1947hintonavenue

MOMMY, WHY DO WE CALL IT HINTON AVE?

When General Otho Hinton died in 1865, all of Santa Rosa mourned. Flags were lowered, courts adjourned and a “large concourse of people” attended his funeral, including the fire department in uniform. His obituary in the Sonoma Democrat cataloged the achievements of this civic leader:

…our citizens are alone indebted for all the public improvements about the place. For our beautiful plaza, the well arranged, beautiful, and tastefully laid out cemetery, and the engine house with the fire apparatus of the department, we are especially indebted, for through his indomitable energy and public spirit these all were attained…

Some years later a street was named after him – the only person so honored in the downtown core – and soon Hinton Avenue will spring back to life as part of the Courthouse Square reunification project.

THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF OTHO HINTON

Part I: CALL ME THE GENERAL
Part II: ARREST, ESCAPE, REPEAT
Part III: THE LONG ROAD TO SANTA ROSA
Endnotes for entire series at bottom of this article

Earlier parts of this series traced Hinton’s life of infamy in the 1850s: Robbing the U.S. mail, bail jumping, living as a fugitive while becoming a bigamist. Not a word about any of that ever appeared in Santa Rosa’s weekly newspaper, The Sonoma Democrat – although when he ran for county judge in 1859, papers in San Francisco and Sacramento pointed out that his background as a well-known crook was no qualification to wear a judge’s robe. Losing that election was a rare setback for him; Hinton otherwise glided over every bump he encountered and not because of luck. Otho Hinton seemingly possessed both brains and a hypnotic charm, qualities which made for a perfect con artist – which indeed he was.

But Santa Rosa didn’t bestow a street name because the City Council decided it would be jolly to honor a celebrity criminal; it was presumably because of all the good deeds listed in the obituary – the cemetery, the plaza, the fire department. Yet in the newspapers of the time there is not a speck of evidence that Hinton had a significant role in any of those accomplishments. Never before being someone who hid his light under a bushel, he surely wasn’t stricken with modesty once he actually began doing selfless acts. No, more likely he was given undue credit because he did what he always did: He looked you in the eye, oozed with sincerity and graciously allowed you to think the better of him.

(RIGHT: Detail of 1876 Santa Rosa map, showing the Plaza bordered by two unnamed streets. Hinton’s office was on the northeast corner, shown here in a red star)

Evidence of Hinton’s great good deeds should be easiest to find in regards to Courthouse Square, but before getting in to that, a quick tour of Civil War-era Santa Rosa is needed.

It wasn’t called Courthouse Square at the time because the county courthouse was across the street at the corner of Fourth and Mendocino, where Exchange Bank is now. The Plaza was simply a small park criss-crossed by footpaths and surrounded by a fence. The landscaping was haphazard; descriptions mention heritage oaks and evergreens, pampas grass and century plants plus a hedge just inside the fencing. (The complaints today about all the trees lost for the Square reunification project are nothing compared to the howls of outrage when everything was clearcut in 1884 to make way for building the courthouse in the center. “A tree and a bit of grass is worth more than a Court-house,” wrote an out-of-town attorney, “I hope every ___ _____ who has a law suit in the new Court-house will lose it.”)

Sonoma Democrat editor Thomas L. Thompson was forever boasting it was the most beautiful plaza in the state – even while lamenting it was a godawful mess. The year 1881 was particularly fun; in January a stray pig was rooting up the grass and by summer Thompson was moaning the soil was so sun-baked that grass wouldn’t grow, suggesting it would be best to plow it over in hopes that the place wouldn’t look so terrible next year. In between those items he wrote about the “beautiful lawns of blue grass” and compared it to Golden Gate Park. Another time the paper cheered the nice new benches, along with commenting the City Council was now determined to keep the Plaza “free from all objectionable persons.”

(RIGHT: Detail of 1876 bird’s eye view of Santa Rosa looking north, showing the Plaza)

The modern-day Press Democrat gives Hinton credit for all work in beautifying the original Plaza, from planting trees to installing the fencing. But is any of that true? In March of 1859 there was a big public meeting to discuss landscaping, fences and how to pay for it all; Hinton was not on any of the committees formed that night, even though his law office was directly across from the Plaza. Later that year work commenced on the fencing. Was Hinton mentioned? Nope.

All Hinton actually did, according to the 1861 -1863 newspapers, was to pay some guys to do spring cleanups. If there was anything specifically done, editor Thompson – the #1 booster of the Plaza – somehow overlooked it.

A 1876 view of Fourth street looking west from the vacant lot which was the location of Otho Hinton’s office. The Plaza fence and shrubbery can be seen to the left and the cupola on the right was the top of the county courthouse, at the corner of Fourth and Mendocino. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

Hinton’s obituary also credits him for “the well arranged, beautiful, and tastefully laid out cemetery” which is surprising, as Santa Rosa’s Rural Cemetery did not really exist in 1865. It would be a couple of years before the Cemetery Association was organized to legally sell deeds to burial plots; when Hinton died it was presumably still just an ad hoc graveyard on a hill. (Since there were no deeds prior to the Association we can’t be completely sure he’s buried where his newly-added tombstone stands, although that’s the same place where a family friend and Otho’s wife were later buried.)

