History


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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.

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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.

Prompted by President Trump’s intemperate rhetoric, the word fanatic kept coming to mind, so I decided to look up the word’s origin. “Fanatic comes from the Latin word for temple, fanum, and meant mad as if inspired by a god,” or so I read in the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, which I’ve quoted here before. Perhaps the most scathing definition of fanatic, however, is Winston Churchill’s: “One who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”

The dictionary’s explanation of cold shoulder is a bit of a surprise: “When knighthood was in flower, a wandering knight would be received at any castle with a sumptuous hot meal. However, the common traveler would do well to be offered a plate of cold meat. Since mutton was a common food of the times in England, he would be likely to get the cold shoulder. Today when we turn the cold shoulder to anyone, we treat him with disdain bordering on contempt.”

Another surprising phrase is the toast chin-chin. It comes from Italy, where it is spelled cin-cin and means something like to your health. I heard the expression in Italy and France while traveling as a college student and started using it instead of cheers. Recently in both Point Reyes Station and Sausalito, however, I used chin-chin with a friend who had lived in Japan and with an acquaintance from there, and it got each woman laughing. Turns out that in Japanese, chin-chin means penis.

I doublechecked online and read this account: “One of our Japanese engineers had once told us a story about … a Japanese business man [who] goes to a dinner event. During the course of the dinner, an Italian raises his glass and toasts ‘Chin-chin!’ to the Japanese man. At first, the Japanese looks stunned. He looks at the Italian, and apparently detecting that the Italian meant no harm, he raises his glass and sips his drink sharing in the toast. He smiles broadly.

“Later in the evening, someone who noticed his facial expressions during the toast, goes to the Japanese man and asks him about his reaction. He smiles and explains: ‘I had not heard this particular toast before. In Japanese, the word chin means penis. So when he said ‘chin-chin‘ to me, I thought at first he was insulting me. Then I thought about it, and decided if this man wants to toast my penis, who am I to argue? So I accepted the toast gladly.'”

 — From a 1933 New Yorker magazine

The Morris Dictionary gives two alternative explanations for the origin of the phrase bring home the bacon. One is that the winner of greased-pig contests at county fairs often got to bring the porker home. The other, which I prefer, goes back to 1111 A.D. in the town of Dunmow in England: “A noblewoman, wishing to encourage marital happiness, decreed that ‘any person from any part of England going to Dunmow and humbly kneeling on two stones at the church door may claim a gammon [side] of bacon, if he can swear that for twelve months and a day he has never had a household brawl or wished himself unmarried.'”

However, judging by these standards, such happiness was rare. “Let cynics make what they will of the record,” Morris Dictionary commented, “in a period of five centuries (1244-1772), there were only eight claimants of the prize.”

Computer techie Keith Mathews gave me his copy of the dictionary when he moved from Point Reyes Station to Augusta 11 years ago, and I remain indebted to him.

 

 

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We are in the midst of holiday crafts fairs from the community center in Muir Beach to the community centers in Bolinas, the San Geronimo Valley, and Point Reyes Station. 

And that is in addition to last Friday’s Christmas-tree lighting in Point Reyes Station and an exhibit that opened Sunday in Inverness’ Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History. It focuses on key women in early Inverness and on Point Reyes.

Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell

Point Reyes Station celebrated its 20th annual Path of Lights Friday. Many stores stayed open late, and luminarios lined the sidewalk in front of them. West Marin Senior Services sponsored the lighting of the town Christmas tree beside the bank.

Also in Point Reyes Station, the Dance Palace Community Center held its 48th annual artisan craft and holiday market all weekend. Terry Aleshire (center) confers with his elves.

Working the table at the Dance Palace fair’s raffle were (from left):  Allie Klein, Amelia Aufuldish, Bella Schlitz, Zoe Rocco-Zilber, and Melissa Claire.

Cannabis-based remedies for various ailments were on sale.

Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell

San Geronimo Valley’s community center held its 49th annual holiday crafts fair on the portico and inside the building, 89 years since it first opened as a public school.

Amy Valens, left, talks with local vendors Rebecca Maloney (center) and Denise Jackson. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell) 

Richard “Santa” Sloan determines who’s been naughty or nice.  (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Suzanne Sadowsky sits behind the Hanukah menorah. The holiday commemorates the oil that miraculously lasted eight days, lighting the Temple recovered by the Maccabees in 165 B.C. The holiday begins tonight.  (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Sarah Riddell Shafter (1823-1900) married Oscar Lovell Shafter in 1841 and bore him 11 children.

