Sac History Happenings

News and developments in Sacramento and California history

August 31, 2012
State Library's Caryl Chessman materials now available

Largely forgotten now, Caryl Chessman's name was known worldwide when he went to the gas chamber on May 2, 1960 after twelve years on San Quentin's Death Row. He had been convicted in 1948 on 17 counts of robbery, kidnapping, and rape after his arrest on suspicion of being the Los Angeles area's notorious "red light bandit," and the kidnapping counts became capital offenses under California's version of the "Little Lindbergh Law." Chessman spent his time on Death Row unsuccessfully fighting his conviction on the basis of improper trial procedure (becoming something of a legal expert in the process), and also wrote several books while in prison (some of the texts of which had to be smuggled out for publication). While admitting that he was no angel-having turned to a life of petty crime as a teenager-Chessman maintained his innocence to the end, and even if he was guilty of these particular charges the fact remained that he never killed anyone. All of these factors made him a lightning rod worldwide for the anti-capital punishment forces, and gained him the support of many prominent individuals. Chessman also caused political headaches for California Governor Pat Brown, and was executed despite Brown's personal opposition to the death penalty.

Chessman 1.jpg 

Sacramento attorney Rosalie S. Asher served as Chessman's legal counsel for almost his entire time on Death Row, along with George T. Davis and others for shorter periods (although Chessman basically represented himself in court). He named her executor of his estate, meaning that she kept not only all of the legal documents pertaining to his court battles, but also a great deal of his personal effects (including correspondence), all of his books translated into numerous languages, most if not all magazine articles that were written about him worldwide, general information on the death penalty, and many personal items of her own. Asher donated this voluminous amount of material to the State Library some years back, and after a lengthy arrangement and cataloging process it is now available to anyone who wishes to view it. A basic catalog record can be found in the library's website under the name "Chessman-Asher collection" (it is almost as much about her as it is him), and a more detailed finding aid is available in the California History Room on the second floor at 900 N Street.

Shown here are two items from the Chessman-Asher collection. One is the cover of Chessman's first book, Cell 2455, Death Row, translated into Italian and issued in paperback in 1974. The other is a photograph of Chessman as a child, riding on the shoulders of his father Serge. Chessman 2.jpg

August 30, 2012
Sacramento entertainment history explored in video interviews

William Burg.JPGLast Sunday local historian and preservationist William Burg surveyed the history of Sacramento's music and nightlife scene in a series of informative video interviews conducted by SacTV.com owner Alex Cooper.

Burg, who is author of four local history books including Sacramento's K St: Where Our City Was Born and Sacramento's Streetcars, explained the ups and downs of central city entertainment going back to Prohibition speakeasies, through the jazz era of the 40s-50s and into the rock period beginning in the 70s. He also noted the impact of the area's rich ethnic diversity on local music.

In a separate video, Burg described some of the highlights in the upcoming Sept. 16 Historic Home Tour sponsored by the Sacramento Old City Association (SOCA). This year the tour will focus on the Poverty Ridge neighborhood.

Here are links to SacTV's interviews with William Burg:

Introduction to Sacramento Scene History
Cultural Diversity
Sacramento Music of the 20th Century
Sacramento Scene 80s/90s
Sacramento Culture
SOCA Home Tour 2012

PHOTO CREDIT: Still of William Burg taken from the SacTV.com video recorded Aug. 23, 2012.

August 29, 2012
Beer tasting and lore at Center for Sacramento History

Buffalo Brewing.jpgBeer making in Sacramento has a long, distinguished history. The Center for Sacramento History will honor that tradition at an upcoming program where visitors can sample contemporary artisan beers, view rare brewery artifacts and speak with an expert on local breweries of the past.

Some of the vintage memorabilia that will be displayed are a weather vane and glass chandelier from Buffalo Brewing, a still-filled beer bottle form 1910, bottles from the 1850s, bottle caps, kegs, spigots, 19th century advertising and other objects from the CSH "vault."

Three local breweries -- Ruhstaller, Track 7 and Two Rivers Cider -- will provide the beers for tasting.

Ed Carroll, a contributor to Midtown Monthly, and author of Sacramento's Breweries, a history of the industry from the Gold Rush to Prohibition, will be on hand to answer questions.

