Understanding the past can be hard. Sometimes, we accidentally make it even harder with mistakes that send us sailing off the charts.
Last week, I came across an interesting postcard in the Museum's collections. It dates from the early years of the twentieth century and features a baby posing innocently without a stitch of clothing. Here's the way we describe it in our catalog:
Unidentified, fully clothed baby (ca. 1900), delighted not to be sitting in a cold and darkened box.
"A photographic postcard of a baby sent to [name of recipient]."
"Really?" I muttered to myself. "Did the people at that time really send naked babies through the mail?"
In my mind, I could see an animated conversation between a mother and her daughter.
"Mommy," the little girl says excitedly, "we have a package at the door!"
"Wonderful," replies the mother. "Why don't you bring it into the house and open it?"
So the daughter drags the box inside and tears into it. She opens the lid, claps her hands, and squeals with delight.
"Mommy," she exclaims, jumping up and down, "it's a baby, and it's naked!"
Never underestimate the importance of sentence structure, proper grammar, and punctuation. I'm reminded of a little book published several years ago titled Eats Shoots and Leaves.
Read one way, the title invites us to visualize a gentle Koala munching dinner high up in a Eucyluptus tree. Add commas, however, and we have a hungry serial killer on the run.
Personally, I think the description of our photograph should read "Photograph of naked baby printed on postcard, which was sent to [name of recipient]." Or something like that. I doubt very much that our ancestors entrusted babies—clothed or unclothed—to the postal system.
But they did send photos of naked babies through the mail, which certainly would be daring in today's legal environment.
I'm not that brave, so I won't post the picture on this blog. But I do intend to change the wording in the catalog. It's the least I can do as a professional to promote accuracy and understanding. Besides, I can't stand the thought of how cold it might have been in a little cardboard box.
In celebration of National Archives Month, archives and special collections libraries from throughout the Sacramento region will showcase their rarely seen holdings for the public in the Third Annual "Passion for Preservation: Sacramento Archives Crawl." The event occurs on Saturday, October 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., in Sacramento. Historic treasures from more than twenty Northern California institutions will be on display at four downtown host locations: the California State Archives, the California State Library, the Center for Sacramento History, and the Sacramento Public Library.
Map of San Joaquin County, ca. 1910, full-size copies of which will be on sale at the Historical Society’s exhibit.
Participants will "crawl" between four host locations, all located within downtown Sacramento. At the four locations, the public can view archival collections on display and take behind-the-scenes tours. In addition, representatives from other archives and special collections libraries will be at the host locations to discuss their archival collections—historic photographs, rare books, historic artifacts—and answer questions about how to connect with local history resources.
Archives Crawl Passports will be given to guests as they visit the host institutions. The passport provides a map of the event and information about the participating archives and special collection libraries. Event attendees who get their passports stamped at three of the four host sites will be given a set of limited-edition commemorative coasters. The coasters honor the pub crawl theme by featuring reproductions of the city's architectural icons.
The display for the San Joaquin County Historical Society and Museum will be located at the California State Archives, the Secretary of State's Office, 1020 O Street.
This event is made possible by financial support from Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Hollinger Metal Edge, the Sacramento Public Library, the Sacramento History Foundation, the California State Library Foundation, and the Gordon Goldstein Foundation.
Click here for additional information, including directions, a schedule of events, and parking instructions.
Remember Passenger Pigeons? Probably not. The last one died in 1914, a casualty of mass deforestation and overhunting. An estimated three to five billion lived in North America when Europeans arrived, but their numbers plummeted over the next three centuries. Perpetuation of this once–numerous bird apparently wasn't a matter of high priority.
Duck hunter in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, ca. 1905.
This attitude wasn't unique with Passenger Pigeons. Earlier this week, I came across four small account books in the Museum's collections that suggest similar views toward waterfowl in the San Joaquin Valley during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The author was Edward Alders (1877–1928), a son of Charles Milton Alders, the owner of Central Hotel, in Farmington, California. From an early age, Edward was a market hunter—much of the time in Merced County—shooting geese and ducks for sale in San Francisco. The proceeds eventually helped him purchase land of his own near Farmington.
