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BEFORE THE PHONE BEGAN TO RING

Millenia from now, historians will puzzle over our love affair with phones. Museums will have exhibits where our distant descendants can handle one of the ancient devices (or more likely, a recreation) so they can marvel that such poor quality sound was once acceptable, and how their ancestors even used the things to send text messages, although the device wasn’t designed for it.

Welcome to 1885.

This is the story of how the telephone came to Sonoma county. It happened much earlier than you might expect – before electric lights (and only shortly after gas lighting was available in the larger towns), before Santa Rosa had a sewer system and even before Petaluma hatched its first Leghorn chicken.

It’s not necessary here to rehash who invented it and when; for practical purposes it emerged when Bell exhibited a working telephone at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. Almost immediately, it became America’s first must-have gadget.

As few people back then actually knew what it was like to use a phone (spoiler alert: Faint and muffled sound over crackly connections), wild and silly claims were made about how it was about to transform the world. People who were nearly deaf would be able to understand a whisper. The 1876 New York Times lamented this was the end of the Republic because we would soon all stay at home or in “telephone rooms” listening to live music or great sermons. The Santa Rosa paper griped that a major 1878 San Francisco music festival (see ad at right) would be transmitted by “telephonic connection” to Sacramento but not available for our community to enjoy.

(Lest we feel too smug about the old-timers being snookered with unrealistic expectations, anyone over thirty years might remember the TV commercials promoting the early hype about the internet in 1994 and 1995. According to AT&T, every aspect of our lives would be enslaved to the corporation, using AT&T video pay phones and sending each other notes handwritten on AT&T tablets. The old telecom MCI presented its vision of the future which was more Zen, as a little girl scampered around a beach, pausing only long enough to recite a few garbled remarks about “empowering technology.”)

Sonoma county first got its hands on a telephone in 1878, when the telegraph company commandeered the wire between Santa Rosa and Petaluma for a two-hour demo one Sunday night. Papers in both towns gave it a good review; the Sonoma Democrat remarked “conversations and music on flute and piano were distinctly heard” and the Petaluma Courier said it “sounded as though it was but a short distance away.” Before the official start of the demonstration, however, apparently a wise guy in the Santa Rosa office got on the line (the Courier reporter described it as “a voice that sounded something like a little boy speaking from under a bed cover”) and passed on some juicy gossip. The telegraph company supervisor told him to ignore that as “telemischief,” which is a pretty good word that deserves to be revived today.

The earliest telephones in the county were more like intercoms connecting no more than a handful of receivers. First were probably the 1878 lines in Petaluma connecting the McNear’s store with their mill and family homes; the next year there was a network based at a Cloverdaie station reaching the Skaggs Springs resort and Geyserville. (That included a line to the tavern called “Fossville” where daredevil stagecoach driver Clark Foss would speak to Robert Louis Stevenson, the author struggling to use a telephone for the first time – see The Silverado Squatters.) And there was a wire across the west end of the Russian River, so the ferry could be summoned from the Duncans Mills hotel (“just how much unnecessary yelling – and swearing, too – this arrangement saves, will be known and appreciated by persons living up the coast”).

During the early 1880s more of these customized telephones were installed in Santa Rosa and Petaluma (a man named Parshley apparently did most of the work) but it’s unclear if they were all connected together in a single in-town circuit. My guess is they certainly were, and they used a ring code to let someone know whether the call was intended for them. Nothing about this was mentioned in the papers, however.

 

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Newspapers in Santa Rosa and Petaluma also displayed a near-obsessive yearning for the thing we could not have: Reaching San Francisco and the world beyond. Probably every weekly issue of the Democrat had some reprinted item revolving around telephones. Sometimes it was an element in the serial novel unwinding chapter by chapter each week, but usually it was the catalyst for a funny item which ended up with someone mortified in embarrassment. A NY grocer couldn’t afford a telephone so he had a dummy made and pretended to take big orders to impress his customers – until he was caught faking a call from a hotel which no longer existed. A San Francisco dance hall promoter thought he was ordering racy posters from a printer but was connected by mistake to the matron of an exclusive girl’s school in Oakland. O, Victorian-era humor, thou art such polite gentle fun, teehee.

Sonoma county’s years in the telephonic wilderness ended in the summer of 1884, when a 7-line phone cable (!) was dropped across the Golden Gate. The Sunset Telephone Company signed up enough subscribers to bring the service through Marin to Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Guerneville and Sebastopol. Rates were never mentioned in the papers but it must have been quite expensive; there were few residential customers – although one of the early home subscribers was consummate tech nerd James Wyatt Oates.

But just as Santa Rosa cuddled up to the idea of talking to people far away, the Democrat announced that it was obsolete – in the very near future we would be typing text messages to each other. “Any One Capable of Manipulating a Typewriter May Easily Transmit and Receive Messages,” read a 1885 headline.

 

 

The article reprinted from the NY World explained, “It is not a verbal telephone, but will supersede that instrument by silently and rapidly recording all messages upon paper.” The reporter claimed, “forty to fifty words per minute were easily sent by a person who was not at all an expert, and received automatically at the other end of the line without errors.”

What was being described was an early teleprinter system, and unfortunately the paper did not mention the name of the inventor or company. If the device really worked as described it was far ahead of its time, as there would be nothing like this available commercially for over twenty years.

It may seem hard to imagine why such a device did not catch on; “its simple and inexpensive construction and the ease of operating it” should have brought it widespread appeal. Its Achilles’ heel, however, was the need to have a dedicated line between the teleprinters, and in that era almost every telephone customer was on a party line. Thus if you texted your sister in Pomona about your lumbago, teleprinters in a dozen or more offices or homes near her might also clatter to life. Because of this weakness, the optimistic 1885 article predicted tens of thousands of new telegraph offices would pop up all over the country to send and receive these texts.

