They just wanted life in Santa Rosa to get back to normal, or at least something close to it. It was January 1920, the start of the sixteenth month of the Spanish Flu in Sonoma County. As there was no vaccine – or even antibiotics to treat the deadly cases of pneumonia which often resulted – all our ancestors could do was quarantine the sick, plus declaring a community lockdown whenever there was a local outbreak, banning public gatherings of any kind and requiring facemasks.

Adding to the sour mood in Santa Rosa was the Rose Carnival was cancelled for 1920 – the third year in a row. Preparing for the Carnival was normally a major pastime in town that kept people busy for months, forming committees and subcommittees on everything from building floats to deciding what to feed members of the band afterwards.

So there was considerable excitement when it was announced there would be a “Burbank pageant” here and it would involve a small army of performers and workers, starting with original costumes for 250 dancers. Heck, this even could be a bigger shindig than the Carnivals!

There were a few teensy problems: There was very little time to prepare as it was scheduled for only five weeks away, not the Carnival’s usual five months. Rehearsals were impossible for most of January because Santa Rosa was under lockdown until the 26th. And also, no one knew what a “Burbank pageant” was.

The newspapers were able to report the pageant was going to be held on Luther Burbank’s March 7 birthday and called “The Sun Worshipers.“ The theme was supposedly inspired by a Burbank remark that all life on earth requires sunlight. That’s not completely true and it’s doubtful Luther ever said anything so banal, but let’s not quibble.

annexjuniorhighIt was very clear from the start this would be a high school production (this was when the high school was on Humboldt Street, and the year before the building burned down). The performance would be on the lawn of the next door Annex – which later became Santa Rosa Junior High – and have seating for up to 5,000.

Producing this spectacular were the heads of the English and Ag departments. Costumes were designed by the head of the Domestic Arts Dept. Freda Hodge, wife of the boys’ gym teacher, wrote the script; the girls’ gym teacher, Zilpha Dempsey, did the choreography. Should you be looking for a new password, something with “Zilpha” in it would be pretty secure.

Much was made of the announcement that Fred Carlyle of UC/Berkeley would direct the show. He was technically a dramatic coach but was admired as a jack-of-all-trades when it came to anything in the theater – dance instructor, chorus director, what have you.1

Another outsider to be involved was Madame Francisca Zarad, although she would only sing a bit before the real show began and then return at the end to lead the audience in the “Star Spangled Banner.” Zarad made a career 1917-1922 doing recitals in small American cities like Santa Rosa (Kent, PA, you should at least have a Wikipedia page!) where she was touted as “the famous Paris soprano” and/or a star of the Chicago or Vienna Grand Opera Houses, although there’s somehow no sign she ever sang at any of those places. And why such an acclaimed artiste was not asked to make a single recording will always be a mystery.

Then everything came to an unexpected halt when Santa Rosa went on lockdown again, this time for two weeks starting February 11. “The Sun Worshipers“ was rescheduled for May 1. Rehearsals continued when restrictions were lifted in Santa Rosa, amid news that several motion picture companies were planning to film the pageant for newsreels and possibly stock footage. Who knows? Perhaps in some silent movie there’s a shot of your winsome grandmother prancing about in an odd looking costume.

Which brings us to the storyline. The Press Democrat printed a synopsis before the performance and a review of the show afterward, but they don’t quite agree. From those articles and others (all transcribed below) and the photos, here’s my best guess of what the audience saw:

The stage set is large and dramatic, a fan portraying radiant sunbeams which seems to be built out of palm tree stalks. (Most of the known photos from the pageant follows this text.) Mme. Zarad comes onstage and sings two numbers plus an encore, all having some passing mention of the sun.2

Here comes Sol, the sun god! He takes his throne center stage wearing something on his head that looks like the Pope’s hat or a giant insect wing, but is probably supposed to be a beam of light. He is played by 16 year-old Joe Dearing, who would become a nationally known journalist and something of a Bay Area celebrity.3

On either side of Sol are bare-chested young men who appear to be wearing bronzer on their faces – it’s probably gold-colored, but the photos are black and white and their makeup isn’t mentioned in the newspaper descriptions. (I strongly doubt it’s supposed to be blackface but there’s so much in this show that makes no sense whatsoever I wouldn’t swear to it.) At either end of the stage are boys dressed as Roman soldiers with spears, although one is holding a pennant with a Christian cross because.

The show begins! We’ll see three cultures that worshiped the sun, sort of. The first are the ancient Egyptians.

pageantdrawing(RIGHT: Egyptian sun dancer as envisioned in the April 30, 1920 Press Democrat. The actual performers looked nothing like this.)

At the first of the two performances that day, the Press Democrat reported “some three thousand people sat in the warm sunshine and watched several hundred students gambol on the green lawn in flimsy clothing.” Not hardly. Except for bare arms, the Egyptian dancers are swaddled heavier than baby Moses in the bullrushes. They also have wide colorful sashes tied around their waists like 18th century pirates. Arrrgh!

This may be a good time to point out that the high school really did have a history department, and one of those teachers was involved with this thing. Her job was handling publicity.

Sol is worshiped by dancers “with typically Egyptian gestures, both angular and sinuous.” The highlight of this segment is the “Dance of the Rising Sun” by the Egyptian princess. It is performed by Lillian Rinner, who has been “taking special training for the part in Berkeley.” She is 44 years old, so the gamboling is being done by several hundred students but starring mom.

The sun god grows weary of this and waves the Egyptians off. Here come the Greeks!

