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Friday, March 2, 2012

Continuing Story of Paul De Gaston

Paul De Gaston - River Nile
The tale continues:

I got this letter the other day:

Regarding My Grandfather, Paul DeGaston, your enigmatic artist!

About My Grandfather, Paul DeGaston – Photographer and Artist

Dear Robert,

Well, we have quite a story to tell you and would love to talk with to clarify the life and history of my grandfather, Paul DeGaston, the photographer and artist.  I am preparing my own fine art photography website and asked my wife to find some of my grandfather’s photos on her computer and in the process she Goggled my grandfather’s name once again and found your website and story/questions about my Grandfather and his art.

The bottom line is my Grandfather made his living as a professional photographer and traveled as you said all over, especially to Hawaii, lived in San Francisco for a while and also had a studio in La Jolla—hence the Escondido connection.  The Black Dahlia DeGaston/abortionist is a different person which we discovered in doing our own background research on my Grandfather about two years ago. (What are the odds that we would see your blog about Paul DeGaston, asking about who he is, 4 days after you wrote it? That’s synchronicity for you.  I guess we “heard” your “call!”

We’re going to call you tomorrow, Thursday, March 1st and hopefully connect with you in person.  I’ll be happy to tell you everything I know about him.

With our best regards,


I wrote him back:

Thank you guys, it will be a pleasure to speak with you. Call me after 10 at 7xx-xxx-xxxx.

The nexus for me was that according to the ship's documents, I believe that the Paul De Gaston going to Hawaii had a spouse named Leona. The Black Dahlia man had a spouse named Cleona. With all of the subterfuge I figured slam dunk. But strange coincidences do occur occasionally in an infinite universe! In any case, my blog readership has been enthralled with the whole story so far so now we can tie a nice bow around it. (That is, unless your grandfather fooled you, too...)



They called me yesterday and we talked. We filled each other in on information that the other did not have. He told me that DeGaston authored a book, I told him about a magazine article I had found. He says that his relative lived in La Jolla for a period of time. and never to his knowledge in the state of Washington. Friend of Ansel Adams. We agreed to continue to share information.

And I am still not totally convinced. There are so many strange oddities in the matrix. 
1925 S.F. City Directory
* He tells me that this grandfather, who he never met, had eight wives. The other DeGaston also had many multiple marriages.  We have Ruby, Leona, Cleona, Grace, Violet, Helen and who knows who else, so far...Could we have one of those cases of a man living with multiple identities, leading a double life?

From DeGaston.com (Black Dahlia)
* He says that his DeGaston's middle name was Percy. But Percy used multiple different middle names as well, including the initial f. Here is a San Diego directory from 1943 where Paul F, a photographer is with Violet, the name of the woman the other DeGaston was first married to and who he marries again 15 years later! It is all so confusing...Paul Robert is known as Paul R.T.B. DeGaston as well as the other known aliases. The DeGaston website says that Violet was his first wife, but this was prior to 1931. Why do we have a marriage certificate to Violet from 1958? Did he remarry a childhood flame, his first wife and love? Not to mention the fact that it was was two years after he was officially dead. (Figured this out. Gaston had two sons named Paul Robert DeGaston, first one killed in war, second one also married a woman named Violet. That's three Paul DeGaston's married to three women named Violet, in case you are scoring at home.)

World War 1 Draft Card
* Both men, if there were two men, were dissemblers about their age, using at various times, 1877, 1879, 1880, 1890, 1891, 1892, 1902 and 1904. The question begs to be asked, why the obfuscation on the part of both of these men, if in fact they were two separate people?
Why the multiple names?

*  The Black Dahlia DeGaston supposedly died in 1956. The second man, in Riverside in 1963. But the first one never had a social security number! Tell me, how can you live and work in this country for fifty years without one? And why is there a Nevada marriage license for Paul R DeGaston to Violet, two years after he had supposedly died? Curiouser and curiouser.

May 17, 1929 Passenger list to Honolulu - Sonoma
*The time lines certainly work. His DeGaston was supposedly born in Trenton, New Jersey, on November 27th, with a mother's maiden name of Presber. Black Dahlia, Nazi DeGaston's mother's maiden name was listed as Bach as was his german alias but his son's website says that her name was actually Anna Maria Hermann. The FBI papers say that DeGaston's real name is Teodore Hermann Bach.

My correspondent tells me that the names of a daughter or sister in both families were identical when they talked to Black Dahlia DeGaston's family. Perhaps it was Julia or Gloria, I forgot to jot it down. DeGaston the artist works in Hawaii in the mid thirties, Black Dahlia picked up by the FBI and incarcerated for unspecified period in 1942, Black Dahlia affair around 1946...H-m-m-m, it could all conceivably work for one individual.