In Hinton’s lifetime the Sonoma Democrat reported there was interest in “buying a lot where the present burying ground is, and having it properly surveyed and laid off in lots, fenced, and otherwise improved” but apparently nothing was done for lack of leadership. In 1861 another small item appeared: “Efforts are making to purchase a tract of land near Santa Rosa, a part of which has been used as a burying-place by people of that town, to be set apart exclusively as a Cemetery. Those who favor this excellent project will please call at Gen. Hinton’s office.”

That terse “please call at Gen. Hinton’s office” is the only thread linking him to the cemetery at all. We don’t know what what he was doing: Forming a committee, signing up volunteer labor, or, lord help them, collecting donations – remember, there is no certainty that folks in Santa Rosa knew his history of stealing money.

There is a traditional story that Hinton did the road layout while August Kohle, a well digger, did the actual work of grading the paths. It’s possible; someone had to mark the trails out around that time, and hammering markers into the ground isn’t exactly heavy lifting. Peg this claim as a maybe.

Finally we come to the fire department, where there’s a chance that the old scoundrel actually did a little something to redeem himself. A side benefit of all this Otho Hinton research is that I’ve accumulated enough information on the origins of the Santa Rosa Fire Department to tell that story, which will appear in the following article. Covered here are only the details related to Hinton’s involvement.

Per usual, Hinton was given undue credit for good deeds. The obituary thanked him “…[for] the engine house with the fire apparatus of the department, we are especially indebted, for through his indomitable energy and public spirit these all were attained.” More recently it’s been written he bought the town’s first fire engine, which absolutely is not true.

The Fire Department dates back to 1861, three years after Hinton arrived in Santa Rosa. He was not a charter member of the Association and later that year a handful of leading citizens arranged to buy a used fire engine. Hinton was not among them. Shift forward two years and $600 is still owed for the engine; the volunteer firemen were paying interest on the debt out of pocket, as well as rent for the firehouse. There were plans to sell the engine and return to being a hook & ladder company only.

“But at least we see a glimmer of light,” the Sonoma Democrat gushed in 1863. “The ladies, (Heaven bless them!) are coming to the rescue…Gen. Hinton, we are pleased to see, has taken the matter in hand, and we hope soon to hear of a response on the part of our ‘substantial’ citizens to the proposition of the ladies.” Then on the Fourth of July, 1864, the paper announced:

Last Saturday afternoon the new Engine House, built by the ladies of Santa Rosa, was formally presented to the Fire Department…The house being well filled with the citizens of the town who have contributed so liberally to the enterprise. On behalf of the ladies, Gen. O Hinton in appropriate and pleasing remarks passed over the property to the Trustees of the Department…after which cheers were given by the firemen for the ladies, the General and the citizens…

Other accounts at the time and over the next few years tells the same story: It was “the ladies” who paid off the debt and financed the firehouse by hosting dances; the first county history in 1880 mentions also “a fair and a festival” and as above, it was broadly hinted they were strong-arming their loving husbands into making contributions. Meanwhile, General Hinton did…something. Everyone just plumb forgot to mention what.

“He took a lively interest in the matter,” it was claimed in an 1877 account of the Department’s beginnings. “On account of his efforts in their behalf his memory is today highly revered by all the old members of the company, and they still keep his portrait hanging in their hall as a mark of the esteem in which he was held.”

Along with Exchange Avenue, Hinton Avenue was born on July 3, 1872 by order of the City Council. Not that anyone noticed; for many years to come the street was unnamed on maps or sometimes called “9th Ave”, which makes no sense in the town’s street layout. Exchange and Hinton appeared in the newspapers very rarely – ads described businesses as being “east of the Plaza” or “in the Ridgway Block” or “across from the Courthouse,” or similar. It’s as if the town were populated by Missouri hayseeds who thought street names were uppity.

Santa Rosa made quite a show of his funeral in 1865 but aside from the street, Hinton’s memory faded quickly; he was not mentioned in any local history until Gaye LeBaron’s “Santa Rosa: a 19th century town.” When his widow, Rebecca, died here in 1882, the Sonoma Democrat didn’t report it and the Daily Republican ran only a one-liner when she was buried. His only lasting presence in Santa Rosa was his portrait, which was apparently destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.

But now Exchange and Hinton Avenues are being resurrected – although for some reason, the one-way traffic directions around the Square have been flipped – as part of our new Old Courthouse Square. And soon people will be looking at that prominent street name and be asking: Who was Hinton? Anyone who’s read this series knows that will be an uncomfortable question to answer truthfully: “Well, he was an infamous criminal who apparently bamboozled the town’s founders.”

At the risk of being completely ahistorical, I’d like to make a modest proposal: Should we consider dropping the Hinton from Hinton Avenue?

Maybe we could name it Schulz Ave. or Doyle Avenue (although the other side is already named for his bank). The powers-that-be are itching to name something after recently deceased Santa Rosa nabob Henry Trione, so give him the honor. Or if they are willing to nod towards more appropriate history, call it Muther Avenue, after Santa Rosa Fire Chief Frank Muther who deserves it for saving the town from burning to the ground after the 1906 earthquake, yet currently lies in an unmarked grave. But for the gods’ sake, do we really need to still commemorate a con man who died more than 150 years ago?

