Not everyone can find peace of mind in San Jose

Katarina Petrinovich met her husband Jerry two weeks after their marriage ceremony.  Katarina, born Katarina Marcesovich in Split, Dalmatia in 1892 was a pretty 19 year-old girl, sang beautifully, and was fluent in three languages. Jerry learned of the accomplished young woman through his brother who lived in Split, and began writing the young woman letters. Told good things about her countryman in half-way around the world, Katarina responded and a correspondence developed between the two.

Katarina Petrinovich

Jerry told her of the wonders of California, that he had a fine home, was a mere 30 years of age, and that he’d built a career as a successful restaurateur. There’s no way around it, Jerry lied to the distant girl. He lived in a one room apartment, and worked as a night cook. The picture he sent on, if not exactly fake, was the 1910 version of photo-shopped; in the words of a reporter from the San Francisco Call “it flattered the original.”

Jerry proposed and Katarina accepted. Of course, her parents weren’t keen on dispatching an unmarried daughter half-way around the world to a man they never met, and so Jerry arranged a legally binding proxy marriage. His brother in Split, given power of attorney stood in for Jerry and married the girl in his name. With that, Katarina was dispatched to California, a journey of about two weeks.

Jerry Petrinovich

Jerry Petrinovich

The couple took up residence in Jerry’s small apartment. Jerry kept his new bride a virtual prisoner. If he wasn’t available to watch her, an aged aunt was assigned to keep an eye on her. Disappointed and repulsed by a husband who’d led her to have such high hopes only to see them dashed by poverty and misery, Katarina rebelled and the two fought. Long and loud, their words echoing through the thin walls of the apartment house in Orchard Street.

Jerry’s refusal to take Katarina to a picnic sponsored by their fellow Croatians on June 20, 1910 proved the final straw. Their high volume argument went on and on, and finally Jerry’s aged aunt went to the door of the couple’s room and forced her way in. Harldy had she made her way in to see what the ruckus was about when Jerry pulled his pistol from his coat hanging on the door and sprung at his wife, who was lying on the bed. A pistol shot, in her right breast was followed by a cut with a knife along her throat and abdomen. The Aunt did nothing but scream, as Jerry turned the knife on himself, drawing the knife over his own throat.

Jerry died that evening at Belvedere Hospital, never recovering consciousness. Katarina lived long enough to give a statement to San Jose’s assistant district attorney James P. Sex. “I am 19 years o f age. My husband shot me because I did not love him. He was trying to make me care for him, but I could not. He did not threaten me. He never did. I knew that he was going to do me harm because he said he would not let me out of the room unless I promised that I would care for him. He was talking a great deal about his caring for me and my not caring for him.”

Tragically it seems, Jerry got his wish never to be separated from his beautiful wife. The two share a gravestone at the Santa Clara Mission Cemetery.

Petrinovich Grave


L.C. Weilli’s Trunk was Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow.

On occasion here at Forgotten Stories, we like to reprint newspaper stories in full. Having come across the article below from the New York Sun of January 10, 1885 while doing some research, we thought we’d share.

Boston-Jan. 9 – L.C. Weilli, travelling salesman for Julius Brecker, dealer in human hair at 28 Howard Street, New York, came to Boston on Saturday with $6,000 worth of hair. On his arrival at the Boston and Albany Station he gave the check for his trunk containing the hair to Armstrong’s Express, with instructions to take the trunk to the United States Hotel. When Weilli went to look for his trunk on Tuesday, he could learn nothing concerning it.

The expressmen said that they had left it upon the sidewalk in front of the hotel. No clue to the thieves or property was obtained till yesterday morning, when officers on South street saw two young fellows carrying a trunk and bag on their shoulders. Knowing them to be thieves, they started to follow them, but the men dropped their loads and ran. The bag and trunk were brought to the station, and on being opened, were found to contain about $2000 worth of missing hair.

