Monday, May 20, 2019

James Blethen (1828-1909): Mayor of Oakland who died destitute

Mayor James Blethen (Newspaper image: Oakland Tribune)
PLOT 8, Lot 23

James Blethen was born on June 25, 1828 in Maine and came to California during the Gold Rush, where he set up shop as a contractor in San Francisco. He paid for his passage aboard he Golconda by working as a carpenter on the ship, a trade he had learned in Dover (now Dover-Foxcroft, Maine).

He was married twice and had nine children. 

In 1868, he and a partner bought the Pioneer Mill at 1st and Broadway in Oakland, where they did mill work, specializing is sashes and doors.  The business proved quite successful and Blethen developed an interest in politics during this time, spurred by the debates over the Chinese Exclusion Act.

He was a two-term Mayor of Oakland, serving in 1881 and 1882 (when Mayor's were elected to one-year terms). A year after he left office his good fortune began to decline. His Pioneer Planing Company became the target of boycotts and he accrued debts of $60,000 ($1.5 million in 2019 dollars) to the likes of Dr. Samuel Merritt, Knowland & Co and the Oakland Bank of Savings.

The Port of Oakland around 1882
The Los Angeles Herald claims his demise was a deal that he cut in 1882 as Mayor when he convened a special meeting of the City Council to pass what became known as the "Second Compromise," which proved to be wildly unpopular with the public. The first compromise, which was passed in 1868, basically ceded waterfront rights for 37 years to the unscrupulous (or wily, depending on your point of view) Horace Carpentier in exchange for $5, some wharf improvements and a new school. The second deal was seen by many as once again benefiting private interests over the public good. The fights over the waterfront dragged on in California and the Nation's highest courts for decades.

The Herald ran an account of him in his later years, describing him as "Old and bent and gray, his clothes patched and threadbare...Blethen, once Mayor of Oakland, now flags the trains of the Southern Pacific...the old man sits on a bench, leans against the Delger Block and either reads the papers or dreams of the days when he was Mayor, and could count more friends than any other citizen of Oakland."

His memorial service was held at the Masonic Temple and he was buried in the Blethen family plot.

Sources: The San Francisco Call, Wikipedia,, Find-a-Grave, City of Oakland Planning Department, Sacramento Daily Record-Union, History of the Port of Oakland by DeWitt Jones, Oakland Tribune

Monday, May 13, 2019

John McHenry (1809–1880): Southern Anti-Slavery Judge

Judge John McHenry

John McHenry was born of Scottish ancestry on October 19, 1809 in Allington, Montgomery. In 1847, he married Ellen Josephine Metcalfe.

The couple settled in New Orleans where he became a noted attorney and judge. He became controversial as a trial judge in the South, as between 1846 and 1851 he ruled in favor of nearly twenty enslaved petitioners who sought freedom on the basis of having touched free soil. These rulings directly contravened Louisiana state law, but McHenry reasoned that they were in keeping with higher sources of law: constitutional, federal, and international.

President Martin Van Buren offered him the post of Minister (Ambassador) to Spain, which he declined in order to sail aboard the Northerner and head to California, where he arrived on August 15, 1850. In California, he was asked to assist in setting up the State's constitution.

In San Fransisco, he opened a law firm and as a judge in the County Courthouse. He commuted across the San Francisco Bay from his property situated on the Temescal Rancho. He moved to San Francisco in 1864 where he successfully invested in real estate (in what is now Mission Bay), but returned to the East Bay in 1878.

He also owned additional property across the Bay, which is the site of the Emeryville Shellmound. After his death, his widow bemoaned the fact that the land contained  “tombs and treasures of Indian royalty.”

Despite his anti-slavery ruling, McHenry still held deep sympathies for the South and was arrested in San Francisco for “enticing a private on Alcatraz Island to join an anti-Union activity” in 1861.

His daughter was Mary McHenry Keith, a noted social justice advocate, suffragist and wife of  artist William Keith.

SOURCES: Vanished Waters by Nancy Olmsted, Bancroft Library, California Art Club, Emeryville Historical Society, Find a Grave, Alta Californi

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Norbert "Nubs" Kleinke (1911-1950): Baseball player who died at sea

Nubs Kleinke
Nubs Kleinke was a right-handed pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1935 and 1937, playing in just nine games during his career. He posted a career record of 1-1 with a 4.86 ERA.

