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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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WHO’S THE APRIL FOOL?

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

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

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

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

San Francisco Call, April 2, 1900

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Francisco Call, April 2, 1901

 

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

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

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

– Sonoma Democrat, April 8 1876

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

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

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

– Sonoma Democrat, April 5 1884
Malicious Mischief.

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

– Petaluma Weekly Argus, April 5, 1884

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, April 1 1904

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

– Petaluma Argus-Courier, April 1, 1909

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

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

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, March 30 1917

 

 

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BEWARE “JACK THE CHOKER”

In the autumn of 1897, Santa Rosa women were threatened by a mysterious man who choked two and apparently chased several others. The memory of those events remained strong enough for Jack the Choker to eventually become Jack the Meme.

Before diving into the descriptions of what happened that year, some background is essential to view events through the eyes of women living here. Their fears that a manic killer might be in town were absolutely genuine.

Our story began nine years earlier with the Jack the Ripper murders in London. Probably you already know all that’s needed –  during the autumn of 1888 a serial killer murdered several prostitutes in gruesome ways. The person responsible was never caught or identified, leading armchair detectives to spin theories which supposedly solved the case. That fascination with the Ripper continues to this day; visit casebook.org, where at any time of day or night you can find freshly posted essays by real adult human beings arguing feverishly the maniac who went on a killing spree over 125 years ago was positively so-and-so and everyone who disagrees is an ignorant yutz. Personally I don’t really care whodunnit, but find the socioeconomic context of the times pretty fascinating.*

Far removed from the gory coverage by London’s sensationalist tabloids, the U.S. press gave the story a paragraph or two at most, and then only after the catchy “Jack the Ripper” name caught on. West Coast papers hardly mentioned it at all. But as years passed, the number of mentions grew in the American newspapers as it evolved into the preeminent gothic murder mystery. The story was being continually refreshed as someone would confess/be arrested as a suspect or there was another possible Ripper murder.

Newspapers in both England and America also began labeling any gruesome murder as a Jack-the-Ripper killing. The Brits implied as often as possible that the deed might have been done by the original Jack, but here in the U.S. we had a Mexican Jack the Ripper in New Orleans and a Chinese Jack the Ripper in Montana. These were single crimes of passion or mania, however, and not the work of a serial killer.

Not until 1894 and the appearance of “Jack the Strangler.”

That year three Denver prostitutes were strangled to death within a couple of months. A fourth woman being strangled managed to break free and scream. Police arrived as he was trying to cut her throat and although the women of the Red Light District insisted he was the killer, police charged the man with only assault, waving him off as “nothing more than an ill-tempered Italian.”

Skip forward about a year and a prostitute was found strangled in San Francisco. Within a few weeks two others were similarly killed, others nearly so. After that third death, in March, 1896, the Chief of Police said he believed “the Denver strangler has come to San Francisco.” Two other attempted stranglings were reported, one woman describing the attacker as an Englishman about forty years old. Hmmm…

At the end of March police in Los Angeles caught a man actually strangling a woman. He told the police he had come to L.A. from San Francisco. “The officers believe it was his purpose to kill the woman, but on the police register he is simply charged with battery,” reported the San Francisco Call.

Sightings continued: Another man who moved from San Francisco tried to strangle a prostitute and two nuns in Oregon and Washington; he was caught and sent to an asylum. There were a handful of other possible Jack attacks in San Francisco in the spring of 1896, then nothing until the next year – and it was in Santa Rosa.

One evening in October, 1897, Sarah Pomeroy, a 64 year-old nurse returning home from visiting a patient was attacked near the corner of Fourth and E streets. Suddenly a pair of hands were gripping her throat. She was able to loosen his fingers enough to scream. The man slugged her in the face hard enough to knock her down (“the blow must have been a very hard one,” the Republican commented, “for the lady is quite fleshy”). When she spoke to reporters the next day her left eye was almost swollen shut and her cheek was bruised.

Then two nights later, 15 year-old May Kearns was assaulted near the corner of College and Fourth. She was dragged by her neck into the adjacent vacant lot and thrown to the ground. He put his knee on her chest and squeezed her throat. After a few moments he released her and she screamed. He kicked her twice, hard.

Two nights after that, a man jumped a fence and approached two little girls playing in their yard after dark. He ran when their father came out in response to their screams. It reporting on that event when the Daily Republican dubbed him “Jack the Choker.”

