December 14 should be a red-letter day at the Press Democrat; it was then in 1912 when Ernest Finley married Ruth Woolsey. Not only was this the founding of a little publishing dynasty which would endure until the PD was sold in 1985, but that date serves as a fair marker for the moment Santa Rosa became a one-newspaper town – five days earlier, editor Finley’s old rival at the Santa Rosa Republican, Allan Lemmon, sold his interests in that paper and retired.

(Detail of 1923 photo of Ernest Latimer Finley at his desk in the Press Democrat office. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Before diving into that history, a few comments about the modern Press Democrat, which just introduced a revamp of the paper. Few may notice the changes – local news on the front page, a weekly outdoors section and more food coverage, amid other tweaks. Publisher Catherine Barnett says over 1,500 commented about what they wanted to see in the PD and her take-away was the readership mainly wanted the paper to keep on doing a fantastic job. She couldn’t even go to a party or wine tasting “without someone wanting to go off in a corner and discuss what mattered most about our coverage.” Apparently the local know-it-alls have mastered the gentle art of flattering criticism to a degree of which I was unaware.

But the real issues are not trivial things such as page layouts or the balance between lifestyle coverage and opinion. That’s a false dichotomy – like asking Santa Rosans whether cinnamon or saffron is their all-time favorite spice. The main problem with today’s Press Democrat is there’s so little of it. The pages are slim and few, with the newspaper nearly disappearing entirely on Mondays and Tuesdays. For years the newsroom has been reduced to an overworked skeleton crew. With rare exceptions – such as the outstanding coverage of the Valley Fire – local news coverage is largely picking low-hanging fruit from press releases, squawks from the police scanner and appeals to readers for story content. Just a few years ago when the PD was flush with profits this would have been called lazy journalism; today you have to feel sorry for everyone involved. Unless Catherine Barnett is able to rebuild the newsroom and offer a more substantial newspaper, she’s only pushing around deck chairs on the Titanic.

Although Santa Rosa was ten times smaller a hundred years ago, the PD still managed to fill three or four pages every day with local news. Some of it appealed to a pretty narrow readership, but better to not risk the item appearing only in the competition. And that was the big difference between then and now: Santa Rosa was a two newspaper town, although that comes with a big asterisk.

Ernest Finley’s Press Democrat was a morning paper focused on Santa Rosa, particularly development and commercial interests. For many years Finley was president of the Chamber of Commerce so it’s no surprise the PD was their voice. Allen Lemmon’s Santa Rosa Republican was a smaller evening paper mostly directed at farmers; every week there was an item covering the doings in each of the small towns in the area.

Until Lemmon’s 1912 retirement, he and Finley were something of Santa Rosa’s editorial odd couple, and not just because of the different Democrat/Republican allegiances. They even looked the part; the two can be seen together in a 1909 Chamber of Commerce group photo with Lemmon looming over Finley’s right shoulder, looking for all the world like a rumpled Walter Matthau, with Finley resembling a tightly-wound Tony Randall.

They were men of different generations. Lemmon was born in 1847 and before coming to Santa Rosa had a career in Kansas, where he was a teacher and superintendent of schools while also editing a weekly paper. He was a progressive in the vein of Teddy Roosevelt and when he bought the Republican in 1887, was a good counterbalance to Thomas Thompson, the Sonoma Democrat editor still nursing a grudge over the South losing the Civil War.

Finley was 23 years younger and had lived in Santa Rosa since childhood. He had no newspaper experience at all when he and two friends began a small paper called the Evening Press in 1895 with him as the publisher and Grant Richards as editor. When the Democrat became available in 1897 the three formed a corporation with bankers Overton and Reynolds and bought it. Less than a year later, Finley became editor of the hybrid Press Democrat after Grant Richards had a nervous breakdown and killed himself with a shotgun.

