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Way Back When in Santa Barbara – March 1914
updated: Mar 15, 2014, 11:00 AM

By Betsy J. Green

Here are the highlights of life in our fair city as seen in Santa Barbara's Morning Press and Daily News and Independent (minus the bad words, of course) in March of 1914.

Pilot Cheats Death in Hope Ranch. March 1914 started off with a bang for two high-flying celebrities. Lincoln Beachey, the famous pilot - he who wore his hat backwards - aimed high in the sky over Hope Ranch on March 1. Some 5,000 Santa Barbarans assembled to watch his attempt at a new record for the number of loop the loops. (In aviation as with roller coasters, a loop the loop is a vertical loop.) After Beachey's first loop at 1800 feet, he lost control of the aircraft, and ended up spiraling to earth and landing in a tree. (Thanks to Neal http://www.elbarbareno.com/ Graffy for what may be the last photo of the ill-fated plane with the Beachster on the left and Glen Martin on the right at Hope Ranch just before the unhappy landing.)

Miraculously, Beachey survived with only a scratch on his nose. (As any pilot will tell you - a good landing is one you can walk away from; a great landing is when you can reuse the aircraft.) This was a good, but not a great, landing. The plane was totaled, and Beachey himself was so totally disgusted that he said a BAD WORD (which the newspapers refused to print) and declared he was done with flying: "My d--d luck! Never again for me!"

Most of the spectators thought it was all part of the act and applauded heartily. Nobody asked for a refund. Even the experts were fooled. "Glen Martin, the aviator, was enthusiastically counting the number of loops and shouted excitedly that Beachey had broken his record by making 14 loops." (Martin was also a pilot and had his own airplane manufacturing company. It survives today as Lockheed-Martin.)

But after a hearty dinner, Beachey calmed down. He made light of his brush with death and his vow to stop flying. Sadly, his luck only lasted for another year. On March 14, 1915, exactly 54 weeks later, Beachey died in San Francisco when his plane broke apart in the air as he was doing loop the loops over the bay.

High Diving Act on State Street. Another aerial act in Santa Barbara had a happier outcome a few weeks after the Hope Ranch debacle. A 75-foot ladder was erected on State Street in front of the Mission Theatre (now the Metro 4) and a net was placed below. At 6:45 p.m., the performer simply known as Queen, clad in nothing more than some skimpy black leather straps with large metal studs, climbed the ladder and dove, more or less gracefully, to land safely in the net.

Celebrity Appearances are nothing new in Santa Barbara. Helen Keller arrived here in March 1914, accompanied by her teacher Anne Sullivan. The two gave a lecture at the Potter Theatre in the same- named hotel once located in the West Beach area. The two ladies were giving presentations at numerous other cities at this time, but their stop in Santa Barbara was special because Keller had relatives here. During her brief stopover, she visited her cousins Mary V. and Sally C. Newsum who lived at 1234 Anacapa Street. (I checked. The home is no longer there.) (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

The African-American educator, Booker T. Washington spoke at the Normal College on the Riviera where 1500 persons gathered in the courtyard of the school to hear him. Washington was the founder and president of Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

On a Lighter Note, Santa Barbara's train station was the site for a brief but entertaining visit from world-famous vaudeville comedian Scotsman Harry Lauder. He was known for wearing a kilt and carrying a gnarled walking stick. The entertainer gave a brief performance for some 70 Santa Barbarans. "Accompanied by two of his pipers in kilties and full Scotch costume, he gave a short entertainment on the depot platform and was vociferously applauded by his local admirers. He was on his way in his private car from Los Angeles to San Francisco."

No doubt, Lauder had the crowd doubled over with his jokes that usually began, "Hae ye heard this one?" Many of his jokes dealt with the stereotype of penny-pinching Scotsmen, such as: When Hamish discovered a fly in his whiskey; he squeezed the fly before he threw it out. (Photo courtesy of the New York Evening Journal)

Speaking of Scotland, where the game of golf originated, take a gander at what the well-dressed golfer of 1914 was wearing when he played the links at our local courses. Ever wonder how a "sports jacket" got its name? Now you know. Here's an ad in the Morning Press.

The Talk of the Town in March 1914 was about the first "talking pictures" to be shown in Santa Barbara at the Potter Theatre. The newspaper ads called it "the sensation of the century," and for once this was not empty hyperbole. "The great crowd sat in absolute silence," the Morning Press wrote, "as they saw the pictures flashed upon the screen and heard the voice of each character with as much clearness as if the players on the screen were actually talking. … Without a doubt, these pictures are the best and most entertaining ever presented. There is no doubt the ‘talking movies' have come to stay … "

Not everyone in the film business was convinced that audiences wanted sound along with the images. Mary Pickford, THE female star of the silent era, said that adding audio would be like putting lipstick on the Venus de Milo. The inventor of "talking pictures," Thomas Edison, saw talking pictures as a way of bringing culture to the masses. "The workers deserve and must have more amusement than the richer folk, who are able to afford the regular theater and other expensive pleasures."

