Posts filed under ‘400 Block Hill Street’

Sailing, Sailing — Off to City Jail!

sailor headline

October 30, 1920

clara bow sailors

“A sailor’s life, it is a merry life…”
Fairport Convention

K.W. Cross (19), C.J. Terry (20), and R.P. Cullison (18), had been sailors for only two months when they came to the conclusion that a sailor’s life wasn’t so damned merry after all. In fact, each of the swabbies was positively desperate to get out of uniform and back into civilian life, so they hatched a plan to get themselves discharged from the service.

The young men had heard that if they were arrested for a crime, their naval careers would come to a screeching halt – so they burglarized a small tobacco store at Fourth and Hill Streets. They made no attempt to flee following the crime, and were busted at the scene by Police Detectives Simpson and Jarves.

It’s possible that Cross, Terry, and Cullison were naive enough to believe that once they’d committed a crime, they’d simply be cut loose from the Navy and put back on the streets to pursue merrier lives. If so, they must have been very disappointed. Although they were immediately discharged at San Pedro as expected, all three youths were then taken into custody, and confined in the City Jail for six months each on the burglary rap.

We hope that the former mariners embraced Samuel Johnson’s philosophy, and enjoyed their stints in the city slammer…

“No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned… a man in a jail has more room, better food, and commonly better company.”
Samuel Johnson

August 20, 2008 at 8:39 pm Leave a comment

Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys — Or Train Robbers

 “Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.
Don’t let ’em pick guitars and drive them old trucks.
Make ’em be doctors and lawyers and such…”

cowboys headline

September 23, 1892
401 South Hill Street

Eight year old Willie Fisher waited until the early hours of the morning, then lifted $3 from his mother’s purse and disappeared.When Mrs. Fisher realized that her boy was missing, she immediately contacted police. She told them that she believed that the child had boarded a northbound train to become a cowboy, or maybe a lawman.

Detectives combed the city for the budding cowpoke – finally following up on a clue that put the runaway in a vacant lot near Eighth and Spring Streets.  At last, a cop spotted two small boys trying to hide behind an old fence. Sure enough, it was Willie and his best friend, Bob. The youngsters were examining an air gun, and deep in conversation. The detective crept up behind them until he could pounce. The boys were surprised to learn that they were wanted at the police station. On the way to police headquarters, the detective asked Willie why he’d run away from home and what he intended to do. 

“Well”, said Willie, “me an’ Bob here has been readin’ all about them robbers, Evans an’ Sontager, and we made up our minds to get a gun what they couldn’t hear shoot an’ go an’ kill ‘em.”  Then the bantam weight buckaroo went on to explain his plan, “Don’t you see we’s nuthin’ but kids, and they would never take us fur Smithsonian detectives…we’ve got this thing studied out.”

The officer saw Willie’s point, but marched the wee manhunter home anyway, where he was met at the door by his mother. She was slapping a mean looking slipper against the palm of her hand.

It’s just as well that Willie and Bob never got the chance to put their plan into action, as Chris Evans and John Sontag were wanted for train robbery and murder, and they were unlikely to have been felled by an air rifle. In fact, they’d already survived a shoot out with one posse, and it would take at least one more to bring them to justice. Due mainly to the support of people in the San Joaquin Valley, both robbers had managed to evade the law. Southern Pacific Railroad had cut a ruthless swath through California, displacing people and gobbling up their land, so when Evans and Sontag struck out at the much despised company, people cheered. 

sontag death

John Sontag near death as posse looks on.

Neither children nor Pinkerton Detectives ended up capturing Evans and Sontag. On May 28, 1893, the bandits were surrounded by a posse of local lawmen, and a furious gun battle ensued. Both men were wounded. Sontag died of his injuries, but Evans managed to escape. He came upon the home of Mrs. Parsons, who invited him in, and then dressed his wounds and put him to bed. Evans knew that his career as a train robber had ended, and he agreed to let Mrs. Parsons turn him in to the law if she would agree to split the reward she received with his wife – which she promptly did. 

