maryharrisjump

THE DEAD GIRL AT FOUNTAINGROVE

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

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


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

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

THOMAS LAKE HARRIS AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE NEW LIFE

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– San Francisco Chronicle, January 5 1896

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– San Francisco Chronicle, January 6 1896

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

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

– Sonoma Democrat, January 11 1896

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A MYSTIC COMMUNITY.

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

– San Francisco Chronicle, February 14 1896

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEFORE THE GRAND JURY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A PECULIAR INVESTIGATION.

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

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

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

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

– San Francisco Call, February 14 1896

 

 

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

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

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

[..]

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

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

[..]

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

– San Francisco Call, February 15 1896

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LET’S GO, 1870!

Thank you for the ticket purchase to   SANTA ROSA, CA.   in the year 1870. We just KNOW you’re going to enjoy your visit back then!

Your costume will be arriving by drone shortly (DO NOT WASH OR HAVE CLEANED). Prior to departure from the atavachron station, the purser will issue you $ 52 in replica gold coins which will have the purchasing power of approximately $1,000 today.

To make the most of your trip, it’s helpful to be as knowledgable as possible about local topics. As many events carry over from the previous year in your time window, our bots have prepared this overview of 1869-1870 by scanning a local newspaper,   The Sonoma Democrat. Selected tips and advisories from previous time travelers are also included.

TRAVEL ADVISORY   Those with asthma or other respiratory difficulties should note that air quality will be very unhealthy to hazardous throughout Sonoma and Napa counties during the Great Fire, October 15-22 1870.

GENERAL   Santa Rosa is a frontier village on the cusp of becoming part of the greater San Francisco Bay Area. In the space of two dramatic weeks between October 15-31 1870, railroad service begins, the first streetlights appear and there will be fears that a wildfire is poised to destroy the town. Aside from the 1906 earthquake and the 2017 Tubbs fire, these are the most impactful days in Santa Rosa history.

FROM CORY298: When the topic of Santa Rosa comes up in Petaluma, shake your head sadly, tsk-tsk or optionally chuckle; if Petaluma is mentioned in Santa Rosa, shake your fist and cuss.

The population of Santa Rosa is about 1,800 with the overall Santa Rosa Township approx. 3,000. Petaluma, the other major community in the area, has around 4,500 residents. A significant rivalry between the towns began a dozen years earlier and in 1870 there will be a renewed call to split the county in half, with Petaluma intended to be the county seat for the southern section. You will be expected to express your feelings about this rivalry generally.

Santa Rosa is roughly 30 square blocks with an open plaza in the center (see 1866 map below). Salmon run in the adjacent Santa Rosa Creek, but the waterway is not navigable in 1869 due to obstructions from two buildings that collapsed into the creek bed. Small corn and wheat fields surround the village on the other three sides. Santa Rosa has no library, no bank (until November, 1870), no water, sewer, or gas utility services.

All streets are unpaved and plank sidewalks in front of businesses or homes are at the prerogative of property owners. Until late 1870 there are no streetlights so a lantern or the company of a local resident is recommended when walking at night. In November the downtown area after dark is transformed by the addition of lamp post lights fueled by “gasolyne” (essentially large gasoline-fed bunsen burners). As a result, the Santa Rosa newspaper states, “Main street at night looks quite brilliant.”

TRAVEL   San Francisco can be reached via steamboats/ferries departing from Petaluma/Vallejo. Stage coaches to those towns may not connect reliably with ship departure schedules, so an overnight layover may be required.

All roads are unpaved and during rainy periods the Petaluma and Sebastopol road is sometimes nearly impassible. 1869: “…[there are] two or three swimming holes, almost deep enough to drown horse and rider.” 1870: “…[there are] lakes deep enough to admit of gondolizing upon their muddy surface.” When a stage becomes stuck in mud, all passengers are expected to assist in pushing it out.

THE RAILROAD   The train will not actually arrive in Santa Rosa until mid-March, 1871, but daily service begins Oct. 22 1870 as stages shuttle passengers back and forth from the downtown hotels to the terminal point of the approaching track (MORE details). The objective is to connect Santa Rosa to Petaluma immediately (preferably direct to its steamboat pier) with rail extensions further north to come in following years. Work is intermittent in 1869 due to the developer having financing and supply difficulties; by the end of the year there is only 1½ miles of track laid north of Petaluma.

Since the rail line will eventually connect to the ferry in Sausalito, there is a widespread conspiracy theory that Petaluma is somehow responsible for the slow progress. Supposedly interests there wish to block or delay construction because a direct train connection to the Bay will lead to a dropoff in steamboat passenger and freight traffic.

FROM RAILROADGUY-SF: The excursion departs San Francisco at 8:30AM and there will be no food, drinks or bathroom breaks until the party returns to the steamer at 5PM, so be prepared.

A new developer takes over the project in August 1870 and work resumes swiftly. The first San Francisco excursion train to Santa Rosa is announced for December 31 and over 1,200 people will take the trip, riding open freight cars fitted with seats. Unfortunately the tracks terminate a mile south of Santa Rosa and the train will start its return to Petaluma an hour after it arrives at the end of the line. There will be only a few buggies and wagons waiting to transport visitors into Santa Rosa, so those wanting to visit the village will have to dash for it. As this is the most popular event in this venue, arrive early and please refrain from gambling on the running excursionists with other time travelers.

