Thursday, March 4, 2010

Newspaper Tidbits of NorCal History

It's really pretty amazing the things you can find on the Internet. And yet, sometimes I still find myself disappointed when I'm trying to research something and just can't find any information on it. I'm a pretty good Googler, so in those cases I have to figure it's either so deeply embedded into the page that it's not search-engine reachable, or it's just not out there.

I decided to do a little digging into some California history for something completely unrelated, and came across this fascinating listing of Northern California events from 1866. It looks pretty unreadableat first, but as I skimmed the listings for what I was looking for, I quickly became distracted by the accounts of rather violent accidents and deaths that, combined with the newspaper dryness and terseness, are horrifying and yet disturbingly laughable in some cases.

A man hung himself because he was homesick. Various drownings, train accidents, burning buildings, opium overdoses, horse accidents, a young girl bringing the message of "don't play with matches" to life - or rather, sadly, death.

And then I come across some gems, like this one:
Francis SKIFFINGTON, aged 60, was horribly mutilated by his third wife, aged 28, in a dispute about property, at San Francisco
So even back then old guys were marrying women half their age, on their third marriage, and the wife just didn't want to wait till he kicked the bucket to get his money and property? Or perhaps this was the first Lorena Bobbitt account, and we just didn't know it? They don't mention how he was "horribly mutilated".
At Sebastopol, Napa county, while Mrs. HALE was attempting to cut down a piece of bacon hung up by a string in a smoke-house she fell from a box on which she was standing and struck a butcher-knife into her throat,infusing a serious wound; she was picked up some time after bleeding and insensible...
I have no idea if this means the woman lived or died, but I have to ask myself, was that piece of bacon really worth it? But I'm drooling right now thinking about smokehouse bacon, so maybe I would risk a serious throat injury for some - as long as I could still eat it. (By the way, sadly this is not the only story of death by butcher knife, but the other is a child playing with one - children, don't play with sharp or potentially incendiary objects!).

And I have no idea where this would fit in today's newspaper - alternative lifestyles perhaps?! (quotes are theirs)
A "long, lingering" earthquake at Monterey between 5 and 6 A.M. The people of that place seemed to like the sensation.
What I find interesting is how certain accounts are incredibly brief, while others go into rather gory detail, which is exaggerated even more by the items surrounding them, like this account:
7th - A bunch of grapes brought to the Sacramento Union office by Lazarus SEFFER, of Beals Bar, weighing 8 ‡ pounds .....Charles R. HUNT, of the sloop Sycamore, lying at anchor near the foot of Third street, San Francisco, started to go out of the cabin with a brass signal lamp, when the lamp exploded, tearing two holes in his abdomen, smashing the cabin to kindling-wood, and driving pieces of the lamp into the deck. HUNT died in a few minutes. The lamp had been filled with oil from a can which had formerly contained nitro-glycerin ....Wine-growers of the county held a Convention at Los Angeles to further their interests.
Ah, lovely, grapes...and then horrible exploding death!...and a grape convention. Is this what Northern Californians did in 1866? Wine or death, wine or death!
18th - Mrs. S.S. GREENWOOD died near Auburn, Placer county, from injuries received by her clothes taking fire.
Man, I hate it when my clothes take fire without asking me first.

As much as I joke about this stuff, I find it immensely fascinating and disturbing, just trying to imagine what it really would have been like to live in San Francisco and the lonely surrounding areas in 1866. To "drive" your horse up Presidio Road and try not to get caught in the straps and get dragged to death by a carriage. Maybe that 60-year-old guy was on his third wife because the others had died already. Death didn't seem as surprising and appalling back then, I guess.

And this:
A married man named GOULD, aged fifty years, eloped with the daughter of one GOULD, aged thirteen, of Eagle Prairie, Humboldt county.
I know they married young, but 13? To a 50-year-old guy who sounds like a relative? And who was married already? Where's the first wife?! (Humboldt county is pretty desolate now, so I can only imagine what it must have been back then, but still...)

23d - Elizabeth ROSE, sixty-seven years old, convicted of pocket picking in San Francisco
Look, this woman was 67 and pick-pocketing. Was she resourceful or just desperate?

And this amusing story:
Baron de CASTRO, an eye doctor of San Francisco, invited several hundred guests to his wedding at the Episcopal Church at San Antonio, across the bay. When the party had assembled they found, to their disappointment, that the Baron's sweetheart had given him the mitten.
What is giving someone the mitten? I have to assume it's leaving him at the alter, right? I'm going to start saying that now. Like "giving someone the slip" but with a mitten. It amuses me just trying to picture it.

And to end on a happier note,
20th - The contest between the Cosmopolitans of San Francisco and the Live Oak Club of Oakland resulted in favor of the former, who made a score of 54 against 42.
I have no idea what this contest entailed, but with a score of 54 to 42, I'm intrigued. And were they men or women contesting? Apparently everyone already knew who the Cosmopolitans and Live Oak Club were (see, even back then San Francisco sounded flamboyant, and SF and Oakland were already rivals!). (OK, upon further reading it turns out these were early baseball clubs, so I'm assuming they were men playing. But still, those are pretty high scores!)

I've listed a bunch here already, but check out the rest of the listing for more crazy stories like the Newfie dog that went on the attack and bit off a nose, or the woman arrested for beating and biting her child, the exciting story of the Chinaman who sought revenge on the highway men that robbed him, the L.A.-based mother (at the ripe old age of 15) who tied her 6-mo-old baby's legs to a horse and killed it after the horse freaked out (uh, duh?), settling quarrels with duels, tarring and feathering, flooding, landslides, gold, the woman who was killed for trying to stop the abuse of workmen on her ranch...Don't those sound like movie plots?

And stay on the lookout for fun phrases like "she was good looking" (describing a convicted woman), "made him bite the dust", "and fell a corpse", "wharves undermined, vessels sunk, etc." (etc.? this was a common thing?), "delirium tremens" (that sounds icky), "spiritualism said to be the cause [of death]"... There are tons more historical listings on the site, and if you have the patience to wade through them, I'm sure there are tons of fascinating stories there.

This note (and listed year) ends, of course, with Dec. 31:
31st - After a succession of storms unprecedented in California during the sixteen days previous, the sun shone forth and the year 1866 went out with a promise of pleasant weather in welcome of 1867.

Doesn't that sound like a lovely start to a new year (considering how much nastiness was in the previous?). I wonder if someone summed up all the stupidity and craziness now-a-days if it would be as interesting and entertaining.

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