Saturday, September 8, 2018

George Prance (1827-1885): Medal of Honor winner who committed suicide

U.S.S. Ticonderoga and grave of George Prance (photo: Dave Johnson)
PLOT 1, Grave 272

George Prance was a sailor in the U.S. Navy during the American Civil War. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Second Battle of Fort Fisher on January 15, 1865.

A native France, Prance volunteered for service in the U.S. Navy and was assigned to the Union sloop-of-war USS Ticonderoga in 1862. On January 15, 1865, the North Carolina Confederate stronghold of Fort Fisher was taken by a combined Union storming party of sailors, marines, and soldiers under the command of Admiral David Dixon Porter and General Alfred Terry. Prance directed fire from the Ticonderoga’s guns upon Fort Fisher.

George Prance's Medal of Honor citation
Prance committed suicide at the Park House in the Temescal District of Oakland on April 3, 1885. He was allegedly upset that the Legislature didn't pass a bill which would have  reimbursed him for an eye lost by an injury received while working as a dredger at the Oakland Port.

Thomas Rutherford Bacon (185o-1913): Noted Clergyman, Professor, Mugwump

Thomas Bacon (Illustration: Oakland Tribune)

PLOT 43, Grave 20

Thomas Rutherford Bacon was a member of the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley for over 25 years, where he taught European history. He was considered one of the leading experts on the French Revolution. He also was an American Congregational clergyman and a noted Mugwump.

Bacon came from a long line of New England clergymen, which included his father and three brothers, Leonard, Edward and George. He graduated from the Yale Divinity School in 1877, where he edited The Yale Record, which was run by the son of famed politician James Blaine, who served as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senator from Maine and Secretary of State. 

The elder Blaine, who was known for corruption, ran as the Republican nominee for President in 1884. Bacon and other reform-minded Republicans broke away to support the Democratic Party Presidential nominee Grover Cleveland in 1884, becoming known as the Mugwumps. The jocular word mugwump is from the Algonquian word mugquomp,  an important person or kingpin, which implied that they were "holier-than-thou" in holding themselves aloof from party politics.

After the election, he resigned his position as the pastor at the Dwight Place Church in New Haven, Connecticut after scurrilous rumors were spread about him. The whisper campaign was allegedly led by supporters of James Blaine. In 1887, Bacon moved to California to take over the pastorship of the First Congregational Church in Berkeley, replacing his brother who had died. He left in 1890 to teach at Cal, where he solidified his reputation as a historian and lecturer.

He died of heart disease in 1913.


Friday, August 24, 2018

George Heinold (1893-1970): Ran saloon made famous by Jack London

Jack London biographer Dr. Franklin Walker (left) and George Heinold (right) Photo: Oakland Tribune
Garden Mausoleum

George Heinold was the owner and operator of the First and Last Chance Saloon, made famous as the watering hole of writer Jack London, who was his godfather. He took over operation of the bar from his father John, who founded it in 1883, and built it out of old shop timbers.  The father befriended Jack London and helped him on his path to fame.

George Heinold also served in World War I where he was decorated for capturing a German lieutenant and 12 soldiers while under fire. After suffering a machine gun wound to his right foot in 1918, he crawled a quarter of a mile on his hands and knees to receive first aid.

First and Last Chance Saloon
At the end of Prohibition he famously refused to open the bar before the deadline, explaining, "I went to France to fight to uphold the Constitution and I am not going to violate it here."

Prior to running the First and Last Chance Saloon, Heinold worked as a copy boy at the Oakland Tribune and as a shipping clerk.

Monday, August 6, 2018

George Wyman (1877-1959): First Transcontinental Crossing of US by Motorcycle

George Wyman and Burial Niche
Main Mausoleum, Section 157, Niche 1, Tier 2

George Wyamn was the first person to make a transcontinental crossing of the United States by motor vehicle. In 1903, Wyman rode his 1902 California Motorcycle Company motor bicycle from San Francisco to New York City in 51 days, finishing 20 days before Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson, the first person to cross the continent by automobile.

Wyman was born on July 3, 1877, in Oakland, California. As a teen, he became interested in bicycle racing, which reached its zenith during the 1890s. He became a leading bicycle racer and, at the turn of the century, moved to Australia to pursue his racing career. Following Australians Arthur Richardson, Alex White, and Donald Mackay, Wyman became the first American to circumnavigate the continent of Australia on a bicycle. In 1902, he returned to California as a top-ranked cyclist, and raced for various Bay Area bicycling clubs. It was during this time that he also began to ride motorized bicycles.