What: Untapped Sacramento History
Where: Center for Sacramento History, 551 Sequoia Pacific Blvd., Sacramento
When: Sept. 5, 5:30 to 8 p.m.
Cost: $35 per adult (includes two pints in a complimentary pint glass, additional pints may be purchased for $5)
For more info: purchase tickets at 916-247-1234 or website

News release

PHOTO CREDIT: Memorabilia from the Buffalo Brewing Company. Courtesy the Center for Sacramento History

August 28, 2012
Labor honored in next Historic City Cemetery tour
Thumbnail image for DS CEMETERY WORKING.JPG

At the next Historic City Cemetery tour docents will describe Sacramento's contributions to the struggle for labor rights, including workman's compensation, the 8-hour workday and safe work conditions. Visitors will hear stories of "bosses, brewers, bakers, politicians, painters, pressmen, carpenters, wobblies, and an entire army of the unemployed" who lived and fought during the town's early years.

What: Early Labor History of Sacramento
Where: Historic City Cemetery, 1000 Broadway, Sacramento
When: Sept. 1, 10 a.m.
Cost: free, but donations are appreciated for restoration and preservation of cemetery artifacts
For more info: 916-264-7839 or 916-448-0811

News release
Event flyer

PHOTO CREDIT: Bob and Marvel Irvine are volunteers who devote many hours a week to restoring and improving gravesites within the Historic City Cemetery. 1999 Sacramento Bee photograph by Dick Schmidt

August 27, 2012
Extended train ride schedules this Labor Day weekend

OBSTEAMME.JPGDuring this holiday weekend train fans will have even more opportunity to ride behind vintage locomotives at Railtown 1897 and Old Sacramento.

In Jamestown Sierra No. 3, the famous "movie star" steam locomotive will carry passengers for the usual 40-minute excursion through Gold Country Hills on Saturday and Sunday. On Monday Railtown's diesel electric engines will take over the rides. Once back at the Roundhouse visitors can get a tour of the facility, enjoy a picnic lunch and listen to old-timey fiddle music by Dave Rainwater. You can buy train tickets in advance online or on site on a first come-first served basis the day of the ride.

In Old Sacramento a ride on the Sacramento Southern will be a great addition to a visit to Gold Rush Days. These excursions take passengers on a 40-minute tour across the scenic Sacramento River levees. You can choose to ride in the open-air gondola or the posh El Dorado air-conditioned observation car. Purchase tickets in advance  or in-person the same day at the Sacramento Southern ticket office on Front St.

What: Steam-Powered Excursion Train Rides - Expanded Schedule Over Labor Day Weekend!
Where: Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, Jamestown
When: Sept. 1-3. Departing hourly from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Cost: $13 adults, $6 youths ages 6-17, free for children 5 and under.
For more info: 209-984-3953 or visit website

What: Weekend Excursion Train Rides - Expanded Schedule During Gold Rush Days!
Where: Trains depart from the Central Pacific Railroad Freight Depot (on Front Street between J and K Street) in Old Sacramento State Historic Park.
When: Sept. 1-3. Departing hourly from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: $10 adults; $5 youths ages 6-17; free for children ages 5 and under ($15 for first class tickets aboard the El Dorado). Normal Railroad Museum admission fees apply during Gold Rush Days $9 adults, $4 youths ages 6-17, free for children ages 5 and under.
For more info: 916-445-6645 or website

News releases

PHOTO CREDIT: Special Father's Day train behind two historic locomotives pulls into Old Sacramento. 1994 Sacramento Bee photograph by Owen Brewer

August 26, 2012
In History's Spotlight: Deena Brush Mapple

DEENA_WATERSKI.JPGBorn: March 3, 1960

Known for: The West Sacramento native is considered one of the most accomplished water skiers of her generation, claiming 26 national titles, 22 national records and 68 professional tournament titles. She also became the first woman to hold the world slalom and jump records simultaneously.

