Monday, December 26, 2011

George Perkins (1839-1923) - California Governor; Long-serving Senator

Governor George Perkins

George Perkins early years were spent working on the family farm, which he did not enjoy. His dream was to become a captain of a ship. At age 13, he applied for a position as a cabin-boy, but he was considered too young. Not to be deterred, George hid on the ship and was not discovered until the ship set sail. He was set to work as one of the cabin-boys. He arrived in San Francisco when he was 16. Perkins tried his luck at mining for several months, but was unsuccessful. He moved to a mining camp in Ophir where he drove a mule train and worked as a porter in a store. Perkins eventually became a clerk at the store and earned a salary of $60 a month. When business had slowed, Perkins bought the store. By the age of 20, Perkins grossed about $500, 000 annually through his trade in merchandise, produce and provisions.

Grave of George Perkins (photo by Michael Colbruno)

Perkins was elected to serve as a term as a state Senator in 1869 and was re-elected in 1871. This was the turning point in Perkins’ political career as well as in his business career. While Perkins was in the Senate he met Captain Manor Goodall. In 1872, Perkins and Goodall formed the Goodall, Nelson and Perkins Steamship Company, which was renamed the Pacific Coast Steam Navigation Company. It was a very successful company. In 1873, Perkins was elected to fill the unexpired term of Senator Boucher, who passed away in late 1872.

In 1875, Perkins moved to San Francisco, leaving his brother to run the store. In addition to his store, Perkins also owned sheep and cattle ranches, was involved in mining and lumber interests. He was also a member of the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, president of Arctic Oil Works as well as president of Starr and Company. He helped establish Bank of Butte County, and was a director for the California State Bank in Sacramento and First National Bank of San Francisco. 

At the Republican State Convention of 1879, Perkins was selected as his party’s nomination for governor. His campaign for governor was successful garnering him 20,000 votes over the next closest candidate. Perkins was the first governor to work under the new state constitution. During his tenure, the State Normal School opened (which later became UCLA), and the University of Southern California was established. Perkins also pardoned numerous prisoners, personally interviewing each prisoner. 

After his term as governor, Perkins returned to his business interests. However, in 1888, he was appointed as one of the directors of the deaf, dumb and blind asylum at Berkeley and was reappointed in 1891. In 1889, Perkins was appointed a trustee of the state mining bureau. 

In 1893, Governor Markham appointed Perkins to fill out the unexpired term of U.S. Senator Leland Stanford, who had passed away. Perkins was re-elected to the U.S. Senate three more times. He retired from the Senate in 1915 and returned to Oakland. He was the third-longest serving senator in California history, after Hiram Johnson and Alan Cranston, serving 22 years.

George Pardee (July 25, 1857-September 1, 1941) - California Governor

Governor George Pardee

The son of a prominent physician and politician (who served as Mayor of Oakland, State Senator and State Assemblyman), George Pardee was destined to follow in his father's footsteps. He was born in San Francisco in 1857 and raised in the family home in Oakland.

Pardee attended the University of California where he received a Bachelor of Philosophy in 1879 and a Master of Arts in 1881. He attended the Cooper Medical College for two years and he received his Doctor of Medicine from the University of Leipzig, Germany in 1885. Pardee joined his father’s medical practice, which specialized in diseases of the eye and ear.

Pardee Grave in Plot 1; Pardee home in Oakland

Pardee’s political career began when he was appointed to serve on Oakland’s Board of Health in 1889. In 1891, he was elected to Oakland’s City Council and in 1893 was elected Mayor for a two-year term. He served as California Governor from 1903 -1907 and became known as "The Earthquake Governor," since he oversaw the aftermath of the Great Earthquake of 1906. Pardee sought to take command of the situation himself, traveling to his native Oakland in the later afternoon to oversee the state response to the disaster. Making his headquarters in Oakland Mayor Frank K. Mott's office, Pardee worked twenty-hour days during the disaster, signing travel permission papers, coordinating state and federal relief funds and trains, and remaining in contact with the outside world through Oakland's undamaged telegraph lines. In addition, Pardee also visited other afflicted cities, such as San Jose and Santa Rosa, to tour and coordinate their own disaster responses.

Pardee was the second native-born Californian to assume the governorship, after fellow Mountain View Cemetery denizen Romualdo Pacheco, and the first governor born in California post-statehood.

His exposure to innovative environmental conservation efforts in Germany heavily influenced his political decisions; as Governor, he was a strong supporter of conservation measures. After leaving office he was president of the East Bay Municipal Utilities district. The Pardee Dam, near Jackson, is named after him.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thomas Hill (1829 - 1908) - Famous Painter

Thomas Hill

Plot 36, Lot 261

Thomas Hill was a native of Birmingham, England and arrived in Massachusetts with his family at the age of fifteen.  The son of a poor tailor,  Thomas worked briefly in a cotton factory before he was apprenticed to a carriage painter.  In 1847 he joined an interior decoration firm in Boston and by 1851 he had  married and was the father of the first of his nine children.

