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THE UNTOLD ESCAPES OF THE BARLOW BOYS

It was like clockwork: In June the Barlow boys arrived, then a few weeks later came reports of runaways. But after the 1911 season, it appeared the escape attempts stopped. What happened? Boys were still trying to get away, all right – but the Santa Rosa newspapers just stopped reporting about it.

(For those just tuning in: In the early Twentieth Century, California courts usually sentenced boys who committed minor crimes or were deemed incorrigible to spend the rest of their youth at institutions not unlike a modern prison halfway house. One of these places, the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society of San Francisco, struck a deal with the Barlow family of Sebastopol; during summers the boys would camp on the ranch and pick berries and fruit for low pay. Soon other farmers were asking for orphans and it wasn’t long before the Aid Society and similar institutions were sending up hundreds of boys – some as young as seven – to work in West County fields and canneries every year. For more background, see “SEBASTOPOL’S CHILD LABOR CAMPS“.)

We know the escapes continued thanks to the archives of the Petaluma Argus-Courier, which just came online this week via newspapers.com. It’s a huuuuge deal that this trove is simply available, but that it’s also searchable with great accuracy is enough to make genealogists and historians purr and mew.

There are a few possible reasons why the Petaluma paper informed their readers about the runaways while the Santa Rosa papers blacked out the news. Rarely were escapees nabbed around Santa Rosa; usually they were caught in the countryside or en route to San Francisco, so it was more likely the boys would be seen close to Petaluma or Marin. There also might have been editorial bias in keeping quiet about bad news; the use of child labor was a fast-growing part of the West County economy – in 1912 the boys picked 407 tons of berries and fruit, up from 125 tons just five years earlier, showing farmers were lining up to get in on this sweet deal for ultra-cheap juvenile labor. And to be fair, it must be noted that in 1913 the Press Democrat did offer a paragraph on seven runaways being captured and even mentioned the Barlow ranch by name.


(RIGHT: Mess tent for boys working on the Barlow ranch, date unknown. Photograph courtesy Western Sonoma County Historical Society)

But there was one related story which the local press couldn’t ignore because it made all the Bay Area papers: The 1913 theft of summer earnings by the boys of the Armitage Orphanage – and that the robber was the orphanage’s superintendent.

While it was was rarely mentioned which orphanages and charities were shoving their kids down the Sebastopol berry picking pipeline every June, it comes as a shock to find this outfit was among them. The [Episcopal] Bishop Armitage Orphanage was a pet charity of the San Francisco swells who funded it via lawn parties, balls, country club polo matches and other high society soirees (“Tableaux Vivants to Show Masterpieces – Famous Art Works Will be Staged by Members of the Board” – San Francisco Chronicle, March 16, 1910).

That orphanage certainly didn’t need any income from the boys; the stolen $3,000 was petty change to its society matron directors and to their credit, they promised to reimburse the children. Well-funded does not mean well-run, however. While the 150 boys were working in the orchards and fields, the orphanage was being closed and their buildings sold, so at the end of summer the Armitage inmates were split up other institutions. The superintendent who disappeared with their money was known as Robert Ellis, although that was not his real name for some reason – and the directors were aware of that. He had been superintendent for a couple of years, the board having raced through four managers in six months before him. There seems to be a quite the scandal unreported there, although the society sections did not speak of such unpleasantries.

On related news, the Press Democrat recently presented a couple of items about the orphanage at Lytton Springs operated by the Salvation Army. The property near Healdsburg is now on the market with an asking price of $24 million.

One PD article nostalgically waxes about Lytton success stories – a pair of brothers who built a successful contracting business and a man who became an important Santa Rosa lawyer. Healdsburg High School welcomed the Lytton kids, according to the PD writer, because the Salvation Army encouraged them to play band instruments and the boys were strong and scrappy from all their farm work.