At the turn of the century Finley was still a young man of 29 and a brash conservative, eager to pick a fight in his paper. The person he most often tried to beat up was poor old Allen Lemmon, while during election years he also defended the status quo and attacked the reformers who wanted to clean up Santa Rosa; for more on those dust-ups, read “THE MANY WARS OF ERNEST FINLEY.”

(Cartoon of Allan B. Lemmon from the San Francisco Call, 1896)

The last salvos in the Finley-Lemmon battle came in February 1911. Finley ‘dissed the Republican as the “Evening Blowhard” and Lemmon shot back by calling him “Egotist Latitude Finley, whose brightness is never seen in the columns of the paper over which he is called to preside.” A couple of weeks later they both went nuclear over Fred J. Wiseman’s airmail flight in an exchange where they forgot all about Wiseman and just lobbed insults at one another. No one would have been surprised to find either of them setting bear traps outside the other guy’s door.

But after that, peace. Both newspapers supported women’s suffrage in the historic vote later that year and they even made it through the big elections of 1912 without drawing knives. What happened?

Partial credit probably goes to Finley’s bride-to-be Ruth Woolsey – or at least, his desire to marry and settle down. In late 1911 he pushed a wheelbarrow with a bale of hops ten miles to settle a bet, accompanied by an entourage of twenty-somethings including Ruth, and with the money from the bet he treated them to a night out in San Francisco. Or maybe he decided at age 42 it was time to grow up.

Allan Lemmon likely also just lost the heart to fight. He was 65; even though his newspaper was apparently then entirely edited by partner J. Elmer Mobley, it too seemed old and tired.

As the newlywed Finleys left for their honeymoon, a new company took over the Republican. Among the owners were Rolfe L. Thompson, leader of the reformers in town, and head of the new company was none other than attorney James Wyatt Oates, himself a former editor and writer. For a time the Santa Rosa Republican was a lively read and the arguably the better paper in town, but Finley had the greater readership, and with it greater influence. As WWI approached the Republican settled into being more like the paper it was under Lemmon – the loyal opposition to the Press Democrat, which was to everyone’s loss.

How fortunate for us all that Santa Rosa has its EVENING BLOWHARD. If it were not for that enterprising sheet, we might all still be laboring under the mistaken apprehension that the big show was to be pulled off in Kamchatka or “some other foreign seaport.”

– Press Democrat editorial, February 1, 1911



“The Chinatown Trunk Mystery,” a wierd [sic] melodrama of the old Central Theatre type–and then some–held down the boards Wednesday evening at the Columbia. The performance was about what was to be expected, considering the lurid character of the paper displayed on the billboards about town. A local Chinaman accompanied by a police officer in plain clothes was on hand, ostensibly to represent the Chinese Vice Consul. The latter feature was only part of a somewhat, overdone advertising scheme, however, and fooled nobody except one bright young man connected with the afternoon paper.

– Press Democrat editorial, February 2, 1911



Perhaps the best thing about the performance at the Columbia theater on Wednesday evening was the orchestrations between the acts. Leader Bud Parks and his musicians rendered some lively two steps which were decidedly pleasing. The performance was mediocre, but nevertheless attracted quite a large audience, when the threatening and inclement weather is taken into consideration.

Thee is little chance for acting in the piece, and those who presented it did not attempt the impossible. The protest sent by Consul General Li Young-Yew resulted in Chief of Police John M. Boyes sending an officer with a delegation of three prominent Chinese of the local colony to the theater to see that nothing immoral was permitted. Egotist Latitude Finley, whose brightness is never seen in the columns of the paper over which he is called to preside, by grace of its actual owner, attempted some funny stunts in his “dramatic criticism” of the play, and shows his asinine qualities more than previously.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 2, 1911


To Lead Miss Woolsey to Altar in Near Future

Some time before the holidays Editor Ernest L. Finley will wed Miss Ruth Woolsey. For some time past the friends of the couple have anticipated the announcement, and now that it is known, they are receiving the congratulations of their wide circle of friends.

