As Santa Rosa closes streets and girds to manage a flood of visitors for a bike race, it should be remembered that the town handled three or four Big Events like this every year a century ago.

There was usually the Rose Carnival in the spring followed by the Fourth of July, both with parades and grand floats. Then there were the races – horses before 1908, then mostly autos afterwards. On election nights there were bonfires (immense pyres really) in the streets with impromptu parades for the victors, complete with marching bands. And sometime during every year there was a circus or other touring entertainment that drew most of the town’s population along with those from the surrounding villages and farms. In the age before television, radio and real movies, enjoying an event with your neighbors was a memorable thing.

Call me Mr. Cynic, but whenever I read that ‘everybody and her brother’ attended a Big Event, I’ve wondered: Why weren’t burglars busy ransacking their neighborhoods of darkened homes? Where were the pickpockets drifting through packed crowds with their agile fingers? Reports of crimes like these were mainstays of the San Francisco and Oakland newspapers. Petty thievery was not uncommon locally, but more often it was opportunistic misbehavior of juvenile “incorrigibles” – stolen chickens, bicycles and the like.

But the 1909 California Grand Prize Race drew a huge audience from the Bay Area, and apparently their criminal underclass leeched along with them. The event was a more tempting target because it wasn’t just a celebrated cross-country auto race; Fourth street was closed off for a carnival sideshow to promote AYPE (the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition about to start in Seattle), and Santa Rosa held the Rose Carnival the previous day, which included an illuminated parade that evening. All of downtown was filled with crowds packed tight as pickles, the only lighting coming from festive Japanese lanterns and the feeble wattage that fell out of store windows. Pickpocket paradise.

And sure enough, a gang of five pickpockets was nabbed – yet incredibly, not prosecuted and just sent out of town on the train. Homes on Mendocino Avenue and North Street were robbed, the burglars taking jewelry and a large sum of cash. And, as the Press Democrat remarked, “there may be others.” As the items stolen were so valuable, it’s hard to imagine that the thieves were kids, or that these were the only homes hit.

Still, it was a swell day for Santa Rosa, and for a while everyone stepped out of small town life to enjoy the thrill of living in a big city. Those robbed that weekend enjoyed the city life thrill to the fullest.

Detectives Taylor, McPhee and Green Assist Local Police on Rose Carnival Day

The police made six arrests Saturday and Saturday night of pickpockets and men under suspicion. In the case of two, the goods was [sic] found on them. There was reported to the police during a half dozen cases of work by the light-fingered gentry, and the officers kept a close watch as the throngs moved up and down the streets during the evening.

To aid the local police officers keep their eyes on strangers of the light-fingered variety wandering into town on Rose Carnival day Detective McPhee and Detective Taylor of San Francisco, and Detective Green of Oakland, were in this city on Saturday.

Detective Taylor had not been long in town before he recognized a gang of five pickpockets from the metropolis. They were just commencing to work in a dense crowd of people. Taylor watched them and one of their number caught sight of the officer and ran off. This gang were [sic] sent out of town on the afternoon train.

– Press Democrat, May 8, 1909

Residences of Frank D. McGregor and F. H. Hankel Entered and Articles of Value Taken

Burglars operated in Santa Rosa Saturday night while people were downtown participating in the festivities of the closing hours of the rose carnival.

Up to midnight at least two citizens had reported at police headquarters that their residences had been burglarized and money and articles of value stolen. There may be others.

When Mrs. Frank D. McGregor and Miss Mabel McGregor returned to their home on North street they discovered that burglars had preceded them. Two gold watches and jewelry belonging to the ladies, some of the articles keepsakes, were found to be missing. They telephoned Mr. McGregor at the Fifth street stables, and he communicated with the police.

Another thief entered the residence of F. H. Hankel on Mendocino street, and stole ninety dollars in cash from that home.

– Press Democrat, May 8, 1909

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The 1908 Rose Festival was a bit ho-hum, but the Press Democrat compensated with this story of its founding, which I’ve not seen told elsewhere. Another key player in launching the parade in 1894 was James Wyatt Oates, who served as General Carnival Chairman.

Bit of History Connected With the Holding of the First Rose Carnival in Santa Rosa

Thomas P Keegan, of this city, naturally feels much interested in the success of the coming rose carnival, for he can lay proud title to being “Father of the Santa Rosa Carnival.” This is matter of history in Santa Rosa.

