Saturday, January 13, 2007

In Cred I Ble

The sale of 1940s mug shots, including one of Elizabeth Short, sold Jan. 12, 2007, for $1,802.77 (more than $78 per picture) to phenomaly. Although EBay now conceals bidders’ identities, we can see that the next highest bid was $1,777.77. Obviously, people are willing to spend serious money for these mug shots.

Please understand, the Elizabeth Short mug shots were printed up in bulk during the investigation and handed out freely. The mug shot was also distributed by the wire services. Translation: There were many copies of this picture. Think carefully before getting into a bidding war over one of them. They turn upon EBay every couple of years.

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Not in My Back Yard

Jan. 13, 1907
Los Angeles

The Times takes a light, humorous look at the destructive wanderings of Eaton Wash: a docile stream, if not entirely dry, most of the year, turned into a churning monster by heavy rains.

“The little river that makes so much trouble lives somewhere in the fastness of Eaton’s Canyon during the summer months,” The Times says. “In the rainy season it always comes prowling out for a wild outing.

“Not having a respectable bed like other rivers, it comes bursting down from the mountains and goes wherever anyone will let it go.

“When the rains began this year, it stole trustfully—undiscouraged by its previous disappointments—down from the mountains.

“It sneaked on a pleasant-looking ranch in the valley. And the farmer found it there—as it covered about half his ranch—and rushed out with shovels and teams and turned it back on someone else’s ranch.

“And the ranchman who owns this second ranch on which it was driven came out in a rage and shook his fist, bellowing: ‘Here, come and take back your old river. It can’t stay on my place.’ And he said other things.”

The engineers of the Southern Pacific railroad built a massive culvert to protect the tracks from washing out. But another neighbor, Annie Adams, hired men to turn the fences on her 36-acre ranch into a barrier.

“The only way for the river to get on Miss Adams’ ranch was to jump the fence,” The Times says.

“Anyone familiar with the eccentricities [of the river] can guess readily enough what happened then,” The Times says. “That fine and elegant new culvert of the railroad company lasted about a minute.”

More men and teams of horses built a barrier of sandbags to stop the river. “It went. It rippled forlornly down the side of the high embanked track trying to find a hole through the sandbag dike—but nothing doing.

“Then it came to a long, hard, fascinating looking strip of road leading through the middle of the little town of Savannah. It turned down this road with a little gurgle of joy,” The Times says.

“And the things that it did to that county road is enough to make the county supervisors weep in anguish.

“It was a beautiful oiled road—smooth and flat and even. The river gouged out chuckholes as deep as a well. It made ruts in which you could drydock a ship. It ruined several hundred dollars’ worth of highway in less time than it takes to write it.”

Lawsuits followed and a committee was appointed to pick a course for the river. But none of the ranchers wanted the river on his property.

“In the end, the court will undoubtedly select a straight, direct route, with the proper angle and fall and slope from the canyon to the river, and order a right of way condemned—let it cross whose ranch it may,” The Times says.

Bonus factoid: The story uses the phrase "No. 23 skiddoo," which I've always associated with the 1920s. Apparently the anonymous writer was ahead of his time.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Last Rites for an EarlyChurch

Jan. 12, 1907
El Monte

For half a century, the Baptist Church of El Monte and the Mason’s Lexington Lodge No. 104 shared a clapboard building on Main Street, the worshipers on the first floor and the Masons, as always, on the second.

Then came the developers and the urge to grow.

“Seized with the thrill of the new trolley boom, the lodge members are about to put up a new Masonic temple; the Baptists, who have shared quarters with the Masons of El Monte for more than 50 years, are also said to be ambitious for a new place,” The Times says.

Taking the original name of the settlement, the Masons founded Lexington Lodge in May 1853, making it one of the oldest in California, and sent for regalia that came around the Horn from the East. One of the early lodge members, Elkenna Parrish, can still be seen driving his buggy around El Monte, The Times says.

The Baptists, meanwhile, built the first Baptist church south of the Tehachapi, using ox teams to haul lumber from San Bernardino. The Rev. J.C. Freyer arrived after a six-month journey from Alabama and was the first Baptist minister ordained in Southern California, The Times says.

