Friday, May 02, 2008

The Mystery of Felt Lake

Oct. 3, 1907
Stanford University

Chester Silent was among the most promising young men of Delta Tau Delta at Stanford. The son of Judge Charles Silent and prominent in Los Angeles social circles, Silent, 22, had excelled in his studies and upon graduating with a law degree in the Class of 1907 had begun graduate work at Stanford and was expected to head to Harvard.

His fraternity brothers described him as being fairly quiet and reserved—at least among strangers. He didn’t drink or smoke and had little to do with women. His only health problem seemed to be his eyesight, which was so weak that his father wondered whether to let him return to Stanford. But after a summer of tramping around the family ranch in Glendora, Silent found that his vision was well enough that his father allowed him to go back.

A studious young man, Silent usually locked himself in his room to pore over his books and was always eager to help his fraternity brothers with their classes. At the same time, he could be boisterous and was the leader of the Deltas’ roughhousing.

“He would often come charging from his room after a long siege of study, with a series of whoops which were signals for a general uproar,” The Times said. “When studying he always locked himself in his room, but when at leisure he was the jolliest and gayest of companions. One of his favorite stunts was to mount a chair and deliver a series of odd spiels which never failed to convulse his hearers in laughter.”

On the weekends, Silent usually put on some old clothes, walked three miles from the Delta house to Felt Lake and hunted ducks, usually returning after dark.

And then on Sept. 20, 1907, he vanished. His fraternity brothers organized search parties and authorities as far as Los Angeles tried to track phantom sightings of the missing student.

There was nothing until fraternity brothers Walter H. Hill and Ross W. Harbaugh borrowed a boat to explore Felt Lake. Discovering that the boat leaked, the noticed another one floating near shore some distance away, and in examining it, found Silent’s body.

“The back of the skull and the left side of the face were blown off,” The Times said. Doctors examining the body decided that the fatal shotgun blast came from the left side below the face. No firearm was found.

Friends insisted that Silent had not been depressed when they last saw him and insisted he had no reason to commit suicide. His father said that Silent had just written a letter describing his progress at Stanford and his plans for the upcoming week. His father theorized that Silent might have lost his balance in stepping into the boat and accidentally discharged the shotgun.

In November, the sheriff drained the lake and found Silent’s double-barreled shotgun. Examination showed that the right chamber had misfired and the left chamber had discharged. The sheriff theorized that Silent had pulled the right trigger and when the shell misfired, examined the weapon, discharging the left barrel.

Silent was buried in Rosedale Cemetery.

Bonus fact: When Charles Silent subdivided his land near USC, he named it Chester Place.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Boy Genius

Nov. 8, 1907
Los Angeles

Mars F. Baumgardt is an interesting young man with an even more interesting project: a radio-controlled boat. Although many students’ projects are on display at the 30th Street School, including those of Mars’ brother Howard, it is the boat controlled by wireless telegraphy that interests The Times.

“As nearly as a layman in the rudiments of electricity can understand the proposition, the scheme is about as follows, in brief: The current sent to the boat by wireless is conveyed into a lower compartment, and is the means of setting a clock. This clock in turn moves two levels, sending the boat in a given direction,” The Times says.

Mars, 16, and Howard, 13, are the sons of B.R. Baumgardt, a noted scientist who was involved in establishing the Mt. Wilson Observatory. The entire basement of the Baumgardt home at 626 W. 30th St. has been turned over to the boys for a laboratory, The Times says, “their mother believing in allowing genius to have free swing.”

And what of Mars F. Baumgardt? A Proquest search turns up hundreds of later entries on the boy genius. In a few years, he was director of the W. A. Clark Jr. Observatory on West Adams and by the 1920s was a regular on radio station KHJ, discussing astronomy.

He was an optometrist by trade and an astronomer by avocation, as well as serving on the park commission in the 1930s. He died Nov. 25, 1950, at the age of 60. His brother Howard, below, a dentist, died in 1966 at the age of 71.

Bonus fact: His son, Mars F. Baumgardt Jr., was one of the backers of “Eraserhead.”

e-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

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Friday, May 04, 2007

New blog: The Daily Mirror

Check out The Daily Mirror.

It's right here

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Postcards From the Past

The Hotel Green, Pasadena

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Bridge

March 15, 2007
South Pasadena

Here’s the Gold Line, its passengers mercifully unaware that they are zipping along to Pasadena in the “Gorge of Eternal Peril” beneath “The Bridge of Death.”

Here’s a close-up of a patch made to fix one of the 1907 cracks in the bridge. And yes, the darn thing is still standing. Hm. Maybe I should call it “The Bridge of Hope” instead.