His interest turned to painting and he enrolled in evening art classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1853.  The next year he started his career as a landscape painter by painting  several scenes in the White Mountains, but it was not until 1861 when he settled in San Francisco, where he advertised as a portrait painter, that he was able to devote significant time to his painting.  By 1864 he was exhibiting scenes he had painted in Napa and the Sierra, and in 1865 he made what may have been his first visit to Yosemite, the site that was to become the subject of many of his most famous paintings.

Thomas Hill's Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite
Despite the enthusiastic reception his Yosemite paintings received, Hill left in 1866 for the east  coast and then Paris.  In Paris he studied with Paul Meyerheim before he returned to the United States in 1867, settled in Boston where he produced the first of his monumental views of Yosemite Valley.  The two 6’ x 10’ paintings he did of Yosemite were both purchased by Californians - Charles and Edwin B. Crocker.  (Edwin B. Crocker, brother of Charles, was appointed to the state supreme court by Governor Leland Stanford in the 1860’s).  Hill found the art market in the east to be far from vigorous, and this, combined with his rather poor health, provided the impetus for his permanent return to California in 1872.

Hill was a leader in the growing art community in Northern California, active in the San Francisco Art Association and the Bohemian Club.  His “oil sketches,” usually 16”x 20” paintings, are a significant number of his remaining works.  These fully-realized compositions were often brought back to his studio to use as reference as he created his monumental works.  The scenes of  his oil sketches ranged from the White Mountains and Newport, Rhode Island to Lake Tahoe, Mount Shasta, and the Pacific Northwest, in addition to Yosemite.

Thomas Hill's The Last Spike
In a major departure from pure landscapes, Hill painted a famous, fanciful commemoration of “The Driving of the Last Spike,” ostensibly on  commission from Leland Stanford.  Hill understood Stanford to say he would pay him $50,000, but after four years’ work, Stanford refused to buy it, and even denied ordering it. He stated his objection to the inclusion of many railroad officials in the painting when they had not actually been present at the ceremony.

Much of the above material was extracted from “Direct From Nature, The Oil Sketches of Thomas Hill” by   Janice Driesbach in the 1997 Supplement of California History, published by  the California Historical Society.

Isaiah West Taber (1830-1912) - Pioneer California Photographer

Taber's plot is the enclosed grassy area, not the mausoleum

Plot 14B, Lot 116

After spending some of his teenage years on whaling ships at sea, Isaiah West Taber, a native of New Bedford, Massachusetts, arrived in California in 1850 hoping to find gold.  Like most of his fellow gold-seekers, he didn’t find his fortune in the hills, and returned home in 1854.  In New Bedford he tried his hand at dentistry, but lost interest and turned to photography, and in 1856 he settled in Syracuse, New York where he established a portrait business.

In 1864 he returned to California where he worked for San Francisco photographers William Herman Rulofson and Henry Bradley, and around 1871, went out on his own.  In 1878 he established a large gallery at 8 Montgomery Street, and in 1893 moved to 121 Post Street.  According to the introduction to “Taber: A Photographic Legacy” (Windgate Press, 2003), “Portraiture established his reputation and created an outlet for taking and acquiring landscape views and experimenting with different forms of photography.”  Photographers of that period made their living by taking portraits.

Taber photograph of a boy from his Montgomery St. studio

 In the annals of photography, Taber ranks as one of California’s and the West’s premier pioneer photographers, and perhaps no other early California photographer achieved such fame during hislifetime. 

Taber photographed Ulysses S. Grant and six other U.S. presidents, the royal family of Hawaii, Queen Victoria (he was invited to photograph her Diamond Jubilee in 1897), and Edward VII.  His success in London led him to open a studio there.  In San Francisco Taber was commissioned to photograph the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition.  His albums remain a fine documentary of that major event.

Taber's famous photo of Yosemite
In 1876 he acquired Carleton E. Watkins’ vast collection of negatives (Watkins had suffered economic reverses) and published some of Watkins’ views under his own name, for which he was criticized.

One of the disastrous losses incurred curing the 1906 earthquake and fire was the destruction of the entire collection of Taber’s glass negatives….80 tons of portrait negatives and 12 tons of view negatives were consumed.  Fortunately, Taber had published many popular albums, insuring that his work would remain available, but the earthquake signaled the end of his career.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Art Lym (Lin Fuyuan 林福元) 1890-1962 - First Chinese Aviator

Art Lym

Garden Mausoleum

Art Lym, was a pilot who trained under the Wright brothers* and helped pioneer aviation in China. According to the July 15, 1913 issue of the Washington Post, he was China’s first aviator. He later headed the Chinese Air Force.

Lym was born in San Francisco on December 27, 1890. After the 1906 earthquake he moved to across the Bay to Oakland with his sister and her husband. He began his career in the newspaper business, writing and managing the Chinese World (Sai Gai Yat Po) newspaper.

In 1913 Lym was sent to the Curtiss Aviation School in San Diego financed by wealthy Chinatown benefactors. He earned his license with the Aero Club of America becoming one of the first two Chinese-Americans to obtain a license. Concern for his own safety led Lym to install a Sperry gyroscope stabilizer, which the U.S. Navy subsequently adopted.