But the telephone endured despite its limitations, and the very idea of it continued to fire imaginations. So exotic was the telephone that scores of paper startups called themselves the “telephone” – the closest to us were in Sausalito and Eureka, but there Daily Telephones and Evening Telephones all over the country. A Santa Rosa barber shop in 1885 even offered a free “Telephone bath” with every haircut; what that meant is a mystery, but on Facebook author Elissa DeCaro guessed it could have meant rinsing off with a handheld bathtub attachment. (The “New Orleans Rub” is also a puzzle, but probably was not naughty at all, sorry.)

A later version of the ad mentions, “A Telephone bath or a New Orleans Rub without extra charge. Hair tonic for sale warranted to cure dandruff and all skin diseases”

 

…Recently some very interesting experiments have been tried on the wires in communicating musical sounds. An instrument called the telephone has been invented, which transmits directly the pitch of a sound to a distant station so that, for instance, when an operator at one end of a wire sings or plays any tune on it it will be heard and distinguished plainly at the other…

– Sonoma Democrat, November 20 1869

It is related that deaf persons, who have great difficulty in nearing ordinary speech, find that by applying the telephone close to the ear they can hear even a whisper with distinctness.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 27 1878

Telephone.—Preparations are making to place several cities in telephonic connection with San Francisco on the event of the grand concert to be given in that city in the near future, that other people may have the benefit of the music without the expense of a trip, in addition to the price of a ticket. Why not Santa Rosa be favored in a similar manner? If Sacramento can hear and enjoy the sweet sounds by means of the telephone, why not Santa Rosa?

– Sonoma Democrat, May 4 1878

 

The Telephone.

Yes, we have seen and heard it, and now propose to tell all about it…We were invited to take a seat by a table, on which was a box about the size of a candle box with a lot of loose wire and other things in it. We at once concluded that this must be the telephone, and having determined before we reached the office to act just as though we had been familiar with such instruments all our lives, we pounced into the chair, and placing our ear just over the loose wire above spoken of, were prepared to hear anything that might be passing. Pretty soon we heard a commotion among the wires and a voice that sounded something like a little boy speaking from under a bed cover. It said look out for news from Santa Rosa, and it came about as follows: Major Clark has quit swearing, taken out a license to preach, and will in a few days be married to one of the belles of Santa Rosa (We wanted to congratulate the Major, but the news kept coming.) Mr. Bridge Williams has become a ranting Democrat, and is giving Col. Byington and his former Republican friends particular thunder for their obstinacy in trying to bolster up a broken down party. (We thought, can dose dings be drue? [sic] But on the news came.)…

… Here Mr. Bayly chipped in, and asked us if we were asleep. We said, no but were receiving some wonderful news from Santa Rosa by the telephone. “Telemischief,” said he; “that is our waste box and we get no reliable news from that. Come this way, sir, and I will show you the America speaking telephone.” We found it to be a little oblong box about six inches in length by four in width and over an inch in thickness. This box having been connected with the wire the fun commenced. We were told to talk, and listen at the little bung hole at the side, in which was the vibrator. We confess to a little trepidation as we put the mysterious little box up to our ear, well remembering the the many times we had been deceived by finding in nice boxes ugly jumping jacks, and not forgetting how that old waste box played us earlier in the evening. However, we listened and heard distinctly what was said by parties in the Santa Rosa office. The music of the flute and the flute and piano together was beautiful, and sounded as though it was but a short distance away…

– Petaluma Courier, May 9 1878

 

The Telephone Wonder.

We are indebted to Mr. P. Drake, manager of the telegraph offices in San Francisco, and to Mr. Doychert, of the telegraph office in this city, for the courtesies extended which enabled us to be present and enjoy the pleasure of an exchange of social courtesies with parties in Petaluma, sixteen miles distant, by means of one of those most wonderful human inventions, the telephone. To what extent are we being carried by this power of mind over matter? From the time that Franklin flrst bottled the lightnings from the clouds, what wonderful, awe-inspiring inventions have been brought forth to reduce the lightnings to subjection and render them subservient to the will of man. Morse came with his telegraph, and improvement after improvement followed, until now it spans a continent with its wires, and enables us to annihilate time itself in the transmission of news along its wires through the unfathomed waters of the mighty deep from the eastern to the western, and from the western to the eastern shores of a great ocean. And now comes yet another wonder in the telephone, by which we are enabled to converse, not in character, or simply by sound, but by words actually spoken, which fall upon the ear with a distinctness that satisfies the doubts of the most skeptical.

Mr. Drake brought telephonic instruments to our city with him on Saturday evening, 4th inst., and a trial of their powers was made between the railroad depot and the telegraph office in this city, a distance of about a half mile, with but imperfect success. But Sunday evening communication was opened with Petaluma, sixteen miles distant, with the most perfect success. Conversations and music on flute and piano were distinctly heard at either end, and duly applauded by the clapping of hands, which was listened to with delight on the part of those present. The Mocking Bird, played upon the flute by Mr. Felix Brown, of Santa Rosa, was distinctly heard, recognized and encored by those listening in Petaluma; and the playing of a flute and singing and whistling in Petaluma were distinctly heard and applauded in Santa Rosa. Mr. A. E. Shattuck on the piano, accompanied by Mr. Brown, on the flute, were distinctly heard in Petaluma, and requested to repeat time and time again. In order to test more fully the powers of the wonderful instrument, we were told to read a piece of poetry. In compliance we recited a few lines from that beautiful and affecting poem, “Mary had a Little Lamb,” etc., with a concluding, “How is that for high?” and were gracefully complimented with the response coming back distinctly, “Way up!” These tests were continued for full two hours, when good nights were spoken, and the wonderful machine was disconnected from the wires and all parties retired for the night. We hope in the near future to be able to be present at a test between San Francisco and Santa Rosa. If this wonderful machine will transmit words distinctly sixteen miles, why not at a distance of fifty miles; and if at a distance of fifty miles, why may we not annihilate space and have a direct talk with the Emperor of China relative to the speedy removal of his Celestial subjects from the confines of the golden State? The rushing, pushing, traveling American, has already a world-wide reputation as a talkist. What will be the result when he enters the field fully equipped with telephone and phonograph? (The fact is, we shall be able to talk the stone Sphinx into a perspiration and make him shake his head in wonderment.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 11 1878

…The telephone of which I spoke in my laat letter is now up, and has been in successful operation during the past week between here and Geyserville. This morning connection was made to Cloverdaie and and as there is a telepone from there to the Geysers, we are in speaking distance of those springs. Every word spoken at Geyserville or Cloverdaie is as distinctly heard in the office here as if the persona were in the same room carrying on a conversation.