He was born Norbert George Kleinke on May 19, 1911 in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

He started his professional baseball career with the Cedar Rapids Bunnies of the Mississippi Valley League in 1931, going 17-7 in his rookie season. He follow up in 1932 with an impressive 15-10 year.  His best seasons were with the Rochester Red Wings of the International League, where he pitched from 1935-38. He posted a 19-7 record with a 3.27 ERA in 1934 and a 19-8 record with a 3.47 ERA in 1937. He played his final years for the Oakland Oaks from 1942-44. His career minor league record was 159-123.

In 2001, Kleinke was inducted into the Rochester Red Wings Hall of Fame. Other notable baseball figures in the Red Wings Hall of Fame are Cal Ripken, Jr., Dennis Martinez,  Earl Weaver, Boog Powell, Don Baylor and Red Schoendienst.

Nubs Kleinke's high school yearbook photo (left) and short stint in a Cardinals uniform
Kleinke died on March 16, 1950 off the coast of California while fishing with friends. His obituary states that he was "stricken" and "dropped dead" while anchored off the Golden Gate Bridge. Aboard the boat with him that afternoon were two fellow baseball players, Cotton Pippen and Willard Martin.

SOURCES: Long Beach Independent,, Find a Grave,,

Monday, May 6, 2019

Dean Hayes (1919-1943): Killed on submarine sunk by Japanese in WWII

Dean Hayes
Dean Marriott Hayes was born in Midvale, Utah on September 27, 1919 to Ethel and William Hayes. He was living in Berkeley when he joined the military during World War II.

He served aboard the U.S.S. Wahoo submarine as an Electrician's Mate Second Class during World War II. The submarine was sunk by Japanese aircraft in the La Perouse Strait between Japan and Russia on October 11, 1943. Eighty men lost their lives in the depths of the icy cold waters. Hayes was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart.

Main deck of the USS Wahoo (Photo: Iskra)
The U.S.S. Wahoo was one of the most famous American submarines of World War II.  It was  launched on February 14, 1942 at the Mare Island Navy Yard in Vallejo, California and was commissioned on May 15, 1942.

The U.S.S. Wahoo left from Pearl Harbor for its seventh and final patrol on September 9, 1943 under the command of the aggressive and celebrated Navy Commander Dudley "Mush" Morton. The Wahoo sank at least nineteen Japanese ships, more than any other submarine of the time.

The submarine was believed to be lost in the depths of the sea until the Wahoo Project Group was launched in 1995. The project was made up of an international team of Americans, Australians, Japanese, and Russians, and led by a relative of Commander Mush Morton.

Main gun of the USS Wahoo (Photo: Iskra)
The group's search focused on the review of historical records by Japanese Vice Admiral Kazuo Ueda, who correctly predicted the location of Wahoo. In 2005, electronic surveys in the region yielded what turned out to be a U.S. Gato-class submarine in the Strait. In 2006, the U.S. Navy confirmed that images provided by the Russian "Iskra" team were of the Wahoo, which was sitting in about 213 feet of water in the La PĂ©rouse Strait.

On July 8, 2007, the US Navy held a wreath laying ceremony at the confirmed site of the sinking of the Wahoo. On October 11, 2007, the US Navy held an official remembrance ceremony for the crew of the Wahoo. The ceremony was conducted at the USS Bowfin Museum and Submarine Park at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Hayes' only brother Staff Sergeant Rhuel Hayes was killed one year later in the Mediterranean.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

John Marcovich (1859-1907): Restaurateur gunned down by employee

Oakland Tribune headline and picture of murderer Frank Smith
Elks Plot 32, Grave 120

John Marcovich was a noted restaurateur who was killed by a waiter who he had fired earlier in the day for stealing a bottle of wine. 

According to the Oakland Tribune, he was leaning over a chair talking to two guests at The Gas Kitchen when Frank Smith walked up to him and shot him at point blank range while his Marcovich's wife looked on in terror. Smith unloaded five bullets, three that hit Marcovich in the back and two under his arms, one entering his heart. He uttered, "Goodbye, wife" and died. 

Frank Marcovich and his grave in the Elks Plot
A witness tried to stop Smith, but the gunman threatened to shoot him. He was then followed by a group of citizens on bicycle until the police could continue the chase, albeit unsuccessfully at first.  He was arrested in St. Louis, Missouri ten years after the murder. According to the Oakland Tribune (August 7, 1917), Smith was convicted and sent to San Quentin to serve a life sentence, but was paroled 10 years later. 

