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Monday, October 31, 2005

A foray into the humor of 1884 Vacaville

Jerry Bowen

About free drink, prohibition, and perils of smoking

Well, here it is, deadline again and I haven’t had time to think about what to write about this week. So, I’ll go to my emergency list.

I’ve been keeping unusual and funny bits and pieces taken from old newspapers that catch my eye while I’m doing research for articles. One thing about doing research is that it is easy to get distracted every time you delve into the past. There are so many other articles that always seem to fly up and hit you in the face.

With that said, here are a few of the “extras” I have on file. As you will see, reading the “old stuff” that I call history can be fun too!

Here are four quickies from 1884 in the Vacaville Reporter.

It seems that there isn’t always enough news to print, so some fairly strange letters and jokes from the public are printed. At least they weren’t as serious as some of the letters to the editor we see today.

A North Winder

“The North wind,” remarked an old free lunch grabber, as he sidled up to a bar the other day, “has a peculiar effect upon me: It is well known to everybody, perhaps that it dries up everything it sweeps over - tubs and pails fall to pieces, the throat of a pedestrian traveling along where the gentle zephyrs play over his manly form, becomes dry and parched - he can’t expectorate - he can’t drink - he can’t smoke - he can’t chew, he can’t raise a counter breeze to compete, fact is, John, I’m terrible dry, and if you don’t give me a drink I’ll fall to pieces, and you’ll he prosecuted for murder is the first degree.”

Cat vs. Boy Killing

“Miss M. E. Elliot delivered a strong lecture before the Band of Hope Sunday afternoon relative to the evils of smoking. To illustrate, she told the little ones that one drop of amber from a pipe placed on a cat’s tongue would kill it. Some of the boys of the town have concluded that they will not go into the cat killing business but they are willing to go ahead experimenting on themselves.”

On this next one the spelling is just as it was printed ... but, maybe our current County Board of Supervisors could take note.

Moughty High

“Seems to me, remarked Deacon Pogram the other day, after reading the proceedings of the board of Supervisors and the bills allowed that if the board can fix the price of printing they ought to be able to fix the price of some other things, also-thar’s a mighty good chance for something of the kind ‘round the jail and court house. It costs too much to feed the prisoners, repair the jail etc., etc., though I don’t much like to speak bout it beins’ I pay no great smathers of taxes myself, though I’d pay what’s assessed mighty prompt. Guess I’ll board down town or run for the Sheriffs’ offis next beat. The Board ought let the whole outfit to the lowest bidder, buy a county farm, and run the machine pretty much on the plan that a business man runs his private affairs.”

A Cheap Education.

“In a neighboring town is a Professor who has recently been issuing circulars to scholars, who goes so far to say he will “guarantee” a teachers’ certificate if they will place themselves under his tutilage.

“Now, the fellow must have a superabundance of conceit to thus attempt to gull those seeking an education, as we take it for granted that the Board of Education will tolerate no “guaranteed” applicant from his institution, and they should, at the earliest possible moment rebuke his scheme for obtaining scholars, for if they leave that “guarantee” unrebuked the public will draw wrong inferences. From quack doctors and ignorant teachers, good Lord, deliver us.”

I may have done this next one before, but it’s one of my favorites. Printed in the Reporter in 1884, it addresses a problem in a lighthearted manner that in some ways still exists in the minds of today’s citizens. 1884 Vacaville Town Council Road Repair Petition by Prayer

The following prayer and petition was presented to the council by Mayor Blum from numerous citizens:

“Our fathers, who art in Vacaville, hallowed be thy names (if you will grant our prayers), thy kingdoms come, (but God pity your subjects, for you are likely to become oppressive, and be blown up with dynamite or by the REPORTER), thy wills be done (provided they don’t conflict with our interests), give us this day our desires (we don’t ask for bread) and grant the following petition:

“First-That the mud-hole standing in the middle of the street be filled up, as strangers as well as citizens are liable to imagine that the bottom has fallen out there. The county is not able, nor the government willing to establish a light-house there, to warn off those who may almost at any moment plunge into the Slough of Despond, so horribly depicted by John Bunion; pilgrims are continually driving along both on horses and in vehicles and a public thoroughfare should be both safe and pleasant. If no other remedy be at hand we would suggest the purchase of four healthy mules, that they be sunk up to their heads so that their ears may protrude as danger signals, and their yough-ye-yough! Yough-ye-yough! may serve as foghorns. If it be deemed expedient to fill up the hole, it is humbly suggested by your petitioners that the waters and the land surrounding it be donated to the Government for a branch of the Mare Island Navy Yard, so as to get some red-tape naval officers stationed here. Should Uncle Sam decline the gift, then we would suggest that wiggle-tails, frogs, malaria, and old general appearance of Don’t-Care-for-Nothing-Nor-Nobody be given the ponds.

