Saturday, September 23, 2006

Take Me to the Water

Sept. 23, 1907
Los Angeles

A crowd of 2,000—the faithful and the doubters—gathered at Echo Park Lake as black evangelist the Rev. J.L. Griffin prepared to baptize five believers in the cold water. Children climbed in the trees to get a better view, while other people trolled in rowboats to watch.

The rite was supposed to begin at 4 p.m., but several of the people were delayed and Griffin, who had been holding tent revival meetings in Los Angeles all summer, addressed the increasingly impatient throng.

“Some of you colored men have criticized me because I am friendly with white people,” Griffin said, according to The Times. “I tell you the Lord loves us all, white or black. We are on the watch for sanctification and separation.”

“What is separation, Mr. Preacher?” a skeptic yelled.

“I’ll tell you what separation means for you, my friend,” Griffin replied. “It means separation from your devilment, that’s what.”

Born in the days of slavery, Griffin, 48, of Dallas, was an imposing, powerful man who began preaching at an early age. In 1868, he went to live on a Louisiana farm and while there, learned to read from an old green-backed Webster’s speller.

“Then I read the Testament, lots of times, from cover to cover, and some of the colored folks, they heard me talk about it. In them days the big preachers came into the country to preach sometimes and get a good collection. Finally some of the folks asked why I don’t preach and I did; I began at 9 years old.”

(Of course, The Times wrote it in dialect: “Den I read de Testament lots o’ times, from cover to cover an’ some o’ de colored folks dey heah me talk about it. Dem days de big preachers come into de country to preach sometimes and get a good collection. Finally some o’ de folks ask why I don’t preach, an’ I did; I begin at 9 years old.” )

Griffin frequently engaged the congregation in his sermons:

“You, Sam, you always done shot craps, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You going to do it any more?”

“Lord, no sir.”

The Times quoted one sermon: “We don’t want equality. We want religion; religion dat’ll make you niggahs wake up to the fac’ dat you all is bound fo’ hell faster’n Maud S. could go in her best days.”

For the baptism, Griffin and his followers erected a small disrobing tent in the park. The first to emerge was Annie Childs, wearing a white robe and a white handkerchief over her head. “She seemed unconscious of the onlookers and broke into an ecstatic song as she walked to the water’s edge,” The Times said.

When the five believers (three black, one white and one Latino) were ready, Griffin changed into a white robe and plunged into the lake, followed by two deacons who winced at the coldness of the water. While three of them wore white robes, two of the men wore blue overalls and “thin outing shirts.”

The crowd hushed as Child’s face dipped below the surface of the lake. “In an instant she reappeared, spluttering and sobbing in excitement. Once out of the lake, she went into a spasm. Her garments, saturated with water, clung tightly to her slight figure. Her eyes were closed. Suddenly she began to cry and laugh and to shout religious phrases that gave evidence to the glory that was hers,” The Times said.

Several hecklers steered their rowboats near Griffin, but he cautioned them: “You boys had better get away or I might give you a different kind of baptism.”

With the ceremony concluded, Griffin invited the crowd to attend his tent revival meetings at 9th Street and Mateo.

“It won’t harm you to come and it may do you a power of good. I guess we can all be a mite better than we are.”

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Less Than Eternal Love

Less Than Eternal Love

Sept. 22, 1907
Los Angeles

She was 34 and a successful businesswoman. He was a 19-year-old bellboy at the Hollenbeck Hotel.

Emma and George Lloyd were married and for a time were quite happy, with Emma running her milliner’s shop at 2132 Downey Ave., and George getting a job as a waiter in an Eastside restaurant.

But George’s high living and his drinking consumed all of his income and profits from the shop as well. Eventually, he left for Pasadena, where he got a job painting carriages, while Emma went bankrupt.

Ashamed of her martial and financial disasters, Emma sued for divorce.

Divorce, asked Judge Monroe? Of course not.

“This defendant knew the plaintiff could not support her when she married him,” Monroe said in The Times. “She never anticipated requiring him to support her, but apparently intended to support him. Now, when for other reasons, she desires legal separation from this man, she cannot properly make this claim of failure to provide. She went into the investment and she must abide by it.”

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Not a Pretty Moment

Sept. 21, 1907
Los Angeles

It is one thing to know in the abstract about racial intolerance at the turn of the 20th century and quite another to have to read it in the daily paper. I will spare you the long quotes in pidgin Chinese dialect, but trust me, they make the Charlie Chan movies look like models of multiculturalism.

