Monday, December 28, 2009

William Byron Rumford, Sr. (1908-1986) - Prominent Black Legislator

Born in Courtland, Arizona, William Byron Rumford, Sr. earned his pharmacy degree in 1931 and master’s degree in public administration in 1959 at the University of California at Berkeley.

He was elected to the California State Assembly in 1948, representing the heavily African-American and Democratic constituencies of Alameda County, Berkeley, and part of Oakland. Rumford, an ally of Congressman Augustus Hawkins who preceded him in the State Assembly, served eight consecutive terms as 17th District Assemblyman until 1966.

At the height of his career in the mid-1960s he was considered a possible replacement for one of the state’s ailing U.S. senators, largely because of his ties to liberal Democratic Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown.

A personable, unassuming but very effective legislator, Rumford successfully shepherded a measure in 1949 that ended segregation in the California National Guard. He also sponsored legislation pertaining to fair trade and small businesses, child polio immunization, atomic energy conversion, and environmental pollution.

Today Rumford is best remembered for three pieces of legislation: the California Fair Employment Practices Act of 1959; the Good Samaritan Act of 1959 which garnered national attention; and the law that bore his name, the Rumford Fair Housing Act of 1963, which failed to survive a referendum challenge but was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1966 Rumford was defeated in an attempt to win a California State Senate seat against Republican Lewis S. Sherman of Berkeley. The election was disputes because of oddities with the ballots, uncounted ballots and altered ballots. After the election scandal, Caspar Weinberger, who was then Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, invited Rumford to Washington D.C. to help him with the commission's work protecting consumers. When he was defeated in the Democratic Primary in an attempt to regain his old Assembly seat, Rumford retired from politics.

[Biography excerpted from "Lawrence P. William Byron Rumford, The Life and Public Services of a California Legislator," Downey Place Pub. House, 1984]

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Walter Gordon (1894-1976)- 1st Black Cop in Berkeley; Governor of Virgin Islands; All-American at Cal

[Photo of Gordon grave by Michael Colbruno]

[Biography by Jonathan Wafer, Great-Grandson of Walter Gordon]

Walter Arthur Gordon was born in Atlanta, Ga, in 1894. When he was 10 years old his family moved to Riverside, where he graduated from high school. His father was a Pullman porter and moved his family to California looking for a better opportunity.

Walter’s father greatly influenced him. Those who knew Walter said he was always quoting his father. When they came to Riverside and he and his brother George went to school their father told them, “Now listen, you’re going to a school where there are whites and Negroes, and I don’t want either of you to come home crying to me, telling me that you’re not getting a square deal on account of your color.”

In 1914 Walter entered the University of California, Berkeley. During his undergraduate years his scholarship was considerably above average. He was active in campus affairs. He co-founded and was a charter member of the Alph Phi Alphi fraternity on campus. He was an intercollegiate wrestler and boxer, winning the state championship in both. He played football with coach Andy Smith’s early teams, playing every position except center. In 1918, his senior year, Walter Camp selected him as All-American, Berkeley’s first.

Coach Andy Smith chose him to be an assistant football coach, a position that he held for 24 years under four different head coaches. He was also chief scout for many of the great Cal football teams, one team in particular, the group labeled “The Wonder Team”—a team that went undefeated one year, thoroughly dominating its opponents en route to a Rose Bowl victory over Ohio State.

August Vollmer, Berkeley’s chief of police at the time, invited him to join the police department, where he became their first African-American officer. He served on a full-time basis for 10 years. In addition to that he enrolled in Boalt Hall School of Law in 1921.

Elizabeth & Walter Gordon
 In 1920 he married Elizabeth Fisher and they eventually had two sons and a daughter.

In 1923 Walter Sr. began a new career. After graduating from Boalt he passed the California Bar and began private practice from an office above the Wells Fargo building at the corner of University and San Pablo in west Berkeley. Walter Gordon was also President of the Alameda County NAACP from 1923 to 1933. During a 10-day period he recruited 500 new members.

Walter Gordon continued his private practice until 1944. During that time and after he did a number of things. He continued his coaching and scouting work. He was a member of the executive board of the University YMCA. For six years he was a member of the Oakland YMCA board. He was vice-president of the Lawyer’s Guild of San Francisco and a member of the Commonwealth Club of California.

In 1943 California Gov. Earl Warren, a longtime friend, named Walter Gordon to the Board of Prison Terms, on which he served until the adoption of the then new California Adult Authority.

Then, in 1955, President Eisenhower appointed him governor of the Virgin Islands, a position he held for three years. In 1958, he was named U.S. District Judge for the Virgin Islands, and he served on that court until his retirement in 1969 when he returned to Berkeley.

In 1991, The Walter Gordon Memorial Fund was established at Boalt Hall for summer internships.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Mountain View Cemetery Elk

[Photos of Elk monument by Michael Colbruno]

One of the most iconic structures at Mountain View Cemetery is the big, bronze elk that sits atop a tumulus in Plot 32. The elk was commissioned by the Oakland Lodge Number 171 of Elks to mark their burial blot at the cemetery. It was completed in 1896.

