Monday, January 2, 2017

John McElrath (1844-1907): Confederate soldier; Prominent Bay Area attorney

The Alden-McElrath grave marker

John Edgar McElrath (January 2, 1844–May 6, 1907) was a prominent Oakland attorney born in Citico, Monroe, Tennessee, who married into the prominent Alden family of Oakland. 

McElrath was the great-great-grandson of Tennessee Governor John Sevier, an American soldier, frontiersman and politician, and one of the founding fathers of the state. He is listed on the 1851 Silver Roll and the 1852 Chapman Roll as a male of mixed Eastern Cherokee ancestry. 

He served as a soldier in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, rising up to the rank of Major. On Dec. 11, 1862, he was was appointed Quartermaster, with rank of Major of the Cavalry, after which he ordered to Vicksburg, and was in all the battles around that city, surrendering to General Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863.

John McElrath
After return from the Army, he studied law and was admitted to the Tennessee Bar in 1866. He was an attorney and counselor at Cleveland, Tennessee before moving to San Francisco in 1869, where he practiced law until 1887. In 1887, McElrath moved his law offices to Oakland.

On September 23, 1875 McElrath married Elsie Ann Alden, daughter of Solomon Ellsworth Alden, with whom he had eleven children. His grandson Charles Alden Black was the husband of former child star Shirley Temple Black.

McElrath was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention in 1880 that met in Cincinnati, where he placed Mr. Justice Stephen J. Field, of the United States Supreme Court, in nomination for President of the United States. He ran for public office as the Democratic candidate for State Senator, and Superior Judge, but was defeated.

McElrath was visiting his old family home in Madisonville, Tennessee, in 1907 when he died at age 63, leaving behind his wife Elsie and their nine surviving children. He was brought back to California where he was interred in Mountain View Cemetery along with many other members of the Alden and McElrath families, some in Plot 1, Lot 347, and some in Plot 1, 322.

The McElrath Mansion (Photo: City of Oakland)
In 1912, the Baby Hospital Association purchased the McElrath's Queen Anne-style mansion to house their new hospital. The two-and-a-half story home, which contained 20 rooms, immediately underwent  renovations for use as a hospital facility, and a clinic was established in the carriage house on the property where patients were treated while these renovations were taking place. 

SOURCES: OaklandWiki, Find a Grave, Berkeley Gazette, San Francisco Chronicle, City of Oakland

Saturday, December 3, 2016

William Sayer Snook (1826-1911): Oakland City Councilman; Vigilance Committee member

William Snook (Oakland Tribune) and gravesite

William Sayer Snook was a pioneer businessman, who also represented the First Ward on the Oakland City Council and was an inaugural member of the Board of Education.

He was born in New York City to a father who was a contractor and builder. He arrived in San Franciso on July 1, 1849 aboard the Tahmaroo with his brother George. The two promptly pitched a tent at Kearney & Washington and, instead of heading to the gold country, they went to work. They both eventually went in to the plumbing and gas fitting business. He also became an active member of the Vigilance Committee that maintained law and order in a city riddled with rampant crime and corruption.

In 1854, he married the former Helen Laughan and they had 11 children together. Two of his sons followed him into the plumbing trade. His son Charles founded the law firm Snook & Church in Oakland and served as District Attorney from 1892-1894.

In 1855, he moved to Oakland, where he was appointed to the newly created Board of Education. He was subsequently elected to the office, which began his political career as a Republican office holder. He was instrumental in building the first school house just west of Market Street.

In 1869, he was elected to represent the First Ward on the Oakland City Council, where he served until 1875. He served on the Council with a number of prominent men buried at Mountain View Cemetery, including Nathaniel Spaulding, Enoch Pardee, Benjamin Ferris, Mack Webber and James Larue. 

His brother George Snook committed suicide in 1901 by filling his pockets with rocks and jumping into the bay. William Snook died of pneumonia at his Berkeley home at age 85.

Sources; Oakland Wiki, Oakland Tribune, Alameda District Attorney's Office, San Francisco Call

Officer David Branham (1944-1974): Shot at Madison Middle School

Officer David Branham

Officers David Branhan and David Marks were shot and killed with Officer Marks' service weapon after a suspect gained control of it.

The officers had been dispatched to Madison Middle School on a call that a disorderly person was on the school grounds and fighting with school staff. When the officers arrived they located the man and took him to a conference room. The man began to struggle with the two officers and gained control of Officer Marks' service weapon and shot them both. The man was apprehended at a nearby apartment building after he was shot and wounded by other officers.

