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Leonard McKay

Leonard McKay

Welcome to www.leonardmckay.com, the site dedicated to the life and learnings of Leonard McKay, historian, San Jose, California. My grandfather was an amazing man and a wealth of knowledge. As such, I have decided that it is a crime to let his knowledge go to waste, and will be developing this site in his honor.

Excerpts from Leonard's Blog

  • Dirt (Part 5): After World War II, I returned home to college and normal life in “The Valley of Heart’s Delight.” Agriculture was still king, but waste from the industry overwhelmed the sewage system, which was unable to carry it all to Alviso. So, truckloads of tomato and fruit waste were hauled there and dumped in huge piles. These piles fermented and developed hydrochloric acid fumes that were borne on the wind southwards. If you owned a building that was painted with white lead paint (very common in the 1950s), it could turn gray overnight.
  • Christmas in San Jose: Did you ever wonder how Christmas was celebrated in the past in San Jose? When our first foreign settlers, the Spaniards, were here, the birth of Christ was celebrated by going to mass at the Mission Santa Clara, the closest church. The male citizens rode their horses for the three-mile trip. The women and young children went on the rough ride to the mission on a wooden-wheeled, no-springs caretta. After the Americans arrived, most of the celebrations moved to the family home or local churches.
  • The Educated Fly Rod (Part 2): May Day of each year was an undeclared school holiday for high school boys as May 1st was the opening day of trout season, and nearly every boy skipped school that day whether they went fishing or not. I always eagerly awaited the opening of fishing season and every school day afternoon, while seated in class, I was afflicted with a tremendous itch to be out in our local trout streams. I was not the only one afflicted as many of my fishing buddies would be equally tormented. There was no football practice, basketball was over and we felt that we could best train for the track team by hurdling over rocks and doing the broad jump across the creek. One of my closest friends was Barney “Max” Barnett, who equally loved fishing. We would squirm until the 2:25 bell rang and by 2:30, we were out the door, heading for the creek. School was officially over at 3:30 but we were long gone by then.
  • Credo Quia Absurdum: There has been considerable debate about the purpose of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus. Is it a men’s historical and drinking society, or is it a drinking and historical society? What does the name stand for? I can’t answer these questions and the name doesn’t translate into anything meaningful in English. The society’s roots—as a benevolent fraternal society—go deep into the gold rush history of California, when there was a real need for such things.
  • Beer Making in San Jose (Part 1): Old Joe’s Steam Beer— “It’s pure that’s sure!” Have you ever heard of this beer or this slogan? Joe Hartman was a 49er who came to California in 1852 from Germany to make his fortune finding gold nuggets. That didn’t work out as only one in five of the gold seekers ever made expenses. So Joe came to San Jose and, in 1853, started the Eagle Brewery in a shack on South Market Street. Joe made steam beer—a brewing process that takes only a month rather than the four months that lager beer requires. Joe had a good delivery system; if a saloon needed a keg of beer, Joe put the keg in his wheelbarrow and delivered it himself. But his personal delivery service didn’t last long as there was tremendous demand for his product and the brewery expanded rapidly.