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Petaluma’s 1916, marks a changing time

By 1916, the winds of war were swirling in Europe, as Germany Zeppelin-bombed Paris and the terrible battle of Verdun was raging at the start of WWI. France finally prevailed in that, but only after a million deaths had occurred. Germany’s Baron Von Richthoven, aka “The Red Baron,” scored his first kill, that year to become the world’s first Air Ace.

Meanwhile, on the U.S.-Mexican border, outlaw Pancho Villa had invaded the U.S. and killed 16 Americans that year. U.S. General Pershing, with 15,000 troops, drove him back and stood guard on our southern border. Ironically, considering current news, some in Congress were calling for a border fence for protection at the time.

Petaluma’s chicken industry was booming that year. Ads in the Petaluma Weekly Argus of 1916 included these gems: G. P. McNear Mills was touting their “Baby Chick Food,” Vonson Feeds sold “Vectal’s Chick Food,” Golden Eagle Mill made their own “Egg Food,” Coulson Hatchery merchandised “Mustard For Poultry” and The Petaluma Incubator Co. stated that, “Chicks are hatched by electricity cheaper and better, than any other known method.” What was a hen to do?

Also, Zartman Blacksmiths would sell you, for the transport of chickens and people, “The best Buggies and Wagons.” However, take note, a new local law, stated that you must “show a light on any wagon at night.”

Now, unless you think we were totally behind the times in 1916, Sparks & Murphy Autos, at the corner of 3rd and C, would get you into an “Oakland-6 automobile for just $875.” And, to become really well outfitted, Mattei Bros. Clothing on Kentucky Street would sell you “Auto Gloves, $1.65/pair.”

Gas for your spiffy new vehicle in 1916, cost just 19 cents a gallon in Petaluma. A sign of those changing times, was this ad: “For rent. Corner Liberty & Prospect. Stable. Rm. For 2 horses. Could be garage.”

In 1916, our country was the world leader on the subject of “Women’s issues.” The following victory for suffrage had been announced on Jan. 8 in The Courier: “The Susan B. Anthony amendment provision for women’s suffrage was reported favorably in the U.S. Senate.”

A woman named Jeanette Rankin, Rep. Mont., became the first woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress and, in Brooklyn, NY, activist Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. However, she was promptly arrested for “obscenity.”

Meanwhile, Hollywood actress Mary Pickford set a new standard, by becoming the first woman to achieve a million dollar contract. And, talk abut progress, on March 25, 1916, it was announced that U.S. women would be “allowed to attend boxing matches for the first time.”

Entertainment in 1916 Petaluma included The Hill Opera House’s stage production of “The Honey Maids.” This promised to present: “A Bunch of Beauties, especially picked.” A “talkie” showing at The Mystic Theater, managed by John McNear Jr., was “Just Good.” Critiqued as: “A splendid drama,” it starred Lillian Gish and Lionel Barrymore, who was Drew Barrymore’s grandpa, for the millennial reader.

Locally, Petaluma Creek was once again in dire need of dredging, and the Petaluma and Santa Rosa RR, which then owned the steamers Petaluma and Gold, and thus were quite weary of running onto mud, had placed this ad in The Courier: “The greater the (commercial river) tonnage, the greater the government appreciation for dredging. Patronize your river!” Dredging began six weeks later, as our Congressman caved to the power of the railroads.

And, here is a fascinating letter printed in The Weekly Argus of March 25, 1916, about an old bell discovered in the basement of Petaluma’s Schluckebier Hardware Co. The letter was addressed to the people of Petaluma, from a famed San Franciscan, stating that the bell: “belonged to the Vigilance Committee of San Francisco.” It further requested: “I appeal to you, (Petaluma), to present this bell to the San Francisco Memorial Museum, as a gift from Petaluma.” The letter was signed by M. H. DeYoung. Interestingly, the San Francisco Memorial Museum was later renamed “The DeYoung Museum.”

To the best of this writer’s knowledge, it has not been recorded how that Vigilante Bell actually left Petaluma, or whom was responsible for its leaving. But, friends, we also have a valid claim to that artifact through its many years of use in a Petaluma church tower.

(Historian Skip Sommer is an Honorary Life Member of Heritage Homes and the Petaluma Historical Museum. Contact him at skipsommer@hotmail.com.)