“The maidens of ancient Greece worship him in the dance,” which is performed to “Dance of the Hours” from the Victorian opera, “La Gioconda.” Gentle Reader will surely recognize this as the same tune used in the immortal parody, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.” (Honestly, I am not making any of this up.)

pageantcloseup(RIGHT: Let’s mashup thousands of years of history: Closeup of the Grecian tableau, with “elves” wearing crinoline party dresses in front of a bearded Roman guard holding a medieval Christian pennant.)

Several girls pile on stage and sit in front of the sun god. Three are wearing classical Greek women’s clothing; the rest are dressed in contemporary ruffled and tiered dresses, many with bows in their hair, as if they were waylaid en route to a birthday party.

The storyline is that we’re looking at Terra, the goddess of the earth (that was the name of the Roman goddess, not Greek) and Ceres, the goddess of agriculture (again, the Roman name) and the girls are elves (it’s well known that the Greeks were actually Irish). The goddess of rain, Flo (huh?), shows up and the dancers run away. I very much doubt anyone in the audience understood what the hell was supposed to be going on – or cared.

Now comes the Native American segment. The tribe is hungry because the harvest was poor. The chief offers his daughter in sacrifice as she performs the “Knife Dance” before the sun god. The synopsis continues:

But lo! Sol awakens! He has heard the wailing cry! He sees the girl about to plunge the knife in her breast at his feet – he rises to appeal! He smiles. The daughter is saved and there will now be plenty in the fields and the entire tribe rejoice in dance.

That was just profoundly awful.

Thus far the pageant consisted of fuzzy G-rated allegories about ancient cultures. To jump from that to a melodramatic tableau about human sacrifice – complete with a “Knife Dance” – was a jolt; to make it about an oppressed people was beyond the pale, feeding the worst racist tropes of Indians as savages.

Why didn’t Fred Carlyle or someone from the high school insist this part be revised or yanked entirely? Likely because they ignorantly assumed Indians and their culture no longer existed except (maybe) on remote reservations. This blind spot can still be seen today on social media – periodically someone in the Facebook groups will ask when the Indians around here were “wiped out”.

Making this all the more galling is that the Pomos of Sonoma County have always been renowned for their dancing. Had the pageant invited them to take part, it surely would have transformed that otherwise silly and forgettable show into something noteworthy.

The final segment is called, “The Endowment,” and features a boy supposed to be young Luther Burbank. The sun god has hidden his face and the boy’s plants aren’t growing, although the goddesses and their elves try to help. The “Spirit of Agricultural Science” appears and performs “The Dance of Human Aspiration.” The dancer is 37 year-old Agatha Leifrinck and the photo shows a scruffy-looking man standing to the side of the stage watching her. He is not mentioned in any description of the show.

pageanthobo(RIGHT: Did this guy just wander in from the street?)

Sol wakes up and smiles, handing Science his Wand of Knowledge. She passes the wand to the boy, who waves it over his plants, which perk right up and perform the Flower Dance. Everybody on stage plus “a big chorus of picked voices from the town” join in singing a hymn to the sun god.

The big finale involved dozens of boys and girls in flower and vegetable costumes; there were twenty kids just playing the wilted plants. There were fifteen poppies, eight corn, plus tomatoes, lilies and daisies. Clarence Felciano, who would become Santa Rosa’s top mid-century architect, portrayed a spud.

They didn’t know it at the time, of course, but the flu pandemic was over. On Friday nights the high school annex building became the “community social center” again, with free movies, refreshments and dance music. Schools reopened in August (they had started a month earlier in rural districts since those schools closed during fruit picking season). There was a county fair that set attendance records. Life resumed, but the facemasks weren’t likely thrown out, instead tucked away in the back of a drawer because you can never tell.


Madame Francisca Zarad singing at the May 1, 1920 pageant, "Sun Worshipers.” The man is probably there not only to turn pages, but ensure the piano on the grass does not topple over
Madame Francisca Zarad singing at the May 1, 1920 pageant, “Sun Worshipers.” The man is probably there not only to turn pages, but ensure the piano on the grass does not topple over
"Egyptian" segment of the "Sun Worshipers” pageant
“Egyptian” segment of the “Sun Worshipers” pageant
"Egyptian" dancers and partial view of audience at the "Sun Worshipers” pageant
“Egyptian” dancers and partial view of audience at the “Sun Worshipers” pageant
Sol, the sun god, hides his face while surrounded by "Greek" goddesses and elves
Sol, the sun god, hides his face while surrounded by “Greek” goddesses and elves
"Indian" dance in the "Sun Worshipers” pageant
“Indian” dance in the “Sun Worshipers” pageant
Agatha Leifrinck performs "The Dance of Human Aspiration”
Agatha Leifrinck performs “The Dance of Human Aspiration”

Flower Dance finale at the "Sun Worshipers” pageant
Flower Dance finale at the “Sun Worshipers” pageant

1 Between 1920-1940, Fred Carlyle was frequently involved in high school and community theater productions throughout the Bay Area. The 1920 show in Santa Rosa appears to be his first.
2 The first of Mme. Zarad’s numbers was identified as “An Involution to the Sun God.” According to an item in a 1913 New York paper, that was another name for “Far Off I Hear a Lover’s Flute,” a 1909 setting of a Zuni tribal melody. Part of the lyrics (which were written by a non-Indian) was, “I see the shrunken Mother Moon/Go forth to meet the Day.” Her encore was the maudlin ballad “The Little Grey Home in the West,” which was inexplicably popular for decades.
3 Joseph A. Dearing became an acclaimed photojournalist before and during WWII, best known for the famous portrait of General MacArthur after the Battle of Bataan. After the war he became a popular figure in the Bay Area known as “Uncle Joe,” the rod & gun columnist for the San Francisco Call-Bulletin. He was married to Margaret Hahmann of Santa Rosa in 1936 (she’s buried in the Rural Cemetery) and when he died in 1995, “Uncle Joe” was carved on his tombstone in Winters.


