Monday, November 30, 2020

The Mystery on Zeyn Street - The Death of Enid Rimpau

  


"Chapter 1--

Nestled in the quaint historic district of Anaheim, sits a majestic home originally constructed for a member of the Rimpau family, one of Anaheim’s earliest families.  Designed in 1915, by architect, Charles Trudeau, the home was a wedding gift from Theodore “Robert”  Rimpau to his new bride, Enid. Their love story has been shrouded in just about as much mystery as the tragic events that took place in the home itself. 

 “Robert,” as he was best known, was born on October 11, 1882, to parents Adolph Rimpau and Natalia Carillo. His legal name was Theodore R. Rimpau, no doubt named after his paternal grandfather,  an Anaheim pioneer.  Enid Williams was born in Pueblo, Colorado, sometime in February of 1892, to parents William S. Williams and Catherine Ferguson.  Enid’s father was originally from Boston, Massachusetts, while her mother was a native of Ohio. 

             Some point after the turn of the 20th century, the Williams family moved to California, settling in Los Angeles.  Enid’s mother, Catharine eventually separated from her husband after the move to California. The 1910 Census shows that Catharine and Enid were listed as one household. Enid, who was barely 18 years of age, was listed as “single,” while her mother was listed as a “widow.”

Why Catharine listed herself as a widow we will never know for certain.  More than likely Catharine did not want to explain why she was still married but living alone, given the time period. Although the census did not show Enid as having any occupation, her mother was listed as a “promoter” for a mining company.

It appears that Enid wouldn’t stay with her mother for very long, as records indicate that she married Charles Stone of Glendale, at the courthouse in Santa Ana, on September 21, 1910.  Some newspapers of the time state that the couple lived in Long Beach during their marriage. Within a year, Enid could see that she had made a huge mistake.  Charles’ “intemperate habits” were cause enough for Enid to file for a divorce in 1913, when she finally left.

Enid wanted a fresh start, as far away from Charles as she could travel.  Given the fact that she watched her own mother show strength and independence by leaving her own husband during the early part of the 20th century, must have given Enid the gumption to venture out into the world on her own, knowing she could do it, too.  But where would young Enid go?

On July 31, 1914, Enid’s divorce decree was finalized, and she became a free woman again. The small, newly settled town of Anaheim, famous for their citrus trees and walnuts, seemed to be just what Enid needed to start over.  Once she settled in, she took on two jobs to support herself.

First, she worked at Weber’s bookstore and then also at the millinery store, which designed hats.  It is unknown when exactly she met Robert Rimpau, but I assume she must have crossed his path at some point during a visit to Miles Grocery store, where he worked as head clerk.

Enid was thought of as attractive, with a “sunny disposition and pleasing manners,” and one who easily became friends with anyone that she met.  It didn’t take long before Robert wished to court Enid and propose marriage.  As a gift to his future bride, Robert Rimpau hired architect Charles Trudeau to design “one of the finest dwellings” in Anaheim, according to an archived newspaper clipping provided to me by long time Anaheim resident and history enthusiast, John Marshall. The house, located at 503 N. Zeyn Street, reportedly cost Robert Rimpau $3,000.00 to construct.

The pair were married on July 5, 1915, in Anaheim, and moved into their beautiful new home shortly thereafter.  Its grand décor and impeccable design was built to please Enid. From the exquisitely constructed staircase and ornate light fixtures in the entry way, to the built in bookcases and romantic fireplace in the sitting room, every detail showed that Robert Rimpau spared no expense to make his new bride happy. 

             A shocking event took place on Sunday, October 17, 1915. Enid and Robert Rimpau attended mass at St. Boniface church, where they then departed separately after the services. Robert claimed he had some errands to run, so Enid went home by herself.  After returning home within an hour, Robert stated that he came to find his wife dying from poison.  He called several doctors to the home, and the first to arrive was Dr. Truxaw. 

 The doctor believed that she was already too far gone from cyanide poisoning and there was nothing that he could do to reverse the effects, and so Enid passed away. Dr. Truxaw ascertained that the vial used to poison Enid was still quite full, enough to kill several more people. 

According to the Santa Ana Register, Enid was found in an upstairs bedroom, along with a suicide note that read, “I am a failure. God forgive me and bless you.”   There was no “official”  inquest done on her death, therefore no one verified as to whether or not the alleged suicide note was even written in Enid’s own hand.                                                                                              

 The newspapers reported her death according to Coroner Winbigler’s statement, ruling it a suicide without allowing a proper investigation into her death, and virtually smearing her name as having gone “temporarily insane.”   The Santa Ana Register stated that for several weeks Enid had shown signs of despondency and melancholia leading up to her death.  The Anaheim Gazette  also claimed that Enid’s friends stated that “at times she had been morbid and melancholy without any known cause, consequently it is supposed that she was mentally unbalanced.”    

Interestingly though, the same article then goes on to say, “the friends with whom she lived, declared she was always even tempered, independent and self-reliant, and never showed any signs of a diseased mind.”

 It also stated, “friends who saw her in the store Saturday night observed no difference in her demeanor, and many who talked to her after the Sunday morning service declared that she was in her usual spirits at the time.”