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

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In Which a Ghostly Visitor Returns

March 15, 2007
Los Angeles

“Well, dear boy, I suppose you thought you were through.”

“Yes, I did.”


“Good grief! Do you see this bridge over the Gold Line? It looks like it’s held up with hairpins and spit!”

“Saliva, dear boy. And what is the Gold Line?”

“Well, it’s sort of a streetcar, except it doesn’t run on the street.”

She leaned back in her ghostly chair. “And what did you think of our little year?”

“I was quite wrong, wasn’t I?”

She merely nodded.

“You could have at least told me.”

“Dear boy, you needed to find out for yourself.”

“OK, so there were movie theaters in Los Angeles.”


“And there were comics in the paper.”

“Little Nemo is one of my favorites.”

“I couldn’t believe all the domestic violence. Awful stuff.”

“It was terrible,” she said.

“And getting a divorce was so difficult.”

“That was horrible,” she said.

“And the rotten doctors, the fakes and charlatans, dirty restaurants, the drinking and alcoholism. The exploding gasoline stoves.”

“Well,” she said chidingly, “you didn’t write very much about people who were nice. You newspaper folks never do.”

“Most of all, we haven’t changed very much, have we? I mean, look at our problems with transportation... with sanitation... with growth... with housing... immigration... ethnic discrimination... education... polluting the ocean. A century later, the Police Department is still pleading for more officers. It’s the same story, with different details, that we had in 1947.”

“And why do you think that is?”

“Ma’am, that’s a short question with a long answer. You could tell me, couldn’t you?”

“I could.”

“But you’re not going to, because I have to figure it out for myself, is that it?”

She nodded.

“I’ll miss all of you so much.”

“You know where to find us,” she said.

“Was it a kinder, simpler time?” I asked.

“Maybe in some ways, but mostly no.” And then she paused for a moment. “Go take a picture of your bridge. It hasn’t fallen down yet, has it?”

“Nope, it’s still there. Or at least some bridge is still there.”

I didn’t know what else to say: “Thanks for everything.”

“You are most welcome. And thank you.”

And then she was gone.

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Celebrity Inteview

March 14, 1907
Los Angeles

Harry C. Carr, future author of “Los Angeles: City of Dreams,” visits Fely Dereyne, who is starring in the San Carlo Opera Company’s touring production of “Carmen.”

Accompanied by Times artist Harold R. Coffman, who sketched the singer, Carr conducted a backstage interview with Dereyne with the help of two opera company members who served as translators. As an interview, it is disjointed, poorly organized and frustratingly incomplete; the early work of a green but talented writer who is somewhat smitten with his subject. And yet it is fresh and immediate.

“Dereyne dutifully remarked that she didn’t study Carmen” as a character, Carr says.

“Just natural,” she said in French. “I am just like that myself.”

“Gee,” said the artist, uneasily, “have you really got a temper like that?”

“Sometimes,” she said, with dancing eyes.

“Well, then, I hope you like this picture.”

“Oh,” she said airily. “Sometimes I am ver—how do you call it? Ver’ nice.”

“Like the little girl that had the little curl?”

Dereyne looked troubled. “I don’ know zee ladee; who is she, please?”

“This was a great moment in Dereyne’s career,” Carr wrote. “She was about to learn the tragedy of the little girl who had a little curl. It took two newspapermen, an opera manager and a second tenor to do it.”

Dereyne, an incredibly obscure figure today, was described in The Times as “one of the best Carmens who has ever been seen upon the local stage, for with her vigor and vivacity she never loses sight of the vocal demands of the role. At all times she sings. Her stage work and byplay are constantly assertive.”

She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in November 1907 as Musetta in a performance of “La Boheme” with Geraldine Farrar and Enrico Caruso. Her last Met performance was in 1908 as Nedda in “Pagliacci.” After that she seems to have vanished from the stage.

And there you have it; a moment backstage in a theater (Philharmonic Auditorium) that is gone with people who are, except for Carr, entirely forgotten. That’s what I love about research.

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Farewell, Faithful Companion

Feb. 12, 1907

Don had rushed up San Juan Hill with the Rough Riders, fearless in the face of enemy fire. But he could not survive a speeding driver on the otherwise placid streets of Whittier.

A present from Teddy Roosevelt to Hamilton Fish, Don was the mascot of Company B of the Rough Riders. Don was given to Col. William Wallace. When Wallace died in Whittier, Don was given to Wallace’s physician, Dr. Hadley.

“Since that time the big dog had had the freedom of the Quaker town and had never walked through the streets without receiving much attention from small boys and girls to those of larger growth,” The Times says.

Death came from “a big touring car containing four persons, going around a corner at so high a speed that the old dog, which was walking quietly along, could not get out of its way.”

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

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