The murder of Jane Stanford

On Saturday, January 14, 1905, at her Nob Hill mansion, wealthy widow Jane Stanford took a sip of mineral water that didn’t taste right. She vomited up the water and had her secretary, Bertha Berner, taste it. The secretary agreed it tasted strange, so they sent it to the pharmacy to be analyzed. A few weeks later, the report came in: the mineral water had been poisoned with a lethal dose of strychnine.

Who would want Jane Stanford dead? Well, maybe a lot of people. Her late husband was Leland Stanford, one of the “Big Four” founders* of the Central Pacific Railroad and a former governor of California, a tough customer for sure. Together the Stanfords founded Stanford University in honor of their son, Leland Jr., who died young. When Leland Senior died, Jane ended up in a long running squabble with the university’s president, David Starr Jordan.

haunted looking couple

After the attempted poisoning, Jane Stanford fired her maid and decided to get out of San Francisco. She sailed to Hawaii. Soon after arriving at the Moana Hotel in Honolulu, she asked for a bicarbonate of soda to settle her stomach. Bertha Berner prepared it for her and gave it to her. Jane Stanford drank it. A few hours later she cried out that she’d been poisoned. The hotel physician was summoned and tried to help her:

As Humphris tried to administer a solution of bromine and chloral hydrate, Mrs. Stanford, now in anguish, exclaimed, ‘My jaws are stiff. This is a horrible death to die.’ Whereupon she was seized by a tetanic spasm that progressed relentlessly to a state of severe rigidity: her jaws clamped shut, her thighs opened widely, her feet twisted inwards, her fingers and thumbs clenched into tight fists, and her head drew back. Finally, her respiration ceased. Stanford was dead from strychnine poisoning.

I quote from Wikipedia:

After hearing three days of testimony, the coroner’s jury concluded in less than two minutes that she had died of strychnine “introduced into a bottle of bicarbonate of soda with felonious intent by some person or persons to this jury unknown.” The testimony revealed that the bottle in question had been purchased in California (after Richmond had been let go), had been accessible to anyone in Stanford’s residence during the period when her party was packing, and had not been used until the night of her death.

After the death, David Starr Jordan, the president of Stanford, turned up in Hawaii and def acted fishy. He hired a local doctor and tried to prove that Mrs. Stanford wasn’t poisoned. Which, like, shouldn’t you be running your university?

Jordan’s motives for involvement in the case are uncertain, but he had written to the new president of Stanford’s board of trustees, offered several alternate explanations for Jane Stanford’s death, and suggested to select whichever would be most suitable. The university leadership may have believed that avoiding the appearance of scandal was of overriding importance. The coverup evidently succeeded to the extent that the likelihood that she was murdered was largely overlooked by historians and commentators until the 1980s.

The coverup worked! I mentioned this story to my friend MLW who’s affiliated with Stanford, and she’d never heard it. I’d never heard it either until I read about it in this terrific book, The King and Queen of Malibu, by friend of the blog David K. Randall:

Randall’s book is about Frederick and May Rindge, who owned almost all of what’s now Malibu in the late 19th century. May was a distant relative of Jane Stanford. The Rindges had their own share of enemies among the squatters, travelers, and developers of the pretty wild California of that era. I loved this part about the boundaries of the old ranchos of California:

In the Rindge days, the only way to cross Malibu was along the beach at low tide, until the Rindges put up gates, one at Las Flores Canyon and one at Point Dume, the eastern and western boundaries of their ranch. This pissed everybody off. After her husband’s death, May Rindge tried, and failed, to keep the Pacific Coast Highway from being built across what had once been her family’s idyllic ranch. Randall’s book functions as a great introduction to the history of Los Angeles as it transitioned from a distant outpost to a train and car-based metropolis that grew, fast.

As for Jane Stanford, her murder was never solved. David Starr Jordan lived on to promote his views of eugenics until his death, on campus, in 1933.

I’ll tell you who was never mixed up in anything like this:

source

* of the Big Four, two have names that live on in institutions in California: Leland Stanford has Stanford U, Collis Huntington has Huntington Library and Huntington Beach (both actually named after Collis’ nephew, Henry, but still), and Mark Hopkins at least has the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco. In fact, Stanford, Huntington, and Hopkins all have stuff named after them around Nob Hill. But you don’t hear much about Charles Crocker. Seems like he was a bit of a petty bitch? I learn from Wikipedia that he is great-great-grandfather to Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.