At the end of one account book, Alders summarized his kills for four seasons at the beginning of the twentieth century. His total for 1901–1902 was 7,728, and for 1902–1903 5,218. The following season, the figure declined to 3,784, only to rise again to 6,627 during the years 1904–1905. Altogether, he claimed 23,367 kills all four seasons.
Alders didn't lack targets. According to his summary, the largest number of ducks he shot with one gun in a single shot during this period was 89, and with two 119. The corresponding numbers for geese were 65 and 90, respectively.
Our knowledge of Alders will always be limited. However, it certainly looks as though he valued personal gain over waterfowl conservation. I can't help wondering whether the possibility of eventual extinction—partly through his actions and those of likeminded hunters—ever entered his mind. But, of course, I'll never know.
Times have obviously changed. So have laws and organizations—like Ducks Unlimited—to prevent the extinction of waterfowl. These four little account books may raise unanswerable questions about their author, but they go far in explaining why those safeguards have come into existence.
More things that grandchildren of docents from the San Joaquin County Historical Museum—and other youngsters—will not recognize or know anything about…
Mrs. Murphy's chowder ("Who put the overalls in…")
Old Mrs. Davis ("Lord bless us and save us and…")
biting lead soldiers
rubbing mercury from a broken thermometer on your dimes to make them shiny
Oh, Mrs. Goldberg!
Speedy Gonzales' accent
"Tonight we have a reee-ly great shooe…"
77 Sunset Strip
Freddy the Freeloader
Mr. Green Jeans
Phineas T. Bluster
Grauman's Chinese Theatre
walking Hollywood Boulevard after a date
walking on Venice "Muscle" Beach after a date, swinging on the rings
walking ANYwhere after a date
a party line on the phone
attractive young female stewardesses in skirts
walking down to the 5 and Dime
Coppertone ad with baby Jodie Foster's partly bare bottom showing
grabbing the brass ring on the merry-go-round
puttin' on the Ritz
tripping the light fantastic
the ant's ankles, bee's knees
playing mumblety peg
the mailman's huge leather pouch
sitting Indian style
I don't know and I don't care; Tonto lost his underwear
Sticks and stones will break my bones…
Put that in your pipe and smoke it
Ay, yer mother wears army boots
Mortimer Snerd and Charlie McCarthy
Zeppo, Chico, and Harpo
Under the Bleachers, by Seymour Butts
Brown Spots on the Wall, by Hu Flung Pu
Yellow Rivers, by I. P. Daily
Fifty Yards to the Outhouse, by Willie Maikit
The Accident, by Betty Won't
starched white shirts from the laundry
putting up storm windows every fall
rusty wire mesh screens
wooden cigar boxes
Uncle Al the Kiddies' Pal
Here come da judge…
an airmail stamp
Little Oscar and the Wienermobile
5 cent candy bars
Ralph and Ed's Raccoon Lodge
Rusty in Orchestraville
correct use of "whom," lie/lay, fewer/less
Saying "No thank you," instead of "I'm fine"
Saying "You're welcome," instead of "No problem"
Saying "May I please have a…" instead of "Can I get a…"
respect for one's elders
Russ Livingston is a retired K-8 principal and a docent at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum. Part 1 of "Grandma, What's a Speakeasy?" was posted on March 27, 2013.
Here's an idea for your next party: Ask guests to name five "firsts" in San Joaquin County. (Prime yourself beforehand by reading the blog entry for July 24, 2013, below.) Afterward, watch local residents beam with pride as they point to milestone after milestone.
John C. Frémont (1852), leader of first American mapping party to California.
But what about guests from out of town? Expand your question to include the entire San Joaquin Valley and you can include them in the fun, thanks to an exhibition that opens at the end of this week.
Starting on Friday, September 13, Fresno State University will host an exhibition that highlights firsts for the entire San Joaquin Valley. The event takes place in the Leon S. Peters Ellipse Gallery, on the second floor of the Henry Madden Library.
