Friday, April 26, 2024

Charles William Wendte (1844–1931): Influential Unitarian Minister

Rev. Charles Wendte

Charles William Wendte was a significant figure in American Unitarianism, as well as a writer, author, editor of religious hymns, and an advocate for woman suffrage.

Born in Germany, Wendte immigrated to the United States as a child. He pursued theological studies and was ordained as a Unitarian minister.

Wendte's contributions to the religious and social landscape were broad and impactful. He served several congregations across the United States, including in Chicago, Cincinnati, Boston, Rhode Island, and Los Angeles. In 1886, he led the First Unitarian Church of Oakland through its early growth and the construction of its still-iconic building, designed by noted architect Walter Mathews. The site is a registered California Historical Landmark.

First Unitarian Church in Oakland

Wendte was deeply involved in social reform activities, particularly those concerning peace, education, and racial equality. His efforts extended to support for various progressive causes, reflecting his commitment to applying religious principles to solve societal issues. He was also involved in religious education and youth work, contributing to the development of programs and materials that would nurture the spiritual and moral development of young people within the Unitarian faith.

On June 22, 1880, he offered the opening invocation at the 1880 Democratic National Convention, calling the United States "an asylum and a refuge for the distressed and downtrodden throughout the world," and praying that "all sectional divisions and differences may cease forever among us."

He retired to Berkeley in 1926.

Raymond Baker (1878-1935): Director of US Mint


Raymond Baker's NY Times obit

Raymond Baker was a wealthy United States businessman who was Director of the United States Mint from 1917 to 1922. 

He was born in Eureka, Nevada on November 22, 1877 to George Washington Baker and the former Mary Agnes Hall. His father was the lead counsel to the Southern Pacific Railroad and his brother Cleve Baker served as Nevada's Attorney General.  Raymond Baker attended the University of Nevada at Reno and then Stanford University.

After college, Baker became involved in gold mining, being one of the first investors active in Rawhide, Nevada. He became a rich man when he sold his claims and moved East, where he had a brief romantic relationship with the scandalous British romance novelist Elinor Glyn.

Baker had a longstanding interest in prison reform. In 1911, with his brother Cleve Baker serving as Nevada Attorney General, Raymond T. Baker became the warden of the Nevada State Prison, a position he held from Februar 1911 to May 1912.

In 1915, Baker traveled to Russia to become confidential secretary to San Franciscan banker George Marye, Jr., who was serving as the United States Ambassador to Russia. 

Baker family mausoleum

Upon his return from Russia, President Woodrow Wilson named him Director of the United States Mint in 1917. Baker subsequently held this office from March 1917 until March 1922. During World War I, the U.S. Mint played a critical role in the production of metal medals and other items needed for the war effort. Baker oversaw these operations, ensuring that the Mint contributed effectively to the national needs during the war.

Baker was involved in the issuance and promotion of commemorative coins. These coins often celebrated significant historical events and helped raise public interest in numismatics (the study or collection of currency). He also advocated for the role of the arts in minting, supporting the use of high-quality and aesthetically pleasing designs for coins. This was part of a broader movement during the early 20th century to improve the artistic quality of American coinage.

On June 12, 1918, he married Margaret Vanderbilt, the widow of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, who died aboard the RMS Lusitania. His best man at the wedding was Nevada's United States Senator Key Pittman. The couple divorced after a decade of marriage.

During the 1926 Senate elections, Baker sought election as United States Senator from Nevada on the Democratic ticket, but was defeated by the Republican incumbent, Tasker Oddie.

Baker died of coronary thrombosis in Washington D.C. on April 28, 1935, three months after suffering a heart attack.

Sources: Wikipedia, NY Times, Find a Grave

Monday, April 22, 2024

James Yimm Lee (1920-1972): Mentor and Roommate of Martial Arts Legend Bruce Lee

James Yimm Lee

 PLOT 12, LOT 280, GRAVE 563

James Yimm Lee was an American martial arts pioneer, teacher, author, and publisher. He was a welder in the shipyards by profession and a U.S. Army veteran, fighting in both the Battle of Luzon and Battle of Mindanao campaigns during WWII.

