Some Wonders from the West – Cartown; A Rattlesnake Banquet; A Cemetery for Horses (November 1901)

Some interesting ‘wonders’ this month, including a detailed description of a snake-themed banquet, and a beach-town made of street-cars (which can’t have survived long, as I can’t find any other record of it). The cartown seems to be the equivalent of modern static caravan holiday villages. The horses cemetery focused on horses involved in trot racing, a rather minority branch of horse racing, although world records are still being set (it looks to be at 1:49 for the mile currently). ‘Rattlesnake Pete‘ was an interesting personality, and was one of the people who could be called a literal ‘snake-oil salesman‘.



XXXIII.–“CARTOWN.” By Leslie E. Gilliams.

One of the queerest towns in the United States of America is situated just outside the city of San Francisco, California. It is the most remarkable settlement in the world, not from the view-point of its residents, but because of the strange-looking houses which line its streets.

“Cartown” is the name of this village built on the shifting sands of the beach of San Francisco Bay, and it is just what its title indicates–a town of street-cars, not cars on tracks, drawn by horses or sent skimming along by electric motors, however, but cars standing in orderly rows, with windows protected by awnings, doorways reached after traversing broad piazzas, and with a general air of well-being pervading the entire structure, they are the houses of the inhabitants of Cartown.

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The birth of this singular village by the sea may be traced to an Italian immigrant who found himself alone and without a home several years ago on the ocean beach on the shore end of the Golden Gate Park. He purchased a lot of land on this beautiful sea-facing coast, but had no money left with which to build a dwelling. Observing a lot of old cars in the out-sheds belonging to one of the traction companies of San Francisco, he negotiated for one of the useless carriages and finally purchased it for 10dols. He had it transported to the sandy lot in which he had invested, and by building a small addition to the obsolete car transformed it into a comfortable dwelling for his family.

The owners of the Sutro property, always on the look-out for the novel and the unusual, were immediately captivated by the Italian’s unique home, and in a few months the neglected street-cars regained their old-time popularity.

There are now over fifty families living in car homes, many of them being fitted out with considerable elegance and numerous conveniences. The most modern have telephone connections with some of their neighbours, and a few even have long-distance ‘phones in the house.

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Nestling under a green bank, right on the edge of the grand Pacific, Cartown in indeed a picturesque spot. Perpetual summer reigns in this California village, and the cool ocean breezes make it a most delightful resort during the entire twelve months on the year.

The houses are mostly flats, a Cartown “skyscraper” being only two stories high. The homes are arranged upon a general plan affording their occupants the widest views, all fronting the sea. Streets intersect at right angles, and plank walks are laid to give the pedestrians access to their abodes without wading through the deep sands which slip and slide under your feet, making walking very difficult.

Few of these cars are adorned with a coat of paint. The exteriors are generally intact, and the conspicuous signs denoting the route over which the car once perambulated are not obliterated.

The platforms of the cars are often transformed into balconies and bay windows, and afford points of observation protected from the glare of the sun or the strong winds which sometimes blow across the land.

The arrangement of the interior of these dwellings is highly ingenious, the necessities of the case requiring the utmost economy of space, the average sleeping-car suggesting a model. As many as eight persons can have ample room in the sleeping apartments, which consist of one car divided off into snug little rooms, each having at least one window and a ventilator.

While there are many families permanent residents of Cartown, the larger number occupy the “vehicles” as house-boats are used during summer months–novel places in which to spend a vacation, and they afford original methods of entertainment for host and guest.

Confined and restricted as these dwellings are, there is compensation in the fresh ocean breeze and the charm of the glorious views which burst upon the dwellers of this queer village at every turn.

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History and fiction have been turned to for names for these car “villas” suitable to the facetious idiosyncrasies of their various owners. “Villa Miramar,” “Chateau Navarre,” “Castle Chillon,” and “Fortress Quebec” are among the more pretentious dwellings. These car-palaces have porches extending around the entire house, galleries extending around the front and sides of the dwellings, and many of them are covered with vines.

The cars that are for rent are simply furnished and are, for the most part, occupied by families composed largely of small children, who are brought here to gain the benefit of the health-restoring environment.

