Way Back When in October 1917

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Way Back When in October 1917
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By Betsy J. Green

How bad can a dead whale smell? Some folks were learning about that firsthand. Fortunately, the decaying mammal turned up at about the same time that some 20,000 flowers were blooming at the Recreation Center on Carrillo. War talk was “in,” and a local pacifist was booted out.

Every month, I read the 100-year-old newspapers of Santa Barbara -- “The Morning Press,” “The Daily News & Independent,” and “The Carpinteria Valley News” -- so you don’t have to. Here are all the interesting and amusing tidbits from the local papers. “The history of Santa Barbara -- one month at a time!”

A Whale of a Problem

How bad can a dead whale smell? Pretty bad, according to the local papers. Image: Pacific Rural Press, Ocotober 12, 1872

There were 10 articles about the moribund sea mammal on the beach at Serena (between Summerland and Carpinteria). “The monster … was towed out to sea, strapped with sand and bags to sink it, but the buoyancy of the carcass carried the sandbags ashore. Then, “like the famed cat, … it came back, washing up on the beach at Serena … Quite a number of people, however, holding their noses, bravely essayed a trip to the scene to view the uninvited guest.”

It even made the pages of the “Los Angeles Times,” which stated that the carcass measured 72 feet. The situation was getting worse, and the reports were getting more graphic. “There is now the danger that it will explode. It is just about as full of gas as its hide will hold.” Ewww! The supervisor of Carpinteria asked the general public for ideas, and got the usual stupid advice. “Somebody suggested a stick of dynamite might help. Another advanced the idea that as the whale is a mass of blubber, and blubber is used for candles, that a huge wick be stuck in the back of the carcass and lighted, making a mammoth candle, and gradually burning up the whale.”

By October 15, six days after the first discovery, the situation was intensifying. “The dead whale of Serena is become a serious matter now. Anybody who would joke about it, ought to be made to stand six feet to leeward of it for 10 minutes. … Passing tourists hold their noses, and speed up out of that odoriferous region.” Eventually, the odor and the excitement died down.

Tooting Her Horn

Mary Miles Minter stood at the corner of State and Cañon Perdido streets to sell war bonds and sign autographs. Image: Motion Picture News, October 6, 1917

The “Flying A” starlet promised to give her autograph to everyone who bought a Liberty Bond from her in Santa Barbara. A Liberty Bond was a way for people to loan money to the U.S. Government to help finance the war effort. “You are asked to loan money … to the end that your government may clothe, feed, and arm the boys who have made the sacrifice supreme -- they have loaned their bodies and life blood!,” wrote the local paper. “Miss Minter is not only patriotically thrifty herself, but she believes every other person in this land should be, and for that reason is to devote her time this afternoon and evening to spreading the Liberty Bond gospel among Santa Barbarans, and will take part in the Liberty Bond parade this evening.”

HCL and Postage Stamps

The high cost of living (HCL) caused by the war in Europe was having an effect on prices of food, clothing, building materials, and now -- stamps. October 31 was the last date that the Post Office would accept the old two-cent stamps. As of November 1, ordinary letters had to have the new three-cent stamp, or a two-cent stamp with an additional one-cent stamp. Letters without sufficient postage would be held at the post office.

The price of postage rose more than 30% overnight. Image: Wikipedia

City Council Plans Dam Trip

Pouring concrete on the Gibraltar Dam in 1920. Image: Popular Science Monthly magazine, March, 1920

The Gibraltar Dam, on the Santa Ynez River, had been under construction since 1914, and the members of the City Council decided it was time for a road trip. “It is understood that in the near future, the council plans in a body to go through the tunnel and visit the Gibraltar Dam site, which will be a new experience to a majority of that body.” The dam was not completed until 1920.

NIMBY 1917

Well, it wasn’t exactly “not in my backyard,” just “not in my garden.” So said Milo Potter, owner of the Potter Hotel. “Potter Sounds Riot Call When Three Cows Intrude,” read the headline. When a group of cows invaded the Geranium Garden at the hotel, “Mr. Potter was the first to notice the ‘pesky critters,’ and sounded the riot call immediately. Bellhops, clerks, porters, and linen hustlers were all on deck almost instantaneously. And then the grand onslaught began. Before the intruders could do any material damage to the flowers, they were chased far up the beach toward the mountains.” No one seemed to know where the invading cows had come from, but perhaps they were protesting the presence of non-native geraniums on their turf. Although, come to think of it, cows are not native here either.

