Private Property

Fifth Street, Berkeley.

I’ve been walking past this place for years, a house on the corner of Fifth Street and Allston Way in West Berkeley. I’ve always been struck by the place’s battered look and the declaration that it’s private property. I’m kind of wondering whether this is a warning to would-be trespassers or an announcement of principle. In Berkeley, you never quite know.

Ukraine in the Classroom

Mrs. B— not her real name — has been a schoolteacher for some time. She’s retired from full-time work, but continues as a science curriculum consultant, as a substitute and as a volunteer for a very program called Trout in the Classroom.

The program is the work of Northern California conservationists and fishing groups and teaches about one of the native wonders of our state, the rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss. The program distributes specially prepared fish tanks and other equipment to classroom and delivers rainbow trout eggs. The kids get to study the fish as they emerge from the eggs and grow just big enough over a couple months to release in local lakes. (Given the state of some of our urban East Bay lakes , sometimes that doesn’t seem like such a great deal for the baby trout. But I guess Nature and Science Education have a plan.)

The other day, Mrs. B was at a nearby school where she was helping an elementary grades science teacher set up her trout tank. When she was done, she was invited to stay for lunch, and she did that.

She went and asked a group of second- and third-graders if she could sit at their table. “Oh, sure,” they said. “We’re just talking about the war in Ukraine.”

Executive Order 9066

Manzanar Cemetery Monument.

The original version of this post was published February 19, 2005

The Writer’s Almanac notes today is the anniversary of the date in 1942 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, ordering more than 120,000 Japanese Americans into remote internment camps. It’s an event we all know in the sense we’ve heard of it. Having heard about it, most of us have an opinion about it; the prevailing view, embraced eventually even by a president as conservative and all-American as Ronald Reagan, is that it was a tragic mistake.

In another way, it’s a history we know little about. Especially in a place like Berkeley where more than 1,000 residents (the official number, published in the Berkeley Gazette in April 1942, was 1,319) were forced to leave. Several older Japanese-American couples lived in our neighborhood when we moved here in the late 1980s. They were of a certain age — my parents’ age — that made me wonder not whether their families had been sent to the camps but what their experience of incarceration had been. I never talked to them to find out. But you realize that on this street, or the next one over, and all over town, families were sent packing. To the California deserts, Utah, Wyoming, Arkansas, wherever the camps could be set up quickly.

In San Francisco, the Chronicle ran a story marking the departure of the last “Japanese” from the city.

“For the first time in 81 years, not a single Japanese is walking the streets of San Francisco. The last group, 274 of them, were moved yesterday to the Tanforan assembly center. Only a scant half dozen are left, all seriously ill in San Francisco hospitals. “

At the University of California’s commencement, campus president Robert Gordon Sproul announced that the senior class’s top student “cannot be here today because his country has called him elsewhere.” Three weeks earlier, the student, Harvey Akio Itano, had been sent to the Tule Lake camp in northeastern California. (While his family remained incarcerated, he was released soon afterward and allowed to begin his medical studies in St. Louis. As a researcher after the war, Itano played a key role in discovering the molecular basis for sickle-cell disease and is recognized today as a pioneer in the study of blood diseases.)

Among the other UC seniors forced out of school before graduation was Yoshiko Uchida, who lived with her family on Stuart Street near Shattuck Avenue and kept a scrapbook (online through the University of California) of her new life (and later wrote many books about it).

You can go looking for scraps of the internment history, and sometimes they find you instead.

In October 2004, I was driving back to the Bay Area from Mojave and decided to take the long way, up U.S. 395, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada’s eastern flank. Late in the afternoon, speeding north up the dry floor of the Owens Valley, I passed a sign saying Manzanar was just ahead. I knew the name, that it was one of the camps, that it was out in the middle of the desert someplace, but not much more than that. Suddenly, here it was. So I turned off and spent a while driving around what is now a national historic site.