The elk was modeled after an actual animal in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park known as “Father Elk” who had been moved to the park from the wild. The sculptor was Frank Hapersberger and the cast was completed at the Whyte & De Rome Foundry in Oakland.

The burial plot where the elk stands is known as “Elks Rest.” It is the common term for Elks burial plots and they exist in almost every state. The tumulus is built of what is probably serpentinite, a local metamorphic rock that is unfriendly to plants.

Since its founding in 1868, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE) has used the elk as a symbol of the Order. Although the elk was adopted as their symbol by just one vote over the buffalo, it was chosen because it is a peaceful animal that will rise in defense of its own in the face of a threat, as well as being fleet of foot and keen of perception.

The cardinal principles of the Elks are "Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity." You can find these engraved in huge letters on the base where the elk stands.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Paul Herriott (1884-1918) - Politico and Aviator

[Photo of Herriott grave by Michael Colbruno]

Paul Herriott was a rising politico and aviator who was killed in Fort Worth, Texas when his plane nosedived 150 feet to the ground. At the time of the accident, he was only 32 years old and unmarried. However, he had accomplished much in his brief life, having worked as a bricklayer, ranch hand, newspaper reporter covering the California Legislature, member of the State Board of Control, and assistant to United States Senator Hiram Johnson of California.

Herriott was born in Minnesota, graduated from the Portland Academy and the University of California at Berkeley, where he also played on the football team. Herriott enlisted in the Army and was assigned to the aviation division. The accident occurred only two weeks after he was enrolled in flight training.

Senator Johnson arranged to have Herriott buried at Washington D.C.’s Arlington National Cemetery, but the family insisted that he be buried in the state that he loved and near his family. His pallbearers included Speaker of the Assembly C.C. Young, Speaker of the Senate Ezra Decoto, Alameda County District Attorney E.D. Coblentz and his father, Reverend Calvin C. Herriott.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Carlisle Crosby (1896-1977) – Prominent Attorney

[Carlisle Crosby mausoleum photo by Michael Colbruno]

[Former office of Crosby Heafey Roach & May]

Carlisle Crosby was born in Fremont, California and went on to study across the Bay at Stanford University. While there, he met his first wife the former Jean Hall of Los Angeles.

In 1921, he was admitted to the California State Bar and joined his father’s law firm in Oakland. He would practice law for the next fifty years, except for a two-year stint as a deputy district attorney in 1923-1924. He devoted much of his career defending insurance companies.

In 1933, Carlisle Crosby’s father, Peter Crosby, Sr., was elected to the Alameda County Superior Court. His brother, Peter Crosby, Jr., replaced his father and the firm remained Crosby & Crosby. The firm eventually became known as Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May and was the largest law firm in the East Bay.

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Ernie Lombardi (1908-1977) - Baseball Hall of Fame Catcher

[Lombardi mausoleum photo by Michael Colbruno

Ernesto Natali "Ernie" Lombardi was born on April 6, 1908 in Oakland, California. Lombardi was a Major League Baseball catcher for the Brooklyn Robins, the Cincinnati Reds, the Boston Braves and the New York Giants during a Hall of Fame career that spanned 17 years, from 1931 to 1947. He had several nicknames, including "Schnozz", "Lumbago", "Bocci", "The Cyrano of the Iron Mask" and "Lom". Bill James called him "the slowest man to ever play major league baseball well." He is listed at 6'3" and 230 lbs, but he probably approached 300 lbs towards the end of his career. He was also known as a gentle giant and this made him hugely popular among Cincinnati fans.

Ernie Lombardi started his professional baseball career for his hometown Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. He hit well (over .350 with power in 1929 and 1930) and had a strong arm. His talents were soon noticed by the Brooklyn Dodgers who purchased his contract for $50,000. Lombardi played his rookie season for the Robins in 1931 and played well (batting .297). Brooklyn had too many quality catchers at the time and Robins manager Wilbert Robinson contemplated using the strong-armed Lombardi as a pitcher. He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds shortly before the start of spring training for the 1932 season. Lombardi flourished his first year in Cincinnati, batting .303 with 11 home runs and 68 runs batted in. He became a national star in 1938 when he hit a league-leading .342 with 19 home runs, drove in 95 runs, and won the National League's MVP award. Ernie Lombardi became one of the Reds' most productive and popular players. He also has the distinction of catching both of Reds left-hander Johnny Vander Meer's back-to-back no-hitters, accomplished on June 11 and June 15, 1938. Vander Meer's feat has never been matched. Lombardi's hitting skills and leadership helped the Reds to the National League pennant in 1939 and 1940, and the World Series title in 1940.

