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Way Back When: February 1914
updated: Feb 15, 2014, 12:00 PM
By Betsy J. Green
Read All About It! Headlines in our local newspapers in February 1914 included tidal waves, rattlesnakes,
and pale blue poison.
Tidal Wave Kills 10,000 in California, according to Belgian newspapers reporting about January's
flood. Several European papers reported that everywhere from San Jose to Los Angeles was underwater and
10,000 people had been swept away by a tidal wave. Santa Barbara residents received R U OK? telegrams
from friends and relatives in Europe.
The newspaper reports went on to say that everyone living inland of a light blue line painted on the streets
was spared. (Okay, just kidding about that one!) The exaggerated reports in European newspapers should
remind us that just because it's in print (or on the Internet), doesn't mean it's true. As they say in
journalism - If your mother says she loves you; check it out!
Oh, Lucky Man! Franklin Pierce Montgomery was working on a house at Cota and Bath streets
and must have had his guardian angel with him this day. As the house was being raised up off its
foundation (it was probably displaced by the January flood), it slipped and fell on him.
Fortunately, he had better luck than the Wicked Witch of the East. The soil underneath him gave way and
he was not seriously injured, according to the newspaper. I checked the cemetery records here on the
Santa Barbara Genealogy Society's website and did not find him buried here, so he must have survived.
When I mentioned this story to Neal Santa-Barbara-Then-And-Now Graffy, his antennae perked up and he
sent me a THEN postcard showing some of the devastation caused by the 1914 flood.
Snakes alive! A man picking up waterlogged lumber on his property on West Islay Street, found a
four-foot-long rattlesnake. Two more rattlers were found in the debris piled upstream of one of the
bridges over Mission Creek. All three were killed.
It's Mine Now. The same January rainstorm (9.41 inches) caused some streams here to change
their course. This created problems for landowners whose property descriptions contained the phrase, "to
the middle of the creek." One landowner found herself "in possession of two or three acres which before
were on the other side of the creek, upon which are a number of valuable trees. The expense of turning the
stream back into its old channel would be greater than the value of the land, so the question is, to whom
does the runaway property belong?"
Here's One for King Solomon. Another legal question raised by the flooding was, "If a flock of
chickens lands in your front yard, through elemental disturbance, to whom do the chickens belong?" Some
of the chicken receivers downstream who woke up after the rainstorm and found themselves in possession
of a gaggle of cluckers felt they were entitled to keep the birds. However, the original chicken owners
upstream cried - of course - "Fowl!" Continued the local paper, "There is a crying need of the
standardization of the regulations governing ownership of the flotsam and jetsam of Mission Creek."
Hmmm. Do salvage rights apply to chickens?
Kitchen Disasters Repurposed? One of the menu suggestions in the local paper listed "Dropped
Eggs." I guess we've all dropped an egg or two in our culinary escapades, but I'd never thought of serving
them up, or mentioning that I scraped them up off the floor and cooked them anyway. But never fear, dear
readers! A quick perambulation around the Internet revealed that "dropped eggs" is an old-fashioned term
for "poached eggs."
And speaking of historic cuisine, here's a recipe that a Santa Barbara newspaper printed for "Saratoga
Chips." Does it sound like anything we eat today? (Answer at the end of my column.) "Peel the potatoes
carefully, cut into very thin slices and keep in cold water overnight, drain off the water and rub the
potatoes between napkins or towels until thoroughly dry, then throw a handful at a time into a kettle or
pan of very hot lard, stirring with a fork so that they may not adhere to the kettle or to each other. As soon
as they become light brown and crisp, remove quickly with a skimmer and sprinkle with salt as they are
Downward Dog! Hey yoga folks! Can you do this? Can your dog do this? I thought my "downward
dog" was pretty good, but this dog has me beat, that's for sure. A trained animal act packed the Portola
Theatre in February 1914 to see Teddy, the Russian wolfhound do his thing. He was accompanied by a
group of trained goats in tights. (Just kidding about the tights, but there was a trained goat act that
warmed up the crowd for the Tedster.) And by the way - Teddy, the Russian wolfhound? Couldn't they
come up with a more Slavic-sounding name? How about Vladimir or Yakov or Borat?
"Pale Blue Poison." People who paid attention in high school English class might recognize this
description of adulterated milk from "The Jungle," Upton Sinclair's 1906 exposé of the unappetizing and
dangerous practices in the food industry. The Pure Food and Drugs Act was passed in 1906, but people
were still concerned about what was really in what they were eating and drinking. Here in Santa Barbara,
dairy owners on the Mesa ran ads in the paper assuring citizens that they were selling the real deal.