Background: Brush Mapple began water skiing when she was age 2, grabbing an extended garden hose from the back of a power boat and wearing an oversized life jacket and homemade wooden water skis on Lake Winchester, near Clarksburg. Her mother, Carroll, was a national competitor in her youth. Brush Mapple went on to win the junior girls national slalom title in 1972 and 1973 and the girls national jump title in 1975, while attending James Marshall High School (now River City) in West Sacramento. She earned a spot on the U.S. Water Ski Team seven consecutive times. In 1987, she married Andy Mapple, another world-renowned water skier. Between 1987 and 1990, she won 38 consecutive jump championships. She continued to excel in her sport before retiring in 1995.

A highlight: Brush Mapple was elected to the Water Skiing Hall of Fame in 2000.

In History's Spotlight profiles of Sacramento newsmakers were published originally in 2007 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of The Sacramento Bee. They were written by Anthony Sorci. Look for them every Sunday in Sac History Happenings.

August 24, 2012
Gold Rush Days return to Old Sacramento

GRD Gunfighter.jpgFor the 13th consecutive year, Old Sacramento will transform itself into an 1850s Gold Rush town this Labor Day weekend.

Festivities include historical reenactments and impersonations, shootouts, firefighting, dancing, street dramas, pony, carriage, wagon and train rides, gold panning and vintage clothing demos, kids games and a Tent City depicting various businesses as practiced 160 years ago.

There will be plenty of free old-timey music and other period entertainment at stages throughout the district. The popular Johnny Cash Tribute Band will play Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Save Mart Stage.

Gold Rush Days is organized by the Historic Old Sacramento Foundation, the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, the City of Sacramento and California State Parks.

What: Gold Rush Days 2012
Where: Old Sacramento
When: Aug. 31 to Sept. 2: Friday from 9 to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 11 to 7 p.m.; Monday from 11 to 6 p.m.
Cost: free
For more info: 916-808-7777 or website

News Release

PHOTO CREDIT: Gunfighter at Gold Rush Days in Old Sacramento. Courtesy Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau

August 23, 2012
The 100-year-old photo blog

Freddie.jpgRecently a Bee editor came upon a historical photo blog that is well worth sharing here.

Shorpy is "an online archive of thousands of high-resolution photos from the 1850s to 1950s." Containing shots by both amateur and professional photographers, the posted images cover a wide range of time periods and subjects. Many come from the Library of Congress. Some come from family photo collections. You can search for items by keyword, or browse a list of galleries that include topics such as animals, aviation, eateries & bars, holidays, kids, politics, railroads and many more.

Shorpy photos set in the Sacramento area:

Five Plus Pup, 1936: Destitute family camped near the American River (Dorothea Lange).

Jean Gotchy, 1959: Sacramento girl age 14.

Freddie the Newsie, 1915: A young newspaper hawker in Sacramento.

Hasty Messenger, 1915: An employee of the Hasty Messenger Service of Sacramento.

Kiddie TV, 1950s: A group of Cub Scouts from North Sacramento meet the stars of a kids' TV show.

Incidentally, the Shorpy blog is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, an Alabama coal miner.

August 22, 2012
New book on history of Weinstock's

444-5-weinstocks-cover-blog.jpgLocal historian Annette Kassis has recently published a book through History Press on the history and legacy of Weinstock, Lubin & Co., a retail giant that was headquartered in Sacramento for more than a century.

Weinstock's: Sacramento Finest Department Store traces the humble beginnings, impressive growth, business innovations and eventual decline and closure of Sacramento's landmark department store with emphasis on the business philosophy and practices behind the store's successes.

In an interview posted on the History Press website, Kassis provides a preview of the book.

Annette Kassis studied history at CSU Sacramento and UC Santa Barbara.  She is a historian and researcher specializing in media, advertising, consumerism and popular culture, and her past work experience includes almost 20 years as co-owner of K&H Advertising, LLC, a Sacramento-based advertising agency.

Weinstock's: Sacramento Finest Department Store by Annette Kassis (History Press), 144 pages, $19.99

August 21, 2012
Muckrakers' battle with Central Pacific told in new book

RailroadWarbook.JPGAt the end of the 19th century two muckraking writers -- one a newspaper man, the other a novelist -- challenged one of the nation's most powerful corporations, the Central Pacific Railroad.

