The Bible Explained — For $1,000

Jan. 22, 1907
Los Angeles

Since his teens, James Lauer has been studying the Bible. Where others have struggled to parse its meanings, he has found clarity. He wants to write a book that will explain it all. The only thing he needs is $1,000 ($20,523.57 USD 2005).

During his studies of the Bible, Lauer has apparently never encountered anything prohibiting extortion, so to get the money, he has been writing notes to Mrs. Joseph Maier Sr. One was not enough, so Lauer wrote a series of letters demanding money and threatening her life if she didn’t pay.

At the moment, Lauer is in the City Jail under examination by Dr. Quint. Neither Lauer’s conduct nor his appearance is reassuring. “His long red hair and beard are unkempt, his flat-topped skull is peculiarly formed and his painfully strained gaze does not indicate a well-balanced mind,” The Times says.

“During his imprisonment in the City Jail, Lauer talked wildly of his plans for writing a book about the Bible which would clear up all the misunderstanding. He repeatedly declared that while all attempts to explain the Bible have failed, it is quite clear to him, and that he could explain it perfectly to others if he were given opportunity to write his book.

“Lauer, according to his own statement, has pored over the Bible constantly since he was 15 years of age, inventing explanations, and this, it is believed, has turned his brain.”

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

If They Had Only Known

Jan. 21, 1907
Los Angeles

Mayor Arthur C. Harper addressed the crowd for a moment, reminiscing about a teacher who used to tell his pupils that someday, long after he was gone, people would get around Los Angeles in self-propelled vehicles.

And with that, Harper threw the switch, illuminating 10,000 electric lights at Morley’s Skating Rink on Grand between 9th and 10th Streets and beginning the insanity, formally unveiling the automobile in the first car show not only in Los Angeles, but on the West Coast.

More than 3,000 people poured through the exhibits in the first three hours of the show, which featured 97 gas-powered autos and two electric cars, as well as all manner of accessories such as odometers, speedometers, dashboard clocks and gas lamps. There was a personal appearance by Barney Oldfield with his famous “Green Dragon” racecar.

Not all of the exhibitors arrived in time for the opening night. The railroad car carrying the shipment of Pope-Toledos caught fire near Barstow and the Ford was delayed, although Henry Ford did attend the show, The Times says.

Great preparations had been made to display the vehicles: 9th and 10th Streets, as yet unpaved, were muddy from recent storms, but Grand was cleared of mud and a wooden causeway was built to the entrance. The Times notes that a canopy had been erected for people arriving in carriages.

The autos’ technical innovations were breathtaking: “At the space of the White garage a constant crowd looked over the Christman, a car built for the hardest kind of place, the desert,” The Times says. “The car is built for carrying passengers over no roads at all, for jumping off rocks and climbing over gullies and generally being abused.

“The Christman is a large, heavy, rugged-looking machine, with broad tread, large wheels and a body fitted with three seats, like an old-fashioned buckboard. Its frame is built like a railroad car, with truss rod underneath. In front is the motor, a Brennan double-opposed rated at 40 horsepower. This size is used in the car on exhibition, but the next ones turned out with have a 60 horsepower motor, capable of taking them anywhere.

“A peculiar system of individual clutch transmission is used, which has been changed a little since the first car was made. Formerly the car had no reverse and when Christman wanted to turn the machine around in the narrow streets of Goldfield he rushed at the curb, hit and bounced back and then continued the operation until he had bounced himself around.

“This operation seemed to have no deleterious effect on the car, but it was thought better to have a reverse as the method was rather strenuous on the passengers.”

There were many questions and after a few days, salesmen became exhausted from explaining why a car engine needs pistons and why a manufacturer can’t leave off the differential to save weight. The show was extended because of its popularity, and was forced to close in part because most of the exhibition cars had been sold.

If anyone asked about mass transit, pollution or traffic, the comments were not recorded. No, the first thing people did when they got hold of their cars was to see how fast they could go.

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

Architectural Ramblings

Los Angeles
Jan. 20, 2007

What we do know about H.J. Brainerd is that he built a fair number of “portable homes.” What we don’t know, except in one case, is exactly where he put them.

Brainerd was active from 1906 to 1911, building homes throughout Southern California. His ads appealed to people like sportsmen, ranchers, oil executives and anyone else who might need a no-frills building put up in a few days in a relatively remote area.

In 1909, for example, Brainerd sold a three-room house to the Cerritos Gun Club, a three-room bungalow to Horace M. Dobbins for a ranch near Arcadia and a bungalow in San Diego, The Times says.

The only example of a Brainerd home that I’ve located can be found at 1158 E. 41st St. Although it appears to have some sort of masonry facade, the house is of the proper vintage and resembles the few photos I have located of Brainerd homes. Of course it has a big palm tree in front, the telltale sign of a home from this era.