In 1942, the Boston Braves purchased Lombardi's contract, despite his leading the league in hitting that season with a .330 batting average (albeit, in only 309 at-bats); the next batting title to be won by a catcher came more than 60 years later when Joe Mauer won the AL batting title in 2006, a testament to how difficult it is for a catcher to win the title. Lombardi remains only one of two NL catchers ever to win a batting title. Boston opted to trade him to the New York Giants after the season. He enjoyed three productive if unspectacular seasons with the Giants before seeing his playing time diminish over the next two seasons. He retired after the 1947 season, having compiled a .306 career batting average, 190 home runs, 990 RBI, 601 runs and 430 walks.

The six foot, three inch, 230-pound Ernie Lombardi was legendarily slow-footed, and during the course of his career he grounded into 261 double plays. Aside from being the yearly leader in grounding into double plays on 4 occasions, he holds the record for grounding into one every 25.3 plate appearances. An opposing manager once jokingly said that Lombardi was so slow, he ran like he was carrying a piano — and the man who was tuning it. Defenses would often position all four infielders in the outfield when Lombardi came to the plate. Despite this, he became an outstanding catcher on the basis of his strong, accurate arm and his ability to "call" a game.

During the fourth game of the 1939 World Series, in the tenth inning of a tie, Joe Dimaggio singled and Reds outfielder Ival Goodman fumbled the ball. Yankees right fielder Charlie "King Kong" Keller, who was well-known for his sturdy physique, beat the throw to catcher Lombardi and the resulting collision knocked "The Schnozz" flat on his back. Dimaggio raced around the bags and scored while Lombardi was out cold, the ball a few feet away on the ground. The press was hugely critical of the sensitive catcher because of this and it came to be known as "Lombardi's Big Snooze". Bill James, in his Historical Baseball Abstract, says that "Lombardi was now the Bill Buckner of the 1930s, even more innocent than Buckner, and Buckner has plenty of people who should be holding up their hands to share his disgrace."

Ernie Lombardi was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 1958, and posthumously into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1982 and the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986. In 1981, Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig included him in their book The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time.

In 2004, The Cincinnati Reds dedicated a bronze statue of Lombardi at the entrance of Great American Ball Park. He was honored along with three other Crosley Field Era Reds: Joe Nuxhall, Ted Kluszewski and Frank Robinson.

While Lombardi played for the Reds as the starting catcher, teammate and backup catcher Willard Hershberger became the only major league player to commit suicide during a season. Hershberger oddly enough told manager Bill McKechnie that "my father killed himself, and I'm going to do it, too!" After failing to appear at the stadium the next day the Reds checked Hershberger's room at the hotel only to find that he had slit his throat and wrist.

A sad footnote to the Hershberger suicide was Lombardi's eerily similar suicide attempt in 1953. Lombardi had been battling depression for some time and agreed to go to a sanitorium at his wife's urging. While staying overnight at a relative en route to the facility, Ernie slit his throat from ear to ear with a razor and begged not to be saved. Papers described him as "clinging to life" but he made a full recovery.

[Biography from Wikipedia]

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Leroy Napoleon “Jack” McQuesten (1836-1909) - Inspired Jack London; "Yukon Jack" Whiskey Namesake

Three influential frontiersmen and prospectors had much to do with the early non-native settlement and development of the upper Yukon River basin in Alaska, Jack McQuesten, Al Mayo and Arthur Harper The traders grubstaked prospectors, giving them credit on their supplies until they could mine enough to pay off their bills. For over 20 years, they operated trading posts all along the Yukon River. In his lifetime McQuesten was known as “Cap’n Jack” but history has remembered him as “The Father of the Yukon.”

McQuesten and his two partners owed much to their First Nations wives, Koyukon women from the lower Yukon River. These women were true partners, at home in both cultures, who acted as links between First Nations people and the newcomers.

McQuesten was born in Maine but mostly grew up in Illinois. As a young man, he moved north and west, eventually becoming an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company. After leaving the organization, he went into the fur trade on his own. In 1871 When McQuesten learned that the United States had purchased Alaska he headed to the Yukon to look for gold.

On August 15, 1873, McQuesten and his party, including Al Mayo, reached Fort Yukon by crossing the Mackenzie Mountains, and traveling the Bell and Porcupine Rivers. After a winter of trapping and hunting, McQuesten signed with the Alaska Commercial Company (A.C.Co.) at St. Michael, funding his prospecting by trading in the fur rich country.

Responding to a request from Catsah, chief of the “Trondick Indians”, McQuesten and a helper established Fort Reliance in 1874; the first trading post in Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in traditional territory. The Hän helped to put up the building and kept them supplied with meat all that winter.

The Fortymile and Sixtymile rivers were later named for their estimated distance from Fort Reliance.

McQuesten met his future wife Katharine (Satejdenalno) in 1874, who he married in 1878. Over the next 12 years, he worked at Fort Yukon, Tanana Station and other posts until he followed the miners to Forty Mile in 1887. When gold was discovered downriver at Birch Creek in 1892, McQuesten grubstaked half the miners who set off to check out the new area. When the new diggings proved even richer than Fortymile, McQuesten followed in 1894 and set up a store at Circle, Alaska.

