richards-finley

THE TRUE ORIGINS OF THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In the beginning there was Ernest L. Finley. He bought the old Sonoma Democrat in 1897, merged it with his own newspaper, the Evening Press, becoming the owner, editor and publisher of the new Press Democrat.

That’s the version of the paper’s beginnings as told on the PD’s “about” page, on Wikipedia, by the Northern California Media Museum and in various columns and feature items published in the paper over the last 75-odd years.

Trouble is, that’s not true. The new paper was a partnership, and Finley wasn’t even the key player – he was one of two business managers. The founding editor and the person greatly responsible for the Press Democrat’s initial success was Grant O. Richards, although it’s rare to find mentions of him over the last hundred years. And even before he was erased from the picture, items about the paper’s earliest days just mentioned Richards “left the firm” or “sold his interest” to Finley. Neither of those claims were true either, as he killed himself while still editor (although I guess that would qualify as leaving the firm).

The PD – and the city of Santa Rosa itself – has polished Finley’s reputation to a gleam ever since his death in 1942, inflating his role in positive events such as founding the paper. But it’s particularly unfair to build up Finley at the expense of Richards because it steals away his only entry in the history books, which was greatly deserved. Not to mention that townsfolk of his day would have been gobsmacked to learn such a man would become so completely forgotten; hell, everybody in 1890s Santa Rosa probably wished they were Grant O. Richards.

Grant O. Richards portrait. San Francisco Examiner, July 22, 1896
Grant O. Richards portrait. San Francisco Examiner, July 22, 1896

Should you be very lucky, you might meet someone who has that one in a million billion quality which makes everyone (s)he meets fall at their feet. Call it ultra charisma, magnetic charm or even stardust, you are absolutely devoted to that person from the first meeting. Grant Oswald Richards had that magical ability; people not only really, really liked him, but they couldn’t help themselves from jabbering about how much they loved the guy – scroll down through some of the excerpts in the sources below. Such people can become very powerful (and dangerous) when drawn to politics or religion; we should probably be thankful Richards wanted only to be a very good newspaper editor in small towns.

His résumé was thin. He was born in 1862 Wisconsin and stayed there for about 25 years, becoming a lawyer (another dangerous profession for his talents) although he apparently never hung out a shingle. He next became city editor of the Daily Republican in Newton, Kansas, a railroad town of about 5,000 people. There he met Dollie Scribner and after their marriage in 1890 the couple moved to Santa Rosa, which likewise had about 5,000 residents. He had accepted the job of city editor for the Santa Rosa Republican, where he remained for nearly six years except for a brief stint at the Seattle Times, which he had to cut short because the weather aggravated his chronic asthma.

When Richards took the editorial job here in 1890, Ernest Finley was getting started as a professional printer. As a schoolboy the 19 year-old had used a hand press to turn out cards and announcements for his neighbors in the McDonald district, then was hired by the downtown Athenaeum theater to print handbills for visiting minstrel shows, lecturers, and other attractions. With his childhood friend Rufus Hawley he opened a print shop above a cigar store on Fourth street with a steam powered press, and from the start they had steady business from the city and county printing official documents. A few years later they were joined by Charles O. Dunbar, who had been printing foreman at the Santa Rosa Republican.

steamprinters(RIGHT: Finley & Hawley printing shop, 1890. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library)

The Evening Press debuted on Jan. 2, 1896 as a daily and weekly newspaper. In the days prior several local and Bay Area papers announced it was launching, and even the shortest items took care to name Grant Richards as its editor. There was no question that the new journal was going to be Richards’ baby – the rare times anyone mentioned Finley it was because the publishing company was Finley, Dunbar & Richards.

The new paper’s top rival would be the Daily/Sonoma Democrat, of course, and an item about its new competition muttered “…it seems to us the field here is hardly large enough for a new venture.” Still, like everyone else the Democrat editor couldn’t resist a nod to how much everyone loved Richards: “…He had and displayed the admirable quality of being fair and square to all alike with the result that he has made many friends for himself in Santa Rosa. We wish him success in his new undertaking.” After the Evening Press had a couple of issues to its credit, the Democrat offered a little good natured ribbing: “…All the world’s a stage and all the men are gamblers; life itself is a game of chance. Marriage is a lottery and so is farming. Starting a new paper is also a gamble. Ain’t it, Mr. Richards?”

Newspaper editors were usually divisive figures in the 19th century, with readers always at the ready to take umbrage – but if anything, membership in the Grant O. Richards Fan Club grew in 1896 both locally and San Francisco. He was a popular speaker and his remarks often included a poem written for the occasion, which the Democrat joked he would “inflict” on the group or “badger” them. Someone introduced him as the poet laureate of Sonoma county, or “at least in this section of the county.” Doctor Finlaw once prescribed total rest – although he could continue to write his poetry, because that wouldn’t involve “brain work.”

There are many more items like those where this charming, self-effacing guy welcomed a laugh at his expense, but there’s more to his story than that so we need to move on. Okay – one more, because I’ve never come across anything like it in the old papers.

On his 34th birthday the Democrat ran a story about his surprise party, where a group of men descended upon his office to give him a spanking (a play-acting “caning,” actually). Among his assailants were newspapermen from all the other local papers – including one from Humboldt county who happened to be in town – and political allies in the debate over creating a gold/silver currency. Included in the group were E.C. Voorhies and Herbert Slater, making him undoubtedly the only man ever paddled by both a current state senator and a future one. It’s a cute story, but also revealing; keep in mind this was during 1896, and even as a goof it wasn’t the sort of thing that lined up with the Victorian ideal of propriety and manliness – yet they knew Richards would be a good sport about it.

The Democrat was edited at the time by Robert Thompson, brother to founder and owner Thomas, who was still in Brazil as the U.S. ambassador. Under both of them the Democrat was fiercely partisan (and unabashedly racist) but it was really the only game in town – the weekly-only Santa Rosa Republican was mainly aimed at farmers. The Democrat was also the official county paper which guaranteed a steady income in publishing legal notices, plus it had contracted with a New York City agency to feed it a steady stream of national ads for widely-sold food items, patent medicines and the like. Toss in local shopper ads and the Thompsons had a neat little media monopoly on Santa Rosa newspaper readers. Then along came the Evening Press.

There was no apparent impact on the Democrat during the first year of competition in 1896. But as 1897 progressed, there was a steady decline in ads from stores promoting special sales. Local news became thin – aside from a court reporter, it seemed most of the stories came in over the transom from city/county offices, clubs and lodges and whoever dropped by to yak about an encounter with a rattlesnake. Editorials all but disappeared.

The Democrat became increasingly clogged up with WTF filler items from East Coast and British papers, such as, “M. Eugene Thiebaut, the first secretary of the French Embassy, who is at present in Paris, has cabled his felicitations to the French Embassador [sic] in Washington, M. Patenoire, on the latter’s transfer to the Embassy at Madrid, which is in the nature of promotion.” It was as if your once loud and feisty uncle now spent all the days in his bedroom, never changing out his ratty bathrobe while living on buttermilk and soda crackers.

Thomas L. Thompson returned from his four-year appointment to Brazil that September and two weeks later he sold the Democrat. Strike that – he surrendered the Democrat to Finley, Dunbar & Richards after almost exactly forty years of ownership. We can never know the impact this milestone took upon him personally, but the last known place he visited before committing suicide five months later was his old office, which was now the home of the Press Democrat.

Sonoma Democrat September 25, 1897 and Press Democrat October 13, 1897
Sonoma Democrat September 25, 1897 and Press Democrat October 13, 1897

There are no surviving copies of the Evening Press, but it’s probably safe to assume it looked just like the early issues of the Press Democrat – Grant Richards was still editor, after all.

The front pages shown above are the next-to-last Sonoma Democrat and the second issue of the Press Democrat. The first thing to notice is the number of local ads in the PD; there can be no doubt what happened to all the local advertisers missing from the old Democrat – they were happily now over on Richards’ pages, and likely had been camping there for months.

