Saturday, May 06, 2006

Barney Oldfield's Green Dragon Blazes Through Los Angeles

What is it about Angelenos that as soon as you put them behind the wheel of a car, they want to see how fast it will go?

But it’s true. Great-grandpa was, in all likelihood, a speed demon and the old touring cars and horseless carriages that sputter down the street once a year in our Fourth of July parades seeming like frail survivors of the past were subjected to incredible punishment in what has to be the prenatal era of motor sports.

Unfortunately, the Southern California Timing Association (founded in 1937) and the National Hot Rod Association (founded in 1951 at the Tam O’Shanter in Glendale) were not available to record what the cars turned in the quarter-mile or their time in going from 0 to 60 mph during the May 4-5 auto races at Agricultural Park, roughly in the area of Exposition Park and the Coliseum, staged as a fundraiser for improving California’s roads.

(Actually, the time for 0-60 mph for most of the cars was: Never).

It’s a little difficult to determine the composition of the track, although it might well have been nothing more than 2-by-4s laid on edge over a heavy wooden framework, a method used on a racetrack in Venice about the same period. In fact, we don’t even know the names of all the drivers, just the make of their cars and how and when they broke down.

The 50-mile race, for cars selling in Los Angeles at $2,500 or more ($51,308.93 USD 2005), featured an Apperson owned by F.L. Hansen and driven by Wan Kuhl; a Cadillac driven by Lester Pattee; an Elmore with an unidentified driver; a Haynes with an unidentified driver; a Royal owned by Jim Morley and driven by Barney Oldfield; and a Thomas driven by J.R. Finletter.

Although racing taxed the engines (Oldfield snapped the crankshaft in an exhibition race with Bruno Seibel’s Red Devil), the most vulnerable part of these cars was their tires. Without a long detour into the less than thrilling subject of wheel technology, autos of this era were equipped with 30- to 34-inch tires and inner tubes on a demonic device known as the demountable rim—and if you don’t know what that is, consider yourself lucky.

The Times said: “Yesterday, two of the racing cars finished on bare rims, both on forward wheels. The drivers had to take the curves and pass other cars with no tire at all for several miles. The Cadillac’s tire came off in pieces, the fragments whipping past the driver with such viciousness that he and his mechanic had to drive the car from the off side, each reaching one arm across the car and holding the wheel.”

The winner of the 50-mile race was the Cadillac, at 66:30 (45.11 mph), followed by the Royal at 69:45 (43 mph); and the Elmore at 71:32 (41.93 mph). Many people in the grandstands, however, insisted that the Thomas had placed second, although its time was not recorded. Its top speed appears to have been 48 mph, finishing the first 5 miles in 6:13:25

Although the timing data is incomplete, the Cadillac achieved the following results:

The 25-mile point at 31:26:5 (47.70 mph); 30 miles at 37:48 (47.61 mph); and 35 miles at 44:09:5 (47.56 mph). Remember that some of these times were on steel rims.

In a five-mile race between the Bruno Seibel’s Red Devil and Harris Hanshue’s Reo Bird, Seibel averaged 58.63 mph, finishing in 5:07:25.

The top speed seems to have been reached by Oldfield, hitting 64.12 mph before a blown tire forced him to stop at the 7th mile of a 10-mile solo exhibition.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

The Shriners Ban Water Except for Bathing

Singing loud praises to Allah that strike a curious note in 2006, the special train of Shriners is flying across the Nevada desert brimming with Freemasons and their families pondering the ancient mystery: “What Makes the Wildcat Wild?”

The official communique from the Imperial Potentate reads:

“I send greetings and assurances that with the continued protection of Allah, the God of our Fathers and the Controller of our Destinies accompanied by a distinguished escort it will be my great pleasure to pitch the Imperial tent in the delightful Oasis of Al Malaikah Temple Sunday May 5.

“Word has been brought to me of the great welcome which the people of the Oasis of the Angels are preparing for us. My wise men have told me of the beauties of the sea, valley and mountain which will greet us at our pilgrimage’s end. The great Allah has so endorsed your Southland that our pathway will be bordered with trees and flowers of wondrous beauty.

“For this, all praise to Allah and for the festal days’ joy which are before us thanks to the faithful of the Southland.”

The Times notes that the Imperial Potentate has forbidden the use of water while crossing the desert, “consequently upon this edict comes the addition of two fully stocked commissary cars to the imperial train. Never in its history has Los Angeles had the opportunity of welcoming a more jovial party or one more interested in her feast of flowers than this one which is escorting its Imperial Potentate. When Owens River comes to Los Angeles, prohibition of water may be raised.”

The Imperial Potentate also warned all Shriners:

“Red fezzes of Shriners, visiting or home, are not good form in thirst parlors, shooting galleries, billiard parlors and other places to which the wearers would not take their wives, sisters or sweethearts. Potentate Flint has thrown out the hint that the little red top-piece should be taken by the nape of the neck by the man underneath upon entering such places and stowed away in a pocket or carried in hand.