He is known for being a mentor, teacher and friend of the late Bruce Lee, being only one of three individuals to be personally certified by Bruce Lee to teach his martial arts. During the period known to martial arts aficionados as the Oakland Years (1962-1965), the two men lived and trained together, and their mutual collaboration evolved into the now-famous fighting art known as Jeet Kune Do. 

James Lee became well known for his Iron Palm specialty, and would routinely break bricks at demonstrations. He was the first to publish an Iron Palm book in America in 1957.

James Yimm Lee was also an accomplished weightlifter and helped get Bruce Lee started in a weight-training program, which subsequently resulted in his sculptured physique.

Lee died at age 52 from lung cancer caused by welding fumes. 

The two men were not related.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Hans Peter Nielsen (1859-1945): Inventor of fog-spray fire hose nozzle


Nielsen in his biplane & his fire nozzle

Hans Nielsen was born in Denmark in 1859, where he worked as a watchmaker. A year after marrying his wife Hansine in 1883, the family immigrated to the United States. They first settled in San Francisco before making their permanent home in Alameda. 

He is best remembered in Alameda, for being the city's first paid fireman in 1890. He worked as the engineer on the horse-powered Encinal Steamer #1, where co-workers marveled at how quickly he could get steam into the pumper (using a little primer of gunpowder!).

Nielsen is credited with being the inventor of the fog-spray fire hose nozzle used to extinguish oil and gas fires. The nozzle covers a greater surface area, allowing for a greater rate of heat absorption, which speeds its transformation into the steam that smothers the fire by displacing its oxygen.

In 1901, Nielsen left the Fire Department to become the first engineer at the Alameda Electric Light Plant. Alameda Municipal Power is the oldest municipal electrical utility west of the Mississippi, and from 1887 until 1902 provided Alameda with electric street lights. In 1902, the Alameda Electric Light Plant sub-station also began to offer electrical power to homes and businesses.

Nielsen dabbled in a number of other things, including automobile repair, construction of a biplane, inventing a "releasing device" for hitched animals, a patent for an Acetylene Gase Generator and pioneering new caster wheel designs. 

Grave of Hans Nielsen and his estranged wife Lily

Nielsen is buried with his second wife Lily Palmer, despite a contentious divorce proceeding. She was a former boarder of his and was 31 years his junior. The divorce was never finalized and she is listed as his wife in his obituary.

Sources: Oakland Tribune; Find a Grave; Wikipdedia

Hubert Palmer Game (1892-1918): Aviator who fell to his death

Hubert Palmer Game was born in San Francisco, California on March 13, 1892. 

He attended Cogswell Polytechnic College in San Francisco for two years before enrolling at the University Farm School (now UC Davis). He completed a two-year course in military service, before enlisting for service in World War I on September 15, 1917. He was awarded the Victory Medal for his service. 

After training at the School of Military Aeronautics in Berkeley, California, he was was assigned to Call Field outside of Wichita Falls, Texas. Tragically, he fell to his death on February 2, 1918 at Call Field. 

His funeral included a detachment of infantry from the Presidio, who served as a military escort. Twenty-two Berkeley classmates served as pallbearers. 

Sources: UC Davis; Oakland Tribune; Find a Grave

Sunday, October 1, 2023

William "Wallace" Sheldon (1836-1915): Construction Engineer of Mark Hopkins Mansion & Santa Monica Pier


Mary & Wallace Sheldon; Grave photos by Michael Colbruno

Plot 14B, Lot 102

William Wallace Barbour Sheldon (May 15, 1836 – March 17, 1915), commonly known as Wallace, was an architectural engineer and pioneer of California, a leading figure of the engineering history of the California coast.  

Wallace began his career with the Central Pacific Railroad and was present at the laying of the Golden Spike at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1869. In 1875 began work with the Pacific Improvement Company. His most famous work was in the personal home of Mark Hopkins, which was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, the original Santa Monica Pier, and the Del Monte Hotel in Del Monte, California. He also had control of the construction of several railroad terminals, including those in Sacramento, California, Los Angeles, California (Santa Fe Station) and Redlands, California. 

