Lydia Oh Lydia, Tell Me Have You Met Lydia?

By mid-summer, 1902, the female members of Washington D.C.’s social set had grown bored with the latest fad; an afternoon teas given in honor of their dogs. The weather was simply too hot for the costume parties which had carried them through the winter and spring. As it was wont to do society came up with a new fad, and the female members of society’s upper crust were visited in their turns by a little Japanese man carrying a wicker basket. He was escorted into the lady ‘s boudoir, and the family butler ordered to inform callers that she was not at home.

The Japanese man got to work, bringing out a handsome embroidered case, in which resided needles of various shapes, sizes and weights. Holding his needle with the air of a Rembrandt, the artist began to rapidly prick the delicate skin, then deftly moving to soak the raw flesh in one of any number of inks he’d brought along.

A few painful hours later, the man finished, and quietly took his leave, and now the society gal had herself 1902’s favorite, permanent, fashion accessory, a tattoo. One woman chose her family’s coat of arms; justly proud because they’d been around since the American Revolution. Another chose an image of a ship, in honor of her fiancée in the navy. This particular belle chose a dragon fly:

And here we have a Fluer-de-lis:

Next time you notice a young lady with a “tramp stamp,” just remember their grandmothers did it first.


Adolph Weber, Boy Murderer of Auburn, California

On the night of November 10, 1904, Julius Weber presided over the family meal as he’d done countless time before. His nineteen year old son Adolph had been absent, but that was nothing out of the ordinary; for the past year or so, “Dolphy” as his parents called him, had taken his meals in his room. Adolph’s typically morose demeanor left his mother Mary Weber guiltily grateful that the young man hadn’t joined them.

Up until a few years before, Dolphy had been the family’s pride. His sister Bertha adored him. Dolphy took special care of Earl; who was what doctors of the day called an imbecile. Now, Dolphy was nothing but trouble to his family. He became morose, and dressed all in black. Rumors circulated of a shed in the back of the family’s homestead where he performed cruel experiments on small animals. He began raising fighting cocks, and if they lacked the martial spirit, he trample their heads with his boots, grinding their skull beneath his heel. The entire populace had talked for weeks on end when a desperado robbed the Placer County Bank in early 1904; Adolph didn’t care, and snapped at anyone who asked his opinion about it.

Dolphy disappeared for a few days at a time, his family circulated that he was visiting friends in Sacramento or San Francisco; and they weren’t technically lying, if one called the prostitutes which inhabited the low brothels in those towns “friends.” He’d been seen striking Earl, impatient at the amount of care the mentally deficient boy needed. The family doctor, Robert F. Rooney became firmly convinced that Dolphy was a hypochondriac; even worse, he diagnosed the teenager as a chronic masturbator. Dolphy approached Rooney to request a circumcision to cure the malady, his family had caught him one too many times. The doctor refused to perform such a procedure on a sixteen year old absent parental permission; Adolph reluctantly returned the next day with his father, who’d consented to the operation which was duly performed.

With the morose Dolphy upstairs, daughter Bertha, aged 17, and Earl, aged 12, completed the family circle at the dinner table that mid-November evening. Earl sat close by his mother’s side; his handicap meant that a member of the family needed to be in constant attendance.

Although he’d been in America for some thirty years, Julius’ German accent was still heavy, but the town of Auburn was a welcoming place,  and besides, they’d expected the former owner of the town brewery to be a German; all good brewers were. The family’s meal that night was probably German too, washed down with good beer. At 6:30 in the evening, the heavy food settled in his stomach, Julius tucked a copy of The Placerville Mountain Democrat under his arm and closed the bathroom door behind him.

His son Dolphy burst in while Julius’ pants were still around his ankle. Adolph leveled a .32 caliber pistol at his father’s chest, and wordlessly pulled the trigger; the bullet entered his father’s heart killing him instantly.

Adolph strode into the living room, where his mother, Bertha and Earl were talking. One shot felled his sister, and his mother and Earl ran screaming to the entrance hall. Adolph’s first shot into his mother’s back, knocking her to the ground.

