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Eccentrics, Heroes, and Cutthroats of Old Berkeley
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Berkeley's enduring reputation as a haven for eccentrics-the magical, the magnificent, and the malevolent-has contributed greatly to the community's rich cultural history. Though most of today's residents and visitors are unfamiliar with Berkeley's earliest roster of offbeat characters, their legacy became part of the foundation for one of the country's most vibrant intellectual communities.
In the mid-twentieth century, Berkeley grabbed the national spotlight as a bastion of free thinkers and rabble-rousers. But the area had been long established as a fertile home for visionaries and individualists in the 1870s and 1880s, and even as far back as the gold rush era.
Early Berkeley was a true frontier town embodying all the excitement, potential, and danger of America's Wild West. From the outset, it was a place where new ideas were tested, and where people who didn't feel quite at home in other locales seemed to find comfort and camaraderie.
Of course, most of the town's population consisted of stalwart men and women-from ranchers, road builders, and business owners to maids, saloon keepers, and farmhands-who worked hard following their careers and visions of their lives. And among them lived innovators, artists, and campaigners whose head-turning discoveries and endearing antics were preserved in local newspaper accounts. These publications also captured the more sordid events of the day. In a place where urban areas hardly encroached on endless acres, disputes over land led to sad cases of murder; early attempts to mete out justice were often inconsistent and accounts of them are often baffling. Some of the events and sentiments of that era are still quietly influencing our culture today.
A century or more ago, anyone on the street would have easily identified these famous local characters. Over the years their stories sadly faded from common memory. But any community will benefit from reexamining its forgotten social and cultural roots. To that end, I present this book about early Berkeley's eccentrics, heroes, and cutthroats as a tribute to all those whom ever have dreamed here or called this place home.