The Right to Remain Silent rule had not yet been instituted in law enforcement, and the expression "zip your lip" did not exist in 1914 either since zippers were not invented yet. Nonetheless, one Santa Barbara resident should have put his brain in gear before opening his mouth to the local police chief. The resident, Charles Berkman was accused of assaulting another man named Sam Smit. Both were junk dealers. According to the paper, "Berkman fell victim to a little flattery used by the chief in serving the warrant and admitted his guilt." The chief told Berkman that his junk shop was cleaner than Smit's. "At the mention of his rival's name, Berkman beamed all over. ‘Say, chief, I whaled the everlasting stuffing out of that guy yesterday,' chortled Berkman. ‘Is that so,' said Chief Ross. ‘Well, I've got a warrant for you for battery.'" Berkman was given an "invitation" to explain his actions before a judge.

The Age of the Auto officially rolled onto State Street in March of 1914. "Hitching posts along State Street must go," announced the Daily News and Independent. "This morning, the street department started a crew to work on either side of the street digging the posts out of their concrete foundations … posts which have been doing duty for numerous years have disappeared." Another sign of "progress" was paved streets. Already in 1914, there were 10 miles of paved streets out of the 80.7 total miles of streets in Santa Barbara. Heavens to Betsy! What's next? Bulb-outs?

Tin Can Shack Shelters Hikers. Many of you have probably hiked up Rattlesnake Canyon to Tin Can Meadow and rested before heading back down the trail or heading on up. Back in 1914, the tin can shack was still standing and provided some much appreciated shelter for the hiker's group in a rainstorm; especially so because it was the first time women were invited to participate in a hike. The group huddled in the shack and built a fire, but after three hours, the deluge continued and the group decided to hike back in the rain. "The walk back was made through the mud, and the girls are deserving of special commendation for the good-natured manner in which they endured the little hardships," wrote the Morning Press.

"The tin can shack is an odd structure," continued the paper, "erected several years ago by a McConnell, who decided to live in the mountains. He chose this open space at the head of Rattlesnake, but being short of means, gathered all sorts of tin cans in the city. The cans were cut open and the flat tin nailed to a crude framework. The shack is rather picturesque and is of two rooms. It has been abandoned for a long time."

When did the tin can shack pass into history? I asked trail historian Dave Everett, author of the forthcoming book "Rediscovering the Trails of Mission Canyon." Everett said, "The Morning Press in 1918 reported that the roof had caved in and it was starting to fall apart. By 1923, the ‘shack' was a pile of tin and wood … The cause of the final destruction was ... weather and ‘a group of wayward boys' that finally leveled the building to the ground. … There is no marker of its exact location in the meadow but from photographs I have seen, it was in the upper half of the meadow." Everett also mentioned that correct name of the shack's builder was William O'Connell.

Bigfoot Afoot in Ojai? Speaking of odd-ball characters, some high-tech bandits used nitroglycerine to blow up the post office safe in Ojai (still called Nordhoff in 1914) one night and escaped with $476. Nobody actually SAW the robbers, but footprints found near the crime scene contained a shoeprint 11 inches long and 4-1/2 inches wide. No strange tufts of hair from a "non-species-specific mammal" were found, so maybe it wasn't Bigfoot and his pals after all. Okay. But I'm saying, what about clowns? Eh? Think about it. (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.)

(Thanks to longtime Santa Barbara "plugger" Bob Carlson who told me that the name Nordhoff was nixed during World War I because of anti-German sentiment.)

For the Birds. Bird lovers flocked to the Potter Theatre to see the first Santa Barbara appearance of "the bird man," William Leon Dawson. During his two-hour lecture, he shared his enthusiasm for his feathered friends to the extent that the Daily News and Independent wrote, "… one doesn't have to go on a far flight of imagination to fancy him a large specimen of long-legged shorebird. I should think his family would live in constant dread lest some fine day, he spread an invisible pair of wings, and soar away back to the wild."

Joan Easton Lentz, author of several bird books and the recent "A Naturalist's Guide to the Santa Barbara Region," is a great admirer of Dawson and his contribution to birding here. She told me, "In his talk, he mentioned that he had identified 103 species of birds in Santa Barbara. Many years ago, I was given the rarest piece that I have ever received for my nature library: a three-volume edition of William Leon Dawson's "The Birds of California." … They were one of the first attempts to describe California's birdlife in a way that would bring Dawson's enthusiasm and love of birds to the general public. … Dawson was probably the first ornithologist IN THE WEST to describe birds in a way that would enchant readers, whether they liked birds or not! And he was an ornithologist, and he was the first director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Pretty impressive stuff!!"

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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