The image of the California-based railroad as a exploitative, manipulating monster was vividly drawn in Amborse Bierce's series of articles written for the San Francisco Examiner after the CP managed to avoid repaying federal loans. Using Bierce's work and other sources, Frank Norris later crafted the fictionalized account of farmer versus railroad in the naturalistic novel, The Octopus.

The battle between the two writers and the company is freshly told in The Great American Railroad War, a new work by Dennis Drabelle, contributing editor of The Washington Post Book World. Drabelle describes how the railroad developed, grew into a formidable economic and political power and subsequently attracted the ire of Bierce and Norris. Kirkus Reviews calls it a "a nicely crafted portrait of monopolists and muckrakers."

The Great American Railroad War: How Ambrose Bierce and Frank Norris Took On the Notorious Central Pacific Railroad
St. Martin's Press, 320 pages, $26.99

August 20, 2012
New guidebook for San Francisco's Chinatown

SFChinatownbook.gifSan Francisco's Chinatown is the nation's oldest Chinese enclave. Historian and retired architect Philip P. Choy has produced a richly illustrated volume that celebrates the history and architecture of this remarkable community, tracing its development from earliest pre-earthquake days through its transformation into a tourist venue.

In addition to many historical and contemporary photographs, San Francisco Chinatown includes walking tours and a building-by-building description of the most important sites.

Choy taught the nation's first college course in Chinese history at San Francisco State and has served on the California State Historic Resource Commission, on the San Francisco Landmark Advisory Board and five times as President of the Chinese Historical Society of America. He is author of The Coming Man: 19th Century American Perceptions of the Chinese and Canton Footprints: Sacramento's Chinese Legacy.

Read an excerpt from the book on the Huffington Post.

San Francisco Chinatown: A Guide to Its History and Architecture by Philip P. Choy
City Lights Publishers, 184 pages, $15.95

August 19, 2012
In History's Spotlight: Bob Wilkins

Bob Wilkins.JPGBorn: April 11, 1932
Died: Jan. 7, 2009

Known for: A Sacramento television staple for 16 years, Wilkins hosted "Seven Arts Theatre," then later "Creature Features," where he would introduce a horror or science fiction movie, show half of it, then would interview stars in that genre during intermission.

Background: In the early 1960s, Wilkins worked for KCRA-TV Channel 3, writing and producing commercials. In 1966, he was offered his own show at 11:30 p.m. Saturdays. Eschewing a ghoulish outfit, Wilkins wore a a conservative suit and tie, sat in a rocking chair, wore horn-rimmed glasses and smoked his trademark large cigar. He became a pop culture fixture, especially after his "Creature Features" show debuted in 1971 on KTVU-TV Channel 2 in the Bay Area. That year, his local show moved from Channel 3 to KTXL-TV Channel 40, where it ran until 1982. Christopher Lee, William Shatner, Mark Hamill and Boris Karloff were some of the stars who appeared on his show.

A highlight: Speaking about why his show gained an early audience, Wilkins told The Bee in 2001, "There were no videotapes, no VCR machines. If you wanted to see an old movie, you had to be in front of the television at a particular time. And that made it more special."

In History's Spotlight profiles of Sacramento newsmakers were published originally in 2007 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of The Sacramento Bee. They were written by Anthony Sorci. Look for them every Sunday in Sac History Happenings.

August 16, 2012
How to find living people for family research

Thumbnail image for JewsofSingSing.JPGFor the family historian living people are an important source of information on one's ancestors. And finding living people is a research challenge in and of itself. Monday evening the Jewish Genealogical Society will present Bay Area genealogist Ron Arons who'll explain the many sources on the Internet that can help you locate people -- even if you don't have their correct surnames.

Arons got started in genealogy researching his own ancestors, one of whom served time in New York's Sing Sing Prison. That led to a grant for historical study of Jewish criminals and the resulting publication of The Jews of Sing Sing.

What: "Searching for Living People," Jewish Genealogical Society of Sacramento Meeting
Where: Albert Einstein Residence Center, 1935 Wright St., Sacramento
When: Aug.20, 7 p.m.
Cost: free, open to all
For more info: email or website

August 16, 2012
Hetch Hetchy story told in a new illustrated book

Hetchbook.jpgThe controversial damming of the Tuolumne River in the Hetch Hetchy Valley brought needed water to the Bay Area beginning in 1934. John Muir and other conservationists fought the project for years prior to its approval by Congress in 1913. Today, there is serious discussion of removing the dam and restoring the valley to its natural condition.