Mr. Keegan was the originator of the name “Rose Carnival,” as regards the famous fiestas that have made the City of Roses famous in past years. The first rose carnival took place in Santa Rosa on May 10, 1894. On the first of May, 1894, a meeting was held in the court house. It was called for the purpose of making arrangements to hold a flower festival in honor of the visit of some eastern people here. Mr. Keegan attended the meeting and after listening to the exchange of views rose to suggest that instead of holding a mere flower display a floral parade would be far more attractive. He suggested further, but inasmuch as the roses bloomed so beautifully and luxuriantly in Santa Rosa, the city should give a “Rose Carnival,” or “Carnival of Roses.” The originality of the name occasioned some discussion and there were those present who were not inclined to receive it favorably. Others did, notably Miss Isabel Donovan (now Mrs. Driscoll). It will be remembered that Miss Nettie Royal was the first carnival queen and Miss Isabelle Donovan reigned over the second, and one of the biggest rose carnivals ever held in the state.

The next day after the meeting many others came forward and favored the title “Rose Carnival,” and the idea caught favor with the press. A large committee of arrangements was selected and plans were carried out and the efforts of the committee and citizens proved the success of the first carnival. Since the birth and holding up the first rose carnival in the City of Roses the pageant has become famous, east, west, north and south, greatly to the credit of Santa Rosa.

The picture published with this bit of history is the same that appeared in the Press Democrat at the time of the first rose carnival in 1894. Of course Mr. Keegan was a few years younger then. There is a bit of history in connection with the cut, too. It went through the fire at earthquake disaster and was preserved, and is used on this occasion.

– Press Democrat, May 10, 1908

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Everything old is new again: there was doubt that Santa Rosa would have a 2010 Rose Parade until volunteers stepped up with funding, and the Grand Marshal is 10-year-old Zoe Valrey, who became a symbol of fund-raising efforts with her save-the-parade lemonade stand. There was also doubt that Santa Rosa would have a 1907 Rose Carnival, given that the town was barely recovered from the Great Earthquake; but it was decided that it would be a special juvenile parade and celebration that year, led by 6 year-old Geraldine Grace. A nice symbol of renewal, both.

“Queen Geraldine” didn’t hustle lemonade, and besides being cute as a bug in her royal getup, was probably selected because she was the daughter of beer baron Joseph T. Grace, who owned the Grace Brothers Park where the festivities were held. (The old Grace Brothers Park – AKA City Gardens, AKA Kroncke’s Park, AKA Civil War-era Hewitt’s Grove – is now the Creekside Park apartment complex at 1130 4th Street.) Geraldine Grace Benoist died in 2005 at the age of 103.

Alas, no pictures of the actual parade survive, but it must have been a delightful affair. There was a boy’s marching band from San Francisco, a handful of floats, and three automobiles festooned in roses. But the main attractions were the kids pushing doll buggies, kids riding in pony carts adorned with roses or poinsettias or poppies or pink hawthorn. Some highlights from the May 19 Press Democrat:

Little Miss Helen Kearns, daughter of Senator and Mrs. Kearns, drove her Shetland pony in a gaily decorated cart. Besides her on the seat was her favorite white Spitz dog, bearing up under the name of “Snowball.” Snowball seemed to enjoy the drive equally as much as his fair owner… Little Jack Hood led the children’s features. He trundled a wheelbarrow loaded with freshly cut green grass, making an ideal “Hayseed” …Marian Belden drove her favorite Cocker Spaniel hitched up to a little cart. Lorraine Johnson had a pink floral tricycle beautifully adorned…

Queen Geraldine was crowned that afternoon “with all the pomp and ceremony of juvenile royalty” to the cheers of “thousands of loyal subjects assembled” as the 155 member children’s chorus sang her Coronation Ode. Other entertainment included a tambourine dance by Miss Charmion Butts, eight girls dancing a minuet, more numbers by the chorus and a couple of girls warbling through “Jockey Hat and Feather,” a mid-19th century parlor song.

It was a modest affair but grand, thanks to the Woman’s Improvement Club, who pulled it off by creating no fewer than eleven committees. All praise to the Committee on Popcorn and Peanuts, the Committee on Lunch for Band, and the Committee on Decorated Baby Buggies, Velocipedes, Go-Carts, Express Wagons, Coasters and Doll Buggies. Maybe Zoe Valrey has a great-great-great ancestor who guided the Committee on Lemonade.

LEFT: Queen Geraldine official portrait. RIGHT: Lining up for the parade, probably on modern-day Brookwood Avenue, then North street. Both photos courtesy the Sonoma County Library

There seems to be an impression that people have to be invited in order to take part in the coming Juvenile Rose Carnival floral parade. This is not the case as everybody is invited and expected to furnish some feature for the parade. If you cannot put in a float, put in your baby buggy, put your small boy in on his coaster. The bigger that floral parade is the better it will suit the Improvement Club, and the better it will advertise our city and wipe out unpleasant recollections relative to last year’s dissipation on the part of Terra Firma. The Woman’s Improvement Club invites you one and all to help them in making the carnival a success.

– “Society Gossip by Dorothy Anne,” Press Democrat, May 5, 1907

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