Every month our Curator of Collections shares photographs and stories from our rich collection of artifacts and images.
In the spirit of the approaching holiday, a brightly illustrated Christmas supplement to the Marin County Tocsin newspaper, dated December 14, 1907, featuring the artwork of American illustrator Frank Ver Beck. The humorous scene depicts a whip-cracking Santa Claus, driving a sleigh full of toys pulled by four snarling bears. Reindeer, having been apparently replaced, look on with bewildered, human-like expressions. A border of brown bears at play with children’s toys of the day encircles the scene and is repeated on the back of the supplement.
Christmas Supplement to the Marin County Tocsin, 1907. Donated by Roy Farrington Jones. ID# 1999.2994
William Francis “Frank” Ver Beck (1858-1933) studied art and woodcarving in Ohio, his birthplace, before moving to New York City to further his art education about 1881. There, he became a free-lance illustrator for magazines such as Scribner’s, The Ladies Home Journal, and Collier’s, and began writing and illustrating children’s books and collaborating with other artists and writers, including Rudyard Kipling and L. Frank Baum. According to several online sources, he was best recognized for his comedic animal illustrations, as collected in his eponymously published Ver Beck’s Book of Bears.
This supplement measures a sizeable 18 by 24 inches. Its inner pages are missing, but we have an array of local advertisements inside its front and back covers to enjoy. Among them for: “Seasonable Dainties” from C. Grosjean & Co., Perfect Steam Beer “Recommended by the Medical Fraternity” from San Rafael Brewery, and “Choice Candies and Bon Bons” from J.C. Hoover’s. The back cover features a full-page announcement for the opening of Coutts-Meyers Furniture Company at 960 Fourth Street in San Rafael, selling parlor sets, Christmas writing desks, and “No. 1” rocking chairs that promise “solid comfort” to “keep hubby at home.”
Some of my most favorite treasures in our collection are photograph albums. I love a casual snapshot from another time, and the larger album in which it has been carefully pasted and captioned tells us something about a life lived and the places deemed “photo-worthy” when cameras didn’t live in our back pocket.
One such photo album I recently “discovered” within our collection dates to the mid-1920s. The album, titled simply “Marin County” on a label pasted to the cover, is filled with images of nearly every corner of Marin. We may not know who the album belonged to or who the subjects are, but we know this was a crowd that loved to get outside.
“The Lookout. Gateway to Old Spanish Land Grant”
“Alpine Dam Lake”
“Boat Canal near Larkspur”
“Paradise Cove from the Highway”
We thank donor Jeff Craemer for this survey of Marin locales, 100 years ago.
For nearly 100 years, the Old Courthouse reigned over downtown. When building began in 1872, San Rafael was a young, unincorporated town. Its Greek Revival façade rose up from a dusty Fourth Street, declaring San Rafael’s importance and its authority—a place for justice and punishment. The building held a courtroom, gallows for executing the condemned, and in its basement, the gas-lit corridors and cells of the local jail.
The ghost of an ill-fated man named William Argus reportedly haunted the jail, terrorizing inmates aplenty, over the last decade of the 19th century. Argus was arrested in San Rafael for stealing an overcoat at the Ignacio train station in November 1889 and swiftly locked away to await his sentence. He initially remained light-hearted, expecting a short sentence for such a petty crime, and passed the hours sketching portraits of his jailers and drawing murals with crayons on the walls of his cell.
Argus’s fortune changed when a visiting former captain-of-the-guard from San Quentin Prison recognized him as an ex-convict who had previously served time under an alias. As charges grew more serious, Argus attempted an escape, sawing part-way through an iron bar with a stolen table knife. He was summarily removed from his cell and placed in one of the “tanks,” two cold metal chambers reserved for the most troublesome of inmates. That night, Argo hung himself from a ceiling ventilator with strips of fabric torn from his thin mattress.
Almost immediately, those unfortunates relegated to the tanks reported being visited by his apparition. Terrified prisoners reported disturbing sounds in the night—chains rattling, shuffling feet, slamming doors—and several claimed to have seen Argus’s shadowy, coat-wearing ghost hanging from the ceiling in the corner of the cell. One jailed woman claimed to have seen Argus crouching on the floor near the tanks, one man shared a bunk with the phantom, and still another saw it dancing a jig.
Accounts of ghostly sightings in the jail were recounted regularly in local newspapers over the next ten years. The Old Courthouse gained a reputation local law enforcement embraced as a crime deterrent. Twice the paranormal activity was debunked as a hoax—once attributed to a scheming sheriff and later to an innocent courthouse cat. By 1907, a new bicycle-riding ghost had arrived.