POLITICS   Avoid generally, but understand most in Santa Rosa still view everything through the prism of the Civil War. Sonoma county was one of the few places in the state which never voted for Lincoln, and Santa Rosa remains a hotbed for Confederacy sympathies in 1870. In Santa Rosa it is not the “Civil War” but the “War for Southern Independence.” The Democrat newspaper will regularly denounce the government as a fanatical mob of revolutionaries who have divided the nation and trampled on the Constitution.

Travelers not on the women’s suffrage tour will be interested to know this venue includes a Jan. 21, 1870 lecture by nationally famous activist Laura de Force Gordon in Petaluma. Women’s suffrage is the main political topic in this time window, as Wyoming gives women the vote in December, 1869 and the 15th amendment is ratified as part of the Constitution in March, 1870, which grants citizens the right to vote regardless of race, but does not include women.

Other names which will be heard mentioned on the subject include Anna E. Dickinson, arguing forcefully for women’s rights and considered one of the most eloquent speakers in the nation and Emma Webb, an actress who opposes suffrage (and also gave speeches in support of slavery during the Civil War). During 1869 there will be evening Lyceum debates over suffrage at the Santa Rosa courthouse in April (decision in favor suffrage) and May (decision against). There are no women participating in either debate.

Trigger alert: Those wishing to avoid exposure to extreme misogyny should avoid reading coverage of these events in the Sonoma Democrat.

THE GREAT FIRE   The “Great Fire” of 1870 matches the pattern of the 20th century Hanly Fire and 21st century Tubbs Fire. It begins in the Calistoga/St. Helena area and burns through Knights Valley and the Mark West Creek watershed towards Santa Rosa, driven by high winds. On the night of October 16 the fire is three miles from the village and a collection is taken to pay three men to stay up all night and sound the alarm if needed. No lives are lost, but farms are destroyed with some livestock killed (MORE details).

LODGING   Santa Rosa has an acute housing shortage in 1870, in part because of anticipated rapid growth once the railroad arrives. Finding a room in a boarding house or private home should be a high priority as the hotels are expensive (if rooms are even available), charging about $1 per day and 40¢ per meal. From the March 12 1870 newspaper: “There is scarcely a day passes but that some person calls at this office and wants to know ‘if there are any houses to rent in Santa Rosa?’ Although there have been several new buildings erected within the past year yet we do not know of a house to rent in our town at the present time.”

FUN & GAMES   There is great excitement on April 27, 1869, when the first velocipede arrives. Purchased by a group of young men for about $60 in San Francisco, a crowd will gather in the plaza to watch them attempt to ride it, and fail. By the end of the week they are accomplished “velocipedestrians” practicing on the Sonoma road. In June some will open a velocipede school which closes after two days because everyone who wants to learn already has. By July the paper reports “the velocipede fever, which prevailed here a few weeks ago, has now entirely died out. Even the boys have come to the conclusion that there is too much work in managing the machine, and have given it up in disgust.”

October 1869 will see the formation of Santa Rosa’s first Base Ball club, which will begin playing as soon as instruction books on the rules arrive from San Francisco. On December 4 they challenge any nine who show up at their field as long as they are residents of Santa Rosa.

DRINKING   Santa Rosa is already on its way to becoming a saloon town in 1870, with six bars in the village. There are breweries in Healdsburg and Petaluma but none in Santa Rosa. Isaac De Turk’s winery in Bennett Valley produces 6,000 gallons of wine, most or all of which is shipped to San Francisco.


POKER NO, FARO YES

Card players should expect to play faro, which is by far the most popular game throughout the West until the early 20th century. It uses a regular deck of cards but suits don’t matter; just bet on any of the 13 ranks – a king, 4, etc. The “bank” deals two cards pushed up from a spring-loaded shoe as in blackjack. The first card turned over is the loser, and the second is the winner. It’s the simplest card game possible but every dealer has additional rules on betting.
Faro is popular because it is fast moving and a social game like roulette, where there are often onlookers placing bets during the course of the game. Betting on the order of appearance for the final three cards remaining in the deck has the highest stakes.
Faro game in Bisbee, AZ, 1900
This card game is also famous for cheating. From an often reprinted 1882 booklet titled “Faro Exposed”: “…all regular faro players are reduced to poverty…almost every faro player has some peculiar system which he strives to believe will beat the bank, but in the end all systems fail.” For more on faro, see the comprehensive “Faro: A 19th-century gambling craze.” Other popular card games include monte-bank, chuck-for-luck, seven-and-a-half, keno and rondo.

Public drunkenness is scorned but not against the law in Santa Rosa. In late 1870 the City Marshal will construct a Calaboose behind the jail to hold intoxicated men until they become sober. Previously the Marshal had crated drunks. (Crating is a traditional prank children in this era play on drinkers whom they find unconscious, placing a Queensware crate over them and weighing it down so the victim cannot easily escape.)

There is no temperance group in Santa Rosa akin to the Dashaway Associations of the early 1860s and the Blue Ribbon Clubs of the late 1870s. This will be a disappointment to experienced travelers who know those popular non-religious meetings are great opportunities to mingle with locals, find lodging and even employment, if desired.

GAMBLING   Wagering at card games is a preoccupation for many men, but caution is strongly urged. Violence can erupt over trivial gambling disputes, and in 1870 a man named Charles Coburn is stabbed repeatedly at a card game in Sebastopol. Also that year a man known only as Clark is stabbed in the neck at Santa Rosa’s Rialto saloon over cards. Travelers will not desire to experience emergency medical care in this time window.