That’s a very rosy view. The situation may have changed later but in their earlier days  Lytton youths were allowed to attend Healdsburg High only if supervisors ruled the child had “capacity for high school training;” per a 1909 article about Lytton, only about 5 percent of their residents were permitted to continue schooling beyond 8th grade. Otherwise, the kid had no choice but to work on the Salvation Army’s commercial farm. As I wrote earlier in “THE CHILDREN OF LYTTON:” The cruelest aspect of the “orphanages” was that wards of the system lost nearly all chance of an education beyond readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic. While Santa Rosa High School was then offering typewriting classes and teaching other office skills which were in growing demand, Lytton and other Aid Homes were preparing kids for a 19th century future.

While the institutions could have done more to keep their kids in classrooms, a century ago state law didn’t require it. The Jones-Hughes Act of 1903 made it compulsory for every child in California to attend school between ages 8 and 15, but offered a grabbag of loopholes allowing families to opt out of schooling altogether – children who lived over two miles by road from the nearest school could be claimed as exempt, for example. Those exemptions were removed in 1919 and the compulsory age raised to 16, but that still didn’t mean a child would make it to high school. According to a report that year from the state’s Dept. of Education, most of the students who were to be added to the attendance rosters hadn’t yet finished elementary school by age sixteen.

There were many institutions far, far worse than Lytton, but it wasn’t free of controversy. In November, 1913 the Oakland Enquirer published a series of investigative articles “berating the management of the institution for alleged cruel treatment of children at the institution,” according to a mention of the articles in the Santa Rosa Republican. Unfortunately, not much more can be said about that reporting because the paper is not online and the only known surviving editions from that year are at UC/Berkeley. The Republican added the main incident was “punishment meted out to two boys who stole horses and got away from the institution.”

Sonoma County District Attorney Clarence Lea thought the charges were credible enough to have the grand jury investigate. Oakland Enquirer reporter Fred Williams was summoned, and the mother of the boys also testified, which suggests the pair were at Lytton not for being orphans but having been sentenced there by a court for delinquency.

Jurors visited Lytton and found it was overcrowded, but the children were well cared for and no “unmerited punishments were inflicted.” The grand jury report concluded with praise for the institution, which deserved “support and commendation.” The jury foreman wrote, “in view of the splendid work that is being accomplished at the institution we feel that minor criticisms which might be made would be uncalled for.”

Not so fast, there, mee bucko. Their report did not mention the jury interviewed the boys making the charges although it’s implied (“we investigated all cases called to our attention”). Nor did it explain what the Oakland Enquirer reporter had to say; that was a significant newspaper with a reputation for muckraking – it’s doubtful they would run a series based only on wild yarns from a pair of malcontent kids who apparently had been in trouble with the law.

More interesting is a mention at the end of the jury report that the superintendent and his wife together earned only $14 a week, and no one there was paid more than $400 a year. Those earnings are on the low side for unskilled labor at the time, but not unreasonable. But from a Press Democrat article the previous year, we know that Lytton annually spent about $3,400 on salaries. Now project the numbers: Lytton must have operated with only eight paid staffers, twelve max – to run a 400+ acre commercial farm AND care for about 250 kids full time.

“Mother Bourne,” the beloved figurehead of Lytton may indeed have been worthy of sainthood, but the institution was clearly dependent upon the children to keep the wheels turning. And barely supervising so many kids – most there because they were deemed to be “unmanageable” – is surely an invitation to bullying or even worse forms of abuse.

But as the Santa Rosa papers seemed wanting to tell readers only good news about the Barlow boys, the grand jury wanted to see Lytton as a shining example of noble work. Look how well we are treating these troubled and troublesome youths, our ancestors seemed determined to boast. We have plucked them from nothing and given them something.

 

TWO BOYS MADE ESCAPE

Two boys whose names are given as Butts and Landingan by Superintendent Turner, escaped from the Barlow berry fields above Sebastopol on Monday afternoon at an early hour and later Deputy Sheriff R. L. Rasmussen was notified.

He kept a close watch on all departing trains and the steamer Petaluma but the youngsters have not yet come to this city.

A watchman was in this city on Monday evening investigating. Both the lads are wearing blue overalls. They are from the Boys and Girls Aid Society which is now at Barlow’s picking berries.