All photos courtesy Sonoma County Library



Dancing Classes

Fred Carlyle dramatic coach from the University of California will give a course of aesthetic, barefoot, Russian ballet and fancy dancing in Santa Rosa and classes are under formation at the present time. Mr. Carlyle will assist with the Burbank Pageant at the high school.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 10 1920



Fred Carlyle Secured as Coach for Production of “The Sun Worshipers” by Schools of City to Honor Scientist.

At last the dream of a Burbank pageant is to come true. The question has often been asked here “why don’t Santa Rosa [sic], the home of Luther Burbank, arrange some fitting pageant representative of his great work?” “The Sun Worshipers,“ with its elaborate combination of rich setting, graceful costumed dancing, and fine symbolism, is the answer to the question.

Very practical evidence that the pageant is to prove more than a dream is to be found in the work of Richard Warner Borst, director of production. Through his efforts the various parts of the pageant are being rapidly assembled, solo dancers have been secured for the leading parts and Fred Carlyle of Berkeley has been induced to assist with the chorus dancing. The symbolic dance of the sun worshipers, in particular, is rapidly evolving into a performance of great beauty and variety.

The following staff is working on the pageant…

– Press Democrat, January 23 1920



The Walrus Said

March 6th. [ed. note: the date was wrong]

That’s a date for Santa Rosans to remember. Know why?

It’s Burbank Day, and on that day there will be a pageant at the High School in honor of the “man who made Santa Rosa famous.”

This pageant is called The Sun Worshippers, and is based on a saying of Mr. Burbank’s that the sun is the source of all life. The pageant will be a pretentious affair, with 250 dancers giving Greek, Egyptian and Indian national dances, which will be coached by Fred Carlyle of the University of California, Miss Zilpha Dempsey, Miss Mildred Turner, and Victor Hodge of the high school faculty. R. W. Borst of the English department of the high school and Charles L. Hampton of the Agricultural department will have general charge of the production.

Plans have been made to seat 5,000 people on the high school lawn to witness the production.

Of the pageant itself, I’ll have more to tell you later, but in the meantime don’t forget that date — it’s important — March 6th.

– Press Democrat, January 29 1920



Nearly 150 Dancers to Be Seen in Burbank Honor Event Here on March 6.

Dances for the Burbank Pageant to be held on the grounds of the high school March 6, are fast being put in shape under the direction of Fred Carlyle. of the University of California, Miss Zilpha Dempsey, Miss Mildred Turner and Victor Hodge of the high school faculty.

There will be three dances, each containing about 48 dancers. These are the Indian dance, which begins with the braves in deep dejection owing to the lack of attention paid their country by the Sun God, and changing to a big pow-wow when he smiles on them.

The Greek dance will be a regular Greek aesthetic dance, done to the Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda. It will contain the same number of dancers.

The third of the big dances is the Egyptian dance, with typically Egyptian gestures, both angular and sinuous.

The King’s favorite in the Egyptian dance will be Miss Lillian Rinner, who is taking special training for the part in Berkeley.

There will also be a Sunbeam dance with 25 dancers. Each of these will be dressed in a different shade of yellow, ranging from the daintiest of creamy yellow to the deepest orange.

Mrs. J. Leifrinck will dance for the Spirit of Science, a dance that she has originated, portraying the religious evolution of the mind of man from earliest times to the present. Miss Lolis May Alden will accompany Mrs. Leifrinck.

The part of the chief’s daughter in the Indian dance will be taken by Miss Virginia Pomeroy.

The finale will contain a big chorus of picked voices from the town to be trained by Miss Lydia Walker.

– Press Democrat, February 6 1920



Much Interest is Being Taken in the Coming May Day Fiesta in Santa Rosa, Which Will Compliment Luther Burbank and Will Be in Every Detail a Spectacular and a Pleasing Production – Frank Carlyle, U. C. Dramatic Coach, to Direct the Presentation

Widespread interest is bring aroused in the Burbank Pageant. “Sun Worshippers,” which is to be staged in Santa Rosa, the home of the famous horticultural scientist, on May Day.

No less than five different moving picture concerns have stated that they will send artists and big cameras to take pictures of the various scenes depicted in the Pageant, which will be sent broadcast throughout the land and shown to hundreds of thousands of people in many moving picture houses. One of the big concerns having its movies here will be the International News Service.

Charles L. Hampton, director of vocational agricultural course in the Santa Rosa High School, and manager of the Burbank Pageant, stated Wednesday that the interest taken in the coming Pageant in the Bay Cities is keen. From him the news of the coming of the movie men was ascertained. The entire direction of the Pageant has been entrusted to Fred Carlyle, the well known dramatic coach of the University of California. Mention of Mr. Carlyle’s name and his recognized talent counts for success in every detail.

Mr. Hampton is sending out to the press of the state the following preliminary announcement concerning the coming Pageant which will be read with interest:

Santa Rosa is planning to honor her most prominent citizen – Luther Burbank — with a great celebration May 1, 2:30 p. m., Saturday. An elaborate open air pageant entitled “The Sunworshippers” will be produced under the direction of Fred Carlyle, dramatic coach for the University of California. Over 250 group and solo dancers will undertake an allegorical dramatization of the four great historical epochs of the worshipers of the Sun. The last act will portray Burbank’s creative endowment through the aid of the sun, which is so often quoted by this great plant specialist as the source of all plant and animal life. The coming event is being given wide publicity. Elaborate preparations are being made to welcome the thousands of people who will journey from different parts of the state to visit the home of Luther Burbank.

