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Talk about being timely (that’s our name after all), I had no sooner written about several topics in Time in My Coffee, Inverness artist/architect Igor Sazevich’s newly published autobiography, than another topic in the book was suddenly all over Bay Area news.

Igor captioned this collage, “From top: Father’s portrait of Victor Arnautoff; Detail from Victor Arnautoff’s mural at Washington High School; Father in his studio; Me on [a high school friend] Don’s shoulders; Father’s sketch of me.”

Time in My Coffee took on new significance this past week after a public controversy arose over Arnautoff’s mural at Washington High in San Francisco. As the book relates, Victor’s father Zygmund had helped produce the mural.

The muralist had met Igor’s father “at the California School of Fine Arts, become friends, and worked together on a few projects. At Washington Victor had been commissioned to paint large frescos on each side of the grand stairway leading to foyer, and father had helped with mixing the plaster undercoats….

“While the majority of the panels portrayed the struggling working class, one wall depicted Washington pointing the way forward to his troops, a slain Indian warrior at his feet. While I was at the school, this mural was a rendezvous spot: ‘Meet you under the dead Indian.’”

In response to 75 years of such comments, school board members are now talking about getting rid of the mural, possibly by painting it over or moving it somewhere.

Better to teach the history. As The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized on Wednesday: San Francisco school leaders have “taken up an unwinnable argument in deciding what to do about murals at George Washington High School — depicting the first president’s life and times — that some find hurtful and racist.

“The paintings should stay for several important reasons. They’re hardly a one-sided glorification of the past. Instead they underline the harsh treatment of Indians and slaves. To miss this shot at the Founding Fathers era is to miss the subversive message by muralist Victor Arnautoff, a noted Depression-era leftist….

“Contemporary views and sensitivities shouldn’t be ignored. An explanation of the artist, his times, and the suggestive power of the mural should be provided for viewers. The sight of a dead Indian or hunched-over slaves cannot be ignored without comment or thought.”

I would add that Arnautoff’s work also deserves to stay because he was a major artist in San Francisco history. Arnautoff was, for example, also responsible for several significant murals in Coit Tower, which were themselves once controversial, as Igor notes. One mural that upset some people during the Red Scares of the McCarthy era included a newsstand selling the Communist Daily Worker but not mainstream newspapers.

‘Time in My Coffee’ is available at Point Reyes Books, Gallery Route One, & Book Passages in Corte Madera

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Inverness artist/architect Igor Sazevich has just published “an art-full autobiography,” and it is indeed a work of art. It describes the joys of architecture, such as designing restaurants for Nordstrom department stores, and the pains, such as doing design work for Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Igor likewise writes candidly about his romantic adventures and his marriage into the Romanov family. His late wife, Natasha, was the niece of Prince Vasili Romanov, the nephew of the last tsar of Russia. She was also a cousin of Andrew Romanov of Inverness.

Igor Sazevich sitting behind Toby’s Coffee Bar.

Igor’s parents were both refugees from post-revolutionary Russia. His father was a sculptor and teacher while his mother designed window displays for San Francisco’s famed City of Paris department store.

At left, a home along the water in Marshall originally designed by Igor for professor/poet Mark Linenthal. At right, Igor’s Cedar Landing building in Inverness. (Photos from Time in My Coffee)

Igor spent much of his adult life working in his San Francisco office and then moving to his Sausalito office. From reading his accounts, one begins to understand just how complicated architecture can be in unexpected ways. For example, after buying what had been a private parking lot, Igor in 1992 built his new office on Sausalito’s Caledonia Street.

When a contractor unearthed human bones, however, it turned out the parking lot had been a Native American burial site some 3,000 to 4,000 years earlier. The discovery prompted the City of Sausalito to halt construction — creating a financial nightmare for Igor. Eventually Igor arranged for a representative of the Native American Commission to conduct a culturally appropriate reburial after which he was allowed to resume construction.

A Mendocino County home Igor designed in the style of a Native American wickiup.

Igor details his problematic dealings with the multimillionaire Cooke, who built the Inglewood arena called the Forum and owned several sports teams, including the Lakers basketball team. While living in Sausalito, Igor received a call one Sunday at sunrise from someone who began, “Good morning, I’m Jack Kent Cooke. You are that famous architect who designed the wickiup I spotted this morning in Sunset magazine?”

“Yes, that’s me,” Igor replied.

“Good. I have just purchased some land next to Sequoia National Park, and you’re the person I need to talk to.”

“Give me a moment,” Igor answered, “I’m just waking up. Are you asking me to be your architect?”

“You heard right, dear boy, and I want you to come down here to Los Angeles and stay at my house to go over the details.” When Igor responded that he’d need to check his schedule, Cooke condescendingly cut him off. “I need you here, dear boy, this coming Tuesday. You’ll be staying the night, but have a bite before you get here. I’ll have my chauffeur pick you up at the airport. Here is my phone number and the office number at the Forum.”

