Here’s an exercise in journalism ethics: Take a small farm town (say, Santa Rosa in 1907, with a population of about 10,000 people) and imagine there was a serious incident of food poisoning. At least ten people were sick enough that a doctor was called, one so seriously ill that “a hypodermic injection was necessary to restore life.” The source of the “Ptomaine poisoning” was immediately determined to be the shrimp salad sold by a popular downtown market.

So here’s the problem: Does a newspaper have a responsibility to identify the place that sold the contaminated food? If that shop was an exclusive advertiser in your newspaper, should the editor avoid mentioning the name of the business when reporting the story?

(RIGHT: Portion of Press Democrat advertising section, March 16, 1907)
Numbers of Persons Rendered Seriously Ill

Shrimp salad from Apostolides’ California Grill and Oyster Market was responsible for wholesale ptomaine poisoning in this city Friday night. Calls for doctors came from several directions and some of the poisoned persons writhed in agony all night long. Saturday afternoon they are all reported out of danger, thanks to prompt medical attendance, but are still suffering from the effects of the salad.

Mrs. M. E. Carithers was probably one of the most seriously poisoned, and anxious watchers remained with her all night long. When William R. Carithers was called to the bedside of his mother he found her almost pulseless and she was as cold as she will ever be in death. Medical attendance was hastily summoned and a hypodermic injection was necessary to restore life to Mrs. Carithers.

Mrs. Henry C. Cline also partook of the salad and was rendered violently ill. She suffered all through the night and was in intense agony. Her sister, Miss Mattie Stewart, was likewise afflicted from having partaken of the salad, and her suffering did not begin until after she had left the home of Mrs. Cline to go to her own home on Mendocino avenue. She had gone to drive to the depot to meet her parents who were returning from the Geysers, but the sudden illness prevented her moving at all.

Miss Hyer, the well known artist, was another of the residents who partook of the salad and suffered the baneful consequences. She was ill all night, but like the rest is now resting comfortably. She was treated my Mrs. Cummings, who reports that the patient had an awful bad night.

All of those who partook of the salad were seized with retchings and vomiting and suffered excruciating pains.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 3, 1907
Physicians Are Kept Busy Night and Day With Sudden and Serious Cases of Poisoning

About a dozen cases of ptomaine poisoning set the doctors’ telephones a jingle with emergency calls Friday evening, and kept about a dozen doctors busy all night long. There were more on Saturday. Shrimp and crab salads were the mediums of the poison. Among the sufferers were Mrs. M. E. Carithers, Mrs. Henry C. Cline and her sister, Miss Mattie Stewart, Miss Hyer the artist, Miss Cecile C. Septrion, William S. Hunter, and Jack Matthews. Mr. Matthews was the last one to suffer. He ate crab salad Saturday afternoon and his illness soon followed.

Mrs. Carithers was one of those most painfully and most dangerously affected…most heroic treatment was necessary to restore her to animation. Mrs. Cline and Miss Stewart suffered all night, as did Miss Hyer.

Miss Septrion and Mr. Hunter were also seriously affected. It was not until Saturday noon that their physicians declared them out of danger. Both are deaf mutes. Miss Septrion is supervisor and Mr. Hunter a teacher in the school for the deaf at Vancouver, and are here visiting Miss Septrion’s brother-in-law and sister, Prof. and Mrs. J. D. Martin.

– Press Democrat, August 4, 1907

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Another glimpse of old Santa Rosa; meat was delivered from the butcher to your door, just as other purveyors brought milk and eggs and blocks of ice to keep everything chilled. All sensible services to offer in the early 20th century, before personal cars became commonplace and electric refrigerators became available.

And this certainly was a meat-lovin’ town; for a few days In January 1909, Santa Rosa was cut off from the outside world when 100-year-flood conditions washed out the Southern Pacific railroad bridge, leaving the stockyards unstocked for want of cattle on the cattle cars. Both papers had front-page scare stories about a looming “meat famine,” but luckily the flood waters receded before Fluffy and Fido got ‘et by meat-crazed Santa Rosans.