That made three attacks within a week, all between 6:30 and 7PM, shortly after sunset – but there the pattern ends. The nurse was old enough to be the grandmother of the girls; the teenager’s account sounds like a sexual assault but Mrs. Pomeroy’s seems more like an attempted robbery. And none of them were prostitutes, of course, the victim of choice of “Jack the Strangler.” Had he sought out those women, just two block away Santa Rosa offered the largest Tenderloin District between San Francisco and Reno (see the “Wide-Open Town” series).

The Republican followed with one of the most unusual articles I have ever seen in the old papers (and that really says something). Headlined “Jack the Choker” – by then the paper was headlining all related stories that way, even as the Press Democrat studiously avoided the nickname – a second headline announced, “Ladies need no longer fear the mysterious stranger.” Citing an interview with the City Marshal, the paper reported police had their “Official Eye” on two men who were the attackers. The short item also stated three times the police did not have evidence to arrest either man.

You don’t have to squint too hard reading between the lines to see the article was meant to quell panic. It’s impossible to believe women in Santa Rosa were not drawing comparisons to the earlier “Jack the Strangler” attacks in the City and were justifiably scared.

About a week later, both papers reported one of the suspects had left town. “The finger of suspicion pointed so strongly toward him as the individual who had been doing the ‘choking’ act here that he concluded to leave town rather hurriedly,” the Republican remarked. The attacks stopped, or at least none included assault. A month later a young woman was reportedly chased near downtown by a man wearing black. Shortly before the string of attacks, the PD had offered a little item about a stranger in black “acting suspiciously” by loitering at night, but neither paper made a connection between him and the choker.

Two years passed before there was a reprise of the attacks in Petaluma. There were a couple of reports of a stranger pursuing young women on D street, then Clara Ivancovich, the 48 year-old wife of a prominent doctor, was stalked on Sixth street before the man clutched her throat. She managed to scream and push him away. “A fellow has operated in Santa Rosa and got a reputation as a woman choker,” reported the Argus Courier next day. “We hope he has not come here.”

This time police nabbed and named a suspect: Bert Richardson (or Richards), a young barber who had arrived in town just a week before. He was seen loitering in the area at the time, drunk and supposedly “acted queerly.” A hat found near the attack fit him but he produced a similar hat of his own and had an alibi. Mrs. Ivancovich could not identify him positively. He was not arrested but lost his job at the barber shop.

Santa Rosa Jack of 1897 and Petaluma Jack of 1899 were undoubtedly different people, but it showed the monicker “Jack the Choker” had become firmly part of Sonoma County lore. After the Petaluma incidents the Press Democrat began having fun with it, telling readers there was a “Jack the Hugger” at Stony Point because a fellow was “very near getting into serious trouble by attempting to hug the fair daughter of one of our oldest settlers.” On Christmas Eve before the turn of the century, the paper joked, “First we had Jack the Ripper, then came Jack the Choker, and now we are confronted with Hobson the Kisser. And the question before the house is whether the world is progressing or retrograding.”

In the spring of 1900 a two-line ad appeared in the PD with the headline, “Jack the Choker In Town”. The advertisement continued, “He is looking for a location to get into business but is unable to do so without calling at 304 Mendocino St. and purchasing one of Ciaypool’s nobby suits.” The gag may have brought a chuckle when some first read it, but the store ran the stupid thing for nine months. Hopefully Ciaypool’s knew more about “nobby” looks than they did about humor.

The last historical appearance came in 1902, a full five years after the attacks. Two women walking home were confronted by a man who sprang from the shadows and growled, “How would you like to be choked by ‘Jack the Choker?'” The women screamed and ran. The man, presumably just some local jerk, was not caught.

There’s an ugly devolution here. A name which was an object of terror for women and children became something of a punchline that men considered funny. Even originally calling him “Jack the Choker” had a bit of a wink to it, sounding much less menacing than something like “the Santa Rosa Strangler.” The Republican further watered down the name’s association to violence against women with a story headlined, “Jack the Spitter,” describing a guy who hocked up tobacco juice on downtown store windows.

But it’s the menswear ad that rankles most. Lots of people make money off the name of Jack the Ripper; in London there are competing tours and a museum and many books to buy – but no store goes so far as claiming the well-dressed man wears their serial killer suede or shaves with their Ripper razors, much less expecting customers to have a laugh about their nod to monstrous deeds.