In 1897, author Jack London met McQuesten at the Stewart River in the Yukon. The two exchanged stories and McQuesten allegedly became the inspiration for a character in “The Wife of a King.” McQuesten and his family moved to California in 1897 where he died in 1909.

Yukon Jack, the 100-proof Canadian whiskey and honey-based liquor, was also named after Jack McQuesten.

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Benjamin Frank Weston (1849-1916) – Lumberman, Orchard Owner & Mayflower Descendant

[Photo of Weston plot by Michael Colbruno]

Benjamin Frank Weston was born in North Anson, Maine on December 3, 1849. His grandfather was one of the first settlers in Maine, having moved north from Massachusetts. His mother’s family came to Massachusetts on the Mayflower in 1620.

In the 1860s the Weston family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to work in the lumber and logging business around the Great Lakes. He graduated from Northwestern University and then returned to enter the lumber and banking business with his father and older brother.

Around 1883 Weston married the former Abbie Bunker and moved to California, making his home in Oakland and Berkeley. He bought valuable logging property in Calaveras and Tuolomne counties and became a director of the North Coast Steamship Company. In 1886 he bought farmland in Santa Clara County, California, which became one of the largest and most profitable Bartlett pear orchards in California. Orchards replaced the short-lived grain industry in the area and grew to 100,000 acres by the turn of the century.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Douglas Tilden (1860-1935) – Famous Sculptor

Plot 21 - Cole Family Plot

Born in Chico, California, on May 1, 1860, Tilden was the son of William Peregrine Tilden, M.D., and Catherine Hecox Tilden, who arrived in California from England in 1846. At age five, Douglas became ill with scarlet fever and became deaf-mute.

Two years later, he was enrolled in the California School for the Deaf, located at UC Berkeley. An honor student, Douglas graduated from the school in 1879, accepted a teaching position there, and stayed for eight years.

In the summer of 1883, he discovered the joys of sculpture. Tilden dreamed of studying in Paris and thanks to a grant of $600 per year from the Durham Fund, administered by the California School for the Deaf, Douglas embarked for Paris in May 1888. With his unorthodox, purely American motifs, Tilden was the first California-born sculptor to win recognition outside of the United States.

James Duval Phelan, during his three terms as mayor of San Francisco, appealed to the citizens to beautify the city by spending his own personal fortune for public works of art. Phelan commissioned Tilden to create the Admission Day Fountain (known today as the Native Son Monument). Another commission from James Phelan was Tilden’s monumental bronze likeness of Father Junipero Serra.

Though he married the beautiful Elizabeth Delano Cole in 1896, the relationship was strained and led to a divorce in 1926. Many historians believe that Tilden was gay. Historians and art critics alike have noted Tilden’s unusual penchant for portraying in his artwork --- almost exclusively --- muscular young men, often scantily clad or completely nude. The most prominent example is the Mechanics Monument on San Francisco’s Market Street, with its five near-nude machinists.

Other local examples of Tilden’s work include “The Tired Boxer” in the DeYoung Museum, “The Bear Hunt” (showing two loincloth-clad young Indian men fighting a bear) now at the School for the Deaf in Fremont, and “The Ball Player” (a tall, slender baseball player tensing before a pitch) now in Golden Gate Park. On the Berkeley campus, his portrayal of two young football players sharing a tender, bonding moment has been referred to as the “gay statue” from at least the 1970s.

In 1924 he moved to Hollywood to sculpt dinosaurs and other extinct animals for historical and educational films. The income enabled him to build a small studio in Berkeley where he created a number of plaster sculptures, took in private students, and continued to be interested and active in the deaf community.

In 1930, Tilden lost all hope for financial support when James Phelan died. He was forced to apply for welfare and lived in poverty for the remainder of his life.

Douglas Tilden died August 4, 1935 of an apparent heart attack. A deaf neighbor found him dead on the kitchen floor. Coroners estimated that he had been dead for two days. His memorial service at Mountain View Cemetery was performed in sign language by the Rev. George Gaertner, chaplain of the California School for the Deaf. Tilden is buried in the family plot of his ex-wife, the Coles.

[Bio excerpted from the Oakland Tribune, The Man and His Legacy, Wikipedia, Gay Bears and]

Historic photos reprinted with permission, S.F. History Center, S.F. Public Library

Warren Olney (1841–1921) - Prominent Attorney; Sierra Club Co-Founder

[Photo of Olney grave by Michael Colbruno]

Plot 13, Lot 54

Olney was born in Davis County, Iowa on March 11, 1841. Raised in abject poverty and with little formal schooling, he learned his lessons well enough to become a teacher, superintendent of schools, and a college freshman, oddly enough, in that order. During that time, one of the students in his school was a young future western hero, Wyatt Earp.

Warren Olney was educated at the Baptist College at Pella, Iowa. He entered the Union Army as a private in 1861 and was discharged as a captain in 1865. He graduated from the University of Michigan Law School before coming to California in 1869, where he eventually became a senior partner in the law firm of Olney, Chickering, and Thomas at in San Francisco and president of the California Bar Association.