Soobleej Kaub Hawj

That’s the name of a 35 year old Hmong man shot and killed by law enforcement in Siskiyou County, far northern CA, on June 28.

The victim, identified as Soobleej Kaub Hawj of Kansas City, Kansas, allegedly pointed a gun at officers on the evening of June 28 when he turned the wrong way at a checkpoint on Highway A-12 near Weed. His family was following behind in a second vehicle.

State game wardens, members of the Etna Police Department and county sheriff deputies were all on the scene when Hawj was killed.

There was a mandatory evacuation order in place at the time due to the Lava wildfire. Hawj was killed at a checkpoint related to that, is my understanding.

Despite this headline, “Shooting of Hmong American man during Lava Fire draws nationwide attention,” in the Siskiyou Daily News, I hadn’t heard about this at all, and probably wouldn’t have had I not driven by a protest at the Siskiyou County courthouse in Yreka, CA on Sunday, July 11.

I probably still wouldn’t have known what the protest was about – it was over 100 degrees in Yreka, I’d had a long day of smoky driving, and I wasn’t energized to turn freelance citizen journalist – if Siskiyou County didn’t have a quality local daily newspaper.

And I probably still wouldn’t have known about it were it not for a hunger strike by Zurg Xiong:

Saturday’s vigil will take place at the Siskiyou County Courthouse, where a local Hmong American resident has been staging a hunger strike for the past 10 days to spotlight Hawj’s death.

“I will continue this hunger strike until talks are made or until I die,” said Zurg Xiong, who lives in the Mt. Shasta Vista Subdivision, has been on a hunger strike since July 6  and has been demonstrating in front of the courthouse in Yreka since Sunday.

In this case, a hunger strike as a tactic to bring attention to an issue has worked.

The bigger context:

Tensions have been escalating between Siskiyou County’s Hmong population and county officials since local authorities in May passed an ordinance limiting where water trucks can drive in an effort to curtail illegal marijuana grows. A second ordinance requires a permit to transport water on certain roads where illegal grows are known to proliferate.

Drought, water, wildfire, climate catastrophe, police violence, immigration, racial tensions, this story seems to exist at an intersection of the biggest, most explosive issues in the USA right now, and yet I don’t think I would’ve heard about it had I not almost literally stumbled across it.

“Hard news” isn’t usually my beat here at Helytimes, but “the California condition” for sure is, and I found it an interesting case of what does or doesn’t become widespread “news.”

Update: looks like the local Republican congressman has chosen to inflame the issue. I can appreciate the anger on both sides, illegal grows are very destructive.


Preakness

On October 25, 1870, the racehorse Preakness won the inaugural running of the Dixie Stakes (now called the Dinner Party Stakes), on the opening day of Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Three years later, they named a new race after Preakness. The Preakness Stakes ran just the other day, it was exciting.

As for Preakness the horse?

After his retirement from racing, he was sold in England to stand at stud. He later became temperamental, as did his new owner, the Duke of Hamilton. After an altercation where Preakness refused to obey the Duke during a breeding session, he retrieved a gun and killed the colt, leading to a public outcry. As a result, there was a reform in the laws regarding the treatment of animals.

Poor Preakness. The Duke looks like a cad.

A description of Hamilton pertaining to this period in his life has this description of him to offer:“At Christchurch, he went in for boxing, as he went in later for horse-racing, yachting and other amusements… He was full bodied, of a rudely ruddy complexion, had a powerful neck, and seemed strong enough to fell an ox with his fist… He had a frankness of speech bordering on rudeness”.

Killing a champion horse seems like the most notable thing he ever did.

Loved William Finnegan’s article about horse racing (can it survive?) in the May 24, 2021 The New Yorker. Horses given Lasix can lose 20-30 pounds of urine.

Horses usually give birth in the middle of the night, which makes sense since that’s when they are less likely to be disturbed by predators. But foals need to be able to move with the herd at daybreak.

What about this scam that the Stronach Group, owners of Pimlico, pulled on Maryland’s taxpayers?

