Monday, May 20, 2019

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

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

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

He was married twice and had nine children. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 13, 2019

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

Judge John McHenry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 6, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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