Enid was a very independent woman, and even after marrying Robert, she still worked at Weber’s bookstore.  Yes, she had made remarks that she was alone a lot and that she would rather be working than be alone at the house, meaning that her husband was not spending much time with her. That didn’t necessarily mean she was suicidal. It just meant she was lonely at home, and perhaps she missed her husband.

An insurance man by the name Al Nowotny came forward claiming that just days before Enid died, she had asked him if a life insurance policy would pay out in the event of a suicide. He explained that it would not pay out unless an entire year had lapsed.

If such a conversation had taken place, why would she have decided to go through with the act of killing herself, especially if more than likely any insurance policy she may have had might not have covered her suicide?  There was never any mention as to whether or not Enid even had a life insurance policy to begin with. This tidbit of information published in the newspapers seemed even more strange.

             After Enid died, her body was taken to Backs and Terry’s Undertaking to be prepared for burial.  Her body was brought over to her father-in-law’s home at 412 E. Center Street, for her viewing.  On Tuesday, October 19, 1915, Enid’s funeral took place at St. Boniface Church, and the eulogy was given by Father Dubbel, the same person who officiated over her wedding just three months earlier.   The Knights of Columbus were in attendance and acted as pall bearers; E.E. Brus, Leo Sheridan, L.B. Webber, Al Erikson and Ben Dauser.

                After the services, Enid was laid to rest in a crypt inside the Anaheim Community Mausoleum at the Anaheim Cemetery, on Sycamore Street. 


        Enid Rimpau is not interred in the Rimpau family crypt as most would assume. The Rimpau family crypt is a private crypt on the grounds of the cemetery.  The Community Mausoleum, where she is interred, is the oldest public mausoleum in the State of California and located at the other end of the cemetery.

                 If you visit Enid’s wall crypt you will find that  the marker on her crypt has the wrong year of birth. You see, Enid fibbed when she married Robert. She was not twenty-two years old, but in fact she was twenty-three. When Enid married Charles Stone, she claimed to be nineteen years old, although she really was eighteen. The census records from 1900 and 1910 verify that she was born in February of 1892, therefore when she died  her age was in fact twenty-three years and eight months.

                 So the question remains, how did Enid meet her demise? Yes, we could believe that she was just so miserable in her life that the only way she could escape was to end it. Unfortunately, I have always had a hard time believing this. Her very character, which was long since established in the community along with her past actions in life, prove that she was not a quitter.

                 She left an abusive husband and started a new life on her own. She worked two jobs to support herself and yet always kept a kind and humble demeanor, making friends with just about everyone she met.  Does that really sound like someone who would just give up? If she was unhappy with her marriage to Robert, what was stopping her from leaving him?

Considering the theory that Enid didn’t kill herself,  then who poisoned her? I have often wondered what the Rimpau family thought of Enid. Could it have been someone within in the Rimpau family, who may not have approved of Robert marrying a divorcée ? Maybe it was even her own husband, Robert Rimpau. Another thought, possibly it wasn’t the Rimpau’s at all, but perhaps her ex-husband Charles who may have caused her death?

Had someone poisoned her, then how was it done?  Was she forced to swallow the cyanide or did she drink unknowingly, such as from a glass laced with poison? If she was poisoned that way, the killer would have probably taken the small vial of poison and conveniently placed it near her along with a “suicide note,”  to make the scene believable as to not draw suspicion. 

            If Enid was truly suicidal, wouldn’t she have downed the entire vial, to guarantee her death was sure and fast? But instead she lingered, and died in a most horrible way.

            Another possibility is that when attempting to commit suicide, after tasting  the foul poison on her palate, she found that she couldn’t compel herself to drink any more, leaving the vial still quite full, but having ingested enough to be a fatal dose. I have come to the conclusion that there is no way to know for certain what exactly happened that day in 1915. Enid took those answers with her to the grave.

            The current owners of the house, Tracey Drennan and Thomas Gaul, came across the history of home while searching the address on the internet. They had looked at over 40 houses on the market before they came across the Rimpau House. After doing a search on Google, they came across my original blog on Enid’s story.  The couple later made contact with me. They revealed that it was Enid’s story that intrigued them even more and consequently convinced them that the house was the perfect home for them!

“The house was in bad shape,”  Drennan recalled.  “It had such a sad character about it. It had been neglected and damaged by the previous owners, but it was love at first sight for us. We knew there had to be a lot of restoration involved, but we appreciated the history behind the home and saw the potential in what it could become again. We closed in December of 2013, and moved in March of 2014.” 

Although a great portion of the home had been neglected for so many years, Tracey mentioned that parts of the home were still intact, such as the closet under her staircase which still has the home’s original wallpaper.

             Tracey and her husband, Thomas bought the home through Anaheim’s famed realtor Meghan Shigo, who specializes in the town’s historic homes. Keeping the homes  historically accurate and preserved is part of the Mills Act Program which Megan is very passionate about. Through the Mills Act, the current owners have restored the Rimpau house to its original grandeur, once again breathing life back into this beautiful home.

                I remember seeing the house on Zeyn Street many times while riding in the backseat of my mother’s Oldsmobile when I was just a child. Even just in a passing glance on a trip to the park, the house seemed to lure me in, though I never knew there was a story to discover hidden behind its very walls.  It wasn’t until I was an adult, and a mother myself, that I noticed the house again on a trip with my children to Pearson Park.