Officer Branham's grave marker
About 1,400  law enforcement officials from throughout California attended the joint funeral services. Officer David Marks is also buried at Mountain View Cemetery.

25-year-old John Richard was convicted of two counts of second degree murder and sentenced to two consecutive 15 year to life terms on May 29, 1975.

Officer Branhan had been a member of the Oakland Police Department for four years, and was survived by his wife Sandra, who died in 2008.

SOURCES: Hayward Daily Review, Oakland Police Department

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The McKinley Memorial Tree

The McKinley Memorial Tree
The McKinley Memorial Tree was dedicated on May 30, 1902 under the auspices of    Company A, Veteran Reserves of the Grand Army of the Republic. The tree was planted in memory of President William McKinley, who was assassinated on September 14, 1901, six months into his second term.

Speakers at the tree planting included Senator G.R. Lukens and former Oakland Mayor George Pardee, who would become California's governor in the November election. 

The original tree was a Giant Sequoia (Sequoia gigantea), which is no longer present. According to docent and tree expert Chris Pattilo, the current tree is a Coastal Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). The tree was planted with soil from historic battlefields by local school children, as the Elks Quartette performed. 

The site has become a common location for annual Memorial Day tributes.

Monday, November 7, 2016

James Gimbel (1887-1918): Died of influenzu while serving in World War I

James Gimbel (Left: Gimbel Family; Right: Michael Colbruno)
The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 killed about 20 million people, far more  than the 17 million who died in the war. According to the Deseret News, an estimated 675,000 Americans died of influenza during the pandemic, ten times as many as in WWI. Of the U.S. soldiers who died in Europe, half of them fell to the influenza virus and not to the enemy. Berkeley resident James Gimbel was one of them.

The close quarters and massive troop movements of World War I hastened the pandemic and probably both increased transmission and augmented mutation. The war may also have increased the lethalness of the virus and some speculate the soldiers' immune systems were weakened by undernourishment, as well as the stresses of combat and chemical attacks.

After being drafted, Gimble ended up in France via Camp Kerney in San Diego, Arizona, Canada and eventually England. In a letter to his parents, he bemoaned the fact that he was too ill to help a fellow Berkeley soldier who was lying on the ground. He died in France on November 17 of the flu.

Sources: Gimbel family history; Berkeley Gazette; Wikipedia

Carl Castlemann Jones (1892-1918): Baseball player killed in WWI

Carl Jones (grave photo by Michael Colbruno)
PLOT 45 

Carl Castlemann Jones was a semi-professional baseball player who was killed in WWI. 

He born in Oakland in 1892 to Ada and Fred Soule Jones. He was raised in Piedmont and became a noted baseball player in the area.  In 1914, he played second base for Bill Glavin’s Federals team which participated in a four-team league that played under artificial lights – still quite a novelty at that time.

During the winter of 1914/15, he played for the Dreier & Nevis team in the Oakland Merchant’s League. Then, during the summer of 1915, he played in the Carbon-Emery League in Utah, a league made up of coal mining teams. Jones led that circuit with a .387 batting average. 

In October 1915, he was signed by the Maxwell Hardware Company to play in the highly competitive semi-pro Oakland Tribune Midwinter League. His teammates that year included Carl Zamloch, who pitched for the Detroit Tigers in 1913 and remained in minor league baseball into the 1930s; Tom Fitzsimmons, who would play for Brooklyn in 1919; Ralph Croll, who would go on to play for the Oakland Oaks and Joe Devine, who had made a couple of appearances with the Oaks that summer.

In 1916, he received a lucrative offer from the Ambrose Tailors baseball team in Oakland, but that but ended up Jackson in Amador County, California, where he played throughout the summer. He joined Alameda in the Midwinter League in November 1916, then was appointed manager of the newly-formed Exeter Athletics in March 1917.

He was drafted into military service in September 1917, and was assigned to Camp Lewis at American Lake, near Tacoma, Washington. He served with Company K of the 363rd Infantry Regiment and in April 1918, where he asked friends back in Oakland for bats, gloves and uniforms to help him organize a baseball team. The Oakland Tribune responded by arranging benefit shows at Pantages Theater with all proceeds being used to buy equipment for troops.

Jones played shortstop for the 363rd Regiment baseball team at American Lake, but the season was short-lived as the regiment, as part of the 91st Division, was on its way overseas and arrived in France in June 1918.

