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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Thank goodness Santa Rosa’s cops were good sports in 1907 when pranksters faked an earthquake at the police station, scaring the willies out of everyone inside. It’s hard to believe that someone even thought up this stunt; “Frightening Pranks to Play on Policemen” must surely be the thinnest chapter in the practical joker’s handbook.

Santa Rosa’s funnymen may have been inspired by Jack London, who loved to pull a similar joke on visitors skittish about California earthquakes, rocking the guest house on his ranch while screaming outside their window. Police at the time were still in their temporary post-quake HQ, which likewise was a small building that could be easily shaken.

Post-1906 earthquake Santa Rosa police station (Image courtesy Sonoma County Library)
Post-1906 earthquake Santa Rosa police station (Image courtesy Sonoma County Library)

The other incident happened a few days later, when someone called the police to report that an “insane man was terrifying the neighborhood,” prancing around a vacant lot while talking loudly and waving his arms. A crowd gathered a safe distance away to watch as officers crept up on him with guns drawn. Whoops! It was just Eugene Gear, amateur actor, preparing to audition for a play, the police told the paper. Then the next day, whoops again – the police had misidentified the man, who was really Orrin Shear.

The Santa Rosa police were lucky Mr. Gear didn’t make a stink about being labeled a lunatic, and Mr. Shear is lucky that cops didn’t have Tasers back then. Very, very lucky.

Sheriff Smith Works “Earthquake”–Amusing Results

The practical jokers could not let the day pass Wednesday without a victim of earthquake scare and the police department was made the butt of the joke.

Having made his arrangements before hand with Mr. Simpson, of Simpson & Roberts, who is erecting the new temporary court house, Sheriff Jack Smith entered the police station shortly after 8 o’clock Thursday morning and entered into conversation regarding the recurrence of a disaster similar to last year. Chief of Police Fred Rushmore, Officer John M. Boyes, Constable S. J. Gilliam, Special Officer Samuels and City Recorder Bagley were the unsuspecting victims.

Simpson’s men placed a lever under one corner of the small building and began to rock it, lightly at first, and then heavier until the boards creaked and strained. Those inside felt the first slight jar, and their uneasiness was plain to be seen, but not until the lockers began to rock and a few boards were dropped on the outside by the conspirators, and the rocking of the building began to assume alarming proportions, was there a panic.

Recorder Bagley had his feet up on the stove reading when he felt the rocking [and] made a quick move for the door, but — “there were others,” and with a unanimous decision without remark, all decided the safest place was on the outside. But the door was small, and all could not get out first. A couple of dogs in the room set up a howl and added to the confusion.

When all had reached the outside and began to look around to see what damage had been done, the hearty laugh of Sheriff Smith and his assistants let the victims into the secret and then all joined heartily in the laugh which was on them. Several agreed they had no fear until the lockers began to rock and the sound of falling boards were heard, and then they believed the Union Trust-Savings Bank was giving way and thought it time to make their “get away.”

All that one needs to say to any of the victims today is to ask if they felt the earthquake this morning.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 18, 1907


Chief of Police Rushmore and Officer Yeager Rudely Interrupt an Actor’s Dress Rehearsal

Chief of Police Fred Rushmore and Police Officer Nick Yeager put a Lou Dillon clip to shame yesterday afternoon when they road their bicycles wildly to Henley street in response to a hurry up telephone call from a well known resident of that section of the city to the effect that an insane man was terrifying the neighborhood.

For an hour the man at the other end of the phone breathlessly explained the supposed lunatic had been acting strangely in a large vacant lot, waving his hands, changing his pose, striding up and down, and all the time talking to himself, pitching his voice to suit the attitude he assumed.

The officers arrived on the scene almost as breathless as the frightened people in the vicinity. They jumped from their bikes and drawing their clubs and cocking their revolvers they sailed forth to take the “insane man” or be taken. The thoroughly frightened spectators went to points of vantage to wait and watch. To make a long story short, the supposed “crazy” man was none other than Eugene Gear, one time property man at a local theatre and amateur actor. He had selected the expanse of occupied ground for a dress rehearsal of a role he hopes to assume. The officers rode back to the police station slowly, but thoughtfully. But the joke leaked out.

– Press Democrat, April 24, 1907

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It’s Hallowe’en, that magical night when precious little children dress-up and… say, why are those kids carrying toolboxes and ropes?

As it turns out, trick or treaters today are pikers, compared to the hooligan that was your great-grandpa. A favorite prank in 1905 Santa Rosa was removing the gate from a house and hoisting it into a tree, but according to papers in other cities, bicycles and wagon wheels were also common. In Winnipeg, overachievers not only unloaded a wagon filled with grain and disassembled the vehicle, but put the wagon back together on top of a barn — and refilled it with the grain.

Wisconsin paper urged readers to tie down their gates and bring in their cabbage. Um, hide the cabbage? An item in the Nov. 1, 1901 Racine Daily Journal explained the local custom: “Crowds of boys and girls will supply themselves with cabbage stalks and start down any of the residence streets, and then the fun commences. The homes most conspicuous prove to be the targets, after the leader gives the signal to throw every person in the crowd hurls a cabbage stalk at the door. If cabbage stalks are not to be obtained it is a very easy matter to find a substitute. Dirt, old shoes, stones, or ‘any old thing’ will answer the purpose…”

Some newspapers in the early Twentieth Century even printed Hallowe’en death tolls, usually of pranksters shot to death after being mistaken for prowlers. Six were killed in 1904, including a “man mistaken for Hallowe’en dummy run down and killed by street car at Columbus, Ohio,” according to one casualty list.

Youths Taught a Lesson to be Less Reckless in Their Amusement

Almost a score of boys, some of them members of prominent families of this city, ended a Hallowe’en frolic by spending a few hours in jail at the city police station during Tuesday night. They were not content with the time honored frolic of removing gates but when they found one that did not come off its hinges readily it is charged that they just sawed it off and took a portion of the fence, too. They were very penitent when released from custody after confinement for a few hours and it is doubtful if they will ever do downright mischief on Hallow e’en [sic] and run too far away with the lenient view often taken that “boys will be boys.”

– Press Democrat, November 2, 1905

Chief of Police Gives Instruction to Enforce the Curfew Ordinance

Chief of Police Severson has given orders for the police to strictly enforce the curfew ordinance.

For some time the police have been a little lenient in this regard and boys have taken advantage of this and some damage to property has resulted. Now all minors who are caught out after the bell rings will be taken to the police station regardless of who they are or where they are going. Tuesday night about twenty offenders were locked up for several hours at the police station and before the matter is settled there will be a bill of damages to pay as the crowd destroyed a fence.

– Press Democrat, November 2, 1905

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