History


Approximately 15 inches of badly needed rain fell in drought-stricken West Marin during the past week, with much of it falling last weekend.

Although the rain flooded numerous roadways, including sections of Highway 1, roughly 50 people showed up at Tomales Regional History Center Sunday to hear Jacoba Charles and me read a few selections from our book, The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported in The Point Reyes Light.

In December, the History Center published the book, which draws upon news coverage in The Light to tell the post-World War II “history of West Marin’s lively little towns and their Pulitzer Prize-winning weekly newspaper.”

Jacoba and I looked through more than 3,300 back issues in choosing representative selections of writing, photography, and political cartoons to include in the book. We then wrote background narratives for many of the news stories.

The crowd filled the History Center’s conference room, where awards and other mementos from the newspaper’s past were on display. After our readings, Jacoba and I signed copies of the book while directors of the History Center served refreshments. (Photos by Lynn Axelrod)

Jacoba started the readings with Wilma Van Peer’s 1998 account of working for the paper’s founders, Dave and Wilma Rogers, half a century earlier. Mrs. Van Peer described Dave as a “little man” with a “nose for news” who liked to “tease” people.

The Light, which was called The Baywood Press for its first 18 years, has had 10 sets of owners in the past 65 years. I published the paper for 27 of those years and wrote the chapters covering news from the first eight ownerships.

Jacoba reported for The Light during its previous ownership and is on the paper’s board of directors under today’s owner, Marin Media Institute. She compiled the chapters dealing with news coverage under the last two sets of publishers.

I unexpectedly found myself getting choked up while reading aloud an item from a June 22, 1950, column of social news:

“Mr. and Mrs. Anton Kooy and sons Peter, 13 years, and Walter, 11 years, have arrived at Blake’s Landing ranch from Amsterdam, Holland. They have come to join their friends Herbert Angress and Bill Straus, and Anton is going into business with Bill and Herbert. The Kooys will live at the Clark home, which the Harold Johnstones now occupy, near Marshall.

“During the last war, Mr. and Mrs. Kooy took Herbert Angress in to stay with them, thus saving his life from the Nazis. The two boys will be attending the Tomales schools — Peter being of high school age.”

While reading this short item to the crowd, I was once again struck by the horrendous danger in which Herb Angress had found himself and by the Kooy family’s heroism in putting themselves at risk to shelter him. Then — five years after World War II ended — they followed him to West Marin.

What choked me up was the sudden realization that when this potentially tragic drama came to a happy ending in Marshall, it made West Marin seem like part of a wartime miracle.

Jacoba reads the late historian Jack Mason’s account of former publisher Don DeWolfe changing the paper’s name from Baywood Press to Point Reyes Light in 1966. Full of wry humor, the story is set in the Station House Café, which Mason operated for awhile after he retired from an editor’s post at The Oakland Tribune.

Víctor Reyes, who writes a Spanish-language column for The Light, filled in for Dewey Livingston during the readings.

The book’s designer, Dewey Livingston, lives in Inverness where he is the historian at the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History. He had been scheduled to take part in the readings but had to bow out at the last minute. Second Valley Creek behind his house was flooding and undercutting his bedroom, forcing Dewey to stay home and deal with the rising water.

The Light on the Coast reprints the paper’s entire series on the five waves of ethnic immigration to West Marin during the past 160 years. To research the series, the newspaper sent reporters abroad four times in nine years — to Croatia, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino, Portugal’s mid-Atlantic Azores, and the Jalostotitlán region of Mexico.

Víctor, who was one of the reporters on the immigration stories from Mexico, described Jalostotitlán and two neighboring towns. Most of West Marin’s Mexican-immigrant families hail from that area.

He stressed how traditional and conservative people are in Jalos (the city’s nickname) although it is only a 90-minute drive from Guadalajara. The priest virtually runs the city, Víctor said.

West Marin’s non-Latino residents that are familiar with large Mexican municipalities, such as Mexico City, may think they understand the culture of Mexican-immigrant residents here, Víctor said, but Jalos is a world apart, and the difference can sometimes lead to confusion.

Two more readings and book signings are scheduled in West Marin. From 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 1, there will be a reading, a public open house, and a reunion of former Light staff in the newspaper’s new office behind the Inverness Post Office.

Point Reyes Books will sponsor a third reading and book signing at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 9, in Point Reyes Station’s Presbyterian Church.

Anne R. Dick, 87, of Point Reyes Station is extraordinary in many ways. Already this year she has published one book of poetry, Friends & Family/Point Reyes Poems.

And that’s after publishing three first-rate volumes of poetry last year: Iliad Poems, Penelope of the Mind, and Space and Love.

The octogenarian author, meanwhile, is quick to credit her editor, Barbara Brauer of San Geronimo, with helping her “focus, clarify, and organize the poems.”

Currently in progress are two novels, the working title of one being Anne and the Twentieth Century or Gullible’s Travels, an Autobiography.

In addition, Anne has written two well-received books of nonfiction, Search for Philip K. Dick: 1928-1982 (published in 2009) and The Letters of My Grandfather Moses Perry Johnson: Written 1910-1928 (published in 2012).

Anne’s grandfather, she notes on the book cover, was “a successful St. Louis businessman [who in 1910] left his family behind to make a new life with a red-headed ‘Gibson Girl’ chanteuse in the Far West.” Johnson worked in a Washington lumber camp, was a paymaster of the Panama Pacific Exposition, and for awhile lived “in the far reaches of Yosemite.”

Anne and Philip K. Dick in Point Reyes Station in 1958. They married the following year.

Far better known, of course, is the subject of her other nonfiction book, science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Anne, who was the third of his five wives, was married to him from 1959 to 1968.

Philip’s books received widespread recognition and won more than a dozen national and international literary awards for science fiction. Time magazine in 2005 ranked Philip’s novel Ubik one of the hundred greatest since 1923.

Hollywood turned 10 of his novels into movies, but paid him pittances. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? became Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford. The film grossed $28 million, but Philip (right) received a mere $1,250, the online magazine Wired reported awhile back.