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This village contains in all probably one hundred cars. They are clustered in groups of from five to twenty, while an occasional single car stands upon an eminence by itself, with perhaps a shed added at the back, a tent projecting in gallery fashion from one side, and a broad canvased porch across the front. These are the more pretentious abodes, and are tenanted by their owners. Many simpler folks own three cars, which, clustered together, are furnished respectively as dining-room and kitchen; bedrooms, dressing-room, and bath-room, the bath tub being sunk below the level of the floor, which lifts up trap-doorwise when the bath is in use, but when replaced and covered by a rug shows no sign of being other than the solid floor of a bedroom or dressing-room, as the case may be.

The third car is used as parlour, library, or living-room. A car in which the long seats, running the length of the sides, were retained has been purchased by seven young literary women of San Francisco. They call their place “A Haunt of Bohemia,” and thither they betake themselves from Saturday evening to Monday noons. Invitations to the dinner parties which are given there are largely sought.

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These young women have cushioned the long seas and heaped pillows upon them; a table has been arranged which can be moved out when not in use. They have divided the back vestibule into convenient pantries, and added a stove–water is piped to all the cars–and when they choose to cook, every modern appliance is at hand. Bookshelves have been build along one end, on each side of the door; and an upper story of wooden boards has been built above the car–this does service as a dormitory for the young chatelaines. Large windows open to the sea, and afford an excellent view of the out-going and in-coming fishing smacks.

To many of the cars a second story has been added, some flat and picturesque, looking with their overhanging eaves like a bit from a Dutch painting; others with a roof as sharp as that of a Swiss chalet, each one characteristic of the whim or fancy of its owner.

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Large and small are provided with water, piped from Sutro Heights. The iceman, the grocer, butcher, and baker call daily for orders, and though the dwellers in Cartown live on the fringe of the Western hemisphere, half an hour in an electric car, which may be taken a block away, will take them to the business centre of San Francisco.

A new car which has recently been added to the town may do away with the jaunts to a regular Japanese tea-house which some progressive visitor from the Orient opened some time ago, and where it has ever since been the proper thing to spend a fore-noon or an early evening.

This innovation is a restaurant-car, and the proprietor promises everything of the daintiest and the best.

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Although Cartown in principally a place in which to idle away a few happy months, there are many kinds of trades pursued in this odd settlement, restaurant and bars being the most numerous and profitable.

XXXIV.–A RATTLESNAKE BANQUET.

Rochester, New York, U.S.A., was the scene, a few days ago, of the most remarkable banquet on record, gruesome in name, but delightful when put into effect.

Peter Gruber, known all over the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific as “Rattlesnake Pete,” was the host of this unique social function, and he gave the “rattlesnake banquet” in honour of Harry Davies, of Denver, Colorado, the only man outside of Peter himself who so fearlessly handles rattlesnakes and other poisonous reptiles.

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Davies entertained Gruber some months ago when the latter was visiting Colorado, and Rattlesnake Pete decided to repay past favours in a most novel manner. He first intended to pay a little compliment to his friend with a specially prepared dinner of rattlesnake, served in various toothsome ways but becoming more and more enthusiastic over the idea, he enlarged the scope of the meny, adding watersnake stew, boiled python with egg sauce, and as the piece de resistance served a large platter of roast boa-constrictor.

The following is the complete menu of the banquet:–

Watersnake Stew.
Olives. Radishes. Cucumbers.
Fried Rattlesnake with Butter Sauce.
Boiled Python. Egg Sauce.
Cold Turkey. Cold Tongue.
Roast Boa Constrictor.
Rolls. Sandwiches.
New Potatoes. Green Peas. Young Beets.
Young Onions. Chicken Salad.
Ice Cream. Fancy Cakes.
Champagne. Coffee. Cigars.
Snake Tails.

Eighteen guests sat down to the banquet. Peter Gruber proved a very genial host. He was anxious that his friends should know and appreciate snake in all its forms, but still he provided many other delicacies. The feast was served in Peter’s own particular den, an odd little room off his place of business, for Pete, in the hours he can spare from playing with his pets, runs a saloon and restaurant, a quiet, pleasant place. Only a favoured few are allowed to pass the door of the sanctum sanctorum where the snakes, sometimes more than a dozen, sometimes several score, live, watched over by their proud owner.

