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The Last Time a Republican Reigned in Big Business - 1903

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Friday, August 13, 2010

TILL THE COWS COME HOME

I admit that eventually we must all bow to the will of genetics, even if we aren’t common cattle. And when you come up against a human family like the Smith’s of Glastonbury, Connecticut, any argument of nature verses nurture seems almost pointless. Zephaniah Hollister Smith graduated an ordained minister from Yale, but he gave it up because he did not believe in mixing prophets with profits. Allegedly he excommunicated his entire congregation, and they returned the favor. Swinging to the other extreme Zephaniah then became a successful lawyer. His wife, Hannah Hadassah Hickock Smith was a linguist, a mathematician and a poet, all the more amazing an achievment since she lived in the second half of the 18th century. The couple shared a fascination for astronomy, a passion for the abolition of slavery, and five girls.
 First there was Laurilla Aleroyia Smith, born in 1785, who painted portraits in her own studio on Main Street in Glastonbury. She also taught French in nearby Hartford. Then there was Hancy Zephina Smith, born in 1787. She was of a mechanical mind. She built her own boat, and invented a machine to shoe horses. Then there was Cyrinthia Scretuia Smith, born in 1788 with a green thumb. She raised fruit trees, grapes, strawberries, and grafted her own varieties of apple trees. In her free time she was also a scholar of Latin and Greek literature. But the real revolutionaries were the two youngest girls.
They told a story about Julia Evelina Smith (born in 1792.) While trapped during a long stage trip with a Chancellor and a professor, both from Yale, “Miss” Julia was insulted when the two men began an animated conversation in French, ignoring her completely. After listening for several minutes, Julia spoke up, saying “Excusez-moi, mais je comprends le français.” Without an acknowledgement of her presence, the two men immediately shifted their discussion to Latin, whereupon Julia interrupted again; “Excuse mihi , EGO quoque narro Latin.” The intellectuals were appalled at the continued interruption and shifted to Greek, and Julia responded with “Και κατανοώ επίσης ελληνική". Finally the Chancellor spoke to the lady directly, demanding, “Who the devil are you!?”
Julia also spoke Hebrew, and had been conducting her own study of both the Old and the New Testaments. You see, she had expected the world to end in December of 1843, and was determined to find it why it had not. Her younger sister, Abby Adassah (born in 1797) was the quietest of the five, and much to everyone’s surprise (including herself) was perhaps the best public speaker of all. It seems a pity to point out that none of men in the area seemed to have been bright enough to garner any of the ladies’ interests in marraige.
It also seems a pity that of this entire family, all of them independently financially successful, intellectually powerful and culturally sophisticated, only the father, Zephaniah, was politically empowered. And when he died, on February 1, 1836, the richest, best educated family in central Connecticut, was no longer allowed to cast a single vote.
This oddity lay simmering beneath the surface until November of 1873. By now most of the female members of the Smith family had gone on to meet their maker, until only Julia, now aged 82, and Abby, now aged 77, were left to bear the Smith genetic code. It was then that the male officials of Glastonbury made the decision to raise the property tax assessment on the Smith farm by $100. The sisters would have no trouble meeting the obligation, but the increase bothered Abby, and she looked into it.
What she discovered was that in the entire town, only three properties had suffered the reassessment; the Smith farm, and the properties of two widows. Not a single male property owner had been reassessed. Abby was so incensed that she wrote a speech, which she delivered at the next town meeting. “…here, where liberty is so highly extolled and glorified by every man in it, one half of the inhabitants…are ruled over by the other half...All we ask of the town, is not to rule over them as they rule over us, but to be on an equality with them.”
When the citizens at the meeting (overwhelmingly male) responded to the speech in the same way the Yale Chancellor and Professor in the coach had responded to Julia, by ignoring them, the sisters decided more radical action was required. They announced that until they received representation (the right to vote), they would no longer submit to any additional taxation. Oh, they paid thier property taxes each year, promptly, but simply refused to pay the reassessment.
In response the tax collector, Mr. George C. Andrews, seized from the Smith frarm seven cows, pets almost, named, Jessie, Daisy, Proxy, Minnie, Bessie, Whitey, and Lily. The cows were valued well beyond the $101.39 additional tax bill. But the incensed sisters dispatched an agent to buy the beloved pets at auction, paying far in excess of the tax bill to save four of them. The remaining three were sold at auction, although I doubt they proved to be worth the price since none of the cows were willing to be milked unless Julia was present.
The Springfield Massachusetts Republican newspaper reprinted Abby’s speech, and it was picked up and reprinted in newspapers nationwide, and the story was even repeated in Europe. It was, wrote one newspaper, “A fit centennial celebration to the Boston Tea Party.”
In April Abby was denied time to speak again at the next town meeting. So she climbed onboard a wagon out side and delivered her remarks, instead. Mr. Andrews responded by seizing 15 acres of Smith pasture, worth about $2,000. And this time he moved the location of the auction at the last minute, so the sisters could not buy back their own land. The valuable property was bought by a male neighbor for less than $80.
In response the sisters sued Mr. Andrews and won. The court ordered the property (and the cows) returned to the sisters, and Mr. Andrews was fined $10. The city appealed, and the case began the tortuous climb through the courts. In November of 1876, they won at the Connecticut Supreme Court, and the city finally accepted it had been beaten by two old spinsters.
Julia wrote an account of their adventure, “Abby Smith and her Cows”, published in 1877. The two spoke at suffragette meetings, until Julia’s death in 1878. Abby followed in 1886. Women could not vote in Connecticut until the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was officially passed, in August of 1920.  The Smith family home was eventually made a National Historical Landmark in 1974.
The history of the Smith family, and their cows, ought to be considered by members of the modern Tea Party movement. In one case taxes were protested because the right to vote was denied. While in the modern case, the vote has been thrown away, by a people who do not trust the government they have a vote in choosing. In the former case, it was brilliance of mind and spirit that drove the two ladies to rebellion. In the latter it seems that ignorance is the fuel that powers the movement's leaders.
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Sunday, August 08, 2010

