Saturday, October 28, 2006

Gilbert and Sullivan Said It Best

Oct. 28, 1907
Los Angeles

You know the song even if you’ve never seen “Pirates of Penzance”: A policeman’s lot is not an easy one” and that is doubly true for one anonymous former LAPD chief.

The ex-chief has nothing but complaints: “It is the most detestable job ever created.” He can’t get enough men and when he does, many of them are political appointees who have friends in high places but nothing upstairs.

“You find a policeman who has been drunk on duty and guilty of the most extravagant dereliction of duty and resolve to make an example of him. The police commissioners give you an awful look, drag you into a side room and tell you never to make any cracks like that again. The cop turns out to be a cousin of somebody’s.”

And while some detectives are good, others “couldn’t find a lighted streetcar on a dark night,” says the ex-chief.

The local politicians forbid him to arrest their friends and the newspapers attack him for not cutting down on crime. Some influential person’s wife drags the hem of her skirt through spit on the sidewalk and suddenly the department is forced to crack down on minor infractions—much to the humor of the newspapers who mock enforcement of trivial laws.

Then the newspapers run their own investigation about local prostitution and accuse you of ignoring vice. When you conduct a raid, they say you are grandstanding for political purposes, the ex-chief says.

“If you try to sweat a man, the reporters roast you for giving the third degree and if you don’t, they say you are a fool who brings cases into court without any evidence.”

The chief blamed his downfall on failing to accept a check to cover the bail of a rich man’s coachman. Although department policy was not to take checks, the rich man thought he should get preferential treatment—and when he didn’t, he vowed to exact his revenge on the chief.

Interestingly enough, while the former chief complained about political appointments, he said the Civil Service system was even worse. It is no secret that well into the 20th century, some Los Angeles law enforcement officers bought their jobs. Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz, for example, said that early in his career, under the days of political patronage, men were afraid to go to lunch when a new administration took charge for fear that they wouldn’t have a job when they returned.

e-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

Labels: , , , , , ,

Historians' Clearinghouse

Fast forward to the future for a moment and plan to attend what sounds like a wonderful event for researchers: A bazaar in which many local archivists will be available at the Huntington to discuss their collections and set up appointments on the spot.

As anyone who has researched local history can tell you, material on the city’s past is scattered all over the Los Angeles Basin—would you believe that the documents and photos on the early days of USC’s Medical School are at UCLA?

The Los Angeles Archives Bazaar (they’re calling it the “First Annual,” but I won’t hold that against them) will be held at the Huntington Library on Saturday Nov. 4, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

More than 30 archives will be represented, including:
  • Autry National Center
  • Beverly Hills Police Department
  • Beverly Hills Public Library
  • Bison Archives (that’s a new one on me)
  • Cal State Northridge
  • Center for the Study of Political Graphics
  • Delmar Watson Photo Archives—run by one of the Watson brothers, who is a walking encyclopedia of Los Angeles history.
  • Eighth and Wall Inc. (another new one on me).
  • Historical Society of Long Beach
  • L.A. as Subject Online Directory
  • Los Angeles City Archives
  • Los Angeles Public Library
  • Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  • Marymount High School and Good Samaritan Hospital
  • Mayme Clayton Library, Museum and Cultural Center
  • Occidental College Library
  • ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives
  • Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
  • Santa Monica Public Library
  • Shelley Gazin (another new one on me).
  • Society of Southern California Archivists
  • Southern California Library
  • Special Collections of the Claremont Colleges
  • St. Vincent Medical Center Historical Conservancy
  • UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center
  • UCLA Special Collections
  • USC Specialized Libraries
  • Wally G. Shidler Collection of Southern California Ephemera (yet another new one on me)
Admission is free and no registration is required. The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens is at Allen and Orlando in San Marino.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, October 27, 2006

On the Comics Page

Oct. 27, 1907
Los Angeles

Along with “Little Nemo,” “Buster Brown” was a popular feature of the Sunday comics. Like other cartoons of the era, such as “The Katzenjammer Kids” and “Foxy Grandpa,” that were full of naughty children, Buster Brown was fond of pulling pranks on adults.

