Thursday, July 31, 2014

Credwell Chronicles – Chapter 2: Sense and Sensibilities

June 21st, 1906 at 7:00 p.m. — Neptune Casino Grand Ballroom
As the Credwells exited their coach, ladies of the Woman’s Christian Temperance League marched outside the Casino’s entrance, chanting and shouting against the ills of alcohol. Considering the amount of alcohol that was to be consumed at this locals gala, it was somewhat surprising to see such a low turnout. Although Beth was a suffragette, she did not condemn alcohol like many of her sisters. Most of the other revelers seemed to agree since many milled outside in well-to-do fashions ignoring the women. Beth, too, felt no shame whatsoever in walking right past them into the bustling Neptune Casino.

The Casino was an explosion of lights and sounds. Simple mechanical penny machines, a beanbag toss game surrounded by gawking children, a medicine man barking his wares to anyone who would listen, and a lively ice cream parlor were just some of the diversions that could be overheard in this den of camaraderie.  The Casino had something for all ages. Beth, though, had her sights set on the stairwell that would take her family upstairs. As soon as the family entered the Casino, James had headed off to the right toward Fred Swanton’s office. Business as usual.

Neptune Casino on a warm summer night, c. 1905

Beth grabbed the hands of her two daughters and pushed her way ahead toward the grand staircase. A smiling man in a black dinner suit welcomed the trio and asked for their names. Beth replied briskly and the three were ushered upstairs where the lights and sounds of the arcade were replaced with the mellow tunes of a piano and violin. The girls looked dejected, having just transitioned from a carnival-like festival to the monotony of classical music. People politely chatted at tables, and the Credwell girls settled in for a long and boring night.

A host directed the three family members to a table near the center of the room beside the dance floor, as Swanton entered up the stairs. With him came M.C. Hall, Colbert Canfield, John Jacob Leibrandt, and James. As they rounded the corner, James nodded toward his family, acknowledging their preferred seating location while also implying that he would not be sitting with them. The gentlemen headed to the opposite side of the dancing area and seated themselves at a corner table.

Jimmy excitedly appeared from the kitchen wearing his serving suit and a towel over an arm. His smile seemed overkill for the tone of the restaurant, but he didn’t notice.

“Did you see Mr. Swanton?” he asked them all at once.

“Yes, dear. He just entered. Father is sitting with him,” Beth replied politely. “Why are you so excited to know if he is here?”

“I dunno, Ma. He just seems so...interesting. I mean, he built a palace here. It’s pretty swell.” Jimmy blushed slightly, then ran back into the kitchen without another word.

The music picked up pace as some more instruments joined the fray. The laughter and chuckling emanating from Swanton’s booth could also be heard over the orchestra.

Fred W. Swanton, c. 1906
“Fred, I don’t know how you do it!” one of Swanton’s supporters said enthusiastically. “This place is magnificent. And with all the wreckage in San Francisco from the earthquake and fires, people will be swarming here this summer.”

“I agree, my boy, and that is why I hope to remodel as soon as possible. Tomorrow even!” Swanton chuckled back. “This style grates on me and I feel we need something new—revolutionary even!”

James would have none of this talk. Having spent a large portion of his earnings on Swanton’s company over the past two years, the Credwell patriarch did not want to be adding more to his investment. Breaking out a deck of poker cards, James replied, “My good Mr. Swanton, you’ve already given Santa Cruz a modern marvel. What more do you want? My money? It’s yours, if you can win it!” He shuffled the cards in an over-the-top bridge to the delight of many of his colleagues.

“Oh, and I hope I shall, Mr. Banker. I could use some interest-free loans from you!” The men continued to shout and joke over the rising volume of the orchestra.

On the dance floor, guests began to move to the beat of a polka. The Credwell girls remained in their chairs, tired, bored, and awaiting food. They sipped at relatively flat and flavorless wines, the only form of alcohol Beth would allow them to drink. There were no boys at the event except those catering it, and they were all busy serving and bussing tables. The next oldest person they saw was a woman in her early twenties with a man at least twice her age. Such shows of power made Patty sick.

In the kitchen, Jimmy was still as excited as ever, perhaps because he had broken into the wine stores and poured himself a glass or three. He danced around the kitchen, bumping into chefs and counters, and knocking over supplies and buckets. 

“Jimmy, get outside and bus some tables or I will bus you right out of here!” the head chef shouted at the boy.

“Aye, chief! If I don’t come back, check on the dance floor!” Jimmy replied back as he headed for the door, moving his hips to the beat.

“If you don’t come back, I’ll keep your wage for myself, boy. Now scat!” the chef flicked a towel at the boy as he left.

The Casino Grand Ballroom prepared for a dinner party, June 1906 *

Jimmy arrived at the Credwell’s table and picked up a few glasses, still shaking his hips to the music.

“How is everything tonight, son?” Beth asked.

“Oh, it’s swell! I love this music. Gordo, my boss, doesn’t like my dancing in the kitchen, though,” Jimmy stated bluntly, feeling no shame.

“Well perhaps you should listen to him. He is your employer, after all.” Beth smiled and adjusted his little black bowtie, then sent him on his way back to the kitchen.

When Jimmy returned, the chef had moved to the other side of the room. Jimmy took the dishes over to the sink to be cleaned, but he never once stopped dancing. The chef shook his head as he looked on his young protégé.

Passing by a bucket of cooking oil, Jimmy accidentally knocked it over and it spilled on the floor. Jimmy got on his hands and knees and checked to see where the oil was draining to. It was pooling around a clogged drain but most of the oil was out of any line of traffic. Shrugging, Jimmy got up and resumed dancing, bussing tables and washing dishes, not realizing that he had just knocked over the first domino in a chain that would end with his and his family’s death...

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.

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