Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Jimmie Stanislaus (1910-1993): "The Singing Fireman"

Jimmie Stanislaus (Photo left: Stanford University archives)

Jimmie Stanislaus had four careers in life, starting as a lightweight boxer from 1926-1934. He had 86 fights in his boxing career, losing only a handful of matches. After he retired from boxing, he opened a shoeshine stand while making extra cash on the side as an attendant for Yellow Cab.

In 1943, he joined the Oakland Fire Department at Engine 31 at High & Porter Streets. He retired and in 1975, but not after having created a sensation singing with Turk Murphy's band in 1972. Even before his retirement as a fireman, he was traveling with Turk Murphy and performing in international clubs and aboard cruise ships. One of his popular songs, "Lock Goon Strut," would be considered culturally inappropriate today, as it referred to a Chinese restaurant at 8th & Webster Streets and the term "goon" was used to denote low intelligence, particularly in regards to Asians.

That led to a whole new career as a singer, with his voice often drawing comparisons to the great Louie Armstrong. He caught Turk Murphy's attention singing "Yama Yama Man" at the Earthquake McGoon jazz club in San Francisco, run by the famous trombonist and bandleader who played traditional and Dixieland jazz. He was quickly dubbed "The Singing Fireman."

Jimmie Stanislaus (Photo right: Stanford University archives)
"Yama Yama Man" was a bogeyman character named to rhyme with pajama, a reference to the costume. In 1918, cartoonist Max Fleischer created Koko the Clown, who wears a similar costume, and a popular children's novel called Yama Yama Land was also written. Stanislaus often dressed in a loose fitting clown costume when he performed the song [photo above]. 

He also recorded with Turk Murphy and appears on his Live at Inverness and Turk Murphy Jazz Band albums performing some of his biggest hits, including Yama Yama Man, Back O Town Blues, and You Rascal You (I'll be Glad When You're Dead).

Elizabeth Flood (1828-1867): Opened first private school for black children

Elizabeth Thorn Scott Flood (1828-1867) was born a free woman in 1828 and educated in Massachusetts. When her son by her late first husband, Joseph Scott, was not allowed into a school in Sacramento, she opened a private school for black children in 1854. 

Elizabeth and Isaac Flood (born into slavery in South Carolina) married in 1855 and moved to Brooklyn (now part of Oakland), where she started another school in their home on East 15th. Elizabeth and Isaac went on to help found the First African Methodist Episcopal church, which eventually took over the school. 

Their son, George Francis Flood was born in 1856, and was said to be the first black baby born in Alameda County. Their daughter, Lydia Flood was born in 1862, and became the first black student to attend John Swett School in Oakland in 1872. Lydia went on to become active in the movement for women's voting rights. 

In 1871, Isaac petitioned the Oakland School Board to accept minority children, based on the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. In 1872, Brooklyn admitted minorities into its schools, and shortly after the Oakland School Board voted to accept them as well. Integrated schools didn't become the law in California until 1880. 

Elizabeth died at the age of 39. Elizabeth and Isaac are buried at Mountain View Cemetery. The plot is unmarked, but a cemetery docent discovered it when she noticed the name Isaac Flood on an old plot map of the cemetery and did some investigation.

[Reprinted from Oakland Wiki]

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Horace Wilds (1867 or 1868 -1902): Black baseball pioneer paralyzed from line drive to head

Obituary of Horace Wilds
Tennessee native Horace Maynard Wilds (1867 or 1868-1902) was a well-known African-American baseball player, who played catcher for the all-black Tribune Nine and other teams.

Described by the Oakland Tribune as the "colored beauty," he played with white players on amateur teams before spending five years with the Pacific Baseball League, a rival to the popular California League. After the Pacific Baseball League folded, he joined all-black teams, which received little to no coverage in the local press.

As with other black baseball players of the time, no major league team would add him to their roster because of his race.

In 1892, he married Joanna Dickson of San Francisco. His wife and two children lived with his family at 1008 Tenth Avenue, which had previously been the Brooklyn Colored School.

