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Friday, January 27, 2012

Lake County's 49ers and the California Gold Rush

The California Gold Rush (1848 - 1855) began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California.

U.S. Postal stamp commemorating the sesquicentennial of the California Gold Rush, 1999 issue.

Word spread slowly at first, and the initial gold-seekers were mainly from the westMexico, California and Oregon.

In the fall of 1848, George Allen Hibbard left for the gold mines, "being the first adventurer in that direction from Lake County." (Elijah Haines) Hibbard went to St. Louis, Missouri where he joined Colonel Fremont's expedition, apparently as a means of reaching the California gold fields.

Colonel Fremont, also known as the Great Pathfinder, shown in an 1856 campaign image, glorifying his expeditions to the West.

Fremont was seeking a new route for the railroad to connect St. Louis and San Francisco along the 38th parallel through the Rockies. On December 12, on Boot Mountain in Colorado, it took the party 90 minutes to progress 300 yards. George Hibbard, along with nine others, perished in that snowstorm.

By the spring of 1849, word of the Gold Rush had spread worldwide. Among the "forty-niners" from Lake County: Isaiah Marsh, George Ferguson, D.H. Sherman, William and James Steele, Jacob Miller, Joseph Lamb.

The name "forty-niners" was derived from the year 1849.

Joseph Lamb of Warren Township was one of the 49ers from Lake County. Photo circa 1900. LCDM 2003.0.43

By 1850, the most easily accessible gold had been collected, but the influx of emigrants continued to increase. Some notable Lake Countians who ventured to California in that year included: Isaac L. Clarke (Waukegan), Mark Bangs (Wauconda), John Closes (Shields), George Gridley (Vernon), and Jeremiah Stowell (Benton/Waukegan).

Eleazar Stillman Ingalls (1820-1879) of Antioch left for the Gold Rush on March 27, 1850, and reached Placerville, California (formerly Hangtown) on August 21st. He was accompanied by Patrick Renehan, Thomas John Renehan and Charles Litwiler of Avon Township (among others).

Eleazar Stillman Ingalls, circa 1860. Ingalls lived in Antioch from 1838 - 1859. Photo from the collections of the Menominee County Historical Society. 

In Ingalls' extraordinary account of his journey titled: "Journal of a Trip to California by the Overland Route Across the Plains," he describes coming across newly dug graves, dead cattle and horses, and "emigrants" begging for food, who by miscalculation or bad luck had run out of supplies.

He wrote in his journal on July 28: "The appearance of emigrants has sadly changed since we started. Then they were full of life and animation, and the road was enlivened with the song of "Oh, California, that's the land for me," but now they crawl along hungry, and spiritless, and if a song is raised at all, it is "Oh carry me back to Old Virginia..."

Ingalls remained in California 18 months where he was profitably engaged in merchandising. He returned to Antioch and practiced law there and in Waukegan. In 1859, he moved his family to Wisconsin, finally settling in Menominee.

At least fifteen men from Lake County joined Captain Parker H. French's ill-fated "Overland Express Train" in the spring of 1850. French promised to take the travelers from New York to San Diego, California in 60 days for the cost of $250 each. It was in fact a scheme to swindle money. French duped the gold-seekers out of tens of thousands of dollars, and the merchants who supplied them out of much more.

Parker H. French from a lithograph in Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 1856.

By the time they reached San Antonio, Texas after much frustration and many delays, French's scheme had caught up with him and he was arrested. The 60 day time limit on the trip had expired, and they were still 1,500 miles from San Diego. The men of the expedition gathered what supplies and cash they could, broke into groups, and continued west or went home.

Another interesting character from Lake County who headed for the gold fields was Archimedes Wynkoop (1812-c. 1880) of Libertyville. Wynkoop was a farmer, county recorder of deeds from 1839-1841, and the publisher/editor of the county's first newspaper, The Little Fort Porcupine and Democratic Banner. 

In 1851, Wynkoop left  for California, forcing his wife Eliza (nee Slocum) and their children to move to Wauconda to live with her sister. It was understood that there had been a “tragic and mysterious interruption” in Eliza’s marriage.

