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SANTA ROSA, WHERE THE REVOLUTION (ALMOST) BEGAN

History is mainly a series of unfortunate events, as the great philosopher Lemony Snicket tells us, and this week Santa Rosa has endured more than its share of history. Sometimes, though, there are events like this one, which begins with a truckload of awfulness but everything turns out okay in the end – and that’s the sort of history story we might all welcome right now, lordy knows.

Once upon a time it was March, 1933.

The whole world was in a handbasket and going fast; Japan pulled out of the League of Nations, ultimately dooming the last hope of maintaining world peace. In Germany, each day found the Nazis grabbing more control, with U.S. newspapers printing photos of “Hitlerites” pasting boycott signs over the windows of Jewish-owned stores. As Franklin Roosevelt had just taken office none of the New Deal reforms were yet in place. It was the darkest time of the Great Depression and since Prohibition was still a thing, no one could even drown their misery in a damn beer.

In Graton a hundred farmers attended a meeting of the newly-formed Farmers’ Protective League. The objective was to convince these apple, prune, cherry and berry growers they should organize and protest, but leave their pitchforks and guns at home.

All/most of them had mortgages which were underwater, and their common enemies were the banks. Land values had plummeted and farmers weren’t getting much for their crops. Bankers were unsympathetic and foreclosed on farms which had been in families for years or decades or generations, selling the properties at auctions for rock-bottom prices or stashing them away for the institution’s real estate portfolio. (Remember that the family in Grapes of Wrath weathered the dust storms but couldn’t survive their bank eviction.) Nationally, around one in ten farms had been seized since the start of the Depression and meetings like the one in Graton were being held all over the country.

“When they attempt to foreclose we’ll say ‘no!’ but not by rope or shotgun,” said Rev. Charles Phillips, the priest at St. Sebastian’s church in Sebastopol and the organizer of the League meeting that day at the Community Hall in Graton. “Our strength will be in numbers. It is a question of understanding and brotherly love, not of cold blooded murder.”

The pastor was not being melodramatic; there was more than a whiff of violence in the air over this issue, and maybe even rebellion. Wilfred Howard, who was elected president of the League, said farmers would do something “even if it meant revolution.”

“Iowa” was then a rallying cry much like “Lexington and Concord” had been in 1776. In that state a “farmer’s mortgage holiday” movement began which quickly spread to at least ten states. The largest group there warned “open revolt” was possible and the same day of the meeting in Graton, 2,500 Iowa farmers marched on the state capitol building threatening they would “forcibly adjourn” the legislature unless something was done. “You can’t make peasants out of us!” warned the president of the Iowa Farmer’s Union.

Those activist farmers were remarkably successful in shutting down foreclosure sales. When an auction was scheduled, the farmer’s neighbors would attend en masse and crowd out other bidders, buying livestock and farm equipment for a few pennies in order to give it back to the foreclosed farmer. Outsiders were also scared away by nooses hanging on barn doors and farm gates to show the locals “meant business.” And in the most widely reported incident, on January 4, 1933 in Le Mars, Iowa, the “Council for Defense” beat up the sheriff, forced the judge to issue a statement calling for a mortgage holiday, and dragged the representative of the mortgage company down the courthouse stone steps while threatening to lynch him.

The focus of the Graton meeting was the pending foreclosure of James Case, who had a fifty acre farm on Mirabel Road outside of Forestville where he grew cherries and apples. A 70 year-old retired Methodist minister, Case had lived there for over two decades; his farm was called a “showplace” and he was respected for Burbanking a cross between Gravensteins and the sweeter Jonathans.

(RIGHT: James L. Case in a detail from a 1920 family photo)

Case had a $14,000 mortgage with the Analy Savings Bank in Sebastopol. In the autumn of 1932 he turned over to the bank his entire earnings from his crop of 7,000 boxes of apples, but still couldn’t meet the full interest-only payments on the mortgage, much less pay for insurance and taxes. For reasons which seems legally fishy (at least today), the bank placed the farm in a sort of pre-foreclosure receivership, paying a man named Frank Close to become the farm manager. More about Mr. Close later.