– Press Democrat, February 26 1920



Mme. Francisca Zarad Is Coming March 10

The recital for the benefit of the Luther Burbank Pageant being prepared by the high school students to be given in this city May Day, which had to be postponed when the ban was placed on public gatherings in Santa Rosa last month, will be held at the high school annex March 10.

Mme. Francisca Zarad, the famous Paris soprano, will be here on that occasion to render numerous selections and is sure to prove a delight to the music lovers as well as the general public, os she is in a class all of her own as a vocalist of international reputation.

– Press Democrat, March 2 1920



Frank Carlyle Resumes Instruction of Young People Who Will Be Featured in the “Sun Worshipers.”

Frank Carlyle, dramatic coach of the University of California. who is to direct the pageant “Sun Worshippers,” which is intended particularly to honor the creative genius of Luther Burbank, is this week actively resuming rehearsals of the dances and other artistic work in connection with the coming May Day presentation in Santa Rosa. Carlyle can be relied upon to present a finished production and one that will add fame to the many gorgeous fiestas that have been given in the City of Roses.

But for the ban which was placed by the health department on all gatherings during the late prevailing sickness, the pageant would have taken place next Saturday, Mr. Burbank’s birthday following on the next day. But rehearsing had to be put off and then it was determined to hold the pageant on May Day. And now rehearsals will be once more in full swing and will continue until the day of triumph.

– Press Democrat, March 4 1920




Not only is the coming May Day pageant “Sun Worshipers” attracting much interest here but assurance is given that hundreds of visitors will come to Santa Rosa to view the gorgeous spectacle and to enjoy the compliment it bestows upon Santa Rosa’s most distinguished citizen, Luther Burbank.

Manager Charles Hampton yesterday that the daily rehearsals being held have developed so much enthusiasm and interest among the performers that the presentation will doubtless be unique, highly pleasing and successful.

The special features, which will include the singing of Madame Zarad, the notable dancing of Mrs. Agatha Liefrinck and Miss Virginia Pomeroy, will be especially notworthy, [sic] standing out prominently from the otherwise elaborate program of song, dance and action. The staging and costuming will be dazzling and great throngs of people will be given a rare treat.

Here is a synopsis of the action marking the pageant “Sun Worshipers.”

I. Opening Song—Mme. Francesca Zarad.

II. Sol, the Sun God, takes his throne in state.

III. The maidens of ancient Egypt worship him in the dance.

IV. The Sun God’s favorite dances before him on the “Dance of the Rising Sun.”

V. The maidens of ancient Greece worship him in the dance.

VI. Ceres, goddess of the harvest and Terra, goddess of the earth, approach the sun god and kneels at his feet. Enter Fro (god of rain).

VII. The women of American Indian Tribes enter and worship the sun-god in a dance.

VIII. Hungry Indian children appeal to Sol that he shine upon tho faded earth.

IX. Indian braves, led by their chief, appeal to the sun-god to shine upon the earth.

X. The chief’s daughter, in the “Knife Dance” dances before the sun-god. She offers herself as a sacrifice to him for her people’s sake. But he saves her life through shining forth.

XI. Sol has again hidden his face. The farmer, tolling amidst his faded plants and flowers, despairs because of Sol’s unfriendliness.

XII. The Spirit of Agricultural Science worships Sol in “The Dance of Human Aspiration.” Sol awakes. He presents Science with the Wand of Knowledge. Science endows Farmer with the Wand of Knowledge.

XIII. He waves the wand above his faded crops and all growing things are revived. Other lovely flowers and plants now appear (Burbank Creations)

XIV. The Flower Dance.

XV. Plants and flowers now joyous in sunlight sing, praises to their Lord the Sun.


– Press Democrat, April 24 1920


Net Proceeds From Brilliant May Day Spectacle to Be Used as Nucleus for Fund to Build Burbank Memorial Building.

Interest in the coming Burbank pageant to be staged here next Saturday on the grounds of the High School, increases daily.

On Saturday two important announcements were made hy manager Chas. Hampton. They follow:

First, in addition to the afternoon performance on May Day there will also be a night production of the pageant which will begin at 8 o’clock. The hour of the afternoon performance will be 2:30 o’clock.

Second, it is intended that whatever remains of the proceeds after the actual expenses of production have heen paid, shall form the nucleus of a fund to provide for the erection here of a Luther Burbank Memorial Agricultural Building.

Both these announcements will doubtless call forth hearty approval. Many people, who have learned of the merits of the pageant and who found is possible [sic] to be present in the afternoon had expressed regret that a second production could not be given at night. Hence on Saturday Manager Hampton, after conferring with a number of people, decided to repeat the effort on Saturday night, the stage and settings being illuminated properly for the performance.

Unanimous approbation is given the suggestion that the erection of a Burbank Memorial Agricultural Building would be a fitting tribute and form a most acceptable unit for Santa Rosa’s educational department.

Next Tuesday evening in the music room of the Annex under the direction of Miss Lydia Walker there will he a rehearsal of the final chorus “Hymn to the Sun,” and everybody who can assist by singing is asked to attend Tuesday night and help swell the volume of sound in Troyer’s hum of praise [sic].

Those who respond to the call are asked to be on hand at half past seven o’clock.

A full rehearsal of the “Sun Worshipers” was held Saturday under the direction of Director Carlyle, and it was pronounced a success. Those who have witnessed the rehearsal of the pageant declare that it will be worth going many miles to see.