Ads aside, the layout of the two papers could not be more different. The Sonoma Democrat was a grey slab of inky paper with little to break up the long columns of text. The new Press Democrat was far easier to read; each story had a headline with a long dek – which added lots of eye-friendly white space – and had a grabber tease: “DEATH AND HUNGER,” “NEAR THE END” and “GREAT EXCITEMENT”.

daringburglaryRichards’ innovated use of mixed font typography put his design on par or even ahead of other Bay Area and even national papers. In a piece from the same issue, he put a 40 (?) pt. “DARING BURGLARY” banner above the story of District Attorney Seawell having a shootout in his house. Yes, headline details were sensationalized (he wasn’t “grazed by a bullet”) and the whole story leaned yellow press-y, but it actually was an adventurous story, and you can bet everyone in town was talking about it that morning. As William Randolph Hearst’s biographer put it, “any issue that did not cause its reader to rise out of his chair and cry, ‘Great God’ was counted as a failure.”

One last bit of media criticism before continuing with the history: Not only was Richards years ahead in visual design, but his skills as an editor were nonpareil. His writing was sharp and compelling – once you began reading an article there was no sneaking out before the end. A presentation made to local farmers about growing sugar beets was written like part of a novel, including dialogue between farmers and the expert. I found myself immersed in the story and developing warm and fuzzy feelings for sugar beets. That example underscores the key difference between the Sonoma Democrat and Richards’ Press Democrat, or any comparison of weak journalism vs. the exceptional – one just cataloged events of the day, while the other engaged the reader to care about them.

Odd Fellows' Building at the corner of Exchange and Third (Sonoma Democrat, Nov. 21 1896)
Odd Fellows’ Building at the corner of Exchange and Third (Sonoma Democrat, Nov. 21 1896)

We don’t know what they paid Thomas Thompson for his newspaper and printing plant, but the new Press Democrat Publishing Company was capitalized at $30,000 (about $940k today).1

The Press Democrat moved into the Sonoma Democrat offices in the ground floor of the Odd Fellows’ Building, but only after a local contractor had “a force of men” working to fix it up. The place must have looked like a museum exhibit; it seems that the Thompson brothers did little to keep the operation modern. Before jumping ship and joining the Evening Press gang, Herb Slater was a cub reporter there in the mid-1890s and recalled the office as a “dingy place” that didn’t have a linotype, a telephone or a single typewriter.2

The Press Democrat was an immediate success and within a few weeks of operation claimed a circulation of 13,000, which was right about twice the town’s population. In the initial issue he promised “politically the Press-Democrat will be Democratic of broad and liberal tendencies,” but like the Evening Press it was bipartisan as Richards was a Republican, albeit one who crossed sides to endorse the gold/silver issue. After forty years of the Thompson’s angry Democratic partisanship it had to be a welcome change.

It’s not surprising to learn Richards was also an enthusiastic community volunteer, and in the early months of 1898 he threw himself into preparations for the Rose Carnival. Ever since its origin in 1894 each year was a bigger event than the previous, and it was drawing considerable attention from Bay Area newspapers – it looked like Santa Rosa was finally getting noticed and maybe even gaining entry to the cool kids club.

At the time the Spanish-American War was ramping up; the battleship Maine was sunk in February and the public outrage – fanned by Hearst’s Examiner and other papers in the yellow press – inspired patriotic rallies and parades with nautical themes. The Rose Carnival Association budgeted over $600 (about $19k today) to build floats of a battleship Oregon and two monitors. The huge battleship float would carry the Carnival Queen and members of her court; it would be motorized (a big deal in 1898) with 20-foot high smokestacks puffing smoke. According to the preview blurb in the San Francisco Examiner, it was to have gun turrets which would fire bouquets of roses into the crowd. Accounts of the actual parade don’t mention the smoke or blasting bystanders with flora, but it still must have been awfully impressive.

Richards was in charge of building the ambitious floats, although he apparently had no experience on any construction project whatsoever. Then a little over a month before the Carnival, a little item appeared in the PD: “Editor Grant O. Richards is confined to his room suffering from nervous prostration. It is thought that a day or two’s rest will put him back at his desk.” Thus it was the third week of April, 1898, when Ernest Finley first slipped into the role as editor of a newspaper.

The Rose Carnival was on May 20 and it was the tremendous success everyone expected; the battleship was the highlight of the parade. But the Press Democrat’s coverage included this note: “It was a matter of sincere regret that Mr. Richards’ serious illness at this time prevented him witnessing the magnificent result of his favorite scheme…”

It was a sad day for Grant Richards indeed, but not just for missing the parade; on that very day, he was being committed to an asylum.

What was wrong with him? From his admission record to the Mendocino State Hospital it’s easiest to say what was not the matter. He didn’t have an alcohol or drug problem. He wasn’t suicidal or homicidal (but he was “destructive”). His diagnosis was “Mental worry.” The notes stated that he “talks incoherently and irrationally. Has delusions – Excited and profane.”

It would be irresponsible to put him on the couch with so little data, but there are a couple of points for Gentle Reader to consider: Excessive cussing was grounds for asylum commitment – as happened to a pair of women four years earlier – so lots of “profane” language might fall into the same category. Also, he listed Santa Rosa policeman Sam Yoho as his contact person instead of his wife Dollie, so there might have been serious marital problems.

Grant was discharged 90 days later in September, but did not return to his desk. Around mid-October he went (without his wife) to the Skaggs’ Springs resort, which was owned and operated by his old friend, John Mulgrew. On October 22, the telephone rang at the Press Democrat office: Grant O. Richards had shot himself in the head. He was still alive, but only expected to live a few hours.

Finley, Dunbar and Dollie Richards obtained a team of fast horses and a surrey and hurried as fast as possible to the scene, the trip taking somewhere around six hours. By the time they arrived he was unconscious.

He had blown off the left side of his face with a shotgun. Earlier he had told Mulgrew and the doctor it was an accident, but couldn’t explain how it happened. He was fully conscious when the doctor arrived from Healdsburg, and asked that he not be given too much morphine because he did not know how it would affect him. He also asked the doctor if he would have a bad scar. He died before midnight.

On the morning of the incident he borrowed one of Mulgrew’s shotguns and said he might try a little hunting. He wandered around the cottage area and chatted with other guests. A woman testified she saw him sitting on a cottage porch with the shotgun’s stock on the ground with the barrel resting on his left arm. A few moments later a shot was heard, followed by Richards shouting for help.

The Coroner held an inquest the next day, and the jury declared his cause of death was the accidental discharge of a shotgun while out hunting.

Hundreds attended his funeral (open casket!) and burial at the Rural Cemetery.3 Local papers – including the Press Democrat, of course – wrote long and heartfelt tributes to him, attributing his mental collapse to stress and too many hours of selfless volunteering. From the Petaluma Courier:


…Richards came to California in 1890, and worked constantly in the newspaper field, in which he was fast taking his place as a power, because of his clear, pungent and forceful style. He was a victim of overwork, and his health could not stand the tasks he set for his powers. He was of indomitable will, and worked when other men would have been in bed, never flinching when he saw a duty to perform, a friend he could help, or a benefit he could forward for the public. He was a martyr to the spirit Drive, and his beneficial work will be felt long after him. A man whom all loved to know, and knew but to love, may his ashes rest in peace.

Life in Santa Rosa moved on, but there was one good deed which I suspect was done in his memory. About three months after Richards’ funeral, Henry W. Davison, an African-American who had endured indignities from Santa Rosa’s community leaders and the police, died indigent. He was about to be buried in the Potter’s Field when the PD stepped in and paid to have him laid to rest next to his wife in the regular part of the cemetery. It was a surprising act of charity, and I don’t believe the newspaper ever did anything like it again.

On Oct. 29, 1898 – one week after Grant Richards died – Ernest Finley’s name appeared as editor of the Press Democrat for the first time.

finley1902(RIGHT: Ernest L. Finley portrait, Sacramento Evening Bee, June 30 1902)

The paper now looked different than it had a year earlier; the same font and point size was used on almost all headlines and there was much less white space – the design (or lack thereof) was drifting back to the slab-of-ink look, which suggests that layout decisions were being made by the typesetters, as was typical in the bad old days. And to be fair, this trend began before Finley took over; it seems to have started in February, which was when Richards took on the carnival float project.