In Search for Philip K. Dick, Anne writes that he told a neighbor his inability to contribute financially to their marriage ultimately caused him to resent her.

Philip was “a charming man and quite shy,” Anne told me Saturday. “He would listen too… He really was very brilliant.” However, Philip also experienced episodes of “paranoia,” she said. And he could be manipulative and controlling, she writes in her biography of him.

In An Odd Conversation with God from Penelope of the Mind, Anne remembers Philip as “that terrible, beloved, wonderful man whom I hated passionately and was mourning for every night in my bed (my empty bed).”

In 1974, six years after their divorce, Philip received sodium pentothal during a tooth extraction and subsequently was given Darvon.

Afterward he experienced weeks of hallucinations. The experience appears to have informed some of his later science fiction writing.

 

 

_____________________________________________________________________Anne

Anne acknowledges there are autobiographical echoes in many of her poems, and Families from Penelope of the Mind hints at what life was like with Philip:

Safety-danger, love-hate, loyalty-treachery

chains of commitment and rejection

power, power, power

Slavery

the bondage of guilt

MONEY, not enough, too much

envy

greed

conflict

I only love you if you’re useful to me

if you don’t disturb me too much

if you become the person I want you to be

Earning a living was less of a frustration for Anne. While she and Philip were married, she started a successful jewelry-making business, appropriately named Anne R. Dick Jewelry. She ran the business in Point Reyes Station for 47 years before selling it in 2007. By then, however, she was also an innkeeper operating Seven Grey Foxes B&B at her home on Mesa Road.

While her writing is sometimes personal, Anne doesn’t hesitate to laugh at herself. Here’s a short poem from Penelope of the Mind. It’s titled Ageism or I Thought I Looked Great That Day:

I dress young, look good

blonde hair, good features, good skin

a trace of lipstick

a little eye shadow, mascara

 

I was walking down Cypress Road

when a man in a big shiny car

slowed down and drove alongside me

with a wink and a smirk

he crooked his index finger

can I give you a ride?


I walked over to his car window

to say no thanks, I prefer to walk

he blanched when I got close

and said, I’m sorry madam

and sped away

My personal favorite among Anne’s new books is Iliad Poems, perhaps because I’ve been fascinated by Greek and Roman mythology ever since I was a boy.

In Anne’s case, she was still young when her father died and she moved with her mother to St. Louis where other family members lived.

“I was sort of a latch-key little girl,” she told me. And much of her time alone was spent reading Bullfinch’s Mythology and similar works, a practice she continued as she grew older.

Anne’s knowledge of Greek, Roman, and even Norse mythology is impressive, and by drawing on it, she is able to describe the universal nature of her own experiences while remaining succinct.

You can see a bit of this in her poem My Personal Chaos.

A reminder before we begin: the original Iliad by Homer (who lived around 800 BC) is, of course, a long poem telling the story of the Trojan War. Back then, the Greeks thought of Eros as the god of love and of Dionysus as both the god of wine and of ecstasy, including frenzied rituals.

To Escape the strong forces of Fate

I crammed my being

into a small corner of my psyche

 

One day something burst

and let me out

 

Everything changed—

The earth all around laughed

the mountain and its wild creatures joined in

“ha ha ha!”

 

My brain squirmed and squealed

twisted and turned

The childhood wound

I had brooded about so long

turned out to be a mirage

 

Now I gyrate in the whirlwinds of Eros

dance to the dissonances of Dionysus

While we talked Saturday, I noted that dancing comes up several times in her poetry and asked if she likes to dance. In 1947, Anne replied, she was a student at Washington University when she paid a brief visit to the University of Wisconsin, observed modern dance, and was captivated by it. She briefly considered becoming a professional dancer, but “it didn’t seem practical.”

Instead she took up horseback riding which, she remarked, is similar to dancing: “It uses the total body.” As a result of her fondness for horses, she coached horse-vaulting (gymnastics on horseback) for 10 years in Point Reyes Station.

Looking in on Anne Dick reading in the social area of her B&B.

Anne, who has written two science fiction novels herself, posited that in her riding she “was actually communicating with an alien” — and then laughingly added — “if you consider a horse an alien.”

Those wishing to order copies of Anne Dick’s books can contact the publisher, Point Reyes Cypress Press, at Box 459, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956. Or <www.pointreyescypresspress.com>.

Before Kent Reservoir was created in 1953-54, Lagunitas Creek was broad “like the Russian River” as it flowed past his present home, Tocaloma resident Pat Martin, 67, told me this week.

“It was all natural flow,” he said. During the 1940s and early 1950s, runs of coho salmon passing through Tocaloma were “incredible,” Martin remarked. No one disputes this. “Thousands” of coho salmon used to migrate up the creek annually, naturalists have likewise reported. In the years since then, however, the number of local coho dropped so precipitously the species is now listed as endangered.

A coho salmon swims upstream through shallow water on its way to spawn. (Bay Nature photo)

The fry of coho salmon are born in freshwater creeks. After a year or two, the salmon in their smolt stage swim downstream to the ocean where as adults they live for one to three years. Then guided by the smell of water from the creeks where they were born, the adult salmon head back upstream to their birthplaces to spawn and die.

Pat Martin  lives on Platform Bridge Road at a ranch that once belonged to his late stepfather, Louis Zanardi. Although some people blame the development of homes and dairy ranches in West Marin for at one time putting coho salmon on the verge of extinction, Martin says baloney. From what he has seen, the damage was almost entirely the result of building Peters Dam and then Seeger Dam.

In 1953-54, Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) created Kent Reservoir by erecting Peters Dam on Lagunitas Creek. The district didn’t release water from the reservoir in the summer, Martin said, and once that began, “I could step across the creek.”

Unable to get up Lagunitas Creek to spawn until heavy rains each year, fish would get stuck in pools around Point Reyes Station’s Coast Guard housing complex. There many of them would fall prey to seals, as well as river otters and lamprey eels, Martin added, and “kids in town would snag them.”