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The table decorations were striking and appropriate. A big rattler, caged in glass, served as a centrepiece, and stuffed reptiles in various attitudes took the place of the usual sprays of fern and smilax. The foot of the table was decorated with a large hooded cobra, stuffed, of course, and around each plate were two or three diminutive black snakes, all alive. The walls of the room kept their everyday hangings of snake skins, rattlers’ rattles, canes made from wriggler’s skins, and many other curios.

 

There was plenty of good ordinary fare for the benefit of those who were not brave enough to tackle snake, for Peter wished no one of go away hungry. Very little of this ordinary food was eaten. A generous plate of watersnake stew was put before every guest as a starter. The ordinary guests proved rather nervous at first and made half-hearted motions with their spoons, but the two experts soon inspired them with more enthusiasm.

The host calmly dipped into his stew, and was quickly seconded in the action by Professor Davies, who fairly beamed with delight after taking the first spoonful.

“Pete, your watersnake stew is delicious,” he exclaimed enthusiasticaly; “it goes far ahead of the finest clam chowder” and he passed his plate for a second helping.

Encouraged by the Professor’s trustfulness in the unusual dish, the other guests commenced to taste the stew, and one by one acknowledged it was good. A few finished their plateful, others took only a few spoonfuls, and the Professor and host were the only ones who called for a second helping. It was early, however; this was only the first course, and the guests had not yet become accustomed to the idea of partaking of the meat of the thing which when alive was obnoxious to them.

When the watersnake stew was removed and each guest was still in his place, as hale and hearty as he was before the banquet opened, more confidence was felt in the strange dishes, and with a sigh of satisfaction or relief each began to comment upon the dish they had just tasted.

“Seemed like some sort of fish chowder,” remarked one. “It was better than frogs’ legs,” commented another. “I don’t believe it was anything but eels,” ventured one sceptic who had pushed his plate aside and given a frightened glance around after the first mouthful.

All called upon Pete for the recipe, but he only shook his head and looked wise, preferring to keep his secret a little longer.

As the dinner progressed and snake in every style was dished up, the guests entered into the fine spirit of the occasion and ate heartily of each course. With hardly an exception they pronounced the rattlesnake excellent. The verdict on the dinner was that this typical American product is the king of table snakes. The diners were divided in opinion as to whether rattlesnake meat is more like chicken or veal. Probably it is somewhere between the two. Professor Davies enjoyed himself hugely. He filled himself so full of snake that some of those present began to fear for his safety. With each new dish he went into raptures.

“Fine! exquisite! delicious!” were some of his comments.

When the boiled python with egg sauce came on some of the guests had almost had enough, but Professor Davies easily polished off all the python in sight. The roast boa-constrictor met with a similar enthusiastic reception. Pete kept up with his guests as well as he could, while seeing that everybody’s plate was well filled. When cigars had gone around the Denver Professor did tricks with the big rattler in the centre of the table. He hung the writhing thing around his neck, twisting it in knots and laying its head playfully in the palm of his hand. Then he opened his shirt and the head darted in and rested there. In a couple of minutes he carefully drew it out. Mr. Davies explained his carelessness as to consequences by saying that he had no fear of being bitten when he was able to take his time handling a rattler. All one had to do was to use care, in order not to stir the snake’s temper. If this is aroused the snake will strike.

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“But the rattler needs five or six inches in which to strike,” said Professor Davies. “If I hold him close to me there is no danger, for he hasn’t room enough to get in his work.”

There was a doubting Thomas present and the Professor asked Mr. Gruber to show that the snake had deadly qualities. Thereupon the Rochester man gently shoved a penknife between the snake’s jaws, and two fangs darted out. Slight pressure forced several drops of a light greenish substance upon the tip of the knife-blade.

“There is enough venom to kill a houseful of men,” remarked Mr. Gruber.

Mr. Davies told some experiences he had had out in the Rockies hunting rattlers. He said he had been successful in his search because he never irritated or disturbed his game more than was necessary. He told of one trip when he captured nearly sixty without being in danger of a bite. He ran across them all in a bunch. They were sunning themselves, and were lying crosswise and languidly slapping one another with their tails. He gathered them in one at a time, just as a man would put potatoes into a bushel basket, being careful not to pinch or squeeze any of them in the operation.

