UPDATES ON PAST STORIES

How did I miss that? Here are followups to earlier posts with new details found in 1908 Santa Rosa newspapers:

* TERRORISM ON MARK WEST CREEK When a couple of barns caught fire in the summer of 1908, arson was widely suspected; Helen Finley Comstock, whose grandfather’s barn was lost, said her family believed it was the work of the IWW (also known as the “Wobblies”). But my analysis showed that they were the least likely suspects. Odds were higher that the fires were lit by disturbed boys who had escaped from nearby work camps, or disgruntled hop pickers who were chased out of the Ukiah Valley after they tried to organize a strike for better wages. An overlooked item in the Press Democrat showed that authorities were specifically worried about the strikers destroying property: “The pickers are in an ugly mood and are presenting their claims for increased wages with a defiance that has caused the local authorities to prepare for an outbreak. Damage to property is feared.”
* PAINTERS OF SUNSHINE AND PATHOS What was displayed in the window of Bruner’s art store in 1908? An item in the Santa Rosa Republican stated they were oil and watercolor still life paintings from the upcoming encyclopedia of Luther Burbank’s work, along with copies of the books. Only one problem: There weren’t any books, as that series was never produced. Another item reveals that the display traveled to San Francisco a few weeks later, and provides the additional details that these were mockups of book covers being shown with a wide price range of bindings, from cheap and plain to very, very luxe.
* IN LOVE WITH DOROTHY ANNE Earlier I confessed that reading the gossip columns by “Dorothy Anne” were my guilty pleasures. While her comments on the society scene in post-earthquake Santa Rosa were sometimes cruel and snooty, she offered unique views of what it was like to live during those years (not to mention that some of her remarks were downright funny, intentionally or no). Of particular historic interest was her description of Luther Burbank’s garden and her detailed tour of Burbank’s now-demolished home. But who was she? Her identity was always kept secret. Thanks to a passing mention in a “Society Gossip” column after her byline had disappeared, we now know that she was Mary M. McConnell, and would have been 33-35 years old when writing for the Press Democrat. She dropped the column around the time of her engagement to Orrin Houts, whom she married in 1908; as Mrs. O. L. Houts, she drove an automobile in the Rose Carnival that year, taking first prize in the “Natural Flowers” category. (The Houts Auto Company soon became the town’s first major auto dealership.) I’m crossing my fingers that a diary kept by Mary McConnell Houts turns up someday; it should be a rollicking good read.
* HATE CRIME NOT SO FUNNY THE 2ND TIME Tom Mason, who smashed a Chinese man in the head with a brick, was sentenced to just three months in county jail. Mason’s half-brother, who also had a role in the attack, apparently was not charged, but the judge suspected he lied under oath and reprimanded him. We also learn that the victim suffered a broken jaw.
* SALOON TOWN A 1907 ordinance prevented restaurants from selling alcohol without an accompanying meal, and the next year Luigi Franchetti was arrested for breaking the law, witnessed by no fewer than three police officers – can you say, “entrapment?” Like an earlier incident where a lower Fourth street place was closed for offering a few crackers as a “meal,” the law seems to have been unequally applied and targeted Italian-run eateries.
* “THE STING” ACTUALLY HAPPENED HERE Although Santa Rosa had long profited from an underground economy of prostitution and gambling, it was decided in 1908 that the city drew the line at “pool rooms.” These operations were off-track betting halls that mainly took bets on horse races, as gamblers listened to results being read by a telegraph operator with a direct line to the track. But sometimes con men intercepted the transmission and retransmitted it after the race was finished, allowing them to bet on a sure thing – this was the plot of Robert Redford’s great movie, “The Sting.” A simple version of that scam was tried here, but the criminal was quickly caught. That attempted swindle – combined with the newly-elected City Council’s desire to show they were tough on crime – led Santa Rosa to write an ordinance forbidding this type of betting. It remained legal in many other parts of the state; on the same day that Santa Rosa outlawed them, a man in Redwood City was convicted of tapping the telegraph wires used by all San Francisco pool rooms.

STRIKING HOP PICKERS AT UKIAH
Trouble is Feared and Ringleaders Who Try to Incite General Walkout Are Placed Under Arrest for Fear of an Outbreak

A general strike of hop pickers now threatens to complete the series of ill-fortunes that have beset the hop growers of the Ukiah valley this season. Today six ring leaders who tried to incite the pickers to a general walk-out are under arrest and unless the situation changes within the next 24 hours it is likely that more arrests will be made and the entire force of workers will leave the fields.

Three hundred pickers employed by Horst Bros. have already refused to work unless they are paid a dollar per hundred pounds, which means an increase of 20 cents over the present scale. The pickers are in an ugly mood and are presenting their claims for increased wages with a defiance that has caused the local authorities to prepare for an outbreak. Damage to property is feared.

The crop is only one-third harvested and in case a strike is declared will be almost a total lost. Many growers are already harvesting under a great loss this season on account of the low price hops are bringing in the market. They also have suffered from a scarcity of labor and for this season are at the mercy of the pickers.

