In Which a Ghostly Visitor Returns

March 15, 2007
Los Angeles

“Well, dear boy, I suppose you thought you were through.â€Â

“Yes, I did.â€Â


“Good grief! Do you see this bridge over the Gold Line? It looks like it’s held up with hairpins and spit!â€Â

“Saliva, dear boy. And what is the Gold Line?â€Â

“Well, it’s sort of a streetcar, except it doesn’t run on the street.â€Â

She leaned back in her ghostly chair. “And what did you think of our little year?â€Â

“I was quite wrong, wasn’t I?â€Â

She merely nodded.

“You could have at least told me.â€Â

“Dear boy, you needed to find out for yourself.â€Â

“OK, so there were movie theaters in Los Angeles.â€Â


“And there were comics in the paper.â€Â

“Little Nemo is one of my favorites.â€Â

“I couldn’t believe all the domestic violence. Awful stuff.â€Â

“It was terrible,â€Â she said.

“And getting a divorce was so difficult.â€Â

“That was horrible,â€Â she said.

“And the rotten doctors, the fakes and charlatans, dirty restaurants, the drinking and alcoholism. The exploding gasoline stoves.â€Â

“Well,â€Â she said chidingly, “you didn’t write very much about people who were nice. You newspaper folks never do.â€Â

“Most of all, we haven’t changed very much, have we? I mean, look at our problems with transportation… with sanitation… with growth… with housing… immigration… ethnic discrimination… education… polluting the ocean. A century later, the Police Department is still pleading for more officers. It’s the same story, with different details, that we had in 1947.â€Â

“And why do you think that is?â€Â

“Ma’am, that’s a short question with a long answer. You could tell me, couldn’t you?â€Â

“I could.â€Â

“But you’re not going to, because I have to figure it out for myself, is that it?â€Â

She nodded.

“I’ll miss all of you so much.â€Â

“You know where to find us,â€Â she said.

“Was it a kinder, simpler time?â€Â I asked.

“Maybe in some ways, but mostly no.â€Â And then she paused for a moment. “Go take a picture of your bridge. It hasn’t fallen down yet, has it?â€Â

“Nope, it’s still there. Or at least some bridge is still there.â€Â

I didn’t know what else to say: “Thanks for everything.â€Â

“You are most welcome. And thank you.â€Â

And then she was gone.

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

An Independent Life

March 5, 1907
Los Angeles

What shall we do with Emma? She’s gone off to New Mexico and married a Chinaman. Her horrified mother hopes to get the marriage annulled, but Emma is an independent-minded young lady.

Emma’s mother, Mary Culver of Monrovia, says she will do everything she can to undo her daughter’s marriage to Frank Chew, whom The Times describes as “a sort of missionary revivalist,â€Â noting that “Miss Emma had longings to help the heathen herself.â€Â

Chew asked Culver for permission to marry Emma, but “it was bluntly refused,â€Â The Times says. “Emma had a mind of her own and her answer was ‘yes,’ regardless of her mother’s wishes.â€Â

Even worse, Chew could be an illegal immigrant and if he’s deported, Emma says she will be willing to go to China with him. She made this vow, even though she was warned that Chew would sell her into white slavery as soon as he got her to China.

Emma isn’t the only one in trouble. Members of the Chinese Baptist Mission are equally furious, saying that Chew borrowed jewelry from members of the congregation under the pretense of defending himself against deportation when in fact he used the money for his elopement.

In August 1907, Emma sent a letter from Hong Kong to her family, saying that their fears were baseless and that she and her husband had opened a day school where they taught English.

The next year, Emma mailed a photograph of her students and tried to recruit more women to come to China.

“With her husband, Frank Chew, she has established an English school which is attended by the sons of well-to-do, educated Chinese gentlemen. The Chews have prospered beyond their wildest dreams,â€Â The Times says.

“Every family in Hong Kong seems anxious to have its children learn English and the pupils themselves study the language eagerly.â€Â

E-mail: lmharnsich (AT)

Born in the U.S.A.

Jan. 26, 1907
Los Angeles

Chin Man Can (or Kan) is in jail on charges of being an illegal immigrant. The young man says he is nothing of the sort, but unable to prove that he was born in San Francisco because all of his belongings were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.

Can says that when he was 13, the rest of his family left San Francisco to return to China, but that he stayed behind, attending Chinese school and learning English. After the earthquake, he came to Los Angeles, where he was arrested while working at an Ocean Park restaurant.

The Times defended Can, noting that his uncle was a wealthy San Francisco businessman, Ching Wing.

“Ching Wing has always been so enthusiastic an American that he has arranged to bring up his baby as an American boy, forsaking the language of his fathers, wearing American clothes, reading American books. It seems like a joke that one of his relatives should be arrested,â€Â The Times says.

The Times wrote in an editorial: “Every right-minded American will resent the disagreeable experiences which have befallen Chin Man Can, who appears to be our fellow countryman. Let us hope that all will end well for him and that his heart will not become embittered because of his rough treatment. We trust he will live long and prosper in the land of his birth, which has the same regard for him that she has for all her children, of whatever race, color or creed.â€Â

An anonymous headline writer was not so kind, nor was a reporter who wrote: “ ‘Me velly flond this country,’ Chin Man stated on the witness stand. ‘Family all go back to China. Me hide in wood yard in Flisco till they all gone. I likee mission school, likee ‘Melican ways, alle slame ‘Melican myself.’ â€Â

Although an inspector bolstered claims that Can had been smuggled into the country, testifying that he had frequently seen Can in Ensenada, a benefactor charged that the “Mexican rangerâ€Â was railroading Can to get the $300 bounty for turning in an illegal immigrant.

In 1913, while out on bail as his case was being appealed, Can was charged with belonging to a ring smuggling Chinese across the border. By then he was manager of the Quang Hing Lung Co. at 305 Marchessault St., and attending the University of Southern California.

His trial lasted into 1914 and testimony revealed that Can had adopted the names Frank Chan and W.H. Chan. He was convicted of trying to smuggle a boxcar of immigrants into the U.S. and although he appealed his case, no further information can be found in The Times.

E-mail: lmharnisch (AT)

Not a Pretty Moment

Sept. 21, 1907
Los Angeles

It is one thing to know in the abstract about racial intolerance at the turn of the 20th century and quite another to have to read it in the daily paper. I will spare you the long quotes in pidgin Chinese dialect, but trust me, they make the Charlie Chan movies look like models of multiculturalism.

The Times is covering the deportation of 26 men to China, 11 of them from Los Angeles: Ah Lee, Chin Toy, Gee Kay, Jew Sang, Jung Sing, Lee Fan, Lee Sing, Lui Fat, Lum Chong, Ng Ngai and Wong How. The rest were from San Diego.

All the men, except for Ah Lee, who was arrested in the recent tong wars, were unhappy about being deported, the paper said, adding that guards would be watching closely for friends trying to slip the men a departing gift of opium for the long journey to China aboard the ship Korea.

Immigration official A.C. Ridgway said that for some reason, most Chinese men in Los Angeles have the proper paperwork to be in the United States.

One Name in Many Accents: America

Aug. 4, 1907
Galveston, Texas

The Times reports on the Jewish Territorial Organization headed by author and playwright Israel Zangwill and banker Jacob Schiff to help Jews fleeing persecution in Russia.

In July, the first group of 50 immigrants arrived in Galveston to be hosted and then dispersed throughout the American Southwest.