Rattlesnake Pete then entertained his guests with some of his interesting experiences with the reptiles, how he had frequently waged fierce wars with them, always coming off victorious, and how he always succeeded in becoming friends with the snake he conquered. He gave good advice about the handling of snakes, to which Professor Davies paid great attention, while the majority of the other guests shuddered. As the champagne went the rounds and the guests felt the glow of a satisfied hunger they lost all their inherited and long-held animosity toward creeping things, and commenced to have a friendly feeling for the reptiles that had proved such delicious edibles. Snake stories were swapped, and the merriment continued into the wee small hours of the morning. As each guest warmly shook his host’s hand at parting he said something in praise of the most remarkable banquet that has ever been held in America, if not in the world, and complimented its originator upon the success of his novel scheme.

XXXV.–A CEMETERY FOR HORSES. By Harold J. Shepstone.

Both London and Paris can boast of their dog cemeteries, but Palo Alto, a little town in the State of California, U.S.A., can go one better in the possession of a burial-ground for horses. Indeed, it is without doubt the most curious cemetery in the world.

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Palo Alto is a pretty little town a few miles south of San Francisco, and its unique cemetery is to be found in the famous Palo Alto Stock Farm. Entering the farm by the main road you cannot possibly miss the burying-ground, for one’s attention is immediately attracted to it by the tall tombstone in the centre of a group of wide-spreading oak trees. Here lie interred the remains of several of the record-breaking horses of the farm.

On reaching the spot you are at once impressed by the little row of mounds that rise on either side of the monument. In an instant you realize that you are walking on sacred ground, and as you read the epitaphs on the little headstones you feel like doffing your cap our of respect to the dead animals that during their lifetime smashed records galore and pushed California to the front as a stock-raising State. To the employes about the farm this graveyard is sacred, and when one of the attendants comes to tell you about the wonderful unrecorded deeds of the horses he scarcely speaks above a whisper.

Altogether twelve graves have been laid out in this odd cemetery, but before describing them in detail it is interesting to recall the history of the graveyard. The cemetery was founded thirteen years ago, when several horses of the farm met their deaths by fire. Amongst them was the champion yearling filly, Norlaine. Norlaine was a beautiful creature, and much prized by the proprietors of the establishment. She once trotted a mile in 2min. 21 1/2sec., and although this is by no means a record there was no horse of her age at the time capable of performing a similar feat. Being a champion and naturally a very valuable creature, the most beautiful spot on the farm was selected for her burial-place. Her remains were interred under the spreading oak trees. A few months later another famous trotting horse died and was buried close to the grave of Norlaine, so that latter’s resting-plot created for all time a memorial burying-ground for the famous horses that die at the Palo Alto farm.

One by one new graves appeared, and as they grew in number the little mounds attracted the attention of Mrs. Stanford, a wealthy resident of Palo Alto. On inquiry she learned that it was the burial-place of horses that had made Palo Alto great. At that time there was nothing on the graves to indicate to the stranger the name of the horses buried beneath the little mounds. To know in what grave a certain horse was interred it was necessary to ask one of the employes. Immediately Mrs. Stanford gave instructions that tablets should be placed on all the graves showing the names of the horses, dates of birth, death, and records. She also had a monument erected in memory of the famous trotting horse, Electioneer 125, the son of Rysdyks Hambletonian 10 and Green Mountain Maid. The plot was then lengthened and surrounded by a near iron rail fence, and some flowers and shrubs planted.

Through the kindness of Mrs. Stanford, who attends to the graves, the writer is enabled to give some interesting facts about the horses whose remains have been interred in this quaint cemetery. First of all, there is the monument to Electioneer 125. The inscription on it reads:–

To the Memory of Electioneer 125.
Foaled May, 1868.
Died December 3, 1890.
By Rysdyks Hambletonian.
Dam, Green Mountain Maid.
History of the World Contains
The Names of None so Great.
Number of Performers and
Champions Sired by Him
In the Golden State.

Although this horse has been dead since 1890 he still has to his credit the largest number of 2min. 30sec. trotters ever accredited to any sire. At one time his sons and daughters held all the world’s records. Here are a few of his most famous offspring: Adbell (yearling), who trotter a mile in 2min. 33sec.; Arion (two-year-old), 2min 10 3/4sec.; Fantasy (three-year-old), 2min 8 3/4sec.; and The Abbott, who once covered a mile in 2min. 3 1/4sec., the world’s trotting record. Many others could be names whose feats have astonished the racing world. The name of Electioneer will live long in the history of the trotting turf as the greatest progenitor of the century just passed.