Hopland, Sept. 4.– The hop drying kiln of the American Hop and Barley Company here today is a total loss as the result of a fire discovered in the furnace room late yesterday. The damage has not been ascertained, but it is known to be extensive, as this firm has the largest plant in the state. The fire is thought to have started from a defective flue, although it is not considered improbable that the disaffected hop pickers who are on strike for higher wages may have been responsible.

– Press Democrat, September 5, 1908
WILL MAKE EXHIBIT FOR SAN FRANCISCANS

The people of San Francisco are to be given an opportunity of viewing the splendid work being done by the Cree-Binner Company, in their edition of Luther Burbank’s “New Creations.” President E. Binner, of the company named, has gone to San Francisco and will there arrange for an exhibition of the drawings, paintings, plates and engravings which are being used in the publication. Samples of the work on the book and of the splendid covers will also be shown the people of the metropolis. The residents of San Francisco have requested that an opportunity be given them to see something of this work. A number of different prices of binding have been arranged for the work, ranging from $39.50 to $2000 for the set of works, which will be very elaborate.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 4, 1908

…Mrs. O. L. Houts, one of the welcome guests present, was called upon as “Dorothy Anne” for a toast, and her response was most appropriate. Mrs. Houts very happily alluded to the pleasure of the afternoon and to the reasons why she had relinquished her nom de plume “Dorothy Anne” (having herself become a bride a short time ago). While reviewing the many pleasantries of the afternoon, Mrs. Houts said she could not help realizing the possibilities presented for a good “story”…

– “Society Gossip,” Press Democrat, September 6, 1908
TOM MASON FOUND GUILTY
Gets Three Months Sentence to County Jail

Tom Mason was convicted by the jury in Judge Emmet Seawell’s court this afternoon on the charge of assault in striking a Sebastopol Chinese on the head with a brick and breaking his jaw.

Mason was sentenced to serve three months in the county jail by Judge Seawell. The court also took occasion to reprimand John Poggie, a half brother of the defendant. He warned that individual to be careful in future of statements he made on the witness stand and declared he had not believed Poggie, and he felt sure the jury had also disbelieved his story.

Poggie was badly crestfallen by the lecture given him by the court.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 3, 1908
SAY HE SOLD “BOOZE” WITHOUT A MEAL

Luigi Franchetti, who is charged with serving liquor without a meal at his restaurant at Wilson and Seventh street, was tried before City Recorder Bagley Thursday afternoon. The case attracted a large number of Italians to the court room. The defendant was not represented by an attorney. Attorney A. M. Johnson appeared for City Attorney A. B. Ware.

Police Officers Ramsey, Yeager and Lindley, who witnessed the sale of liquor, testified to the facts and the arrest which followed immediately afterwards. Several witnesses were called on behalf of the defendant and questioned by Attorney Johnson. The only one who knew anything about the case testified to having been served beer in the place, but claimed to have had something to eat with it. He was uncertain in his answers and showed considerable doubt as to how he should answer some of the direct questions put to him by the Court.

– Press Democrat, October 2, 1908
THE POOL ROOMS ABOLISHED HERE
Stringent Ordinance Passed By the City Council at its Meeting Last Night

Pool rooms and pool selling on races or any contest in Santa Rosa were wiped out by the City Council at its meeting last night by the passage of a stringent ordinance. The ordinance is in effect today and persons violating it is guilty of a misdemeanor and punishable by a fine not to exceed $300, or by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed 150 days, or by both fine and imprisonment.

The ordinance not only makes it a misdemeanor for any person to conduct a pool room or sell poll tickets in Santa Rosa, but a person, his agent, or representative may not lease a room for the purpose of a pool room, neither can a telegraph or telephone company handle messages dealing with races or contest knowing that they are for use in a poolroom, etc.

[..]

– Press Democrat, December 16, 1908

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“THE STING” ACTUALLY HAPPENED HERE

Remember the elaborate con game in the Oscar-winning movie, “The Sting?” Something like that scam occurred in Santa Rosa, 1908.

The definitive book on early 20th century cons is “The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man,” where it’s noted that the “wire” was invented in 1898 and refined in 1900 by the gang fictionally portrayed in the film. The classic version had two parts; the con man convinced the sucker that he always won horse race bets because he had tapped the telegraph wire, allowing a confederate to block and re-transmit race results after the winning horse was actually known. The confidence man asked the sucker to place a few bets for him because his winning streak was arousing suspicion at a certain private “horse pool room” for high-rollers. (The term “pool room” has nothing to do with billiards – it was the name for an off-track betting hall, also sometimes called “race horse turf exchanges.” They were allowed in some cities even though horse racing was not legal in that state. The wire con was believable because the races – which sometimes were taking place hundreds of miles away – were reported by telegraph connections that were prone to interruptions and delays.)

In part two of the scam, the sucker was told that a long-shot would certainly win the final race of the day, and he should make the largest bet possible. That horse supposedly wins, but it was the practice of the pool rooms to pay off the last race on the following day. The next morning the sucker and the con man arrive together at the private pool room only to find the building empty. The con artist’s final job is to convince the sucker to not report it to the police, arguing that he also might be sent to prison because he was part of the wire fraud conspiracy. And yes, sometimes a murder was faked to ensure the sucker was frightened into silence, just like in the movie – in the colorful parlance of the day, this touch was called the “cackle-bladder” because the con man popped open a pig’s bladder filled with chicken blood to simulate a fatal wound. (A full description of the wire con can be found in a 1914 book available on-line).