The Press Democrat interviewed bank president Arthur Swain, and the article should have included a trigger warning: Mr. Swain came across as a more horrible person than even villainous banker Henry Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

In Swain’s view, Case had no one to blame but himself because he was too stupid to not foresee that someday an unprecedented economic catastrophe might decimate crop prices. Rather than irresponsibly investing in the future of his farm, Case should have given every spare dime to the bank: “…instead of reducing the loan when good years came along Case has seen fit to use his money elsewhere,” and even increased the loan by another $1,000.

“Case refused to do his part when the opportunity was given him,” said Swain. “So it is in the hands of the law…unless the borrower is willing to do everything in his power and to act honestly and fairly, we are driven much against our will to resort to our legal rights.”

So what was Case doing that was dishonest and unfair? Swain offered him a second mortgage which would be secured by his farm machinery, but Case didn’t accept the deal. When Swain learned Case was giving some of the equipment he owned to his son, the bank moved swiftly to foreclose.

Then to demonstrate he was utterly tone deaf to the outside world, Swain concluded his interview by boasting about how well his bank was doing.

Swain’s loathsome interview appeared just before the big July 9 gathering at the “doomed Case ranch,” as the Farmers’ Protective League was now calling it. Around a thousand were expected to attend the all-day picnic and rally, with signs advertising it on all roads leading to Forestville. This was now national news with at least one reporter from as far away as Kansas.

American flags hung from the Case farmhouse porch as the crowd gathered. A telegram from the governor was read in support.

The main speaker waved the edition of the Press Democrat with the Swain interview at the crowd. “His story makes a case for us instead of himself! Swain says the bank will be fortunate to sell the ranch now for $14,000, the amount of the mortgage!”

J. Stitt Wilson, the former Socialist mayor of Berkeley, urged the audience to rise up. “The sale must be stopped! They did it in Iowa and you can do it here!”

“Yes! Yes!” roared the crowd, according to the Press Democrat.

Wilson declared this was not going to be a radical action, but true “Americanism,” not unlike the Revolutionary War. “Human rights and human laws transcend any law, and if necessary, we will break every law to reach our needs. But there is no law that can prevent hundreds of thousands of farmers from the San Francisco bay north into Mendocino county mobilizing and giving notice that no foreclosure will be permitted.”

What would happen in the next few days would be a turning point in American history, Wilson proclaimed. “Your children may return here to place markers under these very oaks to commemorate you courage.”

The rally was on a Sunday, and a full week stretched ahead before the foreclosure auction. Every day, tensions rose.

League president Wilfred Howard sent a telegram to the governor asking him to intervene, as anything might happen. “Our League can no longer be responsible for what will result. The aroused public sentiment is something that can no longer be held in check.”

Banker Swain – who apparently found a great sale on shovels and decided to dig himself a deeper hole – agreed that the Case foreclosure was now a Big Deal, but any compromise by the bank would destroy the nation: “The whole capitalistic system is involved in this controversy…this agitation is beginning to destroy business confidence…should these agitators be successful in taking the law in their hands, the results would be disastrous. Are we to allow a few radical socialists to run our banks?”

Also: FDR asks Henry Morgenthau, head of the new Farm Credit Administration to look into the situation. Howard sends Morgenthau a telegram pleading for the government to intervene. Morgenthau calls Swain. And just three days before his farm was to be sold at auction, James Case hires an attorney.

As the clock ticks down, Case’s new lawyer requests to postpone the auction for a week until he could appeal to the Superior Court. But there is a hitch – no Superior Court judge was available to approve or deny. Donald Geary was on vacation and Hilliard Comstock was presiding at the Superior Court in Ukiah.

It is Friday July 14, 1933, and there are THREE THOUSAND people jammed shoulder to shoulder in front of the courthouse in downtown Santa Rosa. The Press Democrat describes there is “grim determination and anxiousness” in the crowd, “somber, serious, not a smile on a single face.”

From the top of the courthouse steps a lineup of speakers holds the rapt attention of the crowd. Ex-mayor Wilson declares the moment of crisis has arrived: “This is a historic meeting with national significance…we have fired the shot that will be heard around the world,” he vows. “We must lift this crushing and horrible nightmare of law pressing down people…we aren’t destroyers, but preservers, preservers of the liberty that flag represents” he declares as he dramatically points to the American flag above his head.