* The Jack the Ripper murders came at a time of great unrest in England. A replay of the French revolution seemed possible, with each year even more terrible and violent than the last. There were London riots and terrorist acts including the bombing of the House of Commons and London Bridge. History books now tell us the reasons for this violent dissent included high poverty, chronic unemployment, racism against immigrants and agitation by the Ireland independence movement, but to the average Londoner (and Queen Victoria), the big problem was that the police couldn’t control the streets. That the police were unable to catch the Ripper only confirmed their incompetence in the public’s eye, while boosting fears that the have-nots were dangerous and possibly insane.

 

A BRUTAL ASSAULT
A Ruffian’s Attack on a Lady here Tuesday Night
Grasped Her Around the Throat and When She Screamed tor Assistance Hit Her

A most brutal attack was made Tuesday evening about 8 o’clock on a widow lady named Mrs. Pomeroy, who resides in the neighborhood of Washington street.

Mrs. Pomeroy was returning home after visiting her sick friend Mrs. Stearns on Fourth street. When ahe was walking between the residence of Dr. Savage and the home of Dr. Clark a man stepped up behind her and put his arms around her and told her not to scream.

The frightened woman called for assistance. The ruffian who held her told her stop. She called again and then the man dealt her a violent blow in the face and left eye. The blow almost stunned her. The man then made off. Undoubtedly the man’s motive was robbery. Mrs. Pomeroy can give only a very slight description of the man as it was quite dark.

– Press Democrat, October 27, 1897

 

BRUTAL ASSAULT
Girl is Roughly Handled
WAS ALMOST CHOKED
When She Screamed for Help The Fiend Kicked Her
Fifteen Year Old May Kearns the Victim of an Outrageous Hold Up

Great excitement prevailed here on Thursday evening over a murderous attack made upon Miss May Kearns, the fifteen-year-old daughter of James J. Kearns, the butcher, by a brutal fiend about half-past six o’clock that evening.

The girl was handled in a fiendish manner by the monster, and narrowly escaped being choked to death by him. Shortly after the occurrence a PRESS DEMOCRAT representative called at the Kearns residence on Stanford street, and heard the girl’s story. She was then in a state ot exhaustion over the rough treatment she had been subjected to. Her eyes were bulging out ot their sockets as a result of the choking, and her throat and neck bore the marks of the fiend’s grasp. Miss Kearn’s story is as follows:

“About half-past six o’clock this evening I was returning from town, having been making some purchases for mamma. I was walking along on the sidewalk on Fourth street. When opposite Mr. Doyle’s house I heard a man’s footsteps coming behind me. The man commenced to spit and blow with his mouth. I thought of running away, but then concluded I wouldn’t as I thought the person might be somebody I knew and was playing a joke on me. Before I had time to think further-—I was then by the vacant lot at the corner where College avenue runs into Fourth street–I was seized from behind by the man, who clasped both his hands so tightly around my neck and throat that I was almost choked to death. So nearly was I choked that I went on my knees. The man dragged me inside the lot and threw me down, keeping his grasp on my throat all this time, and knelt on my chest. He held me there for several moments. His hands would release their grasp for an instant and then they would tighten again. The man muttered something, I couldn’t understand what he said. I managed to gasp out that I would go with him if he would let me alone. I thought this was the only thing to do to save my life. He let me get up and I walked a few steps toward the edge of the sidewalk. He told me not to look around at him. I told him to pick up my hat and packages, which had fallen in the lot. I made a few steps forward and screamed. The man rushed toward me muttering something, and gave me two violent kicks. He then ran through the lot and down College avenue. 1 ran over to Mr. Doyle’s and screamed for help. Mr. Doyle came to the door and I told him what had happened, and he at once telephoned for the police. Mr. Doyle went over to the lot and brought me my hat and packages, and I was taken home.”

Description of the Man

The description of the fiend given by Miss Kearns is as follows: “As far as I could see, I just managed to turn my head a little when he grabbed me, the man was a little taller than I am, (probably about five feet four inches tall). He had on a light hat, the front of his shirt was of a light color. I could not see whether it was a white shirt. He wore a white collar and had on a black tie. His coat and vest were of a dark color and he wore light pants.”