Oakland Directory c. 1924
Could this whole thing be an OSS witness protection, cover scenario that I have stumbled upon? They provided sanctuary to a lot of sordid people with checkered pasts after the war.

I guess that my biggest question is why is there no record of Paul Robert DeGaston anywhere until he is picked up by the FBI and then later jailed in the Black Dahlia case. No social security, no war record (he claimed to have been in World War I), no city directory listings like we see with this other individual. A man who is said by his descendants to have lived a fairly normal life, even playing music in the Glendale Symphony but no records anywhere. How could he have not left any footprint? So who was he, really?

I am going through lots of records on Ancestry.com and elsewhere and will try to fill in the dots wherever they may lead. Feel free to pitch in.

Postscript 3/3/12

Found this blurb on Percy - apparently an innovator in the technology of night photography:

First Night Photography:

September 5, 1914:  Percy DeGaston, cameraman at Balboa, devised a new compound, providing enough actinic light to film night scenes.  The Balboa film, An Eye for an Eye, copyrighted January 1915, was the first movie in the world to use night photography successfully.


Percy De Gaston, inventor of the new chemical compound and apparatus
which furnish enough actinic light to film scenes at night, is a camera man
at the Balboa studios.  When a scene is being photographed at night, the
country is illuminated for several hundred feet distant, the violet-white
flame burning steadily for two minutes.
     Director (William) Taylor filmed seven camp-fire scenes by the new light, and is
said to have obtained excellent results.

Three new alias's for Paul R. DeGaston, Hoisch, Baker and Marsh. Apparently C.J. Morris was not an alias but a partner in the abortion clinic.


Sanoguy said...

What a great story!! keep up the great detective work!!

North County Film Club said...

Fascinating. Can't wait til the next installment. I was going to try Ancestry. But it looks like you're already on it.

Anonymous said...

reads like a John Irving novel.

Anonymous said...

Hello Robert,
This is amazing to make this connection with my grandfather's past. It appears the etchings from the sisters you mention are definitely his. Where are the sisters from? Southern California? My mother and aunt lived most of their childhood in So. Cal. and graduated from South Pasadena High School. I remember my mother talking about San Mateo and I think they lived there as well. I can ask my aunt, who is now 89, and hopefully get a lucid response.

Our Paul DeGaston was born Nov. 27, 1878 and died in 1958. He doesn't appear to be the Paul Robert DeGaston that the son writes about.

I have examples of my grandmothers student work in photography. My aunt told me that Leona also studied with Ansel Adams at the Art Center School, then in Pasadena, now in LA.
I thought my grandmother had told me that Paul DeGaston also taught at the Art Center School. I've never tried to trace his history there but maybe you could if you are so inclined.

Someone commented that they knew of a Paul DeGaston, photographer/printmaker who lived and worked in Honolulu. That would be my grandfather. My mother went to stay with him after she graduated from high school and I have a few photos of her there.

The print you posted "Mending Nets, Old China" looked familiar. I finally remembered that my aunt has the original in her living room.

I'll write more when I have time.

Blue Heron said...

G, why do you think he died in 1958? All signs point to 1963. Interesting.

Cheri Van Hoover said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

All of this is fascinating. My mother's oldest sister, Violet (Parker)married Paul de Gaston, I'm guessing somewhere in the 1930's. Aunt Violet and Uncle Paul lived in La Jolla when I was a youngster and later, moved out to the desert (1,000 Palms) when I was a teenager.
My Uncle Paul was quite an artist and photographer. My sister and I have a few of his works. I have photographs of both my Uncle and Aunt. I think that Uncle Paul died in the early 1960's and Aunt Violet died a bit later. She lived with my parents for about a year before she died. I was in the Navy when she passed away, so it would have been between 1963 and 1965.

Betsy Warner said...

I am moving and have just come across two beautiful original DeGaston prints. One is a drypoint, the other doesn't say. I have inherited things from several sources and can't recall where these came from but the signatures are clear. I would guess that they belonged to my great Uncle Frank in La Jolla. Once I have settled in, I'll take pictures if anyone is interested. Unfortunately, one has a touch of foxing. Betsy

Unknown said...

I may have a photograph of Paul De Gaston. Signature looks the same. Bought it at a garage sale in Carmel, Ca. Years ago. Can send pic.

Deborah smith

Blue Heron said...

please do. would love to see it.