She rose, scrambling to reach the telephone. She managed to pick up the receiver before Adolph shot her in the head; bits of brain and bone covered the rotary dial. Adolph didn’t even waste a bullet on little Earl; he crushed the child’s skull underneath the butt of his gun.

Each of the bodies was dragged to the living room and Adolph set the house afire to cover the crime.  He walked out the front door on his way to town as the fire smoldered behind him.

In his hurry to leave, Adolph hadn’t had time to examine his clothes, under the streetlights which illuminated Placerville’s miniscule business district, he noticed several bloodstains. Fortunately, the general store was still open. He ducked in and purchased a pair of pants that were a few sizes too small; when [the clerk] offered to sell him a pair more suited, Adolph angrily remarked that he was in a rush to get to a social engagement, and that he’d ruined his previous pair by running into a fire hydrant.

With his old pants rolled under his arm, Adolph was strolling down Main Street when the fire bells rang out. Along with most of Auburn’s population, Adolph ran to the Weber household; the fire was already fairly well underway. Several witnesses saw him break the window glass with his old pants, and throw them on the flames. Rescuers managed to carry little Earl’s body outside, wrapped in the curtains which had been [Wife’s] pride. Adolph’s blow with the gun hadn’t killed the boy, but he expired a few moments later on the front lawn.  Other neighbors managed to drag the family piano, an elaborate model costing $9000, out on the front lawn; the rest of the house burned to the ground.

Initially it appeared that Adolph was to be pitied; his entire family had burned to death in a house fire, and the poor orphan was now all alone. Then the police discovered that the charred corpses had been shot. Mrs. Snowden, Adolph’s aunt, told a newspaper that Mary feared her son’s temper. Adolph was confined, then formally booked for first degree murder charges when the coroner’s jury heard the facts. The pants with which he’d broken the window were found to contain blood stains. Yet, Adolph still had his supporters; even after the police discovered the $20 gold pieces taken from the Placer County Bank robbery hidden under a pile of manure in the barn, female admirers still sent violets to the jail.

The trial stretched over several days, Adolph continued to maintain his innocence even as the prosecution tore his alibi apart. With $70,000 inherited from his father, Adolph fielded the best defense team money could by, headed by Ben Tabor, a one-armed attorney who’d become legendary for his legal skills in the rough and tumble world of late 1800’s California. Tabor’s best efforts proved of no avail; Adolph received the death penalty.

In 1906, Adolph strode up the 13 steps to the waiting platform at San Quentin Prison. He said nary a word as the hangman placed a black hood around his neck and fitted the noose around his neck. The trap sprung, Adolph made a few twitches and then hung silently.

After Adolph’s trial, California adopted a parricide law; no longer would persons accused of murdering their parents be able to inherit; until after they’d been found innocent.

Smash a Masher, the thrilling conclusion

“I had stopped for a moment to look at a poster in front of a moving picture place,” said Alice Stebbins Wells, “when a man came up and ingratiatingly asked me if I did not want to see the show, offering to take me. Now, I can readily imagine that if I had been a poor young girl without a nickel, and worse yet, with the knowledge that I never would have a nickel to spare for such a treat, I might have accepted the man’s offer and so possibly have taken the first step to ruin.” Miss Wells was made of sterner stuff; she had to be, for not only was she the first policewoman in Los Angeles, she was the first policewoman in the country.

Women had worked for the LAPD before; mostly as “matrons” in penal institutions where they supervised female prisoners or wards of the state, but in 1910, when the Los Angeles City Council gave Miss Wells her badge and provided her with arrest powers, it marked a departure from decades of tradition. Most of Los Angeles did not note the change that was afoot; according to the Los Angeles Almanac, LAPD officers enjoyed the privilege of free trolley rides to and from work; when Miss Wells displayed her badge, the conductor accused her of pilfering her husband’s badge to cadge a free trip. The Department remedied this problem by presenting her with a special badge, “Policewoman’s Badge Number One.”

Throughout the country, cities followed Los Angeles’ example, and by 1915 there were enough policewomen for Wells to organize the International Policewomen’s Association. These women’s experience varied, Philadelphia’s policewomen were stationed in the City’s train station; fluent in six languages they acted more like social guardians than Cagney and Lacey; steering young and confused immigrant women away from vice ridden hotels and into safe boardinghouses. Back in Los Angeles, Wells remained busy stamping out vice; in particular she frequented dance halls to make sure they didn’t operate as brothels.

