Posts filed under ‘Barbara’

Babies For Sale

A girl of 16, Sadie Engelmann, left her family to try her hand at fame and fortune on the stage.  In San Diego, her beauty, if not her craft, won her many admirers, among them a dashing stenographer with the US Navy by the name of John Harvey.

When Sadie found herself abandoned by John and in need of a midwife, she checked in to the Bellevue Avenue Lying-in Institute in Los Angeles, where she deposited a newborn boy, whom she left in the care of the proprietress, “Dr.” Catherine Smith. At this point a disagreement ensued between Sadie and “Dr.” Smith concerning the details of the babe’s status.  Sadie claimed she left the child temporarily in “Dr.” Smith’s care, in order to earn enough money to pay the bill she incurred during her delivery. She testified that once she had settled her debt she would re-assume custody of the child.  “Dr.” Smith alleged Sadie sold her the newborn outright to pay off her debts and to free herself from the undue burden of its care.  Whatever the exact nature of their understanding, “Dr.” Smith appears to have taken possession of the child, and in turn sold the baby boy to a Mrs. W.W. Wilson, who had already acquired three other infants in a nefarious plot to appear as if she were the mother of quadruplets.

Stole baby quartet

The miraculously sudden appearance of the quartet of babies attracted the attention of the authorities, who promptly summoned Mrs. Wilson, “Dr.” Smith, Sadie Engelmann, and other parents of the illegitimate infants in to court to sort out the affair.  During the course of the trial, Sadie Engelmann claimed to have been accosted and threatened by various burglars “of Mexican aspect,” who, she alleged, were sent by “Dr.” Smith to dissuade her from testifying.

According to court testimony, Mrs. Wilson grew despondent after many years of trying to bear her own children, and eventually conceived the plan to to fill her and her husband’s home with a readymade brood of abandoned youngsters. She enacted this plan years before the quadruplets affair, procuring three children, whom she presented to her husband as his own, each time using an ingenious series of pads and pillows to trick him into believing she had indeed carried each child to term. The children were in the couple’s possession at the time of Mrs. Wilson’s attempted quadruplets heist.

The trial ended with the conviction of “Dr.” Smith on the charge of child stealing. Upon appeal, the court handed down a sentence of 5 years probation, during which Smith was to cease and desist the practice of midwifery.

Eventually, Mrs. Wilson was permitted to adopt the three children in her care before the trial, and to become a foster-mother to the two girls among the quadruplets. The boys, including Sadie Engelmann’s son, did not survive infancy. Mrs. Wilson went on to take on more foster-children, and to run a daycare facility in Hollywood.

April 26, 2011 at 4:25 am Leave a comment

Millie Christine McCoy

Millie Christine McCoy, the two-headed woman, “the eighth wonder of the world,” held receptions in Los Angeles during the month of December, 1894. Admission was 15 cents. Children’s tickets cost a dime. 

Siamese twins born into slavery, Millie and Christine were sold by their father to an entertainer in 1853 for the price of $1,000. During the course of their 30 year career as performers they learned to read, write, sing, dance and speak five languages. The two girls, often billed as “The Two-Headed Nightingale,”  would sing duets, one a sweet soprano, the other a low contralto. Throughout their lives they were referred to as one person rather than two separate people, and often spoke of themselves this way as well.

At one point a showman entrusted with exhibiting the twins stole them away from their third and most benevolent owner, Joseph Pearson Smith, and ran off with them to London. Smith recovered the girls and brought them back to North Carolina, where they elected to stay at the Smith homestead after Emancipation.

The Civil War, and Smith’s death in 1860 left the Smith family and the twins in dire financial straits. The twins decided to put themselves on exhibit again to ease their situation. The act was so popular that the the twins were able to help their father, Jacob, buy back Mr. Smith’s plantation, the same plantation where Jacob had once been a slave.

In 1869 the twins published their autobiography, “History and Medical Description of the Two-Headed Girl.” Millie died of complications from tuberculosis in 1912. Doctors administered morphine to Christine to help ease her death. She outlived her sister by 17 hours.   