… the company wanted to move the Preakness to Laurel Park, a racino in the suburbs. Baltimore officials were aghast at losing the race, which has been running since 1873, and the state ultimately agreed to invest nearly four hundred million dollars in Pimlico and Laurel Park. Stronach committed to leaving the Preakness where it was, having offloaded the risk onto the State of Maryland.

Belinda Stronach, a fascinating character. Served in Canada’s Parliament for two different parties, “just friends” with Bill Clinton, her second husband was Norwegian speed skating legend Johan Olav Kloss, she defeated her father in a lawsuit to claim his assets.

(Kyle Plesa added this one to Wikipedia)

Finnegan suggests that “sealing” the track at Santa Anita too frequently after the dump of 2019 rainfall here in southern California may have contributed to the number of horse deaths at the track, a loss we mourned at the time.

One of the attractions of Santa Anita is that it’s a time capsule, of another California:

Alexander grew up down the street, in Pasadena, and he knew the track in its heyday, in the fifties. “When I was growing up, horse racing was pretty much the only game in town,” he said. “No Dodgers, no Lakers, just the Rams. But I was already a Dodgers fan, because of Jackie Robinson. We were both from Pasadena.”

Had a chance to take in some racing at Santa Anita a couple weeks ago, and had a corned beef sandwich on rye with mustard, horseradish and pickles that I found exquisite both in taste and in antiquitude.

It’s hard to see a growing future for horse racing. Finnegan notes that “in the past two decades, the over-all national betting handle at racetracks has fallen by nearly fifty per cent.” Although at Santa Anita over 2020, even while spectators were kept out, the handle was up from the previous year.


ran out of gas

(happened to come upon that one while reading about trial lawyers)


Proust (in comic form)

A graphic novel, in several volumes, of In Search of Lost Time. I feel like I heard about this when it first came out in 2015, but I must’ve been preoccupied.

I was supposed to read some of this in college, in a class I really liked, Joyce and Modernism, but I could never “get into it.” Now, in this form, I’m reading it in a different way and I find some of it to be awesome and really moving.

Some of it is, look, let’s admit it can be ridiculous:

Maybe the key to unlocking it, for me anyway, is that Proust’s world, pre-WWI France, can feel as distant as 11th century Japan. We have to approach this as something very strange, but the power is in recognizing ourselves in it.

Last Proust post (prost) was about Edmund White’s short biography of Proust, recommended by Larry McMurtry to me, and now by me to you.

More or less posting this in lieu of just texting about it to MMW and Vali.


funny chart


wait a second

“It’s a free lunch—there’s no way around it,” said Michael Ohlrogge, an assistant professor of law at New York University.

from a Wall Street Journal article by Amrith Rankumar about the boom in Special Purchase Acquisition Companies, or SPACs.

I would say after looking into it and asking some informed people that the lunch has some cost, in the form of you have to pay attention and do some study. Here is more information.


Really rich people

His unlikely rise from obscurity began when he launched a trade publication for data-communications firms in the 1970s. 

I often find that the answer to “how did they get so rich?” is frequently “doing something really boring.”

(That example Sheldon Adelson, but Robert Kraft (packaging) and the Koch Bros (processing) come to mind as well.)

A local angle:

A Boston Globe reporter who interviewed him in 1988 noted that his Needham, Mass., office was ratty, with a peeling vinyl cover on his chair. “I don’t need the trappings of success to feel successful,” Mr. Adelson said.


Brain balls

Discovery of the tomb of Ollamh Fodhla Ireland’s famous monarch and law-maker upwards of three thousand years ago
by Conwell, Eugene Alfred
Publication date 1873

In Irish history and legend, brain balls are small stone-like balls claimed to have been made from the heads or brains of enemies.

a Wikipedia page worth reading.


absolutely ridiculous

But here is a rough sense of how some senators see things. They are leaders in a sharply, at times violently divided country and represent a party half of whose base is fed, daily, algorithmic incitements to suspicion and anger. The president leads this, fans it, gains from it. They lack the credibility with Mr. Trump’s base that the president has. They don’t want to jeopardize themselves over something that will be resolved through time. So hold off, lower the temperature, support the system. Recounts and court decisions will reassure some voters that every effort was made to get at the truth. This can buttress confidence in democratic processes and encourage a sense of their fundamental soundness. Taking time to get it right will have the effect of tamping down a destructive stabbed-in-the-back mythology among Trump supporters inclined in that direction.