Car Cranks. Herbert Earlscliffe of Montecito was cranking the starter on his car when something
went horribly wrong and he ended up with a broken arm. Dana Newquist, classic car collector, told me,
"Most cars into the mid 30s had ‘crank holes' at the base of the radiator shell for insertion of the crank. …
The danger of the crank happens when a person is turning the engine over using the crank and the car
‘backfires.' A backfire forces the engine to abruptly reverse direction. If your arm is turning the crank in a
clockwise direction when a backfire occurs, the result is often a broken arm." Ouch!
If only Herbert had waited a year! In 1915, a Dayton, Ohio man named Charles Kettering received a patent
for the electrical starter motor. He went on to become the founder of Delco. The name Delco comes from
Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company.
Ford Tires and Baby's Teeth. This headline caught my eye, and also inspired the witty reply of a
newspaper writer. The origin of the remark began with a humorous article in Harper's Weekly magazine
about the popularity of Ford cars. The writer quipped, "Every second baby you meet is cutting its teeth on a
The newspaper's "Bureau of Superfluous and Erroneous Statistics" replied tongue-in-cheek (pun intended!)
that it "has microscopically examined 148,762 Ford tires for infantile teeth marks. It is manifestly difficult
with our present equipment to differentiate with scientific accuracy between nail marks, spike marks, tack
marks, and infantile teeth marks. … if this investigation is still further to be prosecuted and the teeth-
cutting resiliency and prophylactic properties of the Ford tire are to be considered an asset, we recommend
the addition of a well-equipped dentist to the staff of this bureau." I couldn't have said it better myself.
$15,000 House. Well, I never know where a story will take me once I start to dig into it. In this
case, an article about a building permit for a home that was estimated to cost $15,000 caught my eye. In
1914, when the average wage earner was taking home $1,266, this was clearly not your average abode. A
woman named Miriam R. Vaughan applied for the permit. A little research in the Santa Barbara Public
Library and online uncovered the fact that she was the wife of the artist Reginald Wilmer Vaughan, and the
mother of their son Samuel Edson Vaughan, also an artist. The Vaughan family lived in their
Mediterranean-style home at 316 E. Los Olivos until the late 1950s. (The house is still here, and is a City
Designated Landmark. Please do not bother the current occupants.)
Reginald studied with Santa Barbara artist Ed Borein, and his son studied with Carl Oscar Borg, another
prominent local artist. Dan Calderon, chief curator at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, told me that
some of Reginald's work will be featured in an exhibit later this year.
Reginald's son Samuel Edson Vaughan painted one of the WPA murals located in the foyer of the Veteran's
Memorial Building at 112 W. Cabrillo Blvd. (This mural, which depicts Europe after World War I, is located
up near the ceiling. I almost walked out without seeing it! The mural on the opposite wall was done by
another Santa Barbara artist - Joseph Knowles.)
New Windows Instructions. No, this article was not talking about Windows software, which would
not be invented until almost 70 years later. The innovation being discussed in 1914 was windows on
envelopes - something we probably take for granted today. The newspaper felt it necessary to describe
this what this new-fangled item was: "Window envelopes are ones having an opening or a transparent
panel in the front, through which the address upon the enclosure is disclosed." (Before the invention of
windowed envelopes in 1902, many businesses had employees who spent all day writing or typing
addresses on envelopes. Windowed envelopes saved time and money. Hmmm… I'll bet the word "junk mail"
would be invented before too long.)
Severe Weather Gripped the Country from Maine to Texas in February 1914: "Railroads in the
Middle West are badly crippled, and with the storm as severe on the seaboard, it is feared there will be a
repetition … of the tie-up of 10 days ago, when New York City was near to suffering a famine, for want of
means of bringing food and fuel to the city. Great storms at sea also are reported, and the southern
European storms of yesterday continue." Sounds eerily like this winter, doesn't it?
Answer to culinary question - Saratoga Chips are now called potato chips. Saratoga Chips are said to have
been first made by in 1853 by a chef in Saratoga Springs, NY. In the 1920s, a man named Herman Lay
began manufacturing and distributing them nationally. The "betcha can't eat just one" slogan dates to
Santa Barbara author Betsy J. Green also writes a history column for The Mesa Paper, a garden column
for the Living-Mission Gazette, and is working on a book about the history of the Mesa. To see her previous
Edhat columns, click here.
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