Thursday, April 20, 2017

Fay and Ray, and Eugene, go joy riding in 1911

ABOVE: The men above want you to know they are not Fay and Ray. Or, Eugene.  This is the typical horse and buggy kit one would see in Huntington Beach in the early 1900s. These cigar-smoking men are on Ocean Avenue--now Pacific Coast Highway--near Main Street, circa 1905. Behind them to the left is the brick-and-mortar Ocean Wave Hotel.  Today, it is the El Don Liquor building at 416 Pacific Coast Highway, a few steps north of Main Street. We recommend walking behind the building to look at it from the alley to get a glimpse of its pioneer roots.  (Photo courtesy of City of Huntington Beach archives, 1905)

   Over a century ago, the Huntington Beach News and Santa Ana Register regularly reported horse thievery in the peatlands, a continual problem in rural Orange County.  On April 21, 1911, the culprits were a particularly rough lot, making it a tough case to prosecute.  They were children.

   Fay Miranville and Ray Talbert--both girls--spotted an opportunity on the dusty Main Street of Huntington Beach:  a horse and buggy, with the owner away.  Accomplice in the caper was Eugene Perry, a young man sufficiently overtaken by the charms of Fay and Ray that he joined the misdeed.  They were all under the age of ten.

RIGHT: The Kitchen Encylopedia was a 31-page booklet of recipes published by Swift & Company for Oleomargarine in 1911.

   Mrs. Lloyd Kelley had tied up her horse and buggy on Main Street and stepped into the Huntington Beach Meat Market to do some shopping for the evening meal.  She may have just gotten her 1911 copy of The Kitchen Encylopedia from Swift & Company Oleomargarine and wanted to try the Spanish Minced Beef in Meat Box recipe (hopefully, not the Boiled Beef recipe).  

   Mrs. Kelley did not lock her vehicle or set her alarm.  Big mistake, Mrs. Kelley.  To her credit though, no one else on Main Street would have suspected the grade-schoolers.   

LEFT: The McIntosh brothers' meat market, as seen circa 1927 inside the Standard Market on Main Street, was typical of the butcher counter of the early 1900s.  (Photo courtesy of Doug McIntosh) © All rights reserved.

   Fay and Ray, and Eugene, jumped in the buggy and high-tailed it inland through the countryside to Talbert (now, Fountain Valley).  With no paved roads, one can only imagine the bumpy ride and the trail of dust as they made their escape.  

   It was roughly a five to six mile trek as the crow flies from Main Street in Huntington Beach to the village center of Talbert.

   As they reached the outskirts of Talbert, they came across rancher J. B. McCowan and sized him up as an easy mark.  Fay and Ray, and Eugene, hit him up for 50 cents "to go to the show".  McCowan either thought the whole thing was normal or he was intimidated by the threatening nature of three nine-year-olds.  He gave them the money.  

RIGHT: Motion pictures were still transitioning from silent films to "talkies" and theater houses were few and far between in 1911. Vaudeville venues screened silent and talking pictures, along with their live vaudeville acts. The week of April 15, 1911--at the time of Fay and Ray, and Eugene's horse thievery--The Bell was featuring "4 big reels of the latest pictures", "5 big acts of latest vaudeville", "17 people...including musicians", and an assortment of "high class artists". (Santa Ana Register, September 30, 1911)

   Flush with coins, and despite the fact it was near dusk, the trio continued on toward the bustling metropolis of Santa Ana.  In 1911, it was the seat of Orange County government with a population of over 8,000.  Santa Ana had saloons, vaudeville, and other questionable entertainment. 
LEFT:  In July 1911, The Bell was advertising a show with "live trained wild lions" and soliciting for a couple who would be willing to get married in the lion's den, all expenses paid. What nine-year-old wouldn't want to see entertainment like this? Nuf ced. (Santa Ana Register, July 20, 1911)

   Santa Ana vaudeville house, The Bell, admitted children under the age of ten for a ticket price of five-cents each, leaving them with a balance of 35-cents.  Fay and Ray, and Eugene, planned ahead when strong-arming J.B. McCowan for 50 cents.  They had extra change left over for a second show and a few treats.

   On April 8, 1911, the silent animated short film, Little Nemo, was released.  The bandits being of youthful tendencies, we'd bet our 50 cents  they wanted to see the new cartoon.