J. Stitt Wilson addresses the crowd from the Santa Rosa courthouse steps. Detail from Press Democrat photograph, July 15, 1933

 

As Wilson finishes, there is a “moment of intense silence” as everyone waits for the auction to begin. Then, according to the PD:


…A man pushed his way through the crowd and forced his way to Wilson’s side, whispering in his ear. There was a hurried conversation and Wilson turned and faced the great crowd before him and cried: “I have an announcement to make. Judge Comstock has signed a restraining order. The sale has been postponed. There will be no foreclosure sale on the Case property today!” Someone called for three cheers, then Wilson shouted, “Let’s do it again: Three cheers for Judge Comstock!”

With the tension broken, everyone joins in singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, because naturally.

Afterwards Judge Comstock explained to reporters that his ruling was based only on the merits of the case, and it could have been resolved earlier if James Case had not waited until the last moment to retain consul. It turned out that the bank had accepted a $771 payment from the farm’s cherry crop after “notice of breach” was served, so there was no accounting as to what Case really owed.

Comstock insisted he wasn’t intimidated: “I want it understood that I deplore such a demonstration as this — a demonstration that makes Sonoma county farmers, who will soon be rich men again, the objects of pity or contempt in the eyes of the nation. Our hops and grapes alone will save us. But there are my own people. I know them and I know they would not have used violence.”

But this is not yet the happy ending, and there were new depths to which Mr. Swain and his bank would sink.

The day after the foreclosure was halted, the Press Democrat published a document that Swain was prepared to give James Case once the bank had the deed to his farm. He would have a three-month option to repurchase his property for about $14,000 (after a few adjustments) – although if he had a spare $14 thousand laying around he would not have been in such a pickle in the first place.

But even if he did manage to scratch up all that money somehow (reminder: no money to borrow during the darkest time of the Depression) there was a catch-22 to the agreement – he would have to turn over “the full possession of the ranch and the right to the bank’s representative to gather and market the crops.” In other words, his place would be in permanent receivership with him paying someone (of the bank’s choosing) to manage his orchards.

If that smells a little fishy, a great deal more stink was discovered at the Superior Court hearing a week later. Banker Swain was also president of Sebastopol National Securities company, which actually held the Case mortgage. Frank Close – the guy who the bank had earlier hired – sold the entire cherry crop from the Case farm to the Securities company (the price was never disclosed). That company in turn sold the crop for $771, which it placed in the bank as a partial interest payment.

Much of the court doings were tangled up with the confusion of Swain having two hats but one head. Although investor Swain insisted in court that Close was an agent for the Securities company, at the time banker Swain made it clear that he answered to the bank. The $771 was first deposited in Close’s bank account, then one of the Swain personalities apparently thought that might look bad and transferred it to the Case mortgage account.

It also came out in court that Swain had a side deal with Close to sell him the entire farm for $15,000 after foreclosure.

After a full day of testimony, Judge Comstock ruled: The temporary injunction against the foreclosure was made permanent. You can’t say someone is in breach of contract and then accept money from them as if it were business as usual.

Comstock also remarked that he thought Swain was duplicitous – that the repurchase offer he made to Case wasn’t done in good faith, and he intended to sell the farm to Close all along.

Case and his supporters were jubilant, both for him personally and what it would mean for other farmers now that a Superior Court judge had set such a precedent. “This day has shown that the faith of the farmer in the courts of California is justified,” a grower in similar trouble told the Argus-Courier.

The Petaluma newspaper also burbled over what had happened: “…Superior Judge Hilliard Comstock, young, progressive, alert and courageous, has ruled against one of the most powerful financial institutions in Sonoma county…he administers the law as he interprets it, regardless of the power of those disappointed by his rulings.”

Despite losing the decision and being personally slapped down by a judge, Swain continued to explore new ways to act like a cartoon villain, swearing he would get his hands on the Case ranch yet. “Appeal? Of course we’ll appeal! And we will be backed by financial, real estate, and business interests of the state in doing so.” The next month the Analy Savings Bank did appeal the decision and filed another breach notice against Case, but before they came to court FDR’s New Deal programs (such as the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act and Farm Credit Act) had programs in place to help poor farmers.