The scam that was worked in Santa Rosa was neither as elaborate or as competent. According to an article in the April 3 San Francisco Call, the con man was a well-known young man named Walter Rea (age 21 at the time and a native Santa Rosan). “He is said to have bet $5 on a horse quoted at 80 to 1. When word was received that his horse had won he cashed in and left town. It is believed that a confederate tapped the wire and gave the wrong horse as the winner,” reported the Call. Rea was caught and arrested on the complaint of W. J. Edgeworth, a Sebastopol man who was part owner of the pool room known as “Donahue’s.”

The incident serves as a postscript to the previous post, discussing the outcome of the 1908 Santa Rosa city election and how the town had long profited from an underground economy of prostitution and illegal gambling. In the articles transcribed here, it was revealed that there were two illegal pool rooms then operating in Santa Rosa. Police and the District Attorney apparently looked the other way, even though the election that would be held less than a week later was largely a referendum upon the city’s tolerance for vice and crime (read update here).

POOL ROOM IS “STUNG”
Victimized for $400 Dollars Wednesday

One of the two poolrooms which have been operating in Santa Rosa for many months was “stung” Wednesday afternoon to the extent of four hundred dollars. Just how the “sting” was administered was not definitely stated, but it is believed to have been done by means of tapped wires. As the pool room is not a legal institution, those who benefited by the coup and secured the coin will probably not be molested, for if the proprietors have any warrants issued for the arrest of the youth who administered the “sting” they will have to testify in prosecuting that they have been conducting a pool room.

The young man who secured the pool room coin is well known around this city, and immediately after the tip was received that a certain horse had won, he is alleged to have “cashed in” his checks and departed. The man who was “stung” has done considerable talking since.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 2, 1908
POOL ROOM SHOWN TO EXIST IN SANTA ROSA

The hearing of the case against Walter Rea, charged with beating a local pool room out of several hundred dollars, disclosed the existence of two pool rooms in the City of Roses, according to the testimony.

The testimony showed that Frank W. Brown received information by telegaph regarding races at his place of business, and that they were then transmitted by phone to Donahue’s and later reduced to writing and sent to Donahue’s place. Rea secured three hundred dollars on the purported victory of a certain horse, reported to have won, when the animal had been defeated. The money was paid by Donahue personally.

The case was continued until next Saturday for further hearing.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 20, 1908

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A SMOKER’S CHANCE

Santa Rosa was quite the saloon town in the early 20th century, with 30 bars (or so) downtown, mostly on Fourth St. between Railroad Square and Courthouse Square. It was also a smoker’s paradise, with about a half dozen tobacco stores along the same route. And in each bar, each smoke shop, were slot machines where a guy could plunk in a nickel and gamble for cigars.

Discussed here earlier was a loopy 1906 court ruling that declared a slot machine was a “banking device” as long as the payout was in cigars, beer, gum, or anything but cash. The item transcribed below provides details of the “house rules” that prevailed in Santa Rosa, showing clearly that the barkeep or smoke shop owner had an active hands-on role similar to a casino dealer, allowing a gambler to ask the proprietor for double-down bets. That’s a big difference from passively having a machine on the side of the counter.

Card gambling in the cigar shops was also common, judging from a long debate in 1907 about whether tables should be banned in Healdsburg, but nothing specific about poker games appeared in the papers about Santa Rosa. But after the quake rebuilding settled down, it was likely still somewhat a “wide-open town,” as earlier revealed by a 1905 exposé in the Santa Rosa Republican.

REDUCE ODDS ON SLOT MACHINES
After Today Local Cigar Dealers Will No Longer Pay on Queens, or Allow Drawing to Straights or Flushes–The Reason Why

In anticipation of the proposed license on slot machines, a new schedule goes into effect at the cigar stores tomorrow. No more will two Queens be good for a rope [cigar], and after today drawing to straights and flushes will be a thing of the past. It is the same old story–the “consumer pays the tax.” The city has decided to license the slot machines, and the odds are to be changed so that the dear public will pay the license fee.

Although the printed schedule on the face of the machines only calls for payment when a pair of Kings or better appears, it has been the local custom to pay on the appearance of Queens. At one time, before the shake, the local dealers even paid on Jacks. It has also been the vogue here to allow customers who had made a play and secured all but one of a straight or flush to “draw” to the same upon payment of an extra nickel. Thus, if a customer who had four clubs and wanted a fifth should elect to pay for the privilege he was allowed to try again, the appearance of a club in the designated spot on the second turn being held to complete the flush and being regarded as equivalent to having drawn all five clubs on the first play. But the dealers say they are “too much loser” to keep this up, now that each machine is to be taxed $5 per quarter by the municipality. The regular printed schedule is to apply from now on.

– Press Democrat, March 10, 1907

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