‘Those Shafter Women’ is the name of the exhibit that just opened in the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History. “It focuses on the wives and daughters of the original six children born to Mary Lovell Shafter and William Rufus Shafter,” the museum newsletter notes. The eldest was named Wealthy Loretta Shafter Edminister…” Yes, her first name really was “Wealthy.”

Emma Shafter Howard married Charles Webb Howard in 1861. In 1890, they separated, and he agreed to support her for life and to leave half of his extensive West Marin holdings to her. However, he left her only Bear Valley Ranch, as Emma discovered when he died in 1908. Emma, who was known as “a strong woman,” sued to get her half of the property and was successful. This, however, caused bad feelings with some of the other heirs, her children and younger sisters.

Emma took part in numerous social causes. She was a lifetime member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She founded the Women’s Agricultural and Horticultural Union of California. 

The exhibit is in large part a genealogical presentation with history told as it relates to members of the Shafter family.

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A friend I met in Sausalito’s No Name Bar where I go Friday evenings to listen to jazz, poet Paul LeClerc, has again recommended a fascinating book I would not know about otherwise. It’s Cain’s Book by Alexander Trocchi. As The New Yorker once commented, “Mr. Trocchi’s ideas…are set down in prose that is always clean and sharp and often ferociously alive with poetry.”

Poet Paul LeClerc in Sausalito’s No Name Bar.

This is the third book LeClerc has recommended that is set in a low-rent, mostly industrial area along the docks of Manhattan Island. The first two were Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell and Joe Gould’s Teeth by Jill Lepore, which I wrote about in the postings linked above. Much of LeClerc’s interest in that setting stems from his having driven taxis in New York City, where he also worked in bookstores. (He later did the same in San Francisco.)

Alexander Trocchi as a young man with his typewriter .

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1925, Alexander Trocchi in his 20s moved to Paris where he became a life-long heroin addict. He wrote six pornographic novels and edited an avant-garde literary magazine, Merlin. The magazine lasted from 1952 to 1954 when the US State Department canceled its many subscriptions because, according to Trocchi, of an article by Jean Paul Sartre that praised the homoeroticism of writer Jean Genet.

Trocchi then moved to the US, first to Taos and later settling in New York City, where he became a bargeman on a Hudson River scow. The character Joe Necchi in Cain’s Book is a stand-in for Trocchi. Often Joe spends days alone moored on a scow, at night sleeping in a shack atop the deck. Inside the shack he fixes himself with heroin, smokes marijuana and cigarettes, and types manuscripts by the light of kerosene lamps.

On the scow, “I became fascinated by the minute-to-minute sensations, and when I reflected, I did so repetitively and exhaustingly (often under marijuana) on the meaninglessness of the texture of the moment, the cries of gulls, a floating spar, a shaft of sunlight, and it wasn’t long before the sense of being alone overtook me and drained me of all hope of ever entering the city with its complicated relations.”

Alexander Trocchi with his wife Lyn Hicks.

Trocchi neither condemns nor romanticizes heroin addition. He simply shows what it is like. His character Joe lives in an unmoral world where junkies rip off their friends. Joe seduces men and other men’s wives. Women resort to prostitution to pay for their drugs.

And it was all real. When Cain’s Book was published in 1960, notes Wikipedia, “Trocchi was deep in the throes of heroin addiction; he even failed to attend his own launch party for [the book]. His wife prostituted herself on the streets of the Lower East Side.”

Trocchi playing chess with pieces made from used heroin syringes.

“To be a junkie is to live in a madhouse,” Joe muses. “Laws, police forces, armies, mobs of indignant citizenry crying mad dog. We are perhaps the weakest minority which ever existed; forced into poverty, filth, squalor, without even the protection of a legitimate ghetto.”

Growing up, Joe had also been in poverty — but not because of drugs. His mother took care of the house, but his father became a total shirker and stopped contributing anything, he recalls. “Whenever I contemplated our poverty and how it situated me at the edge of an uncrossable gulf at whose far side strolled those fortunate few who had lived their lives in well-mannered leisure, I felt like a tent pegged down in a high wind.”

