Pioneering the Image: the Photography of M.M. Hazeltine

During his long and peripatetic life, Martin Mason Hazeltine lived in many places. Born in Vermont in 1827, he was raised with his seven siblings in St. Charles, Illinois. In 1850, he came west in search of gold, following in the footsteps of his younger brother George, but things didn’t pan out and the brothers returned to the East Coast and became daguerreotypists. Originally trained in St. Charles, as they advanced, they moved to New York and then to San Francisco in 1853.

For two years, they worked together until George sold his share of their partnership and Martin took a wife. Both men combined photography with other freelance interests for the remainder of their lives.

For the next twelve years, Martin moved from Mormon Island, by the American River (1863), to Sacramento (1864), to Nevada (1865), but by 1867, he had found his way to Mendocino.

Was it the spellbinding ocean views or the soft Mendocino light that prompted him to settle here? It’s hard to say, though he would not be the first artist to fall under the Coast’s enduring spell.  With his wife and growing brood of children, his sixteen years in Mendocino were productive and happy ones.

Though he is primarily known today as a scenic photographer, an advertisement of the time states:

“M.M. Hazeltine respectfully announces to his friends & the public generally that his New Photographic Gallery on Lansing St. is now open & he is fully prepared to take all styles of pictures in a manner never before obtained on this coast & at prices which cannot fail to be satisfactory.”

During his tenure here, Hazeltine’s best-known studio was on Howard Street between Ukiah and Pine. Many of the earliest views of Mendocino County are directly attributable to him and were reproduced by J.P. Soule and Lawrence & Houseworth, firms specializing in stereoscopic cards. His skill as a view-taker earned him a place as chief scenic photographer for railroads such as both the Southern and the Union Pacific.

Vernal_Fall,_height,_400_feet,_Yosemite_Valley,_Cal,_by_Hazeltine,_M._M._(Martin_M.),_1827-1903During this time, Hazeltine partnered with photographer J.J. Reilly and traveled to Stockton to photograph the Yosemite Valley and the big trees of Calaveras County. When, in 1883, he decided to leave Mendocino for Stockton, the Beacon wrote a fitting adieu: “His gallery has been a charming place in which to spend a leisure hour, among the beauties and sublimities of the western slope, which his skill had made accessible to us. It is the very next thing, and almost as good, to gaze with ever increasing delight at his stereoscopic views of them, as actually going to the tops of the Sierras, and the depths of Yosemite.”

When he died in 1903, M.M. Hazeltine was considered one of the foremost early California photographers; known also for his work in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. A testament to his impact can be found in the archival holdings of the Kelley House Museum, the Bancroft Library, and libraries around the country.

Look for the work of Hazeltine and other historic photographers who made the Mendocino Coast their home in our upcoming summer exhibit: “Framing History – Worth a Thousand Words,” opening May 26 at the Kelley House Museum.

“H” is for Hard Times Dances

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A Hard Times Dance held on April 12th, 1912 at the I.O.O.F. Hall in Mendocino. (SOURCE: Kelley House Museum Archives)

According to poet Alice Walker, “hard times require furious dancing,” though the traditional idea of a Hard Times Dance is something altogether different.

Similar to the Calico Balls of the mid-nineteenth century, which were started for debutantes and morphed into Civil War-era fundraisers for soldiers and wartime widows, a Hard Times Dance was part fun and part fundraiser. In lieu of expensive silks and satins, women wore dresses made of cheap cotton calico, the idea being that the money saved could instead be donated to exemplify ideals such as kindness and wartime austerity.

In some instances a Hard Times Dance was spurred by genuine need, as was indicated in the Salt Lake City Tribune in 1893: “An old timer suggested the other day that unless the financial question gets better soon the only parties that will be given will be ‘hard times dances’ which they used to give here in the old days, each girl bringing her own basket of lunch and the men bringing tallow candles, which were stuck in the wall of the log house where the dance was in progress.”

