Alice Miller (Layover in Reno, 2008)
Daughter of the Sky (Layover in Reno, 2008)
Recollections of Neal Cassady (Layover in Reno, 2008)
Charline Arthur (Lake Placid Blue, 2018)
Tulsa Riot (Lake Placid Blue, 2018)
The Belle of New Haven (Lake Placid Blue, 2018)
The child who would grow to become the California 'cattle king' Henry Miller was born Heinrich Alfred Kreiser in Brackenheim Germany in 1827. He was the only son of Christian and Christine Kreiser. His father raised cattle which young Heinrich herded and milked before being apprenticed as a butcher at age eight. His formal schooling lasted from age seven to fourteen. After the death of his mother when he was fifteen, Heinrich left home and wandered through Europe, then booked passage to New York in 1847 at age nineteen.
Yearning to be farther west, he purchased a ticket to San Francisco from a shoe salesman he befriended in New York named Henry Miller. The ticket was in Miller's name and was not transferrable. He liked the name and kept it for the rest of his life. He arrived in San Francisco in 1850, the year California was admitted to the Union. Most men were headed for the gold fields, but Miller stayed in the city and prospered in the meat business.
He sought to expand his involvement in the meat supply chain andpartnered with Alsatian business competitor Charles Lux. After surveying land and water in the central part of the state, Miller bought the first of his many ranches, the Santa Rita, from the Hildreth family. Situated on the west side of the San Joaquin River in Merced County, it comprised 8835 acres and 7500 head of cattle.
He initiated a campaign of land, water and cattle acquisition that culminated thirty years later with what is usually characterized as a million acres and a million head (it was actually somewhat more) in California, Nevada and Oregon. When Lux died in 1887 Miller assumed full control of the empire. From his headquarters, the 13,000 acre Bloomfield Ranch south of Gilroy, he would travel constantly to his various holdings on horseback or by horse and buggy to assure things were running smoothly.
In 1858 Miller married Nancy Wilmarth Sheldon, sister of Charles Lux's wife. Nancy died in childbirth less than a year later and in 1860 he married Nancy's 20-year old niece Sarah Elizabeth Wilmarth Sheldon with whom he had three children. Henry Miller Jr. was born in 1862. Daughter Nellie Sheldon Miller was born in 1865 and Sarah Alice Miller, the youngest, was born in 1871 (some sources say 1867).
Miller made sure his family was well provided for but did not spend a great deal of time with them. They tended to prefer San Francisco city life while he himself was always visiting his various ranches. Only little Sarah Alice seemed to share his love for country life. She was the apple of her father's eye, and when she was thrown from her horse and killed in June 1879 while racing her sister on horseback to Soap Lake on the eastern edge of the Bloomfield Ranch, Miller was devastated. He subsequently suffered what today would probably be considered a nervous breakdown and returned to his native Germany for several months.
She was buried in the small family cemetery near what is now the south end of Santa Teresa Blvd. When the Bloomfield property was sold in the latter part of the 1920s (Henry Miller died in 1916) Sarah Alice's remains were moved to Colma where she (according to cemetery records I have seen) was cremated at Cypress Lawn Cemetery. Her urn was stored there for several years (probably until Nellie's death in 1944), then traveled across the road to Woodlawn Cemetery to finally join her father.
Daughter of the Sky
My fascination with Amelia Earhart's life, and the mystery of her disappearance, began over twenty years ago when I read Elgin and Marie Long's book Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved which raised many more questions than possible solutions. (Their premise was 'crashed and sank' which is one of dozens of theories advanced over the intervening years). I felt the need to dig a little deeper.
After reading more than twenty more books and numerous articles, and watching every available documentary video, I came to the inevitable conclusion that it was much more important to honor her amazing life prior to her last flight than to speculate about her loss over the Pacific in 1937 with her navigator Fred Noonan.
From her early dedication to flying, to her being the first woman to cross the Atlantic in 1928 and her solo Atlantic flight in 1932,
she not only established numerous aviation records but seemed determined to prove that women could equal and surpass men's achievements in any other realm.
In her flat midwestern drawl she endlessly promoted her belief in women's equality in interviews and lectures; her unparalleled fame during the Depression years made everyone listen. Aside from Will Rogers, no one was more famous during this period, and she made the most of that situation.
Her marriage to George Palmer Putnam, a noted publisher and tireless promoter, gave her even more opportunity to broadcast her position. If he exploited her, or she exploited him remains an unanswered question. While she staggered up the wing to take off on her last flight into immortality, he chose to look into the camera.
Recollections of Neal Cassady
Reading Neal Cassady's Joan Anderson Letter to Jack Kerouac in its entirety recently caused me to mentally revisit my teenaged encounters with this 'icon of beatnik neo-enlightenment'.