Miss Woolsey is the daughter of Frank Woolsey of Woolsey station. She is a social favorite here and around the bay. She is a pretty girl with charming ways, which have made her popular with all who know her.

Mr. Finley is editor of the Press Democrat and needs no introduction to the people of Sonoma county, as he has taken a prominent part in the affairs of this section for some time. He is a member of the Elks and other fraternal organizations.

Owing to death recently in each of the families of the contracting parties, the wedding will be a quiet one.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 14, 1912


Allen B. Lemmon to Dispose of His Interest

Articles of incorporation of the Santa Rosa Republican Company have been filed with County Clerk William W. Felt, Jr. The capital stock of the company is fixed at $24,000, and each member of the board of directors of the corporation has subscribed for two shares of the stock.

The board of directors consists of J. Elmer Mobley, James W. Oates, R. L. Thompson, Charles C. Belden and Mrs. Pearl J. Mobley.

It is the purpose of the new corporation to take over the Santa Rosa REPUBLICAN, which Messrs. Allen B. Lemmon and J. Elmer Mobley have conducted since the big fire of 1906 as a co-partnership. The formal transfer of the property will take place in a few days.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 27, 1912


Stock Company Formed to Take Over His Interests in the Santa Rosa Republican–Articles Filed

Allen B. Lemmon, the well known editor of the Evening Republican, has announced his intended retirement from the newspaper field. On Wednesday articles of incorporation of the Santa Rosa Republican Company were filed with County Clerk. The object of the company is to take over Mr. Lemmon’s interest in the paper above named. The company is incorporated, for $24,000, and the directors named are Rolfe L. Thompson, J. E. Mobley, James W. Oates, C. C. Belden and Pearl Mobley. Each of the directors named has subscribed for two shares of stock. It is understood that formal transfer of the property will be made within a few days.

For more than twenty years-with the exception of a year or so previous to the fire, when the paper was leased to other parties–Mr. Lemmon has presided over the destinies of the Santa Rosa Republican. For some time he has been anxious to dispose of his interests and retire from active newspaper work. He retires with the best wishes of a large circle of friends and acquaintances, and the new owners are wished every success in their venture.

– Press Democrat, November 28, 1912



The formal transfer of the Santa Rosa REPUBLICAN newspaper and job printing business to the Santa Rosa Republican Company. a corporation, occurred Monday afternoon. With that date my connection with this paper and business terminated. My entire interest in the plant has been purchased and taken over by the corporation, which is composed of well known residents of Santa Rosa.

Since the big fire of April 18, 1906, the paper has been conducted as a partnership between  J. Elmer Mobley and myself. My retirement is due to a desire to be released from the constant strain of newspaper work.

For almost a quarter of a century I have published the REPUBLICAN as a daily and semi-weekly newspaper. The readers of the paper know whether or not the work has been done well.

In quitting the newspaper field, my thanks are extended to the many friends who have given the paper hearty support during the time it has been under my control. The mangement has my hearty good will, friendship and desire for the success that is sure to follow well directed efforts.


– Santa Rosa Republican, December 10, 1912


Society Gossip by Dorothy Ann

IN THE soft light of many candles that flared and flickered and cast their shadows over the assemblage of immediate relatives, Miss Ruth Woolsey and Ernest L. Finley plighted their troth for better or for worse on Saturday at high noon at the home of the bride’s father, Mr. Frank Woolsey of Woolsey…

…Miss Woolsey was given into the keeping of her husband by her father, Mr. Woolsey. There were no attendants. Although simplicity marked every feature of the wedding, the bride wore the regulation white satin gown, made en train and draped with beaded chiffon…

…After congratulation had been extended the wedding party were served with an elaborate wedding breakfast in the dining room, where an artistic decoration of mistletoe and white satin streamers had been arranged. The center of the bridal table was a mass of pink carnations and ferns. A tempting menu was served.