A “fusion” candidate for mayor of Oakland endorsed by the Republican, Democratic, and Municipal League parties, he beat his Union Labor Party candidate E.L. Blair by 5,609 to 4,947 votes, and served as mayor 1903-05. He was a “staunch advocate of municipal ownership of the water system and so far-seeing he predicted the bringing of Sierra water to Oakland, far in advance of its accomplishment.”

Cabinet Card of Warren Olney (1891) taken by Isaiah West Taber
Olney was also an avid hiker and fisherman, who was familiar with the Sierra and Coastal mountains even before he met John Muir in 1889 through their mutual friend, William Keith, the eminent landscape painter. The three would meet first in Keith’s downtown San Francisco studio and later in Olney’s nearby law office to “talk about the mountains.”; The articles of incorporation of the Sierra Club were drawn up by Olney and signed in his office on June 4, 1892, with Muir as president and Olney first vice-president; Olney’s office served as headquarters during the first year of the Sierra Club’s existence. Among those who met at Olney’s office was Joseph LaConte, who is also buried at Mountain View Cemetery, as is William Keith.

He became a close personal friend of Muir, but broke with Muir and resigned from the Sierra Club over the issue of the fate of the Hetch Hetchy Valley, which he believed had to be sacrificed to assure municipal control of San Francisco’s water supply. Olney resigned from the organization in 1910, after seventeen years of personal leadership, when its membership voted 589 to 161 in opposition to the Hetch Hetchy project.

Olney had fought the private interests controlling the Bay Area’s water supply. He believed that the best way to remove that supply from private hands and place it in municipal ownership was for the city of San Francisco to acquire rights to the water of the Tuolumne River and to dam it where it passed through Hjetch Hetchy—a miniature Yosemite Valley—in the upper reaches of Yosemite National Park.

The ultimate victory of his Hetch Hetchy views hardly compensated for the painful loss of intimacy with Muir and others of whom he was deeply fond. There was one consolation. He’d helped establish the principle of forthright dissent among Club members—and had been instrumental in creating an organization that was to expand in significance for beyond his most hopeful dreams.

Olney's son and grandson, who shared his name, were also lawyers. His son, Warren Olney II, served on the Supreme Court of California from 1919 to 1921. His grandson, Warren Olney III was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as an Assistant Attorney General to oversee the Criminal Division of the United States Department of Justice. His great-grandson, Warren Olney IV is noted radio journalist.

Warren Olney died of pneumonia on June 2, 1921 in Oakland.

(This bio compiled from Populists, Visionaries and Sefl-Promoters by David Nicolai, Wikipedia, Oakland Tribune and the Sierra Club website).

Charles Camden (1817-1912) – Built First Paper Mill On West Coast & Clarence Wetmore (1851-1936) - 1st To Register at Cal Berkeley

[Charles and Philena Camden]

[Photo of Camden family mausoleum by Michael Colbruno]

Plot 35, Lot 17

Charles Camden (1817-1912) – Built First Paper Mill On West Coast

Charles Camden was born in Aston Magna, England on January 29. 1817 and sailed to New York from Liverpool at the age of seventeen. He spent ten years in New York before sailing from Baltimore to Valpariso, Chile.

Camden worked as an engineer in Chile and Peru, building the first paper mill on the Pacific Coast in Peru. While in Peru, he met and became friends and business partners with James Lick. In 1849, he heard about the discovery of gold up the coast in California and sailed for San Francisco. He worked at various occupations in Oakland and San Francisco before he and some friends decided that they would sail up the coast to find the Trinity River. Mistakingly believing that they had found it, they instead became the first boat to sail up the Eel River.

He spent most of the next few years mining in Shasta County. In 1861, he built the Camden turnpike from Shasta to Tower House, a distance of twelve miles. Previous to that time the traffic of the country was carried on with pack mules, there being no wagon roads further than Shasta. He also fell in love during this time and married the former Philena Towner. One of his two daughters, Mary, married Clarence Wetmore.

At the time of his death he owned property in Oakland, sawmills and mines in Shasta County and irrigation rights in Kern and San Diego counties.

[Camden Bio by Michael Colbruno]

Clarence Wetmore (1851-1936) First to register at Univerity of California, Berkeley

Clarence Wetmore’s father, Jesse Lamereaux Wetmore, was one of those adventurous 49ers who came to California on the trail of gold. He returned home to Maine to father the second of his sons, Clarence, born in 1852, and then Jesse brought his wife and his two sons, Charles and Clarence back to the Golden State. The family settled first in San Francisco, but by 1861 had settled in Oakland at their new home at Clay and Tenth.

But Jesse had wandering feet. He left again, this time for South America, engaged in railroad building in Chile and later, Bolivia. The family survived, and Charles became the valedictorian of the Class of 1868 at the College of California in Oakland. In 1869, Clarence became the first student to register at the newly established University of California (chartered in 1868 to be the successor to the College of California). Clarence’s class attended classes for all four years at the old Oakland campus of the College of California, but on their graduation day in 1873, this group of pioneering students received their diplomas at the first event ever held on the Berkeley campus.