Do you have a spooky Marin County-based ghost story? Send your spooky tale to firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to have it featured on our social media during the month of October!!
Sources: Marin Journal, San Francisco Call, bizarrejournal.com, “The Ghost of San Rafael Jail” by Brian Crawford
If you are interested in volunteering with the collection, please contact Heather Powell, MHM Collections Manager, at email@example.com.
San Rafael’s tradition of bottling sparkling elixirs is nearly as long as its township. The waters of San Rafael Creek, which flow beneath the city’s downtown and residential neighborhoods, inspired one of San Rafael’s first successful bottling enterprises, Marin Soda Works. Proprietor Martin Petersen, a German immigrant, started the company in 1886 on the southwest corner of First and D Streets, where he produced 17 different syrup-infused “temperance drinks,” including the minty “Hoarhound, Honey and Lime-juice.” Petersen sold his company to two other German immigrants, Eugene Klammer and Emil Malz, in 1900, forming Klammer & Malz’s Marin Soda and Bottling Works.
Buffalo Soda Works, later purchased by the Borello Bros. Company, and San Anselmo Bottling Works, also operated within the borders of San Rafael during the late 1800s and early 1900s. After immigrating from Italy to bring soda water to the San Joaquin Valley, brother Andrew Borello settled in San Rafael, drilled a 25-foot well in the basement of their building at First and Hayes Streets, and advertised carbonated beverages made from the “famous Tamalpais Natural Mineral Springs.” San Anselmo Bottling Works, located in 1907 on D Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets, advertised its products as “the best for the money.”
Emil Malz, who operated Marin Bottling Works solo after the 1906 quake, eventually sold the business to Edmund Meyer of the Meyer Bottling Company. Meyer, who sold drinks such as “Meyer’s Vitamin B Sparkling Water,” established San Rafael’s Coca-Cola bottling and distribution plant about 1950 on Second and Irwin Streets. Coca-Cola’s iconic, patented and later trademarked bottle shape, designed in 1915, grew from the company’s desire to unite the bottling community behind a single, distinctive package. Once the design was chosen, the names of the cities placing glass orders would be embossed on the bottom of each bottle, entertaining consumers for decades.
MHM currently houses seven San Rafael Coca-Cola bottles. We are planning an exhibit showcasing our bottle collection for 2023. Do you have an antique or vintage Marin County bottle you’d like to donate to the collection? If so, please contact Heather Powell, Curator of Collections at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
Sources: San Rafael Patch: “Early Soda Works Tapped Mt. Tamalpais Spring Water” by Marilyn Geary, www.coca-colacompany.com, Marin History Museum.
Those familiar with the extraordinary accomplishments of Louise Arner Boyd—San Rafael’s own gold fortune heiress, adventurer, and philanthropist—may not know that for a time during the 1960s, a local museum was named in her honor.
The Louise A. Boyd Natural Science Museum in San Rafael grew from what was first called the Marin Junior Museum, established in 1954 following a national trend to create museums specifically for young people. Marin’s Junior Museum focused on nature and animals, and maintained an animal lending program for local schools and families. The museum’s new name, adopted in 1961, would honor Louise Boyd’s contributions to science and reflect the museum’s expanding activities. The Mill Valley Record reported in October that Ms. Boyd was “tremendously pleased” to have the museum named after her.
The Boyd Museum (as it was commonly known) flourished through the 1960s with the support of devoted guilds. As the county population pushed further into open space, the museum became an ever-increasing resource and refuge for found injured and orphaned animals, leading to subsequent name changes and a merger reflecting a new emphasis on wild animal rehabilitation. Today, WildCare treats approximately 4,000 animals per year and provides nature education programs for children and adults throughout the Bay Area and beyond.
Here’s a postcard from the Marin History Museum’s collection that shows our sign, directing people down B Street to the Louise A. Boyd Natural Science Museum at 76 Albert Park Lane. You can see the sign posted to the right, just below the B Street sign and above the waiting gentleman’s head.
Postcard with sign seen posted at corner of Fourth and B Streets, c. 1965.
Donated by Sam Van Landingham.
Sources: Daily Independent Journal, Mill Valley Record, discoverwildcare.org
Marin History Museum
1125 B Street
San Rafael, CA 94901
The Marin History Museum is a 501(c)6 non-profit organization.