They have only been there two days and during that time the two boys have been trying to get away. They are thought to be in this county yet.

– Petaluma Argus-Courier, June 18, 1912
TWO MORE BOYS MAKE ESCAPE

The local police were notified on Wednesday night that two boys had escaped from the berry pickers’ camp at the Barlow ranch near Sebastopol and the officers are keeping a watch for them and examined the outgoing trains and steamers Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

The boys are Harry Herman, aged 18, and Chas. Sargent, age 17, both of San Francisco. The former is 5 feet four inches in height and the latter slightly shorter. Both wore straw hats, blue overalls and dark coats. The former wore a yellow khaki shirt and the latter a light colored soft shirt. Herman is slightly stooped and walks with swinging gait and has dark brown hair and dark eyes.

Sargent is of dark complexion with light brown hair. Both wore heavy shoes. For some reason the custodians of the boys, are unusually anxious to capture these escapes, so it is probably that they are detained fore [sic] more than the ordinary wrong doing.

– Petaluma Argus-Courier, July 11, 1912
THREE BOYS RAN AWAY

Several officers of the Boys and Girls Aid Society were in this city on Sunday morning looking for three runaway boys who made their escape on Saturday evening from Barlow’s station where the girls and boys were picking berries. The officers remained here for a short time and then went to Sausalito where they captured the three runaways who were taken to Barlow’s on the next train.

– Petaluma Argus-Courier, June 23, 1913

 

HERE AFTER RUNAWAYS

Special Police Officer T. Connolly of San Francisco who is connected with the Boys and Girls Aid Society was in this city on Wednesday seeking Allen Luhra, Joe Fahey, Abe Bernard, Sam Telaxney and Charles Griffin, who escaped from Barlow’s station during the present week. The last four named left on Tuesday afternoon, while younger Luhra left on Monday.

Chief of Police Flohr has been notified of the disappearance of the boys and has been given a good description of them so if they are in this city they are likely to be captured in a short time.

– Petaluma Argus-Courier, July 16, 1913

 

 MANY OF THE BERRY BOYS ARE FOUND AND RETURNED

The Sheriff’s office received word on Thursday that four of the boys who escaped from the berry picking camp on the Barlow ranch had been captured by the Aid Society’s officers, and had been returned to camp. Four boys were found in Forestville, and three in Green Valley. Thursday Mrs. Dick Isaacs telephoned the Sheriff’s office that four of the boys were on a place back of their ranch. Superintendent Turner was notified and went after the boys.

– Press Democrat, July 18, 1913
DECAMPS WITH COIN OF BERRY PICKERS

Thirteen days before the Armitage Orphanage was to pass out of existence and his term of office expire, the superintendent, known in San Mateo as Robert Ellis, disappeared, and is accused of having taken with him about $3,000 belonging to the boys in the institution. Detectives are searching for the former superintendent, but have found no substantial clews.

The orphanage will pass out of existence on October 23, when the property will be taken over by Antoine Borel and Ellis’ employment would have expired on that date. He disappeared last Friday, but the loss of the money was not discovered until yesterday by Mrs. William G. Hitchcock, treasurer of the orphanage.

The money represents the earnings of 114 boys who picked berries at Sebastopol last summer, and was given to the superintendent for keeping. It is said that the boys will not lose by the theft, as the directors will make good the deficit.

Ellis has been superintendent of the orphanage for two years. He went to San Mateo well recommended, and although it was known that Robert Ellis was not his true name the directors made no objection to the masquerading. He is the son of an Episcopal minister in Philadelphia and is married, but separated from his wife.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 16, 1913

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THE CHILDREN OF LYTTON

It was like part of a riddle: What’s an orphanage with few orphans, a detention home that has no guards or locked doors? Answer: The Salvation Army Orphanage at Lytton Springs.

In the early 20th century it was formally called the “Boys’ and Girls’ Industrial Home and Farm,” or just the “Industrial Farm” by those who ran it. The Salvation Army still quietly uses it as an adult rehab center, but a century ago the facility about three miles north of Healdsburg was well known, highlighted in newspaper Sunday features and something of a tourist attraction.