“Give me a moment to talk to my wife,” Igor replied, but Cooke again cut him off: “No time, dear boy. Call with your flight number and the time you’ll be getting in and what you’ll be wearing so the chauffeur can spot you. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you, and I’m looking forward to our meeting.” After saying that, writes Igor, “the man on the phone was gone.”

Igor twice flew south for the project and began to design a lodge for Cooke; the multimillionaire, however, again on a Sunday morning called him at home to cheerily announce, “As much as I love working with you, I’m dropping the project and will be selling the property. I also will not be paying you…. If you want, you are welcome to sue me.”

When Igor told the onetime Point Reyes Station attorney John Burroughs about all this, Burroughs volunteered to sue Cooke for him and charge only 30 percent of the take if they won. Because Burroughs misunderstood where the meeting between Cooke and Igor had taken place, he managed to have the case tried in San Francisco and not L.A. After three years of postponements, with no comment Cooke had his lawyers pay what was owed.

Many of the illustrations in ‘Time in My Coffee’ are vertical collages such as this one, which is captioned, “From top: big John Burroughs, Cedar Landing project, headline from Point Reyes Light, Andrew Romanov.”

Igor’s account of Andrew helping him push a 4-inch pipe under Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from one side to the other is another fascinating story. Igor owned bay-front property in downtown Inverness, but it had no place for a septic system. Igor got permission from a neighbor across the street to put a septic leachfield on his land if Igor could pump the sewage to it. To do this, Igor and Andrew pushed a conduit pipe under the roadway. They almost hit an Inverness Public Utility District water main in doing so, but nothing bad happened, and the septic system worked.

Igor also writes about his time in the military where he seemed particularly good at talking his way into better assignments. And he writes about his romantic and sexual experiences over the years. One brief encounter in particular stands out.

While still in high school, Igor was asked by an art student named Virginia to come to her mother’s apartment and sketch her for a class she was taking. After he’d drawn half a dozen sketches and was finishing, Virginia surprised him by uncovering her breasts and then her new lace panties. Igor was worried that Virginia’s mother would come home, but the girl suddenly straddled his lap and began rubbing herself against him. Then, just as Igor thought he would soon experience his “coming of age,” she surprised him again.

“Suddenly she stopped and raised herself slightly, reached under her skirt, and thrust her hand down into the foamy floral lace. What followed was Virginia’s total immersion in satisfying her body. Hers alone; I was only an observer. When she arched back, exhaling, and her spasms pulsed against my leg, I knew our time together was over….

“As we parted by the door, Virginia begged me to forgive her. She was sincerely embarrassed and said she had been afraid of going all the way with me.”

Sexual exhibitionism in order to preserve innocence, wow! That’s a new one.

The first home Igor built for himself and Natasha in Inverness burned in the 1995 Inverness Ridge fire, and he subsequently built another on the same site.

The grandparents of Igor’s wife, Natasha, were forced to flee Russia after the 1917 revolution and moved to the United States. Although she was born and raised in Los Angeles, Natasha spoke Russian. She also played guitar, sang folksongs, and had an interest in art and design.

Igor met Natasha when he was asked to drive her home to Berkeley after a party. They hit it off, but Igor was drafted into the Army and shipped overseas. When he returned, he briefly dated a woman named Cathy and almost married her. Cathy, however, was an alcoholic, and after seeing the movie Anastasia, Igor broke off their engagement and sped off to L.A. to spend Easter with Natasha’s family.

Natasha as a young woman in her parents’ Los Angeles home.

Natasha too was dating other people, but they reconnected when Igor arrived in Los Angeles. The family all went to a Russian Orthodox church for Easter, and Igor writes that “from some hidden corner, my heritage gripped me.” On the spur of the moment, he suggested to Natasha that they go outside into the church’s garden.  He recalls that “as a soaring chant from within the church, verifying that Christ had risen, arose, I appealed to Natasha to become my wife…. I expected her to laugh it off, but she accepted.”

Natasha in the window seat of the old Inverness house.

The couple lived happily in Sausalito and then Inverness and became the parents of two daughters, Katia and Nina. Natasha, however, died in 2000 of cancer, and Igor’s account of her passing is both moving and eloquent. When her family was present shortly before she died at home, Natasha rose from her bed “and holding onto it declared, ‘Someone bring some glasses and the white wine. I need to make a toast.’

“As we stood there with glasses in hand, Natasha raised her glass too. ‘I just want to toast my family for all the wonderful times we shared, and Igor, without you I wouldn’t be able to stand here to bless you for making our life such an incredible adventure; I love you.’ Glasses clinked, wine drunk, tears shed, I assisted Natasha back into bed.”

The author beside the bay.

“A few years after Natasha’s death, Katia ran into a friend from London whom she had known in India; I met her once at a dinner party. She suggested that Katia introduce me to Marna Clarke, a mutual friend from the ashram — she had been a professional photographer until she sold her equipment and most of her possessions to travel…. I agreed, and Katia arranged for the three of us to take a walk along the beach at Point Reyes National Seashore.