1947 street view from the same location as the photograph above. Courtesy Sonoma County Library

THE PLAZA.–Gen. Hinton, as is his custom at this season of the year, has had a number of men at work of late, beautifying and improving our town plaza.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 22, 1862

CLEANING UP.– General O. Hinton, to whom our citizens are much indebted for the very pretty plaza of Santa Rosa, has had several workmen engaged repairing the railing of the sidewalk enclosure, and cleaning and otherwise improving the grounds on the inside. The plaza will be much improved this spring.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 17, 1863

SUDDEN DEATH OF GEN O. HINTON — General Otho Hinton departed this life at his residence, in Santa Rosa, last Sunday morning, about 10 o’clock. Our citizens were somewhat startled by the announcement of his sudden demise, as he had been seen upon the streets the day preceding. General Hinton was a native of Hagerstown, Maryland, and was 65 years of age. He had resided a long time at Santa Rosa, and to him it may be said, our citizens are alone indebted for all the public improvements about the place. For our beautiful plaza, the well arranged, beautiful, and tastefully laid out cemetery, and the engine house with the fire apparatus of the department, we are especially indebted, for through his indomitable energy and public spirit these all were attained. His death cast a deep gloom over the community, flags were lowered at half mast and the County Court on Monday adjourned in respect to his memory. His funeral took place on Monday, from the M. E. Church, Rev. T. Frazier officiating, and was attended by a large concourse of people. Santa Rosa Engine Company No. 1, whom the deceased had so often befriended, attended in uniform, and by them his remains were consigned to their last resting place.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 11, 1865

A GOOD PICTURE. — A life size Paintograph of Gen. O. Hinton, deceased, may be seen at the Engine House of Santa Rosa No. 1. It was drawn by Mr. W. H. Wilson, from a photograph likeness. The picture has been pronounced by all who have seen it an excellent likeness. Mr. Wilson has taken a number of pictures at this place which have given very general satisfaction. His art is a very simple one, being a drawing in indelible ink, the entire work being executed with a common pen and very small brush. He is now at Healdsburg.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 18, 1865

RURAL CEMETERY

Santa Rosa has a beautiful graveyard, and it has been properly named “Rural Cemetery”…We took a walk through its avenues last Sunday. It was in the fall of the dying day, because of its symbolic character. We were alone. There was no one to cheer us “save the low hum of vegetation,” and the music of the wind as it played Aeolean cadences in the branches above and the rens beneath. We paused before a neglected grave. A familiar name was graven on an ordinary slab. It carried us back to the days when Santa Rosa was yet in her infancy. Moss had grown upon the stone, and the name had become dim. Brambles of every description covered the spot, in which lay the body whose name we were then contemplating, and–we felt sad. The name was that of Gen. Otho Hinton. It is as familiar to the old settlers of this valley “as household words.” His very countenance and benevolent expression is, at this writing, as plainly before us as if we had seen him but yesterday. But why is his grave thus neglected? Have the people forgotten the generous and noble hearted man, who in his life, took such an active interest in the welfare of “our future little city,” (as he was wont to call it,) and who sacrificed all health, money and time, during his declining years, for our benefit? His magnanimity and public spiritedness for the public good, should never be forgotten, and his grave should, at least, be kept green as an evidence that we appreciated his many kindness which he did for our future good…

– Santa Rosa Daily Republican, November 10, 1882

ENDNOTES

(available at non-mobile version of blog)

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brokentombstone

WE’LL BURY YOU FOR A PENNY

Sonoma County Supervisors could not believe the offer: An undertaker submitted a bid to bury the indigent dead for just one cent each. Included in the price was a redwood coffin with lid, cloth lined and bottom padded. With pillow. They would even dig the grave and see that is was “properly filled in” (thank goodness) and paint a wooden marker. Our thrifty supervisors in 1912 did not hesitate to accept the bid.

(RIGHT: Broken grave marker in the Moke section of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, 2015)

The Press Democrat remarked one of the courthouse reporters had heard of a similar bargain burial rate in Denver, but that was apparently wrong – it was in Phoenix. A year before their board of supervisors opened bids to find one undertaker proposing to do the job for 14 cents and another bidding a penny – but even that was underbid by the Arizona Casket Company’s offer to bury the indigent dead for $.001 each. “The board generally likes to receive low bids for county work, but these, or the most of them, were too low and the bid of the Arizona Casket Company  was, beside, embarrassing,” remarked the Arizona Republic. “How to make payment might become confusing. If the bidder should bury less than ten subjects in a quarter there would be no coin denomination of money with which to make payment.”

The penny price was a canny bet by the Lafferty & Smith funeral home in Santa Rosa. First, it applied only to those who died at the county hospital; if the dead person was elsewhere in Santa Rosa township they could bill 75¢. Judging by their previous contracts with the county and their competitor’s bid, the break-even cost for providing such a service was around $3.00 per body. Aside from the coffin – and redwood was then the cheapest wood available – the only real expense was the grave digging, and in 1912 simple manual labor like that paid only about a dollar a day. Nor were there a lot of dying indigents; that year only thirty went to the county cemetery on Chanate Road and some of those undoubtedly came from outside Santa Rosa, which a competitor handled for a higher price. So Lafferty & Smith didn’t risk losing a pile of money on their lowball bid.