(RIGHT: Children at the Lytton Industrial Home and Farm, 1910. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

The Lytton farm in that era was just one of many outposts in the state’s vast child welfare/child labor system. California had more kids per capita in institutions than anywhere else in the United States; in the early 1910s it was estimated more than one child out of 50 was in some sort of institution each year.1

Those staggering numbers reflect the complicated attitudes towards children a century ago. Although Lytton was also known as the “Golden Gate Orphanage,” only eight percent of the kids were truly orphans; “Mother Bourne,” the driving force at Lytton and wife of the superintendent said most children were there because of unfit parents, particularly drunkenness and “looseness of the marriage tie” (another writer listed “modified hoboism or Bohemianism” as a factor). Altogether, two out of three were there for such reasons or because they were deemed to be “unmanageable.” The good news was that very often their stay at Lytton was temporary, with a child returning to his/her family once the situation stabilized.

But “mild delinquents” were also sentenced to Lytton by the courts, and one who made news locally in 1912 was Jimmy Gillespie. The 11 year-old ran away immediately and made his way to Santa Rosa, where he burgled two houses and stole a bike. After being captured by a deputy he escaped before he could be sent back to Lytton, this time stealing $4.60 from the purse of a woman on Orchard street. Superintendent Bourne came to town to pick up the boy after he was caught, promising he would be closely watched, according to the Republican paper. But a week later Jimmy ran away once more, this time breaking into a general store in Geyserville and making off with valuables, including “some marbles.” This time he was nabbed after robbing a railroad station of tickets he planned to use to flee to San Francisco. The paper reported he was “rated as an incorrigible by the Sonoma County officials” with “a record of petty offenses that is appalling.” One of the headlines in the Republican went so far as to call his mini-crime spree “evil acts.”

Jimmy’s next stop was probably one of the seven reformatories where he would be locked up until adulthood. Three of those were run by the state but Lytton and the 78 other institutions like it in California were privately owned, and nearly all were operated by a religious organization.2

Conditions at the Lytton farm were among the very best of the institutions; at the other end of the scale were operations that crammed up to fifty kids in a cottage. There were no state standards for living conditions, nutrition, medical care or basic record-keeping on the kids, aside from a statistical report to the State Board of Charities. Nonetheless there was public money available from the state and counties to take care of the children, and that contributed more than half of operating costs in some cases. Lytton was in the middle, with about 30% of its funding coming from taxpayers.

Then there was the tradeoff between education and work. With an average of about 230 children, Lytton was large enough to have its own county grammar school staffed by public schoolteachers. But that was as far as education went in that era; older kids were allowed to attend Healdsburg high school only if the “boy or girl has capacity for high school training and wants it,” according to a 1909 feature article in the San Francisco Call, a year when there were only three high school students from there.

This may be the cruelest aspect of the “orphanage” system: Even if your parents’ divorce leads to you being sent to one of the nicer places such as Lytton, it ends up costing you an education beyond readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic. While Santa Rosa High School was then offering typewriting classes and teaching other office skills which were in growing demand, Lytton was preparing kids for a 19th century future.

Lytton was very much a working farm, with a particularly successful poultry and egg business. Kids had plenty of milk thanks to their own dairy but the place wasn’t entirely self-supporting; there wasn’t enough water available for irrigation, so they had to buy vegetables and fruit. Choice eggs were sold to the St. Francis hotel in San Francisco, which in turn donated its chipped dishware to the orphanage.

(RIGHT: Children clearing rocks in a field at the Lytton Industrial Home and Farm, 1909. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Yet there’s no getting around that Lytton was a commercial farm being subsidized by public monies and nearly free child labor. (The Salvation Army did pay them something for farm work, but no articles could be found describing how much.) Functionally it was not much different from the Sebastopol child labor camps, where many Bay Area institutions sent youngsters to work during summers – often from dawn to dusk during harvest season – and a 1917 study found that work could only be justified as a reason for kids to be outdoors.