But in every way, Finley was taking the Press Democrat in the opposite direction from where Richards was once headed:

*
  The politically independent editorial page was now hyper-partisan, particularly aligned with the odious Southern Democrats and their racism. The PD didn’t just oppose Teddy Roosevelt in 1904, but expressed shock over an African-American child appearing onstage at the Republican Convention, warning it was a portent of dreaded racial equality. And yes, the “n-word” made a comeback, as did stories and anecdotes told using plantation dialect.
*
  While Richards probably did not have a single enemy on the planet, Finley was the most divisive person in town, using the Press Democrat as a cudgel to bash anyone who thought differently from him. Finley – who had the gall to claim the PD “never intentionally misrepresents things” – usually resorted to ad hominem attacks against whomever fell into his sights. Newspaper editors in that era were often forceable in their opinions, but particularly during the years between 1904 – 1909 he came across as a mean-spirited bully.
*
  Finley fought reform efforts in the 1900s intended to clean up the town’s unbridled gambling and prostitution scene. Comparing the reformers to vigilantes and hate groups, he charged they wanted to damage Santa Rosa’s “good name abroad” by exposing the corruption that must have provided the town with a sizable underground economy. Unmentioned was that should a reform movement gain traction, they could follow contemporary San Francisco in calling for Grand Jury hearings, which in Santa Rosa might risk indictments of the downtown property owners and businessmen who profited from the town being the Sin City of the North Bay.
*
  Where Richards was always described as having a sunny and genial character, Finley was aloof and dour – there are many photos of him but none with a smile. His black-and-white views extended beyond hating reformers and his many other antagonists; you had to be pro-growth yet oppose any change in the status quo, leaving the Good Old Boy clique and Chamber of Commerce to run the town as they saw fit. Putting the success of the town above all else led him to take some cruel and heartless positions that would have stunned Richards, such as when Finley argued after the 1906 earthquake that those injured or families of those killed didn’t deserve money donated to the relief fund, and it should go into Santa Rosa’s building fund instead.

Then in the 1930s, for reasons unknown, Finley set out to wipe Grant O. Richards from the history books.

The salvo began in 1932, when the PD published a “75th anniversary” edition. Never mind that the Press Democrat was actually 35 years old; Finley was counting from the launch of the loathsome Sonoma Democrat, which wiser heads might have chosen to keep at a distance – “yes, we used to endorse slavery” is not a good look.

For that issue Finley wrote a number of short profiles which were collected ten years later in a book titled, “Santa Rosans I Have Known.” The anecdotes are mostly shallow and not of particular interest, and at least one time he used an entry to settle old scores. His entry on Richards is perplexing:


… He constructed a number of miniature battleships as features, but he overworked himself and suffered a nervous breakdown. We induced him to go to Skaggs Springs for a rest. One day John F. Mulgrew, who after serving as county clerk had purchased Skaggs Springs and was conducting it at the time, telephoned down that Grant had been shot. I hired a team and rushed to Skaggs Springs. It was at night, and raining hard…We never knew whether his death was accidental or otherwise. He had taken a shotgun and walked out through the grounds saying he intended to shoot some birds. A maid passing by shortly after saw him sitting on the steps of one of the cottages, the butt of the gun resting between his feet. It is possible that the gun may have slipped and on striking the next step below, been accidentally discharged. That was the theory we adopted, at any rate.

First, it aggrandizes Finley’s own role in the story. We know that Dunbar and Mrs. Richards were with him in the buggy, and they arrived shortly past sunset. Nor was it “raining hard” – all weather reports agreed there were scattered showers that day.

And, of course, we do know that his death was accidental, because that was the ruling of the Coroner’s jury – they’re allowed to say the cause was inconclusive if that’s how they viewed the evidence. From what we know about Richards, it’s doubtful he had much/any experience handling guns, and the eyewitness described extremely reckless behavior. Further, if this was a botched suicide he surely would have tucked the barrel under his chin, but Richards seemed to have no trouble talking to the doctor and others after the accident. Yet by writing “we never knew whether his death was accidental” and “that was the theory we adopted, at any rate” Finley winks to the reader that it was widely presumed he really meant to kill himself.

Finley’s other attack on Richards is found in the 1937 Sonoma County history edited by him. Now Grant Richards had no connection with the Press Democrat whatsoever. In the history portion of the book he name-checks Richards as having “helped establish” The Evening Press. “…Richards sold his interest to his partners a few years later…Thomas L. Thompson sold the Democrat to Finley & Dunbar.” (For the record, Dollie Richards was left Grant’s one-third share in The Press Democrat Publishing Company, and she sold them to Finley and Dunbar in 1902, when probate finally closed.) In the side of the book with local biographies Finley has an entry for himself but this time doesn’t mention Richards at all, naming his only partners as Dunbar and Hawley.

Finley’s shadow over Santa Rosa is as long as Grant Richards’ is short. As I wrote earlier, in the first part of the Twentieth Century no man or woman had a greater impact on Santa Rosa than Ernest Latimer Finley; favorite son Luther Burbank might have been the town celebrity, but Finley was the kingmaker, the media baron of print (and later, airwaves), the superarbiter of almost everything that happened north of the Golden Gate.

Why someone with such dominance felt a need to not only harm but destroy the historical legacy of a man nearly four decades after his death is a mystery best left to psychologists. Lacking Richards’ personality and his widespread admiration, had Finley been nursing envy and resentment for most of his life?

The historical record has been twisted to portray Finley as one of the most monumental figures in Santa Rosa’s past. And yes, he was a tireless champion of anything he thought might bring prosperity to Sonoma County. But at worst, he was a relentless bully who blocked reforms and held on to the 19th century attitudes which kept Santa Rosa from becoming the major Bay Area community he always desired – quite a Shakespearian twist, that.

For the most part we’re still trapped in Ernest Finley’s world; the city is still pushing growth for its own sake and there’s still a cabal of money men erratically steering the ship. How much better it might have been to live in the world of Grant Richards, where nothing is more important than community and when changes are made, the goal is to make real improvements to the city, not just making some guy rich(er). The Press Democrat will have no ties to special interests and holds city/county officials accountable for what they (don’t) do. And in that alternate universe, sometimes the paper will make you fly out of a chair and cry, “Great God!” because the reporting and writing is really that good.

 

 

1 The Press Democrat Publishing Company had 300 shares total, with Finley, Dunbar and Richards having 98 per. Three shares each were held by bankers W. D. Reynolds and J. P. Overton, who likely provided this initial funding.
2 Herbert Slater’s look back at the Sonoma Democrat appeared in the Oct. 23, 1932 PD. He described Robert A. Thompson’s management as lackadasical and as a result the reporters sought out the easiest stories to write, which explains the generally poor quality journalism in the paper and heavy reliance on doings at the courthouse across the street from their office. They also frequently traded newspaper coverage for food: “…We used to pick up a good many extra feeds in the old days. The reporters were never forgotten by the lodges, for it was then almost considered necessary to feed us in order to get a write up. How well I remember sitting in the old Democrat office one night wishing that some raven from Heaven, or somebody, would bring me in a square meal, when the front door suddenly opened and in walked Billy Lee and he brought cold chicken, tongue and ham, bread, cakes and coffee. And we did have some feast, and, thanked God reverently that both He and the Odd Fellows hall were above the Democrat office…”

3 The location of Grant O. Richards grave is unknown and he may have been disinterred, as there is a marker for him near his parents at the McNett East Cemetery in Elk Grove Wisconsin. When his sister-in-law, Effie Scribner, died in 1913 she was buried here at the Rural Cemetery in what was described as the family plot.

 

sources
Our friend Grant Richards, the genial and able local editor of the Republican, leaves this city to-day for Seattle, Wash., to take a position on the Evening News. Mr Richards has many friends in this city, who, while sincerely regretting his departure, hope that success will attend him in his new field.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 9 1890

 

Grant Richards will return from Seattle and resume his former position on the Republican. The climate of Washington was too much for him, but he cannot be better pleased to return than his friends are to welcome him.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 8 1890

 

It may be of interest to many in this locality, to know that our old friend and chum, Grant O. Richards, has resigned his place as court reporter on the Seattle (Wash.) Times, and accepted a lucrative position on the Santa Rosa (Cal.) Republican. Grant will succeed and all his friends in this neck ‘o’ th’ world’ will be glad to hear of his success.