Yet for all this, Cain’s Book is not a downer. Rather it’s enlightening, making it understandable how some people get hooked on heroin and what then happens to them. Norman Mailer called the book “different from other books: it is true, it has art, it is brave.” In a time when this country is in what’s called “an opiod crisis,” Cain’s Book makes clear that it is possible to become addicted and yet examine oneself through art.

Trocchi died of pneumonia in 1984 at the age of 59.

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My appointment book says Sunday, Sept. 23, will be the “first day of fall.” My Humane Society calendar says it will be the day “autumn begins.” Which is it? Or both? And if so, why does the season have two names. Both originate in the British Isles, but “autumn” is the more-common term there while fall is preferred here in the US.

From what I read, “fall” came into use around the 1500s in such terms as “fall of the year” or “fall of the leaf.” Within a century it was contracted to simply “fall.” Autumn, which comes from the Latin autumnus by way of the French automne, means the same thing but didn’t become popular in the British Isles until the 1600s.

Every year in West Marin, leaves with fall colors — poison oak’s red leaves in particular — decorate the countryside. Which reminds me of my itchy youth in Berkeley. When I was learning to read and write at Hillside Elementary School, one teacher at the start of a school year told our class to write poems about autumn. Expressing my chagrin at the end of vacation, I wrote:

“Autumn, it comes in the fall./ Autumn should not come at all./ For when it’s fall, it is a rule/ All of us go back to school.” I can’t remember the teacher’s reaction to my rhyme, but I know she didn’t always understand what I wrote. When I once used “mise” in a paper, she drew a circle around it. “What’s that word?” she asked. I was astounded that she didn’t know. My parents were always saying, “We mise well do this” or, “We mise well do that.”

The summer was so dry that the horses grazing on the hill next to Mitchell cabin ate down all the grass and are now living off bales of hay distributed by their owners.

A hillside in the Murray Buttes region of Mars. (NASA photo)

Mars or mythology? Recently while looking into the origins of words, I became curious as to the origin of “Hesperian.” There’s a city called Hesperia in San Bernardino County and an Elementary School called Hesperian in San Lorenzo. Hesperian is also the name of a major boulevard which parallels the Nimitz freeway in Hayward.

But when I looked up Hesperian in Wikipedia, the first definition listed said, “The Hesperian is a geologic system and time period on the planet Mars characterized by widespread volcanic activity and catastrophic flooding that carved immense outflow channels across the surface.” The Hesperian probably began about 3700 million years ago. Why would anyone name a city, or a school, or a boulevard after that?

Apparently as it’s being used, however, Hesperian suggests “western.” In ancient Greek and Roman mythology, Hesperides referred to both a garden producing golden apples at the western edge of the world and to nymphs who guarded the garden with the aid of a dragon. Again I ask: why would anyone name a city, or a school, or a boulevard — even in the West — after nymphs with a dragon or their garden?

In keeping with the western garden myth of Hesperides, the Greeks called the Evening Star (which rises in the west) “Hesperus.” Even if this were the reference, I would similarly ask: why anyone would name a city, a school, or a boulevard after the evening star?

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A line of wild turkeys advances on Mitchell cabin.

This week’s posting mostly concerns the unrecognized origins of everyday words. But it will be pun-tuated by lines of animals. My authority is the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. Computer techie Keith Mathews gave me his copy when he moved from Point Reyes Station to Augusta 11 years ago.

Let’s start with “hobnob.” Although it sounds like slang, it’s actually “a word of impeccable ancestry,” according to the dictionary. It first showed up at the time of Chaucer as habnab, meaning “to have and have not.” The word originated in the 14th Century as a term for “the social practice of alternating in the buying of drinks.” Eventually it came to mean having social exchanges with someone.

Or how about “boondocks?” After all, don’t we West Mariners live in them? “Boondocks” comes from the Tagalog word bandok, meaning “mountains.” During their occupation of the Philippines in World War II, US servicemen picked up the word and used it as a general term for “rough back country.” In time, “the boondocks” came to mean “the sticks.”

Deer tend to approximate a line when crossing fields while grazing. If one of them is alarmed by something, it inevitably alerts the rest.

Most Americans who use the word “ramshackle” know nothing of its origin. As the dictionary notes, it comes to us straight from Iceland, where the word is ramskakkr, meaning “badly twisted.” In English that term came to mean “about to fall to pieces.”