Wilds died in 1902 due to the lingering effects of being hit in the head with a baseball injury that occurred six years previously. Although he didn't feel like the injury was serious at first, he had ruptured his optic nerve and suffered from progressive paralysis. He was blind and nearly paralyzed at the time of his death.

His funeral was attended by several prominent elected officials, including the City Manager, Superintendent of Schools and Chief of Police. He was the eldest son of John A. Wilds, a popular janitor at City Hall.

Sources: The Golden Game: The Story of California Baseball by Kevin Nelson, Oakland Tribune,, San Francisco Call, Morning Call

Royal Towns (1899-1990): Helped integrate Oakland Fire Department

Royal Towns as a child and as a member of the Oakland Fire Department
Plot 54, Grave 1915

Towns was born in Oakland in 1899, and when denied union membership in his factory job because of his race, went to work as a railroad porter. 

In 1919 the city of Oakland began seeking and testing African Americans applicants to serve as firefighters for a segregated unit of the Oakland Fire Department. In 1925, the first all-African American firehouse 22 Engine opened in West Oakland at 3230 Magnolia Street. Towns joined the Oakland Fire Department in 1927 and was assigned to Engine Company No. 22. He was the city's eleventh black firefighter.

After data that he compiled showed that African-Americans were being promoted in other cities and not Oakland, Towns became the first to be promoted with the Oakland Fire Department. He eventually became a chief's operator and eventually retired as a lieutenant in 1962.

He helped recruit African American firefighters and conducted classes to help them study for the fire-fighting exam. His recruitment efforts resulted in 25 African American fire fighters being hired.

After his retirement, he became interested in his family genealogy and black history. He traced his roots on his paternal side to his grandfather's departure from Jamaica just two years after slavery was banned in the West Indies. He traced his maternal roots back to Charles Humphrey Scott in 1822, a Kentucky slave who bought his freedom and moved to New Orleans. 

He was interviewed by the Oakland Tribune about his family history and also co-convened a group of "West Oakland pals" who got together annually to reminisce.

Sources: Find a Grave, Oakland Library, Oakland Wiki, Oakland Tribune (Feb 6, 1977)

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Albert "Shrimp" Burns (1898-1921): Member of Motorcycle Hall of Fame

Shrimp Burns (photo AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame)

Albert "Shrimp" Burns was one of the top dirt and board track racers of the 1910s and early '20s. He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in Pickerington, Ohio in 1998.

The diminutive Burns rode for both the Harley-Davidson and Indian factory teams during his career. He was the youngest champion of his era, winning his first titles at the tender age of 15.

Known for his tenacity, Burns was always a crowd favorite. Fellow competitor Wells Bennett noted that Burns took the turns with his tongue hanging off to the side of his mouth as if to give him extra balance. He was a gritty and determined rider who often rode injured.

At times Burns also wore his emotions on his sleeve. At one of his early races, several competitors protested allowing the speedy 15-year-old Burns to race, because of his age. When he was told his entry was rejected, Burns went out and sat on the outside rail of the race track and taunted his fellow racers by making faces at them as they rode by. Burns was promptly ejected from the facility.

Shrimp Burns (photo AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame)
Burns was born in Oakdale, California, on August 12, 1898. His family moved to Oakland when Albert was a toddler and that is where Burns grew up and went to school. As a youngster, Burns' favorite place to hang out was a local Pope motorcycle dealership. At first, the managers of the shop chased Burns away for meddling with the bikes parked in front of the shop, but later they relented and hired the 12-year-old as a shop helper.

One day when the owner was out to lunch, the temptation was too great for Burns and he sneaked out on a Pope lightweight and rode around the block. Before long Burns was allowed to run messages for the shop and occasionally was even allowed to borrow a machine for Sunday afternoon rides.

On May 4, 1913, Burns entered his first professional motorcycle race in Sacramento and finished an impressive fourth. That summer, Burns continued to hone his racing skills on the tracks of Northern California. Later that summer, Burns rode against the stars of the day such as Bob Perry, Ray Creviston, Otto Walker and Carl Goudy in a championship race in Sacramento. Burns took fourth in the 10-mile feature and finished second in another race. The established stars didn't like being upstaged by a 15-year-old kid who looked even younger and rode inferior equipment. Their protests kept Burns out of several big race meets that season. He was allowed to race against the same group of riders late that season in San Jose and he shocked the fans by earning his first victory. 