“When Marna and I began dating, we experienced a closeness and eventually a desire to be together. Within two years, she moved up to Inverness Ridge to join me and be my partner.

“We have shaped our lives to blend her artistry as a photographer and my functioning as a painter. We have exhibited together and separately at different local galleries and are members of our community showroom, Gallery Route One, on the main street of Point Reyes Station.

“I still drive down there to have my cup of coffee and glance at the steaming ripples while I contemplate what the day holds for me.” Igor will turn 90 in June.

‘Time in My Coffee’ is available at Point Reyes Books, Gallery Route One, & Book Passages in Corte Madera

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

An impressive exhibition of Point Reyes Station photographer Art Rogers’ black-and-white portraits are on display until the end of April in the gallery at Toby’s Feed Barn. The display opened last weekend.

Bob Borello in the 1970s holding Stan Marsi’s dog, Buster, in front of the Western Saloon, which Bob owned. The two men, both now deceased, had just gotten off work at Bob’s rock quarry near Millerton Point, which accounts for their grime.

Art, as his website notes, “is widely known for his portraits of families, children and babies, large groups, and rural scenes and landscapes of West Marin.  He is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and has also received fellowships from The National Endowment of the Arts and The Marin Arts Council and the SECA Art Award from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art….

Art and his wife, Laura Rogers.

“His background includes stints as a baby photographer, a photojournalist and as a teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute and Indian Valley College. His photographs are included among the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the International Center of Photography, New York; the Center for Creative Photography Archive, Tucson; Le Musée de l’Elysée, Switzerland; and the de Young, San Francisco….

“He has produced a series entitled ‘Yesterday and Today’ in which the same subjects have been photographed in the same place after a time span of as much as 30 years….

A cow belonging to Point Reyes rancher George Nunes (pictured) produced triplets, which is very rare, one in a million births.

“He has documented the agricultural community on the North Coast for over 35 years….

“Rogers’ work has appeared in The Point Reyes Light for 45 years in his column titled “The Point Reyes Family Album.” It features a photograph every week of people and events in the community and is an ongoing historical documentation of these West Marin towns and villages.”

In addition, the Marin County Cultural Commission has named Art a Cultural Treasure of Marin.

The staff of The Point Reyes Light back when the newspaper was in the building now occupied by Coastal Marin Real Estate, Epicenter, and Rob Janes tax services. In 1984, The Light moved to the Old Creamery Building. It would later move again, this time to Inverness.

‘Puppies’

Art shot this portrait of Mary and Jim Scanlon of the San Geronimo Valley in 1980 only to have pop artist Jeff Koons produce a painted parody of it, which a court found to be a copyright violation. Koons settled a lawsuit with Rogers in 1986 for an undisclosed amount.

That same year Italian porno actress Ilona Staller, better known as Cicciolina, was elected to parliament in Italy and went on to marry Koons in 1991. The couple split up in 1994; to Koons’ chagrin, Cicciolina didn’t want to give up acting in porno movies.

Restaurateur Pat Healy in 1975, four years after she bought the Station House Café. During the 1980s, Pat relocated the restaurant to the former Two Ball Inn building down the street. That bar had been owned by George and Shirley Ball, and their sign out front featured a No. 2 pool ball.

Art Rogers’ exhibition consists almost entirely of West Marin subject matter, several landscapes but mostly people, presented with affection. On just this wall there are 64 portraits of different West Marin babies.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Hail hitting the deck at Mitchell cabin on Feb. 15. Nor was that the end of it. As recently as Saturday morning, spots on Inverness Ridge were hailed. As it turned out, the hail three weeks ago gave a strong hint that West Marin was heading into a spell of heavy weather.

Spring weather, so to speak. By Feb. 26, so much rain had fallen that an artesian spring bubbled up from a gopher hole near Mitchell cabin.

The rain created a much grimmer scene downtown that day. All the roads in and out of Point Reyes Station and other West Marin towns were flooded, mudslides caused structural damage, trees came down on houses, roads, cars, and utility lines, resulting in a series of blackouts.

And it was at least as bad elsewhere in Marin County that week. Three homes in Sausalito were destroyed by a mudslide. Multiple homes in the hills above San Anselmo were isolated by downed trees and mud. Highway 37 east of Novato was completely flooded for days.

Papermill Creek as seen from the Green Bridge on Feb. 26. Homes and businesses on the eastern end of the levee road in Point Reyes Station were flooded when the creek rose. One person was evacuated by canoe.

A doe takes shelter from the rain under a coyote bush in our field.

Even though larger wildlife are generally stuck outdoors when it rains, most animals handle bad weather amazingly well although I suspect that some of them don’t fully understand what’s going on. I was watching a nearby fawn today when light rain began falling. From the fawn’s reaction, it appeared that she at first mistook the droplets hitting her head for flies and tried to shake them off and brush them away with a hoof.