Horses in the field seem to line up only when walking on a trail in rough terrain.

Canada. My mother was a Canadian immigrant, but I never knew the origin of the name Canada until I read the Morris Dictionary: “According to the best authority, canada was originally a word in the Huron-Iroquois language meaning ‘a collection of lodges.'” The French explorer Jacques Cartier coined Canada when he wrote in 1535 that he had talked with an Indian chief who waved his arms about when he said kanata, apparently referring to all the land in the region. In fact, the chief was merely referring to a nearby village. But mistakes happen.

Corduroy is an especially sturdy fabric, which is one reason I usually wear cords. But despite its workhorse connotation in English, the word originated in French as corde du roi, meaning “cord fit for the king.” In fact, corde du roi was once used exclusively by kings as part of their hunting regalia. Quant à moi, je suis ce que je suis, as Popeye says when in Paris.

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Tomales celebrated its annual Founders’ Day Sunday with its traditional parade down the main street and festival in the town park. Tomales artist and cartoonist Kathryn LeMieux incorporated her California Mermaids characters into this scene, which she painted for the festival poster.

A Coast Guard honor guard marched at the head of the parade.

The parade was more spread out than in years past. Fewer floats took part. Tomales High did not send cheerleaders as it often does. Nor was there the usual contingent of antique cars, farm tractors, etc. but the crowd was still enthusuastic.

As is common at parades in West Marin, more than a few participants threw wrapped candies to kids along their route. Meanwhile the festival, which included a variety of food booths, art offerings, and music, was packed and convivial.

The Boy Scouts provided their own color guard. Tomales’ main street is Highway 1, which had to be closed through town during the parade.

The parade marshals turned out to be sisters, Mary Zimmerman and Kathleen Sartori.

Tomales rancher Al Poncia and his wife Cathie rode a three-wheeled motorcycle that was pulling a trailer with a keg labeled “Papa’s Grappa.”

The Hubbub Club from the Graton-Sebastopol area of Sonoma County.

Tomales sheepman Dan Erickson drove a truck marked “ZOOMALES,” which was loaded with plants and scary-looking creatures.

A “Tomales Baby Boom” entry celebrated the “future” Future Farmers of America.

E Clampus Vitus is annually a colorful participant in the parade. The Clampers are a boisterous club which pulls pranks but also puts up memorials for events in local history considered too small for the State Historical Society to commemorate. The Los Angeles Times once mused whether the group should be considered an “historical drinking society or a drinking historical society.”

The 1877 William Tell House bar and restaurant, the oldest saloon in the county (the building on the left), reopened last month under new ownership.

Mexican dancers, who pull their own drums with them, add excitement to many parades around here.

Not so excited was this participant who appeared to doze off while riding in a parade entry.

Far more excited was this canine passenger, Rylo, riding with Karen Lawson in Curtis McBurney’s parade entry.

Providing music for the festival in Tomales Town Park was a group called Foxes in the Henhouse.

Along with all the food, music, and crafts  in the park, townspeople could sign up to become volunteer firefighters or to take Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. Kids could climb, swing, and take slides in the park’s small playground. In short, there was something for everyone.

This week’s  journey started out when Sausalito poet Paul LeClerc and I got to talking during a break in the jazz one Friday evening at the No Name Bar. As noted in my July 8 posting, he recommended I read Joseph Mitchell’s 1938 book Joe Gould’s Secret, so I did. Not surprisingly, the author’s style turned out to be extremely engaging, for Mitchell was a longtime writer for The New Yorker. Much of the book had already appeared in that magazine. Whenever that had happened, Gould received some much-desired publicity.

— Poet Paul LeClerc (in white hat) at the No Name Bar

As I wrote last time, Gould was an unemployable eccentric who frequented the dive bars of New York City. Sometimes he called himself Professor Seagull. He claimed he’d learned the language of seagulls and had translated various poems into “seagull language.” He survived on donations of money, food, and clothing.

To justify his having no job and no money, Gould told people he was busy writing “the longest book in the history of the world.” He called it An Oral History of Our Time and was constantly recording in composition books conversations he was overhearing. The “secret” was that there was no such book, only a bunch of his notebooks, as Mitchell (below right) would discover. Gould was eventually hospitalized with a variety of physical and mental problems and died with people still looking for a copy of his Oral History.