“The suggestion of the potentate was quite generally observed last night. It was a common sight to see hatless men ranged in rows at drink troughs in various cases about the city, the red fez protruding from their pockets and dry red tongues hanging from their mouths.”

The Times reports that with the arrival of the first three groups of Shriners, the Aloha Temple of Honolulu, Islam Temple of San Francisco and Murat Temple of Indianapolis “the fizz of fezzes began to flow.”

Visiting Shriners received baskets of California fruit and a special presentation of what was described as the world’s largest orange, which weighed 2 pounds, 3 ounces and was 17½ inches in circumference.

Even Chinatown is preparing to take part in the welcoming parade with a wagon of young Chinese children that The Times is careful to point out were all born in California.

Quote of the day:
“Throttle Wide Open for Journey of Joy”

Headline in The Times

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Our Struggling Authors

In grappling with a novel about life in prison, writer Ernest Filer of Chicago decided that he should experience imprisonment for himself , thus he hatched the idea of breaking a window so he would be sent to jail.

He selected a small pane of glass at a cigar store and heaved a rock through it, assuming that he would be let off with a reprimand, a day or so in jail and an order to pay the cost of replacement.

The Cook County judge, however, took a dim view of his literary endeavors and “sent him to the stone pile for four months with instructions that he be kept at hard labor,” The Times reported.

Flier protested loudly, saying: “I wanted material for my new book. One of the principle scenes will be inside of a jail and to get the real ‘dope’—well, you know, judge, how it is with us literary people—we want local color.”

“All right,” the unidentified judge responded. “Four months in the Bridewell at hard labor will fix you all right. Lots of color out there, I understand.”

History, alas, remains silent on the Filer oeuvre and he apparently awaits his rediscovery and a compiler of his catalogue raisonne.

* * *

Pity the fate of distinguished tea expert Isaac McGay, who died at his home in Yonkers, N.Y., after three years of declining health blamed on more than two decades of government service testing the quality of tea to ensure that import duties were properly assessed.

“Tea merchants all say sampling teas always affects the health of those engaged in it,” The Times noted.

Shout out to the Marsakster: Obviously not Yogi tea.

* * *

Autoist Arrested

Unable to control his automobile because of drunkenness, it is alleged, A. T. Munns drove a big touring car into a team belonging to Arthur Cohn, a grocer at 512-514 W. 7th St., last night and injured one of the horses severely. Munns was taken to Central Station and booked on the charge of drunkenness. According to the witnesses, Munns was driving at a high rate of speed.

Attacks Fellow Prisoners

Two hours after William Cummings was locked up in the City Jail on the charge of drunkenness, together with a woman who, he claims, is his wife, but who gave the name of Stella Steely, last night, he attacked several prisoners in the drunk cell and injured two severely. An officer found Cummings and the woman on 1st Street between Spring Street and Broadway [Note: That was a block from the Central Police Station—lrh]. They were attracting attention by an argument as to whether they were married. Cummings seemed to be quite peaceable when placed in the cell but later cut and bruised Thomas Ryan and Charles Burk so seriously that they had to be taken to the Receiving Hospital.

News bulletins:

  • Author Mark Twain is aboard the yacht Kanawha, which is missing somewhere off the coast between Cape Hatteras, N.C., and Norfolk, Va.

  • A Southern Pacific train with 208 passengers, many of them Shriners en route to Los Angeles, is wrecked 20 miles south of Raton, N.M., when an axle breaks. Twelve passengers are injured, 10 of them seriously, and the traffic is delayed for 15 hours.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Shriners Are Coming!

Preparations are nearly complete for the Shriners Convention, which begins May 7 with the city’s Al Malaikah Temple hosting the gathering.

Among the events planned is a parade of Imperial Potentate Alvah P. Clayton from the Alexandria Hotel to the Scottish Rite Cathedral on Hill Street near 5th Street. The hosts also plan automobile rides to Glendale, where convention-goers will receive boxes of Tropico strawberries, and a table a quarter-mile long at the new development on Redondo Beach that promises to be “the biggest clam chowder party on record.”

The Times reported that Illustrious Potentate Matt Flint of Al Malaikah received the first installment of special lanterns to be carried by members of the temple and those to be carried by the Nobles of Islam Temple from San Francisco. There were 1,500 lanterns, one for each man in Al Malaikah and 500 for the visiting Nobles of Islam from San Francisco.

The Islam Temple will be staying at the King Edward Hotel on 5th Street near Main. The Algeria Temple of Montana will be staying at the Lankershim Hotel while the Nevada Shriners will be staying at the Van Nuys Hotel.