              I felt that yearning to explore the home once again. I asked my grandfather, George Mac Laren, about it and he directed me to the Anaheim Library to do some investigating. It was there that I satisfied my curiosity and unraveled a mystery. I fell in love with the home, just the same as the current owners. There is a certain air of mystery and familiarity that has always drawn me to the Rimpau home.

Enid’s death was my very first in-depth historical investigation which spiraled me into the world of historical investigative writing that I am known for today. In many ways,  Enid is responsible for pushing me in that very direction. Although she never knew that her life, or tragic death, would in turn, change someone else’s life so many years later.

          The desire that ignited inside of me and the drive that fueled my tenacity to research, all started as one tiny spark that lit into a flame. That spark started when I became enamored by the home at 503 N. Zeyn Street and grew as I learned of the tragedy of Enid Rimpau’s mysterious death.  With that in mind, I felt it was only right that Enid’s story be my very first chapter in my book, so that she no longer remains one of the “forgotten.”---

From the book "Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered," by J'aime Rubio (Copyright 2016).  

To Purchase your copy on Amazon click here:  https://www.amazon.com/Stories-Forgotten-Infamous-Famous-Unremembered/dp/1523981172


 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The History of Hangtown - Fact vs. Fiction

Archived Photo "Hangtown"- Placerville, Ca

So, lately there has been some commotion about the origins of the name "Hangtown," which was a nickname given to the town during the Gold Rush. There's even a sign in the heart of old Placerville that commemorates Placerville's earlier namesake, as well as an old dummy hanging from a noose in front of a local business in downtown Placerville where the historic hangman's tree once stood.

This push to remove the sign originated with someone named Camille Lloyd who started a petition on Change.org to asking (or demanding) that City Council remove the "Welcome to Placerville "Old Hangtown" sign because as she claims, "This moniker glorifies and celebrates a violent and racist history......The name "Hangtown" is outdated and offensive, and suggests that racial hate crimes are acceptable." Oh there's more. Then she has to mention George Floyd's recent death, which by the way, I didn't know he had anything to do with a gold rush town in Northern California, when his death took place in Minnesota, but hey, she just throws that one in there for good measure. The problem with Ms. Lloyd's petition is that none of her accusations are based on facts relating to Placerville history.

Well, I am here to set some things straight, since I am firm believer in FACTS. Just because you want something to be so, doesn't mean that it is. Just because you claim something is one way, unless you have cited sources and facts to back up your claim, then you might as well be trying to sell us a fairy tale. Do you still believe in Santa Claus, too Ms. Lloyd?

But this push to change, edit or downright erase history isn't new. In fact, I see it a lot these days. In my line of work, I have been seeing this happening for many years now. It's just that in the past 10 years or so, I have been seeing it at a more accelerated rate.

For one, if you do research in any area within California, you might notice every once in a while a person will pop up basically out of the blue claiming some event, person or landmark in that particular area was racist.  The person will try to push their "history" and even do so very adamantly, to the point that many people will actually believe it. They will demand something be changed, some money donated or some marker to be erected to force their side of history, but, when you actually look into their "research" you will see that they cite no sources, or refuse to cite them when you request to see their sources. That is a huge red flag. They push downright false stories that they have absolutely no records to back up their claims which are completely fabricated stories, and still they seem to get the media's attention to push it.

A good example, a woman a few years back was trying to change the state seal of California by claiming that California was named after a fictional black figure named Calafia. Well, I could really get into that debate on here, but I already wrote a blog about it years ago, so if you are interested in my in depth debunking of that tale, check that one out here: https://whatdoeshistorysay.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-origin-of-californias-name-setting.html

Another example was a gentleman who approached not just one news outlet, but several including the Stockton Record who all jumped on a story that a section in the Stockton Rural Cemetery was "segregated." I also proved that to be false. You can read about that here:
https://rememberingstocktonhistory.blogspot.com/2016/02/block-27-stockton-rural-cemetery.html

That very same gentleman went back to the Stockton Record again and reporter Michael Fitzgerald wrote a piece on one of the African-American pioneers buried at Stockton Rural Cemetery based on this persons "facts," taking them solely at face value, and not having him cite his sources. The story ran in the paper and was full of huge errors. Basically, there was only one or two things that were accurate in the entire piece, and the rest was completely fabricated.

When I approached Mr. Fitzgerald and asked him how he could publish false history, he admitted that he didn't ask for sources and took him at his word. After I provided him with facts to disprove his original article, he admitted that it was a mistake and would never use this person for historical content in anymore of his articles moving forward.   You can read about that, too, here: https://rememberingstocktonhistory.blogspot.com/2018/04/reverend-jeremiah-king-setting-facts.html

The point I am making here is that there is a movement to change our history going on right before our eyes. When someone isn't trying to rewrite it, they are trying to erase it all together.