Sagebrush has claimed most of the camp, though you can see come of its streets leading off into the desert, and several barracks buildings have been rebuilt. The most-frequented place at Manzanar — not counting the visitor center — is the cemetery. The bordering fence is heavily festooned with origami cranes, and lots of impromptu memorial offerings have been left behind. The gleaming white cemetery monument is carved with the kanji “I rei to,” or “soul-consoling tower.”

Reservoir was originally built to serve a nearby agricultural community in the Owens Valley. It was improved and enlarged during World War II by internees. See: Manzanar Reservoir.

Sounds and Sights and Sounds of the Valley

Sandhill cranes at Merced National Wildlife Refuge. February 14, 2022.

We spent last weekend in the San Joaquin Valley looking at birds. Thousands and thousands of birds — snow geese and white-fronted geese, shovelers, pintails and teals, killdeer and meadowlarks, avocets and ibises, stilts and wrens, red-winged blackbirds and red-tailed hawks, tundra swans and sandhill cranes.

Part of the experience of entering into the world of the birds is the sound. Actually: part of the experience? Visiting these places where tens or hundreds of thousands of migrating birds have gathered is mesmerizing, electric, sometimes overpowering, utterly enveloping and at moments gives a hint of what this place we live was like before we began the project of radically reshaping it.

Here are three snippets of that sound. The first is from Super Bowl Sunday, when Kate and I found ourselves virtually alone — except for the birds — in the 10 square miles of the Los Banos National Wildlife Refuge. After that clip are a couple from the Merced National Wildlife Refuge — the crazily energetic stylings of a marsh wren and a surprise overflight of about 300 sandhill cranes at midday on Valentine’s Day.

Wife and Baby, Names TBD

I insist I don’t spend a lot of time in cemeteries. But when I do, I’m always conscious of the capsule histories that many grave markers contain. I tend to notice children’s graves a lot, maybe because my brother Mark died at age 2, an event that I remember vividly. Occasionally, you come across what looks like a family story — like the grave we once spotted that is marked as the final resting place of three people named Mary Dahl — a mother and two of her daughters who all shared the name.

During a visit to Chicago several years ago, I went over to Mount Olive Cemetery, where my dad’s parents and many members of his extended family are buried. It’s a beautiful green place in the summer, and you can see that nature will have no problem taking back the property once someone skips mowing the grass for a few years. The older, heavily Scandinavian sections of the cemetery have lots of markers that have shifted askew or fallen, and I always wonder whether there’s any family left to visit these long departed forebears.

On this particular visit, I was stuck by how many graves declared a relationship: father, mother, husband, wife, daughter, son, sister, brother. One of the markers I spotted was unique: “Wife and Baby,” it says. Not “Wife and Daughter” of “Mother and Daughter.” Both had died in 1906, and the child was just five months old. I snapped a picture and later, having taken note of the names and dates, tried to find out what had happened.

“Carrie A. Dunham,” listed in the Chicago Tribune’s Feb. 28, 1906, “Official Death Record” column (p. 9).
“Ebba C. Dunholm,” listed in the Chicago Tribune’s May 22, 1906, “Official Death Record” column (p. 10).

I can’t say I found out much beyond the fact that no two people, including the person put in charge of engraving a substantial and expensive headstone, agreed on the spelling of the family name.

The stone itself says “Dunhom,” as you can see — but that surname doesn’t appear anywhere in genealogical records or in Chicago phone books from this period (though losts of people didn’t have phones in this era). The name used in the “Official Death List” published in the Chicago Tribune several days after Carrie A. “Dunhom” died in February 1906 is “Dunham.” That agrees with a Cook County death index record that lists her full name as Carrie Anderson Dunham and adds that she had been born in Norway in 1883.

As to Carrie’s daughter, she is listed in the Tribune’s death list as Ebba C. Dunholm. Again, there are no Dunholms or Dunhoms in other records. Again, there’s a Cook County death record that uses the surname Dunham — but lists her given name as Effa. One guesses that there were serial transcription errors that led to all these different renditions of the name. It’s impossible to figure it out without disappearing down some rabbit hole, and I’m not sure you’d be able to sort it out even then.