New York City hired Miss Ruth Crawford as its first policewoman. A wealthy heiress and Vassar graduate, joined the NYPD briefly after earning her Master’s in Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis. Although she soon left to join the YWCA, hundreds of women would follow her footsteps and join New York’s finest.

Chicago decided to go one better and hired an entire police contingent composed of females. History preserves their names, Miss Alice Clements, Miss Lulu Parks, Miss Margaret F. Butler, Mrs. Madge Wilson, Mrs. F. Woodman-Willsey, Miss Clara Olsen, Mrs. Anna Louckes, and Miss Anna Neukom. Assigned to the Detective Bureau, Clements and Parks were welcomed by their Captain “They are made of the right material, “he said, “and I believe this new move is a good thing for the department. Chicago should have twenty-five more policewomen.”

Lulu Parks was dispatched to New York City to arrange the capture and extradition of a former waitress who’d stolen $250 from her employer; dressed to the nines in a dark blue tailormade walking suit, gray coat and black velvet hat, trimmed with a black plume, and topped with a green feather, she caught her quarry unawares, and the thief was on her way back to Chicago. Parks admitted she’d carried two revolvers on the job; but refused to disclose where on her person she’d concealed them.

The others were assigned to smash the mashers, and they strolled in plainclothes up and down Wabash Avenue.

“So we started out first to clear the city of mashers,” said one. “I will not forget my first arrest of one of this species. It was my second day on the force and I was a bit timid, having made no arrest so far. I passed this youth – a big, overgrown boy. He bowed, and called me an endearing name and tried to grab my arm. My face reddened and my anger almost overpowered me.

‘You’re under arrest.’ I shouted at him as I displayed my star.

‘You wouldn’t arrest me, would you cutie?’ He said as he tried to wrench away. Angered by this latest insult I drew my revolver and hissed:

‘You either go to the station or to the Cook County Hospital.’ He subsided, and I took him to the box and locked him up. Next day he was fined $10.”

British Suffragette Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst (center) with policewomen (from left to right) Anna E. Neukon, Clara Louckes, LuLu C. Parks, and Mrs. Alice Clement; in Chicago’s Hotel LaSalle. Wish LuLu was wearing her hat. From the Library of Congres

Smash a Masher, pt. 2

One of the mashers’ favorite tactics was to approach a woman from behind. One such masher was  William T. Gobrecht, age 24, married, and father of a two year old specialized in pilfering stationary from hotels such as the Congress, writing letters proposing intimate rendezvous, and dropping them in the laps of ladies on the El. Gobrecht was eventually caught, but the “approach from behind” method led to the development of protective headgear, complete with reflecting mirror.

One didn’t necessarily need a bonnet for protection. Mrs. Elena DeHart of 949 Amsterdam Avenue, widow of a New York dentist, wanted to go about New York City unmolested, so she armed herself with a shillelagh;  a piece of rubber hose ten inches long which she could loop around her wrist. Mrs. DeHart’s had her own special tactic; “I always hit behind the ear because that is the centre of the nerves and it knocks him silly. The victim turns round and round in a dizzy whirl and is so stunned that I can sit on him if necessary until I get a policeman.” Once the policeman arrived, Mrs. DeHart swore out a complaint, and the bums were jailed. Some 50 mashers were convicted on her complaint. Mrs. DeHart taught herself jiu-jitsu because the police kept confiscating her shillelagh.

There were a few women who took advantage of the “smash a masher” craze for their own financial  aggrandizement. Clarence Cullen, formerly a house detective at a fancy New York Hotel, described how one petite brunette worked her scheme. According to Cullen, her first step was an outfit that would catch the eye with “dresses that barely reached the shoe tops;” scandalously short to entice gentlemen hoping for a glimpse of a bit of ankle. “Then she would pick out some emerging male who looked pretty soft meat. She had a keen eye for portly men of the good natured looking type, men with vacillating mouths, men who looked easy to stampede.”