Lym accepted a commission from Chinese President Yuan Shu-kai and set off to China. He became the director of the Pukou Flight School where he gave demonstrations in bomb-dropping and air scouting. Lin’s appointment was due as much to his political affiliations with the Baohuanghui as it did with his skill as a pilot. Lym would later go on to become director of the Aviation Board of the Ministry of War.

With his childhood friend Tom Gunn he organized the Canton Air Corps and launched an aerial assault on bandit strongholds on Hainan Island, recapturing the area for Guangdong. In 1920 he led the first ever aerial bombing raid on the City of Canton, targeting the Kwangsi invaders.

* Needs secondary attribution

George Dornin (1830-1907) Daguerreotypist; Author; Successful Insurance Man

Dornin Gravesite (Photo by Michael Colbruno)


George Dornin was one of the first successful daguerreotypists in California, as well as a successful insurance executive. He also wrote an account for his children entitled “Thirty Year Ago,” which was such a great description of the 49er days that it was later published in book form.

Dornin was born in New York City on December 30, 1830 and beginning at the age of 13 worked as a clerk on Wall Street. In January 1849, after hearing endless cries of “Ho, for California!,” he paid $135 for a ticket on the Panama and sailed for the gold fields of a distant California. The trip was difficult and he became homesick, writing that he cried “often and bitterly” over a daguerreotype of his mother.

He arrived penniless in San Francisco and slept aboard the Panama while looking for work. One of his jobs was painting memorial markers for Yerba Buena Cemetery (at the site of the new City Hall). This led to him becoming a sign painter and carpenter, but the ever enterprising Dornin also became a restaurateur and retail/wholesale grocer.  His accounts of his time in San Francisco also includes a vivid description of the Vigilance Committee of 1851, of which he was not a member, but supportive of their cause.

Nevada City daguerreotype by George Dornin

In 1852, he moved to Nevada City arriving via boat and stage coach.  Upon arriving in the gold fields he worked a number of odd jobs, including launderer, sign painter, baker and wallpaper hanger. That same year, he also took one of the first known pictures of Nevada City. He settled down for 18 years and worked as a merchant in Nevada City and San Juan, where he also got married and raised his children

In 1856, he helped form a Rocky Mountain Club, a Republican club set up during the Presidential campaign of John C. Fremont. The club was jeered with taunts of “Negro Worshipper” and “Black Republicans” because of their opposition to slavery.  In the 1860s, Dornin served four years in the State Legislature while simultaneously working as an express agent, telegraph operator, bookkeeper and stage line operator.

In 1867, he began work as an insurance agent, at which he became highly successful. By 1873, he had already become a vice-president at Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. A 1906 article in the Oakland Tribune announced the resignation of Dornin from the National Fire Insurance Company when he disagreed with the company’s method of discounting claims from the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco.

Dornin’s grandson was John D. Eldredge, who had a fairly successful career as a supporting actor on television and on stage.

George Dornin’s obituary aptly described him as “the oldest insurance man in the State, and a pioneer of ’49.”

[Original bio by Michael Colbruno, based on "Thirty Years Ago" and Oakland Tribune articles]

Monday, August 29, 2011

Grant D. Miller (1863-1945) - Mortuary owner; County Coroner; EBMUD Founder

Grant D. Miller (Photo of crypt by Michael Colbruno)
MAIN MAUSOLEUM, SEC. 9, Tier 1, Crypt 420

Grant D. Miller was a well-known undertaker in Oakland, where a funeral home still bears his name. He was elected the Alameda County Coroner in 1914,  narrowly defeating incumbent Dr. Charles Tisdale. Miller served for 24 years until his voluntary retirement.  

He was born in Amador County, California on November 24, 1863 to David and Julia (Hinkson) Miller.  In 1879, he moved to San Francisco, where he attended the Pacific Business College. After graduating, he was hired as clerk by Wells Fargo where he worked for two years. He moved to Mariposa, California in 1882 and worked as the secretary of the Compromise Mining Company for two years, at which time he rejoined his father in worked on the family farm.

Just before the turn of the 20th century he arrived in Oakland and opened his funeral home.  Besides his service as the Alameda County Coroner, Miller was instrumental in founding the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EMBUD) in 1923 and served on its board until 1943, when he resigned because of poor health. He was also a founder of the Oakland Community Chest and the Eastbay Safety Council. 

He requested a simple funeral and that his pallbearers were all past and present employees of his mortuary. 

The original mortuary was located at 2372 East 14th Street and remained there until 1978. It is currently called the Grant Miller-John Cox Mortuary and is located at 2850 Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. 

 Above is a picture of the current mortuary as it appeared when it was built 1896 and  as it appeared in 2009. The building was redesigned in 1931 by architects Chester Miller and Carl Warnecke. Note the four windows that can be seen in both pictures.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lew Hing (劉興) (May 1858 – March 7, 1934) Prominent Businessman in SF and Oakland

Lew Hing
Hing crypt; Section 9, Main Mausoleum

Lew Hing (Lew Yu-ling) immigrated to the United States from the Sun Ning district in China in 1871 and became a pioneer in the canning industry. He owned four canneries in California, in the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, Monterey, and Antioch. His canneries supplied Herbert Hoover’s American Relief program following World War I. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Lew also owned a shipping company, two hotels, and an import-export business. In Mexico, he owned a cotton plantation. He was Chairman of the Board of Directors for the China Mail Steamship Company, and President of the Bank of Canton. 