– Sonoma Democrat letter from Skaggs Springs, July 19 1879

…Those of your readers who have to cross Russian River by the ferry, near its mouth, will be glad to learn that a very good telephone has been placed there. When they come to the river bank, a call, in a natural tone of voice, is instantly heard in and answered from the hotel opposite. Just how much unnecessary yelling—and swearing, too—this arrangement saves, will be known and appreciated by persons living up the coast.

– Sonoma Democrat  letter from Russian River Ferry, April 24 1880

Van Alstine & Swanton, who have put up several of Parshley telephone lines in Petaluma, came up Friday, to put up a line to connect Ludwig’s business office with his lumber yard, but had to postpone the matter in consequence of bad weather. They will return as soon as it clears up, when an opportunity will be given all who wish, to avail themselves of this great convenience.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 1 1883

Hello! San Francisco. — Mr. T. J. Gallagher, agent for the Sunset Telephone Company is in this city for the purpose of ascertaining the feasibility of establishing telephonic communication under the auspices of the company he represents. This company has just completed a circuit which includes Sacramento, San Jose, Stockton, Vallejo, and all the adjacent town and villages with the metropolis, and they expect to connect Santa Rosa, with the same general system. Mr. Gallagher has met with great encouragement in Petaluma, and does not doubt that he will secure the requisite number of subscribers here to justify the company in establishing itself here. There is no doubt that the presence of a system of telephones, both here and in connection with San Francisco, would be a great convenience.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 22 1884

The sum of $400 has been raised to construct the telephone line between this city and Sebastopol. The estimated cost is $600.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 22 1884

The Telephone. — The right of way has been secured for the telephone line between here and San Francisco, and the wire will be placed between here and Petaluma in the course of a few weeks. The cable to extend from San Francisco to Point Tiburon is being manufactured. It is expected that by the time the cable is completed, the wire will be up from here to Point Tiburon, and it will only be a month or two until residents here can “hello” to friends and acquaintances in San Francisco or Petaluma.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 26 1884

Messrs. Lawrence and Delaney, of the Telephone Company, are in town, and report that companies of men are at work in three places on the line–one between this city and Petaluma, another between San Rafael and Petaluma, and the third between San Rafael and Point Tiburon. The line between here and Petaluma will be in working order in two weeks. When the line is completed, the cable will be ready and laid, from Point Tiburon to San Francisco. It will contain seven wires, and will be similar in all respects to the one which now connects San Francisco with Oakland.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 14 1884

Hello, Petaluma! The wires for the telephone are being attached to the poles, which are all in position, and it is thought that we can talk with our neighbors this week.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 28 1884

A telephone message to the Democrat, dated Sacramento, January 20th, says: The Republican caucus met to-night and nominated Governor Stanford for United States Senator on the second ballot.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 24 1885
 
ANOTHER TRIUMPH. TELEGRAPHY REVOLUTIONIZED AND THE TELEPHONE SUPPLANTED.
Any One Capable of Manipulating a Typewriter May Easily Transmit and Receive Messages Over a Telegraph Wire—Details. [New York World.]

A new application of electric science has been made here that promises to go far toward revolutionizing telegraphy and supplanting the telephone in popular favor. It is nothing less than the discovery of means by which anybody capable of manipulating an ordinary type-writing machine may, with equal ease, rapidity, and precision, send and receive messages over a telegraphic wire. Should this invention do all that is claimed for it, and, indeed, that it seems fully capable of, there seems to be no good reason why the places of expert Morse telegraphers may not be filled everywhere by girls, clerks, expressmen, station agents and other non-experts, so at once reducing greatly to the public the cost of telegraphy and increasing facilities by the establishment of at least 40,000 new telegraph offices throughout the country in places where they have not heretofore been. For reasons best known to the company controlling this most important invention its operations have until now been kept a secret. The office and operating rooms, have been carefully guarded against reporters and the men interested have been as closemouthed as if it had been a political mystery instead of a step in progressive science that they were concealing. However, the writer found means to be present at a series of exceedingly interesting tests of the practicability of the new system, which constituted an entirely private exhibition.

The distinguishing features of the new system, are the entirely novel transmitter and receiver employed. Those two instruments although put near together here upon a table, have between them about a hundred miles of ordinary telegraph wire coiled about the room, through which their connection is made. In point of fact the transmitter and the receiver are exactly alike, the same machine serving for either use as required. Its front is almost the same as the keyboard of a caligraph or typewriter, the letters of the alphabet and the numerals are in high relief. Behind this is a vertical column, around which blank paper is placed and by a simple mechanical device moved up line by line as desired. The paper almost touches the lettered face of the wheel. A small inking roller governed by a spring supplies color to the lettered wheel. Inside the column is a small hammer that strikes the paper against whatever letter may be directly before it and so prints it upon the surface of the paper. All that seems simple enough.

The mystery is below, in the intricate and delicate electrical attachments which variously graduated currents are led over the thirty-eight or forty wires from the keys to the printing apparatus, and at the same time to a connected instrument far away to record both simultaneously and with perfect accuracy on every key that is struck. The wire connecting the instrument is single, but those graduated currents not only pass along it without confusion, but even meet in opposite directions at the same time. This was fully demonstrated in the tests. The touching of a key instantly produced a letter upon the paper of both instruments, and letter after letter followed as rapidly as a skillful type-writer operator could touch the keys until many messages had been exchanged. It was observed that the wheels, when retrogression in the order of the alphabet was necessitated, whirled clear back to a fixed point each time, as the wheel of a “gold and stock indicator” instrument does, but it moved with much greater rapidity and so little affected transmission that forty to fifty words per minute were easily sent by a person who was not at all an expert, and received automatically at the other end of the line without errors.