A bobcat goes on a gopher hunt in wet grass during a pause in the rain a week ago. The fields around our cabin are filled with gopher holes, making them a good hunting ground, for we’re seeing the bobcat almost every day now.

After the rains had subsided, I spotted 25 doves in a tree uphill from our cabin, and it almost seemed Biblical.

“Noah sent forth a dove from him to see if the waters were abated off the face of the ground. But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him in the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth.” A week later Noah sent the bird out again “and the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew the waters were abated from off the earth.” Nonetheless, Noah remained in the ark for another week and again “sent forth the dove which returned not again to him any more.” — Genesis 8

In the aftermath of the floods, a lot of repair work is needed around Marin County. People who lost homes or cars are suffering. And I keep trying to stop small-scale erosion in my driveway.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

For Valentine’s Day my wife Lynn gave me a book with an intriguing title. It’s Lust on Trial by Amy Werbel (Columbia University Press, 2018).

Dr. Werbel is associate professor of  the history of art at New York State University’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Her book explains how 40 years of misguided attempts to maintain New England Calvinism as America’s culture made it possible for almost any works showing a naked body — from fine art, to erotica, to medical texts — to be prosecuted as obscene. Unfortunately, some laws shaped by that era still haunt parts of our country today.

           Professor Amy Werbel 

At the center of her account is a Puritanical, anti-vice crusader from New Canaan, Connecticut, Anthony Comstock (1844-1915). He for 40 years wielded so much clout that the 1873 federal anti-obscenity law was named the Comstock Act.                                                  

Comstock helped found the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Working with police in the state, the NYSSV seized tons of supposed obscenities, which even included pictures from Paris that were regarded as fine art in France. 

“The leaders of the NYSSV all presumed the existence of a ‘racio-cultural hierarchy,’ with ‘Teutonic/Anglo Saxons at the top,'” Werbel writes. “Given their belief that Anglo-Americans already possessed the greatest culture on earth, it seemed natural to view French influences generally as a form of pollution.”

French Catholicism, in NYSSV eyes, failed to condemn all public exhibition of nude art whereas American Protestantism recognized a social need for enforcing Calvinistic standards of morality.

 

Anthony Comstock in his New York office around 1900. (All photos in posting from ‘Lust on Trial’)

For 40 years as an inspector in the post office department, Comstock “vigorously asserted his power to serve as a Christian censor of morals within a supposedly secular government position,” Werbel writes. Among the “obscenities” Comstock also sought to suppress as supposed threats to morality were condoms, dildos, and birth-control information. He also fought in court to prohibit abortion. Ironically, his opposition to birth control and abortion was largely to insure that couples indulging in illicit sex would pay the penalty of having a baby.

‘Nymphs and Satyr’ by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1873.

In Bouguereau’s “playful” painting, Werbel explains, “the satyr had been caught spying on a group of nymphs who are now taking their vengeance by dragging him into a nearby pond. Satyrs can’t swim, and so his lust has been swiftly transferred into mortal terror.”

The Grand Saloon in the Hoffman House.

Although photos of the painting were ruled obscene in New York in 1883, they continued to circulate. The original painting of Nymphs and Satyr meanwhile hung on the wall of “the Grand Saloon” in the Hoffman House Hotel. The large painting had remained in place despite Comstock telling the hotel’s owner in 1885 to remove it. This was an expensive establishment geared to the wealthy upper class, and Comstock would soon learn that such people could not be successfully prosecuted.

An 1896 cigar label was considered an example of yet another medium being used for disseminating “obscenity.”

Comstock’s primary goal in suppressing all erotic images seems odd today. In his mind, the greatest danger they posed was to inspire lust which, in the case of boys, could lead to masturbation, and he considered self-gratification the worst of sins. We know his thoughts on this because Comstock at the age of 19 made an apparent reference in his diary to masturbating: “I debased myself in my own eyes today by my own weakness and sinfulness, was strongly tempted today, and oh! I yielded…. What suffering I have undergone since, no one knows.”

A year later having joined Connecticut’s Company H in the Union Army, Comstock saw the pornography that other soldiers had ordered through the mail, and he “again recorded giving into the same vices that plagued him in New Canaan.” His diary, two other biographers have noted, was “filled with confessions of guilt and outbursts of bitter remorse during these years.” Nor did “Comstock’s obsession with lust and masturbation” ever change, the book notes.

In the case of girls, as he saw it, the main danger of any lust resulting from obscenities was not that it would lead to masturbation but that it tended to make the girls indecent. When a short-lived American Student of Art magazine published nude pictures of both men and women, Comstock put it on trial for influencing girls to “turn to lives of shame,” insinuating that the arousal of girls “might lead them to prostitution.”