Here’s Peggy Noonan in her column, setting up the position of Republican senators who want a safe space, snowflake, sensitivity to their defeated voters, lest the facts hurt their feelings.


Rich people paying for elections

From Hogarth’s Humours of An Election

This is “good” in a way I guess, but this isn’t supposed to be how this works:

CASH SPLASH — “Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan donate $100 million more to election administrators, despite conservative pushback,” by WaPo’s Michael Scherer: “Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced Tuesday an additional $100 million in donations to local governments to pay for polling place rentals, poll workers, personal protective equipment and other election administration costs over the coming weeks.

“The donation, which follows a previous gift of $300 million for state and local governments to help fund U.S. elections, comes in the face of a lawsuits from a conservative legal group seeking to block the use of private funds for the state and local administration of elections, an expense that has historically been paid for by governments. But Zuckerberg has been unmoved by legal threats, arguing in a Facebook post expected to go live Tuesday that his decision to fund election administration does not have a partisan political motive.” WaPo

Via Politico. Shouldn’t states and local areas tax appropriately to have the money needed to run elections, rather than rely on the largesse of billionaires? Troubled. Are we veering to more of a straight-up oligarchy/democracy hybrid?


Absalom, Absalom

Finally finished this one. How about this part, about New Orleans:

I can imagine him, with his puritan heritage – that heritage peculiarly Anglo-Saxon – of fierce proud mysticism and that ability to be ashamed of ignorance and inexperience, in that city foreign and paradoxical, with its atmosphere at once fatal and languorous, at once feminine and steel-hard – this grim humorless yokel out of a granite heritage where even the houses, let alone clothing and conduct, are built in the image of a jealous and sadistic Jehovah, put suddenly down in a place whose denizens had created their All-Powerful and His supporting hierarchy-chorus of beautiful saints and handsome angels in the image of their houses and personal ornaments and voluptuous lives.

The Civil War approaches:

And who knows? there was the War now; who knows but what the fatality and the fatality’s victim’s did not both think, hope, that the War would settle the matter, leave free one of the two irreconciliables, since it would not be the first time that youth has taken catastrophe as a direct act of Providence for the sole purpose of solving a personal problem which youth itself could not solve.

The cover of my 1987 edition:

MW tells me he doesn’t approve, because Sutpen’s beard is supposed to be red (I myself didn’t clock that in the text, which probably requires a couple readings).

The barebones plot of this book: ambitious youth sets out to make his fortune, rises through courage and violence, through will hacks out an empire for himself, is dest on its own could make for a pretty sexy TV miniseries or something: ambition, pride, violence, incest. But the way it’s told, with the story embedded in retellings of retellings, and sentences that fold upon themselves for six or seven pages isn’t too breezy. From Wikipedia:

The 1983 Guinness Book of World Records says the “Longest Sentence in Literature” is a sentence from Absalom, Absalom! containing 1,288 words.[8] The sentence can be found in Chapter 6; it begins with the words “Just exactly like father”, and ends with “the eye could not see from any point”. The passage is entirely italicized and incomplete.

Strange analogy but some of the verbal pyrotechnics of this book sort of reminded me of the FX show Dave.

when Dave busts out one of his long raps. Indisputably impressive feat of language and cognition but… to what end? A stunning demonstration of what a person might be capable of, itself maybe a worthy achievement, but do I need to pretend that it made me feel anything other than kind of numbed? At what point are we just showing off, or just pounding the reader’s head in?

I don’t think Faulkner would necessarily appreciate that comparison.

Shelby Foote, in one of his interviews, tells us that Faulkner had hopes this would be a bestseller:

I wonder if more people last year read Absalom, Absalom or Gone With The Wind.

The story of David’s rebellious son Absalom is recounted in the Bible and the subject of a popular (?) Sacred Harp song.


Cocoanut milk

Petey21 for Wikipedia

I’ve been adding a dash of cocoanut milk to my cold brew in the mornings. Recommend! Just when you think, “there can’t be a new milk to play with!”