RIGHT: Little Nemo and the princess ride away in the mouth of a dragon in the surreal 1911 silent short animation, Little Nemo, by Winsor McCay. In 1912, McCay--a cartoonist who created Little Nemo for the New York Herald--released his next animation, How a Mosquito Operates, which is described as having "a more coherent story". (Image source, WikiCommons)

   Downtown Santa Ana was another seven to eight miles journey on dirt roads from Talbert.  Most of the way was open countryside: ranches, farms, and irrigation ditches.  There wasn't an abundance of signage in the peatlands.  They had never actually driven to Santa Ana on their own before.  They were lost.  It was getting late in the day.

   It was then that Fay and Ray, and Eugene, came upon another rancher, Mr. Williams, and asked for directions.  Mr. Williams--being of sensible nature--told them he'd give them good directions if they came to his ranch house.  He probably used the ol' "how 'bout we get your horse some water and I'll get you directions" line.  It's possible the trio was beginning to have second thoughts about their plan for the day.  It also might have been the bandits thought they could talk Mr. Williams into giving them another coin or two.  After all, it worked on J.B. McCowan

LEFT: Thomas B. Talbert ran a general merchandise store in the village of Talbert, before moving to Huntington Beach to open a realty business. He was appointed to the Orange County board of supervisors in 1909, the year Huntington Beach incorporated (and two years before he was called upon to apprehend three nine-year-old horse thieves). (Photo, Santa Ana Register, September 25, 1928)

   Once at the ranch, Mr. Williams dialed telephone number 341 to talk with Thomas B. Talbert--an Orange County supervisor, Huntington Beach realtor, and the man for whom the village of Talbert was named--to let Tom know he had detained three children (one with the last name of Talbert), horse, and buggy.  

   Talbert had a new-fangled automobile and sped over country roads to the Williams ranch to return the horse thieves to their "anxious parents" in Huntington Beach.  
ABOVE: Thomas B. Talbert's advertisement from the Orange County Directory in 1911, the year of the great horse and buggy caper. (Fullerton Public Library)

  The Santa Ana Register reported it was after 8 p.m. by the time the hardened--or more likely sleepy and hungry--criminals returned home.

RIGHT: Also among the 1911 reports of horse thievery, H.W. Lewis' horse and buggy were stolen while hitched in front of the United Presbyterian Church, "buggy, bibles and mare", prompting the Santa Ana Register to ponder if the thief might read the part about "thou shalt not steal." (Santa Ana Register, September 11, 1911)

   There are some holes in the story of the April heist.  For instance, what happened to Mrs. Lloyd Kelley? However did she make it home without a horse and buggy?  And, what did she make for dinner (again, hopefully not the Boiled Beef)?

   Were Fay and Ray, and Eugene, charged with a speeding violation?  They had to have accelerated a tad over the speed limit as they made their way out of the Huntington Beach Township.

   Speeding was no joke in 1911, as horses, automobiles, and pedestrians were still adjusting to the clash of old and new transportation.  A spooked horse was dangerous.   Ordinance 70, passed by the Huntington Beach board of trustees in January 1911, made it unlawful to "ride or drive any horse or other animal...bicycle, tricycle, velocipede, motorcycle or automobile or other riding machine or horseless vehicle or any road vehicle whatsoever at a rate of speed greater than ten (10) miles per hour" on City streets and alleyways. 

   Violations of the speed limit set by Ordinance 70 were punishable by a fine of $100 and/or possible imprisonment not to exceed thirty days.  Were Fay and Ray, and Eugene, thrown into the brick hoosegow between Main and Fifth streets?  Perhaps their imprisonment was waived for bed with no supper and restitution of the fifty cents.

   There is no report of charges against J.B. McCowan, who aided and abetted--and indeed financed--Fay and Ray, and Eugene, on their slow-speed chase through the peatlands toward vaudeville heaven. It probably took a while before he lived that one down.

   And, finally, did Fay and Ray, and Eugene, ever get to "the show" to see Little Nemo?

BELOW: Main Street at Walnut Avenue, circa 1910s.  Unpaved, the streets were oiled to keep down the dust.  The young ladies in this photograph are unidentified.  We'll let the readers decide if that is Fay and Ray, on their way to find Eugene. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives) 

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