No one in the world could possibly organize a better snipe hunt than the Santa Rosa Squeedunks, and in 1909 the gang was found one evening out by the Rural Cemetery, making a commotion to herd the tasty little critters towards the burlap sack being patiently held by their newest enlistee. The sucker honored party holding the bag was a Scotsman named Bobbie McIvor; leading the hunt was Charlie Holmes, who was also behind the 1908 revival of “The Ancient and Disreputable Order of Squeedunks” at Santa Rosa’s Fourth of July parade.

 An unexpected bit of fun was had at the expense of the Squeedunk assigned to watch for the owner of the property, who was known to take potshots at poachers. Once Charlie and the rest of the crew pulled out guns and began firing blanks to flush out the snipe, their intrepid sentry assumed it was the farmer shooting at him, and “made a half mile at a speed that would have put [champion race horse] Lou Dillon to shame.”

The other big prank of 1909 happened on April Fool’s Day, which always brought reports of exploding cigars or elaborate tricks around Santa Rosa. This year, someone placed a dummy outside of a family home and began hammering on the door before dawn, shouting that there was a corpse on the porch. As the awakened husband rushed downstairs, his wife, likely in groggy condition, began filling a kettle with water to (somehow) help the deceased. The joke was discovered, but the running faucet was forgotten in the confusion. “The tepid flood continued to run without check until a tardy plumber rendered his services some hours later,” the Republican newspaper reported. Made you ruin your rugs and floors! Ha, ha, April fool!

Completing our survey of 1909 pranks: Hallowe’en passed that year without incident, probably because Santa Rosa police announced they would be patrolling school buildings to prevent mischief. Nationwide, it seemed like it was a pretty quiet holiday, particularly in contrast to the 1907 Hallowe’en when at least seven people died.

Fusillade at Midnight Alarms People in the Vicinity of the Old Rural Cemetery

Those rifle shots and shouts from hillside and hollow back of Rural Cemetery as the midnight hour was waning last Sunday night, that are said to have struck some sort of terror into stout hearts, have been explained and the people are breathing easier. Laughter has succeeded fear and the dread of some mysterious tragedy has faded away.

But that there were shots and shouts on Sunday night there is no question. President Charles H. Holmes of the Ancient Order of Squeedunks, is authority for that and there are half a dozen others. One man whom we will name “Bobbie” McIvor, formerly of the Highlands of Scotland, will take an oath as to it. McIvor accompanied President Holmes and party to the little valley back of the graveyard on Sunday night, the plan being to secure some “snipe” as one dish for a banquet at which the plasterers at work on the new courthouse were to commemorate at the completion of their big contract. Mr. McIvor, Holmes says, very willingly volunteered to hold the open sack and the candle and catch the “snipe” when the others drove them into the attractiveness and allurement of the candle light.

With all the traditions of bravery clustering about his illustrious clansman amid the bonnie braes of Scotland, “Bobbie” took his station. He had been waiting for some time when all of a sudden there was a fusillade of rifle shots and voices from the darkness shrieked at him and bade him “avaunt.” He did so.

But the joke was not all on him, either. Another man in the party had not been informed of the presence of the rifle and blank cartridges. But he had been told to lookout as the man on whose ranch they were standing was a terror to poachers and would as soon shoot a man as not. Consequently at the report of the first cartridge he took to his heels and in leaps and bounds made a half mile at a speed that would have put Lou Dillon to shame, President Holmes says.

It was the old snipe joke after all, and all concerned are still smiling, including “Bobbie.”

– Press Democrat, October 7, 1909

Rumor of Early April Death is Refuted

An April fool joke that materialized in a highly successful way was perpetrated this morning in one of the suburban households of this city. A gentleman and his wife were rudely awakened from sleep at the unearthly hour of 5 o’clock by a tremendous beating at the door, and the voice of another inmate of the place announcing that a man had fallen dead on the back porch. They hurriedly donned their respective raiment and the man sallied out to hold a preliminary post mortem, while his wife rushed upstairs to inform the sleepers above of the casualty and to get some hot water to aid in resuscitating the passed away. By this time the particular day upon the calendar suggested itself to some one, and it was found that the man who had fallen dead upon the back porch not only had not died, but had never lived at all. The entire population of the building had been rousted out with the exception of two or three young men who were either too much under the soporific influence of the April day to desist from slumber, or else they felt that they had no arts about them that could restore to animation the supposed deceased one. The only damage resulting from the misunderstanding was that when the lady went to secure the hot water for the purpose stated somewhere above, she left the facet open and the tepid flood continued to run without check until a tardy plumber rendered his services some hours later. As has been remarked here before there was no grievance ensuing from playing of the joke except perhaps a slight sentiment of disappointment might have been observed displayed on the faces of the fooled that the joke was only a joke after all.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 1, 1909