Time for a walk?

from:

Important to remember: Bruce Chatwin made stuff up all the time.

That image taken from Robert Shaw’s 1871 book, Visits to High Tartary, via wikipedia

The Kun Lung mountains are no joke:


Imagine

Imagine being the anonymous stranger who inspired Stevie Nicks’ whole style. From an LA Times/Yahoo profile by Amy Kaufman.


Movie Reviews: The Favourite, Mary Queen of Scots, Schindler’s List

Finding myself with an unexpectedly free afternoon, I went to see The Favourite at the Arclight,

You rarely see elderly people in central Hollywood, but they’re there at the movies at 2pm.  While we waited for the movie to start, there was an audible electrical hum.  The Arclight person introduced the film, and then one of the audience members shouted out “what’re you gonna do about the grounding hum?”

The use of the phrase “grounding hum” rather than just “that humming sound” seemed to baffle the Arclight worker.  Panicked, she said she’d look into it, and if we wanted, we could be “set up with another movie.”

After like one minute I took the option to be set up with another movie because the hum was really annoying.  Playing soon was Mary Queen of Scots.

Reminded as I thought about it of John Ford’s quote about Monument Valley.  John Ford assembles the crew and says, we’re out here to shoot the most interesting thing in the world: the human face.

Both Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie have incredible faces.  It’s glorious to see them.  The best parts of this movie were closeups.

Next I saw Schindler’s List.

This movie has been re-released, with an intro from Spielberg, about the dangers of racism.

This movie knocked my socks off.  I forgot, since the last time I saw it, what this movie accomplished.

When the movie first came out, the context in which people were prepared for it, discussed it, saw it, were shown it in school etc took it beyond the realm of like “a movie” and into some other world of experience and meaning.

I feel like I saw this movie for the first time on VHS tapes from the public library, although I believe we were shown the shower scene at school.

schindler

My idea in seeing it this time was to see it as a movie.

How did they make it?  How does it work?  What’s accomplished on the level of craft?  Once we’ve handled the fact that we’re seeing a representation of the Holocaust, how does this work as a movie?

It’s incredible.  The craft level accomplishment is on the absolute highest level.

 

Take away the weight with which this movie first reached us, with what it was attempting.  Just approach it as “a filmmaker made this, put this together.”

Long, enormous shots of huge numbers of people, presented in ways that feel real, alive.  Liam Neeson’s performance, his mysteries, his charisma, his ambiguity.  We don’t actually learn that much about Oscar Schindler.  So much is hidden.

Ralph Fiennes performance, the humanity, the realness he brings to someone whose crimes just overload the brain’s ability to process.

The moving parts, the train shots, the wide city shots.  Unreal accomplishment of filmmaking.

Some thoughts:

  • water, recurring as an image, theme in the movie.

 

  • there are a bunch of scenes of just factory action, people making things with tools and machines.  that was the cover.  was not the Holocaust an event of the factory age, a twisted branch of Industrial Revolution and efficiency metric spirit?

 

  • reminded that people didn’t know, when it began, “we’re in The Holocaust, this is the Holocaust.”  It built. It got worse and worse.  there were steps and stages along the way.

 

  • what happened in the the Holocaust happened in a particular time and place in history, focused in an area of central and eastern Europe that had its own, centuries long, context for what you were, who belonged where, history, which tribes go where, what race or nationality meant, how these were understood.  Göth’s speech about how the centuries of Jewish history in Kraków will become a rumor.  I felt like this movie kind of captured and helped explain some of that, without a ton of extra labor.

 

  • In a way Schindler could almost be seen as like a comic character.  He didn’t start his company to save Jews. He starts it to make money from cheap labor.  He’s a schemer who sees an opportunity.  A rascal out to make a quick buck, a con man and shady dealer who ended up in the worst crime in history, an honest crook who finds he’s in something of vastness and evil beyond his ability to even comprehend.

 

  • There is a scene in this movie that could almost be called funny, or at least comic, when Oscar Schindler (Neeson) tries to explain to Stern (Ben Kingsley) the good qualities of the concentration camp commandant Göth that nobody ever seems to mention!