Kerouac considered the 1950 letter from his friend to be a great piece of American
literature, and made it out to be the inspiration for his new writing style as he typed his breakout novel On the Road on a continuous roll of paper that year. Cassady was trying to impress his literate pal, and told a somewhat violent and very sexist tale of his conquests of a Denver nursing student and several other young women during 1944 when he was nineteen. It ran to 18 single-spaced and double-sided pages and 18,000 words.
From our modern perspective seventy years later, the letter is indeed beautifully written in his stream-of-consciousness style, and also terribly callous and self-serving, sort of like the man himself. By the time he joined Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters for his final adventures in the mid-sixties, he was forced to personify the legendary figure that Kerouac's
several books had created. It would be his inevitable downfall and his literary legacy.
Both brilliant of mind and a brilliant con man, Neal tried as hard as he could to live up to his reputation. In his beat-up old Ford 'with a back wheel that went like this' he would collect a car full of young male and female Cassady zealots and drive them (us) around, carrying on four or five conversations simultaneously, rolling a joint with one hand as he drove flawlessly, and making U-turns in the middle of the freeway or anywhere else that he happened to be. I have never been more terrified.
Rather than being an isolated incident, this, believe me, was his norm. Thus are legends cemented.
Charline Arthur was an unreconstructed hillbilly singer from Texas who recorded for RCA Victor in the early fifties. At a time when women in country music were expected to act demure and wear frilly dresses, she used bad language, wore pants and sang lying down on occasion. She and Rose Maddox prefigured rockabilly, and she toured with Elvis before he was famous (his mother was a fan). She claimed to have taught him how to conduct himself on stage.
I had never heard of Charline when I saw her photo with the '53 Lincoln in the book 'Finding Her Voice - The Illustrated History of Women in Country Music' by Mary Bufwack and Robert Oermann. She looked like someone who had a story to tell.
Tulsa's Greenwood district is the site of one of the most devastating race riots in the history of the United States. Before May 31, 1921, Tulsa's black business district known as Greenwood flourished in spite of segregation. It boasted of several restaurants, theaters, clothing shops and hotels. Dubbed the "Black Wall Street," Greenwood was an economic powerhouse.
After May 31, 1921, Greenwood would never be the same. The tension mounted between the black and white communities over an incident that allegedly occurred in an elevator at the Drexel building in downtown Tulsa involving Sarah Page, a 17-year-old white elevator operator, and Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old black man. There are several versions of what supposedly transpired, but the most common being that Dick Rowland accidentally stepped on Page's foot in the elevator, throwing her off balance. When Rowland reached out to keep her from falling, she screamed. Many Tulsans
came to believe through media reports that Rowland attacked Page although no sufficient evidence surfaced to substantiate the claim. The incident was further escalated by a local newspaper headline that encouraged the public to "Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator."
The strained relationship between the white and black communities, the heightened jealousy of the success of the Black Wall Street area and the elevator encounter led to the Tulsa Race Riot.
Armed white men looted, burned and destroyed the black community. When the smoke cleared, mere shells of buildings were all that remained of the business district. The Red Cross estimates that more than 300 people were killed and approximately 1,200 homes were destroyed.
The Belle of New Haven
Sarah Lockwood Pardee was born in 1839 in New Haven CT and spent part of her childhood across the street from the Winchester home. By 1860 she and William Winchester were keeping company, and in 1862 they were married. In 1866 their daughter Annie was born but died nine days later. Her parents never fully recovered from the tragedy. The death of Sarah's father-in-law in 1880 and that of her husband less than a year later gave her controlling interest in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.
Following a period of bereavement and a sojourn to Europe, Sarah came west in 1886 (not 1884 as is almost universally believed) and purchased an eight-room farmhouse and 45 acre tract of land in the Santa Clara Valley of California. She invited her sister Belle to join her in California and for the next 36 years, until she died in 1922, supported Belle, her husband and two children and purchased
additional property in what would become
Mountain View, Atherton and Burlingame.
Her father and grandfather had been woodworkers and cabinetmakers, and Sarah enjoyed designing and adding to the farmhouse,
to the extent that by 1906 it rose five stories and comprised over 160 rooms. The San Francisco Earthquake in April 1906 toppled a seven-story tower and all of the house's many chimneys and caused other damage so extensive that some portions of the house had to be demolished. It is believed this demolition was responsible for future accounts of doors leading nowhere and stairways ending abruptly.
As reclusive and eccentric as Sarah was, and as bizarre as the Winchester house became, it was probably inevitable that rumor and legend would overtake reality in the public perception. Even during her lifetime she was believed to be in contact with the spirits of people killed by Winchester rifles, and thus driven to keep adding to the mansion without interruption. After her death these rumors were made even more elaborate in order to market the 'Winchester Mystery House' to the public. It is a tourist attraction often described as 'the most haunted house in the United States'. It is left to us to separate fact from conjecture regarding this mysterious and remarkable structure and the woman who built it.