While Evans was awaiting trial, his wife and daughter were contacted by a San Francisco theater company. The girls were offered money to appear as themselves in a production about one of the train robberies. Both mother and daughter agreed, putting the money they’d earned in a defense fund for Chris.  It was to no avail however, and Evans was sentenced to prison for life.

evans playbill

The story doesn’t end there. Evans managed to escape from jail before he could be transported to Folsom Prison.  After a brief taste of freedom, he was recaptured. Evans served his time and was released in 1911. He died in a state hospital a few weeks later.

evans escapes

Here’s hoping that young Willie chose to become a doctor or lawyer, or such.



August 13, 2008 at 3:44 pm Leave a comment

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

no good deed headline

Mrs. Clark, landlady of the rooming house at 421 S. Hill Street, thought she had seen it all. But she hadn’t – not by a long shot.


It was May 27, 1905, and Mrs. Clark was tidying up around the place. She may have been reflecting on the odd assortment of lodgers currently in residence, particularly Professor J. Maclane. The so-called professor advertised himself as a spiritualist, and Mrs. Clark and her renters were treated to the nightly spectacle of his devotees floating about the premises, seeking to commune with deceased spirits.

Prof Maclane 

While she mused about the spiritualist fakir, it’s unlikely that she gave any thought at all to Mr. and Mrs. Harry Holley, a pleasant married couple who had moved into the house a few days earlier.  They had been occupying a room on an upper floor, but when the larger room adjacent to them became available, they’d jumped at the chance to rent it. 


Because the Holleys were out for the day, the landlady decided to do the couple a favor, and began to move some of their belongings into their new room.  It was probably the last time in her life that Mrs. Clark would act on a generous impulse. When she swung the door open and entered the room, she nearly stepped on an enormous slithering reptile!  Quickly looking around to assess any further danger, she spied another, even larger snake coiled up in a chair across the room. The serpent met her gaze and began to hiss, and that was enough for the landlady. She slammed the door and careened down the stairs, screaming for help.


The only lodger who didn’t immediately come out to see what all the ruckus was about was the bogus professor.  When he finally poked his head out of his room, his only comment was “It isn’t a snake, it’s the spirit of a dear departed sister”.  Mrs. Clark didn’t want to hear it. Departed sister or not – all she wanted was to get the snakes out of the house.


The panic stricken woman phoned the local precinct house, saying “Send some policemen and a patrol wagon quick, my house is full of snakes!”  To which the jaded desk sergeant replied “Snakes, eh, you say you got’em?”  If she could have done so, the exasperated woman would have reached through the telephone lines and throttled the cop into unconsciousness.  Finally, after what must have seemed like an eternity to the anxious Mrs. Clark, the desk sergeant said that he’d connect her with the police surgeon, Dr. Quint, whom the bluecoat declared was an “…authority on snakes”.


Across the crackling telephone wire, Dr. Quint heard someone say “Is that the snake doctor?” Dr. Quint told the shaken woman that he’d been called many things in his time, but never a snake doctor. Mrs. Clark then recounted her tale of serpents, fakirs, and terror – oh my. The good doctor suggested that she simply wait for her snake handling lodgers to return, and then demand that they remove the creatures at once.


The Holleys arrived home to find all of the inhabitants of 421 S. Hill Street milling about in the yard, except for Professor Maclane, who was no doubt busy communicating with spirits of the dearly departed.  Mrs. Clark strode up to the couple and demanded that they remove the reptiles from the premises at once. Mr. Holley admitted that there were dozens of serpents sharing his room, but firmly stated that he would do no such thing. He’d paid for the room for one week in advance, and he flatly refused to budge.


For the next few days an uneasy silence fell over the Hill Street boarding house.  The residents remained behind locked doors in mortal terror, fearful of every little sound. Mrs. Clark stayed in her room to keep a close watch on her three kittens. She was convinced that the Holleys were plotting to feed the adorable little mousers to the nefarious vipers.


We can only presume that the uncomfortable situation resolved itself peaceably, and that neither kittens nor humans were harmed, for there were no further reports of snake activity at the house on Hill Street.


July 23, 2008 at 8:38 am Leave a comment


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