 

  • Kenneally’s story of how he heard about Schindler:

  • The theme of sexuality, Goth’s sexuality, Schindler’s, what it means to love and express your nature versus trying to suppress and kill.  Spielberg is not really known for having tough explorations of sexuality in his films but I’d say he took this one pretty square on with a lot bravery?

 

  • if I had a criticism it was maybe that the text on the little intermediary passages that appear on screen a few times and explain the context felt not that clear and kind of unnecessary.

 

  • I feared this movie would have a kind of ’90s whitewash, I felt maybe takes exist, the “actually Schindler’s List is BAD” take is out there, with the idea being that Spielberg put in too much sugar with the medicine which when we talk about the Shoah, unspeakable, unaddressable, is somehow wrong, but damn.  I was glad for the sugar myself and I don’t think Spielberg looked away.  The Holocaust occurred in a human context, and human contexts, no matter how dark, always have absurdity.

 

  • the scene, for instance, were the Nazis burn in an enormous pyre the months-buried, now exhumed bodies of thousands of people executed during the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto, Spielberg took us as close to the mouth of the abyss as you’re gonna see at a regular movie theater.

What does it mean that Spielberg made a movie about the Holocaust and the two leads are both handsome Nazis?

 

*As a boy I was attracted to the history of Britain and Ireland as well as Celtic and Anglo-Saxon peoples in America.  The peoples of those islands recorded a dramatic history that I felt connected to.  They also developed a compelling tradition of telling these history stories with as much drama and excitement as possible eg. Shakespeare.

At a library book sale, I bought, for 50 cents a volume, three biographies from a numbered set from like 1920 of “notable personages,” something like that. 

These just looked like the kind of books that a cool gentleman had.  Books that indicated status and intelligence. 

One of this set that I got was Hernando Cortes.  I started that one, but even at that tender age I perceived Cortes was not someone to get behind.  The biography had a pro-Cortes slant I found distasteful. 

Another volume was about Mary Queen of Scots.

Just on her name, really, I started reading that one. 

Mary Queen of Scots’ life was a thrilling story, and this one was melodramatically told.  Affairs, murder plots, insults, rumor, execution. 

Sometime thereafter, at school, we were all assigned like a book report.  To read a biography, any biography, and write a report about it. 

Since I’d already read Mary’s biography, I picked her. 

As it happened, I overheard my dad confusedly ask my mom why, of all people on Earth, I’d chosen Mary Queen of Scots as the topic for my biography project.  My dad did not know the backstory, which my mom patiently explained. 

My dad’s reaction on hearing I’d picked Mary Queen of Scots, while not as harsh as Kevin Hart’s imagined reaction on hearing his son had a dollhouse, helps me to understand where Kevin Hart was coming from.  Confusion, for starters.  Upsetness.

At the time the guys I thought were really heroes were probably like JFK and Hemingway.  


A funny idea

IMG_3140

from this week’s Economist

if you read about Nietzsche there’s always this idea that at some point he “went” insane.  A funny idea is trying to determine where the line is there, exactly.


Yang-Na

This Columbus day, I renew my call for Los Angeles to return to its original name, Yang-Na

Helytimes

Santa Paula, CA Chumash mural Santa Paula, CA Chumash mural

Petition this Columbus Day to return LA back to its original name of Yang-Na:

yang-na from:eternity-street

View original post


Cool

I made the syllabus!


Robert Mueller

Reading up on him on Wikipedia:

He went on to study at Princeton University (receiving an A.B. in 1966), where he continued to play lacrosse; he has cited his teammate David Spencer Hackett’s death in the Vietnam War as an influence on his decision to pursue military service. Hackett was a Marine Corps First Lieutenant in the infantry and was killed in 1967 by small arms fire.

Mueller earned an M.A. in international relations from New York University in 1967 and a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1973, where he served on the Virginia Law Review.

Mueller enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1968, attending officer candidate school, Army Ranger School and Army jump school. He then served as an officer leading a rifle platoon of the 3rd Marine Division during the Vietnam War; he eventually became aide-de-camp to 3rd Marine Division’s commanding general. He received the Bronze Star, two Commendation Medals, the Purple Heart and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

If my friend was killed in Vietnam I don’t think my reaction would be I should go to Vietnam.

Impressive man.