The long-planned Pan-American Exposition opened in Buffalo, New York on May 1, 1901.
It promised to be the most brilliant display of progress and ingenuity ever conceived in the United States of America. Congress pledged $500,000 to ensure the success of the Exposition, and to highlight the commercial well-being and good understanding among the American Republics. The newly-elected Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was there to give a speech to kick off the opening ceremonies, and over 200,000 people witnessed it.

The official Pan-American Exposition logo, designed by Raphael Beck

The rationale for choosing Buffalo to host the Pan-Am Exposition was its large population and central location. With a population of over 350,000, Buffalo was the United States’ eighth largest metropolis, and over 40 million people could reach the city in a single day, if they traveled by railway. The city had reserved a large tract of land for the exposition, extending from Delaware Avenue to Elmwood Avenue and northward to Great Arrow Avenue.

For the city of Buffalo, it was an opportunity to be showcased as the manifestation of prosperity and progress. One of the wonders of the Exposition was the hydroelectric energy that allowed the architects of the exposition to use electric lights to illuminate the place. The American press called it The City of Light.

At its center, fair-goers could visit the 409’ Electric Tower, designed by John Galen Howard.i It represented the power of the elements, and the mysterious force of electricity. Perched atop the tower was the winged figure of the Goddess of Light by Herbert Adams.

The massive Electric Tower was 409 feet tall. Photo courtesy Library of Congress

Harnessing the power of electricity on such a grand scale excited the famed inventor Nikola Tesla, who cried: “Niagara Power will make Buffalo the greatest city in the world!” All in all, the Pan-American Exposition was on track to be an enormous success. And the crowning glory would be President William McKinley’s visit in early September.

William McKinley was inaugurated as America’s 25th president in 1897. He was extraordinarily devoted to his wife Ida. The couple had had two daughters, both of whom died before age 5. The First Lady never recovered from her shock and grief, and became a chronic invalid.
The McKinley White House was steeped in quiet sadness but the focus of the administration was prosperity. One of the hallmarks of McKinley’s first term was his focus on tariffs, to protect American workers.

The vice president, Garret Augustus Hobart, died in office in November of 1899. If a similar tragedy occurred today, a new vice president would be chosen very quickly. The president, however, left the office vacant for over a year, until his second term began.

McKinley was reelected easily in 1900. His second term began on March 4, 1901, with Theodore Roosevelt as the new vice president, ending the vacancy after 468 days. To celebrate, the president immediately embarked on a tour of western states, where he was greeted by cheering crowds. The tour would end in Buffalo, where the president and first lady were scheduled to spend two days at the Pan-American Exposition.

Go to Part II >

It’s the last day of Mugshot March! This calls for something spectacular, so this evening, I bring you the tale of Mrs. Margaret Rowan, founder of a cult, attempted murderer, and eventual prisoner at San Quentin penitentiary.

Wade and Rowan formerly belonged to the Seventh Day Adventist Church, but Mrs. Rowan soon created a problem. In 1925, she predicted the exact date on which the world would end. When that date passed, and people found the world was still intact, Rowan was excommunicated. Mrs. Rowan soon established herself in Los Angeles, with a couple of followers. The papers that refer to Mrs. Rowan as a cult leader are referencing the sect she established, not the Seventh Day Adventists.

The story begins in February 1927, when all Southern California police departments received a description of Mrs. Margaret Rowan, who they described as a prophetess or priestess. An automobile owned by Mrs. Rowan was found abandoned in a ditch off the highway near San Juan Capistrano, and Los Angeles authorities expressed the fear that she may be a fugitive, heading for the Mexican border. Mrs. Rowan was wanted in connection with an alleged murder plot, and a warrant had been sworn for her arrest.


Two of Rowan’s lieutenants and devoteés, Dr. J.H. Balzer and Miss Mary A. Wade, were accused of attempting to murder Dr. Burt E. Fullmer. Mrs. Rowan and Dr. Fullmer had a theological disagreement that turned deadly. Dr. Fullmer who had also broken off from the Seventh Day Adventists to start a reform-minded sect. Dr. Fullmer claimed the pair attempted to murder him after he had threatened to reveal some unsavory activities Mrs. Rowan had been conducting.

Around 10 p.m. one February evening, Dr. Fullmer received an anonymous phone call at his home in Los Angeles. A woman’s voice, which he later identified as that of Mrs. Rowan, said that a good friend of his needed to speak to him immediately. The caller implored Dr. Fullmer to come to a lonely auto camp in Van Nays. When he arrived at the cabin, a man and a woman leapt at him, beating his head with a piece of lead pipe and stabbed with a hypodermic needle.

Dr. Fullmer

Dr. Fullmer fought his way out of the cabin. Once outside, others at the camp saw what was happening and ran to Fullmer’s rescue. They forcibly detained Dr. Balzer and Miss Mary Wade, and the pair were arrested at the scene.

The initial police investigation turned up several ominous items in the cabin, such as a large piece of canvas, a rope, and a shovel. Dr. Balzer agreed to be interviewed and he told police, “We were driven to the limits of desperation by this man his persecution has been terrible we had no intention of harming him are only thought was to force him to retract the malicious untruths he has been circulating.”


The following day, police called on Dr. Fullmer. The injured man snorted in disgust when he was told Miss Wade and Dr. Balzer said they had not intended to hurt him. “They were planning to kill me,” he shouted. “What do you suppose they had that pick and canvas for, if it wasn’t to bury me?”