* * *

On the witness stand, accused “Barefoot Bandit” James G. Fleenor complains that police got him drunk to gain a confession. Fleenor, who was black, had been part of an attempted jailbreak several weeks earlier.

“They took me down to Capt. Flammer’s office,” Fleenor said, “and asked me for a description of the two men I had got the box of jewelry from. Then they took me to my office in a hack. Before we started, the captain said to [Detective] Jones, ‘Here is $5 for the expenses of your trip with Fleenor.’

“We stopped on the way and had two or three drinks. In one of the saloons they charged 50 cents ($10.26 USD 2005) for my drink because I am a colored man. When we got to the office I tried to find the telephone number of the men I had got the jewelry from. I thought I found it and gave it to them.

“The next day [Detective] Boyd came to my cell and said we were going to the office again. He gave me a sample bottle of whiskey. We went to the office and hunted among my papers. I found another telephone number which I thought might be the one the men had given me. On the way back we stopped at Winston and Main streets and got a drink. I had a glass of whiskey and a glass of beer.

“On the fourth day of my arrest they came together and brought me a bottle of whiskey. They said they found the house where that telephone number was and they were going out there.

“Next morning they came to see me again. They didn’t bring any whiskey. Jones said: ‘Old man, it looks dark for you. They’ll stick you for this. We believe what you told us but you couldn’t make a jury believe that. You’ve got to find these people or stand for it yourself.’

“They took me down in the office again and said to me: ‘You stand for this like we tell you and you won’t get near so long.’ Jones was laughing and I asked him what he was laughing at. He said: ‘I’m laughing at the way you strung us. There’s no white man and colored man lives in that house. There’s a woman lives there, that we know.’

“Boyd said he was darned tired of it and that I had to [come] clean on it or take it on myself. ‘If you take it on yourself, there’ll be only one or two charges put against you, but if you don’t they’ll keep sticking them on you. That jewelry you had came from 15 or 20 jobs. Plead guilty and you’ll get a light sentence.’

“After I came up here and pleaded not guilty, they told me I’d done the thing wrong and that if I’d plead guilty like they told me I’d have got only four or five years. They said they would have gone to the county attorney and very little would have been done to me.

“But I wanted to have a chance to tell how it was.”

The Times reported: “Detectives Boyd and Jones admitted that they had bought Fleenor drinks on two or three occasions but denied that they had taken any to his cell.”

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Adventures in Dining

Nicholas “Nick” Schwegel (sometimes misspelled Schwegal), the city’s new restaurant inspector, issued a report to the Board of Health that left officials sick to their stomachs—so ill, in fact, that one board member asked that the report be tabled until they were feeling better. However, Mayor Harper insisted in pursuing the matter, having recently returned to work from a bout of food poisoning.

Schwegel said he inspected 424 restaurants in April and imposed $200 in fines, ordered 62 restaurants to clean up their kitchens, and seized and destroyed 70 pounds of meat, six chickens, 30 pounds of sausage, 9 pounds of cheese, a half-box of lemons and canned fruit.

He noted: “In many of the kitchens which I have inspected I find ceilings and walls so very unclean that it is impossible to prepare clean food. I also find toilets but a few feet, if not immediately adjacent to a range, ice boxes or closets in which foodstuffs are kept.”

In addition, inspection revealed that three or four beds, intended for sleeping, were kept in some of the food preparation rooms and that the kitchen help had faces and hands covered with sores.

Finally, Schwegel noted, uneaten food, known as “comebacks,” was reused: leftover meat was made into hash and sausage, and bones from patrons’ plates were thrown into the stock kettle to make soup.

In one June restaurant inspection, Schwegel noted:

“Many white people, who were eating in the [Japanese restaurant] thought they were getting a Japanese dinner and made no complaint because they thought the taste of the [rotten] meat was due to some kind of Japanese sauce.”

In August 1907, Schwegel was taken before the Civil Service Commission on a complaint by M.E. Sayles, a former assistant restaurant inspector whom Schwegel fired. Sayles accused Schwegel of favoring German restaurants and those businesses operated by an alliance that backed Mayor Harper.

“Chef Wolf, of the Windsor restaurant, testified that Schwegel doesn’t understand the first principles of restaurant inspection. Wolf keeps some Mexican hopping beans in stock. Schwegel came into the kitchen, saw the beans hopping about, thought they were maggots and wanted to have the place pulled. Wolf is certain that Schwegel is no gentleman, or he would know the difference between a maggot and a slant-eyed bean,” The Times said.

However, Schwegel mounted a strong defense, citing his campaign against reuse of “comebacks.”

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Time Clock


Motorcycle Hits Her

Miss Gertrude Young, who lives at No. 525 Wall St., was knocked down by a motorcycle yesterday as she stepped from a streetcar at 7th and Hope streets. The rider of the machine hastened away. Miss Young was taken to the Clara Barton Hospital.