Further Details

Upon receipt ol Mr. Doyle’e telephone message Officer Yoho was quickly on the scene and took the girl home. Officers Yoho, Hankel, Boyes and Shepard then scoured the neighborhood for tha man. The search was kept up all the evening.

When Miss Kearns arrived home her family was thrown into a state of great excitement. Mrs. Kearns was sitting in the parlor awaiting her daughter’s return. When she came in her appearance was such a shock to Mrs. Kearns that she swooned away. From the girl’s mother and grandmother it was learned that she looked terrible. Her eyes bulged out and she was trembling with terror aod excitement.

The assault is believed to have been the work of a crank who has a mania for choking women. Some people incline to the belief that he meant to abduct the girl. One thing is certain, had he been captured he would have been roughly handled last night.

It was thought that the ruffian was the same man who assaulted Mrs. Pomeroy outside the Savage residence on Fourth street about the same time on Tuesday evening. When Mrs. Pomeroy screamed he did not kick her, but dealt her a heavy blow in the face. The police, however, think differently. Mrs. Pomeroy’s vague description of her assailant was that he waa tall and slender. Miss Kearns is confident that she would recognize the voice and person if she should happen to run across him.

– Press Democrat, October 30, 1897
JACK THE CHOKER.
The Mysterious Assailant of Women at Work Again.
TRIED TO ASSAULT TWO GIRLS.
Discovered in the Nick of Time by an Angry Father–Took to His Heels and Run Away as Usual.

At 7 o’clock Saturday evening Lita and Charlotte Martin, aged 9 and 7 respectively, daughters of J. C. Martin, a carpenter residing on Riley street, were playing in the yard surrounding their home.

The parents of the children were eating their evening meal at the same hour, when they heard one of the little girls scream as though very much frightened. Rushing to the door Mr. Martin saw a man approaching the girls. He called to the fellow and asked what he was doing, but without replying the man leaped over the fence and ran down Riley street towards Fifth as fast as his legs could carry him.

Mr. and Mrs. Riley took the children into the house and quieted their fears as best they could. Lita, the eldest girl, said she saw the man come up to the fence and stop to look at them. He then leaped over the fence and started toward them, when both girls screamed. Then her father came to the door and the man ran away.

Mr. Martin could not see the man very plainly on account of the darkness but he thinks the fellow was either a negro or had a mask on his face. He thinks the man wore a brown suit of clothes.

Mrs. Martin and the children were so frightened that Mr. Martin could not leave them; consequently the news of the incident did not reach the officers until Sunday morning.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 1, 1897

 

JACK THE CHOKER.
LADIES NEED NO LONGER FEAR THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER.
The Police Say They Have Their “Official Eye” on the Two Men Who Did the Deeds.

City Marshal Steadman stated to a REPUBLICAN reporter Tuesday that there was no longer any secret in police circles as to the identity of the parties who have been harrassing [sic] the ladies of this city.

The police have had information for some time, they say, as to the identity of the man who assaulted Mrs. Pomeroy, the aged widow lady, and while the evidence of guilt is not absolutely conclusive, they state that they have every reason to believe that the man they suspect is the guilty party.

The police also believe that they could in an hour’s time lay their hands on the person who assaulted Miss Kearns. As in the case of Mrs. Pomeroy, the evidence is not absolutely conclusive, but is sufficiently definite to warrant a well-founded belief.

No arrests have been made, partly because of insufficient evidence and partly because prosecuting witnesses have not been forthcoming. The police state, however, that the ladies of Santa Rosa have now no cause for alarm. No further assaults need to be feared from the two suspects and it is not likely that “Jack the Choker” will make any more trouble in this city.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 9, 1897
SKIPPED.
A “Jack the Choker” Suspect Leaves Town Hurriedly

A figure that has been familiar on our streets for sometime has disappeared. The finger of suspicion pointed so strongly toward him as the individual who had been doing the “chocking” [sic] act here that he concluded to leave town rather hurriedly. Such characters can be spared.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 19, 1897

 

LOCAL

It is reported that the suspected choker of young women here, left Santa Rosa early Friday morning.

 – Press Democrat, November 20, 1897

 

 JACK THE SPITTER
 ARRESTED BY FRED GULDIN WEDNESDAY MORNING
 The Man Who Expectorates on Show Windows in the Dead of Night

Fred Guldin, the south B street tailor, has been driven nearly to distraction by the stains of tobacco and saliva that appeared every morning on his nice clean shop window.