To-day, Michael and Andrew Presley were arrested for the robbery, and the trunk, empty, was found in their rooms. Many of the young hoodlums of the South Cove appeared on the streets to-day sporting flowing beards and moustaches and wearing wigs. The value of the plunder is said to be $10 per ounce. In all, about $2250 was recovered.

Don’t you wish you could see the facial hair display amongst the hoodlums of the South Cove?

A “Fluke” Appearance of Some Unlucky Whales

Harpooned Whales

In its glory days, Amagansett, a tiny village on the Long Island shore, had based its economy on whaling. Remnants of the once profitable trade still could be found in the shops and homes of its 300 or so residents; walrus tusks, rusting harpoons, and scrimshawed teeth from long departed sperm whales. Older residents, such as Captain Josh Edwards and his brother Gabe still told stories of battles fought with 100 ton beasts, of longboats caved in, of men dragged under the Arctic ice by a diving sperm whale, of long chases and narrow escapes. Overhunting had diminished the supply of sperm whales until it was no longer profitable to send the whaling boats out, and by 1885 Amagansett subsisted on the efforts of fisherman who sailed out into the Atlantic for the cod which would find their way onto the tables of homes and restaurants in New York City.

Captain Josh arose before daybreak on Saturday morning, December 12, 1885, and accompanied by his son began the cold walk to the beach. Cod fisherman such as Captain Josh used a dory, a 20 foot long boat which offered little protection from stormy seas or bitter cold, but was at least easy to pilot. As he strode up one of the sandhills that bordered the Amagansett beach, the Captain thought he spied another ship about a half mile off, which was curious. He knew everyone of the fisherman in the small village, and was sure none had beat him to the shore that day. “Here’s somebody that’s been spryer than us,” he complained to his son, “who do you suppose it can be?”

Then came a spout, and Captain Josh joyfully sang out words he hadn’t employed in many a year. “By gosh, thar she blows.” All thoughts of cod fishing forgotten, the Captain ran back to Amagansett and on the village flagpole ran up the town’s Weft, a tattered old flag that indicated a whale had been sited. Recruiting his brother Captain Gabe, Josh roused the villagers, and a tremendous bustle ensued as harpoons and lances were dug out of storage. Three boats of six men each shoved off, and it was a family affair. Captain Josh and Captain Gabe led the first, while relatives Jesse Edwards and Jonathan Edwards led the second and third boats respectively.

The whales, for soon it became apparent there were two, and already moved off to the southwest, and even the most experienced of the whalers knew there was slim chance at catching them. From the helm, Captain Josh encouraged the men to row harder, shouting with glee another “Thar she blows” whenever the whales broke the surface for a breathing spell. Breathing spells weren’t allowed for the men in the boats, and for hours they pulled at the oars, drawing ever closer to the beasts.

As they approached, it became clear that the two whales were exceptionally large prizes, a cow some 60 feet in length and a bull about 40 feet long. To Captain Gabe went the honor of the first throw, and from the bow he let the harpoon fly. Three feet of cold steel backed by ash buried itself up to the handle in the cow, and a shower of blood speckled spray covered the boats as both whales dove deep.  Under orders from Captain Gabe the boat backed away as the rope attached to the harpoon was made fast.

As the whale dove, smoke rose from the rope as it played out through the ring on the boat’s front. Taking advantage of the whale’s dive, Gabe and Captain Josh traded places, and the other two boats came up.  At last the whales again appeared, and were greeted with a shower of harpoons. Harpoons stuck from the whales’ bright shiny backs, but they made a game fight of it and their tails stove in the bows of two of the three boats. Again and again the harpoons flew, and both whales were soon hopelessly entangled in ropes that prevented them from diving. After two hours of fighting the cow’s spout showed blood, a sure sign she’d been hit in a vital spot, and a few minutes later she was dead. The bull too showed signs of exhaustion and the men took advantage of the slowed movement of its flukes to approach more boldly. Soon the bull too succumbed.

The battle over, the men discovered they’d drifted some ten miles from Amagansett, and binding the whales to the boats began a long strenuous row backwards, the carcasses trailing behind them. Sore, weary, but satisfied with a job done, the men dragged the whales on the beach and returned to their cottages. The next morning, they gathered round for the long bloody work of removing the blubber, whale oil and whalebone.

