Not Your Century

On hiatus as of March 2020 because of the coronavirus crisis. Get unlimited access to the Chronicle. | A daily celebration of the news — and the news media — of years gone by. King Kaufman takes you on a quick tour of the Bay Area and the world as it used to be, which often colors the world of your century.

1981: "I Am in Control Here, at the White House"
Secretary of State Alexander Haig takes heat for his behavior in the hours after the shooting of President Ronald Reagan, and authorities delve into the bizarre motive of shooter John Hinckley, who wanted to impress teenage actor Jodie Foster.
5 min
1981: "Honey, I Forgot to Duck"
President Ronald Reagan and three others are shot as he walks out of a Washington hotel following a speech to the AFL-CIO. The shooter is John Hinckley, who wanted to impress actress Jodie Foster. No one is aware the president has been hit until after he arrives at the hospital.
5 min
1928: Hundreds Dead, Mulholland Takes the Blame
You know the name Mulholland from the famous street in the Hollywood Hills. Did you know William Mulholland, who designed the aqueduct system that allowed Los Angeles to grow into a big city, was responsible for the second-worst disaster for loss of life in California history? "Don't blame anyone else," he told a jury. "You just fasten it on me."
3 min
1977: The First Female Chief Justice
Rose Bird was used to firsts. She was the first female public defender in Santa Clara County and the first female cabinet secretary in California, and now she was the first female state Supreme Court chief justice in California—and probably the first to get a kiss in public from the governor. But the good times wouldn't last for her.
4 min
1935: Fatso Rats Out Baby Face Nelson's Pals
It was dangerous to call George Nelson "Baby Face" to his face, but Baby Face was dead by 1935, when Fatso Negri walked into a San Francisco courtroom to testify against nine locals accused of helping the notorious gangster when he was on the lam out west. Still, Fatso looked plenty nervous.
3 min
1949: Anti-Semites in the New York Schools?
A litigious former magistrate is suing to get these purveyors of anti-Jewish feeling out of the curriculum. Their names? William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. Plus: The House Un-American Activities Committee had a book out too. It says there are 825,000 domestic traitors and spies in the U.S., and it didn't pull that number out of thin air at all.
3 min
1875: The Best Game of Base Ball Ever
It's a sparkling start to the 1875 season of base ball—which was two words back then. The crack San Francisco Club looks poised to wrest the championship from the Oakland players, having beaten them twice already. Center fielder Murkey is the San Francisco star. In one game, he made two fly-catches!
4 min
1946: Axis Sally Captured, Frank Sinatra Conquers
U.S. counterintelligence agents capture American Nazi propagandist "Axis Sally," who'd been hiding out in Berlin since the end of World War II. Back in San Francisco, bobby soxers with notes from their parents skip school to line up for hours to see Frank Sinatra, whom the Chronicle calls an "astonishingly inoffensive and almost colorless young man."
4 min
1913: Who Killed King George?
Why was King George I of Greece shot and killed as he walked the streets? Greek authorities have a suspect. His motive was a mystery, they say. And that motive would remain a mystery right up until he "fell" out of a police-station window six weeks later.
3 min
1974: The Children of the Divorce Wave
The first comprehensive study of the effect of divorce on children is being conducted as the divorce rate is roughly doubling in a decade. Many of the conclusions seem obvious today, but were anything but 45 years ago. Plus: Rotten advice from columnist Count Marco.
3 min
1907: Weigh a Soul? Nikola Tesla Says No
Nikola Tesla says, "It is altogether too absurd for discussion," and he's somehow not talking about Elon Musk. "It" was whether a person's soul can be weighed, which was a debate in 1907. Plus: Upton Sinclair's house burns down as he's researching a book on the steel industry. Suspicious?
4 min
1984: Larry Flynt and Dianne Feinstein
They didn't have anything to do with each other except they both were in the news. Flynt for wearing an American flag diaper in court, among other protest moves that got him locked up for contempt, Feinstein for talking, at the start of her second San Francisco mayoral term, about her political future. She says that having worked in both the executive and legislative branches, she sees her future in the executive. Narrator voice ...
