Way Back When in September 1917
By Betsy J. Green
A "scissors artist" came to town this month, a man-eating shark shook things up at Stearns Wharf, a SB native played in the World Series, and someone wanted to put a resort hotel on Hope Ranch.
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!”
Early X-Man Visits SB
Well, he wasn’t a super hero, but he was pretty good with a pair of scissors, if you know what I mean. And you probably don’t know what I mean. His professional name was X. Ackley Sackett. His real name was Henry Sackett. The X. Ackley referred to his precision with scissors. Get it? Exactly. Sackett was called a “scissors artist.” As the local paper explained, “His unique art is exercised in the cutting out of silhouettes that are lifelike portrait outlines of the faces of the patrons of the store -- or their babies. The pictures are cut from black paper, and pasted on a base of white cardboard, and they are wonderful likenesses of the originals.” The artist plied his craft in the windows of the Walton dry goods store at 819 State Street.
A “scissors artist” usually created silhouettes freehand. Image: Wikimedia
I got curious about this gentleman and did a little searching on Ancestry.com and located his grandson -- and found a photo of X. Ackley! His grandson told me, “My grandfather, Henry (X.) Ackley Sackett traveled the country cutting silhouettes on steamboats, at fairs, expo's and carnivals, and, of course, clothing/dept. stores. He claimed to have been taught the art as a child by family friend P.T. Barnum. He was quite a celebrity in the late nineteenth century and is believed to have cut the silhouettes of a number of Presidents. In 1917, it is likely he had his son, 5 year old Harry (Buddy), with him.”
A rare photo of Henry X. Ackley Sackett who visited here in 1917. Image: courtesy of Robert I. Sackett
Women of all ages were encouraged to knit woolen items for soldiers. Image: Library of Congress
While the men of Santa Barbara were marching off to war or drilling in the local constabulary (home guard), the women and girls of Santa Barbara were knitting -- here, there, and everywhere. They knit with gray wool -- in the hot days of September. They knit scarves that had to be 58 inches long. They also knit wristlets -- a kind of fingerless glove. “The knitting needles are flying in Santa Barbara these days in the undertaking to help in doing this city’s share in the furnishing of 500 sets in the great ‘Red Cross drive’ for the wool garments for our soldiers in the trenches and our sailors on the sea. … The workers are many, and the work is … very well done.” According to one article, women were knitting while riding on the bus, while waiting in line at the bank, as well as at home.
Santa Barbara’s womenfolk knitted woolen gloves in the September heat. Image: Ogden Standard, October 6, 1917
A Big Whopper on the Wharf
This was not just another fish story. This baby was a five-foot-long leopard shark, and according to the local paper, it was a “man eater.” A Chinese man fishing at Stearns Wharf caught the shark, but it wasn’t easy. “Before [the shark] was landed, the fisherman had quite a fight, finally playing out the shark’s strength, after half an hour’s effort. It is one of the biggest sharks landed in these parts for many months.”
A leopard shark surprised a fisherman on Stearns Wharf. Image: California Department of Fish and Wildlife
I asked Dr. Milton Love, author of "Certainly More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast," for his take on this story. He said that the size of this shark is not unusual for the species, and that these sharks are fairly common around Coal Oil Point in the summer. "They seem to gather right at that spot every year in the spring and likely depart in the fall," he told me. And what about the "man-eating" label? Not so much. "Leopard sharks have relatively small teeth, and unless some of your readers are sand crabs they would have nothing to fear. If some of your readers are sand crabs, they should stay clear of the Coal Oil Point area." Dr. Love added that most species of sharks are tasty, so I'm guessing that this shark ended up in a wok.
‘Tis the Season for -- a Kermesse
This was a new one on me. A “kermesse” (care-MESS) is a carnival/bazaar held for the benefit of a school or church. The earliest reference to a kermesse that I could find mentioned in California newspapers dates back to 1890. These festivals were often held in the fall. This one was held on September 16 -- Independence Day in Mexico.
This kermesse was held at the Flores Ranch in Sycamore Canyon for the benefit of the New Catholic Church Fund and the Saint Cecilia Club, and everyone was invited. “A great and joyous time assured,” read the ad. There would be patriotic speeches, songs in Spanish and English, dance exhibitions, music by a 10-piece orchestra, Mexican food, a barbeque, and much more. Libations included coffee, tea, soft drinks, but “no intoxicants served or allowed on the grounds.”
The kermesse celebration here featured Spanish dancing exhibitions. Image: New York Public Library
Novelist/Screenwriter in Carpinteria
It’s not unusual for film people to occasionally drift our way -- now and in the past. James Dorrance, who with his wife Ethel Dorrance, had written several novels and screenplays, had been staying in Carpinteria with relatives this summer, and was now on his way back home to New York. According to “The Carpinteria Valley News,” while en route to his home, “he expects to stop several days in Los Angeles to observe the filming of ‘His Robe of Honor,’ which is now underway … in Hollywood. Carpinteria people who have read the book, agree with the moving picture experts … that it can be made into a notable photoplay.” Alas, this seems to be one of the many films of the 19-teens that are considered lost, so I guess we’ll never see this movie whose heroine was named Roxanna Frisbee. (I swear I’m not making this up!)