Mr. and Mrs. Finley motored to one of the nearby stations, and there took the train for San Francisco. It is understood that Los Angeles and other Southern cities will be the objective point where the honeymoon will be spent.


– Press Democrat, December 15, 1912


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Summer’s nearly over, so following a long tradition (which started last year) let’s pause to gaze navelward and ponder What It All Means.

The last occasion was this blog’s 500th entry, where I put together a “Best of the Blog” index of the stories most popular, important or odd. This time, at milepost #550, I’d like to muse a bit about what this project’s taught me about misinterpreting history.

My process to create this journal is simple; I read every issue of both Santa Rosa newspapers cover-to-cover, just as people did when the ink was fresh. Every gossip column. All mundane city council reports. Endless complaining and shaming over whatnot on the editorial pages. Santa Rosa’s past flows through the library microfilm readers like a boring, torpid river.

Yet all of it is valuable – no event is simply an isolated pin stuck on an historic timeline. For instance, the previous item here revealed the first-airmail biplane in a Washington, D.C. museum may not be the famous aircraft after all. The airplane was sold in 1912 by Ben Noonan, whom I knew was a boyhood friend of pilot Fred J. Wiseman, who made his historic flight a year earlier with Noonan driving the chase car, which was the same auto he used in a 1909 California Grand Prize Race to win $500 by beating Wiseman. Noonan’s family owned the slaughterhouse at the corner of College and Cleveland Avenues where the airplanes were stored, and just a few months before they were sold there was great commotion because sausage maker Otto Ulrich caught fire thanks to all the grease on his clothes and had to be extinguished with a hose because his enormous boots kept him from fitting in a tub of water. (Eat you heart out, Marcel Proust.)

Point being, when I wrote that article I probably knew as much about Ben Noonan as the average Santa Rosan at the time. Reading all those the newspapers leading to that single 1912 event provided rich context – and when it comes to history, context is everything. (It also makes Jack a dull boy; never ask me about the 1905 hops market at a party.)

(RIGHT: By 1912 clothing ads were aimed at fashionable young urban adults. Santa Rosa Republican: April 27, 1912)

Consider the rate of progress of those days; it’s astonishing how quickly Santa Rosa seemed to bolt forward starting in 1910. By the end of the following year automobiles were everywhere. Sidewalks were no longer rolled up at sundown; downtown was transformed with electric signs up and down Fourth street, including marquees of several vaudeville and movie theaters. Fashions were looking more comfortable to wear and women’s hats were no longer great platters of flowers. Technology invaded the newspaper ads, selling phonograph records and Kodak cameras. And another modern switch – more advertising was intended to appeal to women and children.

Contrast that to five years earlier in 1907 when the pace was slower and locals seemed wary of things changing. An article appeared in the paper explaining how to properly speak into a telephone and the banking crisis that year demonstrated many didn’t understand dollar bills were real money. Then step back five years further and it seemed Santa Rosa was still a farmtown in the Old West, with prominent ads for horse-drawn plows, oil lanterns and blacksmiths. After several months reading only 1912 and later, I recently did some extended research in earlier newspapers and it was jarring to look at papers from 1902. This is absolutely true: When I displayed the first microfilm pages from that year, I imagined a whiff of something musty and very old.

The contrasts between 1902 and 1912 newspapers were so wide it’s difficult to remember they were produced by mostly the same people covering the same town. The difference easily lends to generalization: Santa Rosa 1912 was firmly a 20th Century town just as 1902 appeared to be part of the 19th Century, with 1907 being a waystation in between. That’s trite, and I apologize for having made similar comparisons here. While by appearances 1902 Santa Rosans were still mostly living La Vida Victorian, they had more in common with the residents of 1912 than the people who lived here in (say) 1880.