Second, We suggest that a sewer be made to the creek, sufficiently large to carry off the water.

Signed, 999 citizens.”

The only efforts I found in the next four months of news was a recommendation to use county jail prisoners for the purpose of working on the roads in Vacaville. The practice had been in use for some time in Fairfield and Suisun City. Vacaville finally became incorporated in 1892 after the earthquake destroyed much of the downtown area. Then the City Council had the clout to make improvements, subject of course to bond issues. 90 variations of Vallejo

Tom Gregory, in his 1912 History of Napa and Solano counties, lists more than 90 variations of “Vallejo.”

The list was collected in six months from the Vallejo post office, and is without doubt a most curious specimen of orthography. They number about one hundred and are as follows: Vallahoe, Valaho, Valao Vallajo, Vahlajoe, Vallajo, Valajoa, Vala Jae, Valaja, Vallago, Valago, Vallaiho, Valeejo, Valeajo, Valeijo, Valoege, Valegoa, Valegio, Valego, Valejo, Vallejo, Valle Jo, Vallejoe, Vallejio, Vallejaio, Valler, Valleieo, Vailegeo, Valleo, Vallejho, Vallerio, Vallesso, Valeyo, Valleyo, Vahleyoe, Valleyio, Valley Joe, Valleygo, Valleva. Valeyegoy, Vayego, Valgeo, Valgo, Vahiego, Vahigo, Valliejo, Vallijo, Valhigo, Valigeo, Valhiju, Valljo, Vallo, Valgho, Vally Joe, Valley Jog, Valyo, Vailyo, Vealejo, Veleajho, Velajo, Velaow, Vellajo, Velegio, Veleijo, Velego, Velegoe, Veleo, Vellejo, Vehlego, Velleijo, Velighlow, Vehijo, Velioe, Vehiaho, Vel Ja, Vialjo, Villeiu, Villigi, Villejo, Villgo, Vallejalahoe, Ballejo, Belljo, flillejo, Sahhiegro, Levejo, Palesso, Ralejo, Wallajo, Wallego, Walleja, Walleio, Welayego, Yallejo, Yalleyjo, Valley Joow and Valahough.

Whew; hope I spelled them all correctly!

Prohibition and Shorty Long

This story comes from an old-timer who lived in Birds Landing.

Before national prohibition, individual communities and counties passed a hodgepodge of their own laws against liquor, which provided fodder for a few interesting individual stories that probably weren’t funny at the time, but are mildly amusing today. The story is a little long so I edited it down.

Bird’s Landing tonsorial parlor owner, Shorty Long, who trimmed hair and scraped the stubble from the faces of the local male population as a regular occupation, indulged in a little extra-curricular work to supplement his income. He was dipping into the forbidden game of selling booze, or when in a particularly jovial mood simply giving away samples of his hooch to friends and neighbors. But, one day he tripped over a legal mistake that landed him behind bars.

At first, Shorty pleaded guilty, and the Superior Court fined him $50 and awarded him a 90-day all-expenses paid stay in the county calaboose on Jan. 17, 1913.

The county clerk, the Superior Court judge, the district attorney and the sheriff didn’t think that being incarcerated for only 90 days was enough to convince him of the error of his ways. After a short meeting between themselves, they agreed that Shorty should have been soaked a little harder by reason of his having been in trouble before over the Wyllie local option law.

As far I can find, that particular law had something to do with prohibiting saloons near military installations ... (in Bird’s Landing?).

Any way, the next day Shorty was taken into court again and the judge changed his sentence to five months in the county jail and a fine of $100.

Now that didn’t set too well with Shorty. He retained an attorney to see what could be done about it who tried habeas (which is Latin for “I want to get out,” I understand) in the court that soaked Shorty the second time.

When that failed, he resorted to the Court of Appeal in Sacramento and that failed. At last, the Supreme Court was appealed to for relief. Finally, in early June 1913, five of the judges of the state’s highest judicial tribunal decided that the Superior Court could not legally change Shorty’s first sentence after he began to serve it, and Shorty, who already had served the full original sentence, was released.

I guess we could say that Shorty may have learned his lesson, but the enterprising barber of old Birdtown soon had already been arrested on another charge of violating the anti-booze laws and had again been placed under arrest and was out on bail, plotting his next foray into the tangled technicalities of the laws of the time.

Well, I made the deadline and I hope you enjoyed these little sojourns into history as much as I do.