He was also a real estate developer. Today, his legacy is maintained at the Pacific Cannery Lofts in Oakland by Holliday Development, where dedications are made in his honor in one of his original buildings for the Pacific Coast Canning Company.

In 1868 an older half brother of Lew Hing ventured to San Francisco to start a small metal shop on Commercial Street. With the success of his shop, in 1871 he urged his 12-year-old half brother, Lew Hing, to immigrate to America to join him in his growing business.

A few months after Lew arrived, his half-brother planned a brief vacation back to Canton to visit his family. His square rigged sailing vessel was off the coast of Japan when it caught fire and sank, causing all aboard to perish at sea. This left the young Lew Hing, at age 13, alone in San Francisco, without family or money.

Despite his grim circumstance, the growing Chinese community that would later become known as San Francisco’s Chinatown was beginning to form familial associations that provided leadership and social opportunities among the Chinese immigrants to America. Men with the same surnames would help each other as brothers. This was the beginning of Family Associations in Chinatown, and it was through such association that the young Lew Hing was able to survive.

In 1877, Lew Hing married Chin Shee (July 1860 – July 1947) in San Francisco. They had three sons and four daughters, each born in San Francisco.
  • Lew Yuet-yung, aka Mrs. Quan Yick-sun (1879–1967)
  • Lew Gin-gow (1885–1943)
  • Lew Yuen-hing, aka Mrs. Ho Chou-won (1889–1978)
  • Lew Wai-hing, aka Mrs. Ng Min-hing (1890–1969)
  • Thomas Gunn-sing Lew (1894–1974)
  • Lew Soon-hing Rose, aka Mrs. Francis Moon (1898–1993)
  • Ralph Ginn Lew (1903–1987)

Though he was never as skilled in metalwork as his older half-brother had been, he nonetheless learned the basics, such as soldering. In addition, among his odd jobs he helped a European woman make her fruit jams for storage in glass jars. This taught Lew about food preservation and how to avoid food poisoning. It was a natural next step for Lew to combine his metalwork with his food preservation skills to join in the new industry of canning foodstuffs.

Hing's Buckskin Brand

At age 18 in 1877, Lew Hing founded his first cannery with another metalworker of Family Association ties, Lew Yu-tung. The cannery was located at the northeast corner of Sacramento and Stockton Streets in San Francisco and took up the first two stories of the building with the basement as storage. Lew Hing and other Family Association members lived on the third floor.

In the 1880s–1890s, canning food was still a new concept. Lew Hing had embarked on a long period of trial and error before the cannery could reliably produce safe and edible canned foods. When food was not preserved properly or the cans were not fully sterilized (for example, each can had to be soldered individually by hand), noxious bacterial action would ruin the product, causing cans to swell and even explode. Eventually, Lew Hing developed safer and more effective formulas for canning various fruits and vegetables. These formulas were never documented since they were Lew Hing’s trade secrets and were kept from rival canneries. Canned fruit items became a very good seller in Chinatown as many Chinese made purchases to take back to China. Soon, the products were purchased by Westerners and sales expanded outside San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Lew’s original cannery thrived for over two decades. Then, in 1902, at age 44, he decided to close the Pacific Coast Canning Company cannery and retire to Canton. However, within a year Lew returned to the Bay Area, opening the at 12th and Pine Streets in Oakland.

Workers at Pacific Coast Cannery

Always on the cutting edge of progress, Lew built his new cannery as the first concrete building in the industrial part of Oakland, plus he insisted on the most advanced machinery for mass production of his products. Also, in contrast to San Francisco, Oakland had space for a larger cannery as well as providing the Southern Pacific railroad tracks directly to the cannery dock for easy shipping of Lew’s Buckskin brand canned goods throughout the United States. Products included asparagus, cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, and grapes. Tomatoes were the most popular. Always a stickler for quality, each morning, Lew would go to the Tasting Room and open, inspect, and taste batches of food processed the day before. Eventually, Buckskin canned goods would make their way throughout the Western hemisphere.

In 1906, Lew Hing was able to make substantial assistance to Bay Area earthquake victims. He opened his cannery to the homeless and also provided tents elsewhere for temporary shelter. He hired cooks to provide meals. Following the earthquake, many San Franciscan’s relocated to Oakland, including several Chinese. As with several ethnic groups, Chinese were compelled to remain in ethnic clusters. Lew assisted these Chinese with finance and leadership by organizing neighborhoods, including the area that became Oakland’s Chinatown. As a consequence, he became involved with many Oakland Chinatown organizations, making contributions to their many causes and forming business alliances in relation to the Pacific Canning Company.

As the Pacific Canning Company prospered, Lew Hing diversified his interests into many other areas, including a personal interest in the Loong Kong Tien Yee Association, an organization for the families of Lew, Quan, Jung and Chew, and fostered the group in both Oakland and San Francisco.

