Historical Miscellany

26th January
written by Richard

This week San Diego’s PBS station aired “Wyatt Earp,” a new segment from the American Experience series. The one-hour program spends most of its time on the Tombstone years, remembered for the celebrated “Shootout at the O.K. Corral.” But San Diego history buffs know that Earp and his wife spent some time here during the “Boom of the 80s.” Unfortunately, the PBS program botches this local fact by saying the Earps moved to Los Angeles at that time, and then illustrates their mistake by showing an entry from the San Diego City Directory of 1889-90 (which the show’s writers seem to think was a Los Angeles directory).

Wyatt Earp as he would have appeared in the 1880s.

Which brings up an interesting question. How much do we really know about the Wyatt Earp experience in San Diego? Not much, I’m afraid. While there is no shortage of popular secondary accounts of Earp in town, they all seem to repeat the same tired, poorly documented stories. We’re told the notorious gunfighter turned “capitalist” owned some San Diego property, ran card games, refereed boxing matches, and ran race horses—all of which may be true. But I’ve yet to see an Earp biography that corroborates these particulars with primary source citations, or demonstrates any attempt at research.

Much of our local Earp knowledge comes from biographer Stuart Lake whose 1931 book Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshall was based in part on his interviews with the gunfighter taken shortly before his death in 1929 in Los Angeles. An adept magazine writer, Lake penned a thrilling narrative with only scant commitment to historical accuracy. But the book sold well and created an enduring noble-Earp mythology. An early Hollywood take on the O.K. Corral, “My Darling Clementine,” was based on Lake’s book, as was the 1950s TV show starring Hugh O’Brian.

Stuart Lake says little about San Diego in his book Wyatt Earp but an article in the September 6, 1957 edition of the San Diego Evening Tribune cites Lake for a few specifics. According to Lake, who lived much of his life in San Diego, Wyatt and his wife Josephine bought multiple lots of land in the downtown and Hillcrest areas in 1887. And Earp leased gaming concessions from several saloons. “It was a licensed, respectable business at the time,” Lake claimed.

More San Diego information comes from Glenn Boyer’s 1976 title I Married Wyatt Earp, a book which purports to be based on the recollections of Earp’s widow. Boyer devotes an entire chapter to the Earp’s in San Diego with particular attention to the couples “horse racing days.” Alas, Boyer’s fidelity to truth seems even less than Lake’s and today, most historians believe the book’s sources to be spurious.

Casey Tefertiller’s 1997 biography Wyatt Earp: the Life Behind the Legend is  the most reliable Earp account seen yet. It is soundly researched and respected by historians and critics; regretfully, Tefertiller offers only a single paragraph on Earp in San Diego.

There’s a new book on Earp that sounds promising. Garner Palenske’s Wyatt Earp in San Diego, Life After Tombstone (Graphic Publishers, 2011), tells “the real story of Wyatt Earp’s time in San Diego. . . a story that has never been told before.”  We have that book on order here at the San Diego Public Library but as yet, it’s unseen.

6th December
written by Richard

Just a reminder.  Tomorrow night at the Central Library I’ll be giving a book talk and signing for The Way We Were in San Diego.  It starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library.  Interesting tales and photographs of San Diego history and maybe a good discussion, as well.  Book Talk

And by the way, if anyone has the book already feel free to give it a review on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/dp/1609494415   It really helps!

21st November
written by Richard

Here’s something for your calendar. On Dec. 7 I”ll be giving a book talk and signing for The Way We Were in San Diego. It starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library in the third floor floor auditorium.  Since the library is the host, I’ll pay special attention that night to the history of our library and show a lot of historic photographs of the Carnegie and the current Central Library.

Here’s the announcement from the library: 111115_Press_Release_Rick Crawford

San Diego's Carnegie Library


18th November
written by Richard

Here’s an interview I did with The History Press as my book was coming out. Some of the questions are fun.  http://historypresswest.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/interview-with-richard-w-crawford-author-of-the-way-we-were-in-san-diego-history-press-october-2011/

26th August
written by Richard

Back in December 2010 we talked about digitization of San Diego Directories from the San Diego Public Library.  One glitch in the link above is that most of the directories are not dated on the web site.  I’ve listed these directories below.  Just find the year you need and click on the corresponding title.  I hope that will make it a bit easier.