Years ago the late game warden Al Giddings of Woodacre likewise told me about the snagging, which involves dragging a fishing line with no bait on the hook against fish in shallow water. It’s illegal in California.

In addition, without enough water in Lagunitas Creek to migrate up it for months at a time, the salmon — which by then had been living in saltwater for a year or more — sometimes developed “fin rot” from remaining too long in freshwater pools, Martin remembered.

Platform Bridge is just downstream from Nicasio Reservoir’s Seeger Dam, and earlier this month, an artist painted pictures of migrating salmon on the bridge railing. Seeger Dam, which MMWD built 53 years ago, has eliminated salmon runs in Nicasio Creek, a tributary of Lagunitas Creek.

As part of building Peters Dam, logs were left in creek channels. In addition, the Park Service planted willows along the banks of Lagunitas Creek downstream from Jewell. All this has provided shade for fry but can also create pools that lock in fish, making them easy prey for raccoons, Martin said.

For months each year following the construction of Peters Dam 60 years ago, there wasn’t enough water in the creek to sustain much wildlife other than crawfish and bullhead catfish, he said. Brine shrimp, which had been a major part of the frys’ diet, largely disappeared, and mayfly larvae became a primary source of food.

Lagunitas Creek. Its main tributaries include Larsen Creek, Devils Gulch Creek, San Geronimo Creek, and — downstream from Tocaloma — Nicasio Creek. (Marin Municipal Water District photo)

But all is not lost. For the past five years, coho salmon had been making a comeback in Lagunitas Creek. Even some chinook salmon have been showing up. River otters have followed the fish as far upstream as Tocaloma. “There never was an otter in this [stretch of] creek when I was growing up,” Martin noted.

What’s making the difference? To get a permit for raising the height of Peters Dam in 1982, MMWD was temporarily ordered to release enough water from it year round to meet the needs of fish in Lagunitas Creek. That order became permanent in 1995.

Before 1982, there were fears that Lagunitas Creek was on the verge of losing all its coho. However, as MMWD’s fishery program manager Greg Andrew reported in June, last winter the coho spawning run “approached our long-term average of about 500 adults.”

A century ago, tourists from San Francisco often took the narrow-gauge train from Sausalito to Tocaloma to fish where salmon were abundant. Here a fisherman casts his line into Lagunitas Creek just downhill from the majestic Bertrand House hotel. (Copied from historic photo in the Olema Farmhouse restaurant.)

By 1889, Tocaloma “had one of the finest hotels in Marin County, the Bertrand House,” the late historian Jack Mason wrote in Point Reyes the Solemn Land. “When fire razed this establishment in 1917, it was replaced by Caesar Ronchi’s tavern.”

Mason added that “Caesar was a portly Italian tenor whose connection with the world of grand opera was as nebulous as his reputed alliance with San Francisco’s prohibition gangland.”

The late Don McIsaac, who lived across the creek from the tavern, once told me Caesar, who had somehow gotten in trouble with other bootleggers, had to leave San Francisco for his own safety. McIsaac recalled hearing Caesar’s operatic voice periodically reverberating through the canyon.

With salmon numbers improving now that MMWD is releasing enough water into Lagunitas Creek, everything had been looking good, Martin remarked. And along with the increased flows from Peters Dam, some small dams at the Inkwells and upstream have been removed.

And then came this year’s drought. At the moment, Marin County is on its way to experiencing its driest year on record, and this is taking a toll on coho in Lagunitas Creek.

Adult salmon swimming up Lagunitas Creek often use the little “side creeks” along the way for spawning grounds, and at the moment, many of these side creeks are dry. Female salmon create hollows in the gravel creekbed called redds, which is where spawning occurs and eggs are buried. Counts of redds in Lagunitas Creek and its tributaries this year have found far fewer than had been found for several years.

Some naturalists are again worrying the salmon may still be in an “extinction vortex,” to use their obscure jargon.

Martin is more straightforward. The coho salmon population, he said with a frown, is “still not stable.”

At first glance, it may seem inappropriate to talk about natural disasters during the holidays, but unfortunately that’s often when some of the worst weather-related crises have occurred in West Marin.

Moreover, I’ve been asked by Anne Sands, the new West Marin Disaster Council coordinator, to publish her letter to the community. So I’m doing so below.

On New Year’s Eve in 2005, a rainstorm caused Papermill/Lagunitas Creek to flood. The Point Reyes-Petaluma Road was inundated in several locations, and one was at the now-closed Rich Readimix plant near Platform Bridge. Even before the flood crested, the car of a passing San Francisco Chronicle delivery driver got caught in the current and overturned near the plant.

Downstream, low-lying areas of Point Reyes Station were also flooded that New Year’s Eve and Day. ________________________________________________________________

On Jan. 4, 1982, a ferocious storm caused floods and landslides which destroyed homes in Inverness and left a San Geronimo Valley resident permanently paralyzed. _______________________________________________________________

Not all the disasters that periodically hit West Marin are related to the weather, of course. With the San Andreas Fault running under Bolinas Lagoon, up the Olema Valley, and the length of Tomales Bay, major earthquakes can be expected from time to time. The April 18, 1906, earthquake along the fault killed 3,000 people around the Bay Area and overturned this train in Point Reyes Station. _______________________________________________________________

And when the weather is dry and windy — as it unseasonably is now — wildfires are a continual threat. In July 1929, the Great Mill Valley Fire (above) charred Mount Tamalpais from Mill Valley to the peak and destroyed 117 homes. ________________________________________________________________

The Inverness Ridge Fire in October 1995 was also exacerbated by high winds and dry weather.

The “Mount Vision Fire,” as it is alternately known, destroyed 45 homes and blackened 15 percent of the Point Reyes National Seashore.

________________________________________________________________________________

Because the chance of more such disasters in the future is real, I will now let West Marin Disaster Council coordinator Anne Sands of Dogtown use this space to present a strong case for being prepared.