Sergeant Carl Jones was killed in action during the Battle of the Argonne Forest in October 1918. The Battle of the Argonne Forest (also known as the
Meuse-Argonne Offensive), was a major part of the final Allied offensive of World War I that stretched along the entire Western Front. 

The battle was fought from September 26, 1918, until the Armistice of November 11, 1918, a total of 47 days. The battle was the largest in United States military history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers, and was one of a series of Allied attacks known as the Hundred Days Offensive, which brought the war to an end. 

The battle cost 28,000 German lives and 26,277 American lives, making it the largest and bloodiest operation of World War I for the American Expeditionary Force, which was commanded by General John J. Pershing. American losses were exacerbated by the inexperience of many of the troops and tactics used during the early phases of the operation.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Isidore Giambruno (1889-1918): Bugler killed in WWI

Grave of Isidore Giambruno and a WWI recruitment poster with bugler


Isidore Giambruno was born in New Orleans and shows up in Oakland records as early as 1905, the year that his father Reverend Giovanni Battista Giambruno died. In the 1910 Oakland Directory he was listed as a meat cutter and in the 1916 Directory as chauffeur.

He was drafted into the Army, served as a bugler, and was killed in action in September 27, 1918 at the Battle of Argonne. The American Expeditionary Forces lost 26,277 men and saw another 95,786 wounded at the infamous battle.

He was serving with Company D, 363rd Infantry 91st Division under Brigadier General Frederick S. Foltz and Major General William H. Johnston.  His unit fought in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and successfully helped to destroy the German First Guard Division and continued to smash through three successive enemy lines.

A month after Giambruno died and twelve days before the end of World War I, his division, as part of the VII Corps of the French Sixth Army, helped drive the Germans east across the Escaut River. The division was awarded separate campaign streamers for its active role in the Lorraine, Meuse-Argonne and Ypres-Lys campaigns.

Isidore Giambruno
His body was not returned to the United States until October 1921, when he was buried with military honors by members of Oakland Post No. 5 of the American Legion at Mountain View Cemetery.

We don't know if Giambruno played taps on his bugle for any of his fellow soldiers, but it is likely. Taps is a bugle call played at dusk, during flag ceremonies, and at military funerals by the United States armed forces. The official military version is played by a single bugle or trumpet.

The tune is also sometimes known as Butterfield's Lullaby, or by the first line of the lyric, Day Is Done. The tune is a variation of an earlier bugle call known as the Scott Tattoo, which was used in the U.S. from 1835 until 1860. It was arranged in its present form by the Union Army Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield, an American Civil War general and Medal of Honor recipient. Taps replaced a previous French bugle call used to signal "lights out."

Sources: US Military records,, Oakland Tribune, Wikipedia,

Friday, September 30, 2016

Samuel S. Johnson (1857-1905): Millionaire lumber man

The Johnson Family Mausoleum at Plot 11

Samuel Johnson was born in Malahide, Ontario, Canada on September 9, 1857. His family moved to Almont, Michigan when he was three years old. In 1879, he married Emma Almeda Gibbs with whom he had two sons, William and Samuel.

He came to Berkeley on a few years before his death in 1905 and established himself as a successful lumber man. Minneapolis millionaire J.H. Queal purchased the Scott & Van Aisdale lumber mills on the McCloud River in Siskiyou County and renamed them the McCloud Lumber Company. Queal made Johnson the president and general manager of the company, which was one of the largest on the West Coast.

The McCloud Lumber Company circa 1915

The McCloud Lumber Company circa 1915
At it's height, the McCloud River Lumber Company owned or controlled over 600,000 acres of timberland. The company had extensive logging operations that produced the logs needed to keep the sawmill running, along with an extensive railroad system connecting the woods operations with the mill. Some of the railroad system was owned and operated by the McCloud River Railroad Company, but the vast majority of the railroad operation were owned by the lumber company.

In July 1905, Johnson fell ill with Bright's disease, a condition involving chronic inflammation of the kidneys. Friends and business associates came from all over the country to be with him during his surgery and recovery, but he he died the following month. He is buried in the Johnson family mausoleum by the second fountain on Mountain View Cemetery's main road.