One of the gentlemen connected with the new enterprise–one, by the way, of high standing as a practical electrician–said concerning the novel invention: “The distinctive advantages claimed by this system overall other telegraphic, telephonic and typewriting instruments are in its simple and inexpensive construction and the ease of operating it. Any person who can read can transmit and receive messages through it as correctly as could the most experienced expert Morse instrument. It is as rapid as it is accurate, and all messages by it being automatically printed, both at the point of transmission and that of reception, they can be received with safety and reliability in the absence as well as to the presence of the recipient. The recording of messages at both points precludes all questions of errors in transmission. It cannot be read by sound, and is consequently the only method for preserving privacy in electrical communication. It is at once a stock indicator, telephone, and type-printing telegraph. For railroad and express companies, bankers, brokers, marchants, and all commercial purposes—it being adjustable to any system of wire communication and capable of working with any number of tributaries—it is of inestimable value. It is not a verbal telephone, but will supersede that instrument by silently and rapidly recording all messages upon paper. There are no formidable complications in its construction, and it is regarded by expert electricians as a wonderful achievement.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 6 1885
New Telephone Line.

The work of constructing the telephone lines between this city and Sonoma via Glen Ellen will be begin in about thirty days. The enterprise was subscribed to liberally by the citizens of Sonoma and Glen Ellen.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 24 1886

 

Hello, Eureka!

The Sunset Telephone Company is preparing to extend its line clear through from Santa Rosa to Eureka. The poles are heieg rapidly gotten out and the line will Iw* speedily completed. The connection with Eureka will greatly enlarge the telephone business at the Santa Rosa exchange, The Eureka station has 400 subscribers and all their San Francisco business will have to be handled through the Santa Rosa station, which manages all the territory north of Petaluma.

– Press Democrat,  April 23 1898

 

The New Telephone Directory

Telephone subscribers will today receive a new directory card and will find It very useful. The new directory gives the names and “numbers” of every subscriber, together with the names of the agents and’ the public stations in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. During the past year communication by telephone has been greatly increased in both counties, until now almost every place in both counties, in town and hamlet, or neither, there is a telephone station. The efficient manager of this district is J. J. Barricklo of this city. The past year has been a very busy one for him.

– Press Democrat, December 29 1900

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SANTA ROSA IN THE YEAR 3000

Spoiler alert: This may be the craziest thing you’ll ever read and stranger still, its author was one of the most notable men ever to live in Santa Rosa.

(Above: Detail of Aviation magazine cover, April 1910, slightly modified)

“Santa Rosa in the Year Three Thousand–Looking Back Ten Centuries” appeared in the Press Democrat a few weeks before Christmas, 1913 and is transcribed below. Here’s a summary of what he predicted:

Around the year 1925 Sonoma county built a canal connecting the Russian river to the Petaluma river, through the Laguna, Mark West and Santa Rosa creeks. It was big enough to handle the largest ocean steamships which was a good thing because about 2700 the entire Pacific ocean seabed rose up in the “great upheaval” and capped the Golden Gate. All of this new land became part of the United States (of course) and all commerce and travel with Asia went through the Sonoma canal to the mighty river that formed and stretched all the way to China. By then, Santa Rosa was not only a major seaport but when the Queen of the East visited here as a guest of the Santa Rosa Improvement Club she declared it a great and beautiful city. An election was held in 2905 and Santa Rosa was chosen as the nation’s new capitol, to be built on Taylor mountain after it was graded down to an elevated plateau.

The great legacy of the early 1900s lived on. On the capitol grounds was a statue of Luther Burbank, the renowned scientist who revolutionized the vegetable and plant life. A mathematician at Sweet’s business college, one of the leading institutions of the country, invented a new form of math or physics or something.

A great Santa Rosa scientist discovered it was light, not gravitational forces that binds the universe together. Engineers were able to harness the mysterious, invisible force emanating from the sun and soon everyone was flying around in a light powered “palada,” which could travel nearly the speed of light. A Santa Rosa adventurer tried to go to the moon in a palada, but failing he made the journey around the world. He was gone about three days.

It’s difficult to know what to make of this. Edward Bellamy’s 1888 novel “Looking Backward” was a great success and created a new genre of fiction mixed with philosophy for predicting the future, as found in the dozens of books and articles which appeared in following years asserting human culture would become extremely utopian or dystopian if some current trend(s) continued. In those cases, the authors were always were trying to drive home a specific idea; here, there’s no point at all except “yay, Santa Rosa,” maybe. These future histories are also great opportunities for biting wit, commenting on the “backward” present day conditions; you can comb through all 1,800 words in this essay and not fear being bitten, unless one counts the passing observation it took until the year 2950 for Santa Rosa to create a public park.

Keeping a scorecard of the prediction accuracy in these early examples of science fiction is always fun. No, there was never a canal built between the Russian and Petaluma rivers, but there was talk the previous year of cutting a channel through the Laguna (see following article). Here the author did get solar power right (sort of) and may have been inspired by a presentation in Santa Rosa a few years earlier that demonstrated gee-whiz gadgetry including a little motor powered by a photovoltaic cell. That lecture was also in the form of a look back from the future, titled “In the Year 2000.”

No, instead of those serious works, this essay more resembles the Sunday newspaper cartoons of the day such as The Kin-Der-Kids or Little Nemo, where silly and fantastical things happen for no particular reason. Nemo’s Slumberland even likewise had a queen and the story of the guy who was sidetracked on his way to the moon sounds exactly like a plot from those funny pages – although sans cartoons, there’s nothing particularly amusing about someone changing course.

So who wrote this not-funny comic scenario and pointless future history?

The author was John Tyler Campbell, who was a big deal in Santa Rosa almost from the moment he arrived about 140 years ago. He was elected city attorney a year later, in 1875, and also became the county’s assistant D.A. He ran for the state assembly as a member of the “New Constitution party” – a small and short-lived political group that vowed full support of the controversial new state constitution which was narrowly approved in 1879. He served two terms in the assembly, being speaker of the house for part of that time.