Going back to Placerville:

Anyone who knows the history up here in the gold country, knows that Placerville did not lynch or hang people because of racism. Yes, once in a while you'll find a story of a Black, Hispanic or Chinese person being hanged, but you'll also find 10 times that amount of Whites hanged as well. Trust me, if you broke the law, murdered someone, stole a horse or committed a depredation among the community resulting in harm or destruction, you would be punished for it no matter the color of your skin. Sorry if that upsets some of your delicate sensibilities but we cannot erase history just to appease a few people who are offended by the past.

Dry Diggins (Placerville) earned it's nickname "Hangtown" because of one thing: Crime!
There was nothing racist about that. You broke the law, you paid the consequences for it, and sometimes that meant with your life. That's the wild west for you, take it or leave it. When I learned about this ridiculous petition, which was mentioned in a few articles in various local news outlets, it bothered me. For one, as a historical journalist and author, I believe that our history should be preserved, the good and bad. You cannot sugar coat the past. We have to take it all or none.

Now, without further adieu, let's revisit the history of Hangtown by way of actual documented accounts.

According to Sacramento Daily Union, dated April 21, 1880, it states:

"Early Days-How Placerville Came to be Known as Hangtown;."

"The soubriquet of Hangtown, by which this city was at one time only known, and which is now not unfrequently applied to it, had its origin in the hanging by a mob in October, 1850, of a desperado named Richard Crone, but known to the community by the nom de plume of Irish Dick.

The fellow was but a boy, hardly more than twenty-one years of age, and came across the plains from St. Louis, in one of the very first trains in the capacity of a cook. He was of small stature and more noticeable because of his outre attire, a wide and peculiar mouth, and large protruding teeth.  

He took to gambling as a profession, and showed, by his skill and pluck, that he was not unsuited for a business which, especially at the time, was a most hazardous calling. Like his fellows, he never went unarmed, and like them would not hesitate to use his weapons when he thought it would aid his cause to do so.

He soon made himself well known throughout the camps now included in El Dorado county, but the honored "Hangtown" most generally with  his presence. One night, while in the El Dorado saloon, where now stands the Cary House, he stabbed and almost instantly killed an emigrant just arrived, mistaking him, it is said, for someone else who he designed murdering for some fancied wrong. 

The murdered man had a brother in town, who resolved that "Irish Dick" should die. In this determination the town concurred. Dick was taken from the place where the officers of the law had stationed him, into the main street, and tried by a jury of citizens, in the presence of excited thousands, who had collected together from the surrounding country.

The verdict was "guilty," and so soon as it was pronounced the condemned was pushed from the platform whereon he and the Sheriff and the extemporized Court had sat, and hurried along with the crowd towards the plaza, where the preparations were made for his execution.

At this point the mob were told that a sick man was in a house nearby, and that the uproar seriously troubled him. The crowd at one returned down Main Street, and up to what is now Coloma Street, to a large oak, near where is now the Episcopal Church. Meanwhile, Sheriff "Bill" Rogers, and Alex. Hunter and John Clark, Constables of the town, fought desperately for the possession of the prisoner, but against the determined multitude, they were powerless. 

Throughout the terrible ordeal "Dick," with a  physical courage truly wonderful, conducted himself with the utmost coolness. When placed under the tree, with the rope around his neck, he begged the privilege of climbing upon the tree and leaping from the fatal branch. But this was denied him, and he was jerked up by strong and willing hands, and was soon a dangling corpse."--

Did you read that? In this account, not only did the Sheriff and both Constables try to save "Irish Dick's" life to try him for his crimes the right way, through the long arm of the law, but they fought to the bitter end to stop the crowd from enacting their own justice. Unfortunately, their efforts were unsuccessful.

Now, why on earth would Ms. Lloyd bring up George Floyd's death in her petition, as if it somehow fit in with this argument?  Especially when one of the earliest origins of Hangtown's nickname is clearly documented going back over 170 years ago stating that the law enforcement of the area actually did the opposite of what happened in Minnesota?

Look, throughout history, all over the United States and every country abroad has stories like these. Stories where criminals committed heinous acts and the townspeople took the law into their own hands. It has been going on since the beginning of time. Sometimes in the past it was necessary, and sometimes it wasn't, but it happened, and we cannot go back and erase that.

In all the years I have been researching and writing about our history, I have found more stories of white men (American or European immigrants) than any other race who were hanged here in California and within the country (in my research). Lynching was not something that was solely specific to people of color. The sooner people realize that, the better. In Placerville, it had nothing to do with race or culture. Period. It had to do with breaking the law.

Here's another "origins" claim was printed back in May of 1880, in the Sacramento Daily Union in response to the original article above. In this piece the following account comes from a man known as John Breen, one of the founding fathers of Placerville who was a survivor of the ill-fated Donner Party, and lived in California before the discovery of gold at Sutter's mill. His story claims that Hangtown got its name a little earlier than "Irish Dick's" death. Still, no blacks or "minorities" were mentioned in this story either, because if these men were, their nationality would have been mentioned, the newspapers always mentioned where you came from or if you were colored or ethnic.

"I read in your last issue an account of the Placerville came to be called Hangtown, which is a mistake. During the winter of 1848-49, I lived at the place now called Placerville, engaged in mining. Sometime in January, 1849, three men were charged with stealing a quantity of gold dust from a miner's house. They were arrested by a vigilance committee, tried and sentenced to be flogged on the bare back with a 'riata.' This punishment they received, but were not set at liberty. 