Clarence married Mary Camden, a California native, and with his brother Charles, founded Cresta Blanca Winery in the Livermore Valley in 1882. The Cresta Blanca Winery property is today the home of Wente Brothers Sparkling Winery and the Wente Brothers Restaurant.

[Wetmore bio courtesy of Barbara Smith and the Mountain View Cemetery docent program]

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dr. Samuel Merritt (1822-1890) - Doctor, Regent, Mayor, Philanthropist

[Photo of Samuel Merritt courtesy of Camron-Stanford House]

[Photo of Merritt family mausoleum, in foreground, by Michael Colbruno]

Plot 35, Lot 2

As a young physician in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Merritt attracted the attention of Daniel Webster when he successfully performed a difficult operation on Webster’s neighbor. Webster encouraged him to come to California, saying, “Go out there, young man. Go out there and behave yourself, and free as you are from family cares, you will never regret it.” Webster gave him letters of introduction to friends in California, Merritt bought a ship of 140 tons, loaded it with general cargo, and set sail from New York for California at the end of November in 1849.

His arrival on May 5, 1850, was at an auspicious time, as one of San Francisco’s frequent “great fires” had occurred the previous day, allowing him to make a considerable profit on the goods he had in his hold. With these funds he chartered a brig for $800 a month and put it in the profitable Humboldt Bay - San Francisco lumber trade run.

While practicing medicine in San Francisco he increased his involvement in the lumber trade by expanding to Puget Sound. In 1852 he started buying and selling real estate in San Francisco and Oakland with great success. The first year he made $100,000 in San Francisco real estate alone. That same year he bought large acreage along the shores of what is now Lake Merritt for the total price of $6,000. He subdivided this land and built and sold several “elegant” homes in the area of Jackson, Lake, Oak, and Madison Streets. In 1853 he traveled east to order the building of the first two barks to be built expressly for the coast lumber trade -- in this case, San Francisco to Portland.

Merritt served as a member of the Vigilance Committee of 1856, was a San Francisco supervisor, and although he declined to serve as San Francisco’s mayor in 1858, did fill that position in Oakland in 1868. That same year he was named a Regent of U.C. by Gov. Henry Huntly Haight. Merritt was a founder of the Oakland Bank of Savings and the California Insurance Company. In 1888 Robert Louis Stevenson chartered Merritt’s yacht Casco for his famous trip to the South Seas.

Merritt became embroiled in a scandal when the Board of Regents, instead of hiring a supervising architect, put him in charge of overseeing the construction of the campus’s second building, North Hall, which they were anxious to have completed in record time. The State Assembly investigated charges that Merritt and some friends in the building industry had taken advantage of his unusual authority, that Merritt had profited financially in the venture, and that the University had acquired a building of inferior quality at an exorbitant cost. The Committee determined that the building cost $24,000 more than it was worth. Merritt immediately resigned from the Board of Regents and refunded the University his lumber yard’s profits of $867.

One contemporary account describes Merritt as “6’3” and weighing 340 pounds when at his best.” It is small wonder that this admired specimen of Victorian manhood (great girth was considered manly) developed diabetes which complicated a case of uremic poisoning, causing his death.

The plaque on the huge granite tomb reads: “Physician, shipmaster, philanthropist, Regent of the University of California, mayor of Oakland, founder of Samuel Merritt Hospital.”

John Marsh (1799-1856) - Early California Pioneer & Alice Marsh Camron (1852-1927)

[John Marsh; Photo courtesy of Camron-Stanford House]

[Alice Marsh Camron; Photo courtesy of Camron-Stanford House]

[John Marsh House (c. 1870), Marsh Creek Road, Brentwood vicinity]

[Photo of Marsh family plot by Michael Colbruno]

Plot 11, Lot 117-8

John Marsh was born in Danvers, Massachusetts, to a family whose forebears had come from England to Salem in 1633. After his graduation from Phillips Academy in 1819 he entered Harvard, but was dismissed during his second year for his participation in a student uprising. In 1821 he was readmitted on the condition that he not participate in any further student disturbances. He had originally studied for the ministry, but decided to become a physician.

During his time in Minnesota he took the opportunity to “read medicine” under the post surgeon’s guidance, but the doctor died before Marsh could complete the two-year course of study and receive a certificate to attest to his training. While in Minnesota he set up that territory’s first school for the children of the fort’s officers. Marsh developed a close working relationship with the local Sioux Indians and developed a Sioux dictionary.

He fell in love with a French Canadian Indian woman, Marguerite Decouteaux, by whom he had a son Charles. Marsh felt that he could not return to Boston, convinced that Marguerite would not be accepted there, so he accepted the post of Indian agent. There is evidence that he almost lost this job because of his friendly relationship with the Indians to whom he had sold guns.