– Press Democrat, April 25 1920




Luther Burbank. Santa Rosa’s world famed plant breeder and horticulturist, was paid due honor by the students of the Santa Rosa schools Saturday — May Day – when they presented the beautiful and dramatic pageant “The Sun Worshipers” on the lawn in front of the Annex at the high school grounds.

The setting was one long to be remembered and one which many of the easterners who recall weather conditions in their home states marveled over as some three thousand people sat in the warm sunshine and watched several hundred students gambol on the green lawn in flimsy clothing.

In addition to the marvelous display of the pageant itself, was the presence of Madam Francisca Zarad, the famous Parisian soprano, who delighted all with her charming personality and gracious manners. She sang for the pure joy of honoring Luther Burbank and aiding the students in giving their honors to the great man who sat smiling in the audience before them, enjoying it as much as anyone present.

“The great dynamo, the Sun, is the source of all life, motion, warmth: iho producer of all food and clothing. No wonder the ancients were inspired to worship the sun.” declared Mr. Burbank in an address recently. The statement was used as the basis for the pageant plot worked out by Mrs. V. N. Hodge, wife of Victor Hodge of the high school faculty, which resulted in the delightful program Saturday afternoon and evening.

The performance was to have been given March 7 in honor of the birthday anniversary of the noted Santa Rosan, hut had to be postponed owing to the influenza ban at that time.

Madame Zarad was heartily applauded for her songs. She was in magnificent voice and delighted all with her work. She first rendered “An Involution to the Sun God,” followed by “Sunrise, Sunset” and replied to an encore with “The Little Grey Home in the West.” At the close of the program she sang “America” and led the vast audience in the “Star Spangled Banner.” At its conclusion she called for a rising tribute to Mr. Burbank who had been taken to her side on the platform before the final song. This was given with hearty good will by all.

A synopsis of the plot follows:

SOL. the God of Sun, mounts his throne in state to review the separate, distinctive historical worshipers who have courted him in dance supplication and song.

THE EGYPTIANS were the first to recognize the power of SOL so their fairest maidens dance to him. To gain favor in the God’s eyes, the Egyptian King sends his favorite dancer to woo Sol – but the God soon tires of her and her chorus.

THE GRECIANS then flit before him and they place the Godess “Terra” with her little elves of the Earth (Calcium, Potasium, Sulphur, Magnesium, Iron), together with “Ceres,” Godess of Agriculture, and her helping elves near the Sun’s power for the Grecians recognize their importance. But “Flo,” the wild God of Rain, dispels the maidens with his storm as he bounds into his place in the worship.

THE INDIANS are mourning! Their harvest are too light. [sic] The Chief is in despair when his wailing children ask for foods, [sic] so he offers his own daughter in sacrifice to bring help to his people. But lo! Sol awakens! He has heard the wailing cry! He sees the girl about to plunge the knife in her breast at his feet – he rises to appeal! He smiles. The daughter is saved and there will now be plenty in the fields and the entire tribe rejoice in dance.

THE ENDOWMENT A farmer boy, impersonating Luther Burbank, is toiling with his withering plants. He despairs for their life. Mother Terra in pity for him sends out her little elves to sprinkle the salts of the earth at their feet. No avail. Mother Ceres, too, commands her little helpers lo brace and help the plants. No results. Then Flo scatters his rain drops, they drink deeply but again they droop! Ah! The Spirit of Science shows the farmer the light, the need to recognize the power of the Sun, Sol. He hopes, he prays, he perceives. Sol smiles, the plants revive. Science leads him to the throne, he adores and for his devotion Science awards him with the Wand of Knowledge which he now wields and with which he concieves and improves the wonderful Creations of Plant Life (Burbank Creations.) In praise the Flower Dance is given, then lift up their voices in the homage hymn to their Lord the Sun.

The cast follows:


– Press Democrat, May 2 1920


Erstwhile “Sun God” Now Tiller of Soil

Joe Dearing, who impersonated the Sun God in the Burbank pageant Saturday, took again to the practical side of life Monday, when he continued his agricultural work on his seven acres of land near here. Director Chas. Hampton accompanied him Monday afternoon to the place where he is to plant tomatoes and pumpkins. He has already planted his corn.

– Press Democrat, May 4 1920

Read More


Someday, I really want to teach a history course with the name, “How to Read a Newspaper.” I’m not joking; it’s a skill mostly lost today, accustomed as we are to skimming headlines and zooming in on favorite topics. But before the internet, before TV and before radio, newspapers were a prime source of entertainment, often read entirely over the course of hours.

Anyone who wants to get a flavor of the era will discover the best bits were those little items stuffed in the cracks – usually filler at the bottom of a column on the inside pages, barely newsworthy and often without even a headline. Sometimes they were attempts at humor writing; sometimes they are unintentionally funny because we can’t imagine something like that happening today. Sometimes they reveal only a glimpse of some larger and very screwy story; sometimes they are complete vignettes. But almost always, they reveal some insight into the lives we lived back then.

Over the years I’ve written up dozens of these morsels from 1904-1912. Among my favorites was the story of the man who admired the suit worn by a guy he passed on the street, unaware he was looking at his own clothes just stolen by the burglar. Then there was the time a carpenter and attorney got into it on Fourth street over the ownership of a handsaw, one beating the other in the head with his hammer as his foe tried to saw him up. But my all-time favorite concerns young Fred J. Wiseman getting revenge for a speeding ticket by later forcing the selfsame cop to arrest himself for spitting on the sidewalk, at night, and during a downpour. Most of the other stories like these can be found in the archives labeled with the “odd” tag.