Parole document of Frank Smith
Smith allegedly had both a drinking problem and an addiction to gambling.

Marcovich's services were held at the Elks Lodge in Oakland and he is buried in the Elks Plot at Mountain View Cemetery. 

Source: Oakland Tribune, San Quentin Prison Records

Hettie Blonde Tilghman (1873-1933): African-American suffragist; NAACP President

Hettie Tilghman (photo Oakland Tribune) and her grave
Plot 55

Hettie Blonde Tilghman was born in San Francisco in 1873 to early pioneers Captain John Jones and his wife Rebecca. Her father was in charge of ammunition and rifles for the San Francisco Vigilante Committee housed at The Armory. She was the youngest of three daughters and attended school in San Francisco, where she lived until she was about fourteen years old. [Some sources list her birth as 1871].

Around 1887, her family relocated to Oakland, where she would remain for the rest of her life. In 1890, she married Charles F. Tilghman and they moved in with his mother, Lucinda. At the time of her marriage, she was an organist and secretary of the Bethel A.M.E. Church of San Francisco. The couple had two children, Hilda and Charles.

In addition to her involvement in the church, she ran a private language school out of her San Francisco home, where her parents were still living. It was in this home that she taught English to local Chinese students. 

Hettie retired from teaching shortly after Hilda's birth. After Charles and Hilda enrolled in school, Hettie became active in public life once again, participating in a variety of clubs and community building projects. She also served on the board of the Home for Aged and Infirm Colored People, which was opened in 1897 near Mills College. In 1917, she was elected president of the California State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, a post she held until 1919.

Hettie Tilghman had a lifelong commitment to service for the African-American community. Tilghman became the financial secretary for the Northern Federation of California Colored Women's Clubs after its creation in 1913. The Northern Federation was an organization composed of Northern California's many arts, education, and advancement clubs created by and for women of color. This organization was largely in response to the widespread exclusion of non-whites from existing groups. 

Fannie Wall Children's Home
Tilghman worked closely with civic leader and activist Fannie Wall, raising money between 1914 to 1918 to fund the opening of the Fannie Wall Children's Home and Day Nursery in West Oakland – the only daycare and orphanage facility available to children of color in that area at the time. After the success of the first Children's Home in meeting the needs of lower-class children and families, Tilghman worked to launch and manage a "Colored" YWCA establishment, and contributed to the operation of a second children's care facility. This second facility was one that required significantly more capital to open so this is an impressive accomplishment. The YWCA served African-American members by providing academic and occupational training, as well as entertainment and special events for younger girls. The second location for the Children's Home was ultimately taken over by the Oakland Redevelopment Authority.

During WWI, she also raised money and collected the names of all of the black soldiers who had been drafted into the war and organized the first reception for "colored troops," as the Oakland Tribune referred to them at the time.

In the 1920s, Tilghman took on a major leadership role alongside African-American women in the League of Women Voters (LWV), and was chosen to be president of the Alameda County League of Colored Women Voters. In both organizations, Tilghman advocated for laws that would address the unique needs of women and children. 

Daughter Hilda Tilgman (Image: SF Call)
She was also elected president of the Fannie Wall Children's Home and Day Nursery in the early 1920s. Around the same time she also took charge of the Oakland branch of the NAACP. Thirty-six years after her death, her son Charles was honored by the NAACP for his contributions to the organization. He owned a printing business in Oakland. In 1906, her daughter Hilda led the effort to raise money to help restore African-American chruches destroyed by the earthquake and fire, as well as assist with the rebuilding of homes within the community.

Throughout the 1920s, she was active in the women's suffrage movement, and her political involvement continued until her death in Alameda in September 1933.

Sources: The Negro Trail Blazers of California (1919), Biography of Hettie Blonde Tilghman  by Pat Roberts, Oakland Tribune,, San Francisco Call

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Franklina Gray Bartlett (1853-1934): Author; Founder of Women's Social Club

Grave of Franklina Gray Bartlett
Plot 30

Franklina Gray Bartlett was the founder of the Ebell Society in Santa Ana and President of the organization in Oakland, California. She was the wife of the prominent banker William S. Bartlett and stepdaughter of the wealthy businessman David Hewes.

The Ebell Club is a women’s social club that still operates in a number of cities. Established in 1897 as a substitute for the university education that women were largely denied, the club had 2,500 members in its heyday in the 1920s, and activities included Shakespeare, gardening and art appreciation. 