For young people inclined towards egg sorting and milking, Lytton was a sanctuary, and some received permission to stay on past the age where the institution received charitable subsidy for them. And while the Salvation Army’s main objective was always trying to get each kid into a normal home as soon as possible, state law partially blocked such efforts because Lytton was not a licensed child-placement agency. (The need for adoption regulation seems obvious but before the law changed in 1911, the Salvation Army in Santa Rosa gave away a 7-month-old baby at one of its services.) In 1912 only eleven of those agencies existed in the state; closest to Lytton was Santa Rosa’s branch of the Native Sons’ and Native Daughters’ Central Committee.3

It’s a bit surprising to learn the Native Sons of the Golden West and Native Daughters auxiliary ran an adoption agency; the organization is best known today for erecting historical monuments and such. (Their Santa Rosa lodge still exists on Mendocino Ave. near Fifth St.) But in 1912 they ran a notice in the Santa Rosa Republican listing all the adorable “tots who are free for adoption,” ages from less than a month to thirteen years. Many were probably Lytton kids except the youngest; Lytton was not setup to handle infants, and only accepted children under three when there were other boys or girls from the family.

Children were listed by religion with the notice, “Protestant children must be placed in Protestant homes and Catholic children in Catholic homes.” Categories also specified race/ethnicity: Chinese, “Colored,” Jewish or “Spanish.” From the descriptions apparently the children could be attractive or smart, but not both. There was a girl that was so pretty it had to be mentioned twice: “Beautiful girl, 11 months old, part Spanish, very beautiful.” One also has to feel sorry for the 3½ year old girl someone felt compelled to describe as “not pretty but bright.”

1 1910 California census: 621,666 under 20, with over 14,000 different children in care each year

2 Child Welfare Work in California: A Study of Agencies and Institutions; 1915

3 ibid

 DOES ANY ONE WANT A CHILD?
 Native Sons Seek Homes for Orphan Babies

 Santa Rosa Parlor, Native Sons of the Golden West, met at Native Sons hall on Thursday evening…The Native Sons’ and Native Daughters’ Central Committee on Homeless children have a large list of little tots who are free for adoption and whom it is wished to secure homes for. C. A. Pool, Jackson Temple and J. M. Boyes compose the committee of the local lodge that has charge of finding homes for the children. The following list includes some of the most attractive children from which proper people can secure a lovable baby by applying to the local committee.

 Protestant children must be placed in Protestant homes and Catholic children in Catholic homes.

 Protestant Girls

 Brown eyes, 3½ years old, not pretty but bright.
 Black eyes, 7 years old, very attractive.
 Pretty girl, brown eyes, light hair, 5½ years old.
 Attractive girl, 9 years old, brown hair.

 Jewish Children

 Lovely little girl, 2 years old, dark eyes, brown hair.
 Handsome boy, blonde, 2 years old.

 Catholic girls

 Two baby girls, 1 year old.
 Beautiful girl, 11 months old, part Spanish, very beautiful.
 Two pretty babies, 2 years old, have been delicate, need good homes.
 Pretty baby 6 months old.
 Very attractive baby, 3 months old, blue eyes, brown hair.
 Attractive girl, 10 years old.
 Italian girl, 13 years old.
 Nice girl, 7 years old.

 Chinese

 Very attractive and pretty little girl 2 years old.

 Twins

 Lovely girls 2½ years old, brown eyes and grey eyes, curls.

 Protestant Boys

 Several lovely baby boys under one month.
 Handsome boy, 2 years old, light curls, gray eyes.
 Fine boy, 9 months old, brown eyes, light hair.
 Bright lad, 3 years old, blue eyes, brown hair.
 Three boys, about nine years; want home in country.
 Handsome Spanish boy, 2½ years old.

 Catholic Boys

 Six fine boys about 3 years old.
 Nice boy, 5 years old.
 Beautiful boy, 2½ years old, blonde.
 Two fine babies, 1 year old, a very high type, brown eyes.
 Two nice boys, 5 years old.
 Handsome Spanish boy, 7 years old.

 Colored Children

 Handsome, bright little girl, 3½ years old.
 Fine boy, 7 months.