Here are my picks for the best odd stories in the Santa Rosa newspapers for 1913:


About three miles west of Santa Rosa one dark Saturday night, a Mr. A. Mills and John Ferdinand ran into each other – not so unusual, except they were both were on bicycles. Mr. Ferdinand’s bike was something of a wreck but while Mr. Mills was shaken up by the collision his bicycle was undamaged. So Mr. Ferdinand promptly grabbed it and pedaled away. By the time Mills walked back to town and reached the sheriff’s office, he was understandably fuming about the “hold-up.” Amazingly, this story has a happy end: The next day Ferdinand was arrested and immediately brought before Judge Atchinson, who fined him twenty bucks. A. Mills even got his bike back, the wheels of justice grinding with rare and satisfying speed. (Santa Rosa Republican, May 5, 1913)



Attorney Frank H. Gould and other members of his San Francisco club caught an excursion train to Cloverdale to watch an airshow. As the primitive, kite-like planes flew (1913, remember), Gould and two others noticed a cow in a pasture was paying attention to the overhead action. So mesmerized were they by watching the cow they missed the departure of their train home. “It was the funniest thing I ever saw,” the easily-amused lawyer told the Press Democrat after the trio hitched an auto ride as far as Santa Rosa. “She just raised her head and turned here and there so as not to miss any of the airship…that cow – well, it was well worth seeing.” (Press Democrat, February 23, 1913)



A man walks into a bar with a new pair of shoes for sale. The reporter did not express surprise at that by itself, so maybe shoes were regularly hustled in Santa Rosa saloons in 1913, but anyway, George White sold the pair for the remarkably low price of $2.50 and bought drinks for the crowd. Then, of course, he tried to steal the shoes back. Around that time a man from Windsor entered the same bar and said the shoes belonged to him. George White was arrested, and hopefully the court had an easier time figuring this out than me. (Santa Rosa Republican, November 21, 1913)



Santa Rosa city councilman Spooncer heard the fire alarm and exercised a privilege of his elected office to jump aboard the fire engine as it left for the blaze. Unfortunately he did not get far, flying off the running board as the truck turned the corner at Fourth and B streets. “He sailed straight out through the air,” the PD reported. “[A]nd being rotund, as aforementioned, started to roll. He finally landed with a gurgle, a grunt and a gasp, against the base of the new fountain and it looked for a moment as if someone else would have to donate a new fountain.” (Press Democrat, April 19, 1913)



Tired of his sleep being interrupted by the yowling of his neighbor’s cat, Frank Powers shot it. When Charles Gardiner found his pet had been killed, he confronted Powers and went to the police. Powers was arrested and charged with discharging a gun within Santa Rosa city limits, and while he was at the station Powers swore a complaint against Gardiner for cussing him out. As explained here before, using “profane and vulgar language” in that era was considered more serious than animal cruelty or even incidents of child abuse. Both Powers and Gardiner were fined five dollars. (Press Democrat, April 10, 1913)



Mr. C. R. Duncan was arrested for drunkenness in Sebastopol. Before his court hearing he asked permission to wash up and was told to use the barbershop next door. Some time dragged by and Duncan had not returned, but a woman entered the office to complain that a man had given her a fictitious check. “She said that the man’s name was C. R. Duncan,” the paper reported, “and then the officers fainted.” The item ended, “officers all over the county are now out looking for the champion long distance washer of the world.” (Santa Rosa Republican, September 23, 1913)



The Republican wryly observed workmen in Petaluma cleaning out an old building came across a bottle with a note inside. It read: “At Sea, July 4, 1904. The good ship ‘booze’ was wrecked on the rocks of Point Pedro yesterday. All hands will be lost if we are not found. (Signed)…” The writing was very clear although it “rapidly faded after being exposed to the toxic atmosphere of Petaluma,” the Santa Rosa reporter claimed. The owner of the printing business formerly there was contacted to explain what he and his buddies were doing that night at the print shop. His “recollection of the titanic disaster is somewhat hazy”, but he clearly remembered that Fourth of July “the fog was so dense it could have been sliced up with a sharp knife and fed to the chickens, a coagulated water diet.” (Santa Rosa Republican, May 9, 1913)

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Confession time: I have never revealed our great-grandparents loved tamales.

In the hundreds of articles about historic Santa Rosa appearing here, never have I mentioned tamales were the favorite fast food in the decades around 1900. Our ancestors ate them on the street, at celebrations, club dances, parties, picnics and every other sort of get-together. There was a tamale stand downtown, the Boston Restaurant at the corner of Fourth and B featured Mrs. Gore’s tamale pie in their newspaper ads, and as described in a somewhat creepy item below, there were even guys roaming around the neighborhoods late at night peddling the spicy meat and cornmeal snack wrapped in corn husks.

(RIGHT: 1894 cartoon courtesy the New York Public Library)

I long ago stopped paying attention to mentions of tamales in the newspapers – until recently when I noticed I wasn’t noticing everyone was wolfing down…tamales?? Nothing wrong with the humble tamal, but today it’s so far off the American food radar it is not even ripped-off by places like Taco Bell.

Sadly, I’ve probably overlooked other interesting details of life back then; it’s all too easy to become so immersed in reading the old papers that one loses sight of how damned peculiar some of those doings were from a modern perspective. For example, I almost scanned past a tiny, understated item in 1912 about a riot at Max Rosenberg’s department store caused by monkeys.

It seems the two monkeys (the article doesn’t mention what kind) escaped their cages at the feed store and invaded Rosenberg’s. “They seemed particularly fond on the girl clerks and there was almost a panic,” reported the Santa Rosa Republican. “Fully a hundred people rushed in to see what was going on and it was some time before the pets were captured. No damage was done, but the girls were given an awful scare.”