Often any opportunity to place a bet is welcomed. In Sept. 1870 an imitator of Edward Payson Weston calling himself Prof. Western wins $5 here for his prowess at long distance walking. Young men are racing their horses on the road to Petaluma “for anything from a jack knife to a two bit piece.”

Depending upon the time of your arrival, there are any of six horse tracks in the vicinity: The Petaluma Race Course, the Santa Rosa race track, the Sotoyome Race Course near Healdsburg, Watson’s race track near Bodega, Gannon’s track at Sebastopol and the James Clark race track south of Santa Rosa. Having so many racing venues in the area is a point of local pride. A racing program consumes most of a day, including amateur scrub races and sometimes foot races.

FROM TAILROTEEL: Bet on the raccoon.

Be advised many travelers find an event on Jan. 11 1869 at the Santa Rosa plaza upsetting, as a large crowd of men and boys form a ring to watch a raccoon fight “all the dogs in town.”

CHILDHOOD ACTIVITIES   For travelers not part of the “Tom Sawyer” tour, expect to see lots of youths in 1870 Santa Rosa. There are 581 school age children (exactly one-third of Santa Rosa’s population) and the newspaper complains frequently about the lack of parental supervision.

Besides gambling on scrub horse races on the Petaluma road, boys eight years old and younger are often seen riding at full gallop. Mobs of small boys roam the streets late at night, sometimes making a racket with homemade musical instruments. The 1869 velocipede fad is followed by 1870 stilt walking, with children wobbling around the main streets on stilts up to five feet high.

Map of 1866 Santa Rosa

 

 

Great Sport.—On Monday last there was quite a large crowd of men and boys congregated in our plaza for the purpose of witnessing an encounter between a coon and all the dogs in town. A ring was soon formed, and the friends of the combatants took their positions. The betting seemed to be in favor of the coon, although there was no limit to the size and number of his antagonists. Among the canines present, “Ephraim,” the cat-exterminator, was the favorite, and a number of his friends thought Eph. would get a notion into his head that the coon was nothing more nor leas than one of his particular admirers belonging to the “Thomas Cat Serenaders,” in disguise. If this should happen, the coon would get a “head put on him sure.” Everything being ready, the coon was pitched into the ring, and a shout of joy went up announcing that the sport had commenced. His first opponent was a canine of ordinary pedigree, and as soon as he came in sight the coon got his back up,” and assumed a hostile attitude, ala Joe Coburn. This round did not amount to much. The second dog was brought forward, and he eyed the coon closely. All at once the coon fastened on him, and in a short time he beat a retreat. Great shouts of victory were now heard arising from the coon’s corner. Some half dozen dogs were then put on him at once. But this resulted the same as the former ’bouts, and those backing the coon could not help but cheer over this last grand victory. Things bad gone one way long enough, and loud cries were heard for Ephraim. Eph. was led towards the ring by a little urchin, exclaiming as he approached, “Here’s Eph., now let that darned critter get him back up!” In a minute Eph. had Mr. Coon down, but he could not hold him long, owing to the interference of other canines, resulting in a general fight and race around the Plaza. The crowd then dispersed much pleased with the sport. – January 16 1869

Why are They not Removed?— For some months past there have been a couple of old buildings lying in the bed of the Creek, almost at the very entrance of the town, and it is a question to many why the Trustees do not have them removed. Almost the first thing that meets the eye of the stranger as he enters the town, are these miserable old dilapidated wrecks, which certainly does not tend to make one form a very favorable opinion of the town. We hope the city trustees will take this matter in hand, and attend to it without further delay. – March 13 1869

Velocipede.— As the velocipede mania is extending all over the Slate, it has at last reached Santa Rosa. Mr. Henry Allen, a mechanic, of this place, has commenced the construction of one of these new “hosses.” It is a three wheeled one, and runs either way. Some time next week, it will make its appearance on the Sonoma road. – April 24 1869

Bad Roads. — Every winter loud complaints are heard about the dreadful condition of the public roads in this county, and the season just closed has proven no exception. At this time it is not only difficult, but dangerous, to travel between Santa Rosa and Petaluma or Sebastopol. On the first several adobe quagmires are encountered, which threaten to mire the horses and pull the buggy or wagon to pieces. On the latter are two or three swimming holes, almost deep enough to drown horse and rider. We are aware that considerable work was done last summer on both the roads mentioned, but not sufficient to keep them in proper condition for travel. This is a matter of great importance to the county. Many a man, intending to settle among us, has turned back and gone elsewhere, discouraged and disgusted with the terrible roads. It would be better to expend three times as much annually on the roads than to have them in their present condition. – March 27 1869

The wonderful velocipede “hoss” arrived in town on Tuesday last, direct from the city. No sooner had it been taken off the stage than a large crowd of aspirants for velocipede honors, surrounded the wonderful animal and earnestly gazed at its strange appearance. To all those who made a thorough examination it appeared to be perfectly gentle and decile, exhibiting no kicking or “bucking” propensities. It was led into the Plaza, followed by a large crowd, when a person possessing quite a reputation as a rider was induced to try it and see what it could do. No sooner had be mounted than be got “bucked” off. He tried it again, and met with the same fate. Other owners in the “critter” tried it and they too met with similar results. Since its arrival it has became quite gentle, as there are now a number who can ride it without the use of spurs. Every afternoon, on the Sonoma road, this strangely constructed beast goes through a course of exercises, and creates great amusement for those who witness its “fantastic tricks.” – May 1 1869

