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Artifact of the Month: Soldiers in Santa Cruz, The Camera Shop Collection

Posted by on April 2, 2014

Every Thursday, two local historians join me in the MAH Archives to index a collection of photographic prints and negatives from the 1940s-1960s. Stanley D. Stevens and Barbara Keeney Clark are meticulous volunteers, carefully identifying and labeling each image. I love watching them work together as they decipher handwriting, research the spelling of a last name, and wonder about the people who sat for their portraits.

Some of these soldiers are from Santa Cruz County. Others might have been visitors to the area, stopping by the Camera Shop to sit for a portrait before shipping out to war. We do know that Freddy Alnas is the Filipino soldier wearing the U.S. Army uniform with the Sun Setters VII patch. Writer and historian Geoffrey Dunn wrote about Freddy in his book, Santa Cruz Is in The Heart.  Geoffrey told me that Freddy kept a copy of this portrait at his bedside throughout his life.

Freddy Alnas, 1944

Freddy Alnas, c. 1944

The Camera Shop was located at 119 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz and owned by Violet “Vi” Park in the 1940s. Her son John took over the business in the 1950s and 1960s. The prints and negatives in the MAH’s Camera Shop Collection date from the mid 1940s-1960s.

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Stairway to Heaven

Posted by on March 28, 2014

Written by Sangye Hawke

In 1861, the residents of Santa Cruz witnessed a strange sight: It began with ethereal exotic music, firecrackers, and an oxen cart replete with silk costumed, weeping, people.  A wonderful roasting smell of curious food wafted through the town, gathering even more bystanders. The Chinese workers were having a parade.

The bystanders’ curiosity grew, creating a line behind the parade to follow it to find out where it would go. Once the procession climbed the hill near the Mission, folk understood that it was a funeral of a beloved Chinese community member, but they continued to be part of the cortege along the carriage road to Evergreen Cemetery. Perhaps some even recognized a few of the parade participants from businesses they patronized. Some knew them intimately as servants within the wealthy households of prominent citizens.chinese

A wonderful book by Local Historian Sandy Lydon called Chinese Gold painted a true picture of the Chinese contribution to the founding and building of Santa Cruz County and the Monterey Bay. Evergreen Cemetery featured prominently as their resting place, being the oldest Chinese cemetery in our county.

Once the funeral completed its journey up a winding pathway called the Dragon Path into Evergreen Cemetery,  the deceased was placed in the ground. A long wooden board resembling today’s dog eared fence slats, delicately adorned with Chinese calligraphy,  told the story of the person’s life and how he came to be in Santa Cruz. This board was placed at the grave’s head.  (you can view one on display in our History Gallery) Nearby an oven was constructed to burn away the last remnants of the person’s life:  his clothing, his few precious mementos, money, and last of all a large meal. He would need all of those on his journey to the next life.

Parts of the meal would be left out, perhaps because the spirit would remain near his bones until later, when the bone pickers came to remove them. Only then could the soul complete its return journey home to China.  If no bones were returned to China, the person could become a hungry ghost, yearning or ‘hungry’ for what the living experienced, causing pain and bad luck to the community as a reminder that they were still in need of care and attendance. They would not be satisfied until an offering of food, money, incense, and the sweeping  of their grave was done.

For the rest of Santa Cruz this was a peculiar show and something to entertain them. When the main funeral cortege had left, those remaining  non-Chinese spectators would often partake in the remnants of the meal. In a way, this living action personified the idea of hungry ghosts. Thefts of funeral food offerings continued into the 1920s.  In the meantime, four Chinatowns had been built (and burned down) within Santa Cruz, and the Chinese population continued to grow despite the negative feelings and laws that prohibited much of their cultural practices.

EvergreenMemorial2Today, generous contributions by George Ow and Tom Ralston have made the Chinese Gate a true place of remembrance and a symbol to soothe the hungry ghosts of this city’s past sufferings, not only by the Chinese but of other immigrants to this place, both past and present (check out more pictures of the gate here).  It sits prominently up the side of hill in an area called The Old Section, where immigrants from Europe and Japan also have been laid to rest. A set of rail tie and packed dirt steps have replaced the old “Dragon Path”, creating a stairway directly up to the Gate. Art historians believe its arch shape may have meant to represent a resting perch for birds. It was believed that birds flew close to heaven, and could take prayers upward. The gate symbolized the Gate to Heaven, where mortal man could speak with the birds, and make his prayers heard in heaven.