– Galena Daily Gazette, December 3 1890

 

An omission. The Republican in its issue of Tuesday in a notice of the credits due to the active members of the Relief Committee, has one notable omission, not from carelessness, but from the modesty of the gentleman who wrote the notice. We are determined that he shall not hide his light under a bushel, and while all those he mentions are justly entitled to the credit he bestows on them, there is no one more deserving of praise in the matter than Mr. Grant O. Richards, the local editor of the Republican. He was an active promoter of the charity from start to finish.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 31 1892

 

Grant Richards of the Republican is confined to his house with an attack of his old enemy, asthma. More power to you, Grant, to overcome all enemies.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 3 1894

 

New Paper for Santa Rosa. Santa Rosa will have a new paper, commencing with the new year. It will be the Evening Press, daily and weekly. It will be independent in politics, and favor gold and silver coinage at a rate of 16 to 1. It will be edited by Grant Richards, for the past five years reporter on the Daily Republican. The new paper will be a six-column folio.

– Petaluma Daily Morning Courier, December 23 1895

 

Grant O. Richards Resigns.

Grant O. Richards has severed his connection with the Republican after holding down the city editor’s chair for nearly six years past. He proposes along with Messrs. Finley and Dunbar to start an evening paper to be called the Evening Press. While on the Republican Grant was a faithful reporter of men and events. He had and displayed the admirable quality of being fair and square to all alike with the result that be has made many friends for himself in Santa Rosa. We wish him success in his new undertaking although it seems to us the field here is hardly large enough for a new venture.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 28 1895

 

The fact that truth is stranger than fiction is demonstrated by the resignation of Rev. J. T. Shurtleff and Editor Grant Richards. Both men were admirably fitted for their places, and most people thought they were fixtures…All the world’s a stage and all the men are gamblers; life itself is a game of chance. Marriage is a lottery and so is farming. Starting a new paper is also a gamble. Ain’t it, Mr. Richards?

– Sonoma Democrat, January 4 1896

 

GRANT RICHARDS CANED.
Double Attack on the Editor of the Evening Press.

Editor Grant O. Richards was surprised in his office Friday afternoon by Gee Whack Mills, who had long had a grudge against him. Mr. Richards sat in his office meditating a new poem on silver and little dreaming of the attack that was to be made upon him by Mills and several confederates.

The assault was well planned and no doubt his assailants had been planning a coup de etat for several days past. They went about the surprise very cautiously and when Mills started in to cane Mr. Richards with a cane with a silver tip on it, the latter did not know what to say or do in defense. The silver tip bore a suitable inscription.

After Mills had got through with the editor, another attack was made on him by Messrs. Mobley, Slater, Duncan, Voorhies, Speegle, Hutchinson and others, who presented him with a wallet capable of holding 16 silver dollars to 1 of gold.

Grant is a good friend, but a bad enemy, and no doubt he will soon get even “wid de gang.”

The occasion of this double attack on the genial Grant was on account of his birthday. Friday, thirty-four years ago, was a busy day with Richards. He was born on the same day as his college chum Tom Watson of Georgia, and like Tom he had no silver spoon in his mouth. One thing we can say about Richards. We have never seen him waltzing around town in his shirt sleeves with a cigar between his teeth. We have never seen him go fishing with a bottle in his pocket, or yank off his coat and swear he could lick any man in town. He ain’t built that way. Here’s hopin’ he may live to be 134.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 12 1896

 

The Santa Rosa Democrat, for thirty years the property of Thos. L. Thompson, ex-United States Minister to Brazil, was sold last Saturday to E. L. Finiey, C. O. Dunbar and Grant O. Richards, proprietors of the Evening Press of the same city. The two papers will be merged into a morning daily to be known as the Press-Democrat Publishing Company. A corporation has been organized with a capital of $30,000. The directors of the company are E. L. Finley, C. O. Dunbar, Grant O. Richards, W. D. Reynolds and J. P. Overton. The management of the new paper will be the same as that of the Press. E. L. Finley and C. O. Dunbar will be business managers, while Grant O. Richards will the editor.

– Napa Journal, September 28 1897

 

Today the first issue of the Press-Democrat made its appearance. The Press issued its last number Tuesday. The young men who have driven it forward to success have now absorbed the Democrat, and with their rejuvenation and the removal of deathly competition some great improvement ought to come to the printing business in Santa Rosa. The first issue is not a criterion to judge by, and the Courier will not compliment todays issue; but when the newness wears away and the Democrat gets up to the business ability of its new promoters it shall be remembered by a generous use of our scissors.

– Petaluma Daily Morning Courier, October 7 1897

 

The first issue of the Press-Democrat, of Santa Rosa, is at hand. We are partial to hyphenated names for papers but if the new management that it is necessary to preserve the names of both the old journals we respectfully suggest that a more appropriate and euphonious title would Democrat-Press. The new paper start out well and publishes an unusual amount of local news.

– Woodland Daily Democrat, October 8 1897

 

THE “PRESS-DEMOCRAT”

In beginning the publication of the Press-Democrat the proprietors wish to thank the citizens of Santa Rosa and Sonoma county for the generous patronage extended them while conducting the Press. They also desire to express their appreciation of the consideration shown them in the last issue of the Democrat by the Hon. T. L. Thompson and the Hon. R. A. Thompson, who by the newspaper change retire from the journalistic field here. The proprietors of the new paper clearly recognize and thoroughly appreciate the ability and worth of these gentlemen who have been so prominently and honorably identified with Santa Rosa and Sonoma county. They realize the very important part they have taken in the progress and development of, not only our city and county, but of the entire state. It is with feelings of regret that the Press-Democrat contemplates their departure from the newspaper field and it certainly hopes that their lines may be cast in pleasant and profitable places. In regard to the new paper, the Press-Democrat, it is only necessary to say that with it, as it has been with the Press, it will be the constant endeavor of the publishers to make it a wide-awake, energetic, progressive and reliable newspaper; one that will speak for itself better than can be expressed in any salutatory. Politically the Press-Democrat will be Democratic of broad and liberal tendencies. With implicit confidence in the citizens of Santa Rosa and Sonoma county, and with an abiding faith in the future of this unsurpassed part of California, the greatest commonwealth under the stars and stripes, the Press-Democrat this morning for the first time greets the public.

– Press Democrat, October 9 1897

 

Editor Richards Ill

Editor Grant O. Richards is confined to his room suffering from nervous prostration. It ia thought that a day or two’a rest will put him back at his desk.

– Press Democrat, April 23 1898

 

The fleet of warships representing the Pacific Coast Squadron will undoubtedly be the most attractive display in the grand parade. In view of the present war with Spain the committee decided upon the float representing the fleet as being most appropriate. In the fleet will be immense models of the battleship Oregon and the monitor Monadnock and Monterey which have cost the Carnival Association over $600 to build. For this occasion the Oregon has been named the Queen of the Carnival, and this will be Queen Grace’s royal float. Upon a daintily arranged throne Queen Grace will sit on the fore deck surrounded by her retinue of maids and pages. Along the line of parade from the guns arranged on the deck bouquets of roses will be fired at the big crowds of spectators. The battleship will be run by an engine, and from the big smoke stacks twenty feet high will issue clouds of smoke. The monitors will be run alongside the battleship Queen of the Carnival, which will be preceded by a splendid representation of the ill-fated battleship Maine, which will be drawn on a wagon by a crowd of small children…

– The San Francisco Examiner, May 19 1898

 

…The fleet of vessels was the popular feature. it should be mentioned here that the beautiful battleship “Carnival Queen” and the monitors which attracted the attention of everybody were designed and their construction was carried out under the personal supervision of Editor Grant O. Richards of the Press Democrat. It was a matter of sincere regret that Mr. Richards’ serious illness at this time prevented him witnessing the magnificent result of his favorite scheme…

– Press Democrat, May 21 1898

 

Information received Monday from the sick room of Grant O. Richards was to the effect that his condition is not improved. This will be sad news to Mr. Richards’ many friends in this city and county. He is to be taken away this evening for treatment by specialists. – Republican.