4 min
1948: A Democratic Party Civil War
Southern Democratic governors, led by Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, vow to oppose the reelection of President Harry Truman, or anyone else who supports Truman's civil rights program. It's the first stirrings of what would become the short-lived Dixiecrat Party, with Thurmond as its nominee.
5 min
1976: Gov. Moonbeam Throws His Hat in the Ring
Jerry Brown, the charismatic 38-year-old governor of California, announces that he's running for the Democratic nomination for president. It's a bit late to do that — the primaries are already in full swing. But not to worry, Brown says. He's only running in California.
4 min
1924: The President's Plan to Slash Taxes
Sound familiar? President Calvin Coolidge wanted Congress to put aside all its other business and get to work on his proposal to slash income taxes. What was it that Silent Cal wanted Congress to stop doing to work on that tax cut? Investigating corruption in the executive branch.
5 min
1916: The U.S. Invades Mexico
In response to a raid on a small New Mexico town by Pancho Villa, President Woodrow Wilson taps Gen. John "Blackjack" Pershing to lead a force across the border to chase the revolutionary leader down. The Punitive Expedition would last until the U.S. entry into World War I the next year.
4 min
1964: Civil Rights at the Palace Hotel
After the biggest mass arrests to date in San Francisco history, demonstrators who had shut down the Palace Hotel were victorious: The city's hotels had agreed to fair hiring practices. As the triumphant protesters carried their leader on their shoulders, she shouted, "We got everything we asked for!" Her name was Tracy Sims. She was 18 years old.
5 min
1956: Gum Machines: Devil's Spawn
Eldon C. Middleton of King Street, Redwood City, has a clear idea of what lies "at the very foundations of wickedness which are threatening to engulf us all." Gumball machines. And he's letting the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors know the awful truth. Today, gumball machines. Tomorrow? "Pinball machines, slot machines, canasta and even Scrabble."
4 min
1913: A Monkey Cage for the Veep
Vice President Thomas Marshall doesn't think much of his new office. History doesn't think much of his tenure as V.P. — neither did the president Marshall served, Woodrow Wilson. But Marshall did leave us with a memorable phrase: "What this country needs is a good 5-cent cigar." Plus: Famous lawyer Clarence Darrow was in court. That certainly wasn't unusual but this was: It was Darrow himself who was on trial!
5 min
1896: Do You Poop Out at Parties?
An ad says the cure for "womb trouble" and all sorts of other female maladies is Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, Blood Purifier and Sensitive Wash, a version of which you can still buy at your local drug store. Plus: The climax of the Italo-Ethiopian War, and Spanish university students burn American flags.
4 min
1922: The Whiskey Heist Heroine
At the height of Prohibition, 100 cases of rare whiskey are stolen from a Menlo Park mansion in a daring robbery. The bandits, who tippled as they stole, didn't hurt anyone, thanks to the quick thinking of the family's nanny — also a noted "aviatrix."
3 min
1905: "I Am Poisoned!"
Jane Lathrop Stanford, co-founder of the university, survives a poisoning attempt at her palatial home in San Francisco. Devastated, she sails to Hawaii, vowing never to return to her house. She doesn't. A second poisoning kills her—a murder that Stanford's president covers up.
5 min
Bonus Episode: Marshall Kilduff
The reporter who exposed the abuses of Jim Jones and the People's Temple in 1977 talks about covering the murder of former temple members Al and Jeannie Mills for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1980.
7 min
1980: A Murder in Berkeley
Al and Jeannie Mills are found dead in their home. They had been members of Jim Jones' People's Temple before leaving and becoming fierce critics. Fifteen months after the Jonestown Massacre, had surviving cultists carried out the killing on an order given by Jones before he died?
3 min
1919/1969: The More Things Change
A hundred years ago, an education official says wealth inequity is the greatest threat to equal education. Fifty years ago, violent right-wing groups are making surprising appearances in the Bay Area.
3 min