And while I’m on the subject, it’s equally silly to view Santa Rosa as being transformed by the 1906 earthquake. Yes, the destruction downtown led to many old-fashioned buildings being replaced with contemporary architecture but for years still the new stores had hitching posts in front, just like the old days. At night in post-quake Santa Rosa it was still mostly dark because few homes had electricity, thanks to rates being about 25 times more expensive than we’re now paying.

At the same time, it really does seem Santa Rosa experienced a kind of “great leap forward” in the early 1910s. How to explain that? Again, context is paramount.

Credit had been tight since the Great Earthquake and tightened even further by the Bank Panic of 1907. But beginning sometime after 1910 bankers apparently became eager to loan, which led to a building boom all over Sonoma County. The sticker price for autos was still high (although starting to come down) but cars became affordable as dealerships introduced loan financing.

Suddenly having electricity was a luxury no more, as the Great Western Power Company, a competitor to PG&E, began offering power in Santa Rosa and other communities. Rates were still about 10x more than we pay today, but looked like a bargain compared to what they were a few years earlier. Great Western also pushed customers to buy electrical appliances – paid for on the installment plan, just like cars – while PG&E offered their customers financing to pay for wiring their homes. (Bicycles, typewriters and pianos could also be purchased on “time payments” – seeing a pattern here?)

Once everyone ceased being so uptight about money, Santa Rosa turned out to be a pretty cool place. The 1911 vote on women’s suffrage won in Santa Rosa by a wide margin while it was defeated in Petaluma, Sonoma, Windsor and Healdsburg. While many communities were kowtowing to church moralists and outlawing “rag dancing” in public, Santa Rosa’s City Council wouldn’t even consider a ban. (Petaluma arrested at least two men for disturbing the peace by doing the “rag.”) And judging by the uptick in newspaper ads from stores that sold Victrolas or Edison phonographs, you can bet the latest hit record could be heard playing at night from many a home where the lights blazed inside and a new car waited at the curb, everything bought on credit except for the ragtime tune in the air.

To sum: Several factors contributed to make Santa Rosa appear happy and prosperous in the early 1910s, and everything changed quite fast. Consumerism, innovations which created cheaper and better stuff, more affordable electricity and Progressive era political reforms of the banking system after the 1907 panic all helped. But what probably made the most difference was simply ending the credit crunch, which had a ripple effect on all aspects of the economy.

I was going to wrap up it up there, but couldn’t stop thinking about the contrasts between the early 1910s and the decade earlier. Why did the former seem like the beginnings of the modern age while newspapers from the 1900s seemed so…historical?

Much of the reason was personal bias, I realized with shame. The earlier newspapers not only had an old-fashioned look, I didn’t like them because they’re a pain to read on microfilm since the pages were often thick blocks of text in mostly the same size typeface; article headlines weren’t large, bold and easy to quickly spot as they were in the 1910s (and today). Those older newspapers were intended to be read quite differently, poured over during breakfast or after dinner. The daily newspaper was a primary source of entertainment and subscribers got their money’s worth.

I confess also showing my biases in other ways. The year 1912 just seemed more contemporary because toe-tapping ragtime was the hit music rather than turn of the century sentimental dreck such as, “A Bird in a Gilded Cage.” I also made the presumption that the arrival of more technology in the 1910s was a sign of modern times, but a closer look reveals those improvements were really minor and incremental; true leaps of progress using that tech was still years away. Cars were more reliable in 1912 but once a driver left city limits, roads were better suited to stagecoaches; it wouldn’t be until after WWI before the state highway system made it practical to travel very far. It was nice PG&E wired homes for electricity but there was little use for it aside from flicking on a light switch. It would be a dozen years before those houses had today’s essential refrigerators or radios or furnaces with electric thermostats.

In short: Except for women’s suffrage and the improved economy – no small things, granted – the early 1910s weren’t so exceptional after all. Those years certainly weren’t the Gateway to The World of Tomorrow.

And I was also wrong about viewing the earlier period as historically different. In fact, one can argue Sonoma County truly entered the modern era between 1895-1905, the antique-looking pages with ads for plows and blacksmiths aside.