Tuesday evening he vowed in his inmost soul that he would catch the miscreant. In company with Bruno Meyer he passed the midnight hours waiting for the man who had injected the misery into his erstwhile peaceful life.

At 5:40 they heard a footfall on the sidewalk. A moment later the window received a nicotine charged bath.

Guldin and his lieutenant sallied forth and captured the enemy in the act. He was marched to the county bastile and stowed away in a cell to mediated on his sinful act.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 8, 1897

 

A MAN IN BLACK
And a Young Woman Who Was Badly Frightened
Followed By a Strange Man on Mendocino Street Late Sunday Evening

On Mendocino street, about a quarter to 10 o’clock Sunday night, a young woman employed at a residence on College avenue, was nearly frightened to death.

She was going down Mendocino street and when opposite Mrs. Tate’s tamale parlors she noticed a tall young man wearing a long black coat and with a slouch hat on his head. The man started to follow her. At Ross street she crossed the street to the other side. The stranger crossed also. When she reached the sidewalk the girl started to run. The man ran also. The girl never lost her presence of mind, but ran as fast as she could and outdistanced her pursuer. They raced to the corner of College avenue and when the girl entered the gate leading to her employer’s home the man fell behind. Officer Hankel was notified and the police kept a sharp lookout for the man in black. If he is caught a warm reception will be given him. The young woman was nearly frightened to death.

– Press Democrat, December 22, 1897

 

Santa Rosa Has a Man in Black

For several evenings an unknown man, dressed in black clothes, has been terrifying women in remote parts of town. On Sunday evening he chased a well-known young woman almost frightening her out of her wits. The officers have not yet found him but he is believed to be either a crank, a lunatic or the counterpart of “Jack the Choker” who was ordered to leave town a few weeks ago.

– San Francisco Chronicle, December 22, 1897

 

IMAGINED SHE SAW JACK THE CHOKER

A young woman who resides in the western portion of the city came down Fourth street rather hurriedly Thursday night and told some of her friends that she had intended going up the street to make a call but that on the way she saw a man who she believed was “Jack, the Choker,” When she saw the man she said she turned aronnd and went back so as not to allow him to follow her.

– Press Democrat, March 26, 1898

 

CALIFORNIA COMMENT

Santa Rosa is worked up over the antics of a strange man, who is given the name of “Jack the Choker.” He stops unescorted women on the street at night, chokes them for a minute, and then disappears. —Marysville Appeal

– Press Democrat, April 2, 1898

 

“JACK THE STRANGLER”.
Makes a Cowardly Assault Upon a Lady on the Street.
A Man of Similar Description has Frightened Ladies in Other Portions of the City.

The cowardly acts of “Jack the Strangler” are being enacted in this city.

Last evening, while returning from choral practice at Guild hall, Mrs. Dr. Ivancovich was assaulted on the street by a fellow and subjected to rough treatment, as marks on her neck plainly show.

Mrs. Ivancovich had left the hall alone, as she had a cold and wished to reach home as soon as possible. This was about 10 o’clock and the streets were deserted. She walked briskly up Sixth street, and when in front of the Lovejoy residence near A street she saw a man emerge from the opposite side and follow her. She walked straight ahead, the fellow following only a few feet behind, until in front of George Spottswood’s on Liberty, where the sidewalk was wide, she stepped aside to let him pass, but instead of passing he grasped her by the throat with a firm grip. She screamed and the fellow let go. Mrs. Ivancovich thought he had mistaken her for someone else and she upbraided him for the assault, wherewith he clutched her throat again and pressed harder than before. The lady had on a high fur collar that protected her neck and she was able to scream. This she did so loudly that the fellow, thinking someone would hear the cries and come to the rescue, gave his victim a push and ran in the middle of the roadway down Sixth street.

George Spottswood was aroused and came to the lady’s aid but the fellow had gotten away.

Mrs. Ivancovich was seen this morning at her home on Walnut street, and had not even then recovered from the shock of her adventure with the maniac or cowardly assaulter. She said the fellow was a young man, with a newly-grown dark mustache…and gave the general appearance of a gentleman, not a tramp.