A herd of cows tried to tiptoe through the geraniums at the Potter Hotel. Image: Wikimedia

Flower Show Blooms at Rec. Center

Chrysanthemums stole the show this month. Image: New York Public Library

As many as 20,000 chrysanthemums were on display at the fall show of the Santa Barbara Horticultural Society at the Recreation Center on Carrillo and Anacapa streets. Some came from elsewhere, but as many as 1,800 were grown locally. “It will be one of the most brilliant flower shows that has ever taken place in this state. … Hundreds of flower lovers visited the display rooms to admire the many fine specimens on display. … The chrysanthemum is queen of this show, and hundreds of beautiful blooms are on display.”

And still on the subject of flowers, many people in Santa Barbara were growing vegetables in their “liberty gardens,” and one woman was growing medicinal plants to help the U.S. Government. Upon reading that hospitals in Europe were in need of a heart medication called digitalis, one Santa Barbara woman contributed leaves from a plant in her garden called Foxglove. She “sent a large box of dried leaves to the United States pharmaceutic department of the agricultural department at Washington. … only the mature green leaves can be used for the drug.

The Red Cross in the Library

Image: American Red Cross magazine, February 1916

Just about everybody in Santa Barbara was doing something related to the war effort. At the Central Library, the energetic librarian Mrs. Frances Linn organized a separate table of books for members of the Junior Red Cross -- “a large number of books and magazines dealing principally with Red Cross work and making materials for soldiers … it is expected that there will be enough reading matter for the benefit of the junior members of the society to aid them materially in any feat they undertake for this work.”

And the next day, the paper reported, “In furthering her efforts to do everything within her power to aid America in winning the war, Mrs. Frances B. Linn, librarian, has formed plans for another special table at the library for the use of the Santa Barbara Women’s Committee members of the Councils for National and State Defense. … Mrs. Linn gives Santa Barbara women a large amount of credit for the efforts they have put forth toward Red Cross and conservation work.”

“Sewing” the Seeds of Success

A young lady visited Santa Barbara this month to show off her wildly successful line of brightly colored women’s aprons. It all began a year ago, when she needed an apron. “Failing to find anything to meet her demands, she purchased material and made one. Immediately, she received inquiries from all her neighbors, as to where it had been purchased, and orders began coming in faster than she could fill them.” She acquired a used sewing machine and started hiring girls to sew aprons.

June Rand built a business empire on sales to women. Image: The American magazine, June 1918

The young lady, named June Rand, knew she had a good idea, and made the most of it. She wore her aprons to department stores, and introduced herself to the stores' buyers. The orders piled up, and snowballed. "Dry goods stores all along the coast began to give 'Sassy Jane' exhibitions. [Her appearance at Northman's here in Santa Barbara was among them.] A 'Sassy Jane' week was celebrated. Society girls entertained with 'Sassy Jane' parties, to which the guests were to come attired in 'Sassy Jane' dresses. Newspapers used the story. The demand grew enormously." (Business Digest and Investment Weekly, August 13, 1920)

The “Sassy Jane” apron started Rand on the path to success. Image: San Bernardino News, May 24, 1918

By 1920, a business magazine wrote, "The Sassy Jane Manufacturing Company today ... operates 500 power machines, employs over 600 persons, and is growing weekly. 'Sassy Jane' products have a national distribution." (Business Digest and Investment Weekly, August 13, 1920)

Rand branched out and created 127 more styles of attractive aprons, with names such as “Quaker Maid,” “Colleen,” and the “Highland Lassie.”

A Dog and Monkey Hotel?

Trained dogs and monkeys performed in a hotel scene. Image: Library of Congress

Well, this was a new one for me. This month, a traveling carnival came to Santa Barbara with the usual animal acts and rides. But an added attraction was their “Wonderful Dog and Monkey Hotel.” I did some research, and found out that several different traveling shows had dog-and-monkey-hotels. And they were apparently popular with carnival crowds. Basically, trained dogs and monkeys performed tricks on a small stage that had a miniature hotel. The Foley & Burk carnival was based on the West Coast, and was around from about 1913 to the 1960s. Anybody remember seeing this show here?