Shortly after they were retried and sentenced to be hanged, and the sentence was immediately executed by hanging two of them to the limb of an oak tree which stood near the center of the small valley where Placerville now stands.

The third man, for some reason, was to be hanged the next day, but during the night James Doyle and Patrick Friry, while on guard, turned the man loose and he made his escape. This I was told the next morning by Doyle and Friry as a secret, they being my companions in the cabin where we lived during the winter of '48-49.

Next morning but few miners collected, who, when told that the man had got away, said that it was all right. From the time those men were hanged, and for many years, the place was known as "Hangtown."--- John Breen, 1880.

Besides "Irish Dick" and the two unnamed men in John Breen's story,  there were others hanged on that tree over time. And each account they had committed a crime from theft to murder. I couldn't find any stories of any blacks being hanged out of racism in any case in Placerville's history.

 According to the "History of El Dorado County" by Paolo Sioli it states:

 "The record of crimes committed inside the borderlines of El Dorado county, commencing from the earliest times, has become quite a volume of history in itself. The enormous influx of adventurous men of different nationalities to this very spot of land, the New El Dorado, undoubtedly had brought a good many daring and desperate characters, who had come for gain, in the easiest and least troublesome manner, but for gain under all eventualities. There were others whose intention had been to make an honest living and they started it accordingly; but the weakness of mind and body, together with the bad examples they frequently saw, led them astray, to make fortune in an easier way than with pick and shovel. So, we find as early as 1848 and 1849 already organized bands of desperadoes, with signs, passwords and grips, with chiefs and lieutenants, who would lay in wait in and around the mining camps. The people endeavoring to put a stop to those crimes were often enough compelled to take the law into their own hands, as may be seen out of the case which originated the sobriquet of Hangtown for the village of Placerville." 

In conclusion, I have to disagree with Ms. Lloyd's petition about her idea of the history of Hangtown. She seems to think by retaining the nickname "Hangtown" all they are doing is promoting a negative tone for the town's history.  On the contrary, in order for us to properly honor and respect the town's history I believe we must hold on to the stories, both good and bad.

Besides its infamy for dealing with criminals the old fashioned way, it was also a place where people settled to live their lives. Some good, some bad. A place where so many moved there to start a life such as eager and desperate miners seeking to strike it rich and merchants risking it all to open a business and thrive in the Motherlode. It was also a place that drew in a more dangerous crowd at times: fugitives, thieves, murderers and desperadoes.

Hundreds of people lived there during the Gold Rush, and by 1854, it was the third largest city in California, just after San Francisco and Sacramento. It suffered great losses when a fire nearly destroyed the entire city on July 6, 1856, but being a place that was home to so many hard-working and resilient people, they rebuilt and made it better than it was before. It went from being a hub for gold mining to a place where agriculture, manufacturing and the lumber industry thrived. While many other mining towns disappeared forever, Placerville continued to survive.

There is absolutely no reason to remove a sign that commemorates part of Placerville's past. There have been groups in the past going back to 1914 and also in the 1930's who have tried to petition to either remove the Hangtown name all together or have the town's name switched back to Hangtown, neither of them got too far.

I hope that for the sake of Placerville's history that they do not allow some person who has absolutely no knowledge of El Dorado County history to come in and push her weight around to get City Council and other lawmakers in the county to kowtow to her demands. There is a saying that I live by as a historical journalist and I strongly suggest that the City of Placerville really think about this before they go changing anything, Marcus Tullius Cicero once stated, " It is the first law of history that the writer should neither dare to advance what is false, nor suppress what is true.” 

Leave the sign as it is. It is a part of Placerville history. You cannot change it, and by removing it you are ignoring and omitting that part of history. It is a part of California history. Do not allow these history revisionists to get you to buckle under the pressure to change our history to appease them. They will continue to complain about something else and something else after that. You give them an inch and they will keep going. It will never be enough.

(Copyright 2020, J'aime Rubio, www.jaimerubiowriter.com)




Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Roseville rail yard explosion revisited


By: J'aime Rubio 

It was the morning of April 28, 1973, when Phoebe Astill was violently awakened from her sleep, having been thrown literally out of bed by a terrible concussion that rocked her house.

"At first I thought it was a plane that had crashed,”  the lifelong Roseville resident remembered. “I thought it may have been one of the planes headed for McClellan, but it turned out that wasn’t it.”

In fact, that explosion would be the first of many that would wreak havoc on the Southern Pacific Rail Yard and adjoining areas for the next 32 hours, and leave a terrifying mark on their memories that would last a lifetime. “It was a hot wheel that caused it,”  explained Locomotive Engineer David Epling, who is familiar with the historic catastrophe. “As the train made its way down the pass the wheel overheated, building friction.”

The wheel overheating led to sparks and initially set the oak floors of the railcar on fire. Once one those first flames started, they led to the additional cars catching ablaze. That is when the 7,000 MK-81 bombs that the Naval Ammunition train was transporting en route to the port in Concord, and headed for Vietnam, became dangerously hot and started the chain reaction explosions. “These were thousands of 250 lb. bombs, very destructive,” Epling added. 

