Was there ever a fire chief more vigilant than Santa Rosa’s Frank Muther? Sometimes it seemed that more was accomplished at the Fire Commissioners’ meeting than City Council. Just a few months after he ordered his men to keep a sharp lookout for lawn-watering scofflaws that could endanger the city, here he was, urging town fathers to finally take action on the “temporary structures” that quickly popped up following the 1906 earthquake. Now almost a year-and-a-half later, many “shacks” apparently remained.

Frank Muther died in 1927 and is buried in the old Odd Fellows’ Cemetery (lot 21), just on the other side of the fence from the Fulkerson crypt in the Rural Cemetery. But today his grave is completely unmarked, likely because he had a wooden tombstone that was destroyed by a mid-century burn at the Rural Cemetery to control weeds. Oh, irony.

Also below is a letter to the editor complaining of high fire risk conditions (in the fiscal year that ended the day before this letter appeared, there had been 23 fire alarms, 9 of them false). Between the ramshackle shacks and the weed-choked backyards, Frank needed to stay on his toes.

Important Recommendation Made at Last Night’s Meeting of the Board of Fire Commissioners

At the meeting of the Fire Commissioners last night Fire Chief Frank Muther recommended that all temporary buildings that remain untenanted for thirty days should be torn down as a matter of precaution against fire.

The Fire Chief reported two fires during the month; that at the Yandle foundry, entailing a total loss of $3,572.20 upon which insurance was paid thereon to the amount of $1,272.20.

The Fire Chief at the conclusion of the reading of the report said that there area a lot of old shacks that were built temporarily that should be removed.

The Chief also reported that owing to the removal of Charles Connolly from the city he had appointed Chas. Bowman to fill the vacancy as a call member of the Santa Rosa Fire Department.

The hook and ladder wagon of the department has been painted and returned spick and span to the fire station.

The Chief also presented some correspondence regarding the repairs of the old La France engine, providing of a new boiler, etc.

– Press Democrat, September 18, 1907

Editor Republican:
I do not sign my name to this, but all the same I am a bona fide citizen of this hamlet, and what I say is the truth, and also, what I say will be understood.

I think this is a disorderly, untidy, and unkept town. Not only are the business thoroughfares in need of attention in the way of repairs, but the residence streets are also neglected. Notwithstanding the request of the street department that the sidewalks be cleaned, grass and weeds removed therefrom, hardly any attention was paid to that notice. In many places the back yards have gone to waste and the high, dry grass growing there has made the places fire traps. Day after tomorrow fire crackers and other explosives will be burning all over town, and how many dry grass lots will be ablaze? Cannot the powers that be in this city be awakened to some of the simple needs of the place? I am afraid to go out into the country for even a day for fear that I may return and find my home in ruins. With the water supply sometimes in the air, would it not be a practical thing to remove all cause of fire, especially during the next few days?


– Santa Rosa Republican, July 2, 1907

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Early 20th century Santa Rosa had plenty of rules and regs on water use, and gave city workers broad powers to enforce them. As noted earlier, a policeman who heard water running overnight could wake up homeowners and require them to shut off the faucet; a city inspector could come into your home and write a $2.50 citation for every leaky fixture, and as shown below, firemen could enforce a city ordinance requiring all lawn and garden watering to cease when the fire bell rang. The “irrigation hours” mentioned here was another water regulation holdover from the last century; depending upon your address, homeowners could only water at certain hours in either the afternoon or evening, the starting and ending times announced by the tooting of the town’s steam whistle, not to be confused with the fire bell, which signaled that all water should be shut off . It wasn’t the Edwardian Era in America – it was the Pavlovian Era.

Ordinance Will Be Strictly Enforced–Meeting of the Fire Commissioners Last Night

There is a city ordinance that provided when a fire alarm is sounded persons who are irrigating their lawns shall immediately shut off the water.

At a meeting of the Fire Commissioners last night, Fire Chief Muther in ____ [illegible microfilm] to have his his men keep a sharp lookout to see that the ordinance is strictly obeyed.

There were four alarms of fire during the month. The most serious conflagration being at the old Ladies’ College building on McDonald avenue. The Chief called attention to the lack of water to combat this fire, explaining that the hydrant is on a “dead end” and the fire occurring during “irrigation hours” sufficient water could only be obtained for one stream.

– Press Democrat, May 22, 1907

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As the first anniversary of the Great Earthquake approached, Santa Rosans rediscovered their passion for elaborate practical jokes. The disaster interrupted the plotting and scheming of local pranksters, whose “jinks” the papers regularly used as page fillers. The stunt might be throwing straw dummies on railroad tracks or otherwise frightening people with phony corpses, slipping exploding cigars to their buddies, or, as told in the previous item, violently shaking the temporary police station so the officers feared another earthquake. Huh-yuk.

In the first item below, Daniel “Doc” Cozad and State Senator Walter Price were pranked on April Fools’ Day, although they really should have expected something; Cozad himself had quite the reputation as a practical joker, with a specialty in prank phone calls. Once a number of men showed up at the Press Democrat dressed in their Sunday best because they’d been told that the newspaper was rushing to put together a photo feature of prominent citizens.

April Fool Deluge for Two Well-Known Santa Rosa “Heroes”

There is a good April fool joke story going the rounds at the expense of Senator Price and “Doc” Cozad, and it is vouched for as an actual fact. These two citizens on April 1 were walking along a street in the northern part of town when the shrieks of a woman from within a nearby house attracted their attention. With “Doc” in the lead, both hearts beating gallantly and breasts afire with enthusiasm to perform a hero’s duty, they dashed up the steps leading to the house and two pairs of hands grasped the doorknob simultaneously. The door opened and before they could demand what bloodcurdling tragedy was being or was about to be enacted they were deluged with a baptism of water, and amid merry peals of laughter were reminded that they were “April fools.” Fire Chief Frank Muther got onto the joke and he has not been doing a thing to his friends, Price and Cozad since.

– Press Democrat, April 4, 1907

Mike McNulty, the genial baggage-master at the Northwestern Pacific depot, who is known far and wide as “Mr. Harriman,” celebrated with the younger patriots in the City of Roses on the Fourth of July. McNulty’s celebration was not a voluntary celebrant and he was greatly chagrined at the appearance of Police Officer John M. Boyes on the scene just at the critical moment. McNulty had been presented with a cigar by Conductor Walter Holloway, the Havana being lightly “loaded” with powder. With a flash that caused McNulty to shout imprecations on the head of Holloway and to leap about seven feet in the air, the cigar exploded. Smoking is touchy subject with the railroad man since the Glorious Fourth.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 5, 1907

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