Tuesday, November 27, 2012

1924 Olympian Clarida Hunsberger, captured on film by Harold Elliott

Olympic diver Clarida Hunsberger,
photographed in 1924 at Searsville Lake
by Harold F. Elliott
As part of our year-long grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources to catalog five manuscript collections from the Perham Collection of Early Electronics, we've been processing the Harold F. Elliott Papers. Elliott was a 1916 Stanford University engineering graduate who did a significant amount of work with Federal Telegraph Company in Palo Alto. As it turns out, Elliott was also a talented and accomplished photographer, whose hobby began while a student, culminating with exhibits in his later years. He started a photography processing business, “The Campus Photo Shop,” as a student, and his collection includes over 200 images of Stanford athletics and student life circa 1911-1916.

This photograph of Olympic diver and Stanford student Clarida Hunsberger was taken by Elliott at Searsville Lake in San Mateo County during the 1924 Olympic try-outs. Hunsberger participated in the platform diving event at both the 1924 and 1928 Olympics, and was interviewed by the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles in May 1987 as part of their Olympian’s Oral History project. During the interview, Hunsberger recalled her experience at Stanford under coaches Greta and Ernst Brandsten: “Stanford at that time had 500 women and a couple thousand men—that was that era. They had very few women who were interested in diving and, in fact, one of the Brandstens would come out early every morning. I’d go to the women’s swimming pool early in the morning. I can remember walking out on that board with frost on the board; it mattered not what time a year it was or what the weather was. And it didn’t matter to the Brandstens. They were really gung-ho on having a woman who would be a diver. And so then came the day that Ernst Brandsten said to me, ‘You know, today we’re going to take you up to Searsville Lake.’ Now Searsville Lake was about nine miles from the Stanford campus. And up there—the lake was actually a dammed lake—they had platforms built on that dam that the Brandstens were responsible for constructing, because there were quite a few men divers who would work out up there. I didn't have a car to get up there. There were times that I walked to Searsville Lake and walked back.”

Of course, diving platforms in 1924 were not what they are today. The wooden apparatus in the above photograph was also explained by Hunsberger in her interview: “I think that to remind you of the era I should tell you about the platforms. They were constructed of wood and, of course, they’re over this lake, which sometimes was at one height and sometimes was at another height. Then there was no such thing as a stairway going up to those platforms. Now the platforms are 16 and 32 feet, 5 and 10 meters in height. We had to go up a ladder that went straight up. And I’ll never forget that the next rung to the top was missing. (laughter) And if you would do 8 or 10 dives, either from the 16 or 32, or both, and go up that ladder, well, you had quite a workout. And of course you had a nice little swim after you hit the water (laughter), and then to get over to what was supposed to be a ladder to come out of the water. The water would be cold. As I look back on it I wonder why I thought that was a great idea. (laughter) But I guess it was in the blood by then.”

Postcard advertising Harold Elliott's Campus Photo Shop at Stanford University
Hunsberger says she tried out for both the 1924 and 1928 Olympics on the West Coast, continuing on by train to New York for the final qualifiers, eventually placing fourth in the 1924 Olympic high-diving event. She points out, “Photography was in its infancy; nothing like the split-second timing pictures that they would get today. So, with the Olympic Games, there couldn't be the worldwide interest that we have now—not even countrywide. Many people had probably never heard of the Olympic Games, I’m pretty sure. Today most people would know what we were talking about.” With that in mind, this action shot by Harold Elliott is impressive for its time.

Hunsberger’s experiences at the 1924 and 1928 Olympics are recounted in the complete interview, a transcript of which can be accessed at

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Shirlie Alice Montgomery (1918 – 2012)

Shirlie Montgomery, Rose Garden resident

Earlier this month, our community lost a truly remarkable lady in Shirlie Montgomery who, as a professional photographer, captured in her lens many memorable moments in the Santa Clara Valley as it transformed from an agricultural community to Silicon Valley.

A native and life long resident of San Jose, Shirlie was the grandniece of T. S. Montgomery, an early real estate developer in the local community. She would begin her career at the De Anza Hotel on Santa Clara Street where she was employed to create photographic gifts for hotel guests.

Eleanor Roosevelt at the De Anza Hotel, 1940
 (Shirlie Montgomery Photographs, History San Jose)
Later, she worked for both the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News. As a newspaper photographer, she became acquainted with many local and national celebrities, some of which would privately hire Shirlie for personal portraits. Additional contacts were made during her freelance time working at Lou’s Village on West San Carlos Street.