But I do wonder about the “husband and father” who presumably had this headstone placed. Presumably he had some idea of how he wanted the name spelled. I can’t find any record of him though — no marriage record, no birth record for the daughter. I hope whoever carved the stone rendered it just the way it was handed to him. That, at least, would have been some comfort to the mourner.

The Menhir and the Moviemaker

From a 2013 Werner Herzog interview with the magazine 032c. This has been sitting for years as an unfinished (or should I say barely begun?) post. I was taken with his description of how he was determined to work out how pre-industrial humans had managed to erect immense stone monoliths in Brittany.

Related: The film mentioned here, “Fitzcarraldo,” is the subject of a great documentary, “Burden of Dreams.”

Herzog: “Fitzcarraldo” came to me when I was in Brittany looking for a storm-tossed coastline setting for another film. I slept in cars on the trip, or broke into vacation homes with surgical instruments.

Q. With a lock pick?

Herzog: No, no, you can only use those for old-fashioned locks. For a security lock you need two fine, needle-like instruments. In any case, it was evening near Carnac as my headlights suddenly hit these menhir. There were over 4,000 menhirs, weighing up to 600 tons; they were dotted up and down the hills of the landscape. It was as if I had been struck by lightning and I slept on the edge of the menhir field. The next morning, when the tourist shop opened, I bought a brochure. It said that only extraterrestrials could have made them. I thought, what complete and utter nonsense; I will only leave this place when I know, as a Stone Age man, how I would have carried these stones across the land and erected them. Within a day I had a solution – ultimately that was the same technique used in “Fitzcarraldo” to get the boat over the mountain, with ropes and pulleys.

Q. That’s where the film came from?

Herzog:That was one part. This question completely captivated me: How can I move a thousand tons over land? Later, a friend in Peru told me about a rubber baron who had 4,000 slaves, a billionaire who drowned in a boating accident at 35. It sounded boring. The friend had almost left when he opened the door one last time and said: “Incidentally he dismantled an ocean liner into hundreds of parts and managed to travel via an isthmus to another river system, which wasn’t passable further upstream because of rapids. That’s how he was able to get a huge rubber territory for himself.” I knew then, that’s “Fitzcarraldo,” and he has to get a ship over a mountain. Overnight the entire film was there.

032c, October 22, 2013

San Joaquin Valley Birds in Review

bSandhill cranes at San Luis National Wildlife Refuge

The title overpromises. Here’s just one bird in review from a weekend in the valley: the sandhill crane, Antigone canadensis. Among many other things one might write about the bird is the fact the original English common name assigned to these creatures in the mid-18th century was “the brown and ash-colour’d crane.”

Where can you see them? Over the late fall and winter, we’ve encountered them at several wildlife refuges: Llano Seco (near Chico), Cosumnes, Merced, and San Luis. There were small groups at most of these places when we visited. At Merced, we saw thousands.

More sandhill crane lore (and birds to be reviewed) later.

‘Battle Mountain’ and ‘The Tule River War’

Battle Mountain historical marker, Tulare County, California (see text below).

Kate and I encountered the marker above a few years back while driving on a back road in the southern Sierra Nevada foothills. The text is hard to read, but it’s transcribed in full below.

Battle Mountain
 A long period of unrest between the settlers and Indians of Tulare County erupted in war during the spring of 1856. Untrue reports that five hundred head of cattle had been stolen in Frazier Valley and the burning of Orson K. Smith's sawmill aroused the local settlers. A group of volunteers under the command of Foster DeMasters located a party of over seven hundred Indians in fortified positions on the cone-shaped mountain in the valley below. Unable to breach the Indian defenses on their own, the volunteers sent for help. A second company of Tulare County volunteers under Sheriff W.G. Poindexter, miners from Keysville on the Kern River, settlers from as far north as Merced and Mariposa, and Army detachments from Fort Tejon and Fort Miller responded. Captain Livingston of Fort Miller assumed overall command of a combined force estimated at three to four hundred men. Unable to withstand assault by this combined force and their Army howitzer, the Indians disappeared into the pine forest above you. Reports indicated three settlers were wounded and several Indians killed. 
 Dedicated October 20, 1990 
Dr. Samuel Gregg George Chapter 1855 of E Clampus Vitus