And if they could locate a relative, they just might find someone willing to pay full price for a proper funeral and reburial of poor ol’ Uncle Joe. “It is well known that if not infrequently happens that an indigent dies with some well to do relatives or friends who are willing to pay the expense of a more costly funeral,” the PD observed in the same article.

We can’t be sure how often that happened, but there was an example just a few months earlier when members of a “distinguished Southern family” had Lafferty & Smith exhume a murder victim and replant him in the Odd Fellows’ cemetery. They even reunited the man’s head with his body, the skull having been used as an exhibit at the trial. That was a nice touch.

Lafferty & Smith might not have tried the discount gambit if not for another reason: There was a formidable new competitor in town. The Welti brothers brought along two decades of experience with Halsted & Company, one of San Francisco’s top funeral homes. And not insignificantly, as the PD noted, they were “in touch with the latest and most approved methods known to the profession.” Those up-to-date methods probably included the recipe for Halsted’s embalming fluid (see sidebar).

THE EMBALMER’S SECRET SAUCE

Undertaking was nearly entirely unregulated at the turn of the century; only eight states can be found that even required someone to have a license. Over the next two decades cities and states gradually passed requirements for a diploma, passing an examination or having years of apprenticeship in order to be trusted with handling the dead, particularly when it came to the dark art of embalming.
Even less controlled were the chemicals pumped into the bodies, which regularly killed embalmers handling the dangerous fluids. Arsenic and mercury had been primary ingredients since the Civil War and most undertakers probably had their own “secret sauce” mixing those with other ingredients such as aluminum, copper and zinc. Formulas could be found in every pharmacist’s manual and even in cookbooks and household references.
By the early 1910s seven states prohibited arsenic-based embalming fluid (California required any formula be approved by the state board of health, but did not ban arsenic outright until 1939). Commercial products using formaldehyde, such as the one shown here in a 1912 ad, became available but many funeral homes and hospitals continued to whip up their own, presumably both for cost savings and preference. It’s easy to find newspaper stories through the end of the 1910s about undertakers caught using homebrew embalming fluid, sometimes discovered when suspected poison cases had to be dismissed because the exhumed corpus delecti was contaminated with so much arsenic as to be corpus arsenicum. One formula called for 12 pounds of arsenic per body.
It goes without saying that loading up a dead body with lots of heavy metals and then shoving it deep underground is not environmentally sound, and it was known shortly after the Civil War that cemeteries were public health hazards, often with tons of poisonous materials leaching out of the coffins and contaminating groundwater. (More information here, although some of the regulatory details are wrong.) But short of digging up all the historic cemeteries, there’s nothing to be done now.

Frank and Charles Welti were not elbowing their way into Santa Rosa’s undertaking trade; they bought a well-established business from H. H. Moke, Longtime readers of this journal have bumped into Mr. Moke many times handling the funerals of some of those profiled here, as well as dealing with his own tragedy. On the morning of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake he lived with his family above the funeral parlor at 418 Fourth st, where his wife, 10 year-old daughter and sister-in-law were killed, presumably when the next door Haven Hardware store exploded, demolishing much of the block between B and A streets. He remarried a year later, his new bride  also an undertaker.

The funeral home was rebuilt at the same location, but not before the couple had one of the oddest experiences in Santa Rosa history. On July 4, 1908 Mr. and Mrs. Moke were apparently entertaining friends at their temporary location on Third street when an exhibition parachutist, jumping from a hot air balloon, drifted off course and  smashed into the skylight above them, raining broken glass on the frightened undertakers. “I’m not a dead one just yet,” quipped the jumper once he realized the nature of his landing spot.

With the sale of his business to the Welti brothers, Henry Herbert Moke apparently retired (the newspapers called him Herbert but he used his first name in the city directories, which is a bit unusual). Although he was only 41, he started learning the undertaking trade when he was thirteen and bought the business twenty years later. Besides money from selling the funeral parlor, Naomi Moke had recently won her lawsuit against an insurance company over the destruction of her late father’s drug store in the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake. The Mokes also had real estate; if you live on the  north side of Benton street between Glenn and Morgan, it was once his property. Henry stayed busy with his many club memberships and Naomi became president of the Woman’s Improvement Club, the most important civic organization in town.

Remaining behind to work with the Welti brothers was John P. Stanley, 76 years old when the business changed hands in 1911. Not much was known about him personally until a little 1913 article about his new house in Sebastopol appeared in the Santa Rosa Republican. It seems Mr. Stanley was an art and antique collector, designing his bungalow to best show off his stuff.

Moke and Stanley are storied names to anyone interested in the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery – which is probably damn near everyone who reads this blog. Stanley bought over five acres (the entire east side) from the Fulkerson family in 1884. Except for a teardrop-shaped section in the northeast which was occupied, he sold the rest in 1907 to his employer, Moke. (A map showing these sections is on the kiosks found at both entrances to the cemetery.) When Moke signed over the cemetery land to the Weltis most of it was still available, Moke having sold only about fifty lots. In 1944 Frank Welti sold those “three acres, more or less” to the county for the new Indigent Cemetery, even though it was  unimproved lowlands next to Poppy Creek and prone to flooding.