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One of the most curious things about the cemetery is that some of the graves are reserved for the remains of certain fast horses. For instance, no horse has been interred in the first grave, for it is being reserved for the grand old mare, Beautiful Bells, the greatest of American brood mares, who is now twenty-nine years old, but a hale and hearty old lady. Every time she is taken out of the stable she passes within a stone’s throw of her intended resting-place. For her last colt the farm were offered £5,500.

Grave No. 2 contains the remains of Sontag Mohawk, one of the celebrated brood mares of America. The tablet on her grave reads: “Sontag Mohawk. Foaled 1875. Died 1898. Dam of Sallie Britton, 2.17 3/4, world’s champion four-year-old in 1884. She was also dam of Eros, 2.29 1/2” (meaning, of course, that this horse trotted a mile in 2min. 29 1/2sec.); “Sport, 2.22 3/4; Sonoma, 2.28; Colma, 2.25 1/2; Conductor, 2.14 3/4; Norhawk, 2.15 1/2; and Serenata, 2.25.”

The next grave, No. 3, is a very interesting one, for it contains the flesh only of the famous horse Palo Alto. His skeleton was mounted and set up in the University Museum. Of all the horses owned by the late Senator Stanford, Palo Alto was his favourite. Many fast trotters were sold from the farm for large sums of money, but no price was large enough to tempt the owner to part with this magnificent creature. Palo Alto was the champion stallion of his day. He was foaled in 1882 and died in 1892. He died the king of stallions, and his record, a mile in 2min. 8 3/4sec., is still the world’s record for the high-wheel sulky.

Lying alongside Palo Alto, in grave No. 5, is his mother, Dame Winnie, so in death they are not parted. The tablet on her grave reads: “Dame Winnie. Foaled 1871. Died 1892. Dam of Palo Alto, 2.08 3/4, the world’s record.” She not only produced the champion stallion, but also Lone Pine, 2.18; Altivo, 2.18 1/2; Gertrude Russell, 2.23 1/2, by Electioneer; and Big Jim, 2.23 1/2, by Gen. Benton. She was by far the greatest thoroughbred mare producing trotting speed, and died the queen in that respect.

Grave No. 6 is also reserved for the great Elaine, while in No. 7 is buried one of the early brood mares of Palo Alto, the famous Mayflower, who held a mile record of 2min. 30 1/2sec. The inscription on her tombstone is: “Mayflower, 2.30 1/2. Foaled 1864. Died 1895. Dam of Wildflower, 2.21, and Manzanita, 2.16, world’s champions.” Mayflower in the thirty years of her life proved a remarkable brood mare. She produced eleven daughters, eight of them showing marked speed. In 881 her two-year-old daughter electrified the world by trotting a mile in 2min. 21sec., which was the world’s record for seven years. In 1886 her daughter, Manzanita, trotter a mile as a four-year-old in 2min. 16sec., the record for the age. Undoubtedly this beautiful animal did her share in making Palo Alto famous as the nursery for producing fast trotters.

The remains of Josie, famous for producing the champion racehorse of his day, are buried in grave No. 9. In grave No. 10 lies the charred remains of Norlaine, who was burned to death at the farm at the age of two years. When only one year old she trotted a mile in 2min. 31 1/2sec. She was the champion yearling of her time, and promised to develop into a phenomenal colt trotter, when her career was cut short by the disastrous fire. It was through her sudden and lamentable death that the horse cemetery sprang into being.

XXXVI.–A WHISTLE BLOWN BY MOTHER EARTH.

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The extraordinary contrivance which we reproduce in the adjoining photograph is probably the most powerful whistle in the world. It is blown by means of a natural gas pressure obtained from Mother Earth herself. The gas “spring” which supplies this unique alarm free of cost is situate at Lawrence, in Kansas, and is used as a fire alarm for the fire brigade. That it fulfils its object right worthily may be guessed by the fact that it may be heard as far as ten miles away, while the sound near at hand is well-nigh deafening. The old gentleman with one hand on the level of this novel device is a veteran of the local fire brigade, the badge of which can be seen on his coat. We are indebted for this photo. to Mr. Charles W. Kimball, of Lawrence, Kansas.

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