In the summer of 1902, perhaps inspired by the epic 1884 bicycle expedition of Thomas Stevens, Wyman became the first person to cross the Sierra Nevada aboard a motor vehicle, riding his 1.5-hp California motorbike from San Francisco to Reno, Nevada, to compete in a club bicycle race at the Reno Fairgrounds. During the trip, Wyman conceived the idea of riding a motorbike across the United States.

These commemorative plaques appear along Wyman's route
Wyman used his 1902 California machine for his crossing of the United States. The California had a 200 cc (12 cu in), 1.5 hp (1.1 kW) four-stroke engine attached to an ordinary diamond-frame bicycle.Wyman's machine was equipped with 28 x 1.5 in. tires, wooden rims, a leading-link front suspension fork, a Garford spring saddle, a Duck Brake Company front roller brake, and a 1902-patent Atherton rear coaster brake. A leather belt-drive with a spring-loaded idler pulley directly connected the engine output shaft to the rear wheel. Using a standard steel bicycle frame, the California weighed approximately 70–80 pounds (32–36 kg) without rider, and was capable of approximately 25 mph (40 km/h) using the 30-octane gasoline of the day, with a range of 75 to 100 miles (121 to 161 km). Throttle control was not yet perfected, and engine revolutions were mainly controlled by means of a spark timing mechanism.[5] The wick-type carburetor was crude, consisting of a metal box with internal baffles stuffed with cotton batting. With no float chamber, the rider had to open the gasoline tap periodically to admit fuel into the carburetor.

For such a long trip, Wyman carried a remarkably small amount of gear. A set of warm clothing, money, water bottle, cans for spare oil and gasoline, a Kodak Vest Pocket camera, a cyclometer, various bicycle tools and spare parts, and a long-barreled .38 Smith & Wesson revolver constituted his total luggage. 

Wyman departed from Lotta's Fountain at the corner of Market and Kearny streets in San Francisco at 2:30 P.M on May 16, 1903. He had previously agreed to keep a diary of his journey for later publication in The Motorcycle magazine, a periodical of the time. The first part of his trip took him across the Sierra Nevada, through the Nevada desert into Wyoming, then on through Nebraska to Illinois.


As the dirt trails and wagon tracks of the day were often impassable, Wyman rode the railroad tracks for over half of his journey. During the first part of his trip, he frequently slept in railroad company housing or at rooming houses located in division settlements (small municipalities founded by the railroad). His motorbike suffered several breakdowns along the way, requiring him to make improvised repairs until he could get to a larger town to obtain new parts. As he neared Aurora, Illinois, his engine's crankshaft snapped, and after pedaling his way to Chicago, Wyman was forced to wait there five days for a new crank to arrive by railway express.

After leaving Illinois, Wyman traversed the states of Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania before entering New York state. Outside of Albany his engine lost all power, and he was required to pedal his heavy motorbike the remaining 150 miles (240 km) to New York City using a cycle path reserved for licensed cyclists.


On July 6, 1903, Wyman arrived in New York City, completing his transcontinental crossing and becoming the first person to cross the North American continent aboard a motor vehicle. His journey took a total of 51 days to cover some 3,800 miles (6,100 km). Afterwards, Wyman's motorbike was placed on display at the New York Motorcycle Club while Wyman recovered from his grueling journey. While in New York, Wyman was present for the inauguration of the very first nationwide motorcycle organization, the Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) at the Kings County Wheelmens' Club in Brooklyn; it was reported at the time that his hands were still in bandages from the trip. Wyman later returned to San Francisco by train. His California motorbike was put on display in San Francisco at Golden Gate Park for a special exhibition commemorating the trip.

Following his successful crossing of the United States, Wyman settled in San Francisco. He endorsed the Duck Roller Brake in promotional advertisements and worked as a chauffeur before becoming an automobile mechanic. He eventually married and had two sons. Wyman later moved to Eureka, California, continuing to work as an auto mechanic. He died November 15, 1959, at age 82 in San Joaquin County, California. He was cremated and his remains rest with that of his wife Nellie G. Wyman in the Main Mausoleum at Mountain View Cemetery.