 – Santa Rosa Republican, August 16, 1912
 BOY CONTINUES HIS EVIL ACTS
 Jimmie Gillipsi Escaped From Detention Home

  Jimmie Gillipsi, the 11 year old boy who was arrested here Friday by Deputy Sheriff C. A. Reynolds and turned over to Probation Officer John Plover, continued his evil ways later that evening. It will be remembered that the lad entered two houses and stole a wheel before being caught here. After his arrest Probation Officer Plover found that the boy had been sent to the Lytton orphanage from Alameda the evening before he ran away and was arrested here.

He was taken to the detention home Friday night, to be cared for before being sent back to the orphanage. While a room was being prepared for him at the detention home and while he was left in the sitting room by himself, Jimmy escaped.  When the matron, Mrs. Parish, returned she discovered the boy had gone and the police and probation officer started out to search for him. He was discovered about 2 o’clock in the Northwestern Pacific depot.

Evidently the first course de determined upon after his escape from the detention home was to resume robbery attempts, for he went into the home of Mrs. Wells on Orchard street and took a purse from the lady’s handbag. The purse contained $4.60. The boy came down town and purchased another purse, throwing the one away he had stolen, so that the money could not be identified. When arrested he had spent 80 cents of the stolen coin. This he had used in getting the new purse, ham and eggs for supper and an ice cream soda. Saturday Major Bourne took the boy back to the orphanage, where he will be closely watched and cared for.

 – Santa Rosa Republican, September 28, 1912
  SMALL BOY IN TROUBLE
  Incorrigible Lad Has Record of Many Thefts

  Jimmie Gillespie, who is rated as an incorrigible by the Sonoma County officials, was captured neatly by Conductor Ab Shera on Tuesday morning and turned over to Officer Andy Miller at the local station when the train from the north arrived here.

  During Monday night at the depot of the railroad company at Lytton was robbed and some tickets taken. Conductor Shera was notified of the robbery by the agent at Lytton Tuesday morning and was on the lookout for the pasteboards. Gillespie boarded the train at Healdsburg and passed one of the stolen tickets up for transportation to San Francisco. He had realized that the tickets must be stamped to be good, and had placed a stamp on them, using the postoffice stamp for that purpose.

  What will be done with the boy is a matter of conjecture. He has been in trouble before and it looks like he will get a pass from the county to the Ione reform school. The lad is only 11 years of age, but has a record of petty offenses that is appalling. He was taken into custody and placed in the Detention Home here and broke away from that institution, and robbed the Wells residence. He secured $4.60 and some articles of value. He was placed in the Lytton orphanage, from which institution he broke out Sunday night and went to Geyserville. There he robbed the rochdale store of a couple of knives, a watch and some marbles, a stick pin, some other jewelry and some change. Returning to Lyttons he robbed the depot, which led to his capture.

 – Santa Rosa Republican, October 8, 1912

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A LOVELY DAY, A MONSTROUS SWAN

If your town must have a reputation, it’s not bad being known as the place that throws the best parties. From before the Civil War to beyond WWI, the festivals at Healdsburg were frequent and famous, drawing crowds of thousands even in horse and buggy days.

The Santa Rosa papers treated these events like hometown affairs, showering the preparations and celebration itself with the kind of laudatory attention given the town’s own Rose Festival. Who would be named queen, and who would be her attendants? Was a marching band coming from San Francisco? Santa Rosans wanted to know these details because they were sure to attend in force. Despite being the largest town in the area, there wasn’t much to do in Santa Rosa; the town didn’t even have a single public park. Yes, there was the Grace Brother’s beer garden at the corner of Fourth St. and McDonald Ave. but that was privately owned so it wasn’t always open, and worse, suffered from decades of neglect; the 1908 fire map reported structures were “old and dilapidated.” If you liked roller skating or swimming the skating pavilion and pool were open most of the year, but such options fell far short of a true park, where kids could frolic as the rest of the family stretched out and picnicked on grass or shore. For those primal Victorian-era pleasures, Santa Rosans took the electric trolley to places like Graton, where thousands waved the stars and stripes at the 1906 Fourth of July. Or they rode the train to fruit or gardening celebrations held at Cloverdale or Healdsburg. it was a bit like Sonoma County was burdened with a wealthy uncle who just expected he could drop by unannounced upon his poor relations to mooch a holiday dinner.