The velocipede fever has abated at this burg. The new machine from the city, purchased at a cost of fifty or sixty dollars, is now used up and laid aside, while the one built here only serves for the amusement of boys. Our folks evidently think velocipeding too much like work to be good fun. – May 29 1869

Woman Suffrage. — It will he remembered that the question of female suffrage before the Santa Rosa Lyceum, several weeks since, drew on a denserly [sic] crowded house and elicited an able and interesting discussion. The champions of the “strong minded” succeeded on that occasion, obtaining a decision in their favor. But the supporters of the negative have never been satisfied, and so last Saturday night they threw down the glove for another contest on the same subject. The other side, confident of victory, promptly accepted the challenge, and this (Saturday) evening has been fixed upon to “fight their battles o’er again.” The question reads: “Resolved, That women are entitled to the right of suffrage.” Affirmative— Barclay Henley and John Ferral; Neg. Major Brown and Wm. McCullough. A rattling discussion is anticipated, and we advise ail who can to be present. – May 29 1869

Miss Emma Webb, a beautiful and talented young actress, intends to take a the stump against female suffrage. With such a Webb we should be able to catch all the young fellows who have gone off after Annie Dickinson, and other strong-minded females. – June 5 1869

Getting it Down to a Science. — There are quite a number of boys around this place, who on velocipede riding are becoming immense. They prefer the two wheeled one, on account of it being the most difficult to manage, and are trying to see how many different ways they can ride it. So far the youngsters have got along admirably, and perform some expert movements, but one of these young velocipedestrians, Master Pope, proposes to cap the climax by standing on his head on the saddle and working the cranks with his hands. Pope is determined to beat young Seigrist, of San Francisco, or “any other man.” – June 12 1869

Velocipede School. During the past week a velocipede school has been organized at this place, under the control of Millett & Co. These gentlemen have fitted up a room, near the now Presbyterian Church, and have some ten or twelve new velocipedes, of all sizes, constantly on hand for the use of those who desire to learn. The velocipede is excellent for exercise, and we advise all who want to harden their muscles and promote digestion to give Millett & Co. a trial. – June 19 1869

The Velocipede school, started at this place, last week, closed up business in a day or two, as the boys around here were experts in Velocipede riding. – June 26 1869

The velocipede fever, which prevailed here a few weeks ago, has now entirely died out. Even the boys have come to the conclusion that there is too much work in managing the machine, and have given it up in disgust. – July 24 1869

We observe that Master John Dougherty, the “Little Giant” of Sebastopol, has at last got into the papers, and is hailed as a rival of Gen. Tom Thumb for lilliputian honors. Master Johnny is now fifteen years old, and yet weighs only thirty pounds, and is but four inches shorter than the General. The Herald was the first to bring our little friend before the public, a reporter having noticed him while on a recent visit to the city. – September 25 1869

Base Ball Club. — A number of the young men of this place met a few nights ago in the Board of Supervisors room and organized a base-ball club, styling themselves “The Young Wide-Awakes.” They have sent to the city for books of instruction, and intend in a short time to take the wind out of the sails of the Red Stockings. – October 23 1869

Be Careful. — There are a number of young boys around here, scarcely any of them over eight years of age, all of whom have horses, and make it a practice of riding at full speed up and down the roads. We fear if these daring juveniles don’t slack their speed we will be compelled to chronicle an accident before long. – November 13 1869

Challenge. — The first nine of the Lightfoot Base Ball Club desire us to state that they will play against the field, or, in other words, any nine outsiders, residents of Santa Rosa, who will meet them on their grounds this afternoon, Saturday, at 3 o’clock. – December 4 1869

On the Rampage. —Laura de Force Gordon, of Oakland, is going to stump the State in favor of Female Suffrage. She has challenged Miss Emma Webb to meet her and discuss the merits of the question. Miss Emma, were she to agree to meet Miss Gordon, would always have the best of it, for she claims that every lady can be a woman and every woman a lady, while Miss Gordon wants to make every woman a man and every lady a pot-house politician. – January 8 1870

Woman’s Rights. — We understand that Mrs. Laura de Force Gordon intends lecturing at the Court House this (Saturday) evening on the subject of Woman’s Rights, but as we have not been officially notified of it we can not say positively that such is the case. If the report is true, we can only say “let her rip” — howling female dervishes are at a discount, and petticoat nuisances will sooner or later be abated. Such women can do more good by staying at home and raising a family than by going around over the country showing their boots, breeches, stockings, shirt buttons, etc., to curiosity-seeking crowds. – January 22 1870

Dear Editors — A large, intelligent and appreciative audience, last evening, listened to a most eloquent and cogent appeal on behalf of woman suffrage, by Mrs. Laura De Force Gordon. She showed most clearly the manifest injustice of a republican government in denying to one-half its citizens (?) no ! not citizens, but one half the people, the right to a voice in its laws. Women are taxed equally with men. They are alike amenable to law, yet are classed with criminals, idiots and pauper’s. Her argument on this head was unanswerable.

She also showed in strong terms that women do want the ballot and that they will have it.

Her last argument was clear and forcible as to their need of the ballot in regard to the care of themselves and their children in earning, owning and disposing of property.

Mrs. Gordon is an exceedingly pleasing and interesting speaker and commands the entire attention of her audience. She was compelled, by press of engagements in San Francisco and vicinity, to postpone her lectures in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg until after the Woman Suffrage Convention which meets in San Francisco on Wednesdav next. We hope that Sonoma county will be largely represented and an interest awakened in this important subject.