November 5, 2010 at 1:02 am Leave a comment

Widow Robbed by Spiritualists

A young couple by the name of McCarthy came to Los Angeles in 1890, and quickly made money in the real estate game. As luck would have it, one year later, Mr. McCarthy fell ill and died.  His widow, a healthy, handsome woman, was left a well appointed house on Temple street, but she proved unable to overcome her grief at the loss of her husband.  She shut herself in her second story parlor, and refused her friends invitations and entreaties to re-enter society.  Desperate to console her, they suggested she seek out spiritual support, and referred her to Mrs. Rich, a trance-medium of some local renown. After the widow had been visiting the medium for several weeks, friends noticed a definite change in her behavior.  When they called on her in her rooms they found her greatly agitated, crouched down in one corner of her room, clutching paper and pencil, which she used, she explained, to record messages from her dead husband.  The messages allegedly emanated from all corners and quarters of the room, and were sometimes delivered by a little girl named “Dewdrop.”

Mrs. McCarthy’s friends tried to calm her, and seemingly succeeded.  But soon thereafter the widow disappeared from her house on Temple street. Ten days later a police officer apprehended a raving woman, unsteady on her feet, in a hallway  near the corner of Sixth and Main streets. Her face was covered in red welts, and her tongue badly swollen. The officer suspected she was intoxicated, but soon discovered that she was bereft of reason. He was about to take the poor woman to the city prison, when a gentleman happened to recognize her as his neighbor, Mrs. McCarthy. He delivered her to her friends from Temple street, who took her into their home to convalesce.  Gradually, she recovered her wits and told them her story. 

Mrs. McCarthy had come to believe that if she strictly obeyed Mrs. Rich, the trance medium, in every regard, then she would, in time, be allowed to communicate with her dead husband.  At the medium’s instruction, Mrs. McCarthy gave Mrs. Rich all but 300 dollars of her personal fortune. The medium then promptly fled the city with her haul.  Distraught, Mrs. McCarthy sought out another clairvoyant, a Mrs. Coy, who plied her trade as a magnetic healer. Mrs. Coy, assisted by an unidentified man, took the half-demented widow into her house, drugged her, and shut her in a dark room for days.  They persuaded the widow to write checks for all of her remaining funds, and to give up her fur-trimmed cloak and her fine dress, for only if she were to renounce all wordly possessions, they claimed, would “the spirit of her dead husband see fit to address her.” On her way home to change she was intercepted by the police officer.

Mrs. McCarthy was unable to recover her lost savings.  Mrs. Coy claimed it was the widow’s idea to give up her money and her clothing, as she “wanted to do penance,” and that she merely assisted Mrs. McCarthy in her spiritual quest.

October 15, 2010 at 8:30 pm Leave a comment

Babies 4 Sale

 A girl of 16, Sadie Engelmann, left her family to try her hand at fame and fortune on the stage.  In San Diego, her beauty, if not her craft, won her many admirers, among them a dashing stenographer with the US Navy by the name of John Harvey.

When Sadie found herself abandoned by John and in need of a midwife, she checked in to the Bellevue Avenue Lying-in Institute in Los Angeles, where she deposited a newborn boy, whom she left in the care of the proprietress, “Dr.” Catherine Smith. At this point a disagreement ensued between Sadie and “Dr.” Smith concerning the details of the babe’s status.  Sadie claimed she left the child temporarily in “Dr.” Smith’s care, in order to earn enough money to pay the bill she incurred during her delivery. She testified that once she had settled her debt she would re-assume custody of the child.  “Dr.” Smith alleged Sadie sold her the newborn outright to pay off her debts and to free herself from the undue burden of its care.  Whatever the exact nature of their understanding, “Dr.” Smith appears to have taken possession of the child, and in turn sold the baby boy to a Mrs. W.W. Wilson, who had already acquired three other infants in a nefarious plot to appear as if she were the mother of quadruplets.