Witnesses at the scene corroborated Dr. Fullmer’s story. One man said he saw Balzer and Wade try to choke Dr. Fullmer, and then Miss Wade repeatedly jabbed at Dr. Fullmer’s arm with a hypodermic needle. With that, police had enough to charge Mrs. Rowan, Dr. Balzer, and Miss Wade with conspiracy to commit murder. Dr. Balzer and Miss Wade admitted to participating in the attack, but they claimed Mrs. Rowan was really at fault for convincing them to do it. Dr. Fullmer also told police that he believed Mrs. Margaret Rowan was involved.

But Mrs. Rowan was nowhere to be found. For nine days, police searched for her. And then, she limped into the police station on crutches and turned herself in. She explained to police that she’d had nothing to do with the attack of Dr. Fullmer. Far from it: in fact, Mrs. Rowan was the victim.

Ignoring the incredulity of the police officers, Mrs. Rowan told them that she, too, had received an urgent, mysterious summons to come to the auto camp. She stepped into the cabin, where she was jumped by a man and a woman. But somehow– she was a little vague on the details– she had gotten away from them and gotten into her car, and raced off into the night.


Mrs. Rowan drove for a long time, putting many miles between herself and her mysterious attackers. When she reached San Juan Capistrano on the Ocean Highway, her good luck ran out when her automobile stalled. Despite having fended off two attackers wielding deadly weapons, Mrs. Rowan sank into despair. She waded out into the ocean, she told the officers, and attempted suicide by drowning three times in a matter of minutes. Somehow she failed to end her life and strayed back to shore. “I slept in a field that night,” she said solemnly. “The next day, I begged for rides to Phoenix, Arizona. I borrowed the money to get back to San Bernardino.” Mrs. Rowan then called her son who lived nearby. He offered to take her to the police to turn herself in, and she accepted.

Police officers and reporters laughed merrily as they heard her story. No one believed a word of it, and despite their appreciation for her imaginative tale, Mrs. Rowan was placed under arrest and taken to county jail. She would be held there, with her followers, and bail was set for $2,500 each.

Mrs. Rowan, Dr. Balzer, and Miss Wade pleaded Not Guilty the following day, but they soon reconsidered. The trio had no realistic defense for their attempted murder of Dr. Fullmer. The following day, all three pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of assault, with intent to commit bodily harm.

Mrs. Rowan, Miss Wade, and Dr. Balzer were denied probation in July. Superior Judge Fletcher Bowron, citing the clear evidence of their intent to murder Fullmer that was found in the cabin refused to consider probation. Instead, Balzer and Wade were sentenced to serve from 1-10 years in San Quentin penitentiary, while Mrs. Rowan got 10.



I didn’t manage to find Dr. Balzer’s mugshot, but have a look at Miss Mary A. Wade and Mrs. Margaret Rowan. Do they look like a murderous cult member and prophetess to you?








This is part 2 of the very unusual McNeil Island mugshots from the 1890s-1906.

As you’ve seen, McNeil Island Penitentiary tended to photograph men in pairs, wearing their striped prisoner clothing, and with their name and prison number scribbled on the back.

But there were a few mugshots that did not fit this profile. Or they fit but there is something else that is unusual about them.


Of all the mugshots, only two were of women. Neither was photographed in stripes, and I wondered if they were really prisoners and not a spouse or an employee, but they had numbers so they must’ve been. And Maggie Snyder, featured here, does look like nothing but trouble:

Maggie Snyder #152-05


Florence Harley #182


Then, there are these two. Quite possibly the coolest looking but practically useless mugshots in the world.

Harry Allen 106-05
John Sedion #107-05


The only line-up photo

John Cole #1185 Wm Smith #1183 Nael Waterman #1132 Daniel While #1136 John Mamering #1134


These were definitely convicted men, but probably photographed before they were given clothing to wear. Ray Hon, on the right, has a truly frightened look on his face. The other man, on the left, should be trusted with nothing, ever.

John Slattery #140-05 Ray Hon #141-05


This was the only photo that listed the date on the back, and the prisoner did not have a number. Something about him makes him seem more like a patient than an inmate.

Joseph Breslin dated 10:25:06

The hat!

Name illegible #1427 Lee West #1243


Photographed alone, without stripes, but he did have a number.


Nee Ching #154-05

A cruel face…

These men were not identified by name or number.

Another cruel face, and a frightened one.

Richard Henn #1323 James Feney #1322


The last post mentioned the Legion to Indian term as well. I’m not sure what it means. By the way, the text beneath each picture is an exact transcription of what was written on the back of the photo. Stannestones was the other one-name-only prisoner, along with Mamick.

Stannestones (Indian) #1258 Legion to Indians; Daniel Dywood Also known as Disall #1257


The guy on the left is really good looking.

Walter Hoffman #1313 Paul Rodarek #1312


This fellow looks like he’s been in a fight or something

Walter Packwood #1601


If I’m able to look around some more, I would be interested to know what this guy did for a living. Hopefully he was a poet. He looks just like a character in a book.

Walter Stanley #160-05


This photo can only be described as creepy.

Wm Bigelow #1432 Charles Johnson #1583


I think William Moore might actually be wearing a pocket watch! I guess you can’t hide style.

William Moore #139-04 Will White #159-04