As economic times improved, the Hard Times Dance became more of a costume ball with its own peculiar traditions. Participants dressed in rags or costumes made from flour sacks or old curtains. They wore their “digging” clothes or work overalls and mismatched their shoes or they dressed as shabby gents or roadside beggars. Stiff financial penalties were meted out to those who wore fine clothing.

In 1912, the Circle Concordia club held a Hard Times Dance in Mendocino at the Odd Fellows Hall on Ukiah Street, which is currently the home of the Flockworks Gallery. A Mendocino Beacon reporter of the day noted, “most of the costumes worn by the gentlemen outclassed the ordinary hobo’s garb. Charley Zavits was generally conceded to have the best get-up of the men. The ladies cut out ‘glad rags’ and the costumes were of the roughest material obtainable. For fear of losing his scalp the writer refrains from mentioning the ‘homeliest’ costumes.”

Hard Times Dances achieved peak popularity between the Panic of 1893 and the Stock Market Crash of 1929. They give evidence of an emerging urban middle class with time and money to spare. As the trend progressed, the festivities took on what some would consider a mocking tone. Invitations were printed on brown wrapping paper and filled with deliberate misspellings, suggesting a lack of education.

In lean times, the Hard Times Dance took on a commiserating tone similar to this one from the Santa Cruz Evening News of 1932: “‘Old Man Depression’ is to be buried alive in a ‘Farewell to Hard Times’ Dance . . . after everyone has sufficiently recovered from their grief, a new era will be ushered in and a gayer spirit will prevail for ‘Miss Queen Prosperity’ will be given full sway. Several specialty numbers will be offered in expression of the coming era of better times.”

You can see this photograph at the Kelley House Museum — and others taken to record dances — during this final weekend of our exhibit, “Fun & Games: Mendocino at Play.” The museum is open Friday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

(Previously published in the Beacon, March 23rd, 2017 and at the Making History Blog of the Kelley House Museum. It was reprinted in the Ukiah Daily Journal March 25th, 2017.)


“F” is for Feather

Petaluma, once known as the “egg basket of the world,” was home to the first, commercially successful egg incubator (developed by Lyman Byce and Isaac Dias and sold through the Petaluma Incubator Company.) That, along with hard work and the introduction of the Single Comb White Leghorn chicken, were the spur to the town’s dominance in the poultry realm.

Sometime after 1916, Bert Kerrigan of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce promoted the image of Petaluma as the chicken capital of the nation. Among his innovations was the idea to fly over San Francisco and empty two sacks of white feathers at the intersection of 3rd and Market. Imagine the sight of thousands of feathers spinning toward earth like sycamore seeds. To each feather was attached a small card which offered the holder three dozen Petaluma eggs if they came to National Egg Day in Petaluma!

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Uh-huh. It really happened.


“D” is for Dorothy Wintermote

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The original vacuum-packed coffee

On a wet winter morning, few things are better than shelter, a hot cup of coffee, and a story, especially a local one.

In 1938, a steamer ran aground off the Mendocino Coast. Built in 1918 in Toledo, Ohio, as a military ship, she was christened the Lake Cayuga. With the end of World War I, she was repurposed as a merchant vessel and renamed the Dorothy Wintermote, after the daughter of the founder of the Puget Sound Lumber Company.

At 251 feet long, the ship weighed 1227 tons and had a carrying capacity of 1,800,000 board feet of timber. When not full of timber, her extra space was used to transport household goods, such as fruit, cocoa and coffee.

The weather was clear on September 15, 1938, but things changed overnight as a heavy fog rolled in. At 7:50 a.m., the Dorothy Wintermote radioed an SOS:  she had run aground on Fish Rock near the mouth of the Gualala River.