No Milk Spilled

The horses attached to a Eureka Dairy wagon became frightened on South Main Street yesterday by an approaching streetcar and ran. A passenger on the streetcar leaped to the street, seized the bridles of the animals and stopped them. Not a drop of milk was spilled.

Paid for Collision

J. Hall of No. 655 S. Hill St., was hurled from a bicycle in a collision with an automobile driven by D. G. McMasters of 1010 W. 38th St. yesterday. The accident happened on Broadway between 3rd and 4th streets. Hall sustained slight bruises and his wheel [bicycle] was demolished. McMasters paid the lad for his wheel.

May Be Insane

Seizing James Harper by the throat and hurling him to the floor of the office of a lodging house at 127 Wilmington St., George May struck him violently several times last night, it is said. May was arrested on a charge of insanity. He is a miner who has been in an insane asylum, his friends say. He will be examined today by police surgeons.

Boy Seriously Hurt

Morrison Woodhill, 13, who lives with his mother at 410 W. 43rd St. was injured in an accident yesterday afternoon at Washington and Main streets. He was riding a bicycle and collided with a streetcar. He sustained a brain concussion and was treated at the Receiving Hospital. His mother came to Los Angeles from Montana a few months ago. Recently, she sent for her son and he arrived in the city on Monday. He was on his way to buy schoolbooks when the accident occurred.

Arrested for Spanking

John Vasey, 820 E. 17th St., was arrested last night on a battery charge because he spanked William Duncan yesterday. For some years, Vasey has been employed by Mrs. Tina Johnson of 749 E. 42nd St. as a gardener. He was unable to furnish bail and is held in the City Jail.

“These small boys bother me a great deal when I am working,” Vasey said. “This boy was very persistent and so I spanked him. I did not strike him hard. If I committed an offense I cannot complain, but I don’t believe that this charge is exactly just.”

Ps. The Shriners Are Coming!

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Blogging the Wolfe Book, The Two-Minute Executive Summary

From Feb. 3, 2006, to April 28, 2006, I devoted a daily blog to Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles.” In dealing with the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, Wolfe uses the “Laura” format, as in the Vera Caspary novel and Gene Tierney movie, in which the anonymous, butchered body is found and the narrative proceeds in flashbacks.

In checking Wolfe’s book against its sources and against the historic record, we have found lies, errors, fraud and plagiarism. We have found a heavy reliance on other books, notably Will Fowler’s “Reporters” and John Gilmore’s “Severed”—both of them extremely problematic—and the Los Angeles Examiner. In a survey of the book up to Page 73, these three sources constituted half of Wolfe’s source material. The district attorney’s files accounted for a mere 8% of the book.

Wolfe also relies heavily on two self-published books by disgruntled former police officers, Vincent A. Carter’s “Rogue Cops” and Charles Stoker’s “Thicker ‘n’ Thieves.” Note that despite Carter’s warning that he never worked the Dahlia case, Wolfe presents Carter’s statements as unimpeachable facts.

Did I mention the faked document?

We have seen Wolfe misrepresent what he uses from the district attorney’s files by suppressing the material that doesn’t fit his scenario and by altering other documents to bolster his case. In fact, Wolfe’s entire book is rendered impossible by the key district attorney’s document “Movements of Elizabeth Short Prior to June 1946,” which shows that she was never in Los Angeles in 1944 or 1945, a report that also demolishes the arguments of “Severed,” which is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction.

In other instances, Wolfe manipulates documents that refer to one suspect, Michael Anthony Otero, stating that they refer to Maurice Clement, who is described as “Brenda Allen’s procurer” without the slightest proof. Wolfe goes so far in misrepresenting the district attorney’s documents that he presents a photo, allegedly of Clement, that actually shows a different individual, Salvadore Torres Vara.

Wolfe also ignores and suppresses other documents that would destroy his case, notably an FBI memo on the actions of Bugsy Siegel on Jan. 14, 1947, the day before Elizabeth Short was killed, showing that Siegel was under FBI surveillance while in Los Angeles.

And then there’s the faked document, which Wolfe calls “The D Memorandum,” which was pasted together from two unrelated reports.

Without acknowledgement, Wolfe also lifts material word for word from my 1997 Los Angeles Times story on the Black Dahlia case and my website presenting the “director’s cut” of the 1997 story.

In short, Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files” is a conniving, cynical, cold-blooded literary fraud that exploits access to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s files to provide a veneer of authenticity to a vicious and entirely fictitious smear alleging corruption by hard-working, dedicated police investigators and prominent Los Angeles figures—who are conveniently dead and unable to defend themselves.

My dear Holmes! The haz-mat pile of Black Dahlia books is gone!

Exactly, Watson. They are all back in their lead-lined containers a mile under the desert outside Las Vegas, Nev. Until the next time I need them.

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