FRIENDS AND FOES: THREE OF THREE

I can imagine the unease felt by the technicians at Power House Number One, three miles above the St. Francis dam. The needles on their Steven Gauges, indicating water level in the reservoir two miles below in Francisquito Canyon, had been slowly dropping for hours. It was worrying, and more importantly the night shift workers who had just checked in,  had reported a foot drop in the road along the eastern abutment of the dam. When Ace Hopewell reported for work at the Power House a few minutes later he reported hearing what he thought was a landslide somewhere in the dark near the reservoir.  Finally, about 11:57 P.M., somebody got worried enough to pick up the phone and call the operators in Power House Number Two, a mile and a half below the dam. Was everything okay? “Yes”, came the quick answer. But the haste of the response belied its assurance. And fifteen seconds later, at 12:57 A.M. and 30 seconds, Monday March 12, 1928, every light in Los Angeles went out. At that same instant 53 million tons of water (12 billion U.S. gallons) wrenched apart the St. Francis Dam, and released a 10 story wall of black water, desperate to reach the Pacific Ocean, fifty miles away.
In August of 1924 (two months after the first bombing of the Los Angeles Aqueduct) William Mulholland began construction of a new dam in Francisquito (Fran-sis-kito) canyon. Originally the concrete gravity arch dam was to be 600 across at the top and 185 feet high. But almost immediately Mulholland decided to add ten feet in height, increasing the storage capacity of the future reservoir by 2,000 acre feet. What must have daily haunted Mulholland at this point was the ease with which the angry citizens of Owens County had cut off the drinking water to the city of Los Angles. And this reservoir in Francisquito Canyon was the final piece in a series of dams and reservoirs which would give Los Angeles a year’s supply of water within their own reach. He was in a rush to complete it.
Baily Haskell was one of the construction workers on the dam, and decades later he noted to a local newspaper that in their rush to finish this final addition to the aqueduct system, Muholland’s mangers were using gravel taken directly from the bed of Francisquito creek “They didn't use washed gravel”, he said. “I could see these great chunks of clay going right into the dam.”
A year later, as negotiations with the Watterson Brothers in the Owens Valley stalled, Mulholland increased the height of the dam by another ten feet, to 205 feet high. This increased the 3 mile long and ½ mile wide reservoir to 38,000 acre feet. But no strengthening was made to the base of the dam. On March 1, 1926, with the dam almost finished,  water from the Los Angeles Aqueduct began to fill the canyon above the dam.
As the great Cecilla Rasmussen, writer for the Los Angeles Times, pointed out in a February 2003 column, “From the day the St. Francis Dam opened in 1926, it leaked. The folks in the farm towns downstream used to joke to their neighbors that they'd "see you later -  if the dam don’t break’.”
On March 7, 1928 the intakes were closed. The reservoir was now full and the water was a mere three inches from the top of the dam. That week drivers along the east shore road above the reservoir complained that the road was sagging near the dam’s eastern abutment.
But at every step in the filling of the reservoir William Mulholland had personally checked the dam and declared it safe, the last time between 10:30 A.M. and 12:30 P.M. on Monday, March 12, 1928.
Again, and for the final time, Mulholland declared the dam safe. Less than 12 hours later it collapsed.
It was not a landslide that destroyed the dam. That did not occur until after the 250,000 ton concrete structure had been wrenched apart like a child’s toy by the weight of the water that had soaked into its porous concrete.
I still have a three pound chunk of the dam sitting in my living room, and what stands out to me are the large miscellaneously shaped rocks peppered throughout the concrete, and the rough and uneven feel of it in your hand. As the dam was twisted apart a wall of black water 140 feet high burst forward and began to scour the walls of Francisquito canyon. The first to die was Tony Harnischfeger, the dam's watchman, who was probably inspecting the dam he felt so nervous about. Tony’s body was never found. The corpse of his girlfriend, Leona Johnson, who shared his cabin a quarter mile below the dam, was eventually found wedged between two large pieces of concrete. The body of their six year old son, Coder, came to rest further down stream.
Lillian Curtis was startled awake in her cabin near the three story Power House Number Two (above). She remembered “a haze over everything”, as her “big, husky cowboy” of a husband, Lyman Curtis, lifted her and their three year old son Danny out their bedroom window.
Lyman told her to run up the hill next to the penstock water pipes while he went back for their two daughters, Marjorie and Mazie. Panic drove Lillian up the almost vertical slope, clutching the boy to her, dragging the family dog, Spot, with her. Then, in the black night judgment day crushed the world.