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Hardly showing a dent, the Dorothy Wintermote stranded at Fish Rock (SOURCE: San Francisco Maritime Historical Park, Captain O.J. Olsen Photographs, P07-002.3n_SAFR 21345San Francisco)

The impact tore two holes in the bottom of the ship and left her stranded on jagged rocks. For four days her crew was on high alert, making repairs and waiting for aid, uncertain of their fate or that of their primary cargo—20 tons of vacuum-sealed Hills Brothers Red Can coffee, packed in paper cartons.

When the Coast Guard arrived, the Dorothy Wintermote prepared to be towed off the rocks. She was not the only ship damaged in the fog; the Santa Rosalia, a fishing trawler out of Monterey, was wrecked the same day and had been towed to San Francisco uneventfully, where she waited for repairs. Everyone hoped for the same outcome as the tug, Sea Giant, secured the Dorothy Wintermote and carefully pulled her into open water.

Almost instantly, she began to list as water poured into a 15-foot tear in her hull. Before anything could be done to save her, she sank to a depth of 240 feet.

Fortunately, Captain O. J. Olson and all 29 of his crew—including their mascot, a scrawny tabby cat—were evacuated to safety. On the Coast Guard cutter, Shoshone, they praised the men who had saved their lives and posed for pictures with their cat.

Normally, this happy ending would be enough, but for the Dorothy Wintermote, there was still more good news.

Within hours, the cartons in her hull dissolved, and their vacuum-packed contents bobbed to the surface. Over the next few days, a half-mile stretch of beach was littered with hundreds of red cans of coffee coated with lard and cocoa—that is, until word got out.

When Hills Brothers representative M. L. Meeker arrived on the scene, much of the coffee was gone! Locals had rushed from miles away to salvage the two-, four-, and 15-pound cans, which they washed and cleaned on site. Reports that some people gathered 2,000, 3,000, or even 6,000 pounds of coffee were not uncommon.

The ship and its cargo valued at $115,000 were given up for lost. Both were fully insured.

Artist Steve Mayo’s rendering of the Dorothy Wintermote in better times

(Previously published in the Beacon, Jan. 26th, 2017 and at the Making History Blog of the Kelley House Museum.)

“C” is for Cigar Rafts

If you haven’t heard of a cigar rafts, that’s not a surprise. I hadn’t heard of them either when I happened upon a reference to a “cigar raft” in the notes of Nannie Escola, former school teacher and Mendocino’s most prolific early historian. I relish the sense of sisterhood I share with her when I go to the archives and stumble across something as yet unnoticed in her notes. Anyway, here we go: Cigar Rafts.

Part I

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Cigar raft at Fort Bragg

One of the strangest ocean-going crafts to grace the seas was built locally in Fort Bragg. Hundreds of feet long, brown, tapered at each end, it was sometimes mistaken for a whale or described as a giant “Perfecto” cigar.

Invented to bypass high shipping costs, the cigar raft was cheaper and safer transportation—at least in theory. Developed in the 1880s by Captain Hugh Roderick Robertson of New Brunswick, it took years of trial and error to perfect its design, during which time one raft drifted to West Africa, while another ruptured and became an East Coast maritime hazard. Undaunted, Robertson persisted, and the first cigar raft was towed safely to New York in 1888. It was given a hero’s welcome, having transported the equivalent of 40 schooners of timber.

In 1892, the Fort Bragg Lumber Company hired Robertson to build the first Pacific Coast cigar raft, causing considerable excitement for profit-hungry area mill owners. If successful, the raft could reduce shipping costs by 80%. Once processed at its destination, each thousand board feet of finished lumber would yield enough saleable waste to cover the bulk of the towing cost. Newspapers all along the Pacific waited eagerly for news from Fort Bragg, relayed to them by the Mendocino Beacon staff.

The first redwood raft was built in a hull-shaped “crib” of Robertson’s own design. Gradually, a wooden behemoth took shape under the capable hands of local men as a hoisting engine and boom placed whole logs around a central, stud-link towing chain. Using additional chains as thick as a man’s wrist, 1,200,000 board feet of logs, pilings, and railroad ties were cinched together every 12 feet of the raft’s 365 foot length. Red and green lights, rudders, a steering mechanism, and a pilothouse were added for safety.

