Leonard McKay

Leonard McKay

Posts by Leonard McKay

Dirt (Part I)

For the next few weeks, I am going to write about “dirt.” Not political dirt, not Hollywood dirt, just plain dirt—the kind we have underneath us, some of the best dirt in the world.

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Two Dogs Named Buck

I’d like to tell you about two dogs named “Buck.” The first one is widely known because he was the lead character in the famous book, “The Call of the Wild,” by Jack London.

The book, as you remember, featured Buck’s experiences in the famous gold rush in Alaska and the Yukon. Perhaps you didn’t realize that the book was written right here in Santa Clara on the grounds of what is now the Carmelite monastery. Then, it was the ranch of Judge Bond on the western end of Franklin Street. It was on the porch of the Jamison Brown house where the book was written and London describes the location in the text:


Man’s Best Friend

In my recent series on the 1906 earthquake, I related Ralph Rambo’s memories of the day. I especially liked the episode of how he adopted the Doyle School dog after discovering him shivering on the front stoop of the school. Calling the dog, he jumped into the buggy, driven by Ralph’s father, and the dog stayed with them until he died many years later.


Credo Quia Absurdum

There has been considerable debate about the purpose of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus. Is it a men’s historical and drinking society, or is it a drinking and historical society? What does the name stand for? I can’t answer these questions and the name doesn’t translate into anything meaningful in English. The society’s roots—as a benevolent fraternal society—go deep into the gold rush history of California, when there was a real need for such things.

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San Jose’s Music Man

Does the sound of “76 Trombones” make your feet stir and, perhaps, you want to do a little tapping or a little marching? If so, you might be interested to know that we had the predecessor of the famous Henry Hill, the “Music Man,” right here in “River City,” San Jose. He lived here about 40 years before Meredith Wilson wrote the wonderful hit Broadway musical, “The Music Man.”


The 1906 Earthquake

Part VI: Ralph Rambo’s Account Concludes

“Naturally we were curious about the effect of the quake upon Santa Clara.  For us the little town of 4,000 people served as our ‘shopping center,’ with grocer, doctor, dentist, clothier etc. and later for the writer, ‘Santa Clara High School.’

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The 1906 Earthquake

Part V: Ralph Rambo’s Account Continues

“Agnews Asylum had suffered the worst catastrophe in the Valley.  Santa Clara College had nobly responded.  With all the wires down, a horseman had taken word to Santa Clara and at least 100 students had run or ridden their wheels after the horseman to the great disaster.  Wagons passed us transporting casualties to Santa Clara after they were pulled from the ruins.

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The 1906 Earthquake

Part IV: Ralph Rambo’s Account Continues

“So Dad whipped up the horse and we made a harried tour of the disrupted city.  Certain sights were implanted in the mind of this 12-year old.  San Francisco suffered most from its great fire.  In that respect San Jose was more fortunate.  The [fire] control was excellent in comparison.  We arrived to see only one fire in progress on Second Street.  Remember this was before fire engines were motorized.  So the team or rather three abreast horses were tied across the street from the Jose Theater.  The fire was just one building, now under control.  But the street was strangely deserted.  Why was there no crowd?  Where were the usual spectators?”

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The 1906 Earthquake

Part III

I have told you a little about what happened in San Jose and San Francisco. Now let’s see what Ralph Rambo remembers about that fatal day and incident.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ralph Rambo, he was an eminent historian and cartoonist who wrote 14 pamphlets about life in Santa Clara Valley.  The following account is taken from his excellent booklet, E Day. The family’s windmill, their sole source of water, had been toppled by the quake.

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The 1906 Earthquake

Part II

Last week I told of the immediate aftermath of the earthquake in San Jose. San Francisco was another story—one of the greatest tragedies of California history.  Estimates of the dead numbered more than 700, but the true count will never be known. 

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The 1906 Earthquake

Part I

April 18 will be the 100th anniversary of California’s worst earthquake in recorded history. More than 700 people died in that giant temblor when the Pacific and North American tectonic plates slipped past each other, leaving northern California in ruins. Most hard hit was the city of San Francisco, but right here in Santa Clara County, more than 130 met their maker.

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The Port of Alviso

The earliest use of Alviso Slough as a shipping port was recorded by John Henry Dana in his book “Two years before the Mast.” Mission Santa Clara shipped cowhides and wheat during the 1830’s from what was then known as the “Embarcadero” (“landing place”).  In 1846, during the Mexican War, 30 armed American troops under the command of Lt. Robert Pinkney disembarked by the Embarcadero to get bread from Mission Santa Clara and to participate in the one engagement in Northern California against Mexican troops, “The Battle of Santa Clara.”


The Baronda Mayhem Trial

I wish to tell the true story of a real incident from a century ago when a local fire captain suffered the same fate as John Wayne Bobbitt, and it happened right here in San Jose. As a matter of fact, it happened on what is now San Pedro Square.

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Mary Hayes Chynoweth

Who was San Jose’s most famous lady?  Could it have been a woman with magical powers to heal and locate rich iron mines, who believed that optimistic thinking and a sound diet were the keys to good health?


The Canning Industry in San Jose

The canning industry got its start in 1871 when Dr. Dawson and his wife canned some fruit over an old cook stove in their backyard on The Alameda.  From this humble start, a huge industry developed right here in San Jose for three basic reasons: the fruit was grown here, there was a ready supply of labor and two railroads, Western Pacific and Southern Pacific, built rail sidings right to the canning plants.


The First State Legislature

The “Legislature of a Thousand Drinks” is the unmerited sobriquet remembering the first State Legislature of California held here in San Jose in late1849 and early 1850.  The elected senators and assemblymen were all very young men—most of whom had been in California for less than two years—with little or no training in law, and yet they made some of the most important laws governing our state, most of which are still in effect today.  The total budget for the first year of operation was $348,000.

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