The story of the huge engineering effort that tamed the valley for water and power is the subject of a new "Images of America" volume published by Arcadia.

Author Beverly Hennessy,  who served as communications director for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, drew upon the extensive SFPUC photo archive for images documenting some 100 years of Hetch Hetchy and O'Shaughnessy Dam history.

Hetch Hetchy (Images of America), 128 pages, $21.99.

Arcadia Publishing is known for producing small, richly illustrated books on local and regional history. It typically partners with local historians and organizations in developing its publications, which now number nearly 7,500 titles celebrating communities all across the country.

August 15, 2012
New Arcadia photo book on Coloma

Colomabook.jpgThe discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848 sparked the Gold Rush and utterly transformed California. It also transformed Coloma from a sleepy backwater into a thriving mining town of 10,000 in a matter of months.

Local author Barbara Sederquist traces the history of Coloma from boom time through a period of agricultural development, up to the establishment of the State Historic Park and growth as a tourist venue.

Photographs in this Arcadia volume come mostly from collections housed at the Marshall Gold State Historic Park and the California State Library.

Coloma (Images of America), 128 pages, $21.99.

Arcadia Publishing is known for producing small, richly illustrated books on local and regional history. It typically partners with local historians and organizations in developing its publications, which now number nearly 7,500 titles celebrating communities all across the country.

August 14, 2012
Enjoy beer and a train ride in Old Sacramento

RR Ales on Rails Track 7.jpgTrack 7 Brewing Company and the Sacramento Southern Railroad are teaming up for an adults-only "Ales on Rails" excursion train ride this Saturday.

Passengers on this 40-minute ride along the Sacramento River can choose to sit in closed vintage closed coaches with comfortable seats or open-air "gondolas" with bench seating. Cost of admission includes three signature beers (Alkali Wit, Bee Line Blonde and Daylight Amber), appetizers by Crisp Catering, the train ride and commemorative glass.

Purchase tickets in advance online.

What: "Ales on the Rails" Sunset Train Ride
Where: California State Railroad Museum, Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Train depart from the Central Pacific Railroad Freight Depot (on Front Street between J and K Streets).
When: Aug. 18. Evening excursion train departs at 7:30 p.m. Boarding at 7:15 p.m.
Cost: $40 per person for adults ages 21 and older (plus a $3 online service fee per ticket)
For more info: 916-445-5995 or website

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy California State Railroad Museum

August 13, 2012
How they had fun at Sutter's Fort
SF ELP 2.JPG

Life was hard for California's early pioneers. But when the work was done, there was time for a little recreation.

The next Sutter's Fort "Hands on History" program will give visitors a taste of 19th century fun and games. There will be games of skill, like barrel hoop races, the game of Graces, tug-o'-war, jump rope, marbles and parlor games. And there will be games of luck, like Three-card Monte, Shut the Box, and the Faro Game.

As usual knowledgeable docents in period attire will be on site for the demonstrations. Toys and games will also be on sale at the trade store.

What: Hands-on-History: Planting is Done and Harvest hasn't Started -- It's time for Fun on the Frontier
Where: Sutter's Fort State Historic Park, 2701 L Street, Midtown, Sacramento
When: Aug. 18, 10 to 5 p.m.
Cost: $7 per adult (18 and older), $5 per youth (ages 6-17), free for children 5 years and under.
For more info: Call (916) 445-4422or see website

PHOTO CREDIT: Children participate in the Sutter's Fort Environmental Living Program. Courtesy Sutter's Fort State Historic Park

August 12, 2012
In History's Spotlight: Walter Christensen

Walter Christensen.JPGBorn: June 26, 1901
Died: May 15, 1996

Known for: The former Sacramento mayor's efforts to rejuvenate downtown earned him the nickname "Father of the K Street Mall."