James LaDue Case continued to live on his farm until 1947, when he retired and moved to Sebastopol. He died there in 1951 at the age of 88, outliving his old nemesis Arthur Swain by a dozen years.

The en…oh, wait, there’s more.

If you’ve lived in Sonoma country for a few many moons, you’ve probably heard about the Case foreclosure before, but told with a different slant. In that version, the hero of the day was Press Democrat editor and publisher Ernest Finley.

This alternative history seems to have originated in an August 3, 1975 feature in the PD about his family. “Ernest L. Finley–A Man of Vision,” written by Sheri Graves Gayhart, spreads it on thick. “Sonoma County farmers had little hope of saving their lands without the personal interest and support of a man as strong and influential as Ernest L. Finley.”

“Fighting for what he believed was right, he turned a grim situation into what was perhaps his finest hour,” the writer exclaims, going on that Finley was working “…behind the scenes, quietly, with no fanfare and no publicity” to negotiate an ethical solution. In this telling, Judge Comstock was little more than a bureaucrat who “ultimately decided the issue on the basis of a legal loophole.”

Versions of the story which have subsequently appeared in the Press Democrat have dialed it back somewhat but still followed her lead, downplaying Comstock and putting the spotlight on Finley.

Trouble is, author Gayhart didn’t mention where she found her facts and the newspapers of the day do not support her interpretation.

As far as I can tell, Finley apparently mentioned the James Case situation directly only once in an editorial, while the PD ran a handful of generic editorials and cartoons on the hot topic of farm foreclosures during those months.

Finley’s only direct involvement implied in the 1933 PD was a July 15 front page photo of Finley with Swain’s hand on his shoulder as they pose looking over the bank’s refinancing offer – the deal Comstock called dishonest. The photo caption states approvingly that Swain’s proposition was “considered most liberal.”

Unless new information surfaces about Ernest Finley’s actual involvement, I’m calling this out as a kind of “stolen valor.” Hilliard Comstock faced the sort of decision that few of us will ever have to confront. Swain indeed represented powerful business interests which did not want this sort of precedent to stand, and given time, probably would have destroyed Hilliard’s reputation to further that goal. The mob of 3,000 outside the courthouse were a more immediate threat and their actions could have gone in any of a number of directions – a riot, an attack on the courthouse, even sparking a national populist uprising which could have squelched the New Deal reforms before they took root.

The story of James Case’s farm is probably the most significant event in our history from those days, but it’s not important for anything he did, or any telephone calls Ernest Finley may or may not have made. It should be remembered for what Hilliard Comstock had the courage to do, standing up alone for the principle of the law, come what may.

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HILLIARD COMSTOCK, ATTORNEY AT LAW

It was the best and worst of times for the two men; for 21 year-old  Hilliard Comstock, 1912 brought memorable and happy days – but for his friend and mentor, James Wyatt Oates it was a year of retreat and sorrow as the health of his beloved wife, Mattie, slowly faded away.

(RIGHT: Hilliard Comstock undated portrait. Image courtesy Martha Comstock Keegan)

The previous item covered the decline of the Oates’, where it was noted the couple completely disappeared from any mention in the papers after July. Never before had that happened; even when they were away from Santa Rosa, there were always society column tidbits about who they were visiting, when they would be home, or such. The latest on Mattie’s heart condition was reported obsessively until the blackout began. And what else happened that month? Hilliard Comstock became an attorney.

Hilliard – or “Hillyard” “Oomstock” as the local newspapers hilariously misspelled his name in separate errors – began reading law with Oates in 1909 and passed the bar examination on his first attempt. Not bad for a guy who had never set foot in any sort of classroom.

Before the end of July it was announced Hilliard would be practicing law from Oates’ office in the Santa Rosa Bank building (now better known as the Empire building). They weren’t yet partners; “Oates & Comstock” would not be painted on the windows for a couple of years. Then only a few days after that, he made his first appearance in the Superior Court as an associate of Oates’ in a small damages case against the Southern Pacific railroad.

It is surely no coincidence that the Oates’ vanished from public exactly the same week Hilliard stepped on stage.  Having his protégé available to “mind the store” freed Wyatt to do whatever he wanted, which was likely nothing more than just staying at home by Mattie’s bedside (hopefully not smoking his usual cigars).