Mrs. Gordon will lecture again here, in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, as soon after the Convention as arrangements can be made. We send from this town a petition of four hundred names, of some of our best men and women to Congress and our State Legislature for the enfranchisement of woman. If the Democrats in our Legislature are as rational and consistent as those in Wyoming we shall soon enjoy all the rights of citizenship m a free republic. Justitia. Petaluma, Jan. 22d, 1870. – January 29 1870

None to Rent.— There is scarcely a day passes but that some person calls at this office and wants to know “if there are any houses to rent in Santa Rosa?” Although there have been several new buildings erected within the past year yet we do not know of a house to rent in our town at the present time. – March 12 1870

Pretty Good.— Three of our citizens, who are experts at trout fishing, went up to Mark West Creek one day during last week, and returned home in the evening with three hundred of these fine fish. This is what we call pretty good work for one day. All of the streams in this vicinity are visited daily by parties who are fond of fishing. – April 16 1870

Horrible Noise.— Some few evenings since the youngsters of our town who keep late hours, favored the citizens with a serenade which was not appreciated by anybody. They had with them a number of instruments of a peculiar kind, and the way the serenaders bandied them was a caution. We are fond of music, but hope that the youngsters will not annoy our citizens with any more of just such musical treats in the future. – April 16 1870

Female Suffrage.— Mrs. Carrie T. Young lectured at the Court-house on Wednesday evening last, in favor of Woman Suffrage, We regret that her talents are not employed in promoting some worthier cause. – April 23 1870

Horse Racing.—A number of scrub horse races came off here during the week, on the Petaluma road, just below Santa Rosa bridge. The boys of our town had the management of them and they would run for anything from a jack knife to a two bit piece. – May 21 1870

Stabbing Affray. —On Tuesday evening last a stabbing affair occurred at the “Rialto” saloon, in this place, in which a man by the name of Clark was stabbed in the neck by a man named Willis Cockerill. From parties who were present and witnessed the difficulty we obtained the follow)ng information about it. The parties were engaged in playing cards together when a dispute arose about a trifling sum of money. One word brought on another until at last it came to blows. They were separated by outside parties, but soon clinched again, when Clark drew his pocket knife out. Cockerill then drew his knife and cut at Clark, the blade entering the neck below the left ear. The wounded man fell to the floor, and bled profusely. Dr. Allen was immediately called in to his assistance, and proceeded to dress the wound. Cockerill was arrested by Marshal Park, and had his examination before Justice Brown on Wednesday morning. He was found guilty of simple assault. The injured man is out on the streets again, and expresses a great astonishment at the arrest of Cockerill for the commission of such a trifling offense. – June 18 1870

Cool Customer. — Clark, the man who was stabbed here on Tuesday night last, has learned to take such things cooly. While lying on the floor, covered with blood, he calmly asked for a “chaw of terbacker,” and next day invited the party who did the cutting to take a drink with him. – June 18 1870

The Social Evil.— St. Louis, following in the wake of Paris, Berlin, and other European cities, has concluded to deal with the “social evil” in a practical manner, by licensing houses and providing medical examiners, etc. Santa Rosa hasn’t any of that kind of evil, so we don’t feel particularly interested in the license question. – July 30 1870

Great Walker. —A huge bilk, calling himself Prof. Western, the “greatest walker in the country,” gave an exhibition of his agility in that line in this town on last Wednesday night. He never stopped walking to settle his bills, and victimized us to the amount of five dollars. Look out for him, for he will walk off with a red-hot stove if he gets a chance. – September 3 1870

Our Calaboose Our town authorities not having authorized the building of a “lockup,” the City Marshal is often at a loss to know what to do with troublesome reprobates. He cannot arrest one who is beastly drunk and keep him until he sobers off. because no place has been prepared in which to stow him away. But on Thursday morning last, as there was a man who could not take care of himself, and, besides was making himself a common nuisance, the Marshal took a queensware crate, and turned it into a temporary calaboose, and in it confined the inebriated individual. It served very well for the purpose. – September 17 1870

Calaboose. — Workmen are now engaged in putting up the calaboose in the rear of the jail. Although this is an institution that is but little needed here, it is well to have one on hand for the accommodation of all persons who would disturb the peace and quietude of our town. – October 1 1870

Keep Them at Home. — There is a number of small boys in our town ranging from eight to ten years of age, who are out on the streets almost nightly to a very late hour. We would suggest to parents that there is no place where children are as safe from temptation at such hours as home. A little precaution in this matter may save much trouble in the future. – October 15 1870

New Gas Lamps. – Within the past week a species of gas called the gasolyne has been introduced into our town, and so far has proved satisfactory to those who have used it. No chimney or wick is required, and each lamp has a patent burner which generates the gas. There is no danger whatever of explosion as the gas is consumed as fast as it is made. The town trustees have had four gas lamps put up in the Plaza, which are a great convenience to all persons who have occasion to be out at nights. The Kessing Hotel is lighted up nightly with this gas which is a great improvement on coal oil. Both livery stables have adopted it, and as it is much cheaper and safer than coal oil, its use will soon become general. Frank Coe has purchased the extensive right to sell these lamps in this county and Napa, and will attend promptly to all orders left at the Hotel. – October 29 1870

More Buildings. — Since the completion of the railroad to this point, there is scarcely a day passes but what strangers are looking for vacant houses. Many of them are energetic men, and have not the means at command to buy homes for themselves and families. They desire to rent and locate among us, and by their labor and industry assist in building up the interests of our county. Those of our citizens who have a surplus of capital on hand, should take cognizance of this matter, and not allow worthy men who come here with the intention of making Sonoma county their home for the future, to go away and locate somewhere else. Here is a chance, gentlemen, to show your liberality and enterprise. – October 29 1870