Anne, by the way, is a former president of the Bolinas Fire Protection District’s board of directors.

She’s also an equestrian and told me, “I am rarely away from a horse at any given time.” Here she rides in the Western Weekend Parade a couple of years ago.

– • –

Dear West Marin residents, It’s New Year’s Resolution time again! What about that disaster-preparedness class you have been meaning to take?

A major earthquake can hit anywhere around the infamous Pacific Ring of Fire, the great circle of tectonic activity created by the Pacific plate [of the earth's crust] rubbing against its neighboring plates.

And we in West Marin are right on that Ring of Fire.

One of the best things we can do as a community to survive the next earthquake, tsunami, winter storm or wildfire is to increase the number of us who have learned basic disaster-preparedness and response skills.

A series of Pacific storms caused widespread damage in Stinson Beach during January and March of 1983. This is Calle del Ribera. (Point Reyes Light photo)

These skills include first aid, triage, communications, team building, and search and rescue. Immediately after a disaster, it will be impossible for our firefighters, EMTs, and other qualified medical people to take care of everyone who needs immediate help. We must be prepared to extend the capacity of our local emergency responders by becoming trained Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members.

The fire departments of West Marin are offering a two-day CERT course on Saturday, Jan. 11, and Saturday, Jan. 18., at the Nicasio Corporation Yard. Many West Marin residents have taken these classes and are already involved in local disaster preparedness.

Paul Gallagher’s dog appropriately carries a buoy as Mesa Road floods in Point Reyes Station during the New Year’s Eve storm of 2005.

You can join your neighbors and friends to make our communities more self-reliant and able to cope with disasters. There are no pre-qualifications for this training , and you do not have to be in “great shape.” In a widespread emergency, there are many ways to contribute your newly learned skills.

For 18 hours and $45 you can learn how to prepare yourself, your family, and your community to respond effectively. CERT class graduates receive a certificate and an Emergency Response daypack. There are scholarships available for those needing financial assistance in order to register.

Be prepared! Join CERT, the Community Emergency Response Team. To register go to www.marincountycert.org or call Maggie Lang at 415 485-3409.

Thank you for taking CERT.

Anne Sands, West Marin Disaster Council Coordinator <annewmdc@gmail.com> 415 868-1618.

The April 12, 1956, edition of Point Reyes Station’s Baywood Press reported: “Mrs. Joe Curtiss’ television set caught fire last week, and the wall behind the set began burning.

“Before the fire department could answer the call, Margie picked up the set, threw it out the window, and proceeded to extinguish the blaze.”

That was the entire report, but Margie must have been a hardy soul because that early TV would have been big and heavy as well as hot.

The Baywood Press, as The Point Reyes Light was called for its first 18 years, began publication on March 1, 1948.

The newspaper’s coverage of the past 65 years of West Marin news, big and small, is the focus of a book its publisher, the Tomales Regional History Center, has just released.

The book’s cover at left.

I’m particularly interested in the book, The Light on the Coast, because I, along with Jacoba Charles, authored it.

The graphic artist was Dewey Livingston, formerly production manager at The Light. He is now the historian at the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History and is an historian for the National Park Service.

The Light is in its 10th ownership, Marin Media Institute, and the evolution of the newspaper itself is part of the story. As editor and publisher for 27 years, I was responsible for the chapters covering the first eight ownerships. Jacoba, who is on The Light’s board of directors and formerly was a reporter for the paper, was responsible for the most recent two.

Flooding in Bolinas. The ferocious storms that periodically hit the coast have always received extensive coverage in The Light.

Highlights of the 354-page book include the evolution of West Marin agriculture; the effects of the arrival of the counterculture on local politics, law enforcement, and the arts; the creation of the Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Examples of The Light’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of violence and other illegal activities by the Synanon cult are, of course, included in The Light on the Coast.

The newspaper’s complete series on the five historic waves of immigration to West Marin is also a central chapter.

The forefathers of many longtime families in West Marin arrived in immigrations from specific locales in: Ireland, Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino, Croatia, and Portugal’s mid-Atlantic Azores. Researching their journeys to West Marin, as well as the more-recent immigration from Mexico, involved sending Light reporters abroad four times between 1988 and 1997.

This illustration for Sheriff’s Calls by cartoonist Kathryn LeMieux’s was often used in Western Weekend editions. The final section of our book consists of some of the more unusual Sheriff’s Calls from the the past 38 years.

The Light on the Coast features, along with a variety of news and commentary, a sampling of cartoons, advertising, and photography (including 10 portraits by Art Rogers). My partner Lynn Axelrod and I reviewed almost 3,000 back issues of The Point Reyes Light/Baywood Press in compiling the book. Jacoba reviewed more than 400. After making our selections, she and I wrote background narratives for many of them.

Those who’ve read the book have had good things to say about this approach of presenting West Marin’s history through the pages of The Light. Commenting on the book, San Francisco Chronicle reporter and columnist Carl Nolte writes: “The Point Reyes Light is a great window into a fabulous small world.”

Dr. Chad Stebbins, executive director of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, is likewise enthusiastic: “Dave Mitchell and The Point Reyes Light are synonymous with top-shelf newspapering. Dave is one of the few small-town editors ever to win a Pulitzer Prize; his investigation of the Synanon cult is a textbook example of tenacious reporting. His witty and colorful anecdotes always make for good reading.”

The Light on the Coast is available at Point Reyes Books for $24.95 plus tax.

It can be ordered online from the Tomales Regional History Center bookstore for $29.95 including tax and shipping.

“The language of the news, like Latin or C++ [a programming language], has no native speakers,” columnist Lauren Collins writes in the Nov. 4 New Yorker.

Nonetheless, she adds, reporters are “sufficiently well versed in it” that British journalist Robert Hutton has written a guide to “the strange language of news.” It’s titled Romps, Tots and Boffins. A boffin, Collins explains, is British newspaper jargon for an egghead.

In the United States, such journalese typically appears in headlines when there is a lot of information to convey but little space to do it. Additionally, as Collins writes, US newspapers use words that rarely appear in the British press, such as coed (a female student at a coeducational college) and to mull (to consider).