Chief of Police Fred J. Rushmore has arranged details of officers for tonight and will have an officer stationed at each of the school buildings to arrest any one interfering in any manner with the public property during the night.

Heretofore on Hallowe’en it has been the custom for boys to ring the school bells and play pranks in and around the school buildings. None of this will be allowed this year.

– Press Democrat, October 30, 1909

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There’s no better time than April Fool’s Day to remember Santa Rosans loved practical jokes around the turn of the last century, and nothing offered more bang for your buck than tricking some poor dupe into lighting up a 5ยข exploding cigar.

Until states began outlawing the explosive gag in the 1910s, “loaded” cigars and cigarettes could be purchased in probably every town in America. The trick, which had been around for decades, involved wrapping a tiny amount of gunpowder in tissue cutting the fuse off a small “lady fingers” firecracker and packing it about an inch from the lighted end, which would presumably give the perpetrator a few minutes to anticipate the hilarity that would soon come (or seek a safe distance). After the laughs, however, lawsuits sometimes followed; fingers were blown off, victims were scarred, and a pregnant woman sitting on her husband’s lap suffered a miscarriage from the fright. (Curiously, though, I found no accounts of cigar-related fatalities, except for a poor soul who puffed on a stogie packed with black pepper.)

According to an 1886 article from the New York Tribune, the suits forced the novelty cigar industry to switch to a (very slightly) less dangerous product. Gunpowder was substituted with “red fire” – a simple pyrotechnic mixture used today in road flares and sparklers – inside a little shaped cartridge. Now the joke was that the cigar became something like a roman candle. “There is no sudden explosion which shatters the wrappers and sends fragments of burning tobacco in all directions, but from the end of the cigar a stream of fire shoots out to a distance of about three feet in a direct line.” Well, that’s certainly a safety improvement.

Alas, the jokester’s need for explosive humor brought back the old techniques (or similar), as seen here in a couple of panels excerpted from a 1913 “Bunker Blinks” Sunday color comic. Worse, some pranksters were rolling their own hoax Havanas; in 1910 the Oakland police were searching for someone who was handing out cigars laced with dynamite caps.

The injurious era of joke-smokes mostly ended when dribble-glass and joy-buzzer mogul S. S. Adams began mass-producing a cigar containing a spring kept coiled by a bit of twine, which burned and caused the spring to “explode,” comically ripping up the end of the cigar as we’ve seen in so many old cartoons. But in reality, it was far less a heart-stopping BANG than a feeble pop. Oh, if they only had today’s NRA to advocate for the right of Americans to bear explosive tobacco products.

BOSWELL HAS AN EXPERIENCEPuffs an “El Stinko” Until It Explodes

Constable James Henry Boswell was the victim of a practical joke Friday afternoon that caused consternation to the officer of the law and merriment tot hose who witnessed the denouement. The constable was entertaining a large crowd of listeners with a good story, and just prior to starting in the narrative, he had been presented with a cigar by Sheriff Jack Smith.

Between sentences the conservator of the peace would puff on the El Stinko, and permit his mind to wander back over the scenes of the particular story he was engaged in telling. After having smoked for about ten minutes, and when his fears had all been allayed as to any suspicion he may have regarding the cigar being loaded, the “thing” went off with a bang.

Boswell turned many shades of color within the successive minutes and wound up with an ashy color foreign to his usual mobile countenance. For several minutes he was speechless and motionless, and then joined in the laughter that his predicament with the El Stinko had created.

It transpired that Sheriff Smith, who had presented the cigar to Boswell, had been the victim of a similar experience the night previous in Ukiah, and he was but playing even on the local constable.

Boswell reflected on the experience of one McNulty, alias Harriman, who had been presented with one of a similar variety and whose hair stood on end when the explosion came.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 8, 1908

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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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