Passing the bar and launching his legal career would be enough to keep most people busy, but also that July he was elected second lieutenant in the National Guard. Shortly after that first appearance in court Hilliard joined the rest of the local company in two weeks of maneuvers with Army troops in the Central Valley, so maybe Oates hung around his downtown office for a few weeks after all.

National Guard Company E was as much a boy’s club as it was a militia, and the last sighting of Hilliard in 1912 is of him helping organize a blowout New Year’s Day party. But his most notable social event that year was meeting future wife Helen at a barn dance. In her  oral history, she recalled Hilliard always said he asked to dance with the pretty little girl who had “red cheeks and curls up on top of her head.” According to him, 13 year-old Helen stuck a finger in her mouth and replied, “I don’t rag, thank you.” Helen said she didn’t remember that, but Hilliard would laugh and swear it was true.

HILLYARD COMSTOCK PASSES AS ATTORNEY

Hillyard Comstock, one of the well known residents of Santa Rosa, took the bar examination before the Appellate Court at Sacramento on Monday, and successfully passed the ordeal. He will begin the practice of law in this city in the near future. Mr. Comstock’s many friends are glad to know of his success.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 2, 1912
LAW OFFICE OPENED BY HILLIARD OOMSTOCK

Hilliard Comstock, who was recently admitted to practice law, has opened a law office in the Santa Rosa Bank building and is ready to attend to all matters in the courts of the county and State. He has his office in the same suite as Colonel James W. Oates. Mr. Comstock has a great many friends who wish him every success in the practice of his profession.

– Press Democrat, July 24, 1912
NAME COMSTOCK FOR LIEUTENANT

Election in Held by Company E Monday Night–Plans for the Encampment Next Month

Colonel D. A. Smith, commanding the Fifth Regiment Infantry and Major L. C. Francis of the Third Battalion, Fifth Infantry, N. G. C. were visitors here over Monday night when Company E, which is a part of the third battalion of the Fifth Regiment, elected Hilliard Comstock as second lieutenant, thus completing its roll of officers, following the recent resignation of captain and lieutenant.

Mr. Comstock was only elected after five ballots had been taken and then by a majority of one vote. While the contest was close no feeling has been engendered and all will unite in giving the three new officers the support which goes to make a strong company. Following the election Mr. Comstock underwent his examination for the position at the hands of the visiting officers and made a very creditable showing. With the others he will now take the physical examination, and it is probable all three commissions will arrive at the same time prior to the Company leaving for camp.

Company E will join the regiments on Sunday August 11, in San Francisco, en route to Salinas to participate in the two weeks maneuvers in conjunction with the regular army, and the other militia forces in the state. It is necessary that thirty-eight men make the trip to maintain the standing of the company in the Guard. At the present time thirty members have signed the roll signifying their intention of participating in the maneuvers. Under the law the men will receive $1 per day from the State, and 50 cents per day from the Federal government for the occasion…

– Press Democrat, July 30, 1912
HILLIARD COMSTOCK’S FIRST APPEARANCE

 Hilliard Comstock, attorney-at-law, made his first appearance in the Superior Court on Saturday, being associated with Colonel J. W. Oates as counsel for the plaintiff in the suit of George M. Root against the Southern Pacific Company. The plaintiff sues to recover property upon which the railroad entered in the L. J. Nolan addition to Santa Rosa, for $500 damages and for $250 for loss of rents and profits and for other relief.

– Press Democrat, August 6, 1912
 CO. E BOYS TO HAVE HAPPY NEW YEAR
 Armory Will Keep Open House and There Will Be Feasting and Right Merry Time

 New Year’s Day will be a jolly one for the members of Company E. N. G. C. of this city. “Open House” is to be kept for the members from four o’clock in the afternoon until 12 midnight.

 There will be some big “eats” too, for the soldier boys. The viands will include roast turkey, mince pie, plum pudding, cake, etc. In between the feasting Lieutenant Hilliard Comstock, who is much interested in indoor baseball, says there will be baseball and pool, billiards, etc. for the entertainment of the members. Captain Edward Walden Beatty and Lieutenant Leland Britton and Lieutenant Comstock, and the non-commissioned officers will be on hand to assist in giving every one a good time. Corporal R. L. Hunt will be master of ceremonies.