Franklina's mother Matilda Gray married David Hewes in 1875, taking her and her sister Rosa  on a two and a half year honeymoon. The group visited 22 different countries including England, France, Italy and Greece, collecting art and allowing David to explore his religious interests.

Franklina kept a journal chronicling her adventures and wrote hundreds of letters to William Springer Bartlett, her fiancé in Oakland, California. The Camron-Stanford House published a collection of her writings and letters, showing her to be an atypical Victorian woman. Franklina shows herself to be an opinionated, imperfect woman of wit, spirit, and determination. In her writings she discusses many of her grand adventures, including climbing the Alps and sailing the Nile.

Images from Camron-Stanford House book on Franklina Bartlett's writings
In 1878, Franklina married William Bartlett at the Camron-Stanford House in Oakland. In 1882, the couple moved to Tustin, California where they built a sprawling Victorian mansion and her husband became active in the development of the city. He was a shareholder in the Tustin Land & Improvement Company, a director for the Bank of Tustin and a member of the organizing committee for the Tustin Presbyterian Church, which his father-in-law financed.

While in Tustin, Franklina started the Ebell Society of Santa Ana Valley, modeling it on the Oakland society, where she was its first president.

Franklina was also a prolific writer, contributing many short stories to “The Overland Monthly and "The Out West” magazine, a San Francisco publication. Her stories appeared frequently along with submissions from well known authors such as Brete Harte, Willa Cather, Jack London and Mark Twain.

Sources: Find a Grave, Camron-Stanford House, Orange County Register, Old Homes of Los Angeles blog

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Abraham Holland (c1830-1910 ): Black Gold Rush Pioneer

Abraham Holland grave (Photo Michael Colbruno)
Abraham Freeman Holland was born in Pennsylvania around 1830 and joined the California Gold Rush around 1849/50, arriving in the Sierra foothills near Marysville. The African-American migration to California brought incredible opportunity to gain freedom and economic independence for black people. He joined a number of other black miners in founding the aptly named Sweet Vengeance Mine. Holland selected "Freeman" to be his middle name.

In 1861, his son Albert was born, but he died of pneumonia at age 18 in 1879 while attending college.

One of Holland's business partners was Edward P. Duplex, a native of Connecticut, who opened a string of successful barbershops throughout the region and was elected mayor of the community, quite probably the first African-American mayor west of the Mississippi. Holland, Duplex and the other black miners had to repeatedly defend themselves against white miners who tried to overtake the mine by force.

At the time when Holland and Duplex were mining in California, the population of blacks ranged from around 1,000 at the time the State was admitted to the Union in 1850 to 2,200 in 1852. Black residents were technically "free," as a condition of California becoming a State was that it would be a free state, however the California Fugitive Slave Act of 1852 allowed black residents to forcibly be returned to slave states if they resided here before statehood. Holland, along with a number of other black residents, purchased the freedom of numerous slaves with their earnings and brought them to California. 

The grave of Holland's business partner Mayor Edward Duplex
In 1876, using the money he had earned in the mines, Abraham moved to Oakland where records have him listed as a widower. His 18 year old son Albert died of pneumonia while attending college.

The elder Holland went on to become a Pullman porter when the Central Pacific Railroad terminus was in West Oakland, serving passengers on the Transcontinental Railroad. Although Pullman porters worked long, hard hours, they made better wages than they could in most other jobs available to African-American men at the time. The pullmans got to travel across the U.S., making important connections with people along the way.  They distributed information pamphlets about civil rights and were key to keeping others across the country informed.

The Pullman Company, whose sumptuous dining and sleeping cars catered to well-heeled travelers, only hired African-Americans to work as their porters. These jobs held great prestige, paid well, and provided opportunities for travel and tips.

Abraham Holland took an active role in African-American cultural and political organizations. He was Grand Master of the African-American lodge of California Freemasons known as the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Mason. He also served as president of the Literary and Aid Society of Oakland and directed the Colored Colonization Association of Fresno County.