The bombs were armed with 90 lbs. of explosive, and were said to be lacking the two fuses necessary to detonate. However, they did ignite — in a massive disaster that destroyed the rail yard, leaving it riddled with craters. The explosions started out sporadically but then became more frequent and powerful. The more significant blasts shot debris hundreds of feet into the air and lasted for nearly five hours. 

Throughout the day, thousands of explosions continued to rock the area, some large, some small — all very destructive. A number of train and rail yard workers were thrown in upwards of 100 feet or more.  Confusion and panic began to set in. People were hurrying to find cover. Others were wondering if it really was an accident. 

The State Capitol building, nearly 17 miles away, was not immune to the sounds of the blasts either. Worrying of the possible damage and danger to visitors, the State Police Captain gave orders to close the Capitol for their weekend tours. Countless buildings, homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed from Roseville to Citrus Heights. The community of Antelope was completely leveled as well as the Citrus Heights Firehouse. There were fences blown down from the blasts, fiery shrapnel flying and landing everywhere as well as other heavy debris scattered for miles. The blasts blew out nearly every plate glass window along downtown Roseville streets. 

Hundreds of people were injured though no one died. When asked about some of the things she remembered that day, Astill recalled, “I remember the explosions were so powerful that my mother’s ‘57 Chevy Station Wagon was lifted from one lane into the next, on the road heading back to Roseville.” Astill also remembered that — out of all the injuries — the one that just with her was a young girl who had lost an eye.

“It was a miracle that no one died,” the museum curator said. 

When the smoke cleared and the skies returned to its powder blue color, there were many questions left unanswered. After this accident, it became a requirement that all railcar wheels have non-sparking brake shoes and spark shields installed. The circumstances surrounding the magnitude of the event also led to Congress passing the Transportation Safety Act, which implemented numerous regulations and safety protocol from various agencies into one publication, specifically placing responsibility and accountability on all parties involved in transporting hazardous materials.

Many years later, after Union Pacific took over the rail yard, more bombs were unearthed from the ground during their remodeling project. One of the remaining bombs that had not exploded in the disaster is now on display in the city’s Carnegie Museum, by way of the Roseville Historical Society’s exhibit, “Roseville, A War Zone.” The exhibit will remain on display until the end of May (2014) and features newspaper accounts, photos and other memorabilia from the disaster.

(Originally published on May 29, 2014 in the Roseville Press Tribune, written by J'aime Rubio. Photo: Archival Photo)

Publisher/Editor's Notes: This is one of a series of articles that I wrote for the Roseville Press-Tribune/Placer Herald several years back when I used to write the historical articles for them.  According to my old editor, since I wrote the content I can repost the articles. I have also obtained permission by Gold Country Media a few years back to republish my stories, too. 





Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Story of Nellie Hill and her Two Graves


Hill Family Plot, Lodi Memorial Cemetery

I have been  meaning to write about Nellie Hill for about 8 years now. It seemed that every time I began to plan to sit down and write her story, something happened in life that distracted me, or I had other responsibilities (such as finishing my latest book) that took precedent. Since we are all stuck at home during this health crisis that will certainly go down in history, I am here today, penning this blog just for you, my readers to finally learn about the story of Nellie Hill and her two graves!

To begin, I  must start with the story of George Washington Hill and Mary Hill of Lodi.  George was born in Brownfield Center, Maine on September 28 of 1846, (According to his death certificate he was born Sept 20, 1845), who came to California in 1869. He married Mary Lewis (daughter of Mary Jane Johnson and Philander Lewis of Ann Arbor, Michigan). The two settled in Lodi, and had two children,  Nellie Etta Hill (Born: 1883) and Maurice Hill (Born: 1899). George was an established jeweler, watch maker and cabinet maker.

When Nellie only three years old, (around 1886), while playing in a rocking chair on the front porch, she rocked the chair forward causing it to lose balance and tumble forward, resulting in a spinal injury that damaged Nellie for the rest of her life.  Because of such an injury, she never grew to the normal size expected, and at the age of 20 was only 4 foot tall with a 2 shoe size.

Around 1901, the Hill family built their beautiful Queen Anne Victorian home at 115 S. School Street in Lodi, which was located literally across from the Post Office. George Hill designed the home himself. In 1948, the home was moved to its current location at 826 S Church Street, which was protested by neighbors in the community who had just built new homes on the street and didn't want the home to be brought there. Still, they managed to do it, and it cost roughly $3,000 in preparation alone to get the home moved in two pieces. Wires had to be elevated on the street and trenches dug, just to get around the electrical and telephone wires in order to safely move the structure.

Nellie Etta Hill
Going back to the story, although Nellie had her physical obstacles, she was committed to being positive and doing what she could to be involved in the community. She loved music, like her brother, and she tried to maintain a social status by being involved in various groups including the choir at the local Lodi Methodist Church. She loved to play the piano, and she even composed a piece of sheet music titled "The Soldiers Farewell" back in 1905, which was considered the first published song by a Lodian. She also loved photography and took many photos which are still within the collection at the Hill House.