In 1907 Lew returned to San Francisco for added business interests. Given his natural leadership in the Chinese community, he became President of Bank of Canton, located at the northeast corner of Montgomery and Sacramento Streets. In the same year he also entered the hotel business, building The Republic Hotel on Grant Avenue (near Sacrament Street). However, his San Francisco interests had to be juggled with his work as president and owner of Pacific Coast Canning Company in Oakland. Always a careful and punctual man, he devised a schedule that allowed him to spend half of each work day in San Francisco, half in Oakland.

By 1910, Lew Hing had entered the import-export trade, first as an investor with Sing Chong and Fook Wah Companies which imported art goods from China. Then, in 1910, Lew Hing began his own import-export business, shipping wholesale Chinese food items from Hop Wo Cheung in Canton, China to Hop Wo Lung, a store on Grant Avenue in San Francisco.

By 1911, Lew Hing’s Pacific Coast Canning Company had become one of Oakland’s largest businesses, providing over 1,000 jobs during the peak canning seasons. Employees were usually from the local Portuguese, Italian, and Chinese communities. Lew Hing was the Bay Area’s single largest employer of Chinese.

In 1912 Lew built his second hotel, originally named the Mun Ming Lue Kwan, at 858-870 Clay Street, between Grant and Stockton Streets. Still in existence, the name has since been changed to The Lew Hing building in honor of Lew.

In 1915, Lew accepted the position of Chairman of the Board of Directors for the China Mail Steamship Co. Ltd., whose office was in the same building as his Bank of Canton office.

From 1916 to 1921, Lew Hing was the principal owner of a cotton plantation known as Wa Muck in Mexicali, Mexico. For laborers, he conscripted hundreds of Chinese from China who would pass through San Francisco and go directly to Mexico by rail. Lew Hing set aside a few city blocks of land on the plantation for shops to accommodate the needs of Chinese workers. The remains of this impromptu Chinatown still exist in Mexicali.

Inventive and industrious throughout his life, Lew Hing was very progressive for his time. He was also a man of high principles. Coming from his very humble beginning, he had great compassion for Chinese immigrants in America because he understood them well. He was a well-respected gentleman who generated much business in the community and created many job opportunities for the Chinese in the Bay Area. He contributed in upgrading the quality of life for Chinese immigrants in their ordeal of assimilation and integration into the Western ways of life in these United States.

He also related well to the Caucasian community, as indicated when he often attended formal civic events and was included in the inner circle of San Francisco’s long-time mayor, Jimmy Rolph. Lew became very American in his ways, never again desiring to return to China.

[The original information for this article was provided by Jean Moon Liu, granddaughter of Lew Hing and daughter of Mrs. Francis Moon]

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Frank Gordon “Limb” McKenry (1888-1956) Cincinnati Reds Pitcher; Committed Suicide

Limb McKenry

Lot 67, Plot 137

Frank “Limb” McKenry was a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds in 1915 and 1916 where he compiled a 6-6 record with a 3.10 ERA. Due to his 6’ 4”, 205-pound physique, he was also known as “Big Pete.”

In 1916 he was called to service in the California National Guard and shortly thereafter  retired to run his fruit farm in California’s Central Valley.

In 1934, McKenry and his wife divorced and he began struggling with depression. As his rheumatoid arthritis grew progressively worse he decided to end his life on the evening of November 1, 1956. He placed a shotgun in his mouth and fired. He left no note.

Lincoln "Link" Blakely (1912-1976) Cincinnati Reds Outfielder

Linc Blakely

Main Mausoleum, Sec. 9, Crypt 153, Tier 10

Lincoln Blakely was born in Oakland and attended Oakland Technical High School.

In 1934 Lincoln Blakely had a good shot at becoming the regular leftfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, but greed and his ego may have ended his big league career. After two good offensive games and a career of being underpaid in the minor leagues, Blakely took the advice of a newsboy and initiated a one-man sit down strike demanding more money. The Reds found a new leftfielder and Blakely never played another major league game. Harlin Pool ended up becoming the leftfielder for the Reds.

Blakely ended up playing only 34 games, batting just .225 in 102 at-bats and never hitting a homerun.

Bill Brenzel (1910-1979) Major League Baseball Player and Scout

Bill Brenzel

Outdoor Garden Mausoleum, Crypt 11, Tier 2

Bill Branzel was an Oakland native who attended Fremont High School. He left school when he was 16 years old to play baseball for the Mission Club of the Pacific Coast League in San Francisco.

In 1931, at the age of 20, he joined the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and beat out full-time catcher Fred Hoffman for the starting job. In 1934, he was purchased by the Cleveland Indians from Kansas City and eventually became the first string catcher when Frankie Pytlak left because of illness. He ended up playing two seasons for Cleveland before retiring.

Known for his quick wit and slow feet, he made it to the majors based on his defensive skills, not his offensive prowess. He only hit .198 in his three major league seasons.

After his career ended he managed in the minor leagues before becoming a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers. One of his major recruits was Earl Robinson, the two sport star of the California Golden Bears. Robinson ended up signing a $75,000 bonus with the Dodgers, a record at the time for a black player.