Shrimp Burns (photo AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame)
For the next several seasons, Burns continued to race in his home state and steadily earned a following of loyal fans. One reason the fans loved Burns so much was because of his toughness. In a Marysville, California race, Burns suffered a hard tumble. Groggy from the accident, he hobbled to the pits and put his machine back together in time for the next race. Riding in agonizing pain, Burns went on to win the five-mile final to the roar of the crowd. His friends insisted that Burns be checked by a doctor after the race and it was discovered that he had ridden with a fractured collarbone and broken shoulder.

World War I brought a temporary stop to Burns' racing career. Early in 1919, Burns came home to win one of the first major West Coast races after the war in Fresno, California. In June of that year, Harley-Davidson signed the 20-year-old rider to his first factory contract.

With Harley-Davidson, Burns was able to show his talent outside of his native California. On July 4, 1919, Burns made his first appearance on the East Coast, riding a national meet in Baltimore. Burns, who rode in an unusual style by hugging the inside rail around the circuit, won a five-mile solo race as well as a sidecar event. The Baltimore performance set him on the road to gaining a reputation as one of the country's best racers. Burns spent much of the summer of 1919 on a winning streak in Midwest races and even gave the legendary Gene Walker a serious challenge in Atlanta, something no rider had been able to do against the South's almost unbeatable rider.

In the final major race of the 1919 season, Burns earned the 100-mile national championship by edging out Ralph Hepburn by mere inches on the board track at Sheepshead Bay, New York.

Burns shocked the motorcycling community by signing with the Indian factory for the 1920 season. In those days the rivalry between Harley-Davidson and Indian was so intense that it was rare for a rider to make the switch from one factory team to the other. Burns felt he was playing second fiddle to the more established stars of the Harley team and was promised the best available equipment by Indian.

It didn't take long for Burns to prove his worth to Indian. He took home the very first national title of the 1920 season, winning the 25-mile national at Ascot Park in Los Angeles. According to magazine reports of the day many of the estimated 15,000 spectators on hand flooded the track and carried Burns on their shoulders, cheering until they were hoarse. Burns was indeed one of the most popular riders of his day. 

Grave marker of Shrimp Burns
Only a series of mechanical failures kept Burns from winning the big national races at Dodge City, Kansas, and Marion, Indiana, in 1920. Burns led major portions of both races before being forced to drop out at Dodge City with stripped cam gear and with a broken oil line at Marion. Burns came back to win the five-mile solo championship race in Denver in September of that year.

Burns opened the 1921 season with a spectacular win on the new 1.25-mile board track in Beverly Hills, California. After having won the first race of the day, Burns crashed heavily in the next event, resulting in his hands and arms being a bloody mass of large splinters. The day's racing proceeded with Burns apparently out with his injuries. Before the final event of the day the large crowd came to its feet when it was announced that Burns would attempt to race. He borrowed a machine and rode with bandages covering him from his fingertips to shoulders. Early in the race it appeared that Burns was content to simply ride mid-pack in the draft of the other riders. On the last lap Burns made his move and went high on the final turn and sped down the steep banking to win the race in one of the sport's most dauntless performances. Later, a cartoon strip in a motorcycle magazine showed a bandaged from head-to-toe Burns racing in front of admiring fans shouting his praises.

On August 14, 1921, Burns tragically lost his life in a racing accident in Toledo, Ohio. Coming out of a turn, Burns ran into the back of Ray Weishaar's bike. The impact sent Burns into the railing and he later died of massive head injuries. Sadly, Burns' fiancée, Genevieve Moritz, had come to Toledo to deliver a birthday gift and stayed to watch the race and witnessed the fatal accident. Motorcycling deeply mourned the loss of Burns. Numerous tributes were written about him for weeks after the accident.