Background: A Brooklyn, N.Y., native, Christensen was the son of immigrants from Denmark and the youngest of four children. He was living in San Diego when World War II broke out and was drafted into the Army. After the war, he worked in retail stores in San Diego before moving to Sacramento as general manager and then as owner of The Eastern, a J Street department store. A natty dresser who always wore a bow tie, Christensen was a jovial man who served on dozens of civic boards and committees. He served on the Sacramento City Council from 1962 to 1970, including a stint as mayor in 1966-67. Christensen is remembered as the City Council member who perhaps fought hardest to develop the pedestrian mall. Though the mall, built in 1969, remains controversial, Christensen maintained it was a great idea.

A highlight: When Christensen retired, he would drive downtown from his Land Park residence five mornings a week and stroll along the K Street Mall, greeting passers-by. "Sometimes people come up to me and say, 'Hello, Mr. Mayor.' That makes my day," he said in 1984

In History's Spotlight profiles of Sacramento newsmakers were published originally in 2007 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of The Sacramento Bee. They were written by Anthony Sorci. Look for them every Sunday in Sac History Happenings.

August 10, 2012
Historical topographical maps now online

Brighton 1911.JPGU.S. Geological Survey (USGS) topographic maps illustrate in great detail the geographical contours and natural and man-made features of this vast country.  While previously only available in printed form, the switch to digital has meant that 125 years of historical USGS topographic maps are now being made available online.  

Over the past two years, USGS has been converting historical maps from its Topographic Map Archive into a digital format (GeoPDF), and making them freely viewable through the USGS website.  More than 200,000 are now available to search, view and download. The map database serves as a valuable tool for those researching the changing geography of the Sacramento region.  And there are plenty of Sacramento-area maps to choose from: a quick search for Sacramento maps through the USGS Map Locator yields 28 maps of Sacramento-area quadrangles, spanning 1891-2012.

Visit The National Map website to learn more about the digitization of historical maps and other USGS topographic map projects. 

IMAGE CREDIT: Detail of Brighton Quadrangle, U.S. Geological Survey, 1911.

August 9, 2012
The State Library celebrates the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War

The California State Library's monthly cultural series, "A Night at the State Library," resumes on Wednesday, August 15 and will feature Dr. Robert J. Chandler, a widely recognized authority on the American West, who will discuss California during the Civil War years. Even though the state was remote from the war's battlefields, many of its citizens actively fought in the hostilities, and Californians gave great financial support mainly to the Union. And even though California had been a free state since 1850, a fair amount of its population came from the South and supported slavery: the war once and for all settled the issue of which way California would turn.

Gettysburg.jpgIn conjunction with this presentation, some of the best Civil War materials in the library's collection are on display in its first floor rotunda. Among them are letters from Californians serving in the United States Army, some of whom did not come anywhere close to the Eastern battlefields and spent the war protecting Western facilities from local Native American tribes. Also on exhibit are pro-Union speeches by Reverend Thomas Starr King, the famous "wallpaper" edition of the Vicksburg, Mississippi Daily Citizen, an engraving of the bombardment of Fort Sumter, and seldom seen textbooks and other volumes from the Confederate States, who found themselves cut off from the big Northern publishers and had to print these works themselves. In addition, the California History Section is showcasing books on the Civil War as it affected California and the Southwest for the August book display in its second floor reading room.

Monitor.jpgThe California State Library is located at 900 N Street in Sacramento. The "A Night at the State Library" event will, as mentioned above, take place on August 15. The doors open at 5PM and the presentation begins at 6PM. Light refreshments will be served. Admission is free: please RSVP to rfontaine@library.ca.gov or 916-653-9942 if you plan to attend.

August 8, 2012
Three smart history podcasts

Symbol_Podcasting_00.pngThe Internet Age is a golden age for history buffs. Think of the sheer quantity of material -- lectures, conferences, books, articles, photographs, paintings, maps, census records, historic audio and video clips, all kinds of of primary and secondary resources -- available at the click of a mouse.

There are also podcasts devoted to history. Podcasts (for the uninitiated) are audio or video series produced by amateurs or professional outlets on every imaginable topic. Some are quite serious and educational, some very silly and superficial. You can get apps for your computer, smart phone or media player to automatically download new episodes of a podcast as soon as they're available.