If anyone has information on other Brainerd houses in the Southland (or anything about Ducker’s Patent Homes), let me know.

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

A Conductor Throws Caution to the Winds

Jan. 19, 1907
Los Angeles

Despite his ill health, Harley Hamilton drove himself to conduct a concert by the Los Angeles Symphony because he believed so much in bringing the music of Tchaikovsky (or in those days, Tschaikowsky) to the public. The concert at hand is the West Coast premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.

“Harley Hamilton, too ill to leave his house, is just finishing his arrangements for the work of the symphony orchestra,” The Times says of his labors on the concert series.

“During the entire past month the director has devoted the major part of every day, propped up with pillows on his couch, to the preparation of the splendid symphony programmes.

“The symphony orchestra is the darling of his heart-and in several instances it has come near costing him his life. Mr. Hamilton puts more money into the symphony work than he ever receives from it. He has carried the orchestra over the years of comparative failure, supported its burdens almost alone in time of public adversity and devoted his only hours of rest or recreation to a constant effort to better its personnel and its music.”

To make ends meet, Hamilton teaches music students, conducts a theater orchestra and even performs in pit orchestras, coming to the rescue when many players were banned from a performance of “Mignon.” (See “Oh, God, the Bassoon!”)

Of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, Hamilton said: “I am quite a Russian in my tastes. Tschaikowsky’s art is a fundamental bulwark upon which the splendid individual music of modern Russia stands. There is an Oriental richness about his writings-spiced fragrance in every phrase-violet skies, hot suns, tropic exuberance-qualities that are no more inherent to the bleak steppes than the thrilling tenderness of Italian melodies. These evidence the Asiatic strain that purples the lighter Russian blood-the dominating, compelling force of the ancient Tartars.”

Hamilton conducted the concert (which also included Goldmark’s “Sakuntala” or “Rustic Wedding” and Arthur Foote’s Serenade in E Major) at the Mason Opera House.

Because of a relapse of “nervous rheumatism,” he “was ordered to the strictest confinement by his physician. Throwing caution to the winds, however, he worked through a long rehearsal yesterday morning and yesterday afternoon, partly standing, partly sitting in his chair, directed the lengthy concert after which he returned home physically exhausted but [illegible] triumphant,” The Times says.

For a short time, the Los Angeles Symphony was in competition with the more recent Los Angeles Philharmonic, but it eventually disbanded. Hamilton died at his home, 1120 Arapahoe, in 1933 at the age of 72, having given birth to the Los Angeles Symphony and the Los Angeles Women’s Orchestra (later the California Women’s Symphony Orchestra).

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

An Unfortunate Loophole

Jan. 18, 1907
San Francisco

In what is surely an embarrassing and awkward oversight, the California Constitution only prevents “Mongolian” children from attending white public schools when separate campuses have been created. The problem, legislators have discovered, is that the Japanese aren’t Mongolians and feel they somehow have the right to go to school with everyone else.

The case before the Legislature and San Francisco officials involves 10-year-old Keikeiki Aoki, who has been barred from the Redding public schools by Principal Mary A. Deane. In a unanimous ruling, the California Supreme Court has issued a writ ordering Deane to show cause as to why she should not admit Keikeiki to school.

Deane has responded that “she was acting under the law of the state and in pursuance of a resolution passed by the Board of Education that Japanese pupils cannot attend any public school except the Oriental school for Mongolians and Indians,” The Times says.

In an attempt to resolve the impasse, San Francisco City Atty. Burke is rushing to Sacramento to urge the Legislature to pass an amendment to the state Constitution substituting the word “Asiatic” for “Mongolian.”

“As the Legislature is unanimously against admitting Japanese children to the public schools, this amendment could be rushed through in a couple of days,” The Times says.

The proposed wording: “And also to establish separate schools for Indian children, Japanese children, Malay children, Korean children and all children of the Mongolian race. When such separate schools are established, Indian, Chinese, Malay, Korean, Japanese and all Mongolian children must not be admitted into any other school.”

Remind me again about how the past was a kinder, simpler time, please. I keep forgetting.

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

Lost Weekend Last Evening in Pictures

And so after nearly a week of extraordinary events, last night’s cocktail party, screening, gallery tour and crime scene tour spelled the end of the Lost Weekend. We were very fortunate to have photographer Meeno Peluce and his assistant Adam on hand to document the glamorous celebrants and festivities at the Biltmore, Laemmle Grand, Regent Galleries and aboard the Crime Bus.

Many thanks to all who turned out to be a part of these happenings, to remember Elizabeth Short and reflect upon why her story continues to resonate so strongly and so widely.  