On April 5th, on the Chinese Festival  Day of  QingMing,  Evergreen Cemetery will celebrate and recognize this significant history. You can still walk the old cortege path. We can show you how. Then come and walk up the Stairway to Heaven.

Interested in the history of Bone Picking? Please join us for a special free Lecture by Sandy Lydon on April 3rd called: Empty Graves

Walk the old path to Evergreen.  Follow our Hungry Ghost Commemoration Parade on April 5th .

©Sangye Hawke 2014

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Artifact of the Month: Everything Shut Up Tight, 1918 Flu Mask

Posted by on March 5, 2014

Flu mask from the 1918-1919 Flu Pandemic

Flu mask from the 1918-1919 Flu Pandemic

At the start of fall when everyone was getting their cold and flu shots I thought, “Wow, I’ve been lucky; I haven’t been sick in years. I guess I don’t have to worry.” Well of course, I’ve had a cold for most of the winter. It’s a tiny, irritating one that comes and goes, is bothersome enough to keep me up coughing at night, but not serious enough to turn into anything else (yet).

I recently looked through the MAH’s collection of medical artifacts (Dr. H.H. Clark’s wooden stethoscope, Dr. Benjamin Knight’s medical’s bag) and I zoomed in on an archival envelope labeled “mask from 1918 flu epidemic.” The small artifact–a thin scrap of gauze–is a heavy reminder of a time when the Spanish Influenza plagued this County.

The 1918 flu pandemic infected 500 million people worldwide and  killed mostly young, healthy adults (ages 20-40 was the target group). Hundreds of residents in Santa Cruz County died from the flu. According to historian Sandy Lydon, Santa Cruz’s first victim was 31 year old Loula Jones, who died in her sister’s home on Pacheco Street on October 15, 1918.

Soon after the first Santa Cruz County death, flu masks were mandatory wear in the area; if you look at photographs taken at this time, you can see many citizens following the rules and wearing their mask. Did anyone decide to chance it and go without their masks? Well, apparently they did.

According to Lydon’s research, two Santa Cruz women wore their masks on their arms since the law didn’t explicitly say it had to be worn on the face (there’s always a loophole—and masks certainly are a fashion risk. But these were scary times). Alas the City Council changed the law, making it mandatory to wear the flu masks on your faces (sorry ladies).

Looking at this artifact today, I wonder how effective this light strip of fabric was as protection against the flu. In a world before the invention of hand sanitizers and flu shots, I suppose you had to do what you had to do.

The local epidemic peaked in October 1918 and lasted until February 1919. I recently searched the Lund Family diaries (a fabulous donation to the MAH from last year) for more clues about how wide-spread the flu was. Mary Ann True, who lived on Ocean View Drive, mentioned the flu scare in one of her daily posts. “There are 54 cases of flu in town,” she wrote on December 6, 1918. “Everything shut up tight.” This may allude to the stores, movie theatres, restaurants, and bars that were closed. Santa Cruz must have seemed like a ghost town as people hunkered down in their homes to tend to afflicted loved ones, hoping that they could escape this malady.

Mrs. True ends her entry with her requisite “All well,” but of course it really wasn’t the case for everyone. Stay healthy, Santa Cruz.

 

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Now you can add ‘Opera Writer’ to your resumé thanks to PPAIR Artists Alex Stein and Erin Bregman

Posted by on January 23, 2014

As part of our ongoing Participatory Performing Artist-in-Residence Program (PPAIR), San Francisco Little Opera’s Alex Stein and Erin Bregman invite visitors to co-create an opera with them at Winterpalooza Family Festival Saturday, January 25th from 12-3PM (click here for more info).

by Alex Stein and Erin Bregman

When Erin and I set out to collect lyrics and musical ideas for “Song of the Selkie (Snow Spell)” (see more on Selkies here), I did not know what to expect. Collaborative composition is not new to me; Over the past few years I’ve led close to thirty different elementary classrooms through the process. However, I have never asked strangers to simply drop in, write some lyrics and sing them to me without any warm-up or preparation.