The Baptists had outgrown the structure, built in 1866, and wanted a new church, but the Masons refused to yield their half, so they purchased the building in 1906 in an attempt to save it. By the next year, however, they agreed to let the small, old building come down.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

On the Frontiers of Medicine

Jan. 11, 1907
Los Angeles

A woman living on a hog ranch near the Santa Fe railroad crossing over the Los Angeles River contacted police after seeing dismembered human bodies in the old dumping ground near George Street.

Investigators dug through the dump, retrieving the body of a child that was nearly intact, along with bits and pieces of a man and a woman, including their skulls. In addition to the remains, police found books and papers traced to the University of Southern California Medical School.

“Whoever is responsible for the depositing of the remains on the garbage heap should be severely censured,” Coroner Roy S. Lanterman told The Times.

“It seems quite heartless enough to give up the human body to further science but when the students have finished dissecting the remains they should see that they are interred with the proper respect. I cannot understand the action of those responsible for sending the bodies to the garbage heap.”

For further reading on the sorry state of medical schools at the turn of the 20th century, read Abraham Flexner’s “Medical Education in the U.S. and Canada.” Note that in this era, doctors didn’t even need to be high school graduates.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Floods

Jan. 9-10, 1907

The worst storm in 23 years blew across Southern California with the force of a gale, dumping more than an inch of rain in Pasadena, killing an Orange County rancher, washing out railroad tracks and collapsing tunnels, and leaving nearly every small ship in Santa Barbara sunk, driven ashore or pounded to pieces.

Floodwaters destroyed a railroad bridge under construction near Ventura, cutting off the Southern Pacific’s coastal rail service, and at Summerland, oil rigs along the shore were ripped to pieces. The San Fernando Valley was especially hard hit: The Times reports that a bridge over the Big Tujunga Wash was underwater and that the river was a mile wide and impassible. The roar of water at Pacoima can be heard two miles away, The Times says.

The Arroyo Seco tore out a railroad line and threw freight cars as if they were toys, carrying a torrent of trash and broken trees down from the mountains through Pasadena.

South of downtown, the Los Angeles River was at flood stage and threatening to destroy the 7th Street Bridge, where pedestrians were warned that they crossed at their own risk.

Many avenues were flooded from curb to curb and churning water threw aside heavy iron manhole covers and flowed from the storm sewers, turning streets (paved and unpaved) into rivers. Streetcars plying the flooded boulevards looked like ships sailing in canals and gallant conductors carried female passengers through the water to the curb.

A 75-year-old Santa Ana rancher was killed when the buggy in which he and his brother were riding was washed away as they tried to trying to cross Santiago Creek. The horse panicked in the raging flood and the buggy overturned. Ralph Williams, who was visiting from the East, was able to grab a willow branch and save himself, but his brother Charles was carried downstream, where his body was eventually found.

“The fording of torrents on the hill streets has seemed fraught with peril,” The Times says, “but the thousands of hardy adventurers, who have braved the currents all live to tell the tale. None has been swept away to a watery death in the many deep lakes which were formed about the city.”

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Biltmore, Jan. 9, 2007

Monday, January 08, 2007

A Cold Dose of Reality

Jan. 8, 1907
Los Angeles

Perhaps Mayor Arthur C. Harper and the incoming slate of officials are focused on how they will divide the spoils of the city and assign patronage jobs, although the mayor says the “last seat at the pie counter” was taken days ago.

The average Angeleno is more worried about getting even a bit of coal for the furnace. Conditions in Pasadena have been so dire that people are going to the coal yards with wheelbarrows in hopes of getting enough to scrape by. The Times notes that throughout the city, people are rummaging through attics and basements looking for anything that might be burned for a little heat.

Today, an anonymous writer provides a humorous look at trying to get some coal.

“I am a prominent citizen of Los Angeles,” he says. “I state the bald fact because my book of press notices has gone. We threw it into the dying stove immediately following the burning of the family photograph album. Unless we get fuel today, the baby’s cradle follows the book of press notices.”