The exhibition, titled "ValleyFirsts!" will pull together a number of diverse firsts in the history of the San Joaquin Valley and use them to explore and celebrate the Valley's story.
The firsts will include firsts in the world that took place in the San Joaquin Valley, firsts in the United States and California that occurred in the Valley, firsts in the development of the Valley, firsts that helped shape the Valley, and first places in Valley history.
The exhibition will feature historic artifacts, documents, ephemera, first-hand accounts, and significant videos and images. Many of these items are on loan from other institutions or from private collections. Some will be exhibited for the first time.
The San Joaquin Valley's history will be shown through key Valley persons; significant challenges; the Valley's impact, innovations, and inventions; and the connection between the people of the Valley and the land.
The exhibition is free and open to the public during regular library hours. It runs through December 15.
The Friends of the Madden Library will hold a grand opening celebration, 6–9 p.m., September 13, in the Ellipse Gallery. The event will feature historians and institutions that have made the exhibition possible. Wine and hors d'oeuvres will be available to the attendees.
Additional information about the exhibition can be found at www.valleyfirsts.com and on YouTube.
Last weekend, my wife and I flew to Colorado for a family reunion. The flight—over the Sierra Nevada range, Utah, and the Rocky Mountains—took all of two and one-half hours. We landed in Denver, rested and ready to drive our rental car several additional hours.
Travel hasn't always been this easy. One of the most significant landmarks in the tortured history of transcontinental movement is the Lincoln Highway, a coast-to-coast road of thirty-four hundred miles that stretched from New York to San Francisco. Financed mainly by local communities, the mostly gravel highway passed through Stockton and about seven hundred other towns and cities in thirteen states.
The Lincoln Highway was the brainchild of Carl Fisher, an American visionary also responsible for creating the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and for turning the swampland around Miami Beach into one of the nation's best-known beach resorts. The name "Lincoln Highway" came from Henry Joy, the president of Packard Motor Company and a spokesman for the project, who suggested it because of its patriotic appeal.
The Lincoln Highway predated the better-known Route 66 by more than a decade. Traveling at the rate of twenty to thirty miles per hour, the typical speed of a Model T, a driver could span the Continent in twenty to thirty days. Two of the Highway's best-known travelers were Beat Generation poet and novelist Jack Kerouac and Dwight D. Eisenhower, who traced its course as part of an army convoy in 1919.
Two thousand thirteen marks the one hundredth birthday of the Lincoln Highway. Many communities in and around San Joaquin County—among them, Lathrop, Tracy, Mountain House, and French Camp—have recently installed commemorative signs along the route.
Will Stockton follow their lead? Kevin Shawver, a resident of Stockton and Lincoln Highway enthusiast, hopes it will. Shawver is spearheading a campaign to mark the road within the city with signs, and the San Joaquin County Historical Society Board of Trustees has voted its support.
"Not only does the historic route deserve recognition," reads a statement from the Society, "but we feel marking it will have positive economic impacts for businesses along the route and for Stockton as a whole."
Stockton's Historical Lincoln Highway Signage Project can be visited on Facebook. For additional information about the road, see the Lincoln Highway Association's Web site. Stockton Record columnist Michael Fitzgerald has written about the project in "The Driving Force Behind Historic Highway Effort."
Close your eyes for a moment and think "Civil War." What do you see? A bearded men in a stovepipe hat? Fuzzy black-and-white daguerreotypes? Corpses on a battlefield? For many of us, the Civil War is only a vague and distant thought. For others, however, the people, issues, and conflicts are still very much alive. How we view the past often depends on how we learn about it.
Black Civil War soldiers defend Washington, D.C. Courtesy Library of Congress.
This Saturday, the Civil War comes to San Joaquin County, offering residents vivid glimpses into those troubled times. Starting at 9 a.m., the Lockeford Historical Society and the Second South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, a military unit comprised of former slaves organized to fight for the Union, will host a Civil War encampment that will feature historical reenactors clothed in period uniforms. The soldiers will march, drill, fire muskets, and answer questions from visitors.