Next came a diplomatic career; he was off to New Zealand to become the American consul, followed by appointment as consul to the Chinese cities of Fuzhou and Tientsin. In an unusual arrangement with the U. S. government, he also served as consul for Germany while in China. Back in America in the 1890s he lectured about China and the Chinese people; it would be interesting to learn what he thought, as the state constitution he once ardently supported was in large part meant to deny the Chinese who were here their basic rights.

Although he was usually referred to as “Judge Campbell” no history shows he actually presided over any court in California (his son was a Sonoma County Superior Court judge, however). He served on the committees that framed two city charters for Santa Rosa: 1876 and 1904, joined in the later one by his friend James Wyatt Oates – Campbell attended the Oates’ housewarming party (at what would become known as Comstock House) in 1905, then a decade later was an honorary pallbearer at Oates’ funeral. They were both respected attorneys but out of step with Santa Rosa’s lingering pro-Confederacy, “Old South” political leanings. Campbell, who grew up in the slave-holding part of Missouri, rushed to join the Union at the outbreak of the Civil War and rose to the rank of captain.

Campbell often contributed stories to magazines and newspapers according to profiles in the county histories, although this is the only one currently found. In 1906 he completed writing a book about dueling (!) but the manuscript, along with his other papers, were destroyed in his downtown office during the great earthquake and fire.

One wonders why the Press Democrat agreed to publish this odd essay when it could only serve to damage Campbell’s esteemed name. It appears unedited; the nutty ending about the Queen of the East and paragraphs about Atlantis and the Tower of Babel were apropos of nothing and should have been red-penciled out. The typeset article was clearly not proofread as it is rife with typos, which was unusual for the PD. Perhaps editor Ernest Finley, who could nurse a grudge for decades, disliked Campbell as much as he hated his friend Oates and was glad for the chance to embarrass the old man. Campbell was 73 when this essay was published and lived until 1935, dying at 94.

MIDDLE: Detail of 1912 portrait of John Tyler Campbell, courtesy Sonoma County Library
BOTTOM: Detail of 1902 drawing by Albert Robida predicting the year 2000

Santa Rosa in the Year Three Thousand–Looking Back Ten Centuries

The year two thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine is gliding away and will take its place with the past. It soon will be numbered with the things that were “a schoolboy’s tale, the wander of the hour.”

The year three thousand is near the door and Father Time will introduce her to the coming ages. She will be received with happy smiles and glorious expectations. At the threshold of the coming year let us recount some of the most striking events of the past ages.

The Tower of Babel

The confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel, as recorded in the Book of Books, gave to the world the varied languages used by the human race. At the time it came suddenly and without warning, and it is difficult to full realize the great confusion and entanglement that came to the workers on the great tower.

Atlantis

Away back in the dim past the continent of Atlantis was suddenly engulfed, completely swallowed up and became lost to the world. Then in its place appeared the Atlantic ocean. Milton wrote “Paradise Lost” but he afterwards wrote “Paradise Regained,” a similitude for the lost continent Atlantis was followed by a continent regained in the Pacific ocean. Less than three hundred years ago a great upheaval occurred in the Pacific ocean and a new continent was thrown up along the west coast of North America, and it extended out westerly in the Pacific ocean more than two thousand miles, but it became contiguous territory attached to the west side of the continent of North America, and after these years it cannot be determined where the old land ends and the new continent begins. The upheaval that gave to the United States and so it remains to this day.

Following the upheaval the progress of the country surpassed all dreams and all expectations. River of the old continent forced themselves over the new territory and out to the Pacific ocean. Fruits and vegetation and in fact all products of the soil, grew in the greatest profusion and the greatest abundance. The horn of plenty poured its wealth out in the new territory. Immigration flocked in from all over the world and soon great cities, towns, and villages sprung up everywhere. Mills and factories were constantly in motion and the hand of industry brought in a constant stream of gold. In the hundred years following the acquisition of the new land America had more wealth than all Europe put together. The population far exceeded all Europe. About this time the name “United States of America” was changed to “Columbia.” This was done in honor of the great discoverer, and it is the name it should have had all the time.

Santa Rosa, the Capital City

The capital of the country had always been in Washington City, but it became in time far from the center of population. So about the year two thousand nine hundred and five Congress submitted the question of the removal of the capital to a vote of the people. A number of well located and populous cities entered the race, but when the election was over and the votes were counted it was found that Santa Rosa, California, had won the capital. People who had given the matter consideration were not surprised. At the time of the voting Santa Rosa had become one of the largest and most attractive cities in the world. Its population was nearly a million.

Away back to about the year nineteen hundred and twenty-five, the County of Sonoma constructed a canal from the mouth of [the] Russian river, through Russian river, the Laguna, Mark West and Santa Rosa creeks, thence on to Petaluma creek, thus connecting the waters of the ocean through to San Francisco bay, and the largest ocean steamers passed through the canal. The canal was a simple matter for nature had almost made it, and it required but little extra work to send the waters of the ocean through Sonoma county.

When the great upheaval came and closed up the [Golden Gate] the Sacramento river passed its way through Petaluma creek and through the Sonoma county canal out to where was once the Pacific ocean, and thence it continued to cut its way through the new-made ground of the new continent to the Pacific ocean, now well over to China. The commerce of the world entered the Sacramento river at its mouth near the continent of Asia, and in time came to be one of the greatest and most important rivers in the world.

Santa Rosa has been the capital of the republic for nearly a hundred years. In all of these years it has been the county seat of Sonoma county, and its importance as one of the great cities of the world is a sufficient justification for giving some of the leading events of its history.

Occurrences in the Past

Back in the twentieth century Santa Rosa was the home of the renowned scientist, Luther Burbank, conspicuous in history as the man who revolutionized the vegetable and plant life. He not only changed existing products of the soil and doubled their size, but he greatly increased the variety and quantity of the necessaries and luxuries of life. His productions were superior to any ever known before, and hence they were eagerly sought for by the people over the world. It is impossible to overestimate the great benefit realized by humanity from the Burbank productions. His statue has a conspicuous place in the great hall of fame in the capital grounds in this city.