Unlike Hans and Fritz, who usually ended up getting a good paddling and threats of being sent to reform school, Buster Brown usually learned his lesson the hard way and in the final panel always promised to mend his ways in a long block of text titled “RESOLVED.”

One bit of Buster Brown’s wisdom has stayed with me since I read it as a kid in an anthology on the history of comics: “If the carpet were as worn in front of the bookcase as it is in front of the mirror it would be a better world.”

e-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Deadly Inferno

Oct. 26, 1907
Los Angeles

Two women in the West Adams District were badly burned and expected to die after a bowl of gasoline they were using to clean a soiled dress exploded, engulfing their apartment at 42 St. James Park in flames.

Mrs. James P. Burns (identified helpfully by The Times as the wife of James P. Burns) and maid Catherine Blake had spread a dress across a table and wrapped their hands with rags soaked in gasoline to clean it. Because the electric lights weren’t bright enough, Burns told Blake to light several candles. The candles ignited the bowl of gas, which in turn set off a nearby tank of gasoline.

With her clothes on fire, Blake ran to the rear porch of the second-story apartment and jumped to the ground while Burns fled to a hallway. The building manager ran to the second floor upon hearing the explosion and wrapped Burns in a rug to extinguish the flames.

“Nearly all of her hair had been burned off and only a few charred garments remained about her badly burned body,” The Times said of Burns. “Examination by surgeons disclosed a pitiable condition. They expressed little hope of her recovery.”

In the meantime, neighbors got a blanket and rolled Blake on the grass to put out the fire. “Miss Blake was burned about the face, breast, arms and legs,” The Times said. “In some places the flesh fell away. She fainted several times before reaching the hospital.”

Bad streets hampered the Fire Department’s response to the blaze. The Lawrence Apartments, where the blaze occurred, suffered $10,000 ($205,235.70 USD 2005) in damage while the adjoining Mayfair Apartments suffered $3,000 damage, mostly from water.

Burns died the next day, having been put under anesthetic to allay her pain. There was no further word on Blake.

e-mail: Lmharnisch AT

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Adieu to the Boys of Summer

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

On the Frontiers of Medicine

Oct. 24, 1907
Los Angeles

Upon the suicide in February of Dr. H. Russell Burner, advocate of the “radium milk” cure, his sanitarium at 2033 E. 4th St. was taken over by Dr. F. S. Kurpiers, who is now in trouble with the Health Department.

Kurpiers didn’t have a medical license, so he obtained the certificate of Dr. C.H. King, a dying physician who wept as he told authorities that the only way he could support a few relatives was to rent out his license.

Rather than a “radium milk” cure, Kurpiers suggested that patients follow their instincts in when to eat—preferably never. Rachel Golder, a nurse at the sanitarium, quit because she never got to eat and relatives charged that one patient had become a bag of skin and bones under Kurpiers’ care.

Kurpiers explained his philosophy this way: “Only instinct knows what’s best for you. A child’s antipathy to bitter medicines is the unavailing protest of nature against science. When a learnedly-foolish mother gags the baby and pours deadly stuff down, then science rubs its fleshless claws, chuckles with ghoulish glee and glides away to line the coffin with divine dispensation.

“Baby always knows.”

The Board of Health suspended the sanitarium’s license, but it’s unclear what became of Kurpiers.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Great Moments in Police Work

Oct. 22, 1907
Los Angeles

A trolley conductor at 4th Street and Hill complained to a patrolman that one of the passengers looked like a holdup man. The officer investigated and laughed when the man produced a deputy’s badge and claimed that he was Mayor Harper’s son, Oscar.

The skeptical police officer took the alleged deputy to the central station, where the officer, identified only as “No. 303,” discovered that the young man was indeed the mayor’s son.

No. 303 apologized, exclaiming: “But I thought real deputy sheriff’s stars had numbers on them!”

Bonus fact: Some historic Los Angeles County deputies’ badges had numbers and some didn’t.

Labels: , , , ,