Stole baby quartet

The miraculously sudden appearance of the quartet of babies attracted the attention of the authorities, who promptly summoned Mrs. Wilson, “Dr.” Smith, Sadie Engelmann, and other parents of the illegitimate infants in to court to sort out the affair.  During the course of the trial, Sadie Engelmann claimed to have been accosted and threatened by various burglars “of Mexican aspect,” who, she alleged, were sent by “Dr.” Smith to dissuade her from testifying.

According to court testimony, Mrs. Wilson grew despondent after many years of trying to bear her own children, and eventually conceived the plan to to fill her and her husband’s home with a readymade brood of abandoned youngsters. She enacted this plan years before the quadruplets affair, procuring three children, whom she presented to her husband as his own, each time using an ingenious series of pads and pillows to trick him into believing she had indeed carried each child to term. The children were in the couple’s possession at the time of Mrs. Wilson’s attempted quadruplets heist. 

The trial ended with the conviction of “Dr.” Smith on the charge of child stealing. Upon appeal, the court handed down a sentence of 5 years probation, during which Smith was to cease and desist the practice of midwifery. 

Eventually, Mrs. Wilson was permitted to adopt the three children in her care before the trial, and to become a foster-mother to the two girls among the quadruplets. The boys, including Sadie Engelmann’s son, did not survive infancy. Mrs. Wilson went on to take on more foster-children, and to run a daycare facility in Hollywood. 

June 11, 2010 at 1:06 am 1 comment

Fate Rolled the Dice of Fortune for “Farmer” Page

 

Image courtesy of the LA Times Historical Archive

By the time he was 12, Milton B. Page had his own corner of downtown Los Angeles, as well as his nickname “Farmer,” for his shambling gait and ill-fitting clothes.  By morning, Farmer Page sold newspapers at 2nd and Spring; by night he rolled dice and played poker with his fellow newsboys in the alley nearby.   After a stint playing valet to his younger brother Stanley, a famous jockey, Farmer returned to the city and eventually conducted a big game in the basement of the Del Monte Bar on West Third Street.  Club after club followed, until Farmer owned controlling interests in five establishments, and was the de facto leading gambler in Southern California. 

While Page and his dealings were well known to the downtown police force, his first significant clash with the law didn’t come until 1925, after he bested a disgruntled former employee, Al Joseph, in a gunfight at the Sorrento, on 1348 West 6th Street. Page claimed the shooting was in self-defense, the culmination of a drawn-out underworld feud between himself and Joseph, who had become a member of the notorious “Spud” Murphy gang of San Francisco, and had made repeated threats on Page’s life.  Page turned himself into the authorities after the slaying.

In the court proceedings, Joseph was portrayed by the defense as a vicious and turbulent man, a hijacker and a thug, who “packed a business gun of large caliber, and a smaller social gun for festive occasions.”  Farmer was found innocent of murder, and was excused his 50 thousand dollar bond. 

The trial might have freed Farmer, but the testimony of his many associates revealed the extent of the gambler’s bootlegging operations, and resulted in eventually driving Farmer out of downtown and on to a gambling boat moored off the coast of Santa Monica. From there he followed fellow kingpins Guy McAfee and Tudor Scherer to Las Vegas. These big shots of the Roaring Twenties banded together and bought controlling stakes in such hotels and casinos as the El Rancho Vegas. Fittingly, “Farmer” Page died in a hotel at 2205 West Sixth Street in 1960, at the age of 73.  He was survived by a son, the seemingly mild-mannered bookstore owner, Milton B, Page, Jr.

March 20, 2010 at 1:39 am Leave a comment

Quick Death for a Dime in Downtown

Up until the fall of 1906, an Angeleno could walk into a pharmacy downtown (or discreetly dispatch a messenger boy) without a doctor’s prescription and buy morphine, cocaine, opium, codeine, heroin, laudanum, carbolic acid or other potentially fatal poisons, packed for his or her convenience in nickel, dime, or 25 cent bags.

