1125 B Street San Rafael
Open: W-F 10 am - 2 pm Sat 11 am - 3 pm
Every month our Curator of Collections shares photographs and stories from our rich collection of artifacts and images.
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com. 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.