Although Comstock seized hundreds of dildos, they confused him. He believed respectable women were “passionless” and that for any female, arousal depended on “male impetus.” When his investigations turned up a dildo which was somewhat expensive by standards of the times, he wondered who the customers were? “Prostitutes don’t use them,” he reasoned. “The married do not. Their cost being about $6 would seem to preclude their use by the poor and the low.” Werbel writes that Comstock was “entirely unable to fathom that an unmarried woman of means might want to take pleasure from masturbation using an artificial penis.”

Ironically, as the author notes, “one of the most common diseases serious doctors diagnosed among women in the mid-nineteenth century was ‘female hysteria’…. Many recommended curing the problem with induced orgasms, either produced by physicians who massaged the vulva by hand, often on a weekly basis, or hydrotherapy that directed a strong stream of water onto the clitoris.” This was time-consuming, Werbel adds, and ultimately led to doctors inventing the electric vibrator.

 

Figure in Motion by Robert Henri.

Since the reason displays of nude bodies were obscene, as Comstock saw it, was that they inspired lust, arousal was his personal test for obscenity; if something turned him on, it was obscene. When it came time for his defendants to go on trial, juries for their own protection were for years not allowed to see the “vile” evidence that had been seized, and even when defendants were acquitted, they often didn’t get their goods back.

By 1900, however, Comstock’s judgment was being increasingly challenged. After he led a string of raids on “vendors of improper photographs” in Philadelphia in 1886, the vendors argued in court that the photos were high art or were pictures to be used by artists who couldn’t afford a live model.

Even though Comstock argued that the New York Court of Errors and Appeals had found the same pictures to be obscene, the Philadelphia judge quickly threw out the cases. “It seems absurd for New York detectives to come over here and try to demonstrate that recognized works of art are obscene,” he remarked.

When the American Society of Artists publicly protested seizures of art, it declared, “We believe that the study of the nude in art is not only innocent, but is refining and ennobling.”

After Comstock seized art from the Knoedler gallery in New York, The Evening Telegram responded by printing on Page 1 the pictures that he didn’t want the public to see. Comstock then tried to get the district attorney to indict The Telegram but was abruptly turned down.

Other newspapers were also beginning to mock Comstock’s censorship.  Commenting on all this, The New York Times wrote that Comstock exemplified “persons of a low grade of intelligence and a prurient turn of mind.” The Springfield Republican called him “the most preposterous ass that walks on two legs.”

‘Anthony Comstock: The Village Nuisance’ by Louis Glackens was published as a cartoon in a humor magazine called Puck. “While he holds up his hands in protest, Comstock at the same time fixes his gaze firmly at his enticement,” Werbel points out. “The scene is a clear reference to his ineffective campaign to rid shop windows of such suggestive displays.

“At the upper left, Comstock leads clothed horses down a park path, and below that he attempts to serve a warrant on ‘a shameless French poodle.’  On the right… we see Comstock bathing fully clothed and, finally, in the last scene he ‘gets what is coming to him,’ tormented by winged devils in the fiery abyss of hell — in which he wears only a peek-a-boo carnival mask across his ample posterior.”

In his prosecutions, Comstock typically cited England’s Hicklin test for obscenity. If something erotic could disturb even the most vulnerable people, such as small children, it was considered obscene. Not until 1957 did the U.S. Supreme Court finally stop the use of the Hicklin test for determining obscenity. From now on, it ruled, Congress could ban only material “utterly without redeeming social importance.” What mattered was “whether to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest.”

It seems significant that when Comstock died in 1915, there was far more sexual material in the country than when he began his anti-vice campaign. Indeed, he “had helped to make figure painters, sculptors, and nude models extremely sexy,” the author observes. Moreover, his prosecutions frequently proved to be valuable publicity for whatever was on trial.

By our standards, some of Comstock’s own standards would be considered immoral. For example, “he viewed child sex trafficking as largely the fault of the victims,” according to the author. He “placed the blame for ‘White Slavers’ squarely on the girls who had ‘already been dragged down to perdition by the perverted imagination.'”

Over several weeks in 1899 alone, a series of girls, who were caught in the nets of traffickers, out of desperation committed suicide (using poison) in one particular tavern, McGurk’s saloon in the Bowery. “Comstock,” the book says, “ascribed their deaths to ‘reading light novels.'”

Werbel quotes Christine Stansell, who also writes about art, as saying one of Comstock’s great unintended accomplishments was to make the opposition coalesce: “The battle to protect free speech linked artists, writers, and professionals of  progressive bent to working-class militants.” These factions Werbel adds, “disagreed on many subjects, but they all wanted the opportunity to be heard, to be read.

“In the following decades, that right waxed and waned both in law and custom, but it has never again been as diminished as during the reign of Anthony Comstock.”

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

A bobcat seen last week from a kitchen window. The cat has taken to showing up in the fields around Mitchell cabin, hunting gophers several times a month. Our fields have so many gophers that I’m always happy to see him.

A male American kestrel perching on the railing of our deck a couple of days ago as it likewise scanned the field below for prey. The falcon eats small birds, mice and insects.