– Petaluma Daily Morning Courier, May 25 1898

 

SANTA ROSA EDITOR KILLED BY ACCIDENT
Grant O. Richards Found Mortally- Wounded Back of the Skaggs Springs Hotel.

SANTA ROSA. Oct. 22. -Great regret was felt here to-day in all circles when it was learned that Grant O. Richards, editor of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, and one of the most popular and progressive citizens of this place, had shot himself at Skaggs Springs. About 11 o’clock this morning Mr. Richards, who had been at the Springs several days was found on the porch of a house just back of the hotel bleeding from a terrible wound in his face. It was found that a portion of his face had been torn away by the discharge of a shotgun. He died shortly after 11 o’clock to-night. He regained consciousness during the day and stated that the weapon had been discharged by accident.

– San Francisco Call, October 23 1898

 

GRANT O. RICHARDS

it is with a heart full of sadness that the writer of these short lines takes up the pen to begin his task, if he should succeed in some small way in expressing the heartfelt sorrow that has been caused by the sudden and tragic death of the editor of this paper among those who worked with him so long, among those who knew him best, then is the mission done. Yet should the effort fail, it would make small difference after all, for everybody knew Grant Richards and everybody was his friend.

The removal of a good man is always a loss to any city. But the death of a man like this might almost be referred to as a calamity. Generally at the head and front of any movement likely to be of benefit to the community, his influence has been strongly felt in many of the undertakings that have resulted in the city’s good. Yet such was the character of the man that few suspected whose ideas were being carried out or from whence the inspiration came. The gain was seldom his. Such is the one real test of all true greatness.

A man of strong character, gentle and loving as a child, trusting as a woman in many things, he was yet a keen observer, and possessed a shrewd insight into human character. Backed up by these characteristics and preceded by the knowledge that his was the very soul of honor, it is not strange that he often accomplished what others could not do. But it is not necessary to enter upon an extended review of his career, or to parade before the world a record of his virtues. It would not please him if he knew, and his life is like an open book.

Grant O. Richards, recognized as one of the brightest newspaper men in the state of California, has left us and forever. The manner of his death is recorded, and yet the details will never be known until the judgment day. But the fact that he is absent from the spots and haunts that once knew him so well, and the record of his sunny, genial and most honorable life, will never be forgotten till those with whom he lived and moved shall themselves start upon that long, long journey which they pray may end on that beauteous shore where his has just now begun.

Owing to his extended illness, more than six long months have passed since Mr. Richards has been actively engaged in the duties of his profession, and while up to the day of his death he retained the position of editor of this paper, yet during all that time his work has been in another’s hands. It is in this keeping that it will remain.

Grant O. Richards, business man, gentleman, friend and scholar, is now no more, but the example of his beautiful life will remain with us, we trust, until our dying day. And when our end shall come, as come it surely must some time, we ask no more of those who stay behind than that they think of us but half as kindly as they do of him. We wish no more than that the dwellers in that wondrous city may be like him as we knew him, and like him as he is.

– Press Democrat, October 26 1898

 

HIS TRAGIC DEATH
How Grant Richards Met His End
THE FULL DETAILS
Most Suddenly the Summons Came and Rudely
He Passed Away With His Wife and Friends Gathered Around His Couch

On Saturday evening the news became general in this city that Grant O. Richards, the well known editor of the Press Democrat, had, while enjoying an outing at Skaggs’ Springs, met with a terrible accident.

When Sunday morning’s edition of this paper appeared containing the information that he was dead, and giving the details of the tragic affair, the entire community was shocked in a manner that almost defies expression.

It was about a week ago that Mr. Richards left his home in this city for a brief visit with his old friend, John F. Mulgrew, at Skaggs’ Springs. Arriving there he proceeded at once to make himself at home, and from the very time of his arrival seemed to be enjoying himself and was apparently being much benefited by the change of air and scene.

On Saturday morning about the time Mr. Richards came out from the dining room after having eaten his breakfast, two gentlemen boarding at the hotel returned from an early morning hunt. As they seated themselves upon the edge of the porch and proceeded to clean their weapons, Mr. Richards, who was acquainted with both of them, after inquiring as to their success, declared his intention of seeing what he could do some morning in that line.

Having finished their task, the two hunters set their guns, one of which belonged to Mr. Mulgrew, behind the door and went in to breakfast. About an hour later Mr. Richards picked up Mr. Mulgrew’s gun, stuck a few cartridges into his pocket, and stepped out into the front yard, apparently looking for something upon which he could try his aim.

For some little time he sauntered idly around the place, looking now and then into the tree-tops. Finally he wandered in the direction of the cottages, the furtherest one of which is probably not more than a hundred yards from the hotel. He stopped and chatted with several of the guests who passed, and finally seated himself upon one of the cottage porches. A young lady in passing saw him thus seated, the shot gun resting on the ground, and the barrel lying upon his left arm. She nodded at him and passed on.

A few moments later some gentlemen who were playing croquet directly behind the cottage heard a loud report, followed immediately by a cry for help. Rushing around to the front of the cottage they found Mr. Richards seated upon the steps and endeavoring with his handkerchief to stop the flow of blood coming from a frightful wound upon the left side of the head and face.

Mr. Mulgrew and several people from the hotel arrived about the same time, and all proceeded without delay to render what assistance lay in their power. The unfortunate man was carried into the cottage and laid upon a couch, and Dr. Swisher was immediately summoned by telephone from Healdsburg. His friends in this city were also notified by the same means. During this time Mr. Richards was perfectly conscious, and stated to Mr. Mulgrew that the shooting was accidental, but he was so weak that he could not explain exactly how it all happened.

A second dispatch was received at this office from Mr. Mulgrew shortly after noon, stating that the physician had arrived, and after an examination had expressed the fear that Mr. Richards would only live a few hours. Immediately upon the receipt of this intelligence Mrs. Richards, E. L. Finley and C. O. Dunbar in a surrey and behind a fast team started on a hurried drive to Skaggs’.

While the doctor was conducting the examination Mr. Richards stated to him that the gun had been accidentally discharged. He asked whether or not he would be able to save his life, and whether or not he would be able to repair the damage without leaving much of a scar. He cautioned the physician most particularly about being very careful as to the amount of morphine he was to give him, stating that he knew nothing of its effect upon his heart, and desired to take no chances.

The morphine was administered, and the wound carefully dressed. C. W. Capell, a medical student of Healdsburg, and Ole Witbro, a professional nurse from Geyserville, both of whom had in the meantime been summoned, were left in charge, and the physician having done all then in his power returned to his home.

The loving wife and friends arrived upon the scene shortly after dark. At that time Mr. Richards was unconscious, and shortly after half-past 10 he passed peacefully away. Gathered around the bedside in the little cottage at the springs were his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Mulgrew, C. W. Capell, Ole Witbro, William Litton, Charles O. Dunbar and Ernest L. Finley.

By special arrangement made previously in the evening, the telephone agent at Geyserville returned to his office at 12 o’clock that night and connected Skaggs’ Springs with this city by wire. The news of the distressing affair was transmitted to the Press Democrat, the undertaker was notified, and word was sent to Coroner Young at Healdsburg.

Early Sunday morning Mr. Stanley started for Skaggs’ and later in the day secured the body, arriving in this city with the remains about 8 o’clock that evening. Coroner Young arrived at the springs about noon, and shortly afterwards secured a jury and began the inquest.

During the progress of the investigation the most searching inquiry into the cause of the accident was had. The body was carefully examined, and both Mr. Mulgrew and Dr. Swisher testified at length regarding their knowledge of the matter. As a result the jury returned a unanimous verdict to the effect that the deceased met his death as the result of the accidental discharge of a shot gun while out hunting.

Henry G. Hahman and William F. Wines, both warm personal friends of the deceased, took the train for Skaggs’ Springs on Sunday morning, arriving there about 1 o’clock in the afternoon. They did everything possible and returned home on the evening train. Mrs. Richards, Mr. Dunbar and Mr. Finley returned home as they had gone, by carriage.

The utmost regret is expressed upon every hand over the most sad and unfortunate occurrence. All Saturday night this office was besieged by callers anxious to render any assistance that lay in their power. At the springs the host and hostess, the guests and the employees were profuse in their many acts of kindness and thoughtfulness, to all of whom the bereaved wife and business associates desire to express their most heartfelt thanks.