Selection made, the brunette would approach and ask for directions, to gain the attention to the victim and make him stop. Then, looking him straight in the eye, she would say something along the lines of, “’You have stopped me and insulted me. You are a masher. If you don’t give me twenty-five dollars I shall have you arrested…on the charge of mashing…If you don’t give me twenty five dollars instantly, I shall scream, and faint, and you will be arrested.”

After making a quite a nice pile for herself, the young lady was arrested and sent to Blackwell’s Island.

Smash a Masher

We here at Forgotten Stories are known for being a trifle dense when it comes to the travails of being a woman. As gentlemen of the old school (at least we think we are), we aren’t particularly aware of what the modern woman calls a “creeper.”

But, we were struck the other day by the tale of a young lady of our acquaintance who, in great and exhaustive detail, reviewed the efforts of creepers to get her attention. Another young lady described how, when walking the streets of New York, she listened to her IPhone and wore sunglasses to avoid hearing catcalls and making eye contact. So we did a little digging, and there is nothing new under the sun. Our grandmothers were tormented in the 1940’s by their version of creepers “wolves,” and our great great grandmothers of the early 1900’s had their own tormenters, “mashers.”  Our illustrious forbearers fought back against the mashers, and over the next few days we’ll be detailing their efforts.

Here is Miss Ann Tracy, niece of J.P. Morgan. After she was accosted one too many times with “Aren’t you lonesome little girl?” she started bringing her German Shephard, Luchs, with her everywhere she went. 

When a pestiferous masher groped Tracy in Central Park, Luchs was let off the leash, and a masher was tree’d until police help arrived. A press photographer caught the whole thing on camera.

Not everyone could afford protection like Luchs, and several women took matters into their own hands. Elizabeth Mayne, a San Francisco show-girl in 1911, received a particularly vulgar note from a Dr. Weiss. Mayne reported the matter to the police. Setting up a sting, she agreed to meet Weiss on the street corner, and he was nabbed by an undercover police officer when he approached. It wasn’t because it was a mash note,” explained Miss Mayne, “that I had him arrested. We get lots of mash notes. Some are amusing, some silly, and some pathetic, but this one was entirely too vulgar and that’s why I had him arrested.”

Dorothy Watson had her own run in with an E.J. Simpson, a masher in Los Angeles in 1912. “I had just come of watch at the telephone office and stepped into the doorway to adjust a garment. Simpson approached me as I came out and insulted me. I spurned him, and he attacked me, blackened my eye and hit me on the side of the head. I didn’t see anyone to protect me, so I protected myself.” Watson started beating Simpson over the head with her handbag, and when he ran away she chased him down. Once she found out where he’d hid, she called an officer. Simpson was arrested and convicted, although the sentence is unknown.

The judges of the day weren’t enthused at the verbal affronts to the women of their cities. Judge Charles E. Foster (shown here)  of Omaha, Nebraska had a “masher schedule.”

According to the judge “For calling a girl ‘a chicken’ the fine will be $5; ‘honey bunch,’ $10; ‘turtle dove,’ $15; ‘baby doll,’ $20, and woe unto the master that addresses any girl as Little Cutie.’ I’ll give him the limit, $25.”

Foster was true to his word. Masher J.T. Sullivan approached a young woman and called her “some cute chicken.” She responded with several well placed jabs with her hat pin, before Sullivan was arrested by an police officer who’d heard the whole thing. “I don’t care who you are or who your father is.” said Judge Foster “The officer heard you call the girl a ‘chicken.’ She punished you some, and I am going to let you off with a fine of $5.” Sullivan was lodged in jail until he could raise the $5.

More masher smashing to come, so stay tuned!


Follow Up:

Smash a Masher pt. 2  –

and pt. 3 –

Madame Moustache

She went by many names; Simone Jules, Emiliene Dumont, Eleanore Dumont, Sara Da Valliere, but most commonly, Madame Moustache. She arrived in San Francisco in 1850, her French accent gave credence to her story. She claimed to be the daughter of a French Viscount who’d returned to the South of France after Napoleon’s fall to find his estate and finances in ruins. To restore the family fortune, the Viscount arranged a marriage to an overbearing husband for his only daughter; after an affair with a Lieutenant ended in her virtual imprisonment in a French chateau, she contrived to escape, and after a series of adventures which she never disclosed, found herself in California. Her moustache not as of yet having arrived on the scene, she presented herself as Emiliene Dumont.