Dorrance and his wife penned numerous stories including this one. Image: All-Story Weekly magazine, August 5, 1916
Whistle-Stop Evangelist Gives Us a Passing Grade
Well, in spite of occasional stories about “blind pigs” (illegal saloons), and counterfeit money here, Santa Barbara was not on the road to perdition. At least not in the judgement of a famous man of God passing through on the train. “’Billy’ Sunday, noted evangelist, waved a cheery greeting to Santa Barbara from the ‘Lark’ early this morning. The peaceful aspect of Santa Barbara apparently impressed ‘Billy’ to a remarkable degree.”
A former outfielder, Sunday found God and transferred his athletic prowess to the pulpit. Image: Metropolitan Magazine, May 1915
“’It doesn’t look like there was anything for me to do here,’ he is said to have remarked … Sunday was on his way to Los Angeles where he is to hold a big revival campaign.”
SB Connection in the World Series
Santa Barbara baseball fans were looking forward to the 14th World Series this fall with special interest. Joe Wilhoit, outfielder for the New York Giants, was a Santa Barbara resident, who lived with his mother and sister on the 200 block of East Figueroa Street. (The house is no longer here.)
Santa Barbara resident Joe Wilhoit played for the New York Giants in the 1917 World Series. Image: Wikimedia
In addition to the New York Giants, Wilhoit also played for the Boston Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Boston Red Sox. According to the local paper, “He is 26 years old, weighs 170 pounds, is 6 feet 2 inches tall, bats lefthanded, but throws with his right hand.” Wilhoit and the New York Giants lost the series to the Chicago White Sox. Wilhoit died here in 1930.
Sports fans may be perplexed to read about a baseball team called the New York Giants, but that was the name of a baseball team in 1917. The team moved to San Francisco in 1958, and was renamed the San Francisco Giants. Today the New York Giants is a football team. Confused? Me too. Maybe it all starts to make sense by the time you’re in the seventh inning or third quarter, and have consumed the requisite beers and stadium hot dogs.
A Resort Hotel on Hope Ranch?
You may recall that back in 1916, there was a proposal to put a naval academy on Hope Ranch. They ran it up the flagpole, but no one saluted. (Read more about this on page 12 in my “Way Back When: Santa Barbara in 1916” book.) What next for Hope Ranch you ask? Well, how about a million-dollar hotel with 150 rooms? Throw in architect Myron Hunt, who was involved in the design of the Potter Hotel, a front-page headline, and 11 articles in the local papers. Yowzer! Talk about hype!
“News of the Hope Ranch building plans has electrified Santa Barbara, and has already instilled new life and interest in business and real estate circles. The plans … will transform the Hope Ranch into one vast playground where art and beauty vie to make pleasant the visit of eastern travelers. …The main building will be two stories, and have at least 150 rooms. There will be accommodations for twice as many guests among the bungalows, the present plans being to accommodate about 600 guests.
Did we need another big hotel in Santa Barbara? Some people thought we did, and they thought Hope Ranch was just the spot. Image: Library of Congress
Why did people think that the Potter and Arlington hotels would not be enough? Blame it on the Germans. Because of the war in Europe, and German U-boats in the Atlantic, fewer Americans were traveling to Europe. “The war brought about the discovery of California so far as the eastern tourist is concerned. … Many millions of dollars were spent each year in Europe by American tourists. … The tide of tourist travel is now permanently turned to the coast … The millions of dollars that were formerly spent in Europe will be circulated here, and California is bound to build up rapidly as a result.”
And that’s not all, folks. How about some big tourist hotels on, say, our Channel Islands? A convention of hotel men met in Santa Barbara this month, and the SB Chamber of Commerce secretary told the local paper that some of them “have their eye on the islands of the Santa Barbara Channel, and it is a popular belief among them that these islands are better places for summer resorts than even Catalina Island.”
A big resort hotel on Santa Cruz Island? Thankfully, some people had reservations about that idea. Image: Out-of-Doors, California and Oregon, by J.A. Graves, 1912
I asked Marla Daily, president of the Santa Cruz Island Foundation, if there had ever been a big tourist hotel on the northern Channel Islands, and she showed me an article from 1895 that stated, “Justinian Caire of San Francisco, owner of Santa Cruz Island in the Santa Barbara Channel, proposes to make an island resort of it after the manner and style of Santa Catalina Island. Mr. Caire is now at Catalina taking notes to use when he begins work at Santa Cruz. Other parties are interested in this enterprise with Mr. Caire, and there is no doubt of their ability to command all the money necessary for the undertaking. A magnificent hotel will be erected, and the island made a first-class resort. The natural attractions of Santa Cruz are said to surpass those of Catalina.” (Los Angeles Times, August 23, 1895) [Spoiler alert - This hotel was never built.]