Mr. Richards was a native of Wisconsin and was thirty-six years of age last September. He first came to Santa Rosa in June, 1890, from Newton, Kansas, just after his marriage, and entered upon the duties of city editor of the Republican. Several mouths later he left here for Seattle, believing the climate would suit his health better at the time. A few months later he returned to Santa Rosa and resumed his work on the Republican, and continued on that paper until the close of the year 1895, when the Evening Press was so successfully launched, in January, 1896. At the time of his death Mr. Richards was editor of this paper, a position he had filled both with credit to himself and with benefit to the entire community.

THE FUNERAL OBSEQUIES

The last tribute of love has been paid, and to the grave has been consigned all that was mortal of one who in life gained the respect of everybody. The earthly tenement of Editor Grant O. Richards now rests in the quiet of Santa Rosa cemetery until the Resurrection morn. It rests there in sure and certain hope of the coming to eternal life.

Nothing was wanting in the last tribute to add to the honor bestowed. It was honor done gratefully to the memory of a true friend of the community, beautifully expressive was the burial service.

At the First Presbyterian church a large congregation awaited the arrival of the funeral cortege. Just at 2 o’clock the organist, Mrs. J. S. Sweet, commenced Chopin’s Funeral March as the casket covered with beautiful creations in flowers was borne slowly to the front of the altar by eight intimate friends of the deceased, James W. Oates, John P. Overton, Henry G. Hahman, George W. Lewis, W. F. Wines, Herbert Slater, Peter Towey and Mayor James S. Sweet.

A few minutes later Santa Rosa lodge, Knights of Pythias, marshalled by Robert Ross, filed into the church and occupied seats immediately behind the mourners in the middle of the church. Then Carita temple, of the Rathbone Sisters, passed into the seats reserved for them on the right hand side of the auditorium. Seats were reserved on the left side of the church for members of the Santa Rosa Typographical Union and members of the Press Democrat force. Mark L, McDonald Jr. was the usher.

[..]

…the first part of the service was brought to a close.

Then the hundreds of the deceased’s friends present passed around the bier on which the casket rested in front of the altar, and took a last glance at the placid face. With hearts filled with emotion this was done.

The casket was then carried to the hearse and the procession formed for the journey to the cemetery. The line of carriages was very long. At the head of the procession walked the members of Santa Rosa lodge, Knights of Pythias, in files of two. There was a large attendance of the Knights to show a last token of esteem for their brother.

Just at the entrance to the cemetery gates the Knights formed in double line and stood with uncovered beads while the cortege passed…

…The grave was a mass of beautiful white flowers mingled with sprays of greenery, the work of the Ladies Dorcas society of the Presbyterian church.

While the earth was being thrown into the grave the Presbyterian church choir sang a number of hymns. It was an affecting scene. The autumn leaves falling from the shade trees heralding the approach of winter and the passing of another year, contrasted with the radiance of the autumn sun shining in all its brilliance, symbolic doubtless in many hearts of the land that is fairer than day, where death is unknown.

Untold love and affection was manifest in the great number of exquisite floral gifts sent. The flowers were magnificent. To attempt to enumerate them would be useless, as many of the creations bore no name. There were many wreaths, an anchor, crosses, pillows, and branches of flowers. Handsome pieces were sent by the Knights of Pythias, the Rathbone Sisters, the Press Democrat, the Santa Rosa Typographical Union and many others.

The offering from the Santa Rosa Typographical Union was a superb creation in which white and blue flowers predominated. In the center of a lovely white back ground was the sign “30.” The symbol “30” is used in newspaper offices, though it had its origin in telegraphy. When the last piece of copy is given out before the composition on the paper ceases for the day’s issue, on it appears “30”, signifying “the end,” and by this the compositor knows there is nothing more coming, and that the last news is in.

The grave presented a lovely sight when Mr. Stanley had completed the arrangement of the flowers, and after the parting benediction by the Rev. Mr. Hudson and a verse of “God Be With You Till We Meet Again,” the service at the grave was over.

– Press Democrat, October 26 1898

 

Grant O. Richards, editor of the Press Democrat, died at Skaggs Springs on Saturday from the accidental discharge of a shotgun. Richards came to California in 1890, and worked constantly in the newspaper field, in which he was fast taking his place as a power, because of his clear, pungent and forceful style. He was a victim of overwork, and his health could not stand the tasks he set for his powers. He was of indomitable will, and worked when other men would have been in bed, never flinching when he saw a duty to perform, a friend he could help, or a benefit he could forward for the public. He was a martyr to the spirit Drive, and his beneficial work will be felt long after him. A man whom all loved to know, and knew but to love, may his ashes rest in peace.—Petaluma Courier

– Press Democrat, October 29 1898

 

Grant O. Richards, the editor of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, committed suicide at Skaggs Springs last Saturday by shooting himself in the head with a shotgun.

– Mendocino Coast Beacon, October 29 1898

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pipedreams

SEBASTOPOL’S CHINATOWNS

In other times and places they may have been considered twin villages. The two communities brushed against each other, each with a mercantile district, its own places of worship and sometimes populations of roughly the same size. But never did they have equal standing, which is because one of those communities was entirely Chinese immigrants and this was the American West in the 19th century. Specifically, this was Sebastopol and its Chinatown. Its two Chinatowns, actually.

Before diving in, it pains me to admit the tale you’re about to read is incomplete. I’ve pecked away at the history of this fascinating lost world for ages, returning to it whenever another historic newspaper or trove of other data came online. But it’s been a while since anything really significant surfaced; it looks like some sections of the puzzle – critically important sections, at that – will always be missing. So here I’ve put together what I have, in the hope that someday a family memoir, a dusty photo album or a history by one of San Francisco’s Six Companies will appear, allowing scholars of Chinese culture in the West to cement more parts of the picture together.

This project began over seven years ago after finding a remark by West County historian Bill Borba: “Sebastopol had two Chinatowns that must have had in the neighborhood of 200-300 Chinese in them…” Sure enough, I found the fire maps which showed the village seemed to have two Chinese enclaves about a block apart. I soon learned this was a very unusual situation.


“JOHN CHINAMAN” COMES TO SONOMA

The earliest Chinese immigrants probably arrived in Sonoma county around 1855, as they did in Marin; the 1860 census shows about forty, all but a handful living in the town of Sonoma. During this decade the local newspapers fed readers a steady diet of racist stories about the doings of “John Chinaman” in San Francisco or the Gold Country, but little about the men living here. A rare 1868 item from the Santa Rosa paper told of a Chinese man who reported being robbed by two boys – but “several white persons near by when the alleged act was committed” claimed he was lying, so the case was dropped.

By the 1870 census the Chinese population had grown tenfold; 470 men were counted in the county overall with over half (280) living in Petaluma. Salt Point was the third largest Chinese group with 96 (mainly logging camps at Timber Cove and Duncan’s Mills). Five were listed in Bloomfield. In 1871, California Pacific railroad brought in a crew of over a thousand Chinese laborers to begin work on a rail line between Santa Rosa and Cloverdale. Judging by the number of newspaper reports, this decade was by far the most violent for Chinese immigrants, with multiple reports of beatings, shootings and a trend of young white boys shooting them in the face. The most disturbing incidents were when hunters found a body in the Laguna; although the Coroner’s Jury met there and believed the man had been murdered, there was no further investigation and the remains were buried at the site following the verdict. Near Bloomfield, an immigrant supposedly attempted suicide by cutting his throat, followed by splitting his head open with an axe. When the Coroner’s Jury arrived at the scene they found the body some distance away in a potato field; it was decided the injured man stumbled there on his own and there was no foul play involved in any of it. The body remained lying in the field for several days.

Although the 1880 census missed the entire Chinese community at Bloomfield (although there were eight counted in Valley Ford), there were still 901 enumerated in the county, with Sonoma City, Santa Rosa and Petaluma having the largest populations, in that order. The population of the Analy Township was 1,380 with 37 Chinese immigrants, and Sebastopol had 197 residents with only three from China.

