Saturday, January 7, 2012

Field Trip to University of the Pacific

Muir in Hetch Hetchy Valley, 1895
This past Thursday the Northern California chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists took a field trip (arranged by Sheri Fenley, who unfortunately was not able to attend) to the Holt-Atherton Special Collections at the University of the Pacific Library in Stockton.  Archivist Michael Wurtz gave us a tour and overview of the collections.  Two of the more significant collections at the library are the John Muir Papers, the largest collection of Muir documents in the world; and the Brubeck Collection, the archives of jazz musician Dave Brubeck.  Other collections are Japanese American Internment documents; the University Archives; and Western Americana, which encompasses more than 400 collections, including the Spooner Collection of California stereographs taken between 1875-1905.

Mr. Wurtz showed a PowerPoint presentation about the Stockton State Hospital, formerly known as the Stockton Insane Asylum.  Under various names, it was in operation from 1851-1996.  Researching the hospital has become a project of Mr. Wurtz's since he found information about it in the archives.  The archive has annual reports for the hospital from 1869-1928.  The reports include tables for such things as causes of death and causes of insanity (such as a lost love).

One historical incident connected to the hospital was an 1857 duel between Dr. Washington Ryer and Dr. Samuel Langdon, who disagreed not only about some hospital policies but also about slavery (Ryer was an abolitionist, while Langdon was pro slavery).  By amazing coincidence, I had recently watched a repeat episode of History Detectives where the pistols used in that duel were discussed.  In 1859 the same pistols were used in the duel between U.S. Senator David Broderick and former Chief Justice David Terry.  The latter duel was also caused by a difference of opinion on slavery.  The pistols were owned by a Dr. Aylette, a friend of both Langdon and Terry.  I always find it interesting to see how apparently unrelated events are linked.

After the PowerPoint presentation Mr. Wurtz passed around some sample items he had pulled from the archive.  What captured our interest the most was a box of "mug shot" books from the San Joaquin County Sheriff's office, dating from about 1877-1899.  There are about thirteen books of photographs (totaling about 7,500 photos), almost all of them with names, many of them with numbers, which we guessed were either case or prisoner numbers.  Some men served time in San Quentin, Folsom, and San Francisco, and one person had a number listed for Walla Walla.  Some abbreviations we couldn't decipher (H.B. and H.C. among them).  One book had sections for where the people were from:  Oakland, Solano County, foreign countries.  A few people are noted as being dead.  The vast majority of the photos were of white men, with several Hispanic men; we noted about a dozen white women, a dozen black men, half a dozen Chinese men, and one black woman.

Many of the archive's holdings have been digitized and can be viewed online.  After our fascination with the mug shot books, there are now plans to put the name index for the photos online also.

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