Having sketched out the plot of our opera (using ideas from all of the wonderful people who submitted them through our website), Erin and I decided that the biggest musical moments in our opera would be the casting and lifting of the Snow Spell. We knew that the Selkie, at the Sea Hag’s bidding, would rise from the sea, flap his flippers, crane his neck and honk before singing a dark and mysterious incantation.

How would we get people to actually write this dark and mysterious incantation? Erin and I set the ball rolling with “Blow ye wind, rise ye sea, gathering power stealthily.” We came up with a little bit of melody. Then we made some worksheets which featured our opening lines and a prompt for participants to continue the idea. After writing new lines, participants would practice reading them aloud with a partner a couple of times before attempting to sing them to Erin, Stacey or Emily, who would pre-approve them to come to the piano and share their ideas with me. For my part, I would sit in a corner periodically crooning “Blow ye wind, rise ye sea.” This gave folks some context until someone could come forward to share an idea which I would then transcribe.

ppair1 ppair 4 ppair 3

Completed worksheets from First Friday visitors helped Alex and Erin craft the song ‘Blow Ye Wind’ for Winterpalooza Family Festival.

So, we opened the door and said, “Help us write an opera.” At first we were met with cocked heads and silence. You could almost hear the lonesome shrieks of the gulls over the wine-dark sea. Finally a brave soul sat at a table, took up a worksheet with a flourish and offered us “So find the wave that drives the hag’s fell breath– and find the mind that sees through time.” A few more people peered into our room questioningly, heard the word opera, and tiptoed out. But a few more stayed and offered lyrics and music.

Eventually we reached critical mass. People came, people stayed, people pondered. I notice a couple of ladies in one corner working for over an hour. We took ideas from eight-year-olds and eighty-year-olds. People belted forth entire songs, or whispered tiny but brilliant fragments in my ear. In the end, I came away with a massive stack of worksheets, a phone nearly maxed-out with recordings and staff paper full of melodic scribblings.

The most amazing part of the whole experience, for me, was seeing how people of all ages worked together— children, parents, and grandparents, college students, young couples, friends, etc. People really got into the spirit of the thing, and they took time to discuss their ideas with each other and work them out. I cannot wait to see what everybody does at Winterpalooza.

Listen to ‘Blow Ye Wind’ created by First Friday visitors below:

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Artifact of the Month: George E. Stone Stereograph Collection

Posted by on January 14, 2014

Archives intern Renata McRee has completed some fantastic work on some of the MAH’s collections. Here’s her account of working with and researching the stereograph collection.

Tracking the Elusive Mr. Stone

(Written in the style of 1930s and 1940s detective novels)

George E. Stone Collection

George E. Stone Collection

The archives were dusty, but with a pleasant aroma of old books. It was my first day on the job, interning in the Archives at the Museum of Art and History, Santa Cruz. “Find something that interests you,” I had been prompted as a place to start, and my eyes wandered to an assortment of boxes sitting alone in a corner of the shelf. I suppose it was the fact the boxes were in a corner by themselves that attracted me. How long had they been sitting there? What secrets did they hold?  Stereographs, was the answer my fellow workers in the Archives told me. Yet what exactly was a stereograph?

My mind went back to University courses on the subject, remembering a Professor that had mentioned these early forms of entertainment. The “first 3-D movies” she had called them. The class had marveled as curiously and fantastically two photos mounted on a card side-by-side became one when seen through a special hand-held viewer. This was a stereograph. Still a marvel even in the age of television.

My task was to sort through these marvels and categorize them. The name on several of the boxes identified the stereographs’ creator as George E. Stone.  Although he seemed to have been a prolific man, the museum knew nothing about G.E. Stone. Something drove me to identify or find a face for the elusive man who made these objects packed away on a shelf that I was now holding. So now I found myself faced with another task: Find the man called George E. Stone. All I had to go on were the clues that were given me. A name—George E. Stone Laboratories—and the words, Producers of Motion Pictures and Stereographs.

