Monday, January 25, 2016

Great-Aunt Adelia and the Doctor of Applesauce

My friend and relative Betty's great-aunt Adelia was a career woman in a time when most women didn't have (or keep) careers. She worked in Los Angeles as the private secretary to one of California's most influential attorneys and civic leaders in the first half of the 20th century, Henry W. O'Melveny. A very bright young man, he grew up in Los Angeles in the mid-1800s and was witness to the city's exponential growth. O'Melveny attended UC Berkeley, became a prominent lawyer, and helped establish both the California Institute of Technology and UCLA.

Here's Mr. O'Melveny, with his large mustache and twinkling eyes. 

And here's Great Aunt Adelia. She's the one with her hand on Mrs. O'Melveny's shoulder at a garden party at the O'Melveny's westside LA home. 

These photos came from Great-Aunt Adelia's estate; Betty inherited them from another relative. I visited Betty a few days ago, so I could look at Great-Aunt Adelia's photos and papers and perhaps identify an archive or archives to receive them. And indeed the papers and photos need to be in the hands of professional archivists and historians, for they're full of Los Angeles history.

Some of the photographs have writing on the back, but not all of them. Betty and I puzzled over this one, blank on the back. 

We can see Mr. O'Melveny on the left side, standing next to one of the most recognizable and beloved Americans of all time, the humorist, radio and film star, newspaper columnist, and all-around "cowboy philosopher" Will Rogers. 

He looks a bit more down-to-earth than the other men. The picture reminded me of the story of when a university wanted to give Will Rogers an honorary degree. Rogers cabled the editor of the Daily Oklahoman newspaper that he considered honorary degrees to be "hooey" -- 

"I got too much respect for people that work and earn 'em, to see 'em handed around to every notorious character." 

Rogers added that his kindergarten could award him the only honorary degree he wanted -- a D.A. (Doctor of Applesauce). "Applesauce," in the early 1900s, meant "nonsense." People took Rogers' "nonsense" very seriously, though, because often truth lay under the surface of the humor.

But who were the other men in the picture? And what event brought them all together? (The man holding the cowboy hat in one hand and a folder in the other looked oddly familiar to me, but I didn't think too much about it at the time.) 

I found the answers to those questions from a most unexpected source, only three days after Betty gave me the picture. 

Regular readers of this blog will know that I love horses, and often write about horse figurines and books when I find them at estate sales.  Last week I also made a visit to the Arabian Horse Library at Cal Poly University in Southern California,to do some research.

The Arabian Horse Library at Cal Poly Pomona is named for W.K. Kellogg of cereal fame, who had purchased a large parcel of land outside Los Angeles in 1925 and established a world-famous Arabian horse ranch on it.  The W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center website remembers:

The ranch became so popular that a show was established on Sundays in order to better showcase the Arabian horses.  W.K. Kellogg presented the ranch to the state of California in 1932 with the stipulation that the Arabian breeding program and the Sunday Shows be maintained.

The library staff members were professional, courteous, and encouraging. The first book they showed me was Mary Jane Parkinson's The Romance of the Kellogg Ranch, a massive, detailed narrative with lots of great pictures. (I was so impressed by the book, I bought a copy to bring home.)

You can imagine my surprise when I opened the book to a random page and saw, not an Arabian horse --

-- but a copy of the same photograph Adelia had saved for her boss! 

My questions were answered. The event was that 1932 presentation ceremony when W. K. Kellogg gifted his 750-acre ranch, 87 horses, and an endowment fund to support them, to the University of California. After serving as a US Army Remount Center during World War II, the Kellogg Ranch property eventually became the home of California State Polytechnic University Pomona, better known as Cal Poly Pomona.

Parkinson's book told me that Will Rogers, a great lover of horses who emceed the event, was standing next to California governor James "Sunny Jim" Rolph (the former mayor of San Francisco). The man with his hat in his hand was W. K. Kellogg himself.  Adelia's boss, Henry O'Melveny on the left in the photo, gave a speech in his role as chair of the state parks commission. 