When it comes to roadside markers, the easiest thing in the world to do is pick apart their abbreviated rendition of past events. There is no way that even a relatively prolix text, such as the one on this marker, can convey much in the way of detail or nuance. Too bad they don’t contain hyperlinks, though now that I’ve had that thought: QR codes. You know: “To read more about the Chicago Fire, or the Haymarket Square affair, or the assassination of Mayor Carter Harrison, scan this code.” (Yes, I know there is history outside my native city.)

So perhaps the highest and best functions of these markers is to awaken someone’s interest to past events and send them looking for more. I know that’s what happened five years ago when I was driving around Oroville, a town that had been evacuated because of fears that part of a dam would give way, and happened across a marker commemorating Ishi.

As I wrote at the time, “Ishi is an instantly recognizable name for those who have spent any time in California. Ishi is the legendary last member of his native tribe, the Yahi. In 1911, he was ‘discovered.’ Meaning: starved and alone, he gave up his home country in the foothills on the northeastern side of the Sacramento Valley and entered “civilized” California.”

Here’s what Ishi’s plaque says:

The Last Yahi Indian
For thousands of years, the Yahi Indians roamed the foothills between Mt. Lassen and the Sacramento Valley. Settlement of this region by the white man brought death to the Yahi by gun, by disease, and by hunger. By the turn of the century only a few remained. Ishi, the last known survivor of these people, was discovered at this site in 1911. His death in 1916 brought an end to Stone Age California. 

“His death brought an end to Stone Age California.” An entire people, an entire world, dispatched in one succinct sentence. But stumbling upon the plaque prompted me to finally read a well-known and unwittingly tragic account of Ishi’s life and final years, “Ishi in Two Worlds.” It’s a story I think of often as a reminder of how complex the history around us is and how little I know.

But back to Battle Mountain. What to make of this marker, erected in 1990 by a society dedicated to the lore, if not always the true history, of old California? There are some details in the account that don’t smell right. One I wondered about was the notion that a force of white volunteers encountered “over seven hundred Indians in fortified positions.” The concluding line about casualties — three white settlers wounded “and several Indians killed” also sounds vague and sanitized.

What do other sources say?

Wild West magazine recounts the battle as part of “The Tule River War.” That account suggests a much higher casualty count among the Native Americans — members of the Yokuts group of tribes who also faced some ugly post-battle repercussions. 

Searching the excellent California Digital Newspaper Collection, here’s contemporary comment from the May 31, 1856, edition of the Sacramento Union:

The Last “End of the Tulare War.’— We have frequently had occasion to remark that the accounts of Indian hostilities, not only in the north, but in the south, are almost invariably exaggerated. A small affair is soon magnified into a battle, and the origin is not unfrequently attributed to Indian outrages, when the account should read “white man’s oppression.” The following extract from a private letter written to a gentleman in San Francisco, from a friend at Fort Miller, and bearing date the 25th of May, is the latest, and it may be one of the most truthful accounts from that quarter:

“The Indian war is defunct. The volunteers from this place have returned, swearing most roundly at the [white] Four Creeks people, whom they term Petticoat Rangers, from a kind of armor made with canvas padded with cotton, which they wear in shape of a frock or blouse around their persons for protection. The whole matter has been a cowardly farce, the threatening legions of Indians turning out to be but about one hundred, seeking refuge in a brush from the rowdies, who, on the least occasion, delight in the sport of shooting them.

“As in all cases of the kind, the fault has been with the whites. The herds of cattle said to have been stampeded, have turned out to be a single calf taken to supply the deficiency of meat during an Indian feast. Retaliation, of a brutal character, for this trifling offense, created all the disturbance.”