G.E. Stone proved to be an elusive fellow to track down. Based on some text c.1927 volume present on the back of some of the stereographs I could deduce that many of the stereographs dated from that time or thereabouts.  I was therefore looking for a G.E. Stone who was active in that time and an adult in the nineteen-twenties.

Thinking this information was gold, I began my research. George E. Stone proved a rather popular name. I was left with four potential G.E. Stone’s that fit the profile. One lead proved a dead end. An actor, the Hollywood sort, and his online profile proved him very unlikely to be G.E. Stone, stereographer.

The second—an Amherst University, Massachusetts Professor. He was also a botanist and photographer. No definitive evidence of his having created stereographs, but the botany sketches and photos suggested an interest and ability to create them. Many of the museums stereographs were botany related. Birth and death dates of this man were adequate to suggest a period of activity in the nineteen-twenties.

The third G.E. Stone was the Library of Congress entry for George Edward Stone. A picture of a stereograph on the entry made this man seem a promising candidate. But wait—birth and death for this man were the same as the Amherst Professor. Worth checking out.

The fourth candidate was a George E. Stone who was an author of some letters sent to me by the Harrison Memorial Library in Carmel, CA when I inquired about him. They had no biography on him though. Neither did libraries in San Francisco and Monterey, other areas the mysterious stereographer had worked. Mr. Stone seemed to have moved like a ghost through these places. Or had he?

The letters from Carmel revealed a different G.E. Stone. A Professor of photography for twenty-four years. San Jose State had a G.E. Stone.  They had a photo of him—a jolly looking man with round glasses and thinning hair. Posed with a camera of course. And yet there was no bio.  Was he the right Stone?

I went back to my leads. Now I had to see whether I could cross G.E. Stone candidate number two or number three off my list. The fourth—S.J. University Mr. Stone, the writer of my letters had written them in the late nineteen-fifties. He could not be the same G.E. Stone as candidate number two the Amherst Professor. Amherst Professor was deceased by then.

Yet what about the Library of Congress Stone? His dates were the same as Amherst Stone’s. Meaning that the letters I had were written by an altogether different man. A nineteen-twenty-nine Sunset Magazine article, the aforementioned letters, a Berkeley Heritage post on a women named May Gray, an AFI Feature Films entry and an ancestry.com search, proved to me that the George E. Stone  who was San Jose State Professor and the writer of the letters were one and the same. And these sources placed him in San Francisco, Monterey, and Carmel during the same time as the stereographs were made.  The Sunset article even stated that this Stone had worked for a motion picture company in Carmel and Monterey during the twenties. Seemed like a pretty fair bet that the stereographs could have been made during that time. Also, AFI Feature Films had an entry reading: George E. Stone Laboratories as producer for a nineteen-twenties dated film. Same laboratories as on some of the stereographs. Mr. Stone S. J. State Professor was looking like a pretty good candidate for the stereographer.

Though I cannot go back in time and ask this Mr. Stone if he did make the stereographs, what I do know is that through perusal sometimes puzzles start to fall into place. As I tracked down this elusive moniker, a trace of what the man’s life may have been like started to form. Suddenly I could imagine him on the rocks of Carmel making stereographs.

A close-up of one of the stereographs

A close-up of one of the stereographs

When I finished my last day uncovering the mystery of Mr. Stone, a fellow researcher came into the archives. Snowy white hair, glasses, name of Stan. I’d seen him before. Today he asked me what I was working on. I told him about G.E. Stone. Mentioned he may have been an S.J. State Professor. To which Stan replied: “I think I remember having a Professor of photography with that name when I was a student there in the nineteen-fifties.” Could Stan identify him? I showed Stan the picture of G.E. Stone from S.J. State. “That looks like him, but a lot younger. Well, maybe it is him,” was Stan’s reply. Now I had a face to put to the stereographs. And I definitely had a story. But was it the right G.E. Stone? Well, everyone loves a mystery.

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