The Power of Light

The theory that motion counteracts the laws of gravity and keeps the heavily bodies in their orbits in the revolutions had always been accepted as true. The law of gravitation is the tendency of all bodies toward the center of the earth. If motion were to cease the bodies obeying the law of gravity would all fall together in a crash. About fifty years ago Prof. Herr von de Reido of Santa Rosa, after long investigation, made the assertion that light and not motion kept the heavily bodies in their orbits–that light counteracted the law of gravity. It was twenty-five years before his discovery was accepted as true.

The sun is the center of the universe and there is a mysterious, invisible force emanating from the sun, and by the means of machinery and appliances this force is now conserved and used in propelling airships and other contrivances used for transportation. The palada is the vehicle for transportation of people or freight now in general use, and the motor power that propels it is light. Travel is now almost entirely in the air, and the palada is made for one person or for any number of persons. It is easily set in motion and its speed can be increased almost to the velocity of light. It is also used for freighting and for running all kinds of machinery.

In the days of Jules Verne, Phineas Fogg went around the world in eighty days. Hans Patrick Le Conor of Santa Rosa, filled with adventure, tried to go to the moon in a palada, but failing he made the journey around the world. He was gone about three days.

When Santa Rosa won the capitol, Taylor mountain was selected as its site. The capital grounds contain one thousand acres and were graded down to an elevated plateau by machinery propelled by the power of light, and the work was done in the short space of thirty days. Under the old system it would have required ten years.

The grounds are ornamented with the Burbank productions and are the most beautiful in the world. They surpass in grandeur and loveliness the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The capitol is the most picturesque building in the world.

Another New Discovery

The universe is too vast for the humanmind to grasp, or to comprehend. There are stars so far away from the earth that it would take a million years for them to reach the earth even if they traveled with the velocity of light, which is one hundred and ninety-two thousand miles per second. An eminent astronomer had published that the rays of light from the star Nova Geronimo started to the earth the same year that the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in sixteen hundred and ten, and although they had been over three hundred years speeding toward the earth they have not reached their destination, and the problem as to the length of time required was considered in the well known commercial college established by Prof. J. S. Sweet of Santa Rosa, then as it is now, one of the leading institution of the country. One of the students in the college, Alamon del Marsoni, a born mathematician, undertook to figure out the problem, but after many months of constant work he gave up, but he made a new discovery in figures, and with the new principle which he had worked out he was enabled in a few minutes to give the true answer to the problem. Under the new theory any problem of mathematical question can be unerringly worked out with one-tenth the figures and in one-tenth of the time required under the old system. The new theory is now universally accepted.

The Famous City

The fame of Santa Rosa as a great and beautiful city spread over the world, and people of taste and culture came from everywhere to see it.

The Queen of the East, the lineal successor of the Queen of Sheba of King Solomon’s time, was one of the number who came to the great and beautiful city of Santa Rosa, and she viewed the city and gave forth the following words: “It was indeed a true report which I heard in mine own land. Howbeit, I believed not the words until I came and mine eyes had seen it and behold, the half was not told me.”

The queen while in Santa Rosa was the guest of the Santa Rosa Improvement Club, the oldest club in the State, having had a continuous existence for more than a thousand years, and during a great part of that time had faithfully and diligently worked for a public park in Santa Rosa, and fifty years ago victory crowned their long, faithful service. They actually acquired the park and dedicated it to the city forever.

The Queen of the East said goodbye to the thousands of people who gathered about her, and in a moment of time she and her train of paladas disappeared over the Sierras and were lost to view.

Conclusion

The world is nearer perfection tan ever before. It has been one hundred and fifty years since the last war, and when it closed the gates of Mars were shut and they have remained closed ever since. The reign of the Prince of Peace is universal and eternal.

– Press Democrat, December 7, 1913

 

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THE FUTURE PROJECTED

Here’s everyday life in the near future, according to the 1912-1913 Santa Rosa newspapers: Someone in your family might go to the theater after supper to catch the latest blockbuster, but the rest of you will probably watch a movie or something in the living room. As a special treat there may be an occasional trip to San Francisco to see a much-hyped film only playing in certain theaters because it required special movie equipment, which made the audience feel the movie was almost real.

That may not seem much different from today, except: The movie at the local theater would be black and white but have sound synchronized from a recorded cylinder. Being watched at home would be a silent, flickering image shown by a hand-cranked machine. And what made the movie in San Francisco worth the trip was it being in color, made possible by the theater having a special color projector.

There were several methods of adding color or sound to movies in the early 1900s, but this isn’t cinema technology history 101; the topic here is limited to what was mentioned in the local papers, and in the spring of 1912 the excitement in Santa Rosa was the opportunity to see movies in “natural color.”

(Your obl. Believe-it-or-Not! factoid: 1912 was also the year when the word “movie” first appeared in the papers, and it was almost always used in quotes to show it was slang. The origin of the word is unclear, but the first use I can find is in a 1911 Central Valley newspaper where it was mentioned as being coined by “a bright El Centro youngster.”)

“Kinemacolor” movies were quite the rage that season; the Cort theater in San Francisco sold out for a month (including most matinees) with a three hour Kinemacolor spectacular showing the pageantry of the coronation of King Edward VII as emperor of India. The film itself was 150 minutes – the longest movie produced up to then – with the show padded out with a live speaker and “orchestra rendering Oriental melodies” (a fragment can be seen here). Also produced were Kinemacolor travelogues along with hundreds of short comedies and melodramas with titles like, “Dandy Dick of Bishopsgate” and “Detective Henry and the Paris Apaches.” In New York J. P. Morgan’s daughter threw herself a party showing Kinemacolor home movies of the hostess colorfully prancing around the family’s Italian villa. Editors at both Santa Rosa papers were clearly excited such a high-falutin’ event was coming to town – and it would be free admission, too!