[Text reprinted from Wikipedia; Photos from George Wyman Memorial Project]

Erastus Volney Joice (1810-1891): Commissioner of Deeds; SF Street named for him

Plot of Erastus Joice (Photo: Michael Colbruno)
PLOT 31

Erastus Volney Joice, who went by "E.V.", was an attorney, San Francisco Commissioner of Deeds, early member of the Democratic Party in California, "land grabber", and Vice President of the 1851 Committee on Vigilance. He is remembered today for having Joice Street in San Francisco named after him, which is located at the edge of Chinatown, bordered by Powell, Pine, Stockton and Clay Street.

Joice was born in New York in 1810 to Reverend Stephen and Ann Joice. At age 23 he was working as an attorney in New York and later as Commissioner of Deeds in Albany. For unknown reasons, he filed for bankruptcy by age 33 and ended up in California at age 39, just as the Gold Rush Era was kicking off in January 1849.

Joice Street in San Francisco
Ten months after arriving in San Franicsco, he was elected as Vice President of the nascent Democratic Party, which was tasked with setting up State elections. A month later he bought his first home from Alcalde John W. Geary, which led to a career in grabbing land opportunities, including property at Humboldt Harbor, becoming a partner in the Union Hotel owning a ranch near Suisin Bay, and buying a home near Portsmouth Square.

In June 1850 he helped establish a volunteer fire department called the St. Francis Hook and Ladder Company, No. 1, who had to fight the constant scourge of wood buildings burning down, which was complicated by the difficulty of getting water to the fires. Concerned about a group of thugs starting fires and terrorizing local residents, he became the VP of the 1851 Committee on Vigilance.

By 1870, he was selling insurance and working as Commissioner of Deeds for California. After his wife's death, he moved to East Oakland, where he died in 1891.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Gustave “Gus” Koch (1865-1898): Oakland Township Constable killed in explosion

Front and back of Gus Koch's gravestone (photos: Michael Colbruno)

Constable Gustave Adolph "Gus" Koch was one of five deputies killed as a result of a powder magazine explosion. Along with Deputy Daniel Cameron, Deputy John Lerri, Deputy Charles White, and Deputy George Woodsum the group were killed when a barricaded murder suspect deliberately set off an explosion.

The suspect was an employee of the Western Fuse and Explosives Company and had murdered a coworker during a dispute over a 25 cents seven spot Chinese lottery ticket (known as Keno today) and $48 in winnings.

The suspect fled into the powder keg, which contained 5-tons of powder, and threatened to blow it up if anyone attempted to arrest him. The standoff continued overnight and into the morning until the suspect called to Deputy White and told him he was ready to come out. As the other deputies approached the magazine it suddenly exploded, killing the five deputies, a female bystander, the suspect, and seriously injuring two other deputies.


The Western Fuse and Explosives Company was completely destroyed along with more than two dozen nearby homes and businesses. Windows were broken out miles away and the blast was felt as far south as San Jose, where residents believed an earthquake had occurred. The suspect's body had to be recovered in bits and pieces.

Koch was born in Tuolumne County in 1865. He never married and lived in the Temescal area of Oakland. He had been elected constable by the citizens of Oakland Township four years prior to his death. He was an avid yachtsman and was a member of the Marine Yacht Club of San Francisco. He also was a volunteer firefighter for the Temescal Volunteer Fire Department. 

Koch's grave remained unmarked until the Alameda County Heroes Grave Project erected a monument and plaque in his honor.

To learn more about the Alameda County Heroes Grave Project visit their website at ACHGP.org

Monday, March 26, 2018

Donald Glaser (1926-2013): Nobel Prize Laureate

Donald Glaser
Donald Glaser was born on September 21, 1926, in Cleveland, Ohio, to Russian Jewish immigrants, Lena and William J. Glaser.. He enjoyed music and played the piano, violin, and viola. He went to Cleveland Heights High School, where he became interested in physics as a means to understand the physical world.

Glaser completed his Bachelor of Science degree in physics and mathematics from Case School of Applied Science in 1946. He completed his Ph.D. in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1949. Glaser accepted a position as an instructor at the University of Michigan in 1949, and was promoted to professor in 1957. He joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley, in 1959, as a Professor of Physics. 

While teaching at Michigan, Glaser began to work on experiments that led to the creation of the bubble chamber, an apparatus designed to make the tracks of ionizing particles visible as a row of bubbles in a liquid. The bubble chamber enabled him to observe the paths and lifetimes of particles. He was awarded the 1960 Nobel Prize for Physics for his invention, The bubble chamber allowed scientists to observe what happens to high-energy beams from an accelerator, thus paving the way for many important discoveries.

Starting in 1962, Glaser changed his field of research to molecular biology, starting with a project on ultraviolet-induced cancer. In 1964, he was given the additional title of Professor of Molecular Biology.

