Blog posts by Marla
Posted April 18, 2013
A few months ago I bought a hat. I used to wear a lot of hats and still love the look of them. Try as I might to work it into my wardrobe rotation, I’ve never worn my new hat. Maybe if the tag inside said “Handley’s Millinery,” I’d give it a go.
Kate Handley was a local hat-maker. Born in 1857 to Irish immigrants, Kate went to Holy Cross School. She wanted to work in the newspaper business, but the nuns at her school were shocked at her choice of an “unladylike” profession. They steered her to what they thought was a more suitable trade. And so at age 16, Kate moved to San Francisco to apprentice at a milliner’s store.
When she returned to Santa Cruz, Kate set up shop at 138 Pacific Avenue. An 1886 Daily Surf article notes that Kate Handley’s establishment was the place to see “the latest thing out.”
Kate also took out many advertisements in the local paper to drum up business. Although she gave up her girlhood dream of becoming a reporter, Kate still made news even though she wasn’t the one writing it.
In a time when few women had careers outside the home, Kate was a successful businesswoman who for over 50 years helped the women of Santa Cruz look fashionable. And she walked every day from her High St. home to her Pacific Ave. shop.
My favorite Kate Handley hat in the MAH collection is one constructed of rich brown wool and felt. Fiery orange and red feathers flame out of one side while an orderly row of 4 bows decorate the other. I recently put this hat on display at the museum.
I wish had kept the Kate creation out longer. After I returned it to its home in the collection room, I was told that some people visited the museum just to see the Kate Handley hat. Yes, never underestimate the power of an accessory.
Fortunately we have a few Kate Handley hats in the MAH collection; they’re actually quite rare. The thing is many women loved Kate’s hats so much that they wore the heck out of them. Unlike my hat that still sits unworn on top of my dresser, begging to be the latest thing out.
Posted March 19, 2013
One of my all-time favorite books is Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. When Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout to never judge someone before walking in their shoes—well, those are fantastic words to live by. Does any footwear apply? What about cowboy boots?
When my terrific crew of volunteers cataloged the shoes in the MAH’s collection, they came across these boots worn by movie and T.V. actor, Rory Calhoun.
Crafted out of black leather and embellished with red fiery detail, these boots have that worn in feeling–creased and concave near the middle of the foot after much walking and living.
Born in Los Angeles in 1922, Francis Timothy McCown was raised in Santa Cruz. Before he became Rory Calhoun, little Francis had a tough beginning: his dad, a professional gambler, died when he was only nine months old. Francis started getting into trouble with the law by 13. Before he was an adult, Francis was arrested for petty theft, jewelry store robbery, and driving a stolen vehicle across state lines.
After many stays at juvenile detention facilities and a stint at San Quentin prison, you begin to understand the plot of this story: young Francis was headed nowhere. I would not want to walk in these shoes.
Upon turning 21 and wanting to turn his life around, Francis was discovered in the Hollywood Hills while riding a horse (cue the Western music), and changed his name to Rory Calhoun. For the next 50 years, Calhoun used his talent, good looks, and street smarts to establish himself as an actor, mostly appearing in Western films and TV shows.
His famous co-stars include Shirley Temple and Marilyn Monroe. Calhoun enjoyed a successful career, and parlayed a bad boy personality into a bad cowboy persona that lives on in cult films like Motel Hell Angel and Hell Comes to Frogtown (I’ve never seen either movie, but I think I should, if for the titles alone).
Due to the efforts of local columnist and historian Bruce Bratton, Rory made a trip to Santa Cruz in 1993, and stuck his hands and cowboy boots in the wet cement outside of the Nickelodeon Theater in downtown Santa Cruz. The boots were donated to the MAH along with a note that said “These are the boots I wore in Dawn at Socorro.”
Finally little Francis did good, showing his home town that he had made his mark, and it was worth leaving his imprint.
Bruce remembers Rory as a funny and warm man, who joked that the local sheriff was probably still looking for him. Rory Calhoun died in Burbank in 1999. Bruce Bratton attended his funeral. After all, you have to pay respects to the actor that appeared in three films with Marilyn Monroe (that’s a record).
Rory Calhoun’s saga shows us that at times anyone might be led astray through circumstances or choices. But let’s try to remember to not judge until we walk around in someone else’s shoes. Or boots.
Posted March 7, 2013
Evergreen Cemetery Committee volunteer and historian Sangye Hawke shares more research and thoughts about a former Santa Cruz resident.
