Saturday, May 27, 2006

This is the kind of a horse

May 27, 1907
Death Valley, Calif.

George Freeman and his wife of Pasadena, accompanied by Charles Fuller Gates of Los Angeles, were motoring out to Death Valley in a Pierce-Arrow along the old road carved by the twenty-mule teams from the borax mines when they approached a driverless wagon hitched to a skittish horse.

The auto party had taken the route from Johannesburg to Ballarat slowly, stopping to clear the road of large rocks in their path and pausing whenever they encountered a freight wagon to keep from frightening the horses and mules. Because there were only two watering holes on the road, the party had taken an ample supply of water for themselves and the car’s radiator, and they shared some with the teams that they passed.

Mrs. Freeman noticed a spot far ahead on the horizon and eventually realized it was a horse and wagon without its driver. Gates got out of the car and walked several hundred yards up the road to capture the horse. The party assumed that the animal hadn’t gone far in the heat because it wouldn’t drink much, although a dog following the wagon was nearly dead of thirst and drank two quarts of water.

Gates wanted to drive the wagon back down the road in search of the owner, while Mr. Freeman preferred sending the driverless horse on its way with a note attached to the harness advising whoever found it to care for it, which is what they did.

Five miles farther, the party came across a large bush placed across the road next to an old prospector lying behind a greasewood bush.

“Like a wild man, he staggered to his feet. He could not talk, neither could he stand erect, but seldom does a man show so much joy in his face as did that old man. He seemed to be afraid the automobile would rush on and leave him there,” The Times said.

“He staggered to the side of the car and fell over against it. His mouth was filled with the greasewood leaves that he had chewed up [in an attempt to get water] and he dug them out with his fingers..... The old man was motioning for water, making signs that were unmistakable.”

While Mr. Freeman wanted to leave a canteen with the old man and head on, Gates prevailed on him to lift the man into the car, turn around and overtake the horse and wagon they had passed earlier.

On their way back in the Pierce-Arrow, prospector Frank McCabe, 71, was finally able to speak. His first words were: “This is the kind of a horse.”

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Visions of Golden Eagles

Only a few months before, William R. Leroy of Pennsylvania was a struggling inventor, moonlighting as a stevedore in Santa Monica and in the Fullerton oilfields. Walking to work because even the lowly streetcar fare was a luxury, Leroy labored on his boyhood dream of a “hot air engine,” that once started, ran indefinitely on heated air and electricity that it generated for itself.

Leroy said he left his home in Pennsylvania for Los Angeles because of a mishap with a model of the hot air engine he was building his father’s shop. “One day he went away and I got to experimenting with the engine, using a beer keg for a compressor. The air in the compressor got damp and expanded a good deal more than I thought it would. The keg blew up and knocked the end out of father’s planing mill. Then I had to light out,” Leroy said.

Soon, Leroy’s fortunes changed with the appearance of a mysterious investor named T.E. Nealson or Nealon, who offered $30 million for the machine but specified that his whereabouts be kept a secret. The inventor began selling stock in the Leroy Air Power Manufacturing Co. with an initial offering of 3 cents a share, quickly boosted to 10 cents, mostly purchased by church groups and fraternal organizations.

Using company stock to pay his bills, Leroy furnished his bungalow at 324 N. 4th St in Santa Monica with a pianola, rugs and other items “in the style that usually accompanies a sudden accession of riches,” The Times said.

“This is how she works,” The Times said of the device: “In the first instance, the engine is started by manual labor. Compressed air is one of the ingredients and before the engine is started the pumps are worked until a pressure of 60 pounds is indicated. After that it will take care of itself. With this pressure the engine starts off. Its compressors tamp the air, which is heated by electricity that is generated by discs in motion. These give off arcs or sparks of unknown units of heat. The heat is utilized in expanding and exploding the globules of moisture absorbed by the compressed air as it makes its way through water.

“When the arcing occurs, then the three elements are in combustion as Leroy explains, just as the air cell in the grain of corn when it bursts or as the thunder following the lightning’s flash is but the coming together of the air which had been separated by the electricity in the air. While the invention makes no attempt at harnessing the thunderbolts of the sky, it operates on the same principle, gaining sufficient force from the expansion to operate the engine itself and burden it with considerable load.”

Despite Leroy’s insistence, The Times’ Chicago correspondent was unable to locate T.E. Nealson or the purported working model of the engine. Leroy went along throwing lavish parties for investors, explaining his complicated device (which he angrily insisted was not a perpetual motion machine) as well as the equally complicated financing of the project and his mysterious investor.

Leroy and his associates eventually ended up in court when a feud between two Santa Monica papers, the Journal and the Free Lance, generated a libel suit after the Free Lance accused the Journal of seeking “hush money” to not run further negative stories about the device.

In the end, the mysterious investor never arrived and weary stockholders sent Leroy back East to produce a working model of his machine, never to be heard from again.

* * *

The Times runs statistics on column inches of advertising (21 inches per column) for the third week of May:

The Times: 1,212
The Examiner: 716
The Express: 500
The Herald: 298
The Record: 276
The News: 174

Sunday circulation for The Times is 65,500.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

From the recording horn

May 25, 1907
Los Angeles

Sold on the installment plan, $1 a week with the purchase of six records at 60 cents each, the Victor Talking Machines offered performances by Caruso, Melba and Scotti, as well as John Philip Sousa’s and Arthur Pryor’s bands. Other recording artists included Schumann-Heink, Pol Plancon and Marcella Sembrich.