While there were no autos until later in that period, bicycles were the rage; everyone rode them around town, young and old, men and women, and for many women the “wheel” brought unprecedented independence. (Susan B. Anthony, 1896: “[Bicycling] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”) That era saw other great leaps in freedom to travel; once the electric railway was completed in 1905, it was easy to hop aboard the streetcar and quickly be in any town near Santa Rosa. With the finely-tuned schedules of the train and ferry system, trips to San Francisco took no longer than the modern commute. (It never ceases to amaze me how mobile our ancestors were in the time before cars; every day the papers routinely mentioned locals took the train down to San Francisco or Berkeley for the day or evening.)

Fewer had electricity at home back then, but they weren’t living in darkness. Probably every home had a Welsbach mantle which produced bright, odorless illumination. So popular were these lamps that many with electrical service continued to use them to augment incandescent light – my family kept one above the kitchen table until the early 1960s. Too bad about the fuel being slightly radioactive, however.

And while Santa Rosa traditionally voted as if it were some far-western outpost of Dixie, the town broke with the “Solid South” in the 1904 presidential election to vote overwhelmingly for Progressive candidate Teddy Roosevelt, despite the Press Democrat’s hot-blooded attacks on him and other Republican candidates.

Thus after reading all those years of Santa Rosa newspapers and writing hundreds of articles about same, my conclusion is this: Conclusions are hard to come by.

It’s easy to draw lines around some bit of history and slap a label on it, or say it happened for a particular reason. But the closer one looks at any event in the past, the explanations and categories – which once seemed so easy and obvious – often begin to appear less certain. There is always more context to a story than first seemed apparent.

The great History of California volumes by H. H. Bancroft are a scholar’s treasure, but difficult to read. Every page abounds in footnotes – sometimes filling half the page – and the footnotes often reference other volumes. After awhile you find yourself lost in chasing down the footnotes and cross-referenced material, having nearly forgotten the original research topic. About then it dawns on you the footnotes are the real history, revealing the full story which needs to be told. It’s important historians never lose sight of that.

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Fool our readers once, shame on us, but try it again and it’s perfectly okay if you’re a paid advertiser.

In 1912, both Santa Rosa newspapers ran ads for a medicine show quack who called himself “Brother Benjamin.” Nothing unusual about that; every issue of every paper offered ads for nostrums promising to soothe what-ails-you. Unlike other ads, however, the ones from Brother Benjamin were almost indistinguishable from news articles – they were typeset in the same fonts as regular stories and were featured high up on the page, not buried beneath the fold with all the other patent medicines. But while Brother Benjamin did sell a cure-all potion, in Santa Rosa he was advertising the services of his “Marvelous Medical Specialists” who could cure anything – including cancer – thanks to their skills in “bloodless surgery.”

If this scam sounds painfully familiar to longtime readers, it was almost an exact replay of the 1909 visit by the “Great Fer-Don”. As explained earlier, James M. Ferdon toured the Western states with his step-right-up medicine show – and was supposedly accompanied by some of the world’s leading doctors. (Amazingly, many people apparently did not think it was a bit incongruous that such experts would be working with a huckster whose show included stunts like catching a live pig.) Ferdon’s downfall came after he encountered newspapers elsewhere that refused his lucrative ads and instead sent investigative reporters to expose his operation as a fraud and even a public danger, as victims were lulled into believing they were receiving life-saving (and extremely expensive) treatments. Indictments followed in several states and Ferdon became a fugitive, with two of his accomplices sent to prison; yet despite these developments being widely reported in Bay Area papers and elsewhere, there was not a peep in the Santa Rosa press about the woes of their former advertiser. It was a shameful episode in the history of our local newspapers – and here they were, three years later, helping another con man do exactly the same thing.