Lately I've been enjoying three history-oriented programs that are smart, well-researched and thought-provoking. (I'm sure there are others. Share your favorites in the comment section below.) You can find these in the iTunes store. (They're free to download.)

BackStory with the American History Guys. Hosted by three experts representing the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, BackStory aims to bring a "historical perspective to the events happening around us today." Episodes take a contemporary political or cultural issue or trend and trace its evolution from colonial times to the present. Recent topics include: the concept of "American Exceptionalism;" the role of the Post Office in U.S. development; the changing character of courtship and marriage; and the continuing battle over teaching evolution in the schools. It's an engaging, well-produced series -- sort of history's answer to the science program RadioLab.

My History Can Beat Up Your Politics. My History examines the historical antecedents of today's hot political trends and debates. Host Bruce Carlson is articulate, well-informed and refreshingly neutral in his politics. His romps through American history often reveal lesser-known facts that cast a thought-provoking light on contemporary events. Recent topics include: choosing a Vice President; the legal history behind the Supreme Court's healthcare decision; Presidential communication; what Obama can learn from Truman's 1948 election; and the critical role of swing states in the 1912 election.

C-Span Lectures in History. Part of C-Span's American History TV series, Lectures in History lets viewers drop into a history class led by some of the country's top university professors. Recent topics include: the Great Migration from the South of African Americans in the early 20th century; the Truman/MacArthur conflict; socialism in America; political economy in the 1970s; and redistricting and gerrymandering in U.S. history.

August 7, 2012
Pioneering California women profiled in new book
675-3-ca-women-trailblazers-cover-blog.jpg

A brand new book profiles 40 remarkable women who contributed to the development of the state, broke barriers and opened opportunities for generations of women to follow.

In a publisher's Q&A the co-authors of Women Trailblazers of California: Pioneers to the Present say they included "many multicultural women who lived in diverse time periods and parts of the state. Some of the women are well-known while others have been overlooked or unacknowledged."

Among them are Julia Morgan, California's first licensed architect and Hearst castle designer, Josephine McCracken, writer and environmentalist who helped preserve the Redwoods, Dolores Huerta co-founder of the United Farm Workers and actress Mary Pickford who helped create United Artists Pictures.

Dr. Gloria Harris is a trained psychologist who taught women's studies at San Diego State University and chaired the San Diego County Commission on the Status of Women. Hanna Cohen is a librarian, public affairs consultant and advocate for the homeless. Both are board members of the Women's Museum of California.

Women Trailblazers of California: Pioneers to the Present
Authors: Gloria G. Harris and Hannah S. Cohen
Publisher: The History Press
192 pages
$19.99 at Amazon

August 6, 2012
Placer County history museums ready for Heritage Trail Tour

Jason and Milo Bernhard.jpgEighteen history museums from Roseville to Tahoe will open their doors free of charge on August 11th and 12th from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. for the 5th annual Heritage Trail Museums Tour. In addition to free admission, participants can expect special demonstrations and summertime treats and beverages at many locations. Hands-on activities will include gold panning, biscuit making and 19th-century games.

The Heritage Trail follows Interstate 80 through Placer County and museums are broken down into Valley, Auburn and Mountain regions. Participants who have their Get Up & Go card (available at any location) stamped at four different museums will be entered in a grand prize drawing for one of three gift baskets.

Woodworking 2.JPGThe Heritage Trail blog offers a detailed trail guide, previews of tour activities and information on purchasing Heritage Trail swag.

What: Heritage Trail Museums Tour
When: August 11-12, 2012, 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Where: Roseville, Rocklin, Lincoln, Penryn, Foresthill, Colfax, Dutch Flat, Auburn, Norden, Boreal Mt. Resort, Tahoe City
For more info: http://theheritagetrail.blogspot.com/ and Heritage Trail Guide; 1-530-889-6500

PHOTO CREDIT: A sack race at the Bernhard Museum Complex (top) and a young girl hammers a nail at a woodworking station (bottom); Images courtesy Placer County Museums.

August 5, 2012
In History's Spotlight: Thomas P. Raley

RALEY_THOMAS.JPGBorn: April 8, 1903
Died: Dec. 27, 1991

Known for: Raley parlayed a small Placerville store that opened in 1935 into one of the largest supermarket chains in the West.