Mark Hopkins home atop Nob Hill in San Francisco

His father was a basic farmer of Quaker ancestry and his mother a housewife and descendant Thomas Stafford, an early settler of Warwick, Rhode Island and the first man to build a grist mill in the new world. His mother died when he was ten years old in 1846. The death of his father is unknown, but by the 1850 Census he is living as a student with his maternal aunts step-son, Henry Cole, in Westport.  At a young age he took on a trade as carpenter and moved to Brooklyn, New York, to make a living for himself. There he met Mary Campbell, who he married on January 31, 1856 in Brooklyn. 

The family was well known and liked in the society circles of San Francisco and Oakland, California, where they moved in 1880. They were often mentioned in the society columns of the Oakland Tribune. On February 4, 1908 - the couple celebrated their 52 wedding anniversary with a large lavish party. 

Wallace retired in 1909 and celebrated a number of marriages, anniversaries and births of his large family who stayed close to him. He died at his home on March 17, 1915, in Oakland. 

[Sources: SF Call, Feb 11, 1915; Wikipedia

Captain Charles Thorn (1816-1897): Captain of notorious ships

Thorn family grave; Charles and Mary Thorn

Captain Charles Thorn was a steamship captain of numerous ships, including the USS California, a Pacific Mail ship that carried the mail from the East Coast to the West Coast. He later ran ships from San Francisco to San Diego. However, he is best remembered for being the captain of two ships etched in history for very different reasons, but oddly linked together.

He was captain of the steamship Union, which was owned by John Horner, who is credited with founding Union City. Horner named the city after his boat, which was berthed at what is now the corner of Horner and Veasy streets. The Union ran an overnight route between Union City and San Francisco. While in San Francisco, the ship was berthed in a basin between the Pacific and Broadway street wharves. 

The Steamship Union

In May of 1853, under Captain James Marsten, the Union was just leaving the mouth of Alameda Creek on a run to San Francisco when it came upon a disabled ship. The Jenny Lind, with Captain Thorn at the helm, was traveling from Alviso to San Francisco when its boiler exploded, killing 18 passengers and severely scalding another 40 of the 130 on board. Captain Marsten of the Union transferred the survivors and the remains of the victims to his ship and continued on to San Francisco, where the wounded were treated for their injuries. News accounts indicate that Captain Thorn miraculously escaped unscathed.

Captain Thorn and his family lived up and down the West Coast, including stints in Portland, San Francisco, Alviso and Alameda.

The funeral of the late Captain Charles Thorn occurred at the residence of Rev. W. W. Scudder, who served as a medical missionary in India for 22 years. His daughter used her inheritance to purchase the 250-acre Forest Home Farms in San Ramon where she built a 22-room house.

[Sources: East Bay Times, May 25, 2008; Personal photos of Terence Thorn; SF Call, Jan 19, 1897; The Patch, July 7, 2012; California Disasters by William B. Secrest]

Friday, July 14, 2023

Captain Jerome Bonaparte Cox (1827 -1895) - Building of railroad ended in deadly dispute


Gravestone of Bony Cox and news clipping of early legal problems

Captain J.B. "Bony" Cox was a native of Lee County, Virginia who served in the 10th Indiana Infantry during the Civil War. We don't know the details of him leaving his military service, but there are some records of financial misdealings.

After the Civil War, he moved to California and undertook a number of large building contracts. Among them was the building of the Western Pacific Railroad between Niles and San Jose. 

He was hired by millionaire Charles McLaughlin, which resulted in litigation between the two men in 1867. The lawsuit dragged on for twenty years and resulted in a quarrel between the two men. Cox shot and killed McLaughlin in 1883, but was acquitted of the murder. The legal dispute between the two men also ended up being decided in Cox's favor. 

