The late spring of 1906 was typical for Santa Cruz: heavy fog in the mornings made way for cool summer afternoons, only to be overwhelmed with fog again by evening. It was a daily aerial siege, though it rarely upset the nightlife.
Promoter Fred Wilder Swanton had been pushing his Neptune Casino on the locals for three years now. It was locally funded and operated, bringing revenue to the city and a lot of tourists. Few locals really enjoyed the gaudy Moorish mansion or its adjacent boardwalk. It was just too busy for them. Kids visited the salt water plunge just like every year since it first opened in 1893. But locals were still shunned by the business, receiving no discounts or promotions favoring them.
When Swanton announced a special gala for locals to be held on June 21st, most of the wealthiest in the city responded eagerly. Although they sat on the board of directors and paid into the expanding enterprise, the elite of Santa Cruz rarely spoke with the elusive Fred Swanton. To encourage attendance, Swanton brought representatives of all the major financial institutions in Central California would be there including people from the Southern Pacific Railroad. Grievances aside, everyone who was anyone would be at this event.
|Neptune Casino and the Electric Pier on a busy summer day, c. 1905|
For the Credwell family, this event would be especially important. Neptune Casino held a special place in the hearts of this family. During the Casino’s construction in early 1904, William, the eldest son of James Morgan Credwell, Sr., died when the unstable roof of the building collapsed on him. Swanton had halted construction for the day to remove the body from the rubble. A funeral was held the next morning and Will’s body was buried beneath the center of the Casino as a lasting tribute to him. The boy was only seventeen when he died, and the Casino became a lasting reminder of his untimely death. Swanton went so far as to call the beach bandstand the W.A. Credwell Memorial Stage when the Casino finally opened later that year. Since that time, most of the Credwells had avoided the Casino, but this night was too important to miss.
|Patricia Credwell, December 1905. Aged 15 *|
Gangly, awkward, yet unusually attractive and confident for her age, Patricia Anne Credwell was the eldest child of James and Elizabeth in Santa Cruz. She had grown up in Santa Cruz, watching as the Miller & Leibbrandt Plunge became the Neptune Natatorium. The transformation was slow and unapparent to many, but Patty—as she was usually called—loved the improvements made to her favorite swimming spot. Although just barely sixteen, Patty was a star swimmer and spent most of her evenings at the large heated pool. Swimming was not a widely-practiced sport, but Patty had become one of the most proficient swimmers in the county, paddling for hours from one end to the other of the large heated pool. School often distracted her from her favorite pastime—and Santa Cruz High School letting out on June 21st did not help the matter—but Patty loved to arrive at the Plunge first thing in the morning every day in the summer to avoid the tourists and her parents did not interrupt her passion.
James, the patriarch of the family had risen to become one of the foremost bankers in Santa Cruz. In that capacity, he also served as the second most powerful financier of Swanton’s Santa Cruz Beach Cottage & Tent City Corporation, holding a significant minority stock in the company. Unlike his colleagues, Swanton called on James regularly to discuss accounts and ideas for the upcoming season, though James’ conservative economic preferences did not mesh with Swanton’s flamboyant promotional stylings at all. Because of the death of William, James preferred to meet with Swanton in his own offices downtown rather than at the Swanton’s Casino office. The two were an unlikely pair, but they worked together to bring much-needed revenue to Santa Cruz County.
The matriarch of the family, Elizabeth, was the most cheerful body in the home. The loss of Will had been painful to everyone, but Beth—which was her nickname since childhood—had long moved on. She busied herself everyday keeping up with her children or working to earn the woman’s vote at the downtown Suffragette headquarters. She was a well-built woman approaching middle age with coppery-brown hair that she had passed on to her two daughters. While she normally wore a simple floral dress over a slip, June 21st was a special night and her clothing matched the occasion.