Background: An Arkansas native, Raley was the 13th of 14 children of a Baptist preacher and farmer. After graduating from business college in Springfield, Mo., he moved to Los Angeles and went to work for an ice and cold-storage firm. He later was a store manager for Safeway Stores in San Francisco. With less than $1,000 in capital, Raley opened his first store in El Dorado County. He advertised his store as "the nation's first drive-in market." In 1942, he opened stores in Sacramento. His innovations included a self-service meat counter and debuting the "superstore" concept which merged markets and drugstores. The company, which in 1993 purchased the Bel Air chain and in 1998 the Nob Hill Foods chain, owns 116 stores in California and 13 in northern Nevada.

A highlight: Speaking about his life, Raley once told an interviewer, "My business is my vocation, my recreation. It's my everything. When I want to relax, I go down to my stores."

In History's Spotlight profiles of Sacramento newsmakers were published originally in 2007 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of The Sacramento Bee. They were written by Anthony Sorci. Look for them every Sunday in Sac History Happenings.

August 2, 2012
Horsing Around at the Historic City Cemetery

Pony Express ad.JPGTours at the Historic City Cemetery refer to monuments and grave markers to tell stories and relate fascinating facts about early Sacramento and its early pioneers.

This Saturday's event honors, not people, but a noble animal friend: the horse. Horses played an important part in the development of the city and this tour celebrates the horse with tales of the Pony Express, Wells Fargo stagecoaches and saddle makers. As a special treat members of the Pony Express Association will greet visitors on horseback.

What: Horsing Around
Where: Historic City Cemetery, 1000 Broadway, Sacramento
When: Aug. 4, 10 a.m.
Cost: free but donations for restoration/preservation of cemetery artifacts are appreciated.
For more info: 916-264-7839, 916-448-0811 or website

Event flyer

PHOTO CREDIT: An advertisement in the Sacramento Daily Bee promoting the Pony Express mail service (circa 1860). Click image for a bigger view.

August 1, 2012
Fourth Annual CAM Car Cruise

JV_CRUISE 145.JPGCalling all classic car fans. It's time again for the California Automobile Museum's Annual Car Cruise. Come see a caravan of hundreds of great cars from all eras and manufacturers. The cruise ends with a big car show and awards ceremony. Plus a beer garden, vendors and live music by Todd Morgan & the Emblems.

Awards will be given in 22 categories ranging from Favorite Muscle Car to Favorite Model T/A.

What: Fourth Annual California Automobile Museum Car Cruise
Where: Starting at 3000 J St. (CSUS Lot 1) and ending at Fulton between Camino and Marconi for the car show. See route map.
When: Aug. 4. Cruise starts at 4 p.m. Vehicles park for show at 5 p.m. Awards ceremony at 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $50 for participants; free for spectators.
For more info: Cruise brochure, Participant Registration Form and CAM web site.

PHOTO CREDIT: 1934 Ford Coupe on display at the 2nd Annual CAM Car Cruise. 2010 Sacramento Bee photograph by Jose Luis Villegas



About Sac History Happenings

California and Sacramento have a long, rich, vibrant history. And our region is blessed with an abundance of historical resources maintained by museums, libraries, archives and societies. This blog aims to alert readers to the latest developments in local/state historical education and research.

Send tips concerning upcoming exhibits, tours, lectures and meetings, as well as new books, magazine articles and online collections to the blog's contributors.

The Contributors:

Michael Dolgushkin

Michael Dolgushkin is Manuscript Librarian at the California State Library History Section. He is co-author of San Francisco's California Street Cable Cars and is a frequent contributor to the California State Library Foundation Bulletin. Contact him at mdolgushkin@library.ca.gov.

Amanda Graham

Amanda Graham is a Certified Archivist working in the Sacramento Room of the Sacramento Public Library. She earned a BS in History from Southern Oregon University and a MS in Information Studies with an emphasis in archives from The University of Texas at Austin. Contact her at agraham@saclibrary.org.

Pete basofin

Pete Basofin is Director of Editorial Research at The Sacramento Bee. He previously worked at The St. Petersburg Times and Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune. Contact him at pbasofin@sacbee.com.

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