However, the pictures convey nothing of the scale of the event. The organizers knew the transfer of the ranch was big news. The Kellogg Ranch had expanded the bleachers at its horse show ring to hold 4,000 people; they expected perhaps 3,000 to attend.

But an estimated 25,000 people packed in for the event on that day in May 1932. Parkinson's book says that the bleachers, the rooftops, and the hillsides were packed with Southern Californians who wanted to see Will Rogers and the other celebrities (including the Arabian horses). Police estimated that an additional 10,000 people were turned away as they tried to drive in. 

I wonder if Betty's Great-Aunt Adelia was part of that huge crowd?

The Covina Argus newpaper reported:

Arrival at the area of Capt. William Banning's six-in-hand Concord coach, bearing Governor Rolph, Mr. Kellogg, Will Rogers, screen star and master of ceremonies, and others, brought a great ovation from the crowd, and [there was] an official salute from [a] three-inch salute gun brought here from headquarters of the 160th Infantry in Los Angeles.

The event also included a horse show, two bands, and a 17-gun salute. Six film news weeklies, several newspapers, and four national press services covered it; NBC installed a phone line to the ranch to provide live radio coverage. 

Great-Aunt Adelia had saved another, different picture from the same event in her collection.  In it, you can see Will Rogers standing behind half a dozen huge microphones, and Henry O'Melveny with his large mustache in the lower right corner, clearly enjoying himself.

A few days later, Rogers wrote about the event in his weekly syndicated newspaper column:

"Well I had a fine time here about ten days ago. I went with our Governor, Jimmy Rolph, and we, 'We' accepted in behalf of the State of California, one of the most magnificent ranches you ever saw. It comprises about seven hundred acres.

"Course that don’t sound so big, but that’s land that is all piped and watered, and irrigated, and improved. It is the largest Arabian Horse Ranch in America. It has 87 head of pure breed Arabian horses, the most wonderful up to date stables and equipment you ever saw. It’s a marvelous place, about 40 miles out of Los Angeles, near Pomona. It was given to the State University Department of Animal Husbandry, and will be maintained by them. 

"It was the gift of W. K. Kellogg of Battle Creek. He has been coming out here for the winters for several years and built up this beautiful place. We had a big ceremony.

"Mr. and Mrs. Kellogg turned over the deeds to the Governor. They are mighty fine, plain, wholesome folks, the Kelloggs....

"So these horses are really American and not Arabian. They also have another American characteristic, they are long winded. 

"There is a Senator among every colt born."

After  I finished my research in the Library, I went down the street to meet some of the people who work at the W. K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center, and some of their current crop of wonderful horses. They, too, are "mighty fine," wholesome folks.

Update: Adelia's collection has been donated to Cal Poly Pomona's Special Collections library, where it will help inform scholars, students and the general public about life in Southern California. 

Here's a link to the history of Cal Poly Pomona:

Here's a link to the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library website:

And the Arabian Horse Center:

Here's information on Will Rogers:

And here's information on Henry O'Melveny:


  1. Hello, Teresa! My name is Whitney Hopkins. Henry William O'Melveny is my great-great grandfather. (My grandmother Kay O'Melveny was his grand daughter.) I'm so interested in these photos and documents you describe, and wonder what other photos and documents you have about O'Melveny and his secretary Adelia. What was Adelia's last name? How long did she work as his secretary? I am always looking for more photos and information on my great-great grandfather. Is there any chance you have digitized any more of this material, and would be willing to email it to me? Also, if Betty decides there is any material she does not want I would be happy to have it. H.W. O'Melveny's archival material is at the Huntington Library if she is looking for an archive to house the materials. Hope to hear from you! Thank you.

  2. PS Love the photo of O'Melveny and Will Rogers, and your description of how you found the photo in the book! Amazing!

  3. Thank you for the update regarding the donation of Adelia's collection to Cal Poly Pomona. I hope to find out if there are any more interesting items in the collection pertaining to HW O'Melveny. Crossing fingers the collection will be cataloged and an index put online at some point...