Below you will find a smattering of images from Meeno’s January 16th gallery, with many more to be seen here. Bye-bye, Dahlia, until next year…



flanking gents





The Changing Face of the City

Jan. 17, 1907
Los Angeles

On a trip from Utah to visit his daughter, H.E. Gibson keeps getting lost as he wanders around Los Angeles. No, it’s not because Gibson is 80, for his mind is still sharp. It’s because he hasn’t been back since 1848 and things have changed just a bit.

Even the old familiar landmark of Ft. Hill is covered with homes, he says. About the only spot in town he recognizes is the Plaza, where he keeps returning to get his bearings.

Gibson came to California with the “Flash Emigrant Colony” to establish Mormon settlements. The group couldn’t raise the money to buy Rancho Cucamonga, so they bought a parcel of land in San Bernardino, The Times says.

Land was “dirt cheap” in 1848, with entire blocks selling for $500 to $1,000, ($9,910.34-$19,820.69 USD 2005), Gibson said. But instead of becoming a real estate speculator, he left for Utah to bring the news (published in a New York newspaper that came around the Horn) proclaiming that Brigham Young had been appointed governor of the Utah Territory.

Note: Today presented a difficult decision, but I passed on some incredibly offensive caricatures of an African American who had been arrested, accompanied by quotes in dialect: “Ah dunno nothin’ about no stolen chickens” indeed.

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

Also on EBay

Jan. 16, 2007

Sfxarchive is selling a 4- by 5-inch negative ostensibly from the Black Dahlia case. I don’t recognize any of these individuals, nor have I ever seen the image. It doesn’t show any of the main suspects, nor does it show the main detectives, Harry Hansen and Finis Brown.

I would say its importance is limited. Note that the seller’s date (January 1949) is contradicted by the calendar in the picture, which says December 1948.

The bottom line: I would not spend any serious money on this image.

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

Another EBay Mystery

Jan. 15, 2007

Los Angeles

While making my daily check of EBay, I found an envelope from 1907 that was an interesting sequel to the “Mystery of the Burmese Fortunetellers.” This envelope was addressed to A. Victor Segno, 701 N. Belmont.

A brief check of Proquest reveals-what’s this? A major scam artist, self-help author and wife-stealer.

A. Victor Segno turns out to be the operator of the American Institute of Mentalism. Here’s how it works: Members agree to send Segno $1 ($21.30 USD 2005) a month. In return he sends out a “success wave” twice a day.

According to Segno’s literature: “The vibrations which Prof. Segno is able to produce in people, through being in harmony with their mentalism, is often felt by them, though thousands of miles distant, as a sensation similar to a slight electric shock.”

And a testimonial: “When I commenced taking the treatments with your club I was full of doubts as to the effects, but as I was anxious to be successful and had little to lose and all to gain I continued to take them. I have been a member less than two months and the following are the results:

“At the time I joined the club I was sick, but compelled to work and for very small wages. Shortly after I began to feel better. On the 7th of this month my employer sold me his stock of goods on credit. By the 21st I had paid $100 on the cost of the stock and on the 24th I sold the stock for ($300 or $800) over the cost and reserved an interest in the business.

“You no doubt will be glad to learn that since joining your club I have improved in health, supported myself and little baby girl and made over $1,000, and risen from a servant to be a proprietor. I have also secured a position as traveling agent for a Chicago firm at a large salary. It is wonderful to me.”

Busy though he was sending out success waves, Segno was able to write two books: “How to Live 100 Years” and “How to Be Happy Though Married,” available from the institute for $3 each. Later works included “Personal Magnetism,” “The Law of Mentalism” and “How to Have Beautiful Hair.”

Apparently Segno did a thriving business because in a few years he was able to plan a large estate at Belmont and Kane, which was featured in The Times. The letter, addressed to 701 N. Belmont, was presumable sent to the institution on “Inspiration Point” over Echo Park, although I can’t locate it now.

In 1911, however, Segno left Los Angeles, ostensibly to set up a similar school in Russia. Shortly thereafter, his longtime personal secretary, Mrs. Irene Weitzel, a recently married woman whom he had employed since she was a young girl, vanished on an alleged trip to Chicago to visit her parents.

In response to reporters’ questions about whether Segno had run off with his secretary, his wife, Annie Dell Segno, replied: “It isn’t true, unless my husband has lost his senses.”

“An official of the school admitted that Mrs. Segno is greatly perturbed and admitted that there had been talk about Segno and the girl for some months,” The Times says. “She said that when such stories came to her ears she had hotly denied them because Segno’s teaching and life stood out in her mind as everything ideal.”

A. Victor Segno and “success waves” in action, from one of his books. Note the beautiful hair.

Divorce eventually followed as Segno set up an identical scheme in Berlin. He returned to the United States about 1915 as the clouds of World War I formed over Europe. Thereafter, Segno vanished from the news while his ex-wife was mentioned in a 1923 story because she had married Harry T. Robinson, apparently a member of a robbery gang.

Thanks, EBay!

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)