Rural Cemetery aficionados know its Twentieth Century history is mostly unhappy. The place was increasingly neglected as no one, including the city or county, took any responsibility for maintenance. By midcentury the place was so overgrown it was considered a serious fire hazard and the county did a 1951  controlled burn that turned out to be not-so controlled, destroying irreplaceable wooden markers.


(LEFT: The newly uncovered tombstone of William Fowzer)

Tombstones lost to fire, vandalism and accident are just part of the old cemetery’s woes. Moke and his predecessors didn’t keep track of who was buried where; historic maps used by the undertakers only marked which lots were available to sell. Since then there have been efforts to assemble a list of all burials with mixed results.

Last summer a group did a pilot survey using a small portion of a map drawn by a volunteer in the 1960s, presumably from his own observations and historical records research. Of the approx. 110 names shown on that section of the map, we could find no markers for 21 of them. That’s an unacceptable failure record of 23 percent.

Those 21 grave markers might have disappeared in the last half century but it’s more likely many were never there at all – it’s not terribly unusual for someone to purchase a cemetery plot and not use it. Or maybe some of the tombstones are still there but long buried themselves. Just last month (Sept. 2015) volunteers removing the ivy and weeds in the back corner found three long-forgotten gravesites from the Moke and Welti eras including the fallen tombstone of William Fowzer, a Civil War Union soldier who was at the battles of the Wilderness, Williamsburg, Antietam and Gettysburg. The old graveyard still has many secrets to yield.

The good news is that the Rural Cemetery is probably now in its best shape ever – thanks to Bill Montgomery and a crew of volunteers (whom you are WELCOME TO JOIN, on the third Saturday of every month at 9AM). And in 2017, a comprehensive directory will be published listing every known burial. Archivists Sandy Frary and Ray Owen currently have compiled over 5,200 names – including 178 who were previously unknown – using primary sources such as obituaries, Coroner’s Death Records and discovered tombstones viz. Pvt. Fowzer. About the same number have been removed because they were listed in error or the person found to be actually buried elsewhere. For many the listing will include details on how they lived and died, and the book will even include the 350 long-forgotten souls down in the floodplain. Once finished, it will be the most important reference book on Santa Rosa ever written. I cannot wait.

WILL BURY THE INDIGENT DEAD FOR ONE CENT EACH
Surprisingly Low Competitive Bid of Lafferty & Smith Is Accepted by the Board of Supervisors Here Monday

For one cent each Lafferty & Smith, the local undertakers, have contracted to bury the indigent dead who die at the county hospital and farm.

The bids for the burials were opened on Monday by the Board of Supervisors. When Clerk Felt broke the seal of the envelope and read the bid offering to provide the casket, etc., for one cent, there was a look of surprise. But Dan H. Lafferty of the firm offering to do this, was on hand, and there was no mistake.

For the one cent the firm agrees to provide a clear redwood coffin, planed on both sides; with lid; two coats of a dark color stain; interior of casket lined with mhite muslin, bottom padded and with pillow. They will also place a headboard painted and lettered over the grave. The grave in the county cemetery will also be dug, five feet deep, and properly filled in.

The city of Denver and the county of Sonoma are the only places in the United States where they have burials that cost one cent. In Denver the one cent bid came as the result of the liveliest competitive bidding. The undertaking firm, like Lafferty & Smith here, give a bond for the faithful carrying out of their contract.

For several years Lafferty & Smith have had the contract for indigent burials, the last bid being for $2.85 each. Yesterday they also put in a bid for the burial of the indigent dead outside of the county hospital and farm in Santa Rosa township for seventy-five cents each. This bid was also accepted.

The next lowest bidder, Welti Brothers, also of this city, offered to bury the indigent dead at the county hospital and Santa Rosa township for $3 each. Their bid for the burial of indigents in other parts of the county was $15. The firm of Lafferty & Smith did not bid on this business and Welti Brothers’ bid of $15 was accepted.

“The contract to bury the dead at one cent will be carried out to the letter, and each will be given a decent burial just as our bid reads. We bid knowing that we were bidding in competition, that is all,” said Dan H. Lafferty Monday evening.

It is well known that if not infrequently happens that an indigent dies with some well to do relatives or friends who are willing to pay the expense of a more costly funeral than the county allows. In consequence on such occasion the firm is able to make up for the small remuneration their usually low bid offers. It can readily be seen that the question of profit as represented by the figures of Lafferty & Smith’s bid has no mention.

The one cent bid give a surprise in Court House circles onn Monday. Among the most surprise were the newspaper men present, one of whom had heard of the one cent bid accepted in Denver. And with it all comes the assurance that there will be the same care and attention the firm has given the indigent burials of the past.