All together, the whales were worth around $1000 apiece ($250,000 each  in 2010 dollars) for the poor village of Amagansett, and it came as a welcome early Christmas present for the town.

A Bit of Language

While trolling through Pearson’s Magazine from July, 1910 I came across an article entitled The Prize Ring, discussing the mental confidence of boxers. From there, I learned a bit about the origin of the term “Get his goat.” Enjoy.

Freddie Welsh, the present lightweight champion of England, a vegetarian with puny hips, watery eyes and a weak mouth, who has never been knocked out, puts is advice to aspirants in three words, ‘Get his goat!’ Originally this phrase was racing slang. To keep a racehorse from going stale a trainer frequently quarters with him a goat, for the pet relieves the thoroughbred of his loneliness. But intriguers have found that by stealing a goat from a horse a day or two before a great race he can be thrown out of his condition. The loss of his favorite companion annoys the horse and he goes into the big event in a highly feminized state of nerves. So, to ‘get his goat’ is to remove his confidence.

   These days it is a little political incorrect to describe a high-strung, nervous horse as feminized, but now you have a bit of trivia that you can use at cocktail parties.


The Pimping Professor

Senor Jose Hidalgo had accomplished more by age 29 than most men do in a lifetime. In his native Guatemala he’d earned a doctor of laws degree, then gone on to represent his country as a counsel to Japan. Resigning his position he’d gone to San Francisco, published a book on the history of aviation, and by 1910 had become an assistant professor of Spanish at the University of California, Berkeley.

Jose Hidalgo

His courtly manners and his polished appearance, coupled with a bit of Latin charm, made him one of the more popular professors on the Berkley campus, especially amongst the female student body. Many of the coeds signed up for private Spanish language tutoring at Hidalgo’s offices in the Westbank building.

His Latin American heritage also made him an advisor of sorts to the small contingent of foreign student from Central American who were studying at Berkley, among them Juan Posados, son of Zenon Posados, the coffee king of Guatemala. The two shared an interest in aviation, and Hildago took Posados, a sophomore, under his wing. As Posada recalled in June, 1910, “About three or four weeks ago, he invited me to visit a girlfriend of his. Prior to this time he had often boasted to me of his conquests among the girls of the University of California, most of whom, he said, were very young.”

Apparently, Hidalgo’s conquests were not solely due to his charm, “[h]e, knowing that I was interested in chemistry, asked me to let him have a drug which would render a person unconscious, explaining at the time that there was a girl visiting his offices at the Westbank building on whom he had designs.”

Posada never disclosed whether he provided the knockout drops to Hidalgo, but teacher and student kept in contact, “[h]e took me to the Hotel Cecil, where I was introduced to a woman named Marie Milder. I gave her $15.” Two weeks later, Hidalgo arranged another prostitute for Posada. “Last Saturday Hidalgo came to me again and invited me to meet another girl friend of his that night. Again I accepted. On this occasion I met Grace Carter. The strange part of the affair was that she was not the person whom it was intended to meet, but the other party failing to keep the appointment, Hidalgo found Grace Carter walking the streets, became acquainted with her to be a substitute.” Hidalgo reached an agreement with Carter, and they split the proceeds of her night with Posada.

Grace Carter

The ease with which he’d arranged trysts between Posada and Grace (a/k/a Grace Ellifritz) gave Hidalgo an idea; a house of assignation in Napa, where he could arrange meetings between his wealthy Latin American students and a hand selected group of prostitutes. He pitched the idea to Grace Carter, fully intending her to run the house while he took care of recruiting student visitors. Posada was either brazen or foolhardy; his meeting with Grace took place in his offices in the Westbank building, where a 20 year old student he’d ravished lay passed out from the effects of absinthe. Carter agreed to the proposal.