Marsh's life was further complicated by the death of Marguerite, which left him with a small son to care for. He left the child with friends in Illinois and headed for Independence, Missouri in 1833 where he was a merchant. His business failed and in 1835 he moved to Santa Fe before heading off to Los Angeles in 1836. Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, he opened a medical practice, using his Harvard bachelor’s diploma as his medical credentials, and making him the first American “doctor” to practice in California.

Marsh spent about a year in Los Angeles, taking cattle as payment for his medical services. This practice enabled him to make a huge land purchase for $500 in 1837 when he bought the 13,000-acre Rancho de Los Meganos (aka Medanos) on the east side of Mt. Diablo overlooking the San Joaquin Valley. In April, 1838, Marsh settled on the property in a four-room adobe built with the help of some of the local Indians, a branch of the Bay Miwok. He referred to his property as “Los Pulpunes,” his name for the Indians. His house had an attic beneath its thatched roof where two of his vaqueros slept, acting as his bodyguards. The walls beneath the eaves were perforated by loopholes large enough to admit the muzzle of a gun, offering the doctor and his guards a means to drive away the frequent robbers and horse thieves.

John Marsh had several firsts to his credit in addition to his title of first doctor. Rancho de Los Meganos was the site of the area’s first cattle and horse breeding operation, and Marsh was the first white man to raise grain in the vicinity. As an early experimenter in all types of fruits, he had orchards of pear, apple, plums, figs, and almonds, as well as two flourishing vineyards. He continued to practice medicine, charging high prices in cattle for his services, much to the dismay of his Californio neighbors throughout the San Joaquin. While the Californios found him to be “unfriendly, mean, and shrewd” the Indians seemed to like him.

As a successful rancher, he was instrumental in encouraging other Americans to emigrate to California, his preferred method of making California American, rather than by force. Paradoxically, he was one of scores of Americans from Monterey to San Francisco to be seized by Californio officials and charged with trying to take California in 1840. Jailed in Monterey with a hundred others, Marsh was released and avoided being sent to Mexico. His frequent letters to Americans in the Middle West finally resulted in the arrival at his rancho in 1841 of the Bartleson-Bidwell party from Missouri -- the first important overland wagon train to come to California.

In 1851 he married schoolteacher Abbie Tuck from Massachusetts, and the next year their daughter Alice was born. He promised to build his wife California’s finest house. Abbie selected the site with a magnificent view over the San Joaquin Valley, and plans were drawn for an impressive three-story stone house. Abbie died in 1855 before construction on the house began. Marsh, however, proceeded with the building of his baronial home, and in September of 1856 he moved some of his personal belongings into one of the upstairs rooms. He spent a few nights there as the house was being finished, but on September 24 he left for Martinez on his way to San Francisco on business. On the road he was attacked and stabbed to death by three young Californios who felt they had been underpaid for work at his ranch. Ten years later, one of the three was caught and sent to prison.

After John Marsh settled on his rancho, his son Charles came to California to find his father, knowing only that he lived on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. He knocked on doors, of which there were few, until he tracked his long-lost parent, and the two were happily reunited. One story says that John Marsh had Charles remove his shoe and sock to be identified by a scar the father remembered on his son.

When John Marsh was murdered Alice was only four years old and could not assume ownership of the house. Charles fought a long court battle to establish himself as the rightful heir, and did eventually live in the house for a time. By the late 1880’s the house had passed out of family hands, and was owned by a succession of others until it finally came into the possession of the State of California.

In 1871, Marsh’s 19-year-old daughter Alice married William Walker Camron who had come west with his family by wagon train in 1849. Traveling with him in the family group was a cousin, Elam Brown, who became the founder of Lafayette.

Camron’s grandfather had dropped the “e” from “Cameron” and it was not replaced in the family name until 1896. Camron purchased 3,000 acres from Miller and Lux covering the area that is now Orinda, north of Highway 24.

In 1877, using part of Alice’s inheritance, the Camrons purchased a handsome Victorian on the shores of Lake Merritt, built “on spec” by Samuel Merritt, and now known as the Camron-Stanford House. Camron had surveyed Wildcat Canyon Road from Orinda to Berkeley, but couldn’t afford to grade it. He ran through all of Alice’s money, then deserted her and their daughter Amy. (Another daughter, Gracie, had died in infancy). After the Camrons divorced in 1896, Alice and Amy ran a boardinghouse in San Francisco, and later moved to Santa Barbara. Amy never married, died in 1961, and is buried here in the family plot.

[Biography courtesy of Barbara Smith and Mountain View Cemetery docent program]

Jane Krom Sather (1824 -1911) - Left Huge Bequest to University of California at Berkeley

[Photo of Smith Family Mausoleum by Michael Colbruno]

Plot 35, Lot 6 (Borax Smith Mausoleum)

Jane Sather was the second wife of San Francisco banker, Peder Sather (1810-1886). Norwegian-born Peder Sather came to California in 1850 from Philadelphia, and organized the banking firm of Sather and Church, later absorbed into the Bank of California. He was one of the trustees of the College of California, forerunner of the University of California.