A California scrub jay perched on an oak tree near our deck. These jays feed on insects, small animals, the eggs and young of other birds, grains, berries, and nuts. They’re among the most intelligent of all animals, according to some biologists.

Displaying her impressive spurs, a wild turkey walks along the railing of our deck pecking at seeds put out for other birds. The turkeys eat so much seed and leave such large droppings that they soon became unwelcome guests. During the day when they’re out and about, Lynn closes the gate where they walk onto the deck to discourage their getting used to it as their territory.

Turkeys march uphill near Mitchell cabin. We’ve had as many as 30 at a time in recent weeks. Wild turkeys have a Goth-like drabness when seen at a distance, but when they’re seen up close, they….

are dramatically colorful. With multi-hued feathers, a bright-red wattle, and jutting spurs, they probably could be rated among the more colorful local wild birds.

And while we’ve all heard that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey as our national symbol instead of the bald eagle, the Franklin Institute says the story’s “a myth.” It apparently grew out of a letter to his daughter in which Franklin wrote that in comparison to the bald eagle, the turkey is “a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America…He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage.”

A week of cold winds with several wet days has made downtown feel so bleak that I’d been thinking of filing a complaint with county government. However, as Lynn got out of our car in the Palace Market parking lot Monday, she called back to me that there was an impressive rainbow overhead. I then got out and saw the rainbow framed by overhead lines, dangling running shoes, a utility pole, treetops, and a chimney. Indeed I was impressed by the scene’s complexity.

 

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Capturing the interplay of light and shadow in nature is a specialty of Point Reyes Station photographer Marty Knapp, who just unveiled a new exhibition at the gallery in Toby’s Feed Barn. Called One Place Deeply, Knapp’s show of black and white photographs highlights nature’s beauty around the Green Bridge, Lagunitas/Papermill Creek, and the Giacomini wetlands in Point Reyes Station.

Marty Knapp in his small photo gallery, which is across the street from the feed barn with its much larger gallery.

On his own website, Marty tells this story: “In 1988, I quit my day job and became a self-employed photographer. I survived using only my camera and my darkroom. I did portraits and weddings, copied photographs and made slides for artists. In my darkroom, I developed films and made custom prints for clients.

“In my spare time I pursued my own creative work, capturing dramatic moments of light in the Point Reyes Seashore landscape, and then printing editions for collectors. My long-term goal was to follow my passion and support myself through the sale of my photographs.

“Sales of my creative work began growing in the 1990s, so by 2000 I opened the Marty Knapp Photo Gallery on Highway 1 in Point Reyes. Today, my wife Jean and I show my work there, welcoming visitors from around the world.”

Christmas Walk, 2018. Marty’s focus is so precise that intricate details of trees, water, and clouds become visible, creating a romantic aura.

Describing this photo, Marty wrote, “Jean and I had just returned from a Christmas Day drive through the backroads of Sonoma County. The light was beautiful as we returned home, so I grabbed my camera and immediately walked through the wetlands toward the Green Bridge. The last light of the sun was streaming from across Lagunitas Creek through the winter branches.”

The exhibition at Toby’s is “the culmination of over eight years of walking the trails behind town, very near to where Jean and I live. Access is key to photographing places like the Green Bridge Trail and White House Pool area….

“Being nearby, I walk there almost every day. The light isn’t always wonderful, but with enough time and many visits, photographs like [those in the exhibit] present themselves to me and my camera.”

“I’m drawn to the places where light emerges from a darkened background,” Marty says. “There are several of these kind of photographs I’ve made along the Green Bridge Trail. I call them ‘portals.’”

I’ve known Marty and admired his work for almost 30 years. Because his photos are so sharp, he can get away with printing them as small as notecard size, which is the format which people often get to see. In the show at Toby’s, however, some of the prints are far larger, more than three by four feet, and the results are dazzling.

Marty will give a talk on his photography and answer questions during a second reception set for 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16. His talk will start at 2:30 p.m. The display at Toby’s will remain up from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Feb. 26, so if you haven’t yet seen the exhibition, you still have time.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Amanita muscaria growing beside our driveway.

Amanita muscaria, with its red cap and white flecks, can be hallucinogenic if eaten, but it’s also poisonous if not prepared correctly. Amanitas are native to this area, and the Miwok are said to have consumed these mushrooms for the visions they produced.

Without actually ingesting any amanitas, I’ll now attempt to conjure up the sort of hallucinations they might create, especially in West Marin.

Preserving possums. The late Seeva Cherms, daughter of Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park, years ago noticed my interest in serving the local possum population, so one Christmas she created this sign for me. Unfortunately few possums have come around in the past three or four years, so the sign is now hanging in the basement.

Probably one reason I used to get more visits from possums is that back then, when I could afford it, I fed them honey-roasted peanuts. This possum so loved the snacks that he didn’t mind my petting him while he ate.

Fine dining. And since the same possum was becoming a regular dinner guest, I took time to teach him proper table manners, as has been noted here before.

