Richard Schwartz, 2000
Before the Free Speech Movement, before the cyclotron, Berkeley was a sleepy
western village making the transition to bustling turn-o'-the-century college
town. This book is a compilation of articles from the Berkeley Gazette,
mostly from 1900 and 1905. Here is a sample, from an article titled MRS.
COW COMMITS SUICIDE: "Perhaps because she feared to undergo the dreaded
tuberculin test or perhaps because her bovine lover no longer smiled at her,
a cow of this city committed suicide a few days ago, by eating a can of green
paint. [...] The distinguished quadruped, which will without doubt be given
its proper place among the wonderful things produced by Berkeley, was owned
by Mrs. Rose Stricker of 1509 Carlton street. The cow died under strange
circumstances. If it had been the death of a man or woman, instead of a
cow, bright journalism might have said the death was mysterious. Anyway the
cow died. [...] The autopsy, like many other operations, was a great success.
It revealed that the cow was dead. Also, that the cow had died from the
effects of eating a can of green paint, minus the can." Other, less sarcastic
items include stories about irate neighbors complaining about the gypsy
camp at the west end of town, laudatory articles about brave girls keeping
their heads and putting out fires or saving drowning men, editorials about
how the Berkeley train station needs a drinking fountain, and so forth.
This is kind of a slapdash affair, with duplicated articles and some scans
that are so poor as to be unreadable. Reading this book is essentially a
convenient version of going to the library, getting the microfilm archives
of your hometown newspaper, and randomly reading articles from 100 years ago.
I actually do that sometimes, and Berkeley is basically my home town at this
point (or at least 1A behind northeastern Orange County), so I found this
an enjoyable book to dip into while waiting for trains and things. It's not
the sort of thing you'd want to sit and read as if it were a novel. And if
you don't have any sort of connection to Berkeley it's probably not going to
do a lot for you. You have to be able to look at a photo of a pair of
crisscrossing dirt tracks with stray dogs wandering around digging holes
and say, "Whoa, that's Center and Milvia?" (Though as the Kolo
Kitchen people found out, Center and Milvia has about the same level of
pedestrian traffic these days. Maybe they should have sold dog biscuits.)
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