a month before Mary died, when she was taken to the other house, and Pearl never saw her again in life or death.

It was one of the features of their life and training that the children were never allowed to roam about the house or go from one part of it to another, prompted only by childish playfulness. If they went anywhere, to another room or another floor of the same house, it must be for some purpose, a useful reason of some kind. That was one of the principles of the community and, the children were required to yield strict obedience to it.

Other witnesses heard were Kenai Nagasawa, Miss Babcock, sister of Mrs. Clarke, and Miss Clarke, a daughter. Their testimony was an attempt to show that all restraints on the liberty of the girl were in the interest of discipline and according to the instructions of a physician. It was reiterated that the girl had a stubborn, willful and disobedient disposition. But when examples of how this was manifested were asked, they could not cite any other than the very common disobediences of children. An effort was also made to show that she was insane, or, at least subject to fits of insane despondency which required her being watched and the denied privilege of leaving the house unaccompanied. It was denied that she was confined to her room except for short spaces of time. It was brought out that about three months ago she tried to escape by jumping from a window twenty feet to the ground. This was given as evidence of insanity. Whenever she was removed from one room to another it was Nagasawa or Clarke who carried her.

Dr. Thompson says that in his opinion the physical condition of the girl was such as might readily account for a mental state leading to suicide. It was for this condition that he was treating her, and he had given directions for her restraint under conditions, justifying it from a medical standpoint. He had not visited her often but a friend came to his office for medicine. He says there was a most marked difference between the dispositions of the two girls. The reason given why Pearl Harris did not see her sister’s body or attend the funeral was that she did not want to.

If there were nothing else to throw an air of mystery about the death of this unfortunate child, for she was little more than a child, it would be the manner of the inquest the Coroner’s report of the testimony and the form of tha verdict. The jury was composed of two members of the community and four of its employees. Of the six jurors only one is a registered voter in Sonoma county. That one is Schuyler Colfax Gum, whose home is near Healdsburg.

The most significant feature of the whole matter is the wording of the verdict. Kenai Nagasawa is the only witness who testified in any detail to the circumstances of the death. He gave it as his opinion that “she took her own life while under despondency.” This rather unusual form of expression, the jury, composed of his associates and employees, all men under his influence, parrot-like repeated.

There seems to have been no effort to find out any motive for the suicide. Nagasawa, insisting throughout that it was a case of suicide due to an unbalanced mind, says she once jumped twenty feet from a window, as indicating that her mind had been unsettled for some time, but he gives no details to make it clear to any one else that this action was the result of such a mental condition. Miss Parting testified that Miss Harris had been ailing for some time and that Dr. Thompson had been attending her. But Dr. Thompson was not called as a witness, though he was the only one in any way connected with the matter capable of giving an expert opinion as to what the cause of death was as indicated by the symptoms, and he had told the Coroner he would attend the inquest if he was wanted.

No post-mortem was made to demonstrate the cause of death and really the only evidence as to what did cause death is the testimony of Nagasawa and the other members of the community as to what she said and as to what her symptoms were.

Dr. Charles L. Thompson, who for eighteen years has been the attending physician of the community, says he received a telephone message about 6 o’clock Thursday afternoon, January 2d, asking him to come out at once. The message was brought to his house from the telephone office. As he was on his way to make one or two urgent calls at the time, he went to the telephone office to try and find out what he was wanted for. He was unable to get into communication with Fountain Grove, however, and so went out, arriving there about three quarters of an hour after he received the summons. But Miss Harris was dead when he got there and had been dead for some minutes. From what he was told of what she said and of her symptoms, as well as her appearance after death, he concluded she had died from strychnine poisoning. It was this opinion expressed at the time which, repeated at the inquest, was the only evidence on which to base the verdict.

The record of the inquest held on January 3d, as Coroner Young made it up – omitting, however, the signature and affidavit after each statement – is as follows:

Testimony of K. Nagasawa: “I am one of the firm of the Fountain Grove Vineyard Company. Miss Parting heard screams and called me, so we – Miss Parting and myself – went upstairs and found Miss Harris sitting in a chair and seemed to be in great agony, and I took her in my arms and placed her on the bed. I held her hands, as I saw she was having convulsions. She said she was going to die, and said she had taken poison (strychnine). We administered white of egg, mustard and warm water and sweet oil, but could not relieve her.

“She told us where the poison was to be found and we found it. She said she had only taken just a little, and think she did not realize what she was doing. Do not think she intended to take her own life. Think she only tried to frighten us.