Sources: Meriam Library. California State University, Chico;; San Francisco Call

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Jefferson Maury (1826-1895): Noted Ship Captain; Home landmarked by Berkeley

The Maury Plot near the Mountain View reservoir

Jefferson Maury (1826 1895) was born in Virginia and may have been descended from Rev. James Maury, teacher of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe and grandfather of Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury, known as the father of modern oceanography and naval meteorology.

Maury entered the U.S. Navy at the age of 15 and received his warrant as a Passed Midshipman in 1847. The following year found him in the Gulf Squadron, participating in the Mexican-American War. In 1854 he was stationed in San Francisco and a year later left the service.

It is not known when Maury joined PMSS, but shipping records indicate that in 1862 he commanded the company s S.S. Northern Light, a wooden-hulled steamer with side paddle wheels and three masts on a sailing between Aspinwall, Panama and New York.  In the 1860s, he was relieved of his duties when his ship ran ashore in China, despite an investigation showing that it was not through an error on his part.

He eventually became captain of the S.S. America, followed by the S.S. Atlantic, both plying the same route.  From 1866 until 1870, Maury was master of the S.S. Arizona, which his future neighbor, Captain Seabury, would take over in 1874.  At one time he was the oldest person to hold the title of Commodore in the fleet.

The Captain Maury house was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark in 1982 (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)
In 1894, when Captain John Slater built his house at 1335 Shattuck Ave., he was joining two other master mariners who had settled on the same block a decade earlier. They were Jefferson Maury and William B. Seabury, both high-ranking captains of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company who ended their careers as Commodores of the PMSS fleet. While Captain Slater commanded square-rigged ships, Captains Maury and Seabury were at the forefront of the mechanized age.

Captain Maury died suddenly at midnight on January 1, 1895. The Berkeley Advocate reported that he had suffered from heart disease. His wife, Adelaide Maury, continued living in their home at 1317 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley until her death in 1916.

[Biography taken from the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and Martime Heritage. Additional information from the Berkeley Gazette].

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Andre Louis Hicks (July 5, 1970 – November 1, 2004) aka "Mac Dre": Rap Artist Gunned Down After Concert

Gravesite of Mac Dre
 [By request, the Lot and Plot number are not disclosed]

Andre Hicks, who was known as "Mac Dre," was born in Oakland and grew up in Vallejo. He was an American rapper, and the initial founder of Thizz Entertainment, and the now defunct Romp Productions. Mac Dre recorded his first three EPs albums between 1989 and 1992.

In 1992 Mac Dre was charged with conspiracy to commit robbery and was sentenced to 5 years in federal prison after he refused the deal the police had offered him, which was informing law enforcement about his partners. While in Lompoc, Mac Dre would go on to obtain his G.E.D. and record his album "Mac Dre Presents: The Rompalation" over the phone, taunting law enforcement officials. After his release from prison in 1997, he recorded his second album Stupid Doo Doo Dumb.

Mac Dre's "Thizzle Dance":

Mac Dre was killed around 3:30 AM on the morning of November 1, 2004, on U.S. Route 71 in Kansas City, Missouri. Along with members of Thizz, he was scheduled to perform in Kansas City on October 31, but the group had a dispute with the club promoter about their payment. A group of unknown assailants in a stolen black Infiniti G35 began shooting at the white van in which Hicks was a passenger. The driver crashed and was able to get to a phone to call 911, but Hicks was pronounced dead at the scene from a bullet wound to the back of the neck from an AK-47.

The case has remained unsolved for years, but police believe that fellow rapper Anthony "Fat Tone" Watkins was the likely person to call for the hit. Six months later, a San Francisco rap promoter nicknamed "Mac Minister" and a friend avenged Hicks in Las Vegas by firing 33 assault-rifle rounds into two Kansas City men, including Anthony "Fat Tone" Watkins, who was killed.

The viewing was held at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Fairfield, California to a packed crowd of 2,000 people. When the body was moved to Mountain View Cemetery there was a near riot, as only 100 people could fit into the chapel for the service. Allegedly, even the singer's father had a difficult time gaining entry. The service was officiated by former Oakland Raiders running back and Pastor Jerone Davidson of Fairfield's Bountiful Harvest Ministry Church. Mac Dre was buried in a platinum-plated, stainless steel basket lined with cardinal red crushed velvet, protected by a fiberglass shield. Visitors commonly visit his graveside under a hillside oak tree an leave mementos. His notoriety and fame have only grown in death and his tombstone has been stolen on at least one occasion.

SOURCES: Oakland Tribune, Wikipedia, San Francisco Chronicle, Rap News Network