Healdsburg’s festive traditions began in 1857 with the “May Day Festival and Knighthood Tournament,” which was quite Renaissance Faire-ish, complete with jousting and other competitions from days of yore. (“Healdsburg’s Festivals and Parades” by Hannah Clayborn is the primary source for much of my information on the background of these events, along with “Splash from the Past” by Holly Hoods.) The year following Santa Rosa’s first Rose Festival in 1894, Healdsburg shifted likewise to a floral fest; while there were still men in armor clanking about the sidelines, the local paper reported that 5,000 were drawn to the town to witness the mile-long pageant of elaborate floats.

The last street flower parade was held in 1904, and was followed by an incident that might have gotten dangerously out of hand. The Windsor Herald published an anonymous poem titled, “In Healdsburg” that poked fun at the town in a most unfunny way. Besides calling the residents “an anarchistic bunch” – a potent insult for the day – there was a racial slur against the queen of the festival, Isabel Simi, the 18 year-old daughter of an Italian immigrant. (That same year, this young woman found herself the manager of the Simi Winery when her father and uncle unexpectedly died.) Healdsburg was outraged, and an effigy of Ande Nowlin, editor of the Windsor paper, was burned in front of the Union Hotel. In fact, they were so outraged that they saved part of the effigy to burn again the following day, when a crowd that stretched beyond two blocks participated in a mock funeral for the editor. “There was no doubt as to the excitement and feeling of resentment the lines had caused in Healdsburg,” the Press Democrat understated.

Perhaps fearing that festival mania had become a bit too manic, it was four years before there was another Healdsburg extravaganza. The 1908 Water Carnival was worth the wait.

The concept of an event centered upon the Russian River was not new; Gaye LeBaron wrote there were earlier “Logger’s Picnics” in 19th century summers, with lotsa log rollin’ and wood choppin’ fun. Monte Rio held a “Venetian Water Carnival” in 1907, complete with a parade of decorated boats. But the Healdsburg Water Carnival raised high the bar; with more than a generation of experience hosting such blowout events, the Healdsburgers put on quite a show. A brass band greeted arriving trains and led visitors to “Lake Sotoyome” (now Memorial Beach, but with a higher water level set by the dam). San Francisco’s Olympic Club performed a high diving exhibition from the railroad bridge, there was a firemen’s tournament with competing departments from Marin and Sonoma Counties, and a concert by the San Francisco firemen’s band. After dark there was a grand ball on a dance floor by the beach, fireworks, and a midnight farewell as the orchestra played “Home, Sweet Home.”

(RIGHT: The lost Van Gogh, “Carnival on the Water at Healdsburg”)

But ah, the centerpiece. The grand water parade was truly grand; the floats – now literally floating – were larger and more stately than anything that could have been pulled by horse or motorcar down Main street. On one float Dr. Morse’s wife, Bertha, posed as Cleopatra; on another the festival’s queen and maids of honor – check out the elegant feathered hats – were surrounded by giant artificial water lilies. The Rosenberg and Bush department store presented a float with “Swastika good luck emblems.” And then there was the “Monstrous Swan” entry from banker E. B. Snook, the secrets of ifs artful construction sadly now lost.

The water carnival made the old street parades seem rather flat, and gone were poor sightlines from the crowded sidewalks. Spectators could watch the water parade from the riverbank, from the railroad bridge above, or even from a boat, making themselves a bit of background in the show. The many surviving photographs of the 1908 and 1909 water carnivals also differ in being unposed. In every picture are seen people in motion – boats being pulled or rowed into position; a man in derby leaning forward from the prow of a rowboat for a closer look; a dozen or more kids packed tightly together on the edge of a dock, their toes dangling barely above the river. These are scenes that suggest paintings by great impressionists such as Monet or Van Gogh, and there are some photos that make one ponder what Seurat’s “La Grande Jatte” might have looked like if viewed from the riverside, while riding in a rowboat garlanded deep with California poppies.