One of the few differences between the Great Fer-Don and Brother Benjamin was the latter claimed to be a Quaker offering Quaker medicines created by “Old Brother Benjamin” (who coincidentally had the same name, apparently). The Quaker image was even part of his trademark, as seen in the ad shown to right. But before Ferdon reinvented himself as the Great Fer-Don he had also pretended to be a trustworthy Quaker and called himself “Brother Paul,” so even that part of Benjamin’s shtick was stolen.

Both of them emphasized in their fake news-ads they had removed really disgusting things from the bodies of clients, and everyone in town could come over and take a good close look at bottled collections of them. In the case of the Great Fer-Don it was jars of tapeworms of epic lengths; Benjamin showed hundreds of gallstones supposedly removed from a single patient. Give them credit for being the Don Drapers of their day – they knew precisely how to use turn-of-the-century morbid curiosity to draw in the rubes.

Every night in 1909 the Great Fer-Don peddled his patent medicines at an old-fashioned medicine show and in 1912 Brother Benjamin likewise drew crowds in the early autumn to his temporary stage at the big vacant lot at Third and B streets (think the current location of Luther Burbank Savings). A man from Red Bluff recalled these shows in a “good ol’ days” section of the Oakland Tribune in 1941:

There were always two or more black face performers who put on skits and sang songs, as well as musical numbers. Between intermissions, attendants would pass through the crowd selling different kinds of medicine products that were guaranteed to cure everything from a corn to appendicitis and warts on the back of the neck. One products that stands out in my memory was Brother Benjamin’s Herbalo, which sold for $1.00 per bottle, and every time the hawker made a sale he would yell out, Sold out again, Doctor. Some times a so-called doctor with the show would establish a local office temporarily to treat the sick, much to the annoyance of local reputable practicing physicians…

Technically, they were selling Bro. Benjamin’s “Herbalo Blood Purifier Stomach-Liver & Kidney Renovator” plus other custom liniments and whatnot, but the real money came from steering seriously ill members of the audience to his phony doctors set up in a Fourth street office across from the courthouse.

Like the Great Fer-Don previously claimed his “European Medical Experts” could handle the most serious medical problems, Bro. Benjamin boasted his team would “positively cure” a long list of ailments from asthma to diabetes to tumors. “Wednesday a large monster parasite over 100 feet long was removed from a leading lady of this vicinity,” one of his Press Democrat ads announced, and “Thursday a cancer was removed and is on exhibition at the concert ground every night.” Undoubtedly the “doctors” were using sleight-of-hand (better known today as “psychic surgery”) where the practitioner’s fingers magically appear to enter the body and pull out bloody diseased bits, all without breaking the skin. “No knife, and no pain,” promised Benjamin’s advert.

We don’t know what Benjamin charged for these “cures,” but Ferdon was caught sometimes bilking the sick for the equivalent of an average worker’s entire annual wage. One ad of Benjamin’s listed the names of several local people who supposedly had been treated by his “Medical Specialists;” of those who can be identified, all had lower-income jobs, such as laborer, waitress, and candy salesman.

Brother Benjamin apparently did not get into serious legal trouble – or at least, nothing can be found in the newspapers. Perhaps that was because he kept a lower profile; Ferdon’s downfall came after he tried his con in larger towns such as Sacramento and Seattle. It looks like Benjamin kept to the backwaters of California.

Benjamin J. Bruns – his real name – seems to have stopped touring in 1914, although he kept manufacturing Herbalo at least through the end of the decade from his hometown of Cincinnati. After he left Santa Rosa the Hahman drugstore advertised Benjamin’s tonics were for sale there, and similar newspaper ads can be found from pharmacies elsewhere. It was probably harmless stuff – at least, harmless compared to that “Marvelous Specialist” scam our newspapers helped promote. Again.


 Bro. Benjamin, who has been herewith with the Marvelous Medical Specialists for the fast four weeks, meets with many laughable and peculiar experiences in his travels–notably arguments his detractors and envious competitors put up to try and stay his onward victorious career.