Will Dispense with One Wagon and Deliver by Routes

The butchers of Santa Rosa are arranging for a change in their schedule of delivery and of taking orders and the same will be put into effect on December 1st. It is the plan of the firm to dispense with one delivery wagon and have the town routed in such a manner as to make the delivery systematical. Another feature of the change will be the dispensing of the order wagon and patrons will either be compelled to make their orders the day before with the delivery boy, or phone the order into the shop. This latter, however, will carry with it the risk of not getting the meat to the house in time for cooking, as the wagon may be on some other route, or just started on that route at the time the order is received.

It is expected that the new system will be a great help to the butchers, in matter of work and also of expense and maintaining an extra wagon and driver. After becoming accustomed to it there may not find it of benefit to them in securing early delivery of orders.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 21, 1907

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What speed, they worked; just a handful of months after the 1906 earthquake destroyed most of the Santa Rosa Flour Mill, the huge plant that spanned the entire west side of Wilson Street between 7th and 8th was rebuilt and ready to again turn out their famous “Rose” flour. But first things first; job #1 was to spend a few weeks turning out beer-makings. Maybe that’s why they were so motivated to rebuild quickly.

Snarky innuendo about Santa Rosa’s inebriate class aside, giving a priority to grinding barley, undoubtedly for the nearby Grace Brothers Brewery, actually makes sense. The brewery needed a steady supply of large quantities of crushed barley, and until the local mill was again operating, processed grain would have been shipped in by rail. That’s never a good idea because barley (or any other grain) will oxidize rather quickly once it is cracked, which can result in off-flavors or even contamination of the beer. This must have been a particular concern for Grace Brothers during the hot summer months of 1906 (no refrigerated boxcars or airtight storage in those days, remember).

By contrast, refined flour can be stored for about a year – presuming it’s kept away from moisture and bugs – and is easy to transport, so for all the woes that Santa Rosa endured after the quake, a shortage of flour was never a problem. Besides nearby sources such as the Golden Eagle mill in Petaluma, flour could always be ordered from more distant companies, as seen in the 1905 Santa Rosa Republican ad at right (click to enlarge) from a San Jose mill. And anyway, literally tons of flour was sent to the town for earthquake relief; an inventory at the end of the year found “more than two [train] carloads” still sitting in the warehouse.

As an aside, homemakers (or their hired cooks) in 1906 probably only used flour for biscuits and thickened gravy, cookies, cakes, pie dough and similar. Bread-making was a job left to professionals, not something made at home, and no mystery why; successful baking with a cast iron wood stove required an expert touch to maintain accurate oven temperatures, and even newer model gas stoves were problematic because of fluctuation in the city gas pressure (plus using stinky coal gas in Santa Rosa). And then there was the challenge of having a reliable source of yeast, which required maintaining your own sourdough-like starter – no mean feat in the days of primitive iceboxes.

We can get a glimpse of what food came out of their kitchens from contemporary recipes, such as those found in the 1908 cookbook produced by the Fulton Presbyterian church. Hometown cookbooks from that era (and you’ll find scores of them in a Google book search) are remarkably consistent; baking any sort of regular bread was rarely mentioned. Instead were given instructions for making things like cornbreads and muffins – mostly forgiving recipes which used baking powder/soda instead of temperamental yeast, and which merely required a few minutes in a “hot” oven.

Wheels Will Soon Be Grinding Again And Then “Hurrah For Santa Rosa Flour”

On Thursday the new machinery needed to replace same destroyed at the Santa Rosa Flour Mills, and the large smoke stack and fittings arrived here.

The work of installing the machinery will commence this week and the mill we be splendidly equipped throughout. The new proprietors, William P. Shearer and J. O. Kuykendall are receiving many compliments and are assured of much business when the wheels begin grinding again.

It was learned Thursday that if all goes well the grinding of barley will commence in about ten days and the good Santa Rosa flour will be ready for distribution in about thirty days, turned out by the new machinery. The “Santa Rosa Flour” is one [of] the things that for years has made Santa Rosa and John Mather, the former proprietor of the mills, famous.

– Press Democrat, August 24, 1906

Below: Santa Rosa Flour Mill employees, c. 1906, with nary a hairnet between them. What was that special flavor in the Rose brand flour? Image courtesy the Sonoma County Library

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