– Press Democrat, December 28, 1912

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ERNEST FINLEY, PARTY ANIMAL

Here’s a shocking discovery: Ernest Finley sometimes loosened his tie and became quite the fun guy.

The Press Democrat’s editor and publisher hardly had a reputation as Good Times Ernie; aside from occasional mention in the papers about card game parties or Elks Lodge shindigs, he didn’t appear to have any social life at all. And when did he have the time? He was Santa Rosa’s constant champion, tireless Chamber of Commerce booster and unapologetic defender of the status quo, sometimes locked in mudslinging combat with critics and reformers (see “The Many Wars of Ernest Finley“).

(RIGHT: Ernest L. Finley portrait in History of Sonoma County, California: Its People and its Resources, 1937)

All this makes it quite the surprise to read about the silly wager he made in 1911. After several years of depressed prices, the hops market rebounded that year. At the public auction Finley joked he wished he everyone in audience could get in on the boom, and the widow of a late friend offered to give him a bale of hops – but only if he would personally wheelbarrow it the ten miles from the farm to Santa Rosa. Finley accepted the deal.

Thus a couple of hours after sunset on November 6, Ernest Latimer Finley was prepared to start his trek with a customized newspaper handcart. “Mayor James R. Edwards and Hilliard Comstock had placed the bale on the cart and firmly lashed it in place,” the Press Democrat later reported, in the first of two stories on the event. “A number of friends motored out to the Woodward ranch Monday evening to witness the outcome. The start was made at 6:30 and an an elaborate picnic was served by the roadside about half-way in. A large party of young people walked the entire distance cheering the man with the cart on his way.” The headline from another paper read, “SOCIETY GIRLS WALK UNTIL MIDNIGHT ON FREAK BET”.

Finley and his society girls reached the Press Democrat office shortly after midnight. “Don’t say anything about this in the paper,” Finley ordered his city editor. But an article appeared over his objection because the paper’s staff “thought the story too good to be kept out.” An item about the “freak bet” was picked up by the wire service and some newspapers nationwide ran it as a kind of believe-it-or-not item, the number of society girls sometimes growing to the size of a mob and the hop bale becoming as heavy as bricks.

The following day a special auction was held for Finley’s bale. Milton Wasserman, the top hops buyer in town, bought it at the record price of $125 – but with the requirement that Finley continue his travails and personally cart the hops from downtown to the warehouse.

With his windfall Finley treated his youthful entourage to a weekend in San Francisco, including tickets to the Stanford-Cal football game.* Enjoying two nights of theater and suppers at his expense were a dozen twenty-something young people, nine of them women, along with two of their mothers. Among the party were Hilliard Comstock and Ruth Woolsey, whom Finley would marry about a year later.

Since the doings offer a rare personal glimpse of Mr. Santa Rosa, it’s tempting to wonder what it reveals about him. For example, Finley was still a bachelor at age 41 and slightly more than twice Ruth’s age; was he simply trying to woo his future wife with the machismo handcart stunt and treating her gang to a swell time? And were there other evenings, occupied with less savory events, when Finley staggered into the Press Democrat office late and ordered staff “Don’t say anything about this in the paper”?

But the striking part of the hops story was the crowd of young people who thought it would be fun to follow him as he plodded along the country roads with the cart. Does that sort of thing sound familiar? It should, because it still occurs all over America today; now it usually just happens in school settings. A principal challenges kids to achieve some goal with the promise to do something silly or demeaning as a reward – maybe shaving off hair or singing from the rooftop if the students read a certain number of books or collect enough cans for a food drive. Google for “school principal bets students” and you’ll find hundreds of recent examples. Let’s revel in an intimidating authority figure playing the clown for us.

Actually, regarding Ernest Finley as Santa Rosa’s self-appointed Town Principal works surprisingly well. In his editorials he often came off like a rigid fuddy-duddy demanding miscreants and rebels toe the line. He could be a disagreeable bully, raging when authority was not respected – criticism of the town or its leadership was a serious offense and the Press Democrat had a pattern of defaming anyone who crossed him (or the Democratic party, for that matter). Childish misbehavior was inflated by the PD in par with serious crimes, from stealing eggs to dropping orange and banana peels on the sidewalk. In his official portraits he even looked like a stern school principal; he attempted a smile in a later photograph, but it was more like the surprised expression of someone who had just sat on a tack. You didn’t want to be called down to his office and hear the speech about how much he was disappointed in your monkey business and threatening suspension If You Do That Just One More Time.