Bodhisattva. One of the most popular photos I ever posted involved my using the same peanuts to encourage a bodhisattva possum along his path to enlightenment.

More amanitas. Another hallucination that ingesting amanitas might inspire is of civilizing raccoons too. There certainly are a lot more raccoons than possums around these days. 

A beautiful bouquet for your lady? My first raccoon-training dream was to teach this one the floral business. The raccoon learned customer service so well that its picture hung in Flower Power, the florist in downtown Point Reyes Station, for more than a year. Really.

More of a trick was teaching this raccoon bartending. The only watering spot I know where patrons can still smoke a pipe these days is at the back of the No Name Bar in Sausalito, so that’s the job for which he’s probably in training. “Drambuie, you say?”

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

For the fourth time in eight months a friend got me to read a book that turned out to be worth writing about. This time it was Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park, who gave me the book Haunted Salem Oregon by Tim King. It was published last year by Haunted America, a Division of the History Press, Charleston, South Carolina. I don’t believe in the paranormal, so I wasn’t sure the book would interest me, but it did.

 

Tim King in his days as a motorcycle journalist.  (Photo by Tom King)

The publisher describes the author as: “a former marine [who] spent more than 20 years working for a variety of local TV news stations in Oregon, Arizona and Nevada, including ABC, NBC and FOX affiliates. Tim founded Salem-News.com in 2004.

“Later in 2006, he took an assignment with Oregon Guard’s 41st Brigade Combat Team in Afghanistan, reporting for Portland, Oregon ABC affiliate, KATU. During the summer of 2008, Tim went to Iraq, where he covered the war. In addition to motorcycle journalism, Tim coauthored the book Betrayal in 2013. In 2015, Tim launched Salem Ghost Tours.”

Despite being an experienced reporter, King writes about “paranormal investigators” as if they need no explanation: “Experts explain that there are several different types of ghosts. Among the different categories are intelligent ghosts, residual spirits, poltergeists, demonic ghosts, and shadow people… Paranormal investigation [can become] highly addictive.”

Underground passageways found when an old building was demolished.

Salem is the capitol of Oregon, and along with tales of its ghosts, readers learn about the odd way the city was originally constructed. “A labyinth of tunnels snakes its way under Salem’s old downtown section,” King writes. “These underground passageways were used by the public to navigate between buildings in the late 19th century. There was a main tunnel system and numerous catacombs, many of which still exist…

“I would not be surprised if Salem qualified as a record holder for the largest number of underground tunnels in a US city.” Indeed, “the state hospital tunnels are notorious and long known for their ghostly presence…. Stories about ghosts in the old tunnels are rife. Employees of the state hospital still talk about tormented, lifeless spirits clinging to our world and roaming the grounds.”

A safe found under a demolished building.

“Today, quite sadly, much of Salem’s underground has been filled in,” King laments. “Long passageways that had access to spacious rooms only accessible through underground tunnels are now blocked off and filled in…. All efforts to preserve the tunnels failed.”

 

The Fairview Home for the Feeble Minded

“The Fairview Home for the Feeble Minded, as it was originally called, easily competes as one of Salem’s most haunted places,” according to King. That comes about because of the “tragic abuse people suffered…. In the beginning, Fairview’s patients were called ‘inmates.’ That word set the tone for a zero-tolerance environment.

“Over time more than 2,500 forced sterilizations took place…. Forced hysterectomies, tubal ligations, vasectomies and even castrations were requirements for discharge from Fairview through the late 1970s…. The place seems to hold or possess the spirit that loomed over people here, making them alone and fearful and often in pain over their own physical and mental shortcomings.”

Salem’s Reed Opera House which opened in 1870.

“The man who built this immense brick structure,  a former Civil War general, Cyrus Reed, has reportedly been seen for decades in his military uniform, greeting people and welcoming them into the building before disappearing,” King writes. “Similar stories tell of a striking woman in a red dress. Like the general, she welcomes guests and then disappears. Like the general, she is noted for her armless and legless appearance,” King reports.

“The stories about ghosts on the second floor, the site of the old theater, abound. People talk about a pair of poltergeists that cause endless mischief. They are believed to be the spirits of two teenage boys who, in the early years of the theater, learned to draw a reaction from the audience with their vaudevillian antics. They enjoy hiding items that the maintenance crews are searching for.

“Today the second floor of the three-story building is probably the most active. A shadow figure of a man who reportedly wears a top hat is the topic of regular discussion among the councilors who primarily occupy the floor. The shadow man is disturbing, though the figure does not approach people.”

Of course, there are no photographs of any of these ghosts, although King writes that several people have recorded the sounds they make. And that is the essence of Haunted Salem Oregon. If readers are willing to momentarily suspend disbelief, they’ll read some fascinating tales.