[Bio from AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame]

Thursday, January 17, 2019

John Charles Adams Jr (1905-1931).: Grandson of Oakland's founder; Died in mystery fall

Adams Family mausoleum at Mountain View Cemetery
John Charles Adams, Jr. was the grandson of Edson Adams, considered one of the first white settlers in Oakland. His father was a well-known and prominent businessman and property owner along the Oakland waterfront. After his father's death, his mother Ernestine married San Francisco Supervisor and three-time mayoral candidate Adolf Uhl.

John Charles Adams, Jr. died mysteriously on the night of August 2, 1936, when his near lifeless body was found at the bottom of a hillside at a friends house in Corte Madera. He was declared dead at 2:15 AM after being transported to Ross General Hospital.

Witnesses said there was plenty of alcohol consumed at a party that evening. Newspaper reports claim that witnesses and Adam's wife Marion gave different accounts of how the evening progressed. Adams was found with two black eyes, which initially led investigators to believe that he had been involved in a confrontation before plunging to his death. However, the death was ruled an accident with the sheriff claiming that he fell while trying to climb down a drain pipe.

The autopsy revealed that all the ribs on his left side had been fractured, both lungs punctured and his backbone broken.

Sources: Marin Coroner's report, Oakland Tribune, Find a Grave,

Friday, December 28, 2018

David Adlington (1822-1910): Built some of San Francisco's first homes

Gravestone of David Adlington
Plot 48

David Myrick Adlington was a pioneer carpenter and home builder who arrived in San Francisco from Nantucket, Massachusetts during the Gold Rush. He arrived after a long boat ride around Cape Horn and briefly mined for gold before settling in San Francisco.

San Francisco's Portsmouth Square, Adlington built his first homes on Kearney Street
He built some of the earliest home for the new settlers on the West Coast. Trained as a carpenter, he constructed a number of homes on Kearney Street, only to see them destroyed in the fires of 1851 and 1906. After the earthquake and fire in 1906, he briefly lived with daughter in Berkeley before returning to the city where he had set down roots. His hometown newspaper, the Boston Post, reported him safe on the opposite coast.

He retired as a wealthy man in lived out his final years in San Francisco. His wife, Sarah Rule, died in 1892.

Sources: Boston Post,  U.S. Census,, Oakland Tribune

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Oscar Roy Morgan (1879-1958): Newspaper Publisher; Coined Reno's Slogan

Oscar Morgan

Plot 40, Lot 51
Oscar Morgan was born in Cherokee, California and moved to the mining town of Bodie, California with his parents shortly after his birth. His father, who had served as sheriff, town constable and school trustee, died suddenly when Oscar was just nineteen.

After his brother Alfred, bought the Hayward Review newspaper, he moved there and finished high school. After graduation, he entered the University of California at Berkeley.

When Alfred died suddenly in 1899, Oscar and his brother, Stanley, took over the Hayward Review and published it until they sold it in 1905. Oscar purchased the Reno Evening Gazette in 1904, and moved to Reno, Nevada.

The Gazette developed it into one of the state's leading publications and Morgan built the Gazette Building. He was a vocal opponent of gambling in Nevada, which remained illegal until 1931. He also covered the development of Reno into a "marriage and divorce" mecca.

Gateway to Reno on Virginia Street
Oscar Morgan is best remembered for creating Reno's city slogan, "Reno, the Biggest Little City in the World." Morgan recounted that he was a judge at The Commercial Club to pick a slogan for the then sleepy town of 5,000. He claims he coined the slogan after he decided that he didn't like any of the entries into the contest.

In 1912, he sold the Reno Evening Gazette due to ill health and moved to Oakland. He purchased the Modesto News that same year, which he eventually sold to the McClatchy Newspapers. While in Oakland, he wrote numerous articles for the Sunday Knave section of the Oakland Tribune, many of which dealt with Nevada history. During the 1940's, he was on Radio KSFO as the Country Editor.

Sources: Oakland Tribune, Find a Grave, San Mateo Times

Monday, December 24, 2018

Second Lt. Charles J. Robinson (1838-1877): Civil War Veteran

Charles Robinson (courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society)
Second Lt. Charles J. Robinson was born in Wisconsin in 1838.