 Benjamin and the Marvelous Specialists represent all that is new and late in the discoveries of medicine and surgery, hence those who are back numbers and cannot make the wonderful cures these Scientists are famous for, stoop to some ridiculous depths to try and decry the good work done by the Medical Specialists.

 Some physicians claim that it is impossible for more than two or three gall stones to be in the gall gladder. Now such a statement is absurd and any physician who claims to be such knows better, and when he makes such a statement, he simply holds himself up to ridicule to all intelligent people.

 Benjamin laughed when the statement was repeated to him and said he was for a physician that said that, as he himself had seen over 400 gall stones cut out of the gall bladder of a subject at a post mortem at the Cincinnati hospital, one of the largest and best hospitals in the United States and owned by the city of Cincinnati. It only goes to show that even envious physicians do not hesitate to make the most absurd statements to try and harm the good work done here by these wonderful specialists.

 They have scores of friends here, made by their marvelous cures. They have done their work in the most stubborn case.

 What is remarkable about the Medical Specialists is the marvelous results they bring about in such a short time.

 From Mr. J. M. Lucas, 734 Third street, Santa Rosa, traveling salesman, these specialists removed over 200 gall stones with their secret medicines–and no operation. He has been ailing over three years and is loud in his praise of the good work done in his case in such a short time.

 Mr. M. H. Inman, Route 6, box 607, well known in Santa Rosa, is emphatic in his testimony of the good results obtained in his case, removing 182 gall stones without an operation.

 From Mr. P. A. Lawson, Route 4, box 10, ailing over four years, these specialists removed over 200 gall stones with their secret remedies.

 When we can give testimonials in your own city from such well known and prominent people as …[ten names, with J. M. Lucas repeated]…all prominent and well known in Santa Rosa; Mrs. Josephine McCrone of Lodi, who was cured of a complication of diseases, and scores of others from people here and in other places, even the most skeptical must concede that we are as we claim and can perform the cures we advertise.

 It is the same story wherever these Marvelous Experts go. Seemingly impossible cures and wonderful work. Space forbids giving the many hundreds and thousands of testimonials they have, and they are still pouring in every day.

 Many other names might be mentioned to show what work the Specialists are doing in our city, names of people who have tried other doctors and other medicines without avail but who are now being cured. Hundreds are taking advantage of the presence of these Medical Marvels at their office.

 Our office hours at 609A Fourth St. upstairs, are from 10 to 12 mornings, 2 to 4 afternoons, only a few days more. The big free show continues every night at 7:45, at Third and B street, opposite the Columbia theater, another week.

 The Bro. Benjamin Medical Specialists have their own private waiting rooms and offices and everything is absolutely confidential. They positively cure asthma, dropsy, epilepsy, St. Vitus dance and nervous disorders, lung trouble, incipient consumption, diseases of women and children successfully treated and cured without operation, old chronic diseases of the stomach, blood, liver and kidneys, diabetes, gravel, piles, hemorrhoids, incipient Bright’s disease, rheumatism (acute, chronic, muscular and sciatic), hip joint disease, rupture, hernia, goitre, diseases of the eye, ear, nose and throat–in fact, what has puzzled you and your doctors gives way to the wonderful medicines of these specialists. Cancer, tape worms, tumors and gall stones removed; no knife, and no pain. These specialists speak all languages.

 – Santa Rosa Republican, October 1, 1912


 Bro. Benjamin and the Marvelous Specialists remain in Santa Rosa another week owing to the insistent demand of people from far and wide.

 They are greeted every night by large and enthusiastic crowds of our best citizens at the show grounds… the free show at Third and B sts., attracts the largest crowds every night and under the blaze of electricity, a really novel and clever program is presented which abounds in mirth, melody and music and causes enjoyment to young and old, and will be talked of for months after Bro. Benjamin leaves…

– Press Democrat, October 6, 1912

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