“She has at times seemed despondent and insane. She at one time jumped out of a window some twenty feet high. It was some three months ago. She was about 16 years of age and a native of Montana, and I know of no trouble she ever had with any one. I am satisfied she took her own life while under despondency.”

Testimony of Miss M. E. Parting: “My name is Miss Parting and I live here on this place and was present at the time of Miss Harris’ death. I know nothing more than that that Mr. Nagasawa has testified to, only we sent for Dr. Thompson. He came and Miss Harris was dead. He said there was no doubt she had taken poison.

“She has been ailing for some time and Dr. Thompson had been attending to her, and I corroborate the same testimony as that of K. Nagasawa.”

Testimony of Mrs. Emma Parting: “I live here on the ranch and know nothing more than has been testified to and corroborate the same testimony.”

The verdict: “Death caused from strychnine poisoning by her own hand with suicidal intent, while under despondency. TOM G. YOUNG, Coroner, S. C. Gum, F. M. Harris, John Fields, J. S. Turk, L. Cowles and R. P. Clark, Jury.”

When Mary Harris was removed from the Clarke residence to the other dwelling known here as the “House of Mystery,” she was carried by Nagasawa and Clarke and kept locked up. Her meals even were brought to her. It has transpired that at this time the community was expecting a letter from Thomas Lake Harris as to what should be done with the girls. Whether this letter has since been received or not, is not known. It has been a matter of wonder here that their grandfather, who required their father to renounce all claim to them as a condition of his adopting them, and who according to Dr. Thompson has spent $5000 on their education, should leave them here among strangers and without companions, instead of taking them to live with him.

Part of the discontent which Mary Harris evidently felt may have been due to the fact that she was a Catholic, while those about her were not. Her religion, it is said, was a heritage from her mother. The one illustration of willfulness of disposition upon which Mrs. Clarke relied was Mary’s repeated threat that she would run away. There has nothing so far leaked out from the Juryroom to indicate that her reason for committing suicide was to escape being mated with some one she did not like. The theory best sustained perhaps by the facts now known, is that suicide was due to unnatural and unsympathetic environment, harshness of discipline and physical illness reacting on a highly nervous temperament.

A MYSTIC COMMUNITY.

[Sidebar on Thomas Lake Harris, the Colony, and accusations made by Alzire Chevaillier]

– San Francisco Chronicle, February 14 1896

 

 

MARY HARRIS’ STRANGE DEATH
Investigating the Methods of the Fountain Grove Community.
THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY.
Where the Girl Was Kept a Prisoner Before She Took Her Own Life.
CARRIED BY FORCE TO A ROOM.
Assistant District Attorney Butts’ Efforts to Throw Light Upon the Case.

SANTA ROSA, Cal., Feb. 13.— The judicial probing into the mysterious death of Mary Harris on January 2 at the Fountain Grove community has brought to light some very strange things. For instance, tbe dead girl was kept a close prisoner in the “House of Mystery” for ten days before she summoned courage or desperation enough to take the deadly draught that released her from her unhappy life.

She was formerly kept under strict watch in the Clark house, but was removed by force to the house occupied by the two Japanese, Nagasawa and Ari, and by Mrs. Parting, her sister and two daughters. This house gained its mystical designation because it was the residence of Thomas Lake Harris, the founder of the colony, before he went to New York, a couple of years ago.

Nagasawa and Clark carried Mary Harris by force to her prison-room in the “House of Mystery,” and her meals were brought to her there until the end.

All this was elicited by the cross-examination of Mrs. Clark, who was asked why Mary was removed to the Japanese residence. She said it was to guard her the better until word could be had from Thomas Lake Harris making final disposition of the girl. Harris had been written to on the subject, and they were waiting his orders.

When the Deputy Sheriff went to subpena [sic] Pearl Harris for the Grand Jury Clarke refused to let the girl leave the community until he was threatened with arrest.

It seems there were but two living witnesses to the death of Mary — Nagasawa and Miss Parting. The former has testified before the Grand Jury, but the latter is said to be too ill with nervous prostration to leave the House of Mystery at present.

Mary Harris was a Catholic, the faith of her mother, and resisted to the last the doctrines of Fountain Grove.

BEFORE THE GRAND JURY.

[…Rehash of familiar claims: Mary was kept like a prisoner, had jumped from a window, Mrs. Clarke described her as willful…]

… The day after the tragedy Nagasawa appeared at the office of the Republican, in Santa Rosa, and announced to its editor and proprietor, Mr. Lemmon, that “One of those alleged granddaughters of Harris'” had committed suicide, and accompanied the statement by the request that, Mr. Lemmon should have the matter treated in his paper as briefly as possible.