Calaboose. — This institution in the jail yard is now completed, and ready to accommodate all disturbers of the peace of our town. At present there is little if any necessity for it, but as the town is growing so rapidly in population, it is well to have one on hand. Two or three persons here already been confined in it, for having turned the sidewalks into lodging apartments. Our Marshal is ever on the look out, and all can rest assured he will make no distinctions among law breakers. There was a party of noisy individuals out late on last Sunday night, and if they make a few more such trips to town, they need not be surprised if the Marshal gives them free lodgings for the remainder of the night. – October 29 1870

The New Gas.— Last week we mentioned the fact that gasolyne had been introduced into our town. It has worked to such perfection that almost every house in town, especially the business portion of the community, has adopted its use. A number of new gas lamps have been put up, and our Main street at night looks quite brilliant. The great charm about this gas is that it is much cheaper than kerosene oil, and will not explode under any circumstances. Coe, the popular hotel keeper, is kept busy filling orders both here and in other portions of the county. Frank has secured the agency for Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties. – November 5 1870

Rapidly Changing. — Our town is rapidly changing from its former rural appearance, and beginning to assume the life and activity of a young city. The streets are usually crowded to a much greater extent than formerly, and the mode of travel by pedestrians is assuming the Montgomery street style. We understand that two omnibusses will soon put in an appearance at the depot, When we will hear the cry of “Free bus to Colgan’s Hotel,” “Right this way for Kessing’s Hotel,” “Take your baggage free of charge,” etc. No less than eight stages are running here daily. Who says the railroad has not thrown new life into our town? – November 5 1870

New Buildings. — In strolling over town a day or two ago on a “localizing” tour, we observed a number of new frame buildings being erected. Even on the outskirts of town the evidences of industry were apparent on all aides. Several gentlemen owning land just outside of the city limits have erected large and handsome residences thereon, and otherwise greatly improved their premises. No one will deny, now, that in a year or two Santa Rosa will be one of the handsomest interior towns in the State, and as far as educational facilities are concerned, she stands second to none other. – November 26 1870

Crowded. — Both of the hotels at this place, although large and commodious structures, are now crowded to their utmost capacity. The travel through our county has increased to such an extent within the past month, that our land lords are kept busy day and night providing accommodations for their numerous guests There is some talk on the streets about the erection of a large brick building to be used as a hotel. None can doubt but what it would pay, and before long some enterprising persons will take the matter in band and commence work in earnest. – November 26 1870

The Plaza. — Now that our town is attracting considerable attention throughout the State, and numbers of persons are visiting it from a distance, for the purpose of taking observations, and perhaps making it their home, would it not be well for us to endeavor to make the town present as creditable an appearance as possible? It looks well, now, but yet there are many things that can be done which will add greatly to its beauty, one of which is to take hold in earnest and improve the plaza — lay out gravel walks through it, plant some nice shrubbery, and give the fence a new coat of paint. We are under the impression that this would add greatly to the appearance of the town, while the cost of the work would be but trifling. As the case stands now, the visitor, in passing through, finds but little worthy of admiration in it. If we are. to have a plaza, let us keep it in good condition, or abolish it entirely. The matter is in the hands of the citizens, and it rests with them to say whether the work shall be done or not, – November 26 1870

Real Estate. — Considerable business is now being done in real estate in and around Santa Rosa. Parties are in town almost every day, making inquiries in regard to the price of land, location, soil, etc. During the past week quite a number of small tracts have changed hands. Negotiations were under way for the disposal of the two hundred acre tract which faces the property of Mr. John Ingram, but the sale was not made on account of some misunderstanding, Buyers complain of its high price asked for land, which, in some cases, we believe they are correct. Use a little more liberality, gentlemen, and sales will be mere numerous. – November 26 1870

Horrible Condition. — The streets of our town are now in a most horrible condition, and in many places are almost impassable. On the low grounds the water has lodged in such quantity as to form lakes deep enough to admit of gondolizing upon their muddy surface. In fact there is scarcely a good crossing to be found anywhere? Can not our town officers take some steps to drain or in some other manner improve their condition. Should they continue much longer as they are now, it will be found necessary for every man to provide himself with a mud scow to get around to attend to business. Besides this it is now impossible for the ladies to go out “shopping,” a little amusement which is generally very popular with them, but seldom meets with the hearty approbation of their liege lords. If something is not done in their behalf soon, our town officers may expect to hear “Rome howl” ere long. – December 10 1870

Base Ball. — The young men of Santa Rosa have organized a base ball club, which promises to be an active and efficient institution. They may never rival the Red Stockings, but the exercise will do them good and afford much amusement. – December 10 1870

Fell Down. — A young urchin, who was perched on a pair of stilts some three feet high, which were tied to his feet, fell down on Third street, on Monday last, and severely sprained one of his ankles, there is quite a number of little boys in town who can be seen daily perched on high stilts and some of them, we fear, will meet with a severe accident yet. Older heads have suffered by too hasty endeavors to get up in the world, and our ambitious juveniles will learn that stilts from three to five feet long are a little too much too high. – December 31 1870

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LET’S ALL YELL AT THE MICKEY MOUSE MATINEE

In Santa Rosa during the 1930s and under twelve? If so, then you were at the California Theater every Saturday at 12:30 for the pandemonium known as the Mickey Mouse Club.

