Posts filed under ‘domestic violence’

Brilliant Lawyer Pushed over the Brink of Sanity by Sensation-Monger Spook


He triumphed over a gaggle of LA’s most prominent legal minds, only to be undone by a second rate mentalist with a trumped-up Teutonic alias.  Shortly after establishing a law practice in Los Angeles, young George D. Blake, Esq. landed one of the city’s most sensational divorce cases, Mayberry v. Mayberry.  Mr. Mayberry, an original California pioneer and prominent landowner, possessed an estate valued at more than a million dollars.  In 1899 his wife brought suit against him for divorce on grounds of extreme cruelty and adultery. George D. Blake represented Mrs. Mayberry in a bitter trial that lasted several weeks. Despite employing four separate law firms in his defense, amounting to a team of every well-heeled lawyer in town, Mr. Mayberry was found guilty of acts of atrocious cruelty towards his wife, who had become a paraplegic as a result of a beating her husband administered to her during one of his many violent rages.

But George Blake’s reign at the top of the LA legal establishment lasted only a few short years. After the tragic death of his wife, Blake sought out spiritualists who promised to put him in contact with his departed spouse.

In 1904 he became especially close with one medium, Maude Von Freitag, a slate-writer who often plied her mind-reading trade at regular séances in Harmonial Hall at 125 West Fifth Street.  During one of these events local authorities caught her sneaking peaks at folded slips of paper she alleged she could read without opening.

Attorney Blake, unperturbed by rumors of Von Freitag’s fraud, or by ample evidence of her fondness for liquor and morphine, took up with her with a passion, truly a passion, and accompanied her on a series of out of town trips of many days duration.  Von Freitag’s husband and two children did not accompany them on these spiritual journeys.

In the fall of that year, Blake suffered a mental and physical breakdown, and spent weeks in the care of physicians at California Hospital.  From there he went on to recuperate at a sanatorium near his mother’s house in Pontiac, Illinois, where he reunited with a childhood love, May Babcock.  When he returned to Los Angeles in January of 1905, Miss Babcock accompanied him.  But Maude Von Freitag still doted on her fellow spiritual traveler, and when she fell ill in March, she contacted Blake.  Within the week the dashing Miss Babcock had packed up and headed back to Pontiac, Illinois. 

George Blake took on the cost of Von Freitag’s care at a private hospital at no. 513 East Twelfth Street, and at Von Freitag’s urging even went so far as to try to obtain a loan for $5,000 dollars, in order to take part in a grand scheme involving millions of dollars, a complicated arrangement meant to insure the lifelong financial support of Von Freitag and her family. But the loan didn’t go through.  At this point Von Freitag, likely sensing her influence over Blake might soon wane again, pulled out all the stops. In early April, she invited Blake to her sick-room, where she told him she would soon “pass-out” of this life, and asked that he lie down next to her on her bed to have one last talk about her approaching death, the mortgage of certain properties, and the future of her two children.  During this conversation, as Blake later described to a friend, Von Freitag spoke to him of “high forces” and “lords of Karma”, she called herself Theodora, and explained to Blake that when she succumbed to death her soul would fly out of her body and into his, to be with him always, until he too passed out of the life, whereupon they would both sweep spiritward and dwell together on the astral plane. Von Freitag then fell into a fit of convulsions, and Blake let out a series of blood curdling screams that brought nurses and doctors to the door, only to find Blake in delirium, holding a limp Von Freitag in his arms.  In the wake of subsequent events, shocked Angelenos surmised that Von Freitag placed Blake under a hypnotic spell of sorts during this visit, a spell that led directly to his ultimate loss of all hold on reality.

For three weeks after this episode, Blake managed to resume his law practice, but on April 24th, his frayed cord to reason snapped. While attending a performance at a Main Street theater he found himself possessed by a spirit and was compelled to lead the orchestra.  The management didn’t care for this, and sent for the police.  Later in the evening Blake was thrown out of a café for disturbing the peace.  It seems the headwaiter was offended by Blake’s claim that he had assumed the genius and character of the late Emma Abbot, a famous opera singer of the past century.  Blake spoke loudly to anyone who would listen about his plans to sue all parties involved in the fracas for 150 – 500 thousand dollars.

Blake then spent several days calling reporters to tell them of a suit he was pursuing to recover an English estate worth 64 million dollars.  (Ah, Nigerian email-type schemes have always been with us!)  He raved to the police officer assigned to restrain him of his appointment as “Most High Master”, working for the forces of good, in the name of which he and others like him would, tomorrow, at 9 o’clock, erect a bank at Third and Broadway, the most magnificent bank human eyes have ever conjured or human brain ever conceived…  capitalized at 2 billion dollars, offering interest at 4%.  He, Blake would be president, and would make pawnshops of the other banks, usurers that they are, charging 10 percent!  A crowd gathered on South Broadway as Blake was escorted from his offices in the courthouse to an Olive Street Hotel, to await arrest and commitment to Highland Asylum for the Insane. Blake was taken to Highland on May 10th.  

As for Maude Von Freitag, her story continued after Blake’s sad exit from sanity.  Mere weeks after she claimed she lay at death’s door, Von Freitag experienced a miraculous recovery at the hands of an occultist colleague (or “sensation-monger spook” as the LA Times’ preferred to describe her). Von Freitag even returned to her lecturing career.  The medium responsible for Von Freitag’s complete restoration to health offered to try her technique on George Blake, but was turned away at the door of the asylum.   

George D. Blake, Esquire, never returned from Highland.  He refused food and medical attention, and died there in November 1906, at the age of 43. 