His son Gary also played baseball in college and the minor leagues.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Washington Ryer (1821-1892) Respected Doctor; Famous Duelist

Plot 9, Lots 23-30

Born in New York in 1821, Ryer studied medicine and joined General Winfield Scott’s Mexican campaign as an assistant surgeon. He became medical director of three army hospitals in Jalapa, and after the defeat of Mexico, he brought the sick and wounded to New Orleans. Impressed with the opportunities to be found in California, he returned there after his army service and opened a medical practice in Stockton. This lucrative practice allowed him to invest in real estate and retire in 1861 at the age of 40.

In 1856 the California Assembly commissioned the respected Dr. Ryer to investigate the operations of the Stockton State Hospital for the Insane. Ryer later testified that the hospital administration, headed by a Dr. Langdon, was incompetent. Dr. Langdon was heard to say, "He [Ryer] is going to stick his nose into other people’s business once too often." One dark evening shortly thereafter, Ryer was accosted on the street and beaten with fists and pistol butts by Doctors Langdon and Hunter. Ryer warned the two that he was going to arm himself and hunt down Langdon. The news that one doctor was hunting for the other raced through the pioneer town. One of Ryer’s friends, versed in the Deep
South dueling culture, suggested they duel to settle the matter—even though the "bloody code" of dueling had been outlawed in California.

Ryer dutifully followed the required steps of written challenge, choice of seconds, and weapons (Langdon provided "hair trigger" dueling pistols), and the date for the duel was set. On a foggy morning, the two met by the San Joaquin River bank. Before the duel could commence, the sheriff appeared and put a stop to the proceedings. A few days later, two skiffs filled with "duck hunters" slipped over to the beach of Rough and Ready Island on a clear afternoon. At the first signal, Ryer’s hair trigger fired into the ground. Then Langdon’s gun cracked and the bullet whistled past Ryer’s ear. A second set of bullets did the same. "Once more," said Ryer. "Three shots for a blow—that’s the code, isn’t it?" Ryer’s third bullet struck Langdon in the leg, shattering his knee before

Langdon could squeeze off his own shot. Dr. Langdon died a cripple in 1880.

In 1860, Dr. Ryer married Mary Fletcher of Boston, and they had one child—Fletcher F. Ryer. Washington Ryer lived until 1892, a noted physician and pillar of the community.

Ryer Island in the Sacramento River delta is named in his honor.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Frederick Law Olmsted and Mountain View Cemetery

Genius of Place by Justin Martin

Mountain View Cemetery in its early days

There is a wonderful new book out called "Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted" by Justin Martin. In the book, Martin describes how Olmsted came to design Mountain View Cemetery and what inspired him. I highly recommend this book and you can purchase it by clicking on the Amazon widget to the right. Here are two excerpts:
Unsettled in the West, desperate for money, Olmsted rattled this way and that. Tellingly, he reserved his greatest energy for seeking out landscape architecture jobs. Yet despite his enduring passion for the outdoors and his success with Central Park, he was less certain than ever that there was enough demand to make a living as a landscape architect.

The first project he embarked upon was actually one that he’d been handed while still supervising the Mariposa Estate. It was also his first solo commission, landed without Vaux. Now that his gold-mine obligations appeared finished, Olmsted turned his attention to the job.

The Mountain View Cemetery was to occupy 200 acres in the hills above Oakland. In preparing a design sans Vaux, Olmsted worked with a hired draftsman. As with Central Park, he showed an unusual sensitivity to the unique requirements of the site. He came up with a variety of thoughtful cemetery-design touches. Many of the people who would be buried in the cemetery were Chinese immigrants. So Olmsted’s plan included a “receiving tomb” to hold bodies temporarily until they could be returned to China, as was then the practice. There was also a preponderance of single men in California’s highly transient population, as Olmsted had noted. So his plan included an unusual number of single plots.

The land set aside for the cemetery was a bowl consisting of a flat, dusty floor surrounded by steep barren hillsides. When it came to plantings, this was quite a challenge. A stately canopy of elms was simply not going to be possible. Here again, Olmsted proved extremely imaginative, suggesting a tree – the cypress – that he believed would thrive on the grounds while striking the perfect note of reverence:

Being an evergreen, and seeming more than any other tree to point toward heaven, it has always been regarded as typical of immortality. For this and other reasons, it was considered by the Persians and Hebrews of old, as it is by the Turks and Oriental Christians of the present day, more appropriate than any other tree for planting about graves. Thuchydides mentions that the ashes of the Greeks who died for their country were preserved in Cypress; and Horace speaks of the custom among the Romans of dressing the bodies of the dead with Cypress before placing them in the tomb. It is the gopher-wood of Scripture, of which, according to the tradition of the Hebrews, the Ark was made; and it constituted the “exalted grove” of Mount Sion, spoken of in Ecclesiastes. Here, then, is a tree which seems peculiarly fitted by its associations, as well as its natural character, for your purposes.

Olmstead’s plan greatly pleased his client; he received a much-needed $1,000. He also chased several other landscape architecture projects, but with far less success.