The general contract for the Western Pacific Railroad was awarded to McLaughlin & Houston and that negotiations for iron, equipment, and rolling stock. On October 31, 1864, the Central Pacific Railroad assigned all the rights of the Pacific Railway Acts of 1862 and 1864 to the Western Pacific for the route between Sacramento and San Jose, including land grants. The amending Act of March 3, 1865 ratified and confirmed the assignment made by Central Pacific Railroad to Western Pacific Railroad and authorized Western Pacific Railroad as one of the charter companies. The construction of the Western Pacific Railroad began in February 1865 near San Jose and northward under a contract taken by J.B. Cox & Myers.

According to historian and Mountain View Cemetery Docent, here is what happened next:

They and their crews worked to lay the first 20 miles of track. They wouldn’t see any money from the federal government until they completed the work. 

They ran out of money while working. They reached Mile 20 at Dead Cow Curve. The government inspectors arrived in early October 1866 to certify the railroad’s work. They told Charles McLaughlin that he would get his money but not until the following January. There was paperwork, they explained. The Western Pacific was working on land that formerly (and may have still) belonged to the Spanish who had first laid claim to the real estate. 

An angry McLaughlin walked off the job, leaving rails, ties, equipment, locomotives, and — most disturbing — his workers behind. One of the contractors, Jerome Cox, was expecting to receive $50,000, about $1.5 million in today’s money. McLaughlin could not pay Cox, and for the next 17 years, Cox took McLaughlin to court time and again. He lost every time. Cox accused his rival of paying off the judges. Cox had finally had enough. 

On Dec. 14, 1883, Jerome Cox walked into McLaughlin’s office at 16 Montgomery St. in San Francisco, armed with a pistol. McLaughlin rose to greet his rival. Cox drew his weapon and shot McLaughlin dead. 

“He asked me for $40,000. When I refused, he shot me,” McLaughlin said with his dying breath. 

His eulogy was read by General W.H.L. Barnes, who said:

“Considering the vicissitudes of his life I do not feel like saying that this is an hour of sadness.  To him the sky is no longer clouded; his ears are no longer filled with the conflict of life.  He has passed from us, and I trust, that in his future home he will be happier than he was while in our midst.  There is no patriot who loved his country more than Jerome Cox.  No man has done more for his country than the one whose cold and rigid body is about to be consigned to the grave.  He lived a useful life but circumstances prevented him from enjoying it.  The serious trouble in which he was involved is, in one sense, to be regretted, yet we all felt he was justified.  He was persecuted and laughed at, and in a moment of frenzy he fired the shot that terminated the career of a relentless enemy.  He was right, and I trust that the recording angel will forever wipe the stain from the book of life and allow him to enjoy the peace and happiness that rightfully belong to him.”

[Sources: SF Call, April 25, 1895; Sacramento Daily Union, January 20, 1864; Alameda Sun, Dennis Evanosky;]

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Muriel James (1917-2018) Best-selling Author


Muriel James and "Born to Win"

Muriel James was a psychotherapist, educator, and best-selling author who wrote 19 books about subjects from personal growth to spirituality.

Muriel helped popularize the ideas and methods of transactional analysis, which were pioneered by her mentor, Dr. Eric Berne. She gained acclaim in the 1970s and 1980s through popular self-help books, including the bestseller Born to Win: Transactional Analysis with Gestalt Experiments, which she coauthored. She lectured to groups and conferences around the world about the concepts of “self-reparenting” and other approaches to psychotherapy and encouraged participants to come to grips with painful past experiences and become more aware of their behavioral “scripts.”

She was born Muriel Marshall in Berkeley, California, on February  14, 1917. Her father, John Albert Marshall, was a medical doctor and a captain in the U.S. Army. He was a professor of music, biochemistry, and dental pathology at the University of California. Muriel’s mother, Hazel Knowles Marshall, was an internationally recognized concert pianist. Like her parents, Muriel had a love of music. As a teenager, she briefly performed as a singer with a band at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco until her father put an end to it.

She grew up in San Francisco's St. Francis Wood neighborhood and attended Lowell High School. She was married three times.

During World War II, she worked for the Red Cross teaching swimming safety for naval recruits on San Francisco’s Treasure Island and first aid for the prison guards on Alcatraz Island. During the war she also worked in the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, California, as a safety inspector, joining other “Rosie the Riveter” women in performing tasks previously reserved for men.