During the scuffle he did not say a word and only seemed determined to choke his victim into insensibility…A fellow has operated in Santa Rosa and got a reputation as a woman choker. We hope he has not come here.

Sunday night a man answering a like description followed two East Petaluma girls across the D street bridge and up D street, keeping about three feet behind them all the time, not saying a word but crossing the street when they did and determined not to lose them. Women are becoming afraid to be on the streets at night.

Last evening about 11 o’clock Daniel Brown saw a stranger like the above, and some young ladies on D street were chased by a man and ran into Wickersham’s place.

– Argus Courier, November 7, 1899

 

JACK THE CHOKER.
Petaluma Excited Over the Actions of a Mysterious Stranger. 

PETALUMA, Nov. 7.— Considerable excitement is aroused in this city by a mysterious stranger who has been assaulting ladies on the streets after dark, rushing up behind them and attempting to choke them. The choker has been given chase by citizens, but succeeds in making his escape. The entire police force is out on his trail.

– San Francisco Call,  November 8 1899

 

“JACK THE CHOKER”.
A Young Man Arrested on Suspicion of Playing That Role

Bert Richardson, a young barber working in a Western avenue shop, was this morning detained on suspicion of implication in Monday night’s choking affray. The actions of Richards [sic] on Monday evening were very strange. He was intoxicated and seen in the neighborhood of B and Sixth street by several passers. He acted queerly and kept constantly in the vicinity of the corner. His description talies [sic] very well with that published. The police found a hat at the scene of the choking affair and the hat fitted his head perfectly. He told certain parties that he had lost his hat but to the police he denied this. The victim of the fiend’s work could not positively identify him and he was released. He was “fired” from his job. The man may be innocent but the circumstantial evidence seems strong against him. The young man’s folks reside in the lower end of town. They came here from San Francisco a week ago.

– Argus Courier, November 9, 1899

 

WAS HE THE CHOKER?
Arrest of a Young Man at Petaluma Upon Suspicion

According to the Petaluma Courier, the police of that city are of the opinion that they have the man who so roughly handled a number of ladles on the streets of that city Monday night. The young man in question is known to have been intoxicated on Monday evening and was seen in the neighborhood of the scene where Mrs. Ivancovlch was attacked, both before and after the occurrence.

Thursday morning Marshal Collins took him to his office in the city hall where Dr. and Mrs. Ivancovich were in waiting and he was confronted by Mrs. Ivancovich. She stated that the man tallies with the description of the fellow who attacked her but she did not care to swear positively that he is the man, so he was released.

A hat found near the scene fitted the young man, but he produced another hat exactly like it and stated that the hat in the possession of the police is not his at all. He told the police where he was on Monday night, but they found that he had told them his whereabouts on Sunday night.

– Press Democrat, November 11, 1899

 

“Jack the Hugger” at Stony Point

A correspondent from the Stony Point district writes as follows: “We have a ‘Jack the Hugger’ in our district. The latest report is that he came very near getting into serious trouble by attempting to hug the fair daughter of one of our oldest settlers. Not long ago Petaluma had “Jack the Choker” and before that Santa Rosa had a similar visitor.

– Press Democrat, November 25, 1899

First we had Jack the Ripper, then came Jack the Choker, and now we are confronted with Hobson the Kisser. And the question before the house is whether the world is progressing or retrograding.

– Press Democrat, December 24, 1899

 

Jack the Choker In Town

He is looking for a location to get into business but is unable to do so without calling at 304 Mendocino St. and purchasing one of Ciaypool’s nobby suits.

– Press Democrat, April 11, 1900

 

GIVEN A BAD SCARE
“JACK THE CHOKER” SPRINGS FROM SHADOW OF CHURCH UPON TWO WOMEN
Their Lusty Cries for Help Caused Him to Disappear and Officers Seek In Vain for the Miscreant

“How would you like to be choked by ‘Jack the Choker?'”

With these startling words uttered in a rough tone a man suddenly sprang out from the shadow of the Methodist Church on Fourth street about 9:30 o’clock last night and addressed Mrs. D. R. Seawell and her daughter, who were on their way home. He made a lunge toward them as if he did not care to wait for an answer to his query. The ladies screamed lustily for help and started to run. The man disappeared rapidly. Officers Hankel and Llndley were quickly on the scene and made a search of the vicinity, but this fellow had made good his escape.

– Press Democrat, December 20, 1902

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