– Press Democrat, July 9, 1912
BODY OF CHISHOLM’S VICTIM TAKEN FROM POTTER’S FIELD

From an unhonored grave in the Potter’s field the remains of Van Lear Kirkman Droulliard, the man of distinguished Southern family who was cruelly murdered by L. C. Chisolm in a lonely tent on the ocean front near Fort Ross, have been exhumed and are now resting in a tomb in Odd Fellows’ cemetery. The last resting is also marked with a monument.

Prior to their reinterment, the remains to which was added the skull of the dead man exhibited as mute evidence at the trial of his slayer in the Superior Court of this county, were enclosed in an expensive casket.

The devotion of the heartbroken widow provided the means whereby the body was taken from the county cemetery and given decent burial. Mrs. Droulliard at first contemplated coming to Santa Rosa to look after the disposition of her husband’s body. She was prevented from doing so, and intrusted [sic] the mission to Lafferty & Smith, the local undertakers. They carried out all her wishes in the matter. The body was exhumed several days ago, and reinterred as stated in Odd Fellows’ cemetery.

[..]

– Press Democrat, October 15, 1911
MOKE & WARD HAVE DISSOLVED
Business Will be Continued by Mr. Moke in Future

H. H. Moke and W. B. Ward, who have been conducting the well known undertaking establishment on Fourth street under the firm name of Moke & Ward, have dissolved partnership, and in the future Mr. Moke will be the sole proprietor. Mr. Ward has not yet decided just what he wil do, but will still continue to make his home here.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 20, 1910
HERBERT MOKE SELLS BUSINESS
Frank and Charles Welti Succeed to Same

H. Herbert Moke, who has been in business here for many years, disposed of his business on Wednesday to Messrs. Frank Welti and Charles Welti. The gentlemen will take charge of the business on Thursday and will become permanent residents of the City of Roses. For some time past the Messrs. Welti have been desirous of coming to Santa Rosa, believing it to be the best city on the entire coast, and they wished to secure a location where they could have the advantages of good climate and be prepared to enjoy life.

Both of the gentlemen who have succeeded to Mr. Moke’s business are experienced undertakers, and they will conduct the business along the modern and approved lines which Mr. Moke has maintained. Mr. Frank Welti will remain here in active charge of the business, and his brother, Charles Welti, will remain for a brief time in Napa. Frank Welti has been with the Halsted Undertaking parlors in San Francisco for a number of years, and has been engaged in the undertaking business for the past twenty years. He is an expert in his line, and his association with the Halsteds, the leading parlors of San Francisco, has kept him in touch with the latest and most approved methods known to the profession. The wife of Frank Welti will be the lady attendant at the parlors. Charles Welti will be here from Napa on Thursday for a brief visit, and he and his wife will become permanent residents of this city just as soon as they can dispose of business and personal interests in Napa city and county.

Both of the gentlemen come highly recommended and are of the genial disposition that makes hosts of friends. J. P. Stanley, who has been with the Moke undertaking establishment for many years past, will continue with the new firm as will also Carroll W. Baker, who has been here for a number of years with Mr. Moke. With these two gentlemen remaining, the new firm has a strong team.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 1, 1911
WILL OCCUPY NEW BUNGALOW
Mr. Stanley Moves into Cozy Sebastopol Home

Friday J. P. Stanley moved to his new bungalow at Sebastopol. For some time past it has been under construction, and was completed several months ago, but he did not want to move during the rainy season. Now that it is real summer he will make his home there, going back and forth every day to be at his work with Welti Brothers.

It is a cozy home, planned by himself, and his ideas were carried out in every respect. There is one large living room, arranged specially for his art treasures, and those who know him are aware he has a collection well worth seeing.  They have all been collected since the fire. At that time he had many treasures, but lost all. Together with his paintings, he has numerous pieces of antique furniture and bric-a-brac, which will be displayed to advantage.

Mr. Stanley wishes it announced that he has not in any way severed his connection with Welti Bros. but will be found there as usual.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 27, 1913

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BIG BURN AT THE CEMETERY

Dear sir or madam; the city destroyed your pioneer ancestor’s grave marker. You may want to hire someone to make a new one. Sincerely, Santa Rosa.

No mistake about it: Santa Rosa’s Rural Cemetery was a real mess in 1951.

“It is a disgrace to Santa Rosa,” Fred Cooke, chairman for that year’s Memorial Day committee wrote the Press Democrat that May. “I visited this cemetery to arrange for the ceremonies and found it difficult to even drive around the roads. In all my experience, and I have visited many a cemetery, I can say this is the worst of them all.”

Another writer, Guy E. Grosse, agreed in letter to the editor a week later. “In some instances [it is] almost a forest, with weeds, underbrush and young trees making it almost impossible to walk through the roads, and in some cases, impossible to locate tombstones.”

City Manager Sam Hood was most specific of all, saying the cemetery was a jungle of tangled brush four feet high, including matted undergrowth of sweet pea “about two feet thick.”

(RIGHT: View of Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery in 1970. Detail of photograph by Don Meacham courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Alas, the old cemetery had been long neglected, but 1951 was apparently a pathetic low. Overgrown with sweet pea, blue periwinkle, acacia, bramble, poison oak and sapling trees, it must have taken decades to build up enough thicket to conceal a tombstone as tall as an eight year-old child. There were community cleanup efforts in 1907 and 1908, but after that plots were weeded only by the occasional family member – and presumably by undertakers preparing a grave for one of the diminishing number of new burials. The year 1951 as well would have likely passed without anything done had it not been for the vandalism incident.