A quarter century before the Mouseketeers donned their plastic ears and gleamed sparkling smiles on our TV screens, hundreds of movie houses nationwide were filled to capacity with small children on Saturday afternoons. They would watch a movie and some cartoons, but mainly they would sing and yell. They would get to yell a lot – pause for a moment and imagine being in a theater with around a thousand kids, all their little volume knobs cranked up to 11. Maybe 12.

Gentle (and cynical) Reader might presume this was a marketing ploy by the Disney Empire to exploit our children, but the company actually had a light hand in its doings. According to an article on the Mickey Mouse Club origins by unofficial Disney historian Jim Korkis, a movie theater owner seeking to boost attendance broached the idea to Disney in 1929. It proved such a hit Disney Studios hired the guy to create a network of licensed theaters across the country. At its peak, there were over 800 clubs and over a million card-carrying Mousers.

For 25 bucks a year, participating theaters received a manual and a bimonthly newsletter with promo ideas. Disney also sold theaters all sorts of Mickey Mouse Club swag at (or near) cost; buttons, masks, custom membership cards and posters and for $16.50 a theater could own the official club cartoon, “Minnie’s Yoo Hoo,” a sing-a-long with Walt Disney himself providing Mickey’s voice (spoiler alert: The tune is pretty catchy and Walt’s voice is pretty creepy).

Theater owners found they had a ready audience; In November 1931, the Press Democrat ran a small “coming soon” notice and “[California Theater] Manager Gurnette is already being besieged by a small army of youngsters wanted to know all about the Mickey Mouse club – what it is, what it means, and for the boys and girls who join, etc.”

Disney also encouraged theaters to partner with local retail businesses. In exchange for donating contest prizes and other goods (historian Korkis says local bakeries would donate a free cake to be shared by club members with a recent birthday and florists sent flowers to sick ones) the merchant would display a window card announcing it was an “Official Mickey Mouse Store.”

In Santa Rosa, Rosenberg’s department store was the only place boys and girls could get their free membership card. Before the theater club debut, Rosenberg’s took out two half-page ads in the PD promoting the first club meeting, promising Santa Claus would greet the kids at the theater and then take up residence at “Toyland” on the store’s mezzanine.

A reported 1,500 children packed the California Theater on Nov. 21 for that first gathering, which was free for any child who had filled out the membership form (admission thereafter was 5¢ for anyone wearing the official club button). Petaluma followed suit three months later with a club at the California Theater in their own town.

Press Democrat, November 20, 1931

 

The shows could fill the entire afternoon with a mixture of films and live doings on stage. An American flag would be brought out and everyone would sing a verse of “America.” They would recite the Mickey Creed: “I will be a squareshooter in my home, in school, on the playgrounds, wherever I may be. I will be truthful and honorable and strive always to make myself a better and more useful little citizen. I will respect my elders and help the aged, the helpless and children smaller than myself. In short, I will be a good American.”

Everybody would join in for five or six “peppy songs and yells” which usually started with “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here” and ended with “Happy Days are Here Again.” There would be a new cartoon and a chapter from a serial which was most often a western, although they also watched “The Lost Special” starring Santa Rosa football hero Ernie Nevers. Once at Petaluma there was a “Backwards Party” where a cartoon was shown in reverse “those who have seen this novelty claim that it is exremely funny and some of the craziest noises are heard.”

Every week there would be also shown a short feature movie approved by the California PTA. The first approved film shown here was an Amos ‘n’ Andy comedy – which is to say it starred two middle-age white men in blackface.

In the mix were also contests, drawings, “stage stunts,” musical and dance performances by other kids and everything wrapped up with Minnie’s Yoo Hoo.

In less than three years, the Mickey Mouse Clubs had become as large as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts combined. What caused this explosive growth? Certainly a part of it was Mickey Mouse mania; kids couldn’t get enough of Mickey and Minnie but aside from crude handmade stuffed dolls, there were no toys, games, or other Mouse stuff to buy until Christmas 1932. Let me restate that again, in italics, so it really sinks in: For four years, the Walt Disney company owned the most popular cartoon character in the world but had no idea how to merchandise it. Tempora mutantur.

The other appeal of the Clubs was probably that they were not rigidly organized like the scouts – it was more like the lodges and social clubs that most parents belonged to. The children elected their own officers, among them a Chief Mickey and Minnie Mouse, a Master of Ceremonies, a Yell Leader and others. (The 1932 Santa Rosa lineup is found below in a footnote, which will probably give some genealogist a case of the vapors.)* Although there were adults involved it was more like boys and girls were putting on the show themselves and not unlike what we saw in the “Our Gang” shorts, with adorable tap dancing girls and Alfafa’s unfortunate warbling.

Both the Press Democrat and Argus-Courier would occasionally describe programs. In Santa Rosa, Esther Walker’s downtown “School of the Dance” usually had students as young as five performing and George Trombley (founder of the Santa Rosa Symphony) would bring up one of his music pupils for a solo. Trombley also formed the Mickey Mouse Orchestra with apparently any child who could read music, and the ensemble varied between 25-40 members. In Petaluma the grownups involved were “Kathleen Budd’s Kiddies” (she was a high school student who taught dance) and Percy Stebbing at the pipe organ.