In her quest to capture the moment with her 4×5 speed graphic camera, Shirlie was adventurous. In one case, she flew in a private plane to obtain aerial photographs of downtown San Jose in the late 1930’s. An assignment at the Civic Auditorium for a professional wresting match would lead to a multi-year relationship with the sport and its participants. She would tell friends that “I always like the big boys!”

A portion of Shirlie's broad photographic portfolio is held within the History San Jose collection and several of her images have supplemented previous exhibits on differing topics. Friends of this unique spirited individual have created a web blog in her memory.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Twenty Thousand Court Cases, with More Yet to Come

After seven and a half years, with seven different people having worked between four and twenty-five hours each week, archives volunteer Joan Helms recently indexed our 20,000th court case!

Back in April 2005, former archives volunteer Patsy Castro Ludwig urged me to “do something” about the extensive collection of case files from the Santa Clara County Courts that filled some 200 bankers boxes in our Collection Center. When I looked into it, I found that one of my predecessors had actually started a database to index these items, but hadn't gotten very far into the project.

I did a random sampling of these boxes, and quickly learned that:
  • Many of the boxes were overly full 
  • Most of the case files were not separated from one another 
  • There was no apparent organization scheme from one box to the next 
  • There were approximately 25,000 cases, both civil and criminal, beginning in 1850 and running into the early 1940’s, with the bulk of them from 1850 to 1915. 
These files, as they become accessible, are a tremendous resource for historical researchers. While many of the cases involve mundane issues such as unpaid taxes, bankruptcies, or property disputes, others have related to incidents of livestock rustling, burglary, armed robbery, and abuse or abandonment of family members. We have found a lawsuit filed by John Sutter to collect a bad debt. There are a couple of cases involving ranchers attempting to enslave Native Americans. Surprisingly, given the popular stereotype of Victorian society’s rigid attitudes about marriage, more than 10% of the cases relate to divorce proceedings. There were surprisingly few cases relating to excessive drinking, although one case concerns a defendant who “stole hams but was too drunk to remember”.

In addition to Joan Helms and Patsy Ludwig Castro, five other volunteers have contributed to this massive effort: Nadine Nelson, Ed Linggi, Sally Stallard, Michael McCleary, and Gloria Moseley.

The index that we have created allows a researcher to search by plaintiff’s or defendant’s name, the case number or date of the court proceeding, details of the type of crime, and the final judgment of the court (when noted) .

Anyone wishing to make an appointment to research these materials can email research@historysanjose.org.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Remembering our Veterans

Charlie Baker
On Wednesday, November 7, a small gathering was held just outside the History Park fence line to unveil San Jose’s contribution the World War II Walls of Honor initiative. Started as a grass roots organization by HSJ affiliate Spirit of ’45, the initiative strives to capture images and stories of World War II veterans across the county. Their goal is to gather materials in preparation for a massive 70th celebration of the end of the war in August 2015. This effort is challenged as an increasing number of remaining veterans are now dying due to age related illnesses.

A long panel of images facing Senter Road was hung on the outer fence near the corner of Phelan Avenue. During Wednesday’s event, one veteran of the Army Air Corp, Charlie Baker, proudly stood next to his image. As more images are received each year, the Spirit of ’45 organization plans to add to this Wall of Honor to be displayed annually in November.

Ronnie Olague, Jr., and Ronnie Olague
Attending this informal event were the son and grandson of Private First Class Esau R. Olague of San Jose. Just 20 years old when he saw action, Esau had left his hometown leaving behind his new 19 year old wife Margaret with their baby boy Ronnie. Soon after her husband had left, Maggie sought war-time employment at a San Francisco ship yard. She was injured severely by a crane accident in February 1944 and died in June. Private Olague was killed in action on July 27, 1944 and is buried in France. As a result, fourteen month old Ronnie was an orphan and would be raised by his grandmother, Mrs. Frank Guerrero of San Jose.

Ronnie continues to live in San Jose. His grandson, Ralph Olague, is a member of the National Guard. Ronnie shared his family’s story with Robert Corpus from the Spirit of ’45. Touched by the story,Robert visited Private Olague’s gravesitein 2007 and returned with a small bottle of dirt from the plot bringing closure to the family.

As we remember our veterans of various conflicts, the stories of their families need to also be honored. For some like the Olague family, the ultimate sacrifice was made both abroad and at home.