The Kinemacolor films were shown in the Native Sons of the Golden West ballroom (that impressive red brick building which still stands at 404 Mendocino Avenue). The big Columbia theater in town couldn’t be used because a special Kinemacolor projector was required. The film – which ran through the projector at twice the speed as normal – was still black and white, but alternating frames were captured through a red or green filter and the projector had a synchronized red and green color wheel. More about the process is explained in a BBC documentary (the five minute section on Kinemacolor begins at 13:23) and in a video showing how the frames were merged. The result is awful; when there is any movement onscreen red or green fringing follows like a ghost. How anyone could watch such a thing for more than a couple of minutes without suffering a ripping headache is a mystery, as is why Kinemacolor was widely praised for its “natural color.”

But even if the color effect was far from perfect (far, far, far away) at least it was a free evening at the movies; perhaps there would be scenes from exotic lands or an exciting yarn about those “Paris Apaches.”

“There were pictures, true to life in color, of aeroplane flights, of automobiles busy about the factory,” promised an ad disguised as a Press Democrat news item. “Views showed the process of molding brass castings. The lighted furnaces and the men pouring the metal made the scenes seem real. They showed improved machinery turning out its products. Then there were views of the men and women at work, and leaving the factory.” As exciting as it might be to watch factory workers shuffling home at the end of their shift, the movie was actually an industrial film produced by a company to sell cash registers. “All the residents of Santa Rosa, especially the business men, are invited,” chirped the advertisement.

Okay, so maybe color movies with actual entertainment weren’t in Santa Rosa’s immediate future – at least there would soon be sound movies in the theaters and films to watch at home…right?

The movie projectors mentioned for home and local theater were versions of Edison “Kinetophones,” which were also called Phonokinetoscopes and Kinetoscopes, the latter also being Edison’s name for the peep show cabinet he had introduced twenty years earlier (old Thomas Edison may have been a maniac for inventing things, but he certainly fizzled when it came to naming them).

Like many papers nationwide, the Press Democrat in January 1913 ran a front page story on Edison’s announcement that he was about to revolutionize the entertainment industry. Where there had been earlier gizmos which played music on a phonograph while a movie was shown (including some of Edison’s peep-show boxes), his Kinetophone “delivers at the exact instant of occurrence on the film any sound made at the moment such action took place. Every word uttered by the actors is recorded and delivered in time with the action,” Edison boasted. A segment of the short sound film made to introduce the system can be viewed on YouTube and it’s still impressive to watch, once you keep in mind it is over a century old.

Edison should have ended the press conference with the demo; regrettably, he went on to say that thanks to his Kinetophone, performers would no longer have to tour – they could make “talkies” at the studios, which would probably be located in New York. “Entire operas will be rendered,” Edison told reporters. “Small towns, whose yearly taxes would not pay for three performances of the Metropolitan Opera company, can see and hear the greatest stars in the world for 10 cents.” The press twisted those egalitarian visions into a doomsday prophecy. “EDISON SEE FINISH FOR STAGE” was the PD headline, and the San Francisco Call warned the Kinetophone “Will End ‘Legitimate’ Careers.”

“Legitimate” performers soon discovered they had nothing to fear (although you gotta love how the SF Call put the word between cynical quotes). It may have worked flawlessly with engineers back in the lab, but real projectionists in real theaters struggled to keep the record and film in synchronization and often failed. Having never seen such a screwup before, audiences howled. Remember the end of “Singing in the Rain”?

But even at its best, Edison’s Kinetophone was a not-ready-for-primetime invention. Sound was recorded on large Edison cylinders which offered six minutes of playback (instead of the usual four) so forget the option of watching those entire operas Edison promised – most of the Kinetophone productions were of vaudeville acts. As the amplified loudspeaker was still years away, sound came out of a big metal horn behind the screen, making dialog hard to hear in all but the smallest theaters; one of the most popular Edison films was a comedy where two characters thought the other was deaf, causing the pair to continually shout at each other.

The Kinetophone wasn’t the only half-baked Edison invention Santa Rosa learned about in 1913. Just a few days before the Kinetophone announcement, the front page of the Press Democrat displayed the ad at right for the “Edison Home Kinetoscope.” It had no sound because there was no ability for it to synch with a phonograph, but it could show a film nearly twice as long as a Kinetophone, thanks to the bizarre, non-standard film it required.

Although the arc lamp was electric, the person standing in the silhouette was turning a crank which advanced film containing three streams of images side-by-side. The person acting as the, um, designated cranker, turned it one direction until the film stopped after about six minutes; the film gate was then shifted to the middle position and the projectionist cranked backwards – the images on the middle strip of film were printed in reverse. After another six minutes the film stopped again and the film gate was shifted to its final position, with the machine to be cranked forward. A photo of this ingenious layout can be seen here.

The ad proclaimed it was “not a toy,” but despite the high price (it cost up to $100, or about $2,500 in today’s dollars) it really couldn’t be taken seriously, either. Each image on the film was merely about 6mm wide so resolution wasn’t nearly as good as a 35mm film shown in a theater; nor was there pin registration to pause the film for a fraction of a second while it is being projected, resulting in vertical “motion blur.” And although the owner’s manual claimed it could throw an image thirty feet and a promotional photo shows a bright, clear image at about half that distance, the low resolution images and teensy arc lamp (with no reflector, either) meant that 3-4 feet was probably all that was practical.

As the Press Democrat ad noted, Home Kinetoscope owners could watch the same movies as were being shown in theaters – limited, of course, to titles produced by Edison’s studio. About 250 were listed (amazingly, copies of most still survive) and sold at prices from $2.50 to $20. A service was available to exchange your boring old films for others by mail, using pre-paid coupons purchased from dealerships such as the one on Fourth street.

The Home Kinetoscope was a flop, with only about 500 sold in the U.S. Nor did the sound Kinetophone system last very long; Edison and his staff continued tinkering with it for the next two years and in 1914 a magazine wrote, “Mr. Edison is at work now on some vital problem dealing with the synchronism effect and has promised that the day is near when the world’s greatest singers will be heard in grand opera scenes, with voice and action concretely reproduced.” But when a fire later that year swept through Edison’s West Orange, New Jersey complex and destroyed all Kinetophone negatives, Edison created no further talkies. Shortly after that he also discontinued making motion picture equipment of any kind, despite having ads running for a new, top-end theatrical “Super Kinetoscope.”