— Los Angeles Times illustration

The story fascinated a college student named Jill Lepore (left), and one semester she joined the hunt for Gould’s missing Oral History as part of a thesis. Her paper became the genesis of her 2015 book titled Joe Gould’s Teeth. With its 77 pages of footnotes, it’s probably better researched then any other book I’ve read. Appropriately, Lepore, now 52, has become a professor of American History at Harvard as well as a staff writer for The New Yorker.

Lepore depicts Gould in far less flattering terms than Mitchell did. “Joe Gould was a toothless mad man who slept in the street,” Lepore writes, also noting that he sometimes “bunked in flophouses.” She also describes Gould’s obsession with sculptor Augusta Savage and his behavior toward her after she rejected his marriage proposal. Gould became so distraught he had to be hospitalized, and upon his release, he began stalking her.

This gets us to a stunning revelation that explains the title Joe Gould’s Teeth. Gould over time was admitted to several psychiatric hospitals, and “it was likely at Central Islip [hospital in New York] that Gould (above) lost his teeth,” Lepore concludes. “‘The first thing they did with all patients was take out all their teeth,’ wrote the psychiatrist Muriel Gardiner recalling her residency at a mental hospital in New Jersey at the time. This was on the theory, she explained, ‘that mental illness of any sort was always the result of a physical infection.'”

Lepore subsequently notes: “In New Jersey, Gardiner found the care of patients in the state mental hospital appalling. What most distressed her was the removal of their teeth. ‘I read their charts,’ she later said, ‘and some of them literally had had teeth, tonsils, appendix, uterus, every organ that you can live without removed for no apparent reason except they were schizophrenic…. None of them had ever got better.'”

That medical quackery explains the title Joe Gould’s Teeth. Oddly enough, Lepore merely refers to it only twice briefly and well before the conclusion. It’s almost as if that cruelty were incidental to her account and not the focus of the book’s title. But since Lepore writes for The New Yorker, I won’t second-guess her style.

There were no coyotes in West Marin for 40 years because of poisoning by sheep ranchers in northwest Marin and southern Sonoma counties. However, coyotes never disappeared from northern Sonoma County, and after the Nixon Administration banned the poison 10-80, they started spreading south and showed up here again in 1983.

A lean coyote on my driveway last week. (Photo by my neighbor Dan Huntsman)

In the years since then, coyotes put an end to more than half of the sheep ranching around Marshall, Tomales, Dillon Beach, and Valley Ford.

A coyote eyes my car as I park at Mitchell cabin.

Ranchers initially proposed outfitting their sheep with poison collars since coyotes typically go for the throat. The collars would not save the sheep that was bitten but would prevent the attacker from killing more sheep. The collars were not allowed, however, on grounds that a coyote which died from poisoning could, in turn, poison buzzards and other carrion eaters that came upon it.

A coyote runs past my kitchen door.

In 1995, Tomales sheep rancher Roy Erickson told The Point Reyes Light he had lost six ewes — most of them pregnant — to coyotes in the previous two weeks. Back then, each ewe sold for $85, and the unborn lambs would have been worth the same amount the following year. Financially, “it’s like someone slashing a pair of new tires every few days,” Erickson said.

Unless the state loosened its ban on toxic collars, the sheep rancher sarcastically remarked, “they’ll have to rename our place Fat Buzzard Ranch.” Fortunately, the ranch was able to survive.

Coyotes can walk at more than 20 mph and run considerably faster than 30 mph.

Tomales sheepman Dan Erickson today told me that thanks to special fencing, guard dogs, and hunting, there are still 10 or more sheep ranches in the Marshall, Tomales, Dillon Beach, and Valley Ford region. Coyotes continue to kill a few sheep, but they haven’t won yet. I’m happy to report we’re not hearing the ranchers howling, as the coyotes do almost every evening.

A sad afterward: Friday evening, July 20, Lynn and I were on Lucas Valley Road when we saw a young coyote walking in the grass beside the road. This was on the flats about a mile and a half east of Big Rock, and since there are no sheep ranches in the area, seeing it was a treat. Alas, later that evening when we passed the same spot while driving home to Point Reyes Station, we came upon a flattened coyote in the roadway. What a shock! Dammit, we all need to slow down at night.

 

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