In the bold headline type usually reserved for earthshaking news, the June 5 front page of the Press Democrat screamed: “Vandals Desecrate Graves in Odd Fellows, Rural Cemetery”. Beneath two large photographs, the article stated most of the damage was in the section of the Odd Fellows cemetery near Franklin Avenue, with 22 tombstones knocked over or damaged. “The littered ground looks as if a bulldozer had ploughed over the graves,” the PD reported. Across the fence at the Rural Cemetery, “several stone and wooden crosses were snapped.”

By the following day, it was apparent the overgrown condition of the older cemetery had concealed the vandal’s scope: the paper now said, “most of the scattered destruction took place in secluded areas of the rambling rural cemetery, where at least 35 ravaged graves have been counted.” A subscriber later wrote he or she counted 87 headstones turned over. The damage estimate there came in at $15,000, with a North Bay Monument quote of over $1,000 to simply right all the toppled markers. In contrast, it was expected to cost only $150 for repairs at the Odd Fellows cemetery. ($15,000 is equivalent to about $140,000 in today’s dollars.)

The vandals were quickly caught – schoolboys age 9 and 12, who said they were “just having fun after school.” Their parents agreed to pay full restitution. The last we hear of the young hooligans was that “State psychiatrists” would soon be examining them. “Investigating officers who questioned the boys expressed the belief that neither vandal was aware of the sacrilegious nature of the crime.”

(For what it’s worth: Every 1951 Press Democrat article described the vandalism as being “sacrilegious” or “desecration” – the offense against morality trumped the criminal act – and there was an editorial on the vandalism titled, “Moral Revival Should Start in the Homes.” This was in step with the pious tone of the newspaper in that era; every day there was a section on the front or editorial page titled “The Shepherd,” with a Bible verse and little homily. In the letters section readers debated bits of scripture continually.)

For reasons unclear, it was decided the monument company needed written consent from relatives of the deceased before they could repair damaged tombstones at the Rural Cemetery. But very few wrote to grant permission; the PD noted “survivors of many whose graves were mutilated have themselves died or moved from the area.” Doubtless there were others who lived around here but didn’t even know there were family members up on the hill, hidden somewhere under the weeds.

And that was the nub of the problems with the Rural Cemetery; nobody took responsibility for the place. It was outside Santa Rosa city limits. Most of it was supposedly owned by the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery Association, but that organization was long defunct and there were no records to be found. According to the Recorder’s Office, the last time a burial plot had been sold was in 1930.

Shift forward now two months. Northern California had sweltered through a long hot summer and nearly every day the papers reported there were fires burning out of control in the forests. About then, City Manager Hood and other officials apparently remembered there was a vandal-friendly, six acre tinderbox right on the edge of town.

“It’s getting so we can’t sleep night worrying about the situation,” Hood told the Board of Supervisors. “We could have a major catastrophe on our hands” if a blaze at the cemetery jumped to surrounding neighborhoods.

Hood’s proposal was that a workcrew of twenty prisoners from the county jail should be provided to clear the weed-choked narrow roads winding around the cemetery. Following that there would be a controlled burn, supervised by the city fire chief and firefighters from the state Forest Service.

The only objections to the plan came from Supervisor William Kennedy of Sebastopol, who was worried about setting precedent by using country jail labor. “There are plenty of other cemeteries in the county which aren’t in good condition,” he said, adding a cleanup at the Pleasant Hill Cemetery was paid for privately. The decision was that prisoners could be used because fire prevention was in the county’s interest, but no money would be spent to “beautify” the cemetery, which presumably meant resetting pushed-over monuments. “The resulting improvement of the neglected cemetery’s appearance will be only incidental,” summarized the PD.

Thus on August 25, 1951, the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery was burned in a controlled fire.

Or maybe not so controlled; a small item in the PD a couple of days later claimed success, with a small qualification:

Some wooden grave markers were inadvertently destroyed, when the burning revealed a number of plots that had lain concealed for years. An attempt will be made to trace families of those whose graves were hidden, City Manager Sam B. Hood said. He indicated that “private arrangements” will have to be made, since most of the cemetery is outside city limits.

It was a true Pyrrhic victory – Santa Rosa had “saved” its historic cemetery, and in the process, destroyed many of the oldest markers that made it historic. It is a loss that plagues historians today.

We can argue the city and county should be held blameless; the thick overgrowth completely concealed the old wood markers from the fire crews and conditions at the cemetery truly represented a serious fire risk. Or we can also argue it was irresponsible to do it in such a great rush and on the cheap. But whether by accident or carelessness, it’s difficult to defend Santa Rosa’s stance that descendants were responsible to make their own “private arrangements” to replace what was destroyed by the city.

And perhaps the burn may not have been so controlled after all. A few days later a letter appeared in the paper: “For years it has been a disgrace to the community with its majority of unkept lots and weed-covered roads. Now we have acres of blackened fire-swept stubble, smoke-covered monuments, burnt wooden markers and scorched trees.”