Whatever conclusions one draws (or presumes to draw) from the hop cart episode, it’s still a cute story in its own right. It is also one that was almost lost; if not for transcriptions in Ann M. Connor’s self-published 1970 book, “McDonald Avenue: A Century of Elegance,” I would never have noticed the articles – the related microfilm at the Sonoma County Library is illegible. As seen to the right, the emulsion is almost completely wiped off on the image of this page from November 8, and what remains is badly scratched. Normally damaged film can be read by later use of heavy image processing but in this case there was almost nothing to work with. Sadly, much of the 1911 Press Democrat microfilm at the library is in equally terrible condition. I am certain there were many interesting stories from that year I also overlooked.

Alas, the Connor book does not list sources; the auction story was only identified to be the same as in the the damaged Press Democrat microfilm by its bold headline. Two of the other articles she transcribed were not from either Santa Rosa paper, so it’s unknown where they first appeared.

* The “Big Game” was actually rugby between 1906-1914, a period when many schools dropped football because of concerns over game violence and player injuries. Cal won that year, 21-3.

Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

SOCIETY GIRLS WALK UNTIL MIDNIGHT ON FREAK BET
Trudge Dusty Roads to Cheer on Clubman Wheeling Bale of Hops

For eleven miles along the dusty roads from the county home of the late surveyor of the Port of San Francisco, Edward F. Woodward of Mt. Olivet, and Ernest L. Finley, editor of the Santa Rosa Press and well known clubman, wheeled a cart containing a 192 lb. bale of hops, winning a wager whereby a party of young society people will attend the Stanford-Berkeley football game and enjoy a banquet in San Francisco.

The start was made about 7 p.m. last night and Finley completed his task shortly after midnight. He came into town with his cart of hops, to be sold and the proceeds devoted to paying the expenses of a trip to the football game and a dinner for a party of his friends if he would wheel the gift to Santa Rosa.

The wager was taken up and tonight when the bale was auctioned off in the presence of a large crowd of speculators, it realized over $100. Some of Santa Rosa’s popular society girls and several men walked the entire distance with Mr. Finley. Halfway to town the entire company enjoyed a picnic in the moonlight.

– Source unknown, November 7, 1911; from Connor book, pg. 70 (see text)
WINS BALE OF HOPS ON WAGER
E. L. Finley Wheels Hand Cart Along Dusty Road for Over Ten Miles Monday Night

As the result of a wager, E. L. Finley  on Monday evening wheeled a handcart containing a bale of hops from the Woodward ranch near Mt. Olivet to Santa Rosa, arriving at the Press Democrat office a few minutes after midnight. The distance covered was something over ten miles. The hops weighed 132 pounds.

Under the terms of the agreement Mrs. E. F. Woodward and Miss Bess Woodward were to make Mr. Finley a present of a bale of hops provided he got them to market unassisted, the hops to be sold and the proceeds devoted to taking a party of friends to the Stanford-Berkeley football game on Saturday.

A number of friends motored out to the Woodward ranch Monday evening to witness the outcome. The start was made at 6:30 and an an elaborate picnic was served by the roadside about half-way in. A large party of young people walked the entire distance cheering the man with the cart on his way.

Several taxicabs and automobile loads of people drove out and met the man with the load of hops and the party accompanying him several miles from this city. It was a very merry salutation given, too. Cheers stirred the midnight air when the hops were landed at the Press Democrat office.

The bale of hops will be auctioned off today and they will fetch the top notch figure. Considerable lively bidding is expected, too. Those hops should be worth at least one hundred dollars.

“Don’t say anything about this in the paper,” said Editor Finley as he started for home at an early hour this morning, still walking by the way. But the city editor and staff thought the story too good to be kept out, and would not heed the request of the man who won the wager.