Not Where You Expect

It’s still here. I found another building that was built 100 years ago. It’s not in Montecito, or Hope Ranch, or even on the Riviera. It’s tucked away on the Westside, in the shadow of the Mesa. And it’s one of the few buildings in Santa Barbara designed by Myron Hunt, a prominent Pasadena architect who designed the Huntington Library in San Marino. Here in Santa Barbara, Hunt also designed the San Marcos Building at State and Anapamu streets, the Faulkner Gallery at the Central Library, and La Arcada. And he also designed the mansion at 935 San Andres Street for Major John H. H. Peshine.

The Peshine home was featured in a major architecture magazine. Image: Architecture & Engineer magazine, June 1919

“Architecture of Old Seville Echoed in New and Magnificent Home Now Being Built here for Major Peshine,” read the headlines in the local paper, which featured a large sketch of the architect’s drawing of the proposed home. “Work is underway, and the foundations are mostly in. … The house is designed with an effort to pick up the Spanish work in the neighborhood of Seville. The construction is frame, clothed with terracotta and roofed with tile, with wrought iron balconies in the second story, and wrought iron grilles in the first story windows. In 1919, the “Architect and Engineer” magazine devoted eight pages to the home, and noted, “The first impression of Major Peshine's house is one of a certain indefinable classic quality. It has a sumptuous character, though this is gained by the simplest means. Throughout there is a sureness of touch in mass and detail that shows the masterly hand." The Peshine mansion was a restaurant for a while, and is now home to the Shoreline Church.

A 100-Year-Old Club That’s Still Active

Image: Rotary Rotarian magazine February 1916

“Twenty businessmen of Santa Barbara met today at a luncheon at the Arlington Hotel, and completed plans for the organization of a Rotary Club.” Over the next century, the germ of that idea took hold. I spoke with Scott Phillips, Rotary’s Assistant Governor for the Santa Barbara area, who told me there are presently about 350 members here. “Currently there are nine clubs (between Goleta and Carpinteria), with the oldest of the clubs being the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara. Their first meeting was held on November 2, 1917, but their charter date is January 1, 1918. The other clubs have different charter dates. … Rotary International remains committed to ending polio, a major initiative started back in 1985. However, the local clubs, while involved in the End Polio Now campaign, have some of their own initiatives and organizations they have partnered with and help out.”

Outspoken Pacifist is Cast Out

This was not a good time to be a pacifist, and Rev. George H. Greenfield, pastor of Santa Barbara’s Congregational Church was finding that out. According to a loooong article in the local paper, Greenfield had written seditious materials, including stating that he had “outgrown the American flag, Red Cross literature and other war stuff.” Greenfield had been with the church here for three years, and had received mixed reviews from his congregation. “During the last year, the membership of this church has changed greatly, many of the old members breaking away from him and going to other churches, while other people, apparently pleased by his talks, have been drawn into the church.” The day after this article ran in the paper, there was a meeting at the church, and “by a vote of 91 to 50, the members of the First Congregational Church terminated the pastorate of the Rev. George H. Greenfield.”

[Spoiler alert - Greenfield stayed on in Santa Barbara until his death in 1927. His obit in the local papers mentioned he had a real estate business, but did not mention his expulsion from the Congo church.]

Look for my Way Back When columns on Edhat on the first Saturday of every month. At the end of each year, I publish my columns for the year in book form -- “the history of Santa Barbara - one year at a time.” My books are available at Chaucer’s, the Historical Museum, Santa Barbara Arts, the Maritime Museum, the Mesa Bookshop, the Genealogy Society, and Amazon.com.

For slideshows or talks, contact me through my website: betsyjgreen.com

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bjgreen Oct 09, 2017 10:57 AM
Way Back When in October 1917

Many thanks to the Graffster (a.k.a. Neal Graffy) who told me that there is an authentic Foley & Burk circus wagon at the Santa Barbara Carriage Museum in Pershing Park. Here is the museum's website: http://carriagemuseum.org/

patrick Oct 09, 2017 09:19 AM
Way Back When in October 1917

Thanks for another interesting and amusing glimpse into the 100 year old local scene. Always fascinating!

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