Interested in history, religion, and education, Muriel enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1954, at the age of 37, graduating in just 3 years. She simultaneously attended the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, where she earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree, and subsequently a Master of Divinity from Pacific School of Religion. Later she earned a doctoral degree from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Education.

Muriel was ordained as a minister and she founded the Laymen’s School of Religion in 1959, which was an interdenominational school meant to bring together all religions to address their commonality rather than their differences. 

Grave of Muriel James

Muriel was a strong advocate for women’s rights and civil rights. In March of 1965 she joined demonstrators who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma, Alabama. In the late 1960s, she co-led teacher-student trainings in multicultural awareness at California high schools, seeking to help improve relations between black, white, and Latino students.

In addition to Born to Win, James authored other popular psychology books including Born to Love (1973), Breaking Free: Self-Reparenting for a New Self (1981), It’s Never Too Late to be Happy! Reparenting Yourself for Happiness (1985), and The Better Boss in Multicultural Organizations (1991), Hearts on Fire: Romance and Achievement in the Lives of Great Women (1991) and Religious Liberty on Trial: Hanserd Knollys, Early Baptist Hero (1997).

One of her last projects was to arrange for the publication of her grandmother Josephine Knowles’ autobiographical manuscript about her experiences during the Klondike Gold Rush. The book, Gold Rush in the Klondike: A Woman’s Journey in 1898-1899, was published in 2016.

[Bio excerpted from Transactional Analysis of Ireland website and SFGate]

Monday, July 3, 2023

James Hubert Davies (1903-1976) - Decorated Brigadier General

[Plot 50, Lot 348, Grave 5]

James Hubert Davies was born in Piedmont, Calif., in 1903. He graduated from high school there in 1924 and received his bachelor of arts degree in social sciences from the University of California in 1928.

Commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Reserve May 1, 1928, General Davies was appointed a flying cadet the following February. Entering Primary Flying School at March Field, Calif., he graduated from Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas, May 8 1930, and was commissioned a second lieutenant of Air Corps.

Assigned to the 72nd Bomb Squadron in Hawaii, in March 1932, General Davies was transferred to the Third Attack Group at Fort Crockett, Texas, moving with it to Barksdale Field, La. In October 1936 he joined the 21st Reconnaissance Squadron at Langley Field, Va., and two years later was assigned to the 23rd Composite Group at Maxwell Field, Ala.

Appointed operations officer of the 27th Bomb Group at Savannah, Ga., in March 1941, the following November General Davies assumed command of the group and took it to the Philippine Islands. In February 1942 he was named commander of the Third Bomb Group in the Southwest Pacific, becoming chief of the Bomb Section at the school of Applied Tactics, Orlando, Fla., that November. Returning to the Southwest Pacific in April 1943, he was chief of staff of the Fifth Bomber command. A year later he assumed command of the 313th Bomb Wing at Colorado Springs, Colo., taking it to the Southwest Pacific in January 1945.

Brig. Gen. James Davies

Moving to Hamilton Field, Calif., that December, General Davies was assistant chief of staff for operations of the Fourth Air Force. Entering the Air War College at Maxwell Field, Ala., in August 1946, he graduated the following June and became deputy chief of the command section, Air Transport Command, at Gravelly Point, Va. He entered the National War College in August 1948 and graduated the following June.

Joining the Air Training Command, General Davies was deputy chief of staff for personnel at ATRC headquarters, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., becoming chief of staff of the command in May 1950. Assuming command of the 3510th Combat Crew Training Wing, ATRC, at Randolph Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, in August 1951 (redesignated the 3510th Flying Training Wing a year later), in April 1954 he assumed command of the 3380th Technical Training Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., becoming deputy commander that August.

A year later General Davies was named deputy commander of the Alaskan Air Command at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

His decorations include the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star with oak leaf cluster, Legion of Merit and Air Medal with oak leaf cluster.

He is rated a command pilot, combat observer and aircraft observer.

[Bio courtesy of United States Air Force]