Healdsburgers revived the water carnival in 2011, and are planning an even greater event on July 14, 2012. Float applications are now being accepted, although the first guideline is a notice that one particular design is reserved: “The Swan is taken. (we have a series of engineers and very brilliant people creating a replica – sorry).” Ed Snook would be so proud.

(Photos courtesy Sonoma County Library)

THOUSANDS OF LOYAL SUBJECT PAY HOMAGE TO FAIR QUEEN WINIFRED
Success Smiles on the Healdsburg Carnival
Day and Night of Pleasure for Everybody–Beautiful Illuminations of City and Lake–The Prize Winners–Fireworks Display–Queen Opens Ball

Fine weather, the presence of thousands of merry people, a firemen’s tournament, coronation of a gracious sovereign, grand pageant on Lake Sotoyome, aquatic sports and dancing in the day time, and magnificent illuminations up town, and on the lake, a splendid display of fireworks on the water, and a grand ball at night, with plenty of band music and entertainment at all times, made the first annual water carnival which was the glory of Healdsburg on Saturday a triumphant success.

The Ladies’ Improvement Club, the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce and all those who contributed to make the water carnival a success must have felt happy and well repaid for their effort by the crowds that congregated within the gates of the ever loyal city to the north. People came from far and near to attend the pageant. They were all pleased and compliments were bestowed on all hands. It was a proud day for Healdsburg, one long to be remembered.

At early morning the people began to flock into the city. Hundreds of people arrived from Mendocino county and northern Sonoma on the special train from points north. From the south two big trains carried hundreds more. Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Cloverdale, Ukiah, Geyserville, Sebastopol, and all way points contributed well to swell the crowd. All roads led to Healdsburg, and from ten o’clock in the morning when the parade formed at the depot and marched up town until the last strains of “Home, Sweet Home,” had been played by the orchestra at the close of the grand ball at midnight in the city and lake rang with merriment.

In the firemen’s tournament in which the Petaluma, Healdsburg, and Mill Valley teams competed, the first prize was won by the Petaluma department, under Chief Meyers. Healdsburg was second and Mill Valley, third. Petaluma captured another prize, her float being awarded first premium.

Of course the main feature of the afternoon was the coronation of Queen Winifred, which took place on the royal barge on the lake. It was a pretty coronation scene. The band played, the people cheered, and Queen Winifred’s joyous reign was auspiciously inaugurated.

Queen Winifred’s maid of honor were…

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Following the coronation came the parade of gaily decorated flats, rowboats, canoes, etc. The floats were of striking design. The Healdsburg Woman’s Improvement Club Float, “Cleopatra,” met with hearty recognition at the hands of the assembled throngs. On the float Mrs. Edgar Morse represented Cleopatra…

The Petaluma float, representing “California,” garlanded with a wealth of California poppies, won first prize. The float representing a large white swan, in which the Misses Snook were seated, entered by E. B. Snook, won second prize. Other notable floats were entered by the Woodmen of the World, the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs of Healdsburg. In the row boat division in which there were many entries, the one representing “Water Lilies,” in which the Misses Tully rowed, won first prize, and the boat entered by Joe Miller took second prize. The Healdsburg Red Men, in true Indian costume, paddled canoes and were given much attention. The water parade was a big success…

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At night–and Healdsburg people can justly feel proud of this feature–the plaza and business center of the town was brilliantly illuminated with strings of vari-colored electric globes. The City Hall was outlined by clusters of lights. In addition the business establishments were prettily decorated. In the plaza, the firemen’s band from San Francisco gave a concert in the first part of the evening. Thousands of people witnessed the fireworks and illuminations on Lake Sotoyome. The Healdsburg band played for the concert and dancing on the platform on the lake. The grand ball was opened by Queen Winifred.

Here’s to continued success and progress for Healdsburg. And here’s a prediction that the second water carnival next year will be an even greater success than the first.

– Press Democrat, August 16, 1908

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