Indeed, the tragedy was kept rather quiet for a time, and had it not been for the energy of Assistant District Attorney Butts no further investigation would have been held.

The people of this city and county are not greatly excited over the occurrence, for sensations and rumors of sensations in connection with the Harris community are old stories here. But they are anxious that the truth should be known in this instance…

…Pearl Harris is only 14 years old and has the innocence and ignorance of a girl eight years. She said her sister was always kind and gentle to her, but she knew from what others said that Mary must have been obstinate and willful. In truth, Mary seems to have been a highstrung, sensitive girl, who suffered much from ill health, brought on by confinement and an unsanitary way of living…Yet Pearl Harris is still a prisoner there. She lived in the house with her sister and yet was not permitted to see her. Even when Mary lay at the point of death and Pearl begged to be allowed to go to her, she was restrained…

…There are a great many rumors about to the effect that Mary Harris took her life as an alternative to indignities that were sought to be put upon her, but nothing that has leaked out of the Grand Jury room seems to bear out this view. Dr. Thompson is authority for the statement that the dead girl led a pure life.

A PECULIAR INVESTIGATION.

[..Rehash of the inquest, with transcripts…]

…However, Dr. Thompson does not state it as a fact that the strychnine was self-administered or that it was taken with suicidal intent, or that it was taken during a fit of despondency. Yet Dr. Thompson, a man held in good esteem throughout this county, is inclined to believe that these were the circumstances surrounding the tragedy and that there are no ill doings at Fountain Grove, no unlawful nor immoral practices there that there never has been and could not be so long as the colony is under its present management.

But Dr. Thompson, the only expert witness available, was not called upon to testify before the Coroner’s jury. And, as a medical man, he admits that he was surprised at not being called upon.

The truth is that the verdict was rendered in precisely the same words as those used by the Japanese vice primate and present supreme ruler of the colony, Kanai Nagasawa…

– San Francisco Call, February 14 1896

 

 

FOUNTAIN GROVE ESCAPES CENSURE
Sonoma’s Grand Jury Will Not Mention Mary Harris.
NOTHING TO CONDEMN.
Breaking a Child’s Heart Is Not a Crime in the Eyes of the Law.
KANAI NAGASAWA’S REGIME.
The Famous Community Allowed to Degenerate Into a Business Proposition.

SANTA ROSA, Cal., Feb. 14.- The Grand Jury of Sonoma County will submit its report to the Superior Court to-morrow morning and then adjourn sine die. It will be an outspoken report, in which spades and other things will be called by their right names, but there will be no mention in it of the death of little Mary Harris at the Fountain Grove community. The sensational features of that tragedy have all been exhausted, and no well-informed person believes that there is any ground upon which to base a criminal accusation against any member of the colony.

Those in this city who are personally acquainted with Thomas Lake Harris, the community’s founder and its primate, speak in the highest terms of him. Judge Temple is his friend, and was one of the signers of a document which declared as vicious and false the accusations brought against Harris by Miss Chevalier about three years ago. But since then Harris has resided in New York, living in quiet with his wife and a few congenial friends in a handsome house on Upper Broadway, and enjoying the society and confidence of intellectual and thoughtful men, among them William Dean Howells, and during his absence Fountain Grove has been under the management of the Japanese Kanai Nagasawa.

[..]

However, it is no crime to break a girl’s heart; and then, again, there may be even another side to this story, for most stories are two-sided.

“We investigated the matter very carefully, I think,” said B. M. Spencer, foreman of the Grand Jury, to-day, “and we are satisfied that we have not warrant sufficient to even censure the Fountain Grove people in the matter of the death of Mary Harris. My own opinion is that they were too strict and rigid in their treatment of the girl, but even that is merely an opinion, and I could not state it as a fact. The Grand Jury will make no report in the matter whatever. Its members do not entertain any suspicions against the inmates.”

[..]

To-day a Call correspondent went out to the Grove and sought an interview with the vice-primate. This he firmly declined, saying that “silence is power.” One of the newspapers had misrepresented and misquoted him, he said, and in future he would make no statement whatever for publication. The people of Sonoma County who knew him did not believe all the wild rumors in circulation, he declared, and for the opinion of those who did not know him he did not care..

– San Francisco Call, February 15 1896

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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

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