At The Point Reyes Light, we used both “eye”and “mull” as shorthand for “consider.”

When I edited and published The Point Reyes Light, we had our own headline vocabulary, most of which we borrowed from newspapers elsewhere. When the word dispute didn’t fit, we’d write flap. When meeting, discussion, or conference was too long, we’d write confab. (It’s a legitimate variation of confabulation.)

Most other headline words had more obvious meanings: supe for a member of the Board of Supervisors; nix for reject; prexy for president (of an organization but not of the country); and probe for an investigation as well as to investigate.

In a Light headline, a cop would nab the suspect when there was no room for a deputy to arrest him. It was also common in Light heads, so to speak, for someone to either slate or set an event rather than schedule it.

And although the ampersand (&) had just about disappeared from formal writing, we at The Light often used it in headlines. After all, an & is neither informal nor slang. In fact, it once was the 27th letter of our alphabet. It originated around 100 AD in Roman handwriting and started showing up in written English during the 1830s.

Often misunderstood is the practice of spelling night as nite and light as lite or through as thru and though as tho. Many folks assume these nonstandard spellings are creations of Madison Avenue, but they were primarily popularized by the Chicago Tribune.

Joseph Medill, the paper’s publisher in the second half of the 19th century, became swept up in a small movement that wanted English spelling reformed to make it simpler.

His grandson, publisher Robert McCormick (left), was so enthusiastic that from 1934 to 1975 he had the Tribune use simplified spellings in an attempt to get them into general use.

Many readers were agast.

Prior to that, a few luminaries such as Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie had also become advocates for simplified spelling.

President Theodore Roosevelt for several months in 1906 required the government printing office to use reformed spelling.

He rescinded his order, however, following protests from Congress and the public.

Recently while paging through a 1957 issue of The Baywood Press, as The Light was called for its first 18 years, I was surprised to find drought spelled as drouth, which was the way the Chicago Tribune was spelling the word at the time. But not all the Tribune’s spelling reforms were widely accepted. One failure was frate, which many readers didn’t recognize as freight.

Of course, the Tribune for more than a century was weird in many ways. For years it called itself “The World’s Greatest Newspaper” although its motto was “An American Newspaper for Americans.” Traditionally a mouthpiece for ultra-conservative politics, the Tribune under Medill regularly editorialized against Roman Catholics and the Irish.

In his 1947 history of Tribune publishers, An American Dynasty, author John Tebble writes, “Joseph Medill did not let his educational lacks restrain him from taking a bold position on scientific matters.

“At one time or another he rode a half-dozen scientific or pseudo-scientific hobbies, such as simplified spelling, the sunspot theory and the blue-glass theory [a belief that people are healthier and crops grow better under blue glass]….

“Medill (right) attributed all natural phenomena to sunspots until one day he heard of the existence of microbes and immediately adopted this new explanation.

“Soon after, an unfortunate reporter writing according to Tribune policy asserted that the plague in Egypt was caused by sunspots. Medill went through the copy, crossed out the word ‘sunspots’ wherever it occurred and substituted ‘microbes.’”

Altho the Tribune in the last six years, has changed ownership, filed for bankruptcy, and is now only a fantom of the operation it once was, its influence on spelling can still be seen in newspaper headlines, as well as neon signs. And as ur now seeing on the Internet, social media are taking yet another toll on common English spelling.

This is a story that meanders from Montmartre, the nightclub district in Paris, to Storyville, the historic red-light district of New Orleans, to San Francisco’s seedy Tenderloin.

Henri de Toulouse Lautrec (1864-1901) is, of course, famous for his post-impressionistic paintings of nightclubs and prostitutes (right) in Montmartre.

You may recall he broke his left leg when he was 12 and his right leg when he was 14. Neither healed correctly, resulting in his never growing beyond 4.5 feet tall.

Although he was mocked and bullied because of his stature, he was a sociable man, especially when drinking, and was well liked by his prostitute models.

The American photographer E.J. Bellocq (1873-1949) was a contemporary of Toulouse Lautrec, and by chance his growth too had been stunted.

Bellocq earned his living as a commercial photographer but is famous today for his photographs of prostitutes in Storyville.

He was a shy man, but the women considered him a likeable gentleman and quite willingly posed for him.

Prostitute, Storyville, New Orleans (right), c. 1912, by E.J. Bellocq

Only a few of Bellocq’s negatives survive. Long after his death, the photographer Lee Friedlander managed to buy and salvage them and finally made the Storyville photos public in a show and in book form in the 1970s.

A few years later, in August 1980, I had a couple of hours to kill in San Francisco on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I had just left brunch on Broadway with a friend, and as I drove away, I noticed a streetwalker making eye contact with a pedestrian. My camera was in the car, and I got a sudden inspiration: why not do a series on the streetwalkers of 1980 at work in San Francisco?

In the future, I reasoned, such a collection might have some of the historic interest of Toulouse Lautrec’s painted women in Paris or Bellocq’s prostitutes in Storyville. So I drove a few blocks and soon found myself in the Tenderloin — that rough neighborhood southwest of Union Square and north of Market Street.

Having stopped for a sign, I watched a white prostitute (at left) across the street pick up an Asian man and lead him around the corner to a shabby hotel on Eddy Street.

Eddy is a one-way street, and there was a parking space on the left curb almost opposite the hotel entrance. I parked, turned off the motor, and put a telephoto lens on the camera. I looked at my watch; it was 3:05 p.m.

After adjusting my sideview mirror so I could see back up the sidewalk and my rearview mirror so I could see up the street behind me, I lit my pipe and put a coat over my camera. Then I sat back to watch.

Almost immediately, I spotted a very drunk couple sitting on a doorstep with their feet on the sidewalk. Although they were less than 20 feet away, they were oblivious of me. The woman’s face was puffy — apparently from drink and physical abuse. The man had numerous scars on his face. A front tooth was missing.