Admission to the event is free. It takes place at the Historic Lockeford Schoolhouse, 19456 Jack Tone Road, in Lockeford, California, and will remain open to visitors until 4 p.m. Historical reenactors from the period of the Indian Wars and the era of the Mountain Men will also be present.
This is Lockeford's Third Annual Living History and Civil War Enactment. It will occur with the cooperation of the American Civil War Association (ACWA) of Northern and Central California.
"With the uniforms, clothing, and equipment of the period," reads ACWA's Web site, "one can get some small sense of how the men, women, and children lived through the hardship that was the Civil War and also enjoy the very unique camaraderie and friendships that the hobby of reenacting offers."
Additional information about the Association and this event can be found at the ACWA Web site: www.acwa.org.
Have you ever wondered what's been happening behind the scenes at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum? It might surprise you to know that the pace has not slowed in recent months, despite hot, lazy days more conducive to napping in the shade than hard work.
The Elliott family freight wagon heads out for restoration, 2012.
Two years ago, the San Joaquin County Historical Society was awarded a half-million-dollar grant to upgrade and expand some of the Museum's exhibits. The money came from Prop. 84, a 2006 California state bond measure devoted to the promotion of water quality projects, including public access to natural resources.
The Museum's grant from the Prop. 84 Nature Education Facilities Program includes several related elements. One part will expand and upgrade the Museum's "Native People's Gallery" in the Erickson Building. The living native plant exhibit, the "Sunshine Trail," will also be improved with audio and graphics-text messages.
In addition, a new interpretative walkway, the "Delta Water Path," will be built around the existing horse-shoe shaped pond at the Museum. The new path will provide messages about the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and water—factors that have shaped County history from its beginning.
The Society has completed environmental compliance requirements for the project, conducted a comprehensive selection process for a consultant, and chosen the Sibbett Group, from Sausalito, to guide exhibit planning and design. In the spring of 2012, meetings with stakeholders kicked off the concept development phase.
The next phase, design development, has resulted in a visitor experience outline. Preliminary design work was tested in additional stakeholders' meetings last fall. Since then, we've been in the final design phase, which will culminate in blueprints used by the exhibit fabrication company.
The Society is also developing a new "Settlers' Exhibit," parallel to the Prop. 84 Nature Education Facilities Program grant, but underwritten by private funding. This exhibit will reveal the history of the first American trappers to enter this area, the establishment of French Camp by Hudson's Bay Company, and early American settlers who came to San Joaquin County to build farms and futures.
The centerpiece of the "Settlers' Exhibit" will be a freight wagon used in 1859 to transport the Elliott family westward along the California Trail. The wagon is currently being restored and will return to the Museum soon. It will be installed simultaneously with other exhibit upgrades to save mobilization and installation costs. The lead donors for the "Settlers' Exhibit" are Dr. Ross Bewley and Robert Kavanaugh.
The Historical Society welcomes additional contributions. Three of the exhibits' audio messages have not been funded yet and are projected to cost a total of eighteen thousand dollars. Send me an e-mail message if you would like to partner with the Historical Society with this or any of the Museum's other projects.
The San Joaquin County Historical Society is pleased to announce the online publication of historic material related to the County's reclamation districts. A full description, posted on the Web site of the Online Archive of California, includes links to the images and can be viewed by clicking here. This long-awaited online collection includes approximately two hundred maps of various kinds, cross sections, elevation profiles, engineer's plans, related textual material, and a variety of other images.
Clearing tule reeds from San Joaquin County swamplands, ca. 1920.
The documents' origins range from 1862, shortly after the California State Government made swamplands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta available for reclamation and settlement, to 1980. The size of the originals varies from tiny fragments of several square inches to folded maps up to twenty-five square feet.
The history of land reclamation in California can be traced to the Swamp Land Act of 1850, federal legislation that authorized the transfer of federal swamplands to private ownership with the provision that they be drained and made productive. Operating at first under the State Board of Swamp Land Commissioners and, starting in 1867, under local boards of supervisors, owners of reclaimed land were authorized to organize special districts to acquire, build, and operate reclamation works, which have included levees, drains, canals, bulkheads, sluices, water gates, embankments, pumping plants, dams, diversion works, irrigation ditches, bridges, and roads.