August 17, 2009 at 6:51 pm Leave a comment

Mad Dogs and Angelenos Go Out in the Noonday Sun

Jack Vernon, resident of 245 1⁄2 South Spring Street, was one of several hundred Angelenos to fall prey to the scourge of rabies which periodically struck downtown Los Angeles and its suburbs in the early part of the century. Thousands of rabid cats and dogs roamed the streets, attacking babies, school children, and adults. One Sunday during this outbreak a group of handsomely gowned women on their way to church sought safety from a charging mad dog by scrambling up the cliff side entrance to the Broadway Street tunnel, where they remained until a shotgun-toting policeman came to dispatch the menacing beast.Rabies in LA

The first case of rabies during this period was recorded in Pasadena, where local health officials quickly passed an ordinance requiring pet owners to muzzle their dogs. The muzzle law brought a halt to the spread of the disease in that city, but it proved unpopular in Los Angeles, and after one week, was revoked. Members of the city health board objected to dedicating police manpower to enforce the ordinance, and residents protested the inhumanity of restraining man’s best friend in such a brutal way. No measures were taken to combat the epidemic downtown until tragedy struck a prominent city family. A few days before Christmas, 10 year old Joseph Scott Jr. went out on his front lawn at 984 Elden Street to eat a piece of bread and butter, when a stray dog jumped the fence and nipped him in the leg. As health officials were still in denial about the rabies threat in the city, they hadn’t raised an alarm, and the child’s family saw no reason to take extra precautions over such a minor dog bite. It healed over quickly. Six weeks later, the child became violently ill, and died in agony that night. His father, Joseph Scott, was president of the Los Angeles Board of Education and also President of the Chamber of Commerce. In his grief, Scott made every effort to draw attention to his son’s death, hoping it might save lives.

Likely alerted to the rabies danger by the publicity surrounding Joseph Scott Jr.’s death, Jack Vernon sought treatment in January for a dog bite at the Receiving Hospital at Hill and First Streets. A nurse poured carbolic acid into his wound and cauterized it, a very unpleasant business. It was routine to inform bite victims that rabies can lie dormant for up to three years, so Jack probably faced the dilemma of either having to track down the animal that bit him to confirm the rabies diagnosis, or waiting years before he could be sure he wouldn’t one day form a violent aversion to water, leap at his loved ones throats and suffocate to death from respiratory paralysis. The only other option at the time was to travel to the Pasteur Institute in Chicago, which had recently pioneered a rabies serum.

One Angeleno who sought the Pasteur cure after being bitten by a mad dog found little consolation in the treatment. He was on a train traveling back to Los Angeles, when, according to his fellow passengers, he suddenly stabbed himself repeatedly in the throat with a pocketknife. He stated later from his sickbed that his mind had given way under the worry that he might go mad, and had decided suicide was his only way out.

June 22, 2009 at 6:01 pm Leave a comment

Fit? Or be tied?

jenness_miller_headline Whether or not to use cosmetics would be a social and feminist issue in the 1910s and 1920s; however, in the late 1800s the hot button issue for women was dress reform. Many women were tired of being laced into corsets so tight that their health was permanently impaired. Corseting could result in damaged or broken ribs and difficulty in breathing (often the shortness of breath was mistaken for the symptoms of tuberculosis). And the romantic fainting and swooning spells which required households to have smelling salts on hand were not so romantic when you consider that they were the result of restricted lung capacity. There is also compelling evidence that some women used corsets as a way to terminate an unwanted pregnancy! corset_damage_2 Internal organs rearranged. Sometimes a tight laced corset was a requisite for employment. Women who were employed in dress shops, and therefore required to model the latest fashions, were often subjected to the most painful restraint. The following quote appeared in the Chicago Tribune on November 3, 1907: “The girls are laced up till they are nearly cut in two. Locked corsets are used, the key being kept by the manageress, and the corsets being worn night and day.” milleraj Mrs. Alice Jenness Miller Photo – Univ of Pennsylvania One of the proponents of dress reform for health and aesthetic reasons was Mrs. Alice Jenness Miller. On April 5, 1889 Mrs. Miller appeared at the Los Angeles Theater to give a demonstration of her comfortable dresses and undergarments to the women of the city. According to newspaper accounts it was standing room only in the theater when Mrs. M. took the stage. Men were shooed out of the place so that the reformer could model her undergarments without embarrassment. Miller addressed the crowd and told them that the trunk of clothing that she used for her demonstrations had gone missing, and she made a snarky comment about the incompetence of the men in charge of the trunk. Her remark made the women in the audience chuckle knowingly and when the laughter had subsided Miller launched into her lecture. The women in the audience need not have been worried that Miller’s presentation would suffer as a result of the missing trunk – she was a trooper. She arrived on stage wrapped in a cloak which she dropped dramatically to the floor, revealing a fetching divided skirt which she referred to as leglettes! Divided skirts were gaining in popularity due, in part, to women becoming more interested in participating in sports. Just try to play tennis or ride a bicycle wearing a giant floor length cage under your heavy full length dress – I dare you. Foot binding in China was an extreme version of fashion as oppression – somewhat less obvious were Western fashions such as a bulky bustle and tight corset. Women may not have been kept in cages with iron bars, but their mode of dress kept them in captivity just the same. petticoat with bustle Mrs. Miller advocated a freedom of dress that would be healthful to women, while remaining aesthetically pleasing to all. Her presentation at the Los Angeles Theater was a hit (and she would return a few more times over the years). A Los Angeles Times reporter observed that “All women cannot be of the almost ideal height and weight that distinguish Mrs. Miller, but all, large or small, may carry themselves according to healthful and natural laws…” Amen to that.

June 18, 2009 at 3:39 am Leave a comment


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