For awhile, the couple cooed and flirted with each other. Then they argued. Twice the man shoved his companion back against a wall, but they remained seated, and she didn’t appear to get hurt. Soon they were cooing again. Then arguing. Then more cooing. Occasionally, each would take a drink from a bottle, but mostly they just smoked cigarettes.

Suddenly, a wisp of smoke made me notice that one of the woman’s green tennis shoes was beginning to smolder from a cigarette burn. Soon she noticed too and slapped at the ember a couple of times while remaining seated.

The man, however, did not see the persistent little burn and kept up his alternately aggressive and affectionate ramblings. Within moments, the woman had forgotten about her still-smoldering shoe and resumed her part in the arguing and cooing. Periodically, she noticed the ever-growing column of smoke and took a few more slaps at her shoe — the man still not noticing and she still sitting down. Nor did he notice when she finally pulled the shoe off and set it on the sidewalk, where it continued to smolder.

Up Eddy Street came another woman, also about 30 and apparently a resident of the neighborhood. She was pushing a baby cart, but when she saw the smoking shoe, she stopped and stomped on it a couple of times. At this point, the man finally noticed the shoe was off and made a clumsy attempt to put it back on his companion’s foot, still not noticing the smoke.

This bizarre drama was interrupted, however, by the jolt of a 40ish black man bouncing off the back of my car and landing on his backside in the street. He was drunk, and so was his assailant who had just knocked him into a traffic lane, a white man in his late 20s with his shirt off. The white reminded me of photos I’d seen of weightlifters in prison — pale skin over huge muscles. For some reason, he was furious with the black.

Two car lengths behind me, a long, brown sedan pulled abruptly into a vacant parking space. While I watched in my rearview mirror, a black man in expensive cowboy garb, dark glasses, and a white hat jumped out of the car. The white man wheeled around, and the black cowboy quickly held up the palms of his hands to him.

Somehow, the new arrival managed to calm the angry white and then curtly ordered the terrified man in the street to get up and into the sedan. The black men did not appear to know each other. It was a brother helping a brother get away from trouble — and done with great diplomatic skill, given the fury of the white man.

A century ago, she could have been a model  for a Henri de Toulouse Lautrec painting or an E.J. Bellocq portrait instead of a subject for a photojournalist on the street.

As my eye followed the sedan driving away, I saw the customer walk out of the hotel across the street. A moment or so behind him came the prostitute (above). For a few seconds, she stood in the doorway surveying the street as I clicked off a couple of photos. When she headed off up Eddy Street, I checked my watch; it was 3:20 pm. What a range of Tenderloin reality I’d seen in 15 minutes.

Pilgrim’s Wilderness, a True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by journalist Tom Kizzia is easily one of the best books I’ve read in years. Extraordinarily well researched and very well written, the non-fiction story at times also bears an uncanny resemblance to recent events in West Marin.

Remember Marcus Wesson (in Fresno Police photo at right)? He lived halftime on a tugboat moored offshore at Marshall where he headed a cult-like family of 10 women and children, most of whom were kept below deck.

Although Wesson presented himself as a pious man, he was in periodic conflicts with the law and his neighbors. He also fathered two of his own grandchildren.

Things came to ahead in 2004 when Wesson shot to death nine family members — eight of them children — while in Fresno. A year later, he was found guilty of nine counts of first-degree murder and 14 counts of molestation and rape. He was sentenced to be executed but remains on death row.

I couldn’t help but think of Wesson when I read in Kizzia’s book about Papa Pilgrim, the head of a somewhat-similar family cult.

Pilgrim’s Wilderness is set in the small Alaskan town of McCarthy, which like West Marin is mostly surrounded by federal parkland. Where the Point Reyes National Seashore is trying to stop historic oyster growing within the park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is seen trying to stop inholders from reopening historic mining roads within the park to reach their property.

Of course, that’s only part of the story. Also having significance in the course of events are: the family of former Texas Governor John Connally; President Kennedy’s assassination; All-American offensive tackle I.B. Hale; the FBI; former Interior Secretary James Watt; the Pacific Legal Foundation; “the rural meth belt of the Palmer-Wasilla valley”; and Sarah Palin, the former mayor of Wasilla, governor of Alaska, and vice presidential candidate.

McCarthy in 1983 shortly after creation of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The largest in the country, the park is bigger than Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey combined. (Photo from Pilgrim’s Wilderness)

Papa Pilgrim, his wife, and offspring arrived in McCarthy in 2002, looking like an Amish family and speaking in Biblical phrases. The few residents of McCarthy assumed the family was eccentric but pious. When the Pilgrims bought the old Mother Lode copper mine site in the backcountry, however, other people realized that maintaining access to it would be difficult because of Alaskan weather and the mountainous terrain.

But the Pilgrims insisted they were prepared for the challenge and won a measure of acceptance with public performances of folk songs and “hillbilly” hymns.

No one knew Papa’s real name was Bob Hale and that he had been briefly married to John Connally’s 16-year-old daughter, whom he either shot to death or drove to committing suicide. After he passed a lie-detector test, he was not prosecuted.

Bob Hale — later called Papa Pilgrim — in New Mexico during the 1990s. (Photo from Pilgrim’s Wilderness)

At 33, Hale found another 16-year-old bride and took her to a cabin in New Mexico’s wilderness where they began producing children, none of whom was taught to read or write.

Hale, who resumed drinking heavily, proved to be a brutal father. He regularly beat his wife and children, and they were often seen with welts and bruises. These would be explained away as accidents. When Hale’s oldest daughter, Elishaba, turned 18, he demanded she become his sexual partner. Only after he’d spent two decades in this family cult did one son come to wonder whether they’d all been “brainwashed” into accepting Papa’s cruelty.

Nor could Hale be trusted. In New Mexico, he often had family members cut neighbors’ fences in order to give his family’s sheep and goats more room to graze. When the neighbors complained, he could be threatening on some occasions and charming — but deceitful — on others. Eventually Hale and his wife Rose decided to start over in Alaska and began using the name Pilgrim.