Fermilab's Bubble Chamber
Glaser received many honors in addition to the Nobel Prize, including the Henry Russell Award for distinction and promise in teaching and research, the Charles Vernon Boys Prize of the Physical Society for distinction in experimental physics, the American Physical Society Prize for his contributions to experimental physics, and an honorary degree of Doctor of Science by the Case Institute of Technology.

In 1971, with two others, he helped found one of the first biotechnology companies, the Cetus Corporation, which developed the cancer therapies interleukin-2 and interferon. The company was sold in 1991 to Chiron Corporation.

He died in his sleep at the age of 86 on February 28, 2013 in Berkeley, California.

SOURCE: Berkeley Lab, Nobel Prize website, Wikipedia, NY Times

John Coghlan (1835-1879): U.S. Congressman

John Coghlan
John Maxwell Coghlan was born in Louisville, Kentucky and moved with his parents to Illinois in 1847, and then to California in 1850 during the California Gold Rush. The family settled in Suisun City, where he went later practiced law.

He was a member of the California State Assembly from 1865-67, representing the 18th District. He was subsequently elected as a Republican to represent California's 3rd District in the 42nd Congress, serving from 1871-73.

He was the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California from 1876 to 1878, and was appointed Chief Justice of the Territorial Utah Supreme Court by President Ulysses S. Grant, but declined to serve. Coghlan said he refused the position, because he preferred San Francisco to Salt Lake City.

He practiced law in Oakland, California until his death at his home in Alameda at the age of 43.

SOURCES: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, Los Angeles Herald, History of San Francisco (Clarke Publishing, 1931)

Warren Bechtel (1872-1933): Founder of engineering firm Bechtel Corporation

Burial site of Warren Bechtel
Warren Abraham Bechtel was born on September 12, 1872 and raised on a farm in Freeport, Illinois, which is 25 miles east of the Mississippi River.  He was a restless, energetic teenager who found time for school, farm and store chores, and the slide trombone. After graduation, he had a brief fling as a traveling musician, but realized that he couldn’t make a living with his trombone.

He went on to found the Bechtel Corporation, one of the world's largest engineering and construction services firms.

He worked as an employee of the burgeoning United States railroad industry in 1898 after his Oklahoma cattle ranch failed.

Over the next 20 years, Bechtel built a sizable contracting business that specialized in railroad and highway building. One of Bechtel's earliest major contracts was grading the site of the Oroville, California depot for the Western Pacific Railroad, then under construction.

In 1919, Warren Bechtel and his partners (including his brother Arthur) built the Klamath Highway in California, and in 1921 Warren Bechtel partners won a contract to build the water tunnels for the Caribou Hydroelectric Facility in that state. In 1925, Warren A. Bechtel's sons Warren Jr., Stephen, and Ken joined him and incorporated as W.A. Bechtel Company. In 1926, the new company won its first major contract, the Bowman Lake dam in California. The firm would later help engineer the famous Hoover Dam over the Colorado River, still considered the largest civil engineering project in U.S. history.
 
Bechtel died of an accidental insulin overdose while visiting Moscow in 1933. His son, Stephen D. Bechtel Sr., took over the firm upon his father's death.

Sources: Bechtel Corporation; Wikipedia

Sunday, March 25, 2018

John Glascock (1845-1913):Oakland Mayor; Congressman

John Raglan Glascock
John Raglan Glascock was a mayor, district attorney and member of Congress.

He was born in Panola County, Mississippi on August 25, 1845 and moved to San Francisco in 1856 with his parents. He attended local public schools before graduating from the second class of the University of California at Berkeley in 1865. He went back East to study law at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, returning to California to practice law after graduating.

In 1875, he was elected to a single term as District Attorney of Alameda County. He went on to serve a single term in Congress as a Democrat from 1883-1885, losing his reelection race.

However, two years later he was selected to serve as mayor of Oakland on the Citizen's ticket and served from 1887-1890. After leaving City Hall, he returned to his private law practice, Glascock & Howard. He also served as President of the Alameda County Bar Association.

He died at his country home in Woodside, California on November 10, 1913, where he had moved from Berkeley to be closer to his brother-in-law Alexander Baldwin. Glascock suffered from heart disease and asthma at the end of his life, missing his only Cal-Stanford game before dying.

Oakland Tribune, The Roots of Justice: Crime and Punishment in Alameda County, Annals of the Congress of the United States