Peregrine flight

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Rainmaker

One of the most interesting events in San Diego history was the bizarre tale of Charles Hatfield and the great flood of 1916.

The story has its roots in Fallbrook, Hatfield moving  to Gopher Canyon in Bonsall in 1902 and to the family olive grove in Fallbrook in 1912.

At both locations Hatfield built large towers where he performed his mysterious weather altering experiments.

A Quaker, Hatfield still tried to join the army to fight the Spanish American War in 1898 but was rejected for being too thin. 

A sewing machine salesman, he developed an interest in rainmaking after being intrigued with the work of Harvard professor William Morris Davis, who had written the text Elementary Meteorology. 

Hatfield's rainmaking pursuits took him far and wide after 1902. There had been a terrible drought in 1904 and he was hired to set up shop in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times ran this story on February 2, 1904, misspelling his name:
Charles Hadfield, expert rain manufacturer, has been sent out by a number of South Spring Street merchants to bring down the recreant showers. For the consideration of $50 Hadfield has planted his instruments in the foothill district near Pasadena and with a new process of chemical evaporation promises abundant moisture in five days. The magician holds himself responsible for the abundant rain in San Diego County late last spring, and says he has tried 17 times, scoring only one fail­ure. Barnett & Gude, H. E. Memory, H. G. Ackley and others stand sponsor to this com­mander of nature.
Rainmaking had been largely discredited  in the late 1890's but he was hired anyway and rain it did. So successfully in fact that the people of Pasadena begged him for a reprieve so that the Tournament of Roses could be held. They printed this poem in the newspaper:

Oh Mister Hatfield, you've been good to us:
You've made it rain in ways promiscuous!
From Saugus down to San Diego's Bay
They bless you for the rains of yesterday.
     But Mister Hatfield, listen now;
     Make us this vow:
Oh, please, kind sir, don't let it rain on Monday!

And other doings full of fun and glee
For New Year's Day are planned abundantly
From Saugus down to San Diego's Bay
And they will bless you on tomorrow's day,
      Great moistener, if you will listen now
      And make this vow:
Oh, please, kind sir, don't let it rain on Monday!

Their pleas were heard and no rain fell on the parade.

Hatfield worked as far north as Alaska, all the way to Texas. He also plied his moisturizing talents in the San Joaquin, the Hemet area, Kansas, Idaho and Arizona.

The Rainmaker was hired by the city of San Diego in December of 1915 for the sum of $10,000.00. He offered to fill Morena Reservoir, without reference to the amount of rain necessary to do it, by December 20, 1916. 

Or he would cause a rainfall of 50 inches by June 1, 1916, for which he would require either $500 per inch from the 30th to the 50th inch or $1, 000 per inch from the 40th to the 50th. 

Each of these alternatives meant $10,000 for completion. The city council had agreed to pay him the money if Morena Reservoir was filled.

It started raining on the 10th of January. It didn't stop until the 27th. The resulting floods left San Diego scarred for years. 

Miles of train tracks were uprooted and rail service was stopped for 32 days. Lower Otay Dam broke and many lives were lost. Sweetwater Dam overflowed. Telephone and telegraph service was halted, leaving the Marconi wireless as the only means of communication. The San Diego River was over a mile wide, stretching from Mission Valley to Kearny Mesa. Fifteenth street became a river out of Balboa Park. The Fallbrook Rail Station on the Santa Margarita River was washed away as was the station master's home. The Pala Bell tower was undermined and toppled. More than 200 bridges were washed out. The United Press reported at least 65 dead. The following photograph shows the Fallbrook train after the '16 flood.

The Morena Dam was in fact overfilled, with a huge flood pouring over the top but Hatfield was never paid a dime for his efforts. The San Diego Union ran a quote from him.

  "I understand the newspapers are saying I didn't make the rain. All I have to say is that Morena has had 17½ inches of rain in the last five days and that beats any similar record for the place that I have been able to find."

People talked about lynching the rainmaker. The City Attorney, Cosgrove, said his contract was unenforceable and wondered if he would accept liability for the damages he caused. The claims against the city exceeded $3.5 million dollars. Cosgrove asked him to sign a document assuming responsibility for the flood damage. He refused. His resultant suit against the city hung around for 22 years until it was dismissed for lack of prosecution. It was rumored that he may have been paid $5,000.00 under the table. Hatfield, a religious man of conviction, always denied it.

Publicity from the San Diego debacle led him to rainmaking jobs in Naples, Italy and Honduras where it was said that he doused a forest fire in 10 days and produced a total of 15 in. of rain in two months.

The question has been posed as to how he accomplished his efforts. Hatfeld's family never divulged his secrets, saying that the formulas were too powerful. They were said to involve evaporating certain liquids in shallow pans. He reportedly mixed up to 23 chemicals in the galvanized tanks. He called himself a moisture accelerator. Some said that explosions were involved in the process.

He claimed over 500 successes. During the depression his wife left him and he went back to selling sewing machines. Hatfield died in 1958. He is buried at Forest Lawn.

Perhaps the citizens of San Diego should consider paying some consideration to this man's heirs to settle some karmic debt that may still be lingering?


Anonymous said...

Fascinating; either Charlie was lucky, or was on to something. Rain, I don't mind.

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

Great story. Fascinating guy! I'm a lurker and read your blog every day. One of the great pleasures of early mornings is to get a cup of copy and read about what has caught your attention recently. Please don't even
think about quitting.

North County Film Club said...

Have you read the book by our most famous Fallbrook author, T.Jefferson Parker? I can't think of the title right now, but will look it up and send it to you. It's about this guy and even mentions Fallbrook. It's not the best book I've ever read but was interesting.

North County Film Club said...

The book is Storm Runners and it's a fictionalized account partly about the rainmaker.