– Press Democrat, November 7, 1911
SPIRITED BIDDING MARKS SALE OF HOPS AT AUCTION
Unique Transaction is Completed Here Last Night

Milton L. Wasserman, the well-known representative for the William Ullman Co. of New York, established a new price for hops last night at the Press Democrat office, when, at a spirited contest, he purchased at auction the bale of hops wheeled in the night before by Ernest Finley from “Pinecrest”, Mrs. E. F. Woodward’s fine ranch near Mt. Olivet.

The price at which the bale was finally knocked down to Mr. Wasserman was $125, and it was made part of the agreement that Mr. Finley was to personally deliver the hops to the warehouse, starting from the courthouse at noon today.

John P. Overton actioned as auctioneer…

…Just as the hammer was descending for the last time, and as Mr. Overton lingered over the words “going, going…!”, Wasserman made his final bid, coupled with the stipulation that Mr. Finley should wheel the bale down Fourth Street today at noon. Mr. Finley nodded his acceptance of the proposition, the auctioneer from his exalted position on the office counter made a few more passes with his hammer, called upon Mr. Finley to bear him out in his assertion that the hops about to be sold were “extra heavy for the weight” and assured prospective purchasers that the goods were being sold “F.O.B. Santa Rosa, which is very different from having to bring them in from Mr. Olivet,” ending by finally knocking them down to Mr. W. at the price stated. The result was greeted with hearty cheers from the large crowd present, as was each successive bid, for that matter.

A huge bonfire was then lighted in the street outside, and after another round of cheers and an exchange of felicitations, the crowd dispersed. (Referenced as first in Tuesday’s paper of the wager.) Mr. Finley jokingly remarked that if he had 600 or 700 bales of hops unsold at the present prices, he would give the crowd one and tell them to go and see the fun. Mrs. Woodward replied that she would furnish the hops if Mr. Finley would wheel them to Santa Rosa.

The proposition was immediately accepted, and the following evening finally agreed upon as the time for making the attempt. An ordinary newspaper cart to which shaft handles had been temporarily attached by C. R. Sund, a local blacksmith, was used for transporting the bale selected, which weighted 192 lbs., and the distance covered was something more than 10 miles.

The start was made at 7:30 Monday evening, after Mayor James R. Edwards and Hilliard Comstock had placed the bale on the cart and firmly lashed it in place, and the event was made the occasion for a moonlight picnic party, a number of friends accompanying Mr. Finley the entire distance on foot, while others followed or proceeded in automobiles. At the top of the Mr. Olivet hill an elaborate picnic was spread and a stop of more than an hour was made. Refreshments were also served from the automobiles enroute.

The party arrived in town shortly after midnight, after a delightful evening, and Mr. Finley suffered no inconvenience whatever from the trip. Among those making up the party were Mayor & Mrs. Jas. Edwards…and Hilliard Comstock.

– Press Democrat, November 8, 1911
GIRLS GO TO FOOTBALL ON A BIG BALE OF HOPS
(At least, going on proceeds of bale that plucky editor wheeled 11 miles.)

A party of Santa Rosa society girls arrived at the Hotel Stewart last night on their way to attend the football game at Stanford U. today as the guests of Ernest Finley, editor of the Santa Rosa Press, who is paying, etc…

Later – Friday evening the entire party took dinner at Coppa’s restaurant and then attended the Orpheum, where they occupied loges during the performance, a supper at the Portola following. Saturday they proceeded to Stanford U. and were entertained at the Kappa Alpha fraternity for luncheon, after which the game was attended.

Coming back into San Francisco, a dinner at Taite’s was followed by the party attending the Cort Theater and enjoying the performance of Sam Barnard, the noted Dutch comedian. Techau’s completed the pleasure of Saturday. The party included Mrs. E. F. Woodward, Mrs Frank Woolsey, Miss Bess Woodward, Miss Helen Wright, Miss Jean Geary, the Misses Ruth, Louise and Helen Woolsey, Janet Noble, Dora and Marian Pierson, Hilliard Comstock, Arthur Wright, E. W. Scott and Ernest Finley. They were joined Saturday evening by the Jas. Edwards and the Vernon Goodwins of Los Angeles.

– Source unknown, November 11, 1911; from Connor book, pg. 71-72 (see text)

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