Only summaries of the 1890 census exist, but there were 1,173 identified as Chinese in the entire county with 231 in the Analy Township (there was no breakout for Sebastopol), slightly behind Santa Rosa’s leading count of 277.

Was this a single community split between different streets or were these really two separate Chinatowns? Evidence points both ways. Until the last buildings were razed in 1943 1945, the Sebastopol newspaper referred to one as New (or Barnes’) Chinatown and the other as Old (or Brown’s) Chinatown. Each had its own “joss house” (a place of worship) which I’m told was never seen in a town so small. (By contrast, there was no joss house at all in Santa Rosa, although we know there was a room used as a temple.) But did one group have better status, more wealth than the other? Those and other loose threads are tugged below.

Nor do we have any images of the Chinatowns except for grainy photos taken before it was to be demolished. There are no known pictures of any residents – the man seen at the top of this article is from Arnold Genthe’s book on San Francisco’s Chinatown at around the turn of the century.

Even worse, we don’t have an accurate view of how many people were living there at any particular time. Old census data was often problematic when it came to enumerating ethnic minorities, possibly because of racism or language barriers. In the 1880 census there were no Chinese counted in Bloomfield, for example, although there were probably hundreds living there; other census takers in the county that year didn’t make much of an effort to record Chinese names with any accuracy, filling in the census forms with meaningless stubs such as “Lee,” “ah Gus,” “Hong Kong,” or “Sing.” Complicating matters, the census was usually taken during the summer months when Chinese ag workers might be away from where they lived most of the year, dispersed on farms or among work crews where they could be overlooked (or hidden). A more specific example of these problems is below.

Our story begins in 1885, although newspapers had occasionally mentioned Chinese men in Sebastopol over the previous decade. (Most news about early Sebastopol comes from the Petaluma Argus, as older 19th century Santa Rosa papers mostly ignored the village.) That year Aaron Barnes announced he was moving “his China houses” off Main Street; it didn’t happen for several years, as the 1888 fire map shown below still showed a Chinatown with about a dozen buildings, roughly across the street from today’s Copperfield’s store.

Aaron Barnes (1816-1897) was a farmer/real estate investor who owned several lots around downtown Sebastopol, most notably the large corner at Petaluma Ave. and (modern) Highway 12, where the CVS and Benedetti Tire now stand. He had a quirky life, which earned him a profile in “SEBASTOPOL WAS ALWAYS QUIRKY,” but it was never explained why he seemed to have so much devotion to his Chinese tenants. There’s a family story that he liked them better than the white townsfolk because a church had done something to offend him and his first wife. But his cause of death was diagnosed as constipation, which might seem unusual because the cure-all tonics during his era were usually strong laxatives mixed with alcohol. That condition is also famously a side-effect from chronic use of opium.

1888 Sanborn map of Sebastopol's downtown Chinatown
1888 Sanborn map of Sebastopol’s downtown Chinatown

The situation changed quickly and dangerously in the first weeks of 1886. Anti-Chinese vigilante committees had been running amok on the West Coast for months, terrorizing immigrants into leaving their communities under threats of death. While Sonoma County locals were chanting the popular “Chinese must go” mantra, there was no violence or anti-Chinese activism here. But when members of Petaluma’s Wickersham family were brutally killed in mid-January and their Chinese cook was accused of the deed, anti-Chinese Leagues sprouted overnight in every Sonoma community with intent to expel them. For in-depth coverage on that story, see “THE YEAR OF THE ANTI-CHINESE LEAGUE.”

Before the end of that January there was a trickle of Chinese coming into Santa Rosa from Cloverdale, Healdsburg and other points north. Some were passing through on their way to San Francisco, but many apparently were lingering in town to see how the situation would develop – the Democrat newspaper reported there were over 600 Chinese in Santa Rosa as the month ended. Sebastopol’s Chinatown swelled at the same time. The correspondent for the Argus wrote “the town has about 360 Chinese and they outnumber about 250 whites.” In the next few weeks, the Chinese population of Sebastopol peaked at an estimated 400-450.


BLOOMFIELD’S “PIGTAIL ALLEY”

Before it became dairy county, Big Valley (Bloomfield + Valley Ford) was known for its potatoes; 100,000 sacks a year were carted down to the Petaluma wharf in the wagons which were jokingly called “spud schooners.” As planting and digging so many potatoes is quite labor intensive, Big Valley was also known for its many, many Chinese immigrants. When they hit Peak Potato around 1880 it’s often claimed 300 Chinese men lived in or around Bloomfield, although local historian Bill Borba always said the number was closer to 600, far larger than Sebastopol’s combined Chinatowns.

Several locations have been identified but none are documented by archaeology; camps were said to be at the current location of Emma Herbert Memorial Park and near the intersection of Roblar Road and Valley Ford Road. Several buildings were rented along Main Street (now Bloomfield Road), with “Pigtail Alley” somewhere nearby. This was probably their Chinatown; a Chinese butcher shop and laundry are mentioned in articles below, so it’s fairly safe to assume there was a business area similar in size to Sebastopol.

In February 1886 an Anti-Chinese Committee was formed in Bloomfield, same as in all other Sonoma County communities. But the situation was different, due to the size of the Chinese community (“there is no town in the state, of its size, where there are so many Chinese” – Sonoma Democrat) and because some Bloomfielders were inclined to vigilante activity. An unsuccessful attempt was made to blow up a Chinese laundry (“result, a lot of frightened Chinamen and a shattered floor”) and a spring that supplied water was salted. That October – months after the anti-Chinese fervor had sputtered out in Santa Rosa and other places – the Argus reported that vigilantes “…have AGAIN [emphasis mine] taken the law into their own hands and have forcibly ejected them from the town.”

Predictably, the farmers found themselves short-handed when potato harvest season arrived in 1887: “It is impossible to get enough white hands. Chinamen are scarce and disposed to boycott the Bloomfield country, from which they were driven a year since.” Potato blight damaged much of the crop in 1889 and by 1891 there were only about 100 acres still planted in potatoes, most of the land converted to dairy pastures.

Many who sought refuge in Sebastopol presumably were coming from nearby Bloomfield, which had the largest sustained Chinese community in the county. Bloomfield was also the site of the only local vigilante activity, which continued for months (see sidebar). But as winter turned into spring even the Chinatowns in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa shrunk greatly, although it’s most likely because of residents melting away into the countryside to take their customary farm jobs now that growing season approached.

After a year passed there was no sign the anti-Chinese furor had any lasting effect in Sebastopol (“there are more Chinamen in Sebastopol to the square foot than in any American town that we know of” – Argus). The Petaluma paper reported boys – and women from Santa Rosa – were coming to the village’s Chinatown to smoke opium, a matter of some irritation to the townsfolk.

The first possible sighting of a second Chinatown appears in 1889: “The Chinese have built a Joss house in town.” That it was built by the Chinese themselves (or perhaps, paid for by them) suggests Barnes was not involved, as he apparently always hired contractors.

This other Chinatown was on property owned by John Brown, like Barnes a farmer/real estate investor, although on a much larger scale – he had some 1,400 acres on the east end of Sebastopol which he leased to others, making him the second largest landowner in the area (the Walker ranch was larger). His cottage still exists on the edge of town and is currently home to the Animal Kingdom Veterinary Hospital.

That became known as Old Chinatown. Then 15 months later, in early 1891, New Chinatown started to appear: “Elliot & Berry are building a fine Joss House for the Chinamen.” Later that year, “a number of China houses are in course of erection on the corner of Petaluma and Bodega avenues by Mr. Aaron Barnes, and the Joss house which has been located near Mr. Barnes’ residence has been moved to the same lot.” (It never ceases to amaze me that they moved houses around like dominoes back then.) To be clear: This Chinatown occupied the entire footprint of the modern CVS and its parking lot.