 1887- 88               Maxwell’s Directory of San Diego City and County for 1887-88

1889-90                 Monteith’s Directory of San Diego and Vicinity for 1889-90

1892                       Directory of San Diego City, Coronado and National City

1893-94                 Directory of San Diego City and County for 1893-94

1895                       San Diego City and County Directory 1895

1897                       San Diego City and County Directory

1899-1900            San Diego City and County Directory 1899-1900

1901                       San Diego City and County Directory

1903                       San Diego City and County Directory

1904                       San Diego City and County Directory

1905                       San Diego City and County Directory

1906                       San Diego City and County Directory

1907                       San Diego City and County Directory

1908                       San Diego City and County Directory

1909                       San Diego City and County Directory

1910                       San Diego City and County Directory

1911                       San Diego City and County Directory

1912                       San Diego City and County Directory

1913                       San Diego City and County Directory

1914                       San Diego City and County Directory

1915                       San Diego City and County Directory

1916                       San Diego City and County Directory

1917                       San Diego City and County Directory

1918                       San Diego City and County Directory

1919                       San Diego City and County Directory

1920                       San Diego City and County Directory

1921                       San Diego City and County Directory

1922                       San Diego City and County Directory

1923                       San Diego City and County Directory

1924                       San Diego City and County Directory

1925                       San Diego City and County Directory

3rd June
written by Richard

Believe it or not, there was a time when the San Diego Public Library was open twelve hours a day, Monday through Saturday, plus Sunday afternoon. The librarians took only three holidays: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, and July 4th.  One of my favorite library photographs is shown here below. Those were the days . . .

In the early 1900s, San Diegans expected and received generous public hours at the Central Library.

28th December
written by Richard

Last May I wrote a post on City Directories: their value to historical researchers and the need for digitization.    These books list personal and business names, addresses, and occupations for most of San Diego County.  Now some great news to report.  Nearly 40 years of San Diego directories are available online from the Internet Archive. 

Several months ago, the Special Collections department of the San Diego Public Library accepted an incredible offer from the Balboa Park Online Collaborative to have these important volumes digitized.  The years from 1887 to 1925 were scanned, page by page through the services of  the BPOC.  Volumes once available only in the California Room at the downtown library,  can now be viewed and searched online, or downloaded in a variety of formats. 

Click here for  San Diego Directories.

Probably the easiest way to use the directories is to read them online.  You can flip through the pages or do a search by name.   One problem, unfortunately, is that the directory titles don’t always show the year.  So here’s a hint.  If you look on the right side of the search results you’ll see “sort results by.”  Click on “Date” and the volumes will be sorted by year.

If you don’t want to rely on your Internet connection you can also download the entire volumes in pdf, full-text, or other formats.  You can even download the directories to a Kindle.

15th November
written by Richard

San Diego is three years away from a new Central Library.  Getting libraries built in San Diego is a historic problem.  Follow the link below for a six-minute video on the plans for the New Central and a history of difficulties in the past: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2010/nov/12/downtown-library-always-too-popular-too-small/

1st June
written by Richard

Newspaper obituaries and death notices are often a first step in uncovering valuable family history information.  In the California Room of the San Diego Public Library, researchers can search a microfiche index of the San Diego Union to look for obituaries.  A “hit” in fiche will reveal the exact newspaper date, page and column, of the obituary.  The obituary or death notice can then be found on microfilm in the Newspaper Room.

The newspaper indexing has an interesting history.  Librarians at the downtown Carnegie Library (the site of today’s Central Library) began creating the subject index in 1930.   The subject entries were laboriously typed on 3 x 5 cards to create a massive card catalog.  Eventually, the cards were photographed and the film was printed on microfiche, which researchers now use in the California Room.

The fiche covers much of San Diego history.  The Herald was indexed (1851-1860) and the Union from 1868 to 1983.  The Newsbank database in the Newspaper Room carries the indexing forward since 1983.

Unfortunately, there’s a major hole in the indexing.  The “infamous gap” from 1903 to 1930 occurred when the library ran out of funds.  Staff time became too expensive and the indexing project ended without completion.

The current California Room staff has been slowly filling “the gap” for the all-important obituaries and death notices by entering the missing information into an Access database.  So far, about fourteen years of the gap have been filled in.  A pdf version of the database is available here: Index to Deaths and Obituaries

6th May
written by Richard

Monday through Friday my “real” job is watching over the California Room at San Diego’s downtown Central Library.  Among many collections of note here are the business directories, dating from the late 1880s all the way up to 1984.  Researchers have long appreciated the historical value of these thick volumes—often known as the “Polk Directories”–which list personal and business names, addresses, and occupations for most of San Diego County.  They are invaluable for studying local family or business history, and they are used heavily.

The popularity of our Polks has been a bit of a problem.  Paper and bindings wear out, of course, and we have had to pull a few of our more popular volumes just to prevent their total destruction.  But a solution has appeared.

In the last two months the library has been working with the San Diego Genealogical Society to digitize the directories.  The Genealogical Society’s R. J. Christensen has personally scanned over thirty of our earliest books, ensuring the preservation of the images.  The next step is to index the pdf files, which will give us quick name access to online copies of the directories.  The Society is now working with Ancestry.com to make this last important step possible.  Stay tuned . . .