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Way Back When

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 taken up."

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 Ford tire."

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 1963.

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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