The 55th convention of the Department of California and Nevada of the Grand Army of the Republic gathered in Berkeley 75 years ago. The GAR was the organization of Union veterans of the Civil War. Berkeley had last hosted the GAR's departmental "encampment" in 1933.
Of actual living Civil War veterans, "it is doubtful that more than 35 or 40 in California and Nevada will be able to attend the convention here," the Berkeley Daily Gazette reported April 29. But including their "affiliated organizations" -- primarily groups of relatives of Union soldiers -- they were 1,200 strong, arriving in Berkeley starting April 29, 1939 for a six-day reunion.
"We welcome each one of you in the name of the friendly City of Berkeley," Mayor Edward Ament proclaimed. "These brave men will, in the course of nature, pass to their reward, but they leave with us the recollection of their loyalty and devotion, which should light our way through the years. God grant that they be peaceful years."
On May 2, the veterans and others paraded through downtown, ending at the Berkeley Armory on Addison Street (which still stands, as an office building, on the south side of Addison east of Martin Luther King Jr. Way). Berkeley schools were closed that morning and school contingents participated.
An Italian marble bench -- described as "an everlasting memorial to the City of Berkeley for its civic reception and warm welcome to the delegates" -- was presented April 3, in Live Oak Park, by the daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
"Elect a Councilman -- Not a Rubber Stamp" was the slogan of council incumbent Edward A. Martin in the May 2, 1939, local election. He was part of the "Forward Berkeley Committee," the dissident slate trying to unseat other Council incumbents, allied as the "Council-Manager League".
About 19,000 voted and elected incumbent Councilman Frank Gaines as the new mayor, along with his "Council-Manager" slate. Martin lost. In the unofficial vote tally, Frances Albrier got 1,689 votes. The winning Council candidates received from about 8,000 to about 9,600 votes.
Voters also turned down a local civil service ordinance that had been hotly opposed by the establishment.
Supporters had argued that a municipal civil service system would defeat "the same old political spoils system crowd."
They also alleged that city resources had been used to mail campaign literature against the ordinance, and that city employees -- who, they said, privately favored the ordinance by a large majority -- had each been given 10 copies of an anti-ordinance letter and forced to address and sign them to friends, then return them to their department heads to be mailed.
On April 29, the Berkeley High School Band won a "superior rating" with three other bands in a contest of 17 school bands at the Golden Gate International Exposition. Several middle school bands and singing groups from Berkeley also participated in separate competitions.
Albany police officer William Hydie performed a classic rescue April 29, 1939 when he pulled little 3-year-old Sharron Bucklin of 1133 Stannage Ave. from the railroad tracks at Masonic and Marin avenues just as a Santa Fe train approached.
The girl had slipped away from home and walked alone to see the "choo choo," the Gazette said.
Hydie had stopped his patrol car at the intersection as the train approached and saw her, standing on the tracks.
"Leaping from his car, Officer Hydie called on every ounce of reserve strength as he dashed towards the tracks," read the account. "Just in time he reached the little girl, picked her up in his arms and whisked her off the tracks as the train thundered by."