It wasn’t the monkey business that really caught my eye, however; animal disturbances were common – horses bolting, dog fights, and so on. No, what made me look twice was the inconceivable claim there were as many as a hundred people once spotted on Fourth street.

These days you don’t hear much about monkeys running amok in department stores, or monkeys in feed store cages, for that matter. Nor do you see many newspaper articles about groups seeking to rent live bears.

The Native Sons of the Golden West, a prominent California social club, put out a call for all “parlors” (their name for local chapters) to find “a good supply of bears” for their upcoming 1913 convention. Although the state symbol was officially the grizzly bear, the NSGW wasn’t picky: “Any kind of bears, brown bears, cinnamon bears, and even grizzlies, if the cubs are not too old, strong and carniverous [sic]…”

The NSGW held its bear-less convention in Santa Rosa the previous year and it brought about twenty thousand to town for the weekend festivities. That was small potatoes compared to the 1913 celebration in Oakland which lasted four days, drew crowds up to 200,000 and included a six mile “electrical parade” plus ongoing band concerts and pageantry around Lake Merritt. Although references to bears abound in the newspaper descriptions, it’s unclear how many were real live bears, people in bear costumes or paintings of bears. Presidio Parlor No. 143 had a tiny bear on the top of their float, and a “big black bear sat serenely” on the float of the Aloha Parlor of Oakland. It also seems animals were used in some of the many “pioneer days” tableaux presented at the park.

I almost missed that item because I presumed the headline, “WANTED–BEARS NOT TOO TAME” could not be literally true. But the opposite happened with stories about “white slavery,” which appeared at every opportunity in both Santa Rosa papers. My earlier article, “WHITE SLAVERY IN SONOMA COUNTY?” explained this was a national hysteria between about 1910-1915 based largely on twice-told tales about young women being forced into prostitution and sometimes shipped off to Chinese opium dens. I presumed it was true that the public really had deep fears that innocent girls were actually being snatched off city streets. I was wrong. To a large extent, it was about soft-core porn.

(RIGHT: Illustration from From Dance Hall to White Slavery, 1912. Bessie, the former telephone operator, gave in to temptation after being “persuaded” by a “villainous looking highball.”)

There was quite a boom of lurid white slavery novels and serialized fiction in those years. As author Amy Stewart described in a fun article, “Your Great-Grandma’s Dirty Books,” the only acceptable excuse for an unmarried woman having sex was because “she must have been drugged, defiled, and sold into prostitution. This tended to happen, we were warned, when girls left home and went to the big city, where the dangers of liquor and dance halls were all too well-known.”

Here in Santa Rosa, we had visiting speakers describing white slavery in 1912 and 1913, both lectures illustrated with slides.

First up was J. C. Westenberg, who ran the “Whosoever Will” mission in San Francisco. Westenberg appeared in many cities around the state in those years showing his slides at the invitation of some local church, with collection plates being passed around afterward. Whether Westenberg was a true believer is uncertain, but he was a big self-promoter and frequently in big trouble. He was investigated by the Church Federation of San Francisco for playing fast and loose with donations to the mission and did not show up when the Charities Commission ordered him to appear with his books. He was jailed at least twice: Once in Berkeley for a soliciting donations without a permit, and after he was found guilty of libel against Oakland’s Chief of Police, who he claimed was among the city’s “white slavers” operating bordellos (also included were Oakland’s mayor and top city officials). He was also sued for saying Dr. Julius Rosenstirn of the San Francisco municipal clinic had collected $50,000 from prostitutes. Rosenstirn was a public health hero for pioneering sex education for prostitutes, particularly teaching them symptoms of venereal disease.

The 1913 speaker was Rosa A. Davis, then at the start of her career as a white slave expert. Davis later found herself warmly endorsed by the temperance movement and expanded her expertise to the dangers of Demon Rum. Before all that, however, Rosa was on the vaudeville circuit narrating a silent film about the bank-robbing Dalton gang, sharing the bill with the Shomers, “a pair of iron-jawed artists performing marvelous feats of strength with their teeth.” It’s a living.

So I almost overlooked great stories about bear rentals and runaway monkeys and the true seamy side of the white slavery industry. (And tamales! I’ve already forgotten about tamales again!) But I almost overlooked one of the best items I’ve ever read in the papers.

In the 1913 Santa Rosa Republican (and on a page which I printed for another article) was the story of a young man who went to the County Clerk for a marriage license. Asked his age, the young man said he was twenty. Told that he had to have his parent’s consent at that age, the young man said he did. Told further that he had to have that consent in writing, the young man “fell over on the counter and then slid to the floor in a dead faint.”

The paper continued, “Deputies in the office rushed to his aid and by applying cold water in large quantities brought the young man back to consciousness. He left with his fiancee, saying that he would secure the necessary consent as soon as possible and return.”