Dumont took a job dealing cards at the Bella Union; there was good money to be had at her favorite game, Vingt-et-un, otherwise known as 21. By 1854, she’d raised enough to open her own gambling house in Nevada City, California. Dumont’s gambling parlor was filled with fine furniture, and offered rare and choice wines and liqueurs. Dumont fell in love with E.G. Waite, editor of the Nevada Journal; when she refused his affections she turned to alcohol. Broken hearted, Dumont fell prey to an employee, Lucky Dave Tobin. He was no gentleman; he beat her and tried to take over the gambling parlor. She eventually came to her senses, fired him, sold the business, and decamped to Virginia City, Nevada.

Over the next few years, Dumont rarely stayed long in one place, moving from boom town to boom town. One friend described her as “a small woman, one of the kind who would be called little, with a form almost perfect and with a grace of movement rarely equaled. Her complexion was strongly brunette, her hair being jet back, and her eyes, though large, as is common with the women of southern France, were wholly lacking in that dreamy expression associated with the daughters of the south, both on the contrary were sparkling in their jetty blackness.” She was known to buy the men who lost heavily at her table a glass of milk when they’d run out of funds.

At her gambling parlor in Banneck, Montana, she earned the sobriquet “Moustache Madame” from a disgruntled miner who’d lost his temper and a bundle at her table.

The  nickname stuck, but it didn’t prevent Jack McKnight, a cattleman, from trying to win Dumont’s affections. He succeeded, and with the Moustache Madame’s capital, two bought a cattle ranch outside of Carson City, Nevada. McKnight didn’t stick around very long, a few months after the purchase, McKnight was gone, after cleaning out Dumont’s bank account and taking all her jewelry. To top it all off, McKnight had sold the ranch too.

Western legend has it that when McKnight was found a few weeks later filled with bullets from a double barreled shotgun, the local sheriff didn’t investigate too closely.

But the Moustache Madame was now penniless and she’d begun to drink heavily, dulling the senses which had earned her so much during the Belle Union days. The lovely petite brunette of the 1850’s had turned into a dowdy dowager, the mustache had gotten darker, and now it was no longer her good looks that brought men to her card table. Rather, they came because of the Madame’s reputation and for her penchant for honesty; she never failed to pay off when she lost.

Rather, they came because of the Madame’s reputation and for her penchant for honesty; she never failed to pay off when she lost, until her arrival in Bodie, California. Her financial stores exhausted, Madame Moustache borrowed $300 from a friend to stake her in a card game. It lasted only a few hours. Despondent, Madame Moustache wandered into the desert. Amongst the sagebrush and the lonely howls of the coyote, the Madame ingested a bottle of morphine and went to her death alone.

Her body was found the next morning by a sheep herder, and her funeral was attended by friends from as far away as Carson City. Her grave still stands in Bodie, California.

UPDATE**** Courtesy of Philippe Nieto, photographer extraordinaire, we have a picture of the hearse that carried the good Madame to the Bodie cemetery.   Thanks Phil!

The Tokio Fire Department’s Annual Drill

Tokio (for so it was spelled by Westerners until the early 20th Century) was a disaster waiting to happen. Some 40,000 buildings were made of paper and wood, and the slightest spark could set the whole city ablaze; indeed, some 15,000 buildings burned to the ground in a conflagration in the middle of the 1800’s. A town with such fire danger demanded a well trained fire department, and Tokio had it. Fire drills, such as the one shown here, showcased their skill and were well attended by the population. According to Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, which sketched the drill in 1884, “the occasions upon which the Tokio Fire Brigade turns out for drill are red-letter days for the almond-eyed inhabitants of that city, who assemble to witness the vaulting ambition of the nimble and acrobatic members of the force….going through a series of evolutions connected with ladders – evolutions more like the feats of acrobats in a circus than the drill of responsible firemen.” In addition to ladder acrobatics, the Tokio firemen were specially trained to rescue furniture from the blaze; with prizes and plaudits awarded those who could lower a chair, table, or other household good deftly down the ladders without any unnecessary damage.

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