And at about the same time, the last Kinemacolor film was made. Public interest in the odd system still remained high; they were starting to produce feature films and much-desired footage of early WWI battlefields and armaments. But their undoing was their constant drumbeat about displaying “natural color.” A competitor challenged this on their patent claim and Kinemacolor lost, because it could not, in fact, display any form of the color blue.

MOVING SCENES IN NATURAL COLOR
Unique Entertainment Will Be Given Here on Monday Afternoon and Evening

Much interest is taken in the public moving picture entertainment that will be given at Native Sons’ Hall next Monday afternoon and night. The pictures will show the famous Kinemacolor process.

Kinemacolor, the new motion picture process in nature’s colors, is an English invention and was developed in all its details by an American. The process is fairly simple and somewhat similar to the three-color process in printing.

The camera taking the subject resembles the ordinary moving-picture camera, save that it operates at double the speed and interposes alternate red and green colored filters by means of a rapidly revolving wheel operated by a very nicely timed mechanical device, 1-32 or a second is devoted to the production of each picture, of which there are sixteen to the foot of film. This film is remarkably sensitive to the colors of nature, is produced by an American concern.

The films are developed in absolute [illegible microfilm]  reproduction of the colors on the screen, the picture made through the red filter is projected through a similar red filter, and the green picture through a green filter. These appear upon the screen 32 to the second, too rapidly for the eye to detect the color changes that take place. As a consequence, the colors blend harmoniously, giving the remarkable effects which you are about to witness.

120 feet of film moves through the delicately adjusted apparatus starting and stopping 1920 times in one minute. You can readily see from these figures that it would be absolutely impossible to hand color or tint this enormous quantity of film with such gorgeous hues as are shown by this marvelous process, Kinemacolor.

– Press Democrat, March 8, 1912
Rare Treat for Santa Rosans
Wonderful Moving Pictures Are Shown in Natural Colors At Business Show
THE FIRST TAKEN IN AMERICA

Scientists and photographers have worked for years on processes for photographing in Nature’s own colors. The solution of their problem has been found.

By the Kinemacolor process, moving pictures are now taken in colors and thrown on the screen with the motion and tints of actual life. The Kinemacolor film differs from other moving picture films in that it is not colored by hand nor by chemicals.

The first Kinemacolor pictures made in America were taken at the plant of the National Cash Register Company, Dayton, Ohio.

While A. J. Strayer, the local representative of that concern, was attending a business efficiency convention at the N. C. R. plant, he saw these pictures.

There were pictures, true to life in color, of aeroplane flights, of automobiles busy about the factory, of scenes at the N. C. R. Country Club, where baseball, tennis, running races, horseback riding and games are enjoyed Saturday afternoons during the summer.

Views showed the process of molding brass castings. The lighted furnaces and the men pouring the metal made the scenes seem real.

They showed improved machinery turning out its products.

Then there were views of the men and women at work, and leaving the factory.

Fireless locomotives drew their loads to and from the receiving and shipping platforms.

The green grass, the shrubbery and the vines clinging to the walls, made pictures in color which no artist could equal.

Mr. Strayer asked that the film be shown in this city at the earliest opportunity. His request was granted.

These beautiful pictures in natural colors will be shown in the Native Sons’ Hall, March 11th at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p. m.

All the residents of Santa Rosa, especially the business men, are invited to see these Kinemacolor views.

Admission free.

– advertisement in Press Democrat, March 8, 1912
NO ADMISSION TO SEE PICTURES
First Kinemacolor Entertainment Tonight

Everybody is invited to attend the lecture and exhibition of the Kinemacolor pictures at the Native Sons’ Hall this evening, and the entertainment is absolutely free. The pictures to be shown are the first to be taken by a new process of moving pictures, that show nature in all of her wonderful moods and colorings. Flowers are shown in their original tints without any hand coloring.

The lecture is delivered by H. C. Ernst, who arrived here on Monday with his operators of the moving pictures. A. H. Walker and E. C. Deveny.  included in the entertainment are many beautiful scenes of landscape gardening and suggestions for the beautification of homes, and the adornment of the exterior and interior of residences. The progress of the past twenty-five years in machinery is graphically shown, it being greater than all the progress of the ages preceding that time.

The reproduction of flowers and nature in the original colorings is the latest thing in the moving picture world and these pictures are the first to be taken and the first that have come to this city. They are interesting, educational and instructive, and should attract a crowded house to the Native Sons’ Hall this evening. No admission is charged, the expense being defrayed by the National Cash Register Company. Arthur J. Strayer is the local representative of the company, and he has arranged for the entertainment of the people of Santa Rosa by his company.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 11, 1912

EDISON SEE FINISH FOR STAGE
Says His New Invention, the Kinetophone, Will Put the Legitimate Actor Our of Business and Reduce Prices to Minimum

New York, Jan. 6–Thomas A. Edison, in an interview today declared that he believed the legitimate stage doomed as the result of the completion of his “Kinetophone.” The success of its operation in the last few days was such as to make him believe that the $2.00 theatre must give way to the cheaper show with the better talent. He was sure that there would be no more barnstorming companies. The inventor declared that not one out of fifty had the right to spend the price of a theatre ticket. He believes that the legitimate action must leave the stage as more money is to be made acting for the new machines.

– Press Democrat, January 7, 1913
COLUMBIA WILL PRESENT EDISON’S KINETOPHONE

Morris Meyerfeld, Jr., head of the Orpheum Circuit, announced Wednesday that the Orpheum and affiliated theatres have secured the American rights for Edison’s latest invention, the kinetophone, by which talking motion pictures are presented, and that it will be put simultaneously in all the playhouses of the circuit in about three weeks. The kinetophone recently was demonstrated successfully and promises to revolutionize the career if the stage profession in some respects through its ability to transmit not only the actions, but the voice of the performer. The inventor has declared it will result in the stars leaving the legitimate stage to work for the “movies.”

Manager Crone of the Columbia Amusement Company has arranged to have the kinetophone at one of his amusement houses in the near future, which will give the lovers of “movies” a chance to see this latest invention by Edison.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 20, 1913

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