Tim King in a recent photo.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Los Angeles policeman Richard Grotsley shows the 4.5-foot rattlesnake that the Synanon cult, then based in Marshall, used in its attempt to murder attorney Paul Morantz in October 1978. Two members planted the snake with its warning rattles cut off in Morantz’s mailbox. The snake bit the attorney and likely would have killed him were it not for a swift response from paramedics. (United Press International photo)

NBC Sports Bay Area next week will air a documentary titled Split End: the Curious Case of Warren Wells. It should be of special interest here. Wells was an All-Pro wide receiver who played four seasons for the Oakland Raiders. After alcoholism led to his receiving  two drunk-driving convictions and an assault conviction, a judge in 1971 ordered him to enter Synanon in lieu of going to jail. Wells spent only six months in the cult, but he never recovered from having his spirit broken there and was unable to play professional football again. Wells, who died last month at the age of 76, was interviewed for the documentary. In it, he is clearly confused at times as a result of serious dementia.

The showing will be at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24.

Were it not for his legal problems and time in Synanon, Wells might have been one of the greatest wide receivers in history. In 1969, for example, he led the American Football League in yards received (1,260), yards per catch (26.8), and touchdowns (14).

Synanon founder Charles Dederich

Charles Dederich, a recovering alcoholic, started Synanon in 1958 in a rented storefront in Santa Monica, touting it as a rehabilitation organization for drug addicts; however, it soon turned into a highly profitable corporation which avoided taxation by calling itself a religion.

In 1964, Synanon began buying its three properties in Marshall. Those three are now the state’s Marconi Conference Center overlooking Tomales Bay plus the S-2 Ranch and the Walker Creek Environmental Ed Center, both on the Marshall-Petaluma Road. At various times Synanon also owned properties in Santa Monica, Oakland, Badger and Visalia (both in Tulare County), and Lake Havasu (in Arizona). 

Members lived at Synanon where no alcohol or drugs were available and Dederich could direct their lives. When they recovered from their addictions, members were often convinced not to leave but to remain as employees. In addition, more and more non-addict “squares” began moving into Synanon for the lifestyle, often cajoled into turning over their houses, bank accounts, and cars. Synanon justified this with a promise to take care of them for the rest of their lives. Many members became low-paid salesmen for Synanon’s highly profitable Advertising Gifts And Premiums business.

ADGAP was a distributor of promotional souvenirs to merchants such as car dealers. The souvenirs were often keychains, cocktail glasses, or other knickknacks inscribed with the merchants’ names. Synanon’s sales pitch was essentially: ‘You’re going to buy this stuff anyway, and if you buy it from us, your money will help cure drug addicts.’ The ploy was so successful that ADGAP eventually grossed $11 million a year.

Meanwhile Dederich was becoming increasingly authoritarian and demanding. Synanon already prevented members from having much contact with family members on the outside. To insure that members were totally committed to Synanon as it had evolved, Dederich launched what amounted to a series of conformity tests.  In 1975, all members — male and female — were required to shave their heads. In early 1977, Dederich coerced men who had been in Synanon five years or longer to have vasectomies and pregnant women to get abortions. Later that same year, virtually all couples, married or not, were required to “change partners.” Members who objected to any of this had to get out, leaving the more zealous members as the core of the cult.

Critics, including lawyers suing the cult, were considered “enemies” and now could be marked for violence. Initially violence had been forbidden by Synanon, but Dederich soon dropped the ban.

Atty. Paul Morantz being interviewed for ‘Split End.’

After atty. Morantz won a $300,000 judgment against the cult for a Southern California woman who had been brainwashed and wrongfully imprisoned in Marshall, Dederich went on a rant recorded by Synanon itself. On the recording, which was seized by police, Dederich can be heard growling: “I’m quite willing to break some lawyer’s legs, and then tell him I’m going to break your wife’s legs, and then we are going to cut your kid’s ear off. Try me. This is only a sample, you son of a bitch. And that’s the end of your lawyer. And that’s the end of him and all his friends. It’s a very satisfactory and humane way of transmitting information.”

Yours truly being interviewed in the documentary.

In 1978 with Synanon violence becoming increasingly common in West Marin and elsewhere, editorials in The Point Reyes Light, which I published at the time, began criticizing law enforcement’s failure to see the pattern. Each incident was treated as unrelated to all the others until ……… the rattlesnake in Morantz’s mailbox. That crime was so bizarre that California’s criminal justice system was finally forced to pay more attention to the group.

Dederich and his two snake handlers were soon arrested and in court made no claim of innocence but instead pled no contest to charges of conspiracy to commit murder. The two were sentenced to a year in jail. After he complained of frail health, Dederich was not jailed but sentenced to five years probation and ordered to stay away from Synanon. In fact, he lived 17 more years, dying at the age of 83 in 1997.

By then, Synanon was no more. In 1991, the IRS had taken away the cult’s tax-exempt status, which forced it to disband. After viewers of Split End see the damage Synanon did to Wells, most will agree that Synanon should have been disbanded long before then. I’d recommend the documentary even if I didn’t have a cameo in it.

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