A letter from Wynkoop to his brothers in Chemung, New York in November 1851 describes his share in three California gold mines. He noted that the gold was fine and had “to be taken up by quicksilver,” also known as mercury. The next record of Wynkoop is from the 1860 census where he is listed as 48-years old and residing in the Stockton Insane Asylum in California and listed as insane and suffering from a “religious affliction.” It is very probable his insanity was caused by his use of mercury in mining for gold. He died some time after August 1880 at the asylum.

Emigrant party on the road to California lithograph from the book, "The Emigrants Guide to the Golden Land." 1850. The guide was written for English "emigrants" to California, giving useful information on history, geography, and laws.

It is estimated that at least 100 men traveled from Lake County to the gold fields of California between 1848 - 1853. Some perished from the rigors of travel or disease, others remained in California and sent for their families, but most returned home to Lake County.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Charlie Chaplin, Max Linder and Essanay Studios

George K. Spoor (1871-1953), founded Essanay Studios in Chicago in 1907 with Gilbert "Broncho Billy" Anderson (1880-1971). The name Essanay was derived from the initials of the men's surnames "S and A."

Essanay logo as seen on promotional lantern slides used at theaters, circa 1915. (Dunlap Collection 64.32, Bess Bower Dunn Museum)

Spoor landed in the movie business after managing Edward Amet's (1861-1945) Magniscope and film distribution business out of Waukegan in the 1890s. When Amet quit the business, Spoor went to Chicago to found a film studio.

Although Essanay Studios had a relatively short run in the business (1907 - circa 1918), they employed some of the most famous silent film actors to grace the silver screen: Francis X. Bushman, Wallace Beery, Gloria Swanson (a Chicago native), Charlie Chaplin, and the often overlooked Max Linder.

Charlie Chaplin signed with Essanay in 1915 (after his contract ended with the Keystone Film Company) for an unprecedented $1,250 per week and a $10,000 signing bonus. Chaplin made fourteen films with Essanay, although only the first one, "His New Job," was filmed at Essanay's Chicago studio located at 1343-45 West Argyle Street.

Movie still from "His New Job" starring Ben Turpin (left) and Charlie Chaplin. Released by Essanay February 1, 1915.
Promotional lantern slide for Chaplin's first Essanay film "His New Job." Dunlap Collection 64.32.29, Bess Bower Dunn Museum.
The most celebrated of the Essanay comedies, "The Tramp" (released: April 11, 1915) is regarded as the first classic Chaplin film. Of course, the Tramp character also made Chaplin an icon.

Even after Chaplin left Essanay Studios, which had relocated to Hollywood, California, the studio continued to release "new" Chaplin comedies using old film clips and out-takes. This practice became common with entrepreneurs trying to sate the demand for Chaplin's films, despite the long wait before his next feature was released. Chaplin was such a perfectionist that it sometimes took a year or more for him to finish a film.

With Chaplin's departure, Essanay needed a new comedian. They turned to French comedic actor, Max Linder. Interestingly, Chaplin considered himself a "student" of Linder whom he called "the great master."
Max Linder, circa 1916. Essanay Collection, Bess Bower Dunn Museum.
In the pre-World War I silent film era, Max Linder (1883-1925) was number one at the box office. By 1910, he was an internationally popular comedian with his character “Max, the dapper dandy.” Wearing a suit and top hat, the dandy lived in luxury, but continually got into funny situations.

In 1914, Linder’s career was put on hold when World War I began in Europe. He enlisted with the French army, and suffered illness from gas poisoning. By 1916, he had recovered, and signed the contract with Essanay Studios in the United States.
Colorized glass lantern slide showing a scene from Max Linder's "Max in a Taxi." Essanay Studios 1916. Dunlap Collection 64.32.31, Bess Bower Dunn Museum.
Linder only made three films with Essanay when his health failed once again and he was forced to take a year off. When he returned to films, Charlie Chaplin had taken over as the biggest box office draw. However, Linder's “mirror gag” in which he mirrors the action of another character was resurrected by the Marx Brothers in their 1933 film, “Duck Soup.”

Max Linder as "Max the dapper dandy" in his famous pose. Still from Essanay Studio's "Max in a Taxi" 1916. Essanay Collection, Bess Bower Dunn Museum.
Although only 105 of Max Linder’s 500 movies have survived, silent movie fans are re-discovering his charm, and critics are acknowledging his great contribution to the development of film comedy alongside Charlie Chaplin.