Maurice, Nellie's much younger brother grew up to become a concert pianist and composer who often traveled abroad. I have often wondered if Nellie was actually the biological child of Mary and George, given her very dark complexion, and lack of  similar physical characteristics in the family, but I have no proof to provide to you. That is purely my speculation. With that being said, according to an article in the Stockton Record, "George doted on his beautiful and frail daughter Nellie." --

Sadly, at the age of 29 years, Nellie succumbed to pneumonia in her home on January 30, 1912. Her headstone reads January 31st, while others have claimed January 29th.  Her funeral was held on February 2, 1912  at the Methodist Church in Lodi, with Rev. E. B. Winning officiating.  Her casket was then interred into the Hill family plot at Lodi Memorial Cemetery. It was said her funeral was one of the largest funerals at the time.

Original Marker Where Nellie was Buried
Her parents George and Mary soon followed. George passed away on February 22, 1927 from basically a really bad UTI/bladder infection, (cystitis with chronic hypertrophy of prostate) and Mary passed away from heart failure on October 12, 1934. Their death certificates said they would be buried at Lodi Memorial but the family plot only has Nellie's name and inscription on it.

For years I had wondered where George and Mary were since it appeared they were not with Nellie. Tracking down Nellie's brother, I had later found out that Maurice, who died in 1984 was interred in a niche in the mausoleum on the other side of the cemetery. After doing a little sleuthing with my fiance (the very person who originally introduced me to Nellie's grave in the first place), we decided to go check out the Mausoleum niche's to see Maurice's spot. Lo and behold, there was George, Mary, Mary's half-sister Daisy, Maurice and guess what?  Nellie! You read that right, there is a niche with Nellie's name on it.

(Courtesy of Roland Boulware)
This was cause for visiting the cemetery office to ask about the oddity of her having two graves. After speaking to the staff at the cemetery, they explained to us that someone had just talked to them about the same story that week earlier, and as it turns out, Maurice was deathly afraid of being buried in the ground. So, although his parents were buried alongside Nellie in the family plot, he had arranged in his will that upon his death he would be put in a niche in the Mausoleum, and that his family would be exhumed and re-interred with him there. Thus the reason why he didn't bother to put his parent's names on the family marker in the cemetery. Sadly, though, they made quite a few errors on Nellie's plaque, as it reads 1881-1911 when she was born in 1883 and died in 1912.

Obviously, when Nellie died in 1912, George and Mary had planned to be buried there beside their daughter, so that was why they purchased the large plot and had such a large family monument to be placed there, with enough space for all four of their names to be inscribed.

For all these years I had been visiting Nellie, and she wasn't even there. She was on the opposite side of the cemetery all along, well since 1984 anyway.  Now Nellie and the rest of her family are resting side by side, above ground in the Mausoleum.

If you would like to visit Nellie, her niche is located at the south side of the mausoleum on the eastern side of the property. Her original grave, which is still there, is on the far west side of the property near the first driveway. You can't miss it.

In ending, the Hill House is a marvelous piece of Lodi History encapsulated within its walls. The whole house has been beautifully kept up and holds much of the Hill family's belongings and treasures. If you get a chance to visit it, you should, and why not stop by and visit the Hill family at the Lodi Memorial Cemetery as well.





(Copyright 2020 - J'aime Rubio www.jaimerubiowriter.com)

Photos:
Photo of  Nellie's original grave by J'aime Rubio
Photo of Hill House (in color) by J'aime Rubio
Photo of Nellie's plaque in Mausoleum by Roland Boulware
Photo of Nellie Hill from Lodi Sentinel Archives
Photo of Hill House (black and white) Lodi Sentinel Archives



Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The lost children of Placer’s White House

Placer County's "White House"  - located in Auburn

By: J'aime Rubio


Located directly across the street from Auburn’s grand historic courthouse, the towering Victorian known as the White House continues to stir mysteries. The house has had many lives over the years, including being used as a residence, a law office and several restaurants. The plaque outside the White House states it was built in 1870, though county records suggest it may have actually been built a decade before that.

Its first owner, Walter B. Lyon was a Placer County Recorder as well as the Editor and Business Manager of the Placer Weekly Argus newspaper. He was also the Grand Secretary for the California Lodge of Odd Fellows. He was a true pioneer of the county. In 1875 Lyon’s stately abode had passed into the hands of John White, earning its lasting moniker. But surviving archives show the house had already experienced a string of tragedies before White came to own it.

Walter B. Lyon and his wife Mary had seven children, though only two survived into adulthood. Placer County death records indicate that between February and March of 1866, the Lyon’s 7-year-old son William, 3-year-old son Charlie and 1-year-old infant George, all passed away. The family devastation continued when on May 2, 1874 – just one year prior to John White taking over the family home – Lyon’s 7-year-old daughter Mary Helena also died after a lingering illness.


Archives of the Placer Weekly Argus noted, “Nearly every girl and boy and lady and gentleman in the town of Auburn and vicinity attended the funeral service and burial of the daughter of W.B. Lyon. The Band of Hope, composed of the little juveniles of our town, marched in twos to the graveyard.”

The newspaper added that many of the young girl’s classmates “wept unremittingly” during her funeral and that “at the grave the soft and gentle voices of the children echoed through the still woods as they sang ‘Beautiful River.’”

