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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Mystery History Solved! -- Special Edition #3

There were three correct guesses out of the 70 or so placed in the suggestion box for Mystery History photo #3 at the Pasadena Museum of History, so Laura Verlaque and I used a very scientific method to choose one.

Geoff Meehan is the winner!

In this May 8, 1903, photo, the community stands ready to welcome President Theodore Roosevelt to Benjamin D. Wilson School*.

Located at the southeast corner of Walnut Street and Marengo Avenue, it was a high school from 1892 to 1903. Here's how it looked without all the festoonery:

Newspapers throughout the land were reporting on the planning of Roosevelt's Great Western Tour during which he would visit states from Kansas to California, including a walk through Yosemite with John Muir.  

When Pasadena community leaders learned of the upcoming tour, they sent a specially made key to the city along with an invitation to visit this community during his travels.

From the Feb. 28, 1903, New York Times:
President Roosevelt today received a valuable invitation from the citizens of Pasadena, Cal. What its exact value is has not been made known, but it is worth a good deal, for it is in gold. The invitation, which was handed to the President today by Representative McLachlan of California, asks Mr. Roosevelt to visit Pasadena on his coming trip to the West. It is in the form of a key of solid gold, and around the stem of the key is a splendidly engraved crown.

The key is emblematic of the key of Pasadena, and the crown is emblematic of the Indian name for Pasadena, "The crown of the valley." Pasadena is located at the head of the San Gabriel Valley. The invitation is extended by the Mayor and business officials of the town. The key is four inches long and is a good representation of the mammoth keys of the olden days. It is attached to a small piece of native wood that lies in the bottom of a specially made box. The box is of orange wood, with hinges of gold, and gold trimmings at the corners. A gold plate in the centre is inscribed as follows:

"Presented to Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, by resolution of the citizens of Pasadena, Cal., Jan. 6, 1903."

On the inside of the lid of the box is the following inscription:

"Pasadena. Greetings to our President."

Then follows a formal invitation for a visit, signed by W.A. Heiss of the City Council, and members of the trade organizations of the city.

Most of the invitations received by the President have met with the reply that the matter would be taken under consideration. The President, however, was so much pleased with this invitation that he directed Secretary Loeb to arrange for a stop in Pasadena in May.
On the way to Benjamin D. Wilson School, the president's coach came down Marengo Avenue, which was decorated with a huge, elaborate arch of lilies and tall wooden posts with palm fronds and wreaths on them.

 Then, when he arrived at Wilson School, a rose-strewn walkway had been laid down for him.

And here's the man himself, giving his speech, no doubt saying "Bully" to this taxidermied grizzly bear!

You can read his speech here.

After the speech, he went to South Pasadena for a visit with former first lady Lucretia Garfield, widow of President James Garfield, and lunched at the Hotel Raymond.

Roosevelt was a passionate conservationist. While in Pasadena, he was taken to the Arroyo Seco  where he famously declared his support to Mayor William H. Vedder for the movement to keep it as a natural park: "Oh, Mr. Mayor, don't let them spoil that! Just keep it as it is."

That was just the momentum that was needed, and within eight years the City of Pasadena began acquiring acreage in the Arroyo Seco.

You know I can't miss the opportunity to show you Mayor Vedder from the Hall of Mayors, right?

My Mystery History exhibition at the Pasadena Museum of History has been open since January and will close on March 29. If you haven't seen it yet, please come by!

On Tuesday, March 31, we'll be back to Mystery History business as usual on the Ann Erdman blog!

Many thanks to the Pasadena Museum of History, Teaching American History, Pasadena Public Library and yours truly.

*Benjamin Davis Wilson, for whom this school was named, was more popularly known as Don Benito. He was a major landowner in the greater Los Angeles area, including Pasadena, where he lived at his vast Lake Vineyard property (Lake Avenue was originally named Lake Vineyard Street). He later became mayor of Los Angeles and was the grandfather of General George S. Patton Jr. Mt. Wilson, Wilson Avenue and Don Benito School were named in his honor. The current Wilson Middle School was named for President Woodrow Wilson. 


  1. Where was this school? On the same site as the current Wilson?

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  4. That's a ripping good tale, Ann. It's amazing how much I've learned by visiting this blog. Thanks!

  5. I removed Virginia777's comments because they were accusatory, vile and unfounded. Anyone who truly knows me and ever worked with me is well aware that her unfortunate statements have no place here. Let's stick to Wilson School, shall we?

  6. Bellis, it was at the southeast corner of Walnut Street and Marengo Avenue. I have added that information to the blog post. Thanks for asking!

  7. Seems you can't visit the blog of a respected public personality without running into silly troll stuff. Nature of the game, I guess. Anyway, you probably don't take requests, but I'd love to hear one of your longer stories re: Don Benito. I've found bits and pieces while researching H. Huntington, but I don't know much beyond that association.

  8. I'll add that to my list, Karin!

  9. Karin, I read a great book by Nat Read about Don Benito. Highly recommended. He was a superhero, really, even though he had a challenging start in life.. He did so much for the entire Southland. For example, he donated a large park to Pasadena between Wilson and California, which Caltech has somehow taken quite a chunk of - but Tournament Park remains. He more or less founded San Pedro harbor and USC. And he owned all the land of Beverly Hills.

  10. Great stuff, Ann and Karin and Bellis!

  11. Do you ever wonder why they went over to the Raymond and not the Green? I wonder if there was talk about Col. Green's "formulas." And maybe the territory laudanum made was not to brush the ankles of the presidential elite.

    1. I presume it was because Mrs. Garfield lived in South Pas and the Hotel Raymond was more convenient for her. But heaven knows, really. The answer to your question may be lost to the ages.

    2. Legend has it that on this same visit to California, President Roosevelt attempted to visit the widow Winchester at her mansion near San Jose. Either she had no interest in meeting with him or she wasn't expecting him. A servant answered the front door, and not realizing who it was, sent the president around to the back. He was offended and left. Some say that the president never stopped at the Winchester house, and that the widow was out of town in any case.

  12. As to that stuffed bear -- it was a California Grizzly. What is beyond weird is that for all the 1000's of this subspecies of grizzly h3re in SoCal, only one full skeleton exists. And that was the last one held at the San Francisco Zoo.

  13. btw: I have an idea for a mystery history to pass by you (in other words, I need you to do the leg work)

    1. The leg work is what I love best, Liz! Research is my middle name. Just private message me on Facebook and I'll take it from there.