Five minutes after the initial dam's collapse (now 12:02 a.m. Tuesday March 13th ) a wall of water pounded  Power House Nunber Two, and its adjoining cabins and the seventy employees and their families who lived there, into oblivion. Waist deep water pulled at her, but Lillian was just able to reach the safety at the top of the ridge. Lillian and her son, and another employee, Ray Rising, were the only survivors of the seventy. Ray had to fight to get out of his own cabin. “The water was so high we couldn't get out the front door... In the darkness I became tangled in an oak tree, fought clear and swam to the surface... I grabbed the roof of another house, jumping off when it floated to the hillside... There was no moon and it was overcast with an eerie fog - very cold.” Ray lost his wife and three daughters to the flood.
Just downstream the waters engulfed the Ruiz farm. Dead in an instant were Rosaria, Enrique and their four children, one farm had.. The farmhouse and barn were wiped out as if they had never existed.
Next the tidal wave swept across the ranch and trading post owned by silent film star Harry Carey, before sweeping across Castaic road junction where it destroyed the encampment of 150 California Edison employees, killing 84 of them.
The victims did not drown. They were found, mostly, caught in trees, stripped of their cloths, “battered and bruised, but didn’t show any anguish – so probably they were taken in their sleep.” By one in the morning the reservoir was empty. “An entire lake had disappeared” in less than an hour. But the flood was just getting started.
At about 1:20 a.m. the warning finally began to go out to the little farming towns ahead of the flood. The wave was 40 feet high as it swept down the stream bed of the Santa Clarita River, plowing through orchards and farms and homes from Piru to Fillmore and on through Santa Paula.
 It reached the ocean just before dawn, as a wave a quarter of a mile wide, consisting of  “50% water, 25% mud, and 25% miscellaneous trash” according to one witness. Along the way it had demolished 1,200 houses and smashed 10 bridges. The dead would be washing up for days as far south as San Diego and Mexico.
The failure to build a head end reservoir had now produced dried out orchards in the Owens Valley and drowned trees in Southern California. The last known victim of the flood would be uncovered in the city of Newhall, in 1992.
How many were carried out to sea or remain buried in mud closer to home will never be known, but it seems unlikely to me that the toll of the dead could be merely the 450 officially claimed. I would estimate it could not be much fewer than 1,000 lives, counting migratory workers and the unemployed living in the fields and orchards along the river.
Mulholland began by inspecting the disaster the next morning, insisting the failure must be more work by the Owens Valley dynamiters. But the evidence and the official rush to close down the publicity, boxed him in, until he said he “envied those who were killed.”
The corner’s jury was convened within the week, and issued its report a mere 12 days after the disaster. It recommended that “…the construction and operation of a great dam should never be left to the sole judgment of one man, no matter how eminent.. .... for no one is free from error.” The St. Francis dam, it added, had been constructed on the site of an ancient landslide. And for seventy years that was the accepted version.
But in the late 1990’s Professor of Geological Engineering, Mr. J. David Rogers, of Missouri University of Science and Technology, reached a different conclusion. “Probably the greatest single factor", he wrote, "was the decision to heighten the dam a second time. "
"Had the dam not been heightened that last 10 feet, it might have survived.” But the ultimate failure, alledged Professor Rogers, was the concrete. So rushed had been the construction that it was never allowed to properly cure, never prepared as carefully as it should have been. “If it had been of better quality, it (the dam) would have never fallen apart as it did. It was so filled with fractures.” The disaster’s cost was later estimated at $13 million ($160 million today).
A year after the disaster William Mulholland resigned as Chief Engineer for the Los Angeles' DWP.  In the words of his granddaughter, after the disaster he became a “…stooped and silent” recluse. And still shunned by the citizens of Los Angeles, and still hated by residents of the Owens and now Santa Clarita valleys,  William Mulholland, passed into the valley of death in his Los Angles home, on July 22, 1935
 
His onetime friend, Frank Eaton, had died just over a year earlier, on March 12, 1934 at the age of 78. Franl's grandson described his last years as bitter. “He felt he'd been made the goat for all the troubles that came to ail the Owens Valley, and because he felt he never got the proper credit for his role in the creation of the aqueduct.”  The Long Valley reservoir was finally opened in 1941. It had been built on land originally owned by Frank Eaton, and it had finally finished the aqueduct he had planned but which had been built by William Mulholland. But the dam and resevoir were not named for either man. Instead they carry the name of a Catholic priest who had struggled for peace between the DWP and Owens Valley residents. Both the lake and dam carry the name of Crowley Lake.
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