Initially, the story revolves around the Pilgrims’ very public battle with the Park Service over Papa’s reopening an access road through the park.

Other McCarthy residents were also upset with rangers’ blocking another road into town, and thanks to widespread coverage in the press, the Pilgrims’ struggle for access to their home became a cause célèbre.

The struggle was joined by property-rights groups, who also provided the family with legal representation.

In the end, however, Papa Pilgrim’s dishonesty, brutality, and sexual abuse of Elishaba become the issue. These are grim matters, but the denouement is inspiring.

Nor is the book an attack on puritanical Christianity. In contrast to the evil hidden behind Papa Pilgrim’s histrionic piety, the author describes a truly pious family whose compassion helps save the day.

I should stress that all the above is merely a sketch of a few incidents in the book. Thanks to exhaustive research, the author is able to make sense out of the many unlikely events that accompanied an egomaniacal patriarch’s arriving in McCarthy with a cult-like family in tow — and then settling far from civilization in the mountains.

Pilgrim’s Wilderness is a captivating story, made all the more intriguing by being a factual account of life on Alaska’s still-surviving frontier. The book should have particular appeal to West Marin readers who will find in it echoes of their own recent history. (Crown Publishers, 310 pages, $25)

Western Weekend, West Marin’s annual salute to its agricultural heritage, was held Saturday and Sunday in Point Reyes Station with a parade and 4-H animal competition.

Pete Tomasetti and his wife riding a 1941 Farmall Tractor followed by a 1938 Allis Chalmers tractor driven by Ben Wright together took first place in the parade’s Farm Vehicle category. _____________________________________________________________

The Point Reyes-Olema 4-H Club’s animal show in Toby’s Feed Barn Saturday. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Hugo Stedwell Hill of Inverness holds an American blue rabbit, which is a heritage breed.

Dorothy Drady of Nicasio, who was watching over the exhibit, gave this account of the rabbit’s evolution:

The American blue was originally bred in Pasadena in 1917 and became the most popular breed in the country because of demand for its fur and meat.

By the 1970s and 80s, the breed was almost extinct. In the 1990s, the American Livestock Breed Conservancy placed the American blue rabbit on its “endangered” list. Nonetheless, there are now fewer than 500 worldwide.

The animal show was smaller than in previous years because some 4-H members who usually take part will instead compete in the Tri-Valley 4-H Fair Sunday, June 9, from 9 a.m. to noon. It will be held at the Pomi Ranch on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road near Union School.

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4-H Club members taking part in the animal show included, front row from left: Ashley Winkelmann, Nicole Casartelli, Ellie Rose Jackson, Phoebe Blantz, Rachel Stevenson, Eva Taylor, Katie Stevenson. Onstage from left: Ruby Clarke, Willow Wallof, Brinlee Stevens, Nina von Raesfeld, Point Reyes-Olema 4-H Club president Audrey von Raesfeld (with clipboard), Olivia Blantz,  Camille Taylor, Caroline von Raesfeld, Marlowe Ural, Gabriel Ural, Stran Stevens, and Max Muncy. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod) _____________________________________________________________

4-H member Olivia Blantz won a top poultry award for her Mille Fleurs type hen of the Belgian d’Uccle Bantam breed.

Mille Fleurs, which is French for 1,000 flowers, refers to the many white spots of feathers.

(Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

 

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Point Reyes Station’s main street was lined with almost 2,000 parade watchers by starting time at noon Sunday. For the hundreds of children on hand, it was a grand party. _____________________________________________________________

Elise Haley Clark sang the National Anthem acapella just before the parade began. Despite her youth, she sang with poise and drew warm applause from the crowd. _____________________________________________________________

The Marin County Sheriff’s Posse had one of three color guards in the parade, along with the Coast Guard and the National Park Service. ____________________________________________________________

A procession of county and Inverness fire engines followed the color guards at the start of Sunday’s parade. _____________________________________________________________

Western Weekend Queen Sara Tanner, 16, a sophomore at Tomales High, earned her crown by selling the most Western Weekend raffle tickets. ____________________________________________________________

Western Weekend Princess Camille Loring of Marshall, is a senior at Tomales High. She was the runnerup in ticket sales. _____________________________________________________________

The entry from “Return to the Forbidden Planet, Shakespeare’s Forgotten Rock ‘N Roll Musical,” took first place in the parade’s Adult Music category. Singer Phillip Percy Williams (standing with microphone) wowed the crowd with his cover of Gary Puckett and the Union Gap’s song “Young Girl.” The musical is scheduled from June 20 to 30 in Tamalpais High’s Caldwell Theater. _____________________________________________________________

The Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Western Weekend Parade was Jim Patterson, who is retired after having been principal at different times of West Marin School and Tomales High. ____________________________________________________________

Papermill Creek Children’s Corner marched and rode down the parade route to publicize the preschool’s upcoming summer camp. ___________________________________________________________

Main Street Moms, who each year have a political entry in the parade, this year called on California Governor Jerry Brown to join the fight against fracking. Fracking, which uses water under pressure to force petroleum and natural gas from underground rock formations, has been blamed for polluting groundwater. _____________________________________________________________

The Nave Patrola, which spoofs the Italian army in World War I, as always was a hit of the Western Weekend Parade. This year the bumbling marchers took second place in the Adult Drill category. _____________________________________________________________

Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, which is fighting a court battle to renew its permit to operate in the Point Reyes National Seashore, entered a large float that carried company workers followed by a band. As the National Academy of Sciences and others have shown, the Park Service has repeatedly faked scientific data in trying to make a case for evicting the more than 80-year-old company.

A man at center in the foreground holds up “Want a Sign?” — inviting parade watchers to join the entry and carry a “Save Our Drakes Bay Oyster Farm” sign. _____________________________________________________________

(Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Having supported the oyster company’s cause for several years, I decided I ought to carry a sign.

All went well as we marched semi-rhythmically down the main street to the beat of the band. When we reached the finish of the parade, however, I personally had a bit of excitement.