Martin’s book also raises an interesting connection between Mountain View Cemetery and Golden Gate Park. One of the people buried in the cemetery is Henry Coon, who was Mayor of San Francisco at the time. Martin writes:
Another possible landscape job came from Henry Coon, mayor of San Francisco. He met with Olmsted, and the pair walked over a desolate, wind-whipped section of land. Apparently, there was some desire to create a park here. But the city commissioners and other interested parties were intent on a reprise of Central Park in San Francisco. Olmsted argued for a park more appropriate to the city’s climate and topography. Mayor Coon asked Olmsted to draft a proposal.
You can read my post about Henry Coon HERE

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Walter Van Dyke (1823-1905); California Supreme Court Justice

Plot 14B

Walter Van Dyke was born in Tyre, New York to Martin Van Dyke and Irene Brockway.

He moved to Ohio around 1846 in order to attend law school. Shortly after he was admitted to the Ohio Bar Association in 1848 word of gold being discovered in California spread like wildfire. According to his “Autobiography and Reminiscence of Judge Walter Van Dyke,” a group of his friends and acquaintances organized to make the trek west. Van Dyke says that it “did not require much urging” for him to embark on the adventure with thirteen of his friends.

The group met in Chicago and set off across the plains on June 6, 1849. They traveled much of the way along the 1,300-mile long Mormon Trail. When they reached Iowa, three members of the group headed home. Along the way, Van Dyke sent accounts of his trip back to his hometown newspaper in Cleveland. Upon reaching Las Vegas, he described the now glittering city as a “famous camping ground.” The group arrived eight months after they set off and miraculously suffered no illnesses or deaths, despite many hardships along the way.

He settled in the seaside town of Trinidad, California and began searching for gold along the coast just below the Klamath River at a place known as Gold Bluff. Finding only moderate success as a gold miner, he sold his interest in the Gold Bluff Company to Colonel A.J. Butler and returned to the practice of law.

In 1851 he was elected as the District Attorney of Klamath County. This led to Van Dyke serving in a rapid series of elected and appointed offices. When Humboldt County was organized a year later, he was elected to represent the area in the California State Assembly. In 1854, he was elected as the District Attorney for Humboldt County and became the editor of the Humboldt Times (dual careers that would be unheard of today). Prior to the Civil War, Van Dyke argued so passionately for the Union cause that he was dubbed the “Father of the Union Party.” After a brief stint in the California State Senate, he moved south to San Francisco where he practiced law. From 1874-1877 he served as the United States District Attorney for California. In 1878, he became an at-large delegate to the California Constitutional Convention. From 1885-1888 he served on the Superior Court bench in Los Angeles.

Van Dyke was elected to his final office when he successfully forged a coalition between the Democrats and the “Silver Republicans” and became an Associate Justice on the California Supreme Court.

On Christmas Day in 1905, Van Dyke died unexpectedly at his home on East Fourth Street in Oakland after suffering what he believed to be a severe cold. It turned out to a pneumonia.

Following his death, fellow cemetery denizen Governor George C. Pardee filled his vacancy on the court with San Francisco Superior Court Judge Marcus C. Sloss. Van Dyke was survived by his wife and five children. He was posthumously honored on both sides of the San Francisco Bay with streets named in his honor. Van Dyke Avenue in Oakland is off of Park Avenue in what was once known as the Ridgewood tract. Van Dyke Avenue in San Francisco runs through an industrial portion of the Bay View District off of 3rd Street.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mark (1826-1912) and William Ashby (1820-1896) - Berkeley Pioneers


Mark and William Ashby were brothers who came to California from Massachusetts hoping to strike it rich during the Gold Rush. Like so many others, their dreams were of wealth were not realized and in 1856 they ended up buying property in what is now Berkeley. In 1857 and 1859 they bought additional property adjoining their farm, including land within the old Vicente Peralta property growing their land holdings to 187 acres.

In 1865 the brothers split their property, with William receiving the eastern edge adjoining College Avenue, which was then known as University Avenue.

Mark Ashby attended a series of meetings to consider a plan for a railroad and the incorporation of the town. There is no known record of William Ashby’s activities after the division of the property [If you know otherwise, please email me at]. Ironically, Ashby Avenue ended up being named after William Ashby, whose property lined what is currently one of major streets in Berkeley.

In 1876, former California governor Leland Stanford and real estate developer Francis Kittredge Shattuck purchased a right-of-way for a steam train line that cut through the Ashby property and ended at Shattuck and University Avenues. This basically ended farming on the Ashby brothers property. Some accounts claim that they then got involved in the building of homes on the property.

The area soon became one of the cultural and community hearts of the city.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Todd Crew (1965-1987) - Bassist for Jetboy

Jetboy & Todd Crew

Todd Crew was the bassist for the bands "Jetboy" and "The Drunk Fux." The group Jetboy was a hard rock or “glam rock” band formed in 1983. Around 1984 Jetboy was regularly playing at The Rock on Broadway Street in San Francisco. The band went on to a moderately successful career playing in Los Angeles, particularly on Sunset Strip and signed a record deal with Elektra in 1986. Elektra dropped them before releasing an album and they were signed by MCA. Crew was fired from the band in 1987 due to his excessive drinking and became a “guitar roadie” for Slash and Guns ‘n’ Roses.