And so Sebastopol became accustomed to having two Chinatowns in its backyard. One of the rare items in the Sebastopol paper that mentions both describes the comic 1898 efforts to restrain a bull running through the town: “…he concluded to have some noodle soup and charged the restaurant in Barnes’ Chinatown. The boss cook banged a big tin pan against the noodle pot with such effect that his lordship wheeled for Brown’s Chinatown. Whether he wanted to hit the pipe or was looking for a game of fan tan is not known…”

Another episode from the same year shows how fairly the town treated their Chinese residents. During Lunar New Year celebrations Deputy Constable Woodward attempted a little extortion, demanding $5 from each merchant who was exploding firecrackers. As there was no such thing as a firecracker tax, two men began arguing with Woodward; that turned into a fight with the cop pistol-whipping a young man named Ah Woy, who filed a complaint against the constable. During the court hearing a few days later about a dozen Chinese witnesses testified. Woodward’s defense was that he only asked Woy to quiet down and was attacked by Woy while trying to assist him to go indoors. “Some of the Chinese witnesses, however, did not seem to agree with the constable’s version of the fracas,” the Press Democrat reported. “Some of them of the ‘little bit Engleesh’ persuasion just looked daggers at Mr. Woodward.” The court fined Woodward $20 for battery and dismissed Woodward’s assault charge against Woy.

There was probably no happier year in those places than 1898. There were now children in the community and there was a wedding:


“A Chinese bride! A Chinese bride!” The word was passed like wildfire among the crowd at the Donahue depot as the ten o’clock train on the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad slowed up there Wednesday morning. Instantly everybody was anxious to catch a glimpse of the celestial maiden, clad in the most fantastic of bridal costumes…When the bride and her party arrived at Sebastopol they were given a great reception by scores of Chinese. In a gaily decorated vehicle adorned with flags and Chinese lanterns, the bride was escorted through the streets. Later in the day the marriage took place amid much pomp. the groom was a “heap high tone” Chinaman employed on the Knowles ranch near Sebastopol.

Less happy was 1899; almost all of Barnes’ Chinatown burned down, wiping out 15 buildings including stores, boarding houses, the Joss house and their Masonic hall. There was great concern during the fire because the winds were blowing towards town and no one knew where their hook and ladder truck was (it was found on a vacant lot, someone having borrowed it for personal use). As Aaron Barnes was now deceased, it was unclear whether his son Henry would rebuild. By the end of the year it was reconstructed about 75 feet further east away from Petaluma Ave. One merchant, Quong Wah, was wealthy enough to build his own place.

1903 Sanborn map of Sebastopol's Old Chinatown and New Chinatown
1903 Sanborn map of Sebastopol’s Old Chinatown and New Chinatown

In the summer of 1900 the census taker found 77 Chinese in and around Sebastopol, two of them women. Most were in small knots of 3-5 laborers living on farms but about a third were in the Chinatowns, which now had two groceries, two merchandise stores, three laundries and a barber. The two Chinatowns were still about equal size on the 1903 map. John A. Brown died in 1905 and the property passed to his daughter, Birdie, who continued making improvements into the 1920s. It was no longer called Old Chinatown/Brown’s Chinatown but “China Alley.”

Fast-forward ahead another decade; the 1910 census is the only one which recognized two Chinatowns, with about 25 people living in each. Seven were female and nine were born in California. Kim Lee owned a laundry; there were five grocers and eight other stores, which seems like a lot, if there were really only fifty people.

1911 Sanborn map of Sebastopol's China Alley and Barnes street Chinatown
1911 Sanborn map of Sebastopol’s China Alley and Barnes street Chinatown

And now we come to the 1920s; there’s a druggist who has his own store, two salesmen, and sixteen people under age 20, with two dozen people born in California. The census says there are 84 living in “China Town.” Except that’s apparently not really true. To (somewhat) repeat myself: When it comes to the Chinese, the census data is like a house of cards – touch it lightly and it all falls apart.

Meet Johnny Ginn. He was an old man in the early 1970s when he was interviewed by sociologists collecting oral histories of the Chinese experience in California.* He was the only one interviewed who spoke about Sebastopol, having grown up around there; that 1898 story about the Chinese bride concerned his mother.

Johnny’s father was named Ginn Wall and as the wedding item states, he worked on the Knowles ranch near Sebastopol. But according to the 1900 census, there were no Chinese living on or near the William H. Knowles ranch. Same for 1910, 1920. In fact, Johnny and his parents can’t be spotted in any census at all, as far as I can tell, and they were not alone in being overlooked. As he told the researchers, “There were about three hundred Chinese farmworkers up there, and they were all old men…and except for my mother, not a single woman. That was the whole Chinese settlement in Sebastopol.”

Johnny’s mother died in 1929 and his father went broke being a tenant farmer. After saving for the next six years they finally had the $600 to send Ginn Wall back to China by himself. Johnny told the researchers he realized that the farm settlement in Sebastopol was dying:


All those old guys thought about was how they wanted to go back to China. But there’s only about six months work in the year on apples, so they never saved a thing. And the only other thing besides work was gambling. Gambling was the social life, and gambling was the pastime. Everybody hoped to make a few bucks so they could go home in the easy way. The others lost their money and got stuck from year to year.

By then in the mid-1930s it was a bachelor society of elderly men. There was nothing still keeping him there, so Johnny became a migrant worker.

1929 Sanborn map of Sebastopol's Brown ave. and Barnes ave.
1929 Sanborn map of Sebastopol’s Brown ave. and Barnes ave.

Our last glimpse of the Chinatowns comes from the 1929 map, which shows the one on Brown Ave. (now Brown St.) in slow decline, while Barnes Ave. has slightly grown. The census in the following year again had a low headcount of 54 residents, but there was also now the eight-member Gin Hop family with their own house on Pitt Ave. (He was a China-born merchant and presumably no relation to Ginn Wall.)


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PDF file of transcribed sources discussed in this article (26 pages)



Of most interest to historians is the 1929 map appearance of a Tong Hall at the southernmost end, which raises several intriguing questions. It’s possible it had been there for years, but escaped notice of white cartographers who didn’t understand it possibly represented the foothold of a crime gang. In the late 1890s the Sebastopol paper had several items about highbinders (tong enforcers, sometimes hit men) being in town and a man who supposedly was a local highbinder was himself killed there in 1899. Although the separate Chinatowns began as protectorates of Messrs. Barnes and Brown, it’s possible they soon came under the control of rival tongs. This would explain why two joss houses were sustained the entire time. (UPDATE: Most tongs were not criminal, particularly at this late date.)

It all came to an end in 1943, when Sebastopol condemned the last buildings on Barnes ave. as fire hazards. Press Democrat reporter Pete Johnson described the place as “ghostlike,” although there were some people still living there. A few remained in Brown’s Chinatown until August, 1945 when that district was likewise condemned.

The last celebration of Chinese New Year was apparently 1932 and it was a low-key affair, the usual gaiety dampened by the Japanese invasion of Manchuria a few months earlier. “Chinese and Japanese in the settlement here are said to exchange nothing but short greetings, but the situation isn’t acute,” the Sebastopol Times reported. Only a few gathered at the joss house to celebrate because only a few were still around. “Old-timers in the Chinatown here estimate their number to be less than 70…about one-fourth of the population several years ago,” said the Times, the paper at last acknowledging the true size of the historic community.

But earlier New Year celebrations there were always happy times, regardless of their pitiable situations, and it was also the only time of the year when the Sebastopol gwáilóu came over to visit with them. Let’s end our survey with a peek at the celebration in 1920:


Wednesday noon in front of the joss house several strings of fire crackers, each over thirty feet in length, were exploded, much to the delight of Sebastopol’s boyhood. The Chinese had erected a high tripod on which they suspended the long strings of fire crackers by means of a pulley, but the first string had hardly been ignited when the tripod collapsed and the entire string exploded at once, much to the dismay of the Chinese…The rest of the fire crackers were more successful. All afternoon the tom toms and cymbals were kept busy by the Chinese musicians who were stationed in the joss house.
1943 views of Barnes Ave. Chinatown (Press Democrat) The Sonoma County Library History & Genealogical Library has another photo with a partial view of the Wing Yuen Tai Co. store and employment office on the corner of Barnes Ave. in the 1920s.
1943 views of Barnes Ave. Chinatown (Press Democrat) The Sonoma County Library History & Genealogical Library has another photo with a partial view of the Wing Yuen Tai Co. store and employment office on the corner of Barnes Ave. in the 1920s.

* Longtime Californ’: A Documentary Study of an American Chinatown; Victor Nee and Brett De Bary; 1986; pp. 25-29

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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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