Other interesting history about the history of the home reported to the Auburn Journal by former restaurant owner, Pete Enoch, spoke of a mystery tunnel that connected under the Courthouse to the basement of the White House.  Said to have been used as a holding cell for inmates due for court appearances, the secret passageway was a means of transporting prisoners away from the public view.  If those stories are true, the area facing Maple Street bears only remnants of the old archway that has long since been sealed off, leaving only an old brick retaining wall visible from the exterior of the home.
Maria Helena Lyon's Grave

After visiting the White House, a trip to the Old Auburn Cemetery was next on my list. Having never been there, and solely relying on my GPS, I found myself wandering around the final resting place of many of the old pioneers of Auburn. As I walked the spacious grounds, I came upon a name I recognized, Walter B. Lyon, and sure enough, right there in the family plot I found little Mary Helena’s small obelisk. The tiny, stone monument that sits peacefully with her siblings and parent’s graves, remains a physical remembrance of young, forgotten lives lost in Placer County long ago, contributing to the questions we feel today about the region’s haunting history. 

The Lyon Family Plot, Auburn Cemetery


(Originally published as one of three stories on October 29, 2015 in the Placer Herald)
Updated/edited October 21, 2017
Photo of White House/Lyon House: Roland Boulware
Photo of graves: J’aime Rubio

Publisher/Editor's Notes: This is one of a series of articles that I wrote for the Roseville Press-Tribune/Placer Herald several years back when I used to write the historical articles for them.  According to my old editor, since I wrote the content I can repost the articles. I have also obtained permission by Gold Country Media a few years back to republish my stories, too. 







Historic Rocklin death a puzzle for early pathologists

Photo Credit: William Tatum 



There was a chill in the air on a cold December day in 1891 when a coworker of Albert Bertelsen came calling at his home two miles east of Rocklin. Bertelsen’s friend knocked and, after no response, entered inside to stumble upon a corpse sprawled across the floor.

Bertelsen had lived on a ranch near the Lee Drift Mine. According to the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper, clues around his homestead suggested that he might have been attacked outside. His wounds appeared to have been caused by buck shot from a gun hitting his face, chest and the side of his body. The marks on the ground also led the authorities to wonder if he had then been dragged into his home.

The citizens of Rocklin wanted to know who could have done this? And why? Newspapers all around Placer and Sacramento counties ran with the story, detailing the condition of Bertelsen’s body and creating a community mystery around the question of foul play.

A native of Denmark, Bertelsen was born in 1850. He immigrated to the United States in the late 1860s. A decade later, he was living in Lincoln and working on a farm. State records show that on Feb. 21, 1872 he filed an official “Declaration of Intention” to become a U.S. citizen. Bertelsen soon married Jane Gray of Coloma. The two remained together for nearly 14 years until tragedy struck and Jane passed away. 
Photo Credit: Little Orange in the Big Apple

The cause of her death is not recorded, though documents confirm she was brought to the Siebenthaler Home for funeral services at 20th Street in Sacramento, and was later taken to the Masonic Cemetery for burial. Bertelsen worked managing the Lee Mine at the time. Just weeks before his own death, Bertelsen quit his longstanding position and went to work at the local quarry. It was his failure to show up to this particular job that prompted his friend to come over and make the grisly discovery.

Questions continued to swirl around the topic of whether Bertelsen was murdered. After investigating, the coroner shocked many in the community by ruling the death “accidental.”  Archives from the Placer County Herald newspaper shed light on what apparently took place that cold December day. It seems that around the one-year anniversary of Jane’s death, Bertelsen decided to start removing the tree stumps from his property by blowing them up.

The coroner ascertained that he was using blasting powder while working in the field, and somehow ignited an explosion prematurely. Bertelsen was hit by the force of the blast. Not dying immediately, he dragged himself back to his house. Closer examination of his body proved that it was gravel and dirt debris that was embedded deep in his skin rather than buck shot. The fact that it took several days before his body was found, and its state of decomposition, suggests Bertelsen might have been killed on the one-year anniversary of his beloved wife’s death. His longtime friend Phillip Siebenthaler traveled to Rocklin to recover his body and bring it back to Sacramento to be buried next to Jane at the Masonic Cemetery. Unfortunately, Bertelsen doesn’t have a marker or headstone, but grave maps show he is next to his wife in Section H, Block 60.

In the end, what was originally believed to be a murder turned out to be a terrible accident; but if Bertelsen did actually die on the anniversary of his wife’s passing, some may wonder if it was entirely a coincidence. Could the ranch manager have been so caught up in his emotions that day he made a careless mistake? The only thing that is known for sure is that he and his wife were reunited once and for all at their final resting place.

Photo Credit: Lin McNamara

(Originally published on August 7, 2015 in the Placer Herald)

Publisher/Editor's Notes: This is one of a series of articles that I wrote for the Roseville Press-Tribune/Placer Herald several years back when I used to write the historical articles for them.  According to my old editor, since I wrote the content I can repost the articles. I have also obtained permission by Gold Country Media a few years back to republish my stories, too. 

Photo credits to: Lin McNamara (Findagrave), Little Orange in the Big Apple (Findagrave) and William Tatum (Findagrave). 

Extra Sources:
Sac Daily Union—December 9, 1891

Sac Daily Union- December 8, 1891