Things deteriorated rapidly for Crew after his dismissal from the band. His drinking became worse and friends began to worry about his well-being when drugs also began to take their toll. Crew ended up dying at the Milford Plaza Hotel in New York of a drug overdose after partying with Slash and porn star Lois Ayres.
Crew's grave across the street from the Garden Mausoleum II
There has be a lot of dispute surround Todd Crew’s death. Some people maintain that Slash was with Crew when he died, but freaked out and left him in the room to die. In fact, some accounts have Crew actually dying in Slash’s arms. Slash has acknowledged shooting him up with heroin, but claims it wasn’t a strong enough dose to kill him. A few things have not been disputed, mainly that Crew was on a downhill drug/alcohol spiral and that he had been drinking for 18 hours straight, much of the time with Slash. Also, Slash was the person who eventually called 9-1-1, allegedly after calling a and saying that Crew was turning blue.

Slash and members of the band maintain that when they returned to their room they found Crew unconscious and called promptly called 911. 

Jetboy’s greatest success came in 1988 with “Feel the Shake,” which reached #135 on the Billboard charts.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Exedra at Mountain View Cemetery (photo by Michael Colbruno)
You can find this exedra across the street from the main entrance to the mausoleum. Here is Doug Keister's description of exedrae from his book  "Stories in Stone."

These monuments are usually shaped like a curved or rectangular bench, but there are also many examples where the bench is straight. The ancient Greeks constructed public shelters known as stoa. In their simplest form, these structures consisted of a colonnade, walled on one side and roofed. At intervals along these shelters were recesses with seats carved into them. The seating areas were known as exedrae, the Greek word for “out of a seat.” These structures were frequently used in gymnasiums and public squares. Curved exedrae in public squares were favorite gathering spots for philosophers and teachers since their students could gather around the conveniently placed seats. In private homes and gardens, exedrae were also used for entertaining and seating guests.

Exedrae soon found their way into Greek burial grounds that lined the highways into the city. Greek law expressly forbade burial within the city, so the highways leading into the city became important places for Greek families to erect highly visible monuments to proclaim the stature of the family and celebrate and honor their dead. The traditional Greek burial custom dictated that when a person died, a large mound was formed over the grave. Soon after, an earth or rock wall was built to better define the burial plot; when enough resources were available, a more permanent stone grave marker was erected.

Graveside services were not a one-time affair for the ancient Greeks; thus, from time to time, the friends and family of the deceased would gather again at the grave. These services were accompanied with wine, food, and offerings that, for convenience, were placed on top of the burial mound. When the family had enough money to erect a suitable monument, they usually picked a table tomb so they would have a place to put libations and gifts. The next logical progression would be to erect a structure that would enable guests to sit and converse, which led to the introduction of the exedra in Greek burial grounds. The exedra was well suited to this setting; its three-sided or semicircular form helped define the burial plot (it replaced the earth or rock retaining wall) and its built-in seating enabled all of the mourners to talk to each other while focusing on the tomb that, conveniently, was heaped with food and wine. This arrangement is not unlike a contemporary living room with a conversation pit and a coffee table in the middle.

When designing exedrae for American cemeteries, architects used semicircular, rectangular, and straight forms. Typically, a statue or architectural feature with the family name at the center of the exedra and bench seats on either side, although there are some examples that are simply a bench. The heyday of the exedra was from the late nineteenth century until the 1920s. They are still popular today, but are usually used in public areas rather than as monuments for individuals or families.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Captain William “Bill” Leale (1846-1918) - Ship Captain; Owner of Historic Home

Leale home, grave marker and ferry

Captain William “Bill” Leale was born on the Isle of Guernsey in 1846. He came to San Francisco in April 1866 where he was hired as a deckhand on the river steamer Reform. He became the master of the steamer Pioneer within six years and commanded a number of other vessels.

In 1880 he purchased the steamer Caroline and the tugboat Frolic. By the 1890s he was the captain of the bay ferries for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

In 1883, he bought a home that had been built in 1853 at 2475 Pacific Avenue in San Francisco. He added a bracketed false front and built a small house in the backyard, which he fitted to resemble a pilot house. Historical records indicate that the house is one of the oldest in the Cow Hollow neighborhood of Pacific Heights.

The house has become famous in recent years as the home of Susie Tompkins, who has hosted some of the most prominent Democrats in America, including President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, future President Barack Obama and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

Dean Henry Detton (1908-1958) – Football Star & Professional Wrestler

Dean Detton

Dean Detton was a former University of Utah football star who went on to become a famous heavyweight wrestler in the 1930s and 1940s. He was one of eleven children and two of the nine boys became wrestlers.

He was the world heavyweight wrestling champion in 1936 and 1937. He lost the title after two years to the All-American football legend Bronko Nagurski.

He was known for his trademark toehold and shoulder tackles which combined traditional wrestling with a newer brand of more physical and showy wrestling.

After serving in World War II, he returned to California and promoted new wrestling talent. After a brief period in Southern California, Detton lived the last 14 years of his life in Hayward, California. Detton committed suicide by hanging himself in his tavern The Turf Club. The body was discovered by his wife and son. His wife said that he had been despondent over the financial challenges of his business. A few months earlier, Detton tried to throw himself in front of a moving train, but was only slightly injured.

Detton was a native of Utah and a member of the Mormon church.