In May of 1892, with a crowd in eager anticipation, the steamer Noyo began to tow the raft out to sea. “The raft started all right,” a Beacon reporter wrote. “The sea was very rough outside. The raft struck a rock when it was being towed out, and it broke in two in the middle. Part of it drifted on the rocks below Noyo [the town], and the other part was towed into the Noyo River.”

This account belies the public disappointment and tireless brute force it took to gather the broken pieces. For weeks after, logs were gathered up and towed back to Noyo, though some drifted far south and washed up on the beach below the Cliff House in San Francisco.

In July, 1892, Robertson was replaced by Fort Bragg local James Brett, who immediately began to build a new raft. As the San Francisco Callreported, “The success or failure of this raft is held to mean a boom or a killer for lumber rafting on the Pacific Coast.” With everything riding on the success of their efforts, Brett and his team aimed to triumph where the expert had failed. Were they successful? Well, that is the subject of next week’s Kelley House Calendar.

(Previously published in the Beacon, Jan. 5th, 2017 and at the Making History Blog of the Kelley House Museum.)

Part II

If you read Part I of this topic last week, you know that Fort Bragg is the home of the first Pacific Coast cigar raft. As early as 1889, coastal lumber companies experimented with smaller oceangoing rafts on Big River, and had successfully pulled a 700-foot articulated raft to San Francisco. Eager to increase capacity and further drive down shipping costs, local lumber companies hired leading expert H. R. Robertson, and after a year of activity and anticipation during which local and national newspapers picked up the story, the first Pacific Coast cigar raft was launched.

It broke in two almost immediately.

Robertson was replaced by a Fort Bragg local, James Brett, who was made superintendent of the project. Brett made key design changes. He shortened the raft’s length by 40 feet, tightened its tapered ends, and reinforced the interior with three large, semi-rigid cables. Further, he built the raft in deeper water to aid its launch. The final version was 326 feet long, 34 feet wide and 24 feet deep.

In late August of 1892, the Beacon reported, “At 8:30 Saturday evening, in the presence of a large crowd of people from up and down the coast, the blocking was knocked out from under the raft, and the huge mass of logs started on its downward journey.” Like its predecessor, Brett’s raft slid part of the way into the water and stuck, pinned by its own weight. It wasn’t until the advent of high September tides that the raft actually floated when pulled out to sea by the steamer Noyo.

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Towing a raft out to sea

Upon its arrival in the City, the raft drew crowds who came to see it along the San Francisco waterfront before it was delivered and broken up for milling. Riding high on success, Brett immediately was told to build another raft and the Beacon declared, “Jas. Brett, the builder, is now the master of this new enterprise, and will continue building them for the Union Lumber Company Fort Bragg.”

Possibly jinxed, Brett’s next raft broke up at sea.

In the meantime, Robertson moved to the Pacific Northwest where his rafts were plagued by problems, from marine borers to a succession of structural failures. For a few years, only Fort Bragg locals had succeeded where others failed, causing speculation on the secret of their good fortune. In reality, they planned extensively, employed skilled seamen, and respected the inherent dangers, such as the fact that in rough seas, a raft could overtake and even crush the towing vessel.

Eventually, Pacific Northwest lumber companies succeeded in towing large rafts to San Diego on a routine basis, sending more than one hundred rafts south between the late 1890s and 1941. In that time, only four rafts were lost. As if to come full circle, one of these (a Benson raft) broke up off the Mendocino Coast in 1938 and drifted into Big River, piling the beach with lumber ten feet high. The mill, which had just closed permanently, was reopened and sustained for another eight weeks on this unexpected gift from the sea.

(Previously published in the Beacon, Jan. 12th, 2017 and at the Making History Blog of the Kelley House Museum.)