Sources: "Contemporary Issues in California Archaeology" edited by Terry L Jone, Docent Gia White, "Structure, Agency, and the Archaeology of African Americans" by Adrian Praetzellis, Sierra College archives, Browns Valley by Roberta Sperbeck D'Arcy, California: A History By Andrew Rolle and Arthur C. Verge

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Frank Day (1853-1899): Councilmember in Los Angeles and Monterey

Frank Day obituary in the San Francisco Call
Plot 14B

Day was born in South Bend, Indiana, on April 9, 1853 and moved with his family to Sacramento, California in 1866. He moved by himself to Los Angeles in the early 1880s.

In 1882, he was elected to represent the 2nd Ward on the Los Angeles Common Council. The Los Angeles Common Council was the predecessor of the Los Angeles, California, City Council. It was formed in 1850 under state law, when the city had only 1,610 residents, and it existed until 1889, when the city had about 50,400 residents and a city charter was put into effect. Day represented one of the wealthiest Wards.

In November 1885 Day argued against a motion made by Councilman Hiram Sinsabaugh that a picture of a nude woman hanging "at the lower end of the council chamber" be removed. He said the canvas was a "work of art. belong to Conference [Fire] Engine Company, and had been on exhibition in Preuss A. Piroul's window for four months." The council nevertheless ordered it taken down.

On March 7, 1885, "the fire delegates" elected Day as chief of the volunteer fire department. It was said that Day was the first chief of the fire department when it became a paid department instead of a volunteer force. He resigned in January 1886, with a message to the Common Council that he could no longer serve because he would be "out of the city a good deal of the time."

After selling his business, Day moved to Monterey where he was an organizer and manager of the Monterey Electric Light & Development Company and operator of a saloon. In 1893, he became a member of the Monterey Town Council.

Around 1898, he ended up in San Francisco, where he worked as a clerk at Wells Fargo. But his stay in the city was short, as he committed suicide in 1899, leaving the following note:

"If my body is found, tell my friends at Wells, Fargo & Co. to bury me at Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland. My father, Loth [sic] Day, and mother, Celine Day, are buried there." His father owned property in Oakland, which he bequeathed to his son.

According to his obituary in the San Francisco Call, "The stopcock of the gas jet was fully turned on and the room was full of the suffocating odor. All the crevices, including the keyhole, were stopped with bits of cloth tightly wedged in to prevent the escape of the death-dealing fluid."

The obituary also stated that he had a problem with alcohol.

Sources: San Francisco Call,, Wikipedia

Bella French Swisher (1837-1893): Author, Editor & Spa Founder

Bella French Swisher
Bella French Swisher was born in 1837 in Georgia.

Around 1841, her family moved to the Midwest. By 1868 she was owner, editor, and publisher of a newspaper, the Western Progress in Brownsville, Minnesota. She later edited and published the Busy West at St. Paul and at Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the American Sketch Book in La Cross.

The American Sketch Book originally called itself "an historical and home monthly," although it generally appeared only six times a year. The magazine, a hefty collection of poetry, stories, plays, engravings, reminiscences, and county histories as well as recipes and farm hints, was largely written by Mrs. Swisher and a small number of contributing writers. The last issue blamed printing delays for its erratic appearance and announced the advent of the Sketch Book Publishing House, but the Sketch Book never became a commercial success.

In 1878 she married  John M. Swisher, a wealthy veteran of the battle of San Jacinto. In 1880 Mrs. Swisher began another venture, the Thermo Water Cure or Hot Air Bath and Hygienic Institute, a health spa designed to relieve rheumatism, neuralgia, paralysis, and other disorders.

Bella Swisher's "American Sketch Book" (Photo: Heritage Auctions)
In 1881 she dropped the Sketch Book's subscription price from three dollars to a dollar a year and announced that she was available for a lecture tour. In 1883 the American Sketch Book ceased publication.

Bella Swisher wrote two novels, Struggling Up to the Light: The Story of a Woman's Life (1876, published under the name Bella French), and Rocks and Shoals in the River of Life (1889). The protagonist of Struggling Up to the Light, Martha Bright, overcomes a childhood of abuse and neglect, marries a man hostile to her talents and aspirations, and conquers the stigma of divorce to become a successful poet who writes particularly about the status of women.

Swisher also wrote two volumes of poetry, Florecita (1889) and The Sin of Edith Dean (1890). Her "History of Austin, Travis County, Texas," which originally appeared in the American Sketch Book, was issued as a reprint in 1880.

After the Sketch Book ceased publication, she moved to Sausalito, California, where she died on September 28, 1893.

Sources: Texas State Historical Society, Find a Grave, Wikipedia,  Austin Weekly Statesman, Heritage Auctions