He served in the Civil War with the Wisconsin 1st Infantry.

The 1st Wisconsin Infantry was organized into a regiment of three-month service at Camp Scott in Milwaukee, and then mustered into service on April 27, 1861. Following that it reorganized for three-year service at Camp Scott, and mustered in again on October 19, 1861.The regiment left Wisconsin for Louisville, Kentucky, October 28-31, 1861, and moved through Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia during the war.

It participated in the Battle of Chickamauga and the Siege of Atlanta, and mustered out on October 13, 1864.

The regiment lost 300 men during service. Six officers and 151 enlisted men were killed. One officer and 142 enlisted men died from disease.

He died of consumption (tuberculosis) in Oakland in 1877 and was buried in the G.A.R. (Civil War) plot at Mountain View Cemetery.

Source: Find a Grave, Wisconsin Historical Society, National Archives

Monday, December 17, 2018

Charles Wendte (1844-1931): Unitarian Minister & Author

Charles Wendte
Rev. Dr. Charles William Wendte (June 11, 1844–September 9, 1931) was a Unitarian minister and responsible for much of the early growth of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland.

Wendte was born in 1844 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father died when he was young, and Charles developed tuberculosis at age 14. Doctors urged him to go west for his health, so he moved to California, and there met Thomas Starr King, a Unitarian and Universalist minister. Charles' health improved, and during the Civil War he served as a drill sergeant. After the war, he returned east and studied at a divinity schools, graduating from the Harvard Divinity School in 1869. After various assignments, he came to Oakland in the 1880s.

In 1886, Rev. Wendte reorganized the Rev. Laurentine Hamilton's break-off congregation into the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. For his work at the church, the main meeting hall was named Wendte Hall in his honor. Rev. Wendte helped raise much of the money required for the new Unitarian church building. During his time in Oakland, he presided over the funerals of several people of note, including Josiah Stanford and pioneer educator Emma Marwedel (both of whom are buried at Mountain View Cemetery).

Although it was thought he was to be a life-long bachelor, in 1896 he surprised his friends and married Abbie Louise Grant (December 22, 1857–October 25, 1936), the daughter of George E. Grant (1823–1904) and Ellen Louisa Daggett (Grant) (1833–1910), a wealthy merchant family in East Oakland. Charles and Abbie had no children. Wendte is buried in the Grant family plot.

First Unitarian Church of Oakland (California Historical Landmark 896)
 Rev. Wendte was an early supporter of women's suffrage. In the 1896 "Twenty opinions on woman suffrage by prominent Californians," Wendte wrote: 
"The same enlightened confidence in human nature which led the fathers to found the Republic on manhood suffrage, and its saviors to confer the ballot on millions of emancipated slaves, should animate us, their successors, in bestowing equal political rights on that half of our population which is confessedly the most virtuous, order-loving and trustworthy. Until this is done there can be no true democracy among us, and our Republic is such only in name."  
After some disagreements about the church's debt (they extended the mortgage on the new building, and were behind on paying his salary), Wendte left Oakland and accepted a call in 1897 to a Unitarian church in Los Angeles.

Rev. Wendte's name appears frequently in the California newspapers of the 1880s and 1890s, generally for typical news of the day: traveling here; lecturing there; presiding over a funeral. But it also seems he was no stranger to controversy. Most infamous seems to be a comment he made about the state of reform schools in California and responsibility of then-governor Budd. John P. Irish (editor and principal owner of the Oakland Times newspaper) seized on this, and soon articles and opinions were flying, with one of the school's trustees referring to Wendte as a "yellow" preacher.

Some people took exception to his sermons ("The Catholic Clergyman's Caustic Words to the Oakland Divine"), ("Thou Shalt Not Kill" - after a sermon on euthanasia being OK in some cases) but sometimes it was over trivial things ("Rev. Dr. Wendt's Magic Lantern Slides Enter the Controversy" - whether Lutherans should use his images from Europe ). There was even a small but vocal group at the church in Los Angeles opposing him becoming their next pastor.

Bio by Oakland Wiki