I was handing my sign to someone sitting on the lowboy behind Lunny’s stopped truck when the truck slowly started up and one of the trailer’s wheels rolled onto the outside edge of my right shoe.

Lowboys are designed to carry heavy equipment, so the weight was substantial. For a couple of moments, I couldn’t move my shoe, but although the wheel was pinching my foot, I didn’t feel any great pain. As it turned out, I had somehow managed to squeeze my toes to the other side of my shoe.

The truck continued to slowly roll forward and soon freed my foot. Nancy Lunny, wife of oyster farm operator Kevin Lunny, saw what had happened and hurried over. “Are you all right?” she asked anxiously. In fact, I was exhilarated from having survived the close call unscathed and told her with a laugh, “I’m perfectly okay.”  ____________________________________________________________

A the conclusion of the parade, the Marin County Farm Bureau put on a well-attended barbecue outside of Toby’s Feed Barn. The Doc Kraft Band (under the blue canopy at right) performed country rock ‘n roll music.

Later that afternoon while thinking back to the parade, it occurred to me that my experience with the trailer wheel  just might be a metaphor for the oyster company’s fight for survival. The Lunnys may be getting squeezed, but they’re not going to be crushed.

 

 

When a Guatemalan court on May 10 found former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Ríos Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity while head of state, I like many indigenous Guatemalans was pleased. Officials in that Central American country had for decades committed atrocities with impunity.

The case has special interest for me because my stepdaughters are from Guatemala and because 30 years ago I reported on and photographed some of the Guatemalan civil war for the old San Francisco Examiner.

General Efrain Ríos Montt, who became president of Guatemala in a March 1982 coup, was kicked out of office in an August 1983 coup. (AP photo by Moises Castillo)

Unfortunately, the good news was not to last. Impunity again raised its ugly head. On Monday, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court overturned the conviction because of a dispute over which lower court judges should have heard the case. Now the trial will have to return to where it stood on April 19 — once the dispute over the judges is resolved.

General Ríos Montt had been clearly elected president in 1974, but blatant election fraud prevented him from taking office. Quixotically, he then fled to California and joined the Eureka-based Gospel Outreach fundamentalist movement.

After returning to Guatemala, Ríos Montt, along with two other military men seized power in a mostly bloodless coup in 1982 and formed a three-man junta. Less than three months after the coup, however, Ríos Mott dissolved the junta and became dictator.

Helping orchestrate the coup, according to the US liberal group Democratic Underground, were “gringo evangelical cronies [who were] co-founders of the Church of the Word, a Guatemala-based offshoot of Gospel Outreach.”

(Gringo, by the way, is slang but not derogatory. In Spain, the word has been around for more than two centuries. Initially, it was simply a way of referring to people from other places whose speech was difficult to understand. Gringo, in fact, is a variant of griego meaning “Greek,” as in it’s Greek to me.)

Estancia de la Virgen — A refugee stands in front of his former home, which was destroyed by the Guatemalan Army on March 31, 1982.

Well before Ríos Montt took power, the army had begun massacring indigenous villagers lest leftist guerrillas get food or recruits from them. A story I wrote for The Examiner made public for the first time that Guatemalan soldiers had massacred 180 residents of two Indian villages, Trinitaria and El Quetzal, near the Mexican border in February 1982.

In the destruction of Estancia de la Virgen, which occurred after Ríos Montt had taken power, the army ordered all the villagers to relocate to the less-remote village of San Antonio las Trojes where it could keep an eye on them.

Soldiers use the belfry of the San Antonio las Trojes cathedral as a guard tower.

The army had attacked the village of 1,800 previously, killing many residents including children who were beheaded with machetes. This time all but eight men fled, and soldiers shot them to death.

“The men had stayed in their houses, believing God would protect them,” a guide named Miguel told me. There was no road to Estancia de la Virgen, and getting there required hiring three refugees from the village to guide my translator and me through the steep terrain.

A soldier in San Antonio las Trojes assembles men from Estancia de la Virgen in order to count them and give out instructions. Barely visible at upper left is a nun who had shown up to distribute food to the refugees.

The refugees from Estancia de la Virgen were bewildered as to why their village had been destroyed. “We are all farmers,” one Indian said. “There are no guerrillas.”

Another said, “We hope this shadow will go from our village because we are innocent.”

A mother and daughter from Estancia de la Virgen in one of the tents distributed to refugees.

After taking a photo of this mother and daughter, I bought a dozen eggs for them at a tienda in San Antonio las Trojes, but when I went to deliver them, she cried out and ran away — apparently not realizing why I had returned.

Nor were refugees from Estancia de la Virgen the only survivors of massacres I interviewed. On April 26, 1982, I traveled to the village of Chipiacul where Guatemalan soldiers had killed 20 residents the previous night. The victims had ranged in age from 13 to 80.

Many of them were shot to death in the village’s small, cement-block meeting hall. The soldiers then used the books from the village’s one-shelf library to build a funeral pyre in an unsuccessful attempt to dispose of the bodies. The survivors I talked with were still in shock and were mystified as to why Chipiacul had been targeted.

The Guatemalan civil war was fought off and on from 1960 to 1996 and cost roughly 200,000 lives, most of them civilian. What was the fighting all about?

After decades of repressive governments, Guatemala enjoyed its “Ten Years of Spring” from 1944 to 1954 under liberal leadership. But agrarian reforms in the early 1950s outraged the United Fruit Company, and it prevailed upon the Eisenhower Administration to intervene. The result was a June 1954 military coup carried out by a group of CIA-trained Guatemalan exiles and billed as stopping Communism from establishing a beachhead in Central America.

Guatemala has never fully recovered. Indeed, at the very time the Guatemalan army under General Ríos Montt was massacring more than 1,700 Ixil Mayans, the White House endorsed him. “President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment,” said President Reagan in December 1982. “I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.”

Were he alive today, I’m sure Ronald Reagan would be pleased that Ríos Montt for the moment at least is still enjoying impunity.

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