As the obl. Believe-it-or-Not footnote, there’s an unseen player to be spotted in all corners of this story: Hyperactive developer Hugh Codding.

Codding had opened his Montgomery Village shopping center a year earlier – hijacking a chunk of downtown Santa Rosa’s mercantile base in the process – and in 1951 was building hundreds of tract houses nearby which were intended to be the foundation of a sister city to Santa Rosa. Just before the cemetery vandalism a wag wrote the Press Democrat to suggest we should surrender and just rename the whole area “Coddingville.” Another PD correspondent at the time thought we should beg Codding to “clean up the terrible unsightly condition that exists” at the Rural Cemetery as a civic duty. (Codding didn’t reply, but in the same edition a letter from him denied “The Montgomery Village News” was about to become a daily newspaper in competition with the Press Democrat.)

But there are cosmic ironies in Sam Hood’s appeal to the Supervisors for an emergency prisoner work crew, which he said was based on the threat a cemetery fire posed to “the Codding Village area.” Hood was then new to the post of City Manager, and three years later would be locking horns with Codding over whether Montgomery Village should be incorporated into the city. By eliminating the greatest fire risk in the area, Hood also lost a major bargaining chip – no longer was there urgency for Codding to compromise in order to ensure his sprawling subdivisions were under the protection offered by Santa Rosa fire stations.

EDITOR: There are many men and women buried in the Rural Cemetery who were well known and well liked citizens of Santa Rosa.

When alive and active in making this city “Designed For Better Living” they gave their time, money, labor and they paid taxes and had hopes for the progress of Santa Rosa.

Now they seem to be forgotten, with but few exceptions, and to show how shameful all this is, just take a walk or drive through this cemetery. It is a disgrace to Santa Rosa.

Why do we neglect the respect for our dead? When you read the names on the headstones of many who were well known, and see the condition of them, you wonder why something is not done to care for this cemetery.

Being the chairman of the committee for Memorial Day Exercises, I visited this cemetery to arrange for the ceremonies and found it difficult to even drive around the roads. In all my experience, and I have visited many a cemetery, I can say this is the worst of them all…

..You may say the relatives of the dead should clean it up. Some whole families are buried here and no one left. Others have moved away. Decency demands that some provision should be made to clean this cemetery, at least, before Memorial Day.

I have been told the Board of Supervisors are responsible for this condition and I hope that everyone interested in cleaning up this terrible condition will demand some effort be made to clean up this condition which is a disgrace.

Let us not forget and forsake our dead.

FRED A. COOKE, Commander, United Spanish War Veterans.

– Press Democrat, May 18, 1951

EDITOR: I read with great interest the magnificent article written by Commander Fred A. Cooke…

…Why not call up your favorite supervisor or several of them, and they will possibly arrange to have the county jail prisoners do the clean-up work under the supervision of the city or county park gardeners, or let them use common sense.

Certainly it will not take any amount of brains to do the job. Of course the supervisors may have a better solution for cleaning up not only these graves, but the roads and paths into the plots of our pioneer dead…

…Their resting places are, in some instances, almost a forest, with weeds, underbrush and young trees making it almost impossible to walk through the roads, and in some cases, impossible to locate tombstones, let alone the markers of the revered dead. Shame on you, Santa Rosa and community citizenry. Do you want your lot to be the same?

Why not make it a semi-annual affair to clean up the Rural Cemetery. Then we will be able at least to pass the cemetery without a shudder and be ashamed to drive past it with visitors who have been attracted here by what our Chamber of Commerce and we like to say is a city “designed for living”…

GUY E. GROSSE, Santa Rosa

– Press Democrat, May 24, 1951

EDITOR: I hope that the public will read the following lines and be as serious about the entire matter as I am. I am sincere and have no thought of sarcasm and I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Hugh Codding, and feel that this town and Sonoma County are indeed fortunate in having as progressive a man as he in regard to his terrific subdivisions.

There has been much comment regarding the terrible condition surrounding the cemetery at the end of McDonald Ave., and I, too, feel that this is one of the most disgraceful situations we have in this beautiful city of Santa Rosa.

Everyone feels that something should be done to correct this unsightly condition, but there seemse to be no heads or tails as to what should be done.

Now if Mr. Codding is able to move the bank which was to be built on 4th street to the Codding subdivision in Montgomery Village, and if Mr. Codding was able to get a permit to build a theater in Montgomery Village, and I think if he tries hard enough he will move the court house to Montgomery Village–if all this is possible, why isn’t it reasonable to believe that with a little encouragement Mr. Codding could move the present cemetery and clean up the terrible unsightly condition that exists?

[..]

HARRY B. FETCH, Santa Rosa

– Press Democrat, June 3, 1951

EDITOR: I am wondering how many have been through the Rural Cemetery since the recent cleanup and just what they think of it.

For years it has been a disgrace to the community with its majority of unkept lots and weed-covered roads.

Now we have acres of blackened fire-swept stubble, smoke-covered monuments, burnt wooden markers and scorched trees.

Surely it is a showplace for a “City Designed for Living” to be extremely proud of.

MARY A. McDANNEL, Santa Rosa

– Press Democrat, August 30, 1951

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