There are plenty of other newspaper accounts of the “war” published around the same time. Some content the tribe’s “depredations” warranted a violent response, but most seem to have held to the view that the initial provocation — the “theft” of a small number of cattle during a time of starvation — served as a pretext for wanton killing of indigenous people wherever they were to be found in the area. It is not a unique story. But it’s disappointing that such a credulous mid-19th century narrative made its way onto a marker placed at the end of the 20th century.

‘Indignation of the Most Intense Kind’

“He was almost always mentally irritated. The slightest flaw, real or imaginary, in his companions’ statements, caused in him intellectual indignation of the most intense kind. And there seemed to be something in him which took it for granted that anything said by anybody except himself needed immediate denial or at least substantial modification.”

That’s in Janet Malcolm’s “Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice,” in a passage describing Gertrude Stein’s brother Leo. Gertrude and Leo had a falling out driven by Leo’s conviction that his sister was “basically stupid” but had won literary acclaim and celebrity through a combination of clever artifice, self-admiration and self-assurance. The only reason I’m mentioning it here is that sometimes you come across a description that holds up a mirror to one of your less attractive qualities. “Always mentally irritated … intelllectual indignation of the most intense kind … anything said by anybody except himself needed immediate denial”? I recognize that guy.

“Two Lives” is wonderful, by the way, if you’re looking for a quick but absorbing read.

Whitman Family, Meet Misses Stein and Toklas

Whitman Family Marker, Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland.

One afternoon not too long ago — sometime earlier this century, in any case — I found myself in Oakland, close to Piedmont Avenue, with nothing more on my to-do list for the day. I decided to take a walk up to Mountain View Cemetery. As always, in whatever cemetery I’m strolling through, I was captivated by the stories some grave markers suggest and took pictures of monuments that caught my eye.

What grabbed me about the marker above? Well, the carefully rough-cut form, probably. The names, too: a family group — father, mother, and son, and the son’s imposing, formal name: Crosby Church Whitman. Also curious, to me: the detail related on the stone that the mother and son both died in Paris, with the younger Whitman dying in 1916, during World War I, but before the United States entered the war. What was the story there?

Much later, during hours when I should have been getting some outside air in my lungs, I looked up “Crosby Church Whitman” on our universal distributed reference library. One thing led to another, and soon the Whitmans were rubbing elbows with Gertrude Stein and Alice Babette Toklas.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. To start with the old Whitmans:

Bernard Crosby Whitman is the subject of a brief entry in the 1904 “National Cyclopedia of American Biography” says he was born in Massachusetts in 1827. A newspaper clipping suggests his original name was and that he was granted legal permission to change it in 1842). He graduated from Harvard in 1846, studied law and was admitted to the bar in Maine in 1849. Then he heard about what was happening in California and came west, arriving in San Francisco in 1850. Among other activities of note, he was a Whig Party member of the state Assembly for one term and ran as a Know Nothing — nativist, exclusionary — candidate for Congress in 1856.

Mary Elizabeth Church was born in Albion, Michigan, in 1842. She was apparently brought to California as a child, and her hometown when she married Bernard was Rough and Ready, a Gold Rush settlement in Nevada County; newspaper accounts, in the Daily Alta California and Sacramento Union, reported the wedding ceremony took place in Nevada Clounty on July 14, 1858. (Take note of the dates and the ages they imply: If accurate, Bernard was 15 years Mary Elizabeth’s senior; she would have been 16 years old when she married a man twice her age. )

Their son, Crosby Church Whitman, was born in Benicia — in Solano County, northeast of San Francisco, and one of California’s early capitals — in 1864. He was sent east to prep school, graduated from Harvard in 1886 and then pursued a medical education in France and Germany. He practiced for a while at Johns Hopkins around the turn of the 20th century, then returned to France, where he resided and practiced medicine the rest of his life.