The Times is covering the deportation of 26 men to China, 11 of them from Los Angeles: Ah Lee, Chin Toy, Gee Kay, Jew Sang, Jung Sing, Lee Fan, Lee Sing, Lui Fat, Lum Chong, Ng Ngai and Wong How. The rest were from San Diego.

All the men, except for Ah Lee, who was arrested in the recent tong wars, were unhappy about being deported, the paper said, adding that guards would be watching closely for friends trying to slip the men a departing gift of opium for the long journey to China aboard the ship Korea.

Immigration official A.C. Ridgway said that for some reason, most Chinese men in Los Angeles have the proper paperwork to be in the United States. “Naturally a few illegally in this country will now and then slip into Chinatown, but they are soon detected by our men,” he said. “We have not made any arrests of Japanese for the past two months. No doubt they are brought to this district, but it is very difficult to locate the fellows who do not have proper passports.”

The Times noted that in recent weeks, the Japanese immigrants have been heading to British Columbia and Washington State.

I feel compelled to salute one of the prime figures of film noir: James Wong Howe (born Wong Tung Jim in 1899), who emigrated to Pasco, Wash., about 1904.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Everything Is Boiling

Sept. 20, 1907
Los Angeles

For weeks, Colorado mining investor John Geisel, 57, had confided in his diary as he felt his mind and his life coming unraveled “Good God,” he wrote, “for the first time today I began to fear that I could not control my thoughts.”

At last, he took a walk from the Natick Hotel, 108 W. 1st St. Crossing the Los Angeles River, Geisel found a large pepper tree on Pecan Street, and sat down. That’s where some neighborhood boys found him, sprawled next to a bottle of poison mixed with whisky. A note in his pocket said: “I wish my son Charles was here to comfort me, but he cannot know that I wish it. I hope everyone will forgive me. I would not tell what I was about to do for I knew they would interfere with me. I knew that I would never be right again and I could not stand that.”

Investigation showed that Geisel had lived a forthright life, but had recently become obsessed with the idea that he was dishonest and he brooded on it night and day. His diary, found in his room at the Natick, revealed his chronicle of mental collapse. “It seems a man can be off in the head and very few people know it,” he wrote.

Elsewhere, he wrote: “Everything is boiling and bubbling and I can’t think straight.”

He hid his troubles from everyone. “At times he would be unnaturally cheerful and again he would silently spend hours at a time in his room, scribbling away on scraps of paper,” The Times said.

“His failing mind began to force upon him the idea that he was dishonest. At points in his diary his sentences were pathetic. It was the fight of a man who had been honest all his life against what he considered a dishonest thing. He seemed to be horrified at the idea of being dishonest,” The Times said.

Less than a week before his suicide, Geisel came to Los Angeles from Denver with his son Charles to discuss some mining property and while they were in the desert, Geisel suffered from sunstroke, The Times said.

“If I made a mistake about those claims, I don’t want to live any more,” he wrote. “Why should a man bring his friends and even his son into the God-forsaken desert for nothing.”

His last entry: “I am sure I am going wrong and I will not stand for it.”

Contents of the Natick Hotel, built in 1883, were auctioned off in 1950, with marble-topped washstands and dressers selling for $15-$20. The building where Teddy Roosevelt and Enrico Caruso once stayed was demolished to make way for—a parking lot.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

El Grito

Sept. 17, 1907
Los Angeles

Mexican Independence Day was celebrated in a grand program sponsored by the Club Porfiro Diaz of Los Angeles at Turner Hall, 325 S. Main (demolished 1951), which was decorated with American and Mexican flags.

“The exercises were begun with the singing of the national hymn of Mexico,” The Times said. “A thousand voices took up the music. Hon R.J. Dominguez, the president of the club, offered a prayer for the safety of Mexico and the happiness of its people. A brief history of Mexico’s fight for independence was given by Francisco Estudillo, secretary of the club, and an address by Guillemeo (could that be Guillermo?) Dominguez followed.”

Mayor Harper said: “Under the American flag, there lives a happy people as loving and patriotic as our own, the sons and daughters of our sunny sister republic.”

The speeches were followed by music and dancing. Guitarists played “La Paloma,” as the Bach sisters danced. “Two young girls glided gracefully. Their hair hung in masses about their shoulders, their arms were bare and their skirts, cut to the knee, sparkled like polished steel. Slowly, they moved, keeping time to the music and then as a burst of applause greeted them, they swung lightly into the graceful movements of the Manzanillo. The castanets clashed loudly, the music rose, there was a glimpse of whirling skirts, the swirl of jet-black hair and then with a crash the music stopped.”

After a performance of “La Golondrina,” the evening concluded with the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

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