Image Credit: LA Times Historical Archive

Of course, many of these drugs were highly touted miracle ingredients in the elixirs of the day, thought to be so beneficial, in small doses, that they were suitable for children.

Image Credit: Addiction Science Network

But 1906 brought a slew of new ‘poison control’ laws, which required pharmacies to employ only registered pharmacists to dispense drugs, to maintain a “poison registry” of the names and addresses of customers who purchased medications deemed dangerous, and to refrain from dispensing such drugs without a prescription from a licensed physician. The laws were not strictly enforced until May of 1907, when a crusading Secretary of the State Board of Pharmacy by the name of Charles B. Whilden made a sweep through 33 drug stores in downtown Los Angeles and bought dope at 16 of them. 


At Wilson’s Pharmacy at 6th and Figueroa a young boy behind the counter sold Whilden carbolic acid; a few days later a young lady, presumably the boy’s mother, but no registered pharmacist, sold him laudanum.  Similar transactions occurred at Frank T. Rimpau at 355 North Main Street, F.J. Giese at 108 North Main Street, Los Angeles Pharmacy at 212 West Fourth Street, Angelus Pharmacy at 801 West Third Street, and many other downtown retailers. The pharmacies were fined $100 for each violation. Several of the owners argued at sentencing that if future regulations prohibited them from selling opiates they would have to close their doors, as these products accounted for more than half their total profits. 

In June Whilden continued his poison investigation in Chinatown, where he arrested four proprietors of opium dens, even though the dens were licensed  and the opium sellers paid a monthly fee of $25 to the city.

 

All offenders were released after payment of fines, and business returned to usual in the downtown dens of vice.

 

January 14, 2010 at 11:13 pm Leave a comment

Wages of Sin

 

 

That headline pretty much covers the whole story; just another night in a boardinghouse in SRO land.

In the spring of 1895, Charles Stanley was working as a cook at the Glenwood Hotel, Riverside, where he met a pretty young waitress, Bessie Bradley. Within a month they were married, had found new jobs in downtown Los Angeles, and taken rooms at 132 1/2 South Broadway.  But conjugal bliss did not ensue.  Bessie was said to have married Charles in a fit of pique after she was jilted by another man.  By autumn, she and her fried, Mamie Fleming, a fellow waitress at the Cosmopolitan Restaurant, began spending time with two traveling salesmen who took their meals there, Charles G. Smith, and Alfred Cleveland. 

Bessie Stanley (nee Bradley) soon informed her husband that she was leaving him because he could not support her adequately on the $7 a week he made as a cook at the Geneva restaurant, and that she had taken a job, at Mr. Smith’s urging, as a milliner on Spring street.  She promptly moved out of their lodgings and went to room with Miss Fleming at the Albermarle boarding house on Spring street. 

LA Times Historical Archive

Charles contrived to meet with Bessie at the Cosmopolitan as often as he could, to plead with her to reconcile, but she refused.  When he followed her one night he saw her new beau, Smith, accompany her back to her rooms, at which point he went to the police to solicit their help in compelling her to return to him.  The police declined to get involved.

A few days later, Charles visited his wife to once again entreat her to come back to him.  She replied that it was impossible, she could do better.  He then asked Miss Fleming, who was present, to leave them alone.  Miss Fleming testified later that both she and Bessie were afraid, but she finally left the room on the condition that Charles promised to do his wife no harm.  But seconds after she closed the door, shots rang out. She flung it open, only to see Bessie sprawled on the bed, blood pouring from a wound on her head, and Charles on the floor, a bullet hole in each temple, and the bullet itself imbedded in the fingers of his left hand, which he must have pressed to his brow before he pulled the trigger.

Bessie recovered fully from her wound, and returned to her family home in Fresno. Four years after this tragic affair, the wife of Charles G. Smith sued for divorce in New York. The story of Charles Stanley and Bessie Bradley featured prominently in the court proceedings, providing fodder for the New York papers for weeks.

December 9, 2009 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

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