To sell the Victor machines, which ranged from $10 to $100 ($205.24 to $2,052.36 USD 2005), dealers in Los Angeles staged weekly concerts of new recordings. The George J. Birkel Co., 345 S. Spring St., which also sold Steinways and the Cecilian Piano Player, an external player piano device, said: “Music in the home is a necessity, not a luxury. Music has a refining influence which nothing else can give. The Victor Talking Machine brings every kind of music into your home—from Grand Opera to Ragtime.”

Later releases for 1907 included selections by the Victor Orchestra, augmented with musicians from the New York Philharmonic and the Met.
Nor did Victor neglect the demand for comic records, offering a selection of Cal Stewart’sUncle Josh” stories.

Although some discs sold for as little as 50 cents, some were as high as $5 ($102.62 USD 2005). Later in the year, dealers offered the $200 Victrola, in which the machine was enclosed in a cabinet with a hinged lid, eliminating the external horn.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Speed demons

May 24, 1907
Los Angeles

Otis Skinner, the actor starring in “The Duel” at the Mason Opera House,” is under arrest because of a curious regulation in which passengers of a speeding car are charged with breaking the law. Col. Henry Wyatt of the Wyatt Lyceum Circuit was giving Skinner and his manager a scenic tour of Los Angeles when Wyatt’s chauffeur was stopped by motorcycle Officers Humphreys and Green on 7th Street east of Figueroa as they returned to the theater.

Wyatt, who was a deputy sheriff, complained to police authorities that Humphreys and Green refused to identify themselves as officers and wondered whether the whole affair was a joke as he didn’t believe he was speeding. Skinner, in fact, said he thought the new automobile was moving rather slowly.

“We were not violating the speed limit,” Wyatt said, “and I will certainly appear in court to make my statement of the case. We were coming along at a slow rate of speed in order that Mr. Skinner might see all the sights of the city when these two young men on motorcycles, who refused to show stars or any badge of authority, came up to use and told us to appear in court and before I pay any fine I want an explanation.”

* * *

The defense attorney for William J. McKinley on charges of attempted murder heaped doubt on the question of whether his elderly uncle William Reid had even been shot, so during a recess in the trial, doctors took an X-ray and removed the bullet, which had flattened against Reid’s skull.

“The results of the operation seem to settle that question beyond cavil,” The Times said.

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Monday, May 22, 2006


Sunday, May 21, 2006

Fleenor Talks

In a jailhouse interview before he was taken to San Quentin, James G. Fleenor, the barefoot burglar, set the record straight on his escapes, his relationship with a white woman and how he began a life of crime.

It had been rumored that Fleenor returned to Los Angeles after escaping from a San Francisco jail because of his relationship with Mrs. B.J. Byres of 1669 Tennessee St. He insisted that he hopped the first freight train leaving the yard and discovered later that it was going to Los Angeles.

Fleenor, who used a real estate business as a front for his burglaries, said that she was one of only three customers who continued paying on her property after he was sent to jail. “She came to the jail and asked where the payments were to be made,” he said. When asked what became of the money, he replied: “The lawyers got it and crowded me for more.”

Then he began the story of his life. Born in a free state to a father who was a freed slave, Fleenor said he was raised in a town that was predominately white. “There were only three families of colored people and we were all thought everything of by the white people. My mother was the old mammy of the whole neighborhood,” he said.

“I was ambitious. I wanted to paint pictures or do something of that sort. But I learned the trade of cabinetmaking. I learned it well, too.

“Then I decided I would go out in the world. I thought I would get the same treatment I had in the town where I was born. I didn’t know any better,” he said.

“In place after place I offered to do a day’s work for nothing just to show what I could do. People seemed to like me. They wanted to give me work—gardening or shoveling coal or something like that. But, well, how would a lawyer feel if someone offered him a job taking care of chickens?

“Many places I was told they’d like to put me to work but that if they did all their other workers would walk out of the shop. I am not saying anything against the unions but that was how it was. That was all. It was simply the way fate was working with me.”

Sheriff Hammel and Jailer Aguirre were to escort Fleenor to San Quentin, but refused to say when they would leave.

“When I have landed Fleenor in San Quentin and have my receipt for him, then I will telegraph to Los Angeles that it is done,” Hammel said.

* * *

The engineer of a Southern Pacific freight derails his train because a naked lunatic throws himself on the tracks. A Bible from a mission at 145 N. Main St. found with his clothes gives his name as C.H. Clenin of Australia... A gray colt commits suicide in Echo Park lake rather than pull a cart. “There will be no inquest, for they do not hold inquests over colts, but out on Bellevue road, they will remember for many a day the little gray colt to which death was preferable to slavery,” The Times says... W.W. Garvin stabs fellow real estate dealer George Cunningham over a bad debt at the entrance to the Grant Building at 4th Street and Broadway.

The City Council approves a law limiting wholesale liquor stores to the saloon district. Dealers have been given 11 months to move their businesses inside the district. Apparently the saloon zone was so well-known that The Times didn’t need to report the boundaries; the southern border was the north side of 9th Street. The western boundary was extended in 1907 to the west side of the 3rd Street tunnel. The others are unclear.

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