Meanwhile, Posada and Carter’s trysts at the Hotel Navarre continued. As Posada described one tryst “Hidalgo left us, and waited outside in the corridor. After he had gone the girl told me of her meeting with Hidalgo and said that he had proposed to her that he should bring students to her, and that she should give him a third of the money she received. ‘He is waiting for his share now.’ she said. ‘Let him wait.’ I replied. ‘He waited until 1 o’clock in the morning, and then slipped a note in through the door, saying he would call again at 3 o’clock the following afternoon.”

Hidalgo did call, although by that time Posada was gone. Carter and Hidalgo finished off a bottle of absinthe, then went looking for another victim. It didn’t take long. At one of the neighborhood cafes, Hidalgo sighted Richard Barry, sitting alone nursing a drink. Hidalgo quietly pointed him out, and discreetly withdrew.

Hidalgo couldn’t have chosen a worse victim. The lonely young man who appeared to be a likely looking Richard was a writer for Pearson’s Magazine. Even worse for Hidalgo, Barry was a muckraker who’d dedicated his literary efforts to exposing corruption in everything from boxing to the Utah state government. A skilled interrogator, Barry soon had the full story, and he dragged Grace Carter off to the San Francisco District Attorney, and then to the police.

Chief Martin, and Detectives Wren and Boyle set up a sting operation, and ordered Carter to phone Hidalgo and invite him to visit her at the Hotel Navarre on the evening of Wednesday, June 22, 1910. To entice him, Grace let him know that she’d found a mining millionaire willing to invest in the Napa establishment.

That night, Richard Barry, the detectives, a newspaperman from the San Francisco Call, and a police stenographer sat in an adjoining room, listening as Grace steadily drew Hidalgo out. The conversation, preserved by the newspaperman, gives the modern reader a fascinating window into the economics of prostitution and the slang of the day:

Grace: How much would it take to sta

rt an assignation house?

Hidalgo: Where?

Grace: Here, in San Francisco.

Hidalgo: Oh, about $3000 at least.

Grace: I’ve heard of a chance in Napa. I hear you can rent a house there for $35 per month, and get a license for $30.[1] So we could start on easy capital. Would you like that?

Hidalgo: Certainly.

Grace: Well, make a square propositi

on. How shall we run it?

Hidalgo: The way to do business is half and half. You take half and I take half.

Grace: How about getting the women for the place.

Hidalgo: Oh, get some you can manage – two young chickens and one good old one. Do not get them under 18. You have to look out; but get young fools –

Grace (laughing): Like the one you gave absinthe on your couch the other day?

Hidalgo: Yes, certainly.

Grace: How old was she?


Hidalgo: Oh, 20, I guess.

Our newspaper report cuts off here, presumably out of concerns of revealing the identity of the young victim. At 4AM, the police broke down the door, and took Hidalgo away in manacles. Two days later he was indicted on one felony count for a “criminal conspiracy against public morals.” Isaac Goldmen, grand jury foreman opined “It is the regret of this grand jury that the law does not permit of a stronger felony charge being laid against the man, as the evidence proved him to be of a most depraved character and a danger to the community.”

Hidalgo’s lawyer, H.F. Marshall, put up a valiant but forlorn effort to quash the indictment, and moved that it  be dis

missed because one of the witness’ names had been spelled incorrectly. The motion was denied, and on July 26th, 1910, Hidalgo pled guilty before Judge Conley of the county court. According to the San Francisco Call, “the assistant district attorney…urged the imposition of a light penalty, and said the prosecution would be satisfied if Hidalgo were sent to jail for a month.” Scheduled for sentencing on July 30th, Hidalgo was unable to appear in court because of a quarantine placed upon the city jail after a smallpox outbreak. On August 23, 1910 the court granted Hidalgo probation, on the condition that he leave the country immediately. After seven weeks in the county jail, Hidalgo hightailed it out of San Francisco and was last heard of in Mexico, where he was managing airplane races. He got off easy if you ask us.

As for the rest of the motley collection of characters they disappear, except for Richard Barry who kept right on muckraking.

[1] I can only assume they mean a liquor license.

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