“We breakfasted in furs. We had cold milk and doctor somebody’s breakfast food, which latter is a poor substitute for sofa stuffing.”

Coal was apparently being rationed in Los Angeles, five sacks to a customer, and the buyers had to go down to the coal yard and get it themselves. “Sixty cents a sack and 5 cents apiece for the sacks, and you do your delivering. Best we can do,” says a clerk.

In the rain, the writer says, he found an express man willing to get the coal and bring it to the house. Normally, the deliveryman might charge $1 ($20.52 USD 2005) for a four-hour job, but now he wanted 75 cents an hour.

“I gave him the money to buy the coal and saw him disappear in the drizzle,” the writer says. “I hurried off home as fast as I could to revive the flagging spirits of my family....

“In just a little while, I told them, we would be sitting by the side of a cheery, crackling blaze.”

Hour after hour, and no coal.

Finally the deliveryman arrived. With an empty wagon.

“Say mister,” he said. “Honest I didn’t have the nerve to stay there any longer and use up your money. You won’t never get no coal.”

“No coal,” I echoed.

“Sure not. When I went down there I found nearly 30 wagons lined up there at the yard waiting to get coal. And the fellows shoveling it out weren’t in any hurry, either. When I came away, there were at least 30 or 40 more wagons waiting behind me. The coal yard looked like a country fair.

“I waited four hours and I didn’t seem much nearer the coal than when I started. I thought you might need a little of your money yourself. So I gave it up and came back.”

The writer concludes: “I have paid $3; I have wasted a day telephoning to people who laughed at me. I have probably sacrificed my immortal soul.

“But I haven’t got any coal.”

The precise reasons for the “coal famine” would take a bit too long to track down for today’s post. From late 1906 to early 1907, The Times is full of stories about coal shortages throughout the U.S., complicated by allegations of price fixing, trusts, trade restriction and diversion of coal shipments to other cities, such as San Francisco, that were also out of fuel.

One news story sums it up nicely: “Has the coal famine become widespread? Listen to an old-timer on the market: ‘The only place that hasn’t complained for the lack of coal is hell.’ ”

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Sunday, January 07, 2007


Jan. 7, 1907
Long Beach

Elizabeth Mahler, a dainty brunette with a “sunny and jolly disposition,” is one of the bright spots at Long Beach Hospital. She had many male suitors and a few a months ago became engaged to a young man from Rialto whose last name was Kingman.

In tending to the afflicted of Long Beach, however, she became well-acquainted with Lynn E. Babcock, the business partner of one of her patients, Jay Cooke.

Although Mahler was already engaged, Babcock courted her ardently, provoking jealousy from her fiance. On Christmas, both men presented her with gifts and Kingman (who is not otherwise identified) insisted that she reject Babcock’s gift.

Mahler refused and the engagement was broken.

“This was Babcock’s opportunity and he was quick to ask Miss Mahler to become his wife, and was made happy by an acceptance. Miss Mahler sent in her resignation to the hospital and is now busy with her dressmaker preparing her trousseau,” The Times says.

Some might end the story here with a rosy, romantic fadeout, but let’s check with Proquest. Oh my. The record is incomplete, but messy.

Nine years later, there’s a nasty pair of divorce cases working their way through the Long Beach courts. Mrs. Fannie Wildrig accuses her husband, Henry, of extreme cruelty stemming from his infatuation with Mrs. Elizabeth Babcock. Mrs. Babcock, in the meantime, is accusing her husband, Lynn, of cruelty.

Here, The Times becomes a bit enigmatic: “Justice Underwood of Long Beach was a witness in Mrs. Wildrig’s suit and testified to the arrest of Mr. Wildrig in the Babcock case. He said the charge of misconduct was dismissed for the sake of the children of the couple.”

The Times notes that the court battle between the Babcocks will constitute an effort by Elizabeth “to clear her name of the imputation cast on it.”

Unfortunately, no further entries can be found. Such are the rewards and frustrations of research.

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