Bernard Whitman moved to Virginia City, Nevada, in 1864, the same year Crosby was born. The Comstock Lode was in full swing; Bernard is said to have taken “a prominent part in most of the litigation” related to the mines there. He was named to the Nevada Supreme Court and served a year as chief justice in the mid-1870s before moving to San Francisco, where he practiced law until his death from “an apoplectic stroke” in August 1885. His estate was reported to be worth about $10,000 — not nearly a fortune, but enough for his survivors to get by on.

Presumably, Bernard was buried at Mountain View immediately after his death. But what about his wife and son, who according to the marker died in Paris much later?

Crosby Church Whitman turns up in newspaper accounts around 1910 as one of the founding physicians of the American Hospital in Neuilly, just outside Paris. When World War I broke out in 1914, he has asked to organize an “ambulance,” or field hospital, to help treat the masses of French and British soldiers wounded in the fight to stop the German advance on the capital.

Here’s how a 1920 volume, “Memoirs of the Harvard Dead in the War Against Germany,” described Dr. Whitman’s service, carried out under the auspices of the French Red Cross:

“With unfailing courtesy to all whom he met, and the many qualities which have endeared him to his friends, he devoted himself to his new duties, soothing sufferers in words as well as by professional skill, encouraging the despondent, and frequently providing at his personal expense the best apparatus for unfortunate amputated men when the time came for them to leave the ambulance. In the multiplicity of details, many annoyances were inevitable; but he always kept his cheerful serenity; it was said that a mere glance at his countenance was enough to make a wounded man feel sure that he was on the road to recovery.”

Crosby Whitman later organized a second field hospital. By the beginning of 1916, the Harvard account says, the sheer volume of work had overwhelmed him: “On the advice of his associates, he interrupted his work, as he supposed, for a few days; but his health failed rapidly. He passed away in his sleep, at his own residence in Paris, in the presence of his mother, the household, and the attending physicians. ” The consular record of his death, on March 28, 1916, lists the cause as “congestion of the brain.”

Mary Elizabeth Whitman had lived with her son at 20 Rue de Lübeck, in the 16th Arrondissement on the north bank of the Seine — about halfway between the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower — for years before his passing. And she stayed right there until her death in 1932, at age 90. Her death record lists the cause as “senility.”

How did the Whitmans make their way, after death, back to a cemetery in Oakland?

In Crosby Whitman’s case, the answer is that he didn’t. He was cremated and interred at the Suresnes American Cemetery, on the western outskirts of Paris.

And his mother? Well, it’s not quite clear to me. Yet. The record of her death shows she was cremated and her remains held, at least temporarily, at the American Cathedral in Paris. I’ve contacted people there to see whether there are any records of what happened after that.

So, that grave in Mountain View is the final resting place of one Whitman, and possibly two. The third member of the family remains in France.

What does any of that have to do with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas? Well, not a lot. But here’s something:

Looking for information on the Whitmans on Ancestry.com, among the resources I came across were passport applications made at the U.S. Embassy in Paris. The Whitmans applied for passports in December 1914. After Dr. Whitman explained his protracted absence from the United States, the passports were approved on March 25, 1915.

Crosby Whitman’s application is listed first in the passport file, followed by his mother’s. Turning to the very next page after Mary Elizabeth Whitman, I found this:

And on the very next page after that is this:

Alice B. Toklas passport approval, March 25, 1915.

Of course, it’s just a coincidence . There’s nothing to suggest that, except for the accident of their simultaneous passport approvals, the Whitmans ever crossed paths with Stein and Toklas, who lived during these years about four kilometers away at 27 Rue de Fleurus, just outside the Luxembourg Gardens.

Long after the Whitmans passed away, and immediately after another World War, Gertrude Stein fell ill and was diagnosed with cancer. As she lay dying in the American Hospital, which Crosby Whitman had helped found decades earlier, Toklas kept watch by her bedside.

Toklas wrote later:

“I sat next next to her, and she said to me early in the afternoon, ‘What is the answer?’ I was silent. ‘In that case,’ she said, ‘what is the question?’ ”