Berkeley, a Look Back: World War I veterans honored in 1920

A century ago on Sunday, May 30, 1920, military veterans joined with University of California students “in a solemn program for those who have died in the war with Germany.” National memorial programs were held the next day, but “in view of the large number of Californians represented on the roll of honor in the war with Germany, it was felt by officers of the Berkeley post of the American Legion that it would be appropriate to hold special services for those who fell during the last war on Sunday afternoon,” the Berkeley Daily Gazette reported.

“The exercises will be held at the big flagpole on campus” which, then as now, stood west of California Hall. The paper said students would plant a memorial tree on campus after the event, but the planting location was not noted.

City finances: “Berkeley’s city treasury is so depleted that tomorrow the City Council will vote to cut down street lighting to the war schedule program in order that the fiscal year may be finished without a deficit,” the Gazette reported May 27, 1920. “City Auditor Elmer Bell admitted today that at the present time there is only about $2,000 left in the city treasury.”

Reducing street lights reportedly would save the city an estimated $2,000 a month. City Council member George Schmidt told the paper he proposed the lighting reduction, saying “he believed the city could dispense with the ‘great white way’ effects during the summer months.” The reference was probably to Broadway in New York City, which was known for its brilliant electrical lights.

Downtown fire: The Roosevelt Hospital (later named Herrick Hospital) on Milvia at Dwight was threatened May 29 by a fire that burned the roof of a house at 2432 Milvia St. “Fanned by the wind, the flames leaped toward the hospital buildings and close to a dwelling house in the middle of the road, which is being moved from the new high school site.” Readers will remember I recently wrote about buildings moved to new locations from what are now the Berkeley High School grounds.

Fake students: From the May 26, 1920, Gazette, it was reported that “Because many persons during the summer are fraudulently selling goods, in the guise of being university students working their way through college, the president’s office of the university has issued a warning to the citizens that no person’s representations as a student be honored unless he can show some signed identification as a student in the university.”

Park pageant: On May 29, 1920, the Berkeley Playground Department held a “Spring Pageant” at Codornices Park. The centerpiece of the event was “an instructive Indian pageant,” entitled “ ’How the Mewans Came to Be’ … which will depict some of the myths and legends of these peoples who were the first Indian tribe to inhabit this vicinity.” The pageant included characters titled “Star Maidens,” “Sun-woman,” “Whirl-Wind,” “Evening Star,” “Rainbow Maidens,” “Night Shadows” and “Fog Maidens.” “The Camp Fire girls will take the role of Indians,” the article added.

The program, the Gazette reported May 28, “was written by Mrs. Marion Gould and Miss Zaharah Preble, both of this city. Both … have made exhaustive study of Indian life, their traditions, legends and myths and thoroughly understand the customs and characteristics of Indian people.”

This makes for uncomfortable reading today. First, it seems like cultural appropriation in the sense that a group that appeared to be entirely Caucasian undertook to “tell the story” of native people. Second, the pageant seemed to imply that native peoples had vanished from the Bay Area. They had not, although they had been forcibly displaced and submerged by the dominant immigrant cultures.

Steven Finacom holds this column’s copyright, is a Bay Area native and is a community historian in Berkeley.

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Author: Steven Finacom