This online collection offers vivid visual glimpses into how San Joaquin County's reclamation districts drained, developed, and maintained agricultural land under their jurisdiction. Surveyors, reclamation district officials, attorneys, government officials, and ecologists will find it useful, as will anyone else interested in the history of reclamation in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
This material complements a collection of forty-one historic county assessor's plat books from 1876 to 1919 previously made available through the Online Archive of California for online viewing. The plat books can be viewed by clicking here.
The San Joaquin County Historical Society has completed this project in partnership with Internet Archive, thanks to funding provided by the South and Central Delta Water Agencies.
As an anthropologist, I'm not accustomed to thinking in terms of "firsts." But I was asked by the members of the staff at Madden Library at California State University, Fresno, to compile a list for San Joaquin County as part of an exhibition on "firsts" in the greater San Joaquin Valley.
Bidwell-Bartleson party member Charles M. Weber as a young man.
The brief list that follows has been taken from a longer and more complete one, which can be viewed by following this link. The results illustrate how significant our County has been in the history of California. Of course, even the longer version is far from complete because it is weighted toward areas of our history that I have recently researched.
Please send corrections and additions to me at email@example.com.
First American trappers in what is now California and SJC: led by Jedediah Strong Smith. Camped for winter (southeast SJC) (Nov.).
First non-Indian crossing of the Sierra Nevada range: Jedediah Smith and two other American trappers, crossing near present Ebbetts Pass (May).
First military defeats of Spanish or Mexican forces and first successful use of European-style defensive works by Native freedom fighters in what is now California: led by Native leaders Estanislao and Cipriano. Mexican forces led by Sgt. Jose Antonio Sanchez and by Lt. Mariano G. Vallejo. (On lower Stanislaus River, south SJC.) (Early May and May 30)
First non-Indian community in what is now SJC: "French Camp" (south-central SJC). The seasonal community of up to four hundred people was called by the Mexicans: Campo de los Franceses (Camp of the French).
First major epidemic of European disease throughout the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, including what is now SJC: malaria introduced by the Hudson's Bay Company trappers from Oregon country.
First EuroAmerican "road" in what is now SJC: the New Helvetia (Sutter's Fort, now Sacramento) to Mission San Jose "road" or trail (northeast to southwest SJC). Later became known as the "upper Sacramento road."
First party of American settlers to cross the Sierra Nevada and initiate the California Trail: Bidwell-Bartleson party. The party traveled on foot down the Stanislaus River through what is now SJC (south SJC). Included was young Charles Weber, founder of Stockton and SJC. (Nov.)
Petition for first significant Spanish or Mexican land grant in what is now SJC: Charles Weber's partner in San Jose businesses, William "Guillermo" Gulnac, petitioned the Mexican government for forty-eight thousand acres (central SJC), called Rancho del Campo de los Franceses (French Camp Ranch). Weber was not yet a Mexican citizen and was therefore ineligible. The land was granted to Gulnac on Jan. 13, 1844. Weber purchased it on April 3, 1845. (July 14)
First Mexican land grants awarded in what is now SJC: El Pesadero and Paso del Pescadero (southwest SJC).
First American mapping party to California and what is now SJC: led by John Charles Frémont (northeast through central to south SJC). The group first camped in what is now SJC on March 26, 1844. (Mar.)
First family of year-round EuroAmerican settlers in what is now SJC: David, Susan, and daughter America Kelsey (and other child[ren]?) built a tule house on Rancho del Campo de los Franceses (now French Camp, south-central SJC). (Aug.)
First Mormon agricultural colony in what is now California and SJC: New Hope (south SJC). (Nov.)
First sawmill in what is now SJC: New Hope colony (south SJC).
First EuroAmerican child born in what is now SJC: William Gann, to Nicholas and Ruth Gann, at Weber's Point (now downtown Stockton). (Oct.)
First EuroAmerican marriage in what is now SJC: Ned Robinson and Christina Patterson were wed on her ranch claim on Dry Creek (north SJC). (Winter)