Friday morning wild excitement was caused in the Red Front when the two monkeys kept caged in Roof’s feed store on Fifth street, escaped and ran into the store of M. Rosenberg. They seemed particularly fond on the girl clerks and there was almost a panic. Fully a hundred people rushed in to see what was going on and it was some time before the pets were captured. No damage was done, but the girls were given an awful scare. The monkeys are now safe back in their cages.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 8, 1912
Healthy Cubs that Can Growl For Sept. 9th Parade

The Native Sons’ celebration of Admission Day will be held in Oakland this year and the committees on the coming festivities are determined that September 9, 1913, will be an event, the glory of which will dim the pyrotechnics of all past events. The Committee on Unique Features has requested that a good supply of bears be provided by the parlors of the state. Any kind of bears, brown bears, cinnamon bears, and even grizzlies, if the cubs are not too old, strong and carniverous [sic]. Yet the native son of the bruin family must not be too mild. To qualify for the Oakland dissipation he must “register” some fierceness. The celebration committee’s request was brought up by the N. S. G. W. last meeting and as the organization has no bona fide bears, no real wild bears in its membership, it was decided to appoint a special committee on initiation; suspend all previous rules governing the initiatory ceremonies, and let the committee make, and be governed by, its own rules; this committee is expected to have a large class ready for the great fiesta of the Ninth. There was considerable difficulty in selecting the committee as the members of the parlor present modestly hesitated to qualify as bear hunters, Finally President Marvin Vaughan, President-Elect John M. Boyes (in private, life chief of police) and the late financial secretary, John Calhoun Hoke Smith, were with difficulty selected for the honorable mission. These Native Sons of the Golden West did not rush for the work but were persuaded to volunteer because of the cause and the glory of their beloved California, which demanded the sacrifice if some old dam bear should interfere with the abduction of her cubs…if any person has a tame cub bear in stock and is inclined to lease the animal for parade purposes during several days in September, the committee will be pleased to hear from that person. The Ursus Minor will be accorded a prominent place in the great procession and will get to see Oakland in all the colors of the rainbow, and if he is not scared to death, will enjoy the experience.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 11, 1913
Young Man Startles County Clerk’s Office

So overcome when told that he could not secure a marriage license was a young man from the country that he fainted away in County Clerk W. W. Felt’s office Thursday. He and his bride-to-be appeared at the desk in search of the necessary permit.

After answering a number of questions the young man was asked his age and responded that he was twenty. He was asked if he had his parents’ consent and said that he had. When he was told that the consent would have to be written and filed in the Clerk’s office, and that without this he could not secure the license, he fell over on the counter and then slid to the floor in a dead faint.

Deputies in the office rushed to his aid and by applying cold water in large quantities brought the young man back to consciousness. He left with his fiancee, saying that he would secure the necessary consent as soon as possible and return.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 26, 1913
Father Cassin Pleased With Erection of New Street Light in Front of St. Rose’s Church

The erection of an electric street light in front of the Church of St. Rose, on B street, is much appreciated by the rector of the parish, the Rev. Father J. M. Cassin.

There are two potent reasons why the god father takes kindly to the new lighting system on B street. One is that the light will now illuminate the pathway into the sacred edifice on dark nights; another is that it will put an end to the “spooning” of love-sick couples on the church steps after dark. The church steps have been a popular resting place for couples after a stroll and on more than on occasion Father Cassin has found it necessary to suggest to boys and girls that they select some other place for their whisperings of affection.

Consequently the esteemed spiritual director of affairs of St. Rose’s parish was in good humor Thursday when complimented on the additional comfort the new lamp will give worshippers when entering the church at night.

The efficacy of the new lamp calls to mind a good story that was told by Father Cassin at the time when the world was gazing at Halley’s comet.

About 10 o’clock one night Father Cassin happened to be standing in his dooryard. A tamale man came along.

“Want a tamale?” queried the vendor of the priest.

“Too late, too late, my man,” was the rejoinder.

The man passed along. Just in front of the church he stopped and inquired again.

“Want a tamale?”

The reply was not distinguishable where the priest stood, but it game him a cue. Someone was loitering about the entrance to the church.

The priest stole stealthily to the church steps.

“What are you doing here?” inquired the man of God of two objects he could barely distinguish.

“Watching for Halley’s comet,” came a weak feminine rejoinder.

“You had better go home and take a rest in the meantime,” suggested Father Cassin. “You will not see the comet again for seventy-five years.”

The comet had several nights before [it] became invisible.

The lovers said nothing but went their way, and the priest count not forebear an audible smile as he again entered his residence.

– Press Democrat, August 2, 1912
Will be Given at M.E. Church South Wednesday Night

The White Slave Traffic will be the subject of a meeting to be held at the M. E. church, South, on Wednesday evening at eight o’clock. Rev. W. H. Nelson is the pastor and has made arrangements for this lecture.

All the churches of this vicinity are specially invited to participate in this meeting. This fight is aimes especially at the white slave traffic, the red light district and the social evil. All public officials are invited to attend.

J. C. Westenberg of the Barbary Coast Who-so-ever Will Mission of San Francisco will give his famous stereopticon lecture on the white slave traffic.

Mr. Westenberg was once a gambler and saloon keeper. He will tell a most interesting and thrilling story, in word and picture, showing scenes of the Great White Way, New York; the Chicago Stockade; Views of the White Slave Traffic; Ten years in Rescue Work; the Submerged Tenth; Twice-born Men; the Power of the Gospel in the Slums.

Admission will be free, but a silver offering will be taken. Money received at this meeting will be devoted to the work of suppressing the White Slave traffic in California and to the Who-so-ever Will Mission Rescue Work.

President David Starr Jordan of Stanford University has strongly endorsed Westenberg. It is hoped that a large audience will be present on Wednesday evening.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 18, 1912

Miss Rosa A. Davis will appear again today with her talk on “The White Slave Traffic,” and will also give a short illustrated talk on police graft. A feature of the act today will be a recital entitled, “Five Dollars a Week.”

Miss Davis has won renown on the coast with her interesting and instructive lectures. She is a Southern woman, and has a soft, moderate voice, but it is well regulated, speaking clearly and distinctly with expression. Miss Davis will close her engagement today and those wishing to hear her should not miss the opportunity.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 13, 1913


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