A fascination for what life once was caused Betsy Green to research life in Santa Barbara 100 years ago, and she relayed what she found in both The Mesa Paper and at Edhat.com. Those columns became the basis of her book, Way Back When: Santa Barbara in 1914, which she will draw from when she speaks to the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society this Saturday, May 16, 9:30 a.m.-noon, at First Presbyterian Church. See sbgen.org. She answered a few questions about the book last week.
How did this project begin? I write a history column for The Mesa Paper, but since that paper is not online, if someone wants to read my column, I have to physically hand them a paper — which is so 20th-century! So I approached Edhat.com about posting my Mesa column on their website. That idea morphed into my Way Back When column on Edhat, a monthly column about weird and wacky stuff that was published in the Santa Barbara newspapers 100 years ago.
What made you focus on the year 1914? Nineteen fourteen was 100 years before 2014. (I can tell you’re mathematically challenged. So am I.) Since I’m a word nerd, I figured it was easier to subtract 100 from 2014 than, say, 57. Two thousand fourteen minus 57 would be … umm … let me see … carry the one, … oh, never mind!
What were some of the most interesting things you discovered? There were people here! Our generation didn’t invent people! They were here in Santa Barbara 100 years ago! I loved discovering that Buffalo Bill — the real deal, not some cheap imitation — brought his circus here to Santa Barbara. And Martha Graham — she went to Santa Barbara High School. Movie stars were here, too! We didn’t invent them either! The Flying A film studio was making movies all over the city; they just went out and shot actors doing cool, crazy stuff like driving cars in front of trains or off cliffs. They didn’t have to screw around with permits and red tape.
What did you find to be much the same as it is now? Newspapers. There was even one called the Daily News & Independent.
Do you have plans for a future book? Yes! I’m working on putting my 1915 columns together into the next book in my Way Back When: Santa Barbara in _ series, the history of Santa Barbara one year at a time. I’ve never had so much fun with my clothes on! I’m also working on my magnum whoopus, MESApedia, the history of the Mesa up to 1900.