Brooklyn-born Jane Krom knew Peder and his first wife, and after her first husband died in 1880, and Sather’s wife died in 1881, Jane and Peder were married in Oakland in 1882. When he died, just four years later in 1886, Peder Sather left Jane a considerable share of his fortune, as well as the responsibility of managing it - a duty she found onerous.

In 1899, the University of California found a new, young president, Benjamin Ide Wheeler, who came from Cornell. Mrs. Sather admired Wheeler, and discovered in 1900 that she could turn over her problems of money management to the University in exchange for a handsome income for the rest of her life, and at her death the University would receive the remainder of her estate. These days such an arrangement is popularly known as a Charitable Remainder Trust. The idea appealed to Jane Sather, and she entered into the agreement with the University. At the same time, President Wheeler had another wealthy lady who made gift after magnificent gift -- Phoebe Apperson Hearst.

During her lifetime, Jane Sather provided funding for the construction of Sather Gate as a memorial to her husband. The project was completed in 1910 and was decorated with eight marble panels, mounted on granite columns, each panel containing a nude figure, four female and four male. The figures represented the arts and sciences. Once the gate was completed some unknown rowdies decided to have a little fun and decorated the panels with oak leaves.

Jane Sather did not take kindly to such behavior, and fired off a letter to the secretary of the Regents. The panels were duly removed, and for seventy years Sather Gate stood without them, until they were restored in the 1970’s. It was not, however, prudery which moved Mrs. Sather’s response. It was rather the offensive behavior of the college students. Here is a portion of her letter of February 1, 1910:

“There is a difference in nude and naked. The latter, I should say, has not even a fig leaf and is rather trying to uncultivated people. The University students are and will always be largely of this class. Now, I ask, is it wise to subject the danger of defacement and probably mutilation? ..... The whole matter had passed out of my hands and is now up to the University. If they cannot protect it, it is a great pity to have built it. The next manifestation of disapproval may be a coat of green paint. Nothing will surprise me, though I did not expect the attack to come so soon.”

By her will, Mrs. Sather left the funds to build the Campanile (Sather Tower), which was completed in 1914. The idea of a bell tower on the campus appealed to her as a reminder of the sounds of her youth when she could hear the bells at Wall Street’s Trinity Church across the water from her childhood home in Brooklyn.

She also made provision for two endowed professorships, the Jane K. Sather Professorship in History, and the Sather Professorship in Classical Literature which became one of the world’s foremost posts in the field of classical literature. By dint of sound management of the Sather funds, the University was able, in 1991, to establish a third Sather professorship (and second in history) as the Peder Sather Chair.

Peder Sather was buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in San Francisco, and his body was moved to the special Laurel Hill section in Colma’s Cypress Lawn when all the cemeteries were removed from San Francisco. Jane Sather was buried in the “Borax” Smith mausoleum as that the Smiths were friends of hers. Mary R. Smith, Borax Smith’s first wife, had died in 1905 after which he had the mausoleum built. Borax Smith, so to speak, invited Jane in. There are some dozen relatives and friends buried there.

Not everyone was pleased with Jane Sather’s huge gifts to the University of California. While Jane was childless, Peder Sather had grandchildren, one of whom apparently felt he should have received more of the estate. He once remarked that Jane was an adventuress who had picked up his grandfather on a ferryboat!

Read about Borax Smith by clicking HERE.

[Biography courtesy of Barbara Smith and the Mountain View Cemetery docent program]

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sydney Ayres (1879-1916) – Silent Movie Actor; Director

[Photo of Ayres grave by Michael Colbruno]

PLOT 27, Lot 64 (Franck)

Sydney Ayres was a well-known and popular star of the stage and silent screen, before embarking on a career as a film director. He started his acting career in Oakland with the theater company of Lewis Morrison in a production of “Faust.”

At the time, Ayres was one of the biggest celebrities that Oakland had produced. He became a leading man at Ye Liberty Playhouse in Oakland before touring North America as a featured star on the famed Orpheum Theater circuit. He often performed works which he had written, as well as those by famed playwrights like David Belasco.

In 1912, he married Anna Franck, an attractive young woman from Oakland’s high society. His former wife accused him publicly of bigamy, claiming that their divorce had never been finalized. Ayres provided proof of his divorce and claimed that his ex-wife did not receive service of the divorce papers at either of her residences.

In 1915, Ayres was involved in a serious car accident while working on a film in Hollywood. He finished the project from a wheelchair with the assistance of his wife. Ayres ended up collapsing, prompting a newspaper to write that it was caused by “thrilling ‘movie’ scenes, overwork, an automobile wreck, and other motion picture experiences.”

Within a year Ayres was dead and the Oakland Tribune listed the cause of death as a “nervous breakdown.” [Wikipedia says Ayres died of complications from multiple sclerosis, but lists no source. I could find no substantiation of this claim.]

-- Biography by Michael Colbruno

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