SB Street Named for an Opera
How many streets in Santa Barbara are named for an opera? We don’t have a “Carmen” or a “Faust,” but we do have Natoma Avenue. This street in the West Beach neighborhood was named for “Natoma,” an opera written by Victor Herbert in 1911. The opera purported to portray the life of a Chumash woman set in Santa Barbara. Natoma Avenue runs near a slight hill that was once the site of the Chumash village named Syuxtun. There was a reading of this opera in September 1917 at a Santa Barbara women’s group. According to Michael Redmon, writing in “The Independent” in 2008, “The opera was a highly romantic melodrama, set in a historic period, yet wildly a-historical.”
Back East, the opera “Natoma” received mixed reviews. West Coast audiences were kinder. “Natoma Scores Big Hit,” wrote the Sacramento Union, March 5, 1911. Image: Library of Congress
As the world changes, so does our vocabulary. This month, there were several new words that appeared, and had to be explained to newspaper readers. Some of the words were related to the war activities in Europe.
The first new word was “tank.” That word is in my 1913 “Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary,” but the only meaning is “a large basin or cistern.” The local paper wrote, “The word ‘tank’ has been on the English-speaking tongue, and a few others, since on a certain Friday in September a year ago, that strange craft appeared on the war arena, and what it has been doing since has frequently been recorded.” The paper went on to report why the word “tank” was used. “Quite a large part of the earlier stage of manufacture would consist of the rolling of steel plates … which … might well be intended for vessels to hold water, petrol, or oil.” And because the British wanted to keep the manufacture of this new weapon a secret, the word “tank” was used as a code word so that the Germans would not know what it was. “Tank” was also easier to say and spell than “panzerkraftwagen” or “schützengraben vernichtung automobile.”
Tanks were a new weapon in World War I. Image: Library of Congress
In September 1917, the good folks of Santa Barbara could go to the Potter Theatre at 233 State Street to watch the film, “The Tanks in Action at the Battle of Ancre.” According to the ad in the local paper, “The advance of the ‘tanks,’ the mammoth war monsters that battle their way through barbed wire entanglements and leap trenches while spitting out their rain of fire are vividly pictured together with every vital scene of this overwhelming and epoch-making battle.” You can watch this film yourself on Youtube.
The next couple of new words this month relate to flying. The Lockheed/Loughead brothers had been flying here for a couple of years, but their aircraft was always called a “hydroplane” because it took off and landed on water. Aircraft which were land based were called “aeroplanes.” But from now on, new terms would be used -- on orders from Washington. “The government, bent lately on standardizing about everything it has to handle, has standardized the nomenclature of the aircraft. The ones that start from the water are called ‘seaplanes,’ and those that start from the land are designated ‘airplanes.’” So now you know.
The Boys Go Marching Off to War
The first big group of young men, who were chosen in the draft, boarded the train this month. One hundred and seventy young men, called “Liberty Army Men,” from Santa Barbara County were given a huge send off at the train station.
The day before their departure, the young men were treated to lunch and dinner, and honored with a farewell parade that started at the Federal building (now the Santa Barbara Art Museum). “This promises to be one of the most remarkable spectacles ever witnessed in this city,” predicted the local paper. The parade would consist of the Constabulary [home guard], the Red Cross, a band from the Mission, and the entire high school body. The high school choir sang “La Marseillaise,” “America,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Keep the Home Fires Burning.” The newspaper printed the lyrics so that everyone could join in.
The whole city was involved. The “Flying A” studio was closed in the morning of the boys’ departure “so as to give its employees an opportunity to take part in the farewell for the Liberty Army boys.” One actor and three other men from the studio were leaving.
George Ahern, a “Flying A” actor (seen here with Mary Miles Minter), was part of the group of 170 men who left Santa Barbara in September 1917. Image: A Pictorial History of The Silent Screen, by Daniel C. Blum, 1953.
This was just the first group of young men to leave Santa Barbara this year. There would be more leaving, and in their wake, they left the beginnings of a labor shortage. “Labor is scarce in Santa Barbara, and is each day becoming harder to secure. … The lack of labor has struck the lumber companies. Enough men to move lumber from the wharf rapidly cannot be secured, and as a result, a big cargo of lumber has been rough piled on the wharf several days.”
And over at the Potter Hotel, the management was considering hiring girls to replace the bell hops who left for the war. “As a result of the widespread shortage of bell boys, the Potter and other leading hotels of the country may employ girls in this capacity in the near future.”
At the Movies This Month
Teddy, the Mack Sennett movie dog, was so popular that “Teddy” soon became one of the most popular names for dogs. Image: New Movie Magazine, July 1930
On September 1, movie goers in Santa Barbara could go to the Mission Theatre at 618 State Street to watch “Teddy at the Throttle,” an early Gloria Swanson movie. The film is a fast-paced Mack Sennett comedy, and the hero of the movie -- Teddy -- is a dog. You can watch it here.
Watch for my columns on Edhat on the first Saturday of each month.
The Last Laugh - September 1917
Rembrandt’s father: I'm worried about that son of ours, wife. He wastes so much time messing about with that dirty paint. I fear he'll never amount to anything. Image: Life magazine, September 20, 1917