The contests were traditional birthday party fare except the audience got to cheer for the contestants. There were races with silly handicaps such as rolling a metal pie plate across the stage. There were competitions for the best harmonica player and the best Hallowe’en costume. There were games to see who could accurately drop the most beans in a milk bottle (“from the looks of the stage, not very many hit the bottle”), eat a bowl of ice cream the fastest, whistle with a dry mouth (“everybody gets a big laugh out of seeing the boys and girls spray cracker crumbs when they try to whistle”) or chew the biggest jawbreaker (maybe that’s where Dr. Henry Heimlich, who was young enough to be a Mouser at the time, got his inspiration).

Roller skates were the most common prizes given out each week, probably also courtesy Rosenberg’s. There were also drawings for more valued items such as electric train sets and bicycles.

Tommy Ware with the bicycle won in a Mickey Mouse Club drawing. Photo at his home in Santa Rosa, July 13, 1933 and courtesy Sonoma County Library

 

The peak for both Santa Rosa and Petaluma clubs came at their one-year mark during the winter of 1932/1933. In Santa Rosa there was a special matinee at Thanksgiving and Christmas (“be sure to remind Mother that the place to leave you is at the New California theater while she does her last minute Christmas shopping”) followed by “Mickey’s Revue” at 9PM – a variety show put on by the kids with the Mickey Mouse Orchestra.

Petaluma saw 900 kids at their first anniversary, but they had really turned out a few months earlier for the special Friday morning show before Christmas in 1932. Members of the orchestra from Santa Rosa were guest performers and 1,200 children descended on the theater, some squeezed in two to a seat. The Argus-Courier reported there were policemen and firemen on duty; “a few kiddies in the gallery started throwing hats to the orchestra floor and there were several other actions that the police had to curb” and there was a precautionary firehose attached to the nearest hydrant with a fire engine standing by.

The Petaluma club sputtered out by late 1933, as did many of the clubs around the country. Disney would no longer license new clubs and stopped underwriting membership materials. The company did not foresee there would be blowback from non-club theaters in the same community. Later a Disney representative explained to a theater owner “…We ran into all kinds of difficulties and controversies over the Clubs and finally decided to do away with any connection with them. A great many theaters are still running such clubs, but they are doing so entirely on their own, and without help or references from us.”

What happened in Santa Rosa is less clear. The California Theater had long interchangeably advertised the Mickey Mouse Club and a Mickey Mouse Matinee for Saturday afternoons, and in the middle of 1933 the club was no longer mentioned specifically. The Mickey Mouse Matinee continued into 1935 when it became the Popeye Matinee, that being the year when the muttering sailor eclipsed the squeaky rodent in popularity.

It’s unknown whether the onstage activities and audience participation continued here after 1933, although they probably did – because the Mickey Mouse Club was resurrected by name in 1937, both at the California Theater and as a radio show on KSRO.

This is not the place to extol the glories of KSRO in that era, except to say it was truly community radio. Everything heard at 1310 on your dial was locally produced live – from the “Man on the Street” interviews to “Italian News with Joe Comelli” to “KSROlling Along” to the “Redwood Empire Quizzing ‘B.'” The bulk of the airtime was music on records, but there were hours of talk and interview shows every day. Anyone who had something to say or could play an instrument could find a few moments of AM radio fame. If there were kids performing at a downtown theater it was only natural they’d be invited to KSRO.

The 30-minute show aired Fridays at 4:00 and was sometimes sponsored by the Sonomaco Ice Cream Company. There were often contests (where the prize was an ice cream brick) and George Trombley sometimes conducted a juvenile orchestra. Performers were rarely mentioned, although “Three Fiddling Bobs” and Healdsburg ventriloquist Charley Perry with “Dummy Dan” seemed to be popular regulars.

The Press Democrat promoted KSRO with a daily column so it’s a bit surprising that more wasn’t written about the program. What did appear were stories about the kids pissing off station management:

Perhaps I shouldn’t mention it, but yesterday about a quarter to three the Big Boss of KSRO, himself [presumably Ernest Finley] stepped into the studio and saw the gang of youngsters assembled. I guess it was the first time he had ever seen the Mickey Mouse Club performance… anyhow, the sight of children draped all over the furniture for lack of chairs may be the means of another load of chairs being added to the studio.

A month later, the station manager found “about 100 kiddies making rough-house around the place” and threatened to not broadcast the show unless the children arrived only a half-hour before the show and sat quietly until air time. (“Boy! Was he burned up!”) Apparently the gang headed for the station as soon as school was over at noon, and hung out in the studio for the four hours before the show to ensure they’d be on it.

The California dropped the children’s matinee in 1938, and KSRO announced it was reorganizing the club itself, with a membership application form printed in the PD. The Mickey Mouse Club was cut to a 15 minute program in 1939 and then cancelled two weeks later. There were 1946 plans to revive the club at the California Theater but nothing came of it.

Today the 1930s Mickey Mouse Club is lost history – even the Disney Corporation, which venerates its mousy past, says little to nothing about the club. But it was celebrated by an enormous number of children in the early ’30s, and I’ll bet there still would be more than a few smiles of recognition at any large senior center or retirement home upon hearing the unforgettable chorus of Minnie’s Yoo Hoo.

 


* 1932 Mickey Mouse Club officers for Santa Rosa: Chief Mickey Mouse (Bob Quarry), Chief Minnie Mouse (Nancy Hesse), Master of Ceremonies (Charles O’Bear), Sergeants-at-Arms (Evelyn Henshaw and Bonnie Jean Harbald), Yell Leader (Bobby Vulkerts), Color Bearer (Wallace Constable) and Courier (Bruce Karn).

 

Undated photograph and location unknown

 

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