A few weeks earlier, the youngest of the family, twelve-year-old Mary, begged her mother for a new gown to wear to the event. Beth complied and purchased new outfits for everyone. James received a new suit with matching black bowler hat. Patty found a contemporary slim bluish dress that made her father wince, but made the boys look. Bath bought for herself a new crimson gown that fit to her curves perfectly. To match, James gave her a ruby necklace which Fred Swanton had received as a gift while on tour in Reno. Mary, eager to wear something as stylish as her mother and sister, was disappointed to receive a slightly more updated floral dress. James tried to improve her mood with new earrings and a nice pearl necklace, but the dress was plain in the best light.
By the time Patty arrived home from her last day of school, Jimmy, her only remaining brother was long gone. Jimmy was small for being thirteen, but Swanton had found a job for him in the Casino ballroom’s kitchens as a busboy. His grammar school had let out at the end of May, so Jimmy had been working already for two weeks, preparing for the summer’s festivities. His absence was expected but the excitement he left with the rest of the family was contagious. Patty ran home from school as soon as it let out. The Credwells lived in a Victorian-style home at the top of Cliff and Third streets. It was a well-known spot, though the Credwells rarely had guests over to their house.
By the time Patty ran up the stairs and into the doorway, her mother was already shouting to her, “Quickly, Patricia! Get dressed or we will all be late!”
“Mother, I thought the party didn’t start until six o’clock!” Patty asked quizzically, still panting from the run.
Beth walked briskly around a corner and up to her eldest daughter, sighed loudly. Retrieved the blue gown from a nearby closet, she replied, “It doesn’t, but we need to be there early for father.”
“But father isn’t even here,” Patty corrected hesitantly.
“Yes I am, dear. I arrived just before you did.” The voice was strong but kindly, meandering in from her father’s sitting room. “Now get ready as your mother instructs. Our coach will be here in ten minutes.”
“We have to ride the coach? Father, weren’t you able to borrow the automobile?” Patty asked pleadingly to her father. The dust from the horse-drawn coach often made her eyes well up. Plus, riding in the automobile was always an adventure.
“That, my dear, is a privilege I cannot always afford,” the voice replied. “Why does it matter, anyway? We are just going to the bottom of the hill. Now please get dressed? You’ve already wasted two minutes with your silly frivolities!”
“Alright, alright.” Patty, taking the gown from her mother, darting up the stairs and into her room. Mary was already in her floral dress when Patty came in. Closing the door, Patty rounded on her sister, suddenly showing an angered expression on her face.
“What do you think, sis?” asked Mary, turning softly in her floral gown and hoping to cheer up her sister.
“It’s very lovely, Mary,” Patty sighed, erasing the expression as suddenly as it had appeared. “Now will you give me some privacy? I need to get ready. We’re leaving in five minutes!”
Mary left the room and Patty quickly slipped into her blue gown. She exited her room just as quickly to find all of her family except her brother waiting for her in the hallway.
“Oh, your hair!” Beth exclaimed. “I’ll have to fix it on the ride over. Now out the door. Out! The carriage is already at the gate and Mr. Swanton does not like to be left waiting. Father must see him immediately over some idea or another.”
All of the Credwells stepped outside into the late afternoon air. Fog was already appearing out over the bay and the breeze that preceded it was making Patty’s arm hair tingle. The coach sat at the bottom of the stairs, waiting with two horses pawing at the ground. They all stepped in for the short descent to the bottom of the hill. Mary and Beth were bursting with excitement, all smiles and chitchat. Patty looked out the window down the hill, her mother tidying up her hair behind her. Excitement was everywhere. Dozens of other carriages and automobiles were gathering at the base of Cliff Street, and the Tent City was alive with music and reverie. Within a day, ash would blacken the skies and the Credwells would be little more than a footnote in time...
This story is a work of fiction. All reference to historical incidences and individuals is purely for plot purposes and may not represent true events or real-life personalities and attitudes. This story is designed for an adult audience with moments of violence, terror, and the painful deaths of minors and adults throughout. Please direct all comments to the section below. Thank you and enjoy!
* Descriptions of photographs with "*" are fictional and do not actually depict their description. Actual historical photographs and illustrations do not have an asterisk.