Who was Marie Holmes? A brothel owner? A prostitute? A haunting apparition on a YouTube video? ,
When her headstone returned to the MAH, a new team of volunteer researchers approached Marie’s history with fresh eyes. The last investigation into Marie’s past was done in 1997. It was time for a second look. Why had such a young person choose to end her life, and most importantly, were certain assumptions made about Marie based on fact or cultural bias? We began a whole new investigation into the life of a figure that has haunted us for over half a century. One thing was clear, working in a house of ‘ill repute’ did not automatically make one a prostitute but, in cultural norms of the time, it did make one ‘questionable’.
Here are the facts of the case as stated in her Sentinel obituary, (May 6, 1898):
Marie Holmes ‘ name was an alias. She never told anyone about her past, but her companions knew she had left a child behind. She had tuberculosis. Marie came to Salinas first, where she tried to use a pistol to end her life. Afterwards, she moved on to Watsonville and six months later, Santa Cruz, where she became “an inmate of a house of ill repute on Pacific Av.[sic]” She spoke to a friend, Gladys Mills, on the day she died, about wanting to end her life, but was talked out of it. Instead, she made dinner reservations, and arranged a ride to the train station the next day. A half an hour later, she drank carbolic acid and collapsed on the corner of Mission and River Streets. She died within 15 minutes. She was 21 years old.
Conventional norms of the time stated prostitutes were shunned by the community. Yet, her funeral was an event of beauty: “Floral pieces were on the casket,…sympathy from her companions down whose cheeks the tears coursed….A choir sang….Beautiful and tender were the sentiments …” (Santa Cruz Daily Surf May 6, 1898) All paid by the woman Marie had lived with.
Further analysis of obits, previous historians’ notes and opinions, we found out Marie burned “all the letters she recently received.” A five cent piece was found in her purse. Frank Towne, the son of a former county supervisor, was the man she had engaged to take her to the train. Marie gave him a pink carnation. A half hour later, she was dead.
Marie’s true last name was either Phelps or Phillips, according to historian Phil Reader’s notes . A transcription of this letter (written in 1927), found by Reader at the University of Wyoming archives, (UW later wrote back that the letter was not in their archives), detailed Marie’s now grown daughter, Lisa, searching and finding her mother’s headstone with full knowledge of her mother’s past. Sometime after this, the headstone was removed from its plot. It was later found by a young homeless man, discarded in a deep canyon. This man, like Marie was, is fighting cultural assumptions about his place in this community. If anything, more questions about Marie have arisen, reminding us to challenge convention and use our personal assumptions as investigative leads, rather than substitutions to the truth. Thank you, Marie and, welcome back.
What’s next? A full search for Lisa Phelps/Phillips, finding a hard copy of her letter, and perhaps even a living descendant are the next steps in closing this case. Join our Archive Team at Evergreen@santacruzmah.org.
Posted February 19, 2013
The beginning of the New Year brought our nation’s presidential inauguration, and seeing all the pomp and tradition (and this being the month of Presidents’ Day), it got me thinking about people in authority, formal portraiture, and historic perception. When I work in the MAH’s collection room, I often glance up at the portrait of the first mayor of Santa Cruz. His name was William F. Cooper, but I like to call him Moses. Take a look at this painting and you’ll see why.
Painted by local artist Lillian Heath, Mayor Cooper is shrouded in green and tan drapery, his lined face (attributes of wisdom and knowledge) house brown eyes that gaze reassuringly at the viewer. This is a man you can trust. His long white beard completes his wise look, and reminds me of an Old Testament figure. The effect is on purpose, allowing the viewer to imagine the mayor as an almost divine being from a different time than when it was painted. I’m pretty sure Mr. Cooper didn’t walk around town in garb like that, even if it was 19th century Santa Cruz. Doesn’t he look like an extra from the movie, The Ten Commandments?
Mayor Cooper appears to be an honorable man, and by all accounts he was. Born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, William F. Cooper came to Santa Cruz in 1849, and opened the Cooper Brothers Mercantile Store with his brother on Main Street (now Front Street, where the MAH is now). William was known to be kind to the Native Americans at the Santa Cruz Mission, and according to local historian Margaret Koch, he “slipped many a sack of flour or bag of beans or warm blanket to some…” Hmmm, not exactly parting the Red Sea, but random acts of kindness are admirable.
The portrait of Mayor Cooper was painted in the neo-classical style, which was all the rage in mid to late 19th century art. Neo-classicism portraiture and history painting get a bad rap now, due mainly to the overly romanticized images used to heighten the importance of their subjects. Was George Washington an amazing general and president? By all account he was. Did he cross the Delaware looking as steadfast and dapper as depicted in numerous paintings? I’m guessing not.
I love history paintings like the portrait of Mayor Cooper. When we first accepted the painting into the collection, the MAH’s collections management committee had some lively discussions about it. Is this questionable art with a good story or just weird? Is this art or is it history? I think it’s both and that’s what makes it so wonderful for our collection. And the role of Moses is played by Mayor Cooper.