The local newspapers of the 1940s frequently offered unique and interesting stories about Napa County residents, their talents, abilities and even their dreams and aspirations.
In early 1941, a Napa Daily Journal headline announced “Artistic Talent is Revealed in Jail.” The article opened with: “‘Let me paint your picture. I think you’ll like it.’ That statement, made yesterday to Undersheriff John Claussen by Gene Crosby, revealed a deep, startling talent in the soft-spoken burglary suspect, who tomorrow will be delivered into the hands of FBI agents on kidnapping charges.”
According to the Journal, Crosby carried with him a handful of well-worn brushes and paint tubes, which the officers originally disregarded. His talent quickly came to light in his portrait of Claussen.
The Journal revealed that Crosby had studied art for three years at UCLA. He had also created a series of religious paintings for a priest and painted numerous portraits, some of which sold for $300 or more. As for Claussen’s portrait, the 1941 Journal added, “Crosby is working swiftly to complete his portrait,” before being whisked away by the FBI.
While Crosby possessed hidden artistic talents, another local man had a secret dream and desire. An early 1948 Journal article wrote, “Eugene Sheffield, a 68-year-old Napa prune rancher, last Friday realized his long-standing dream of sailing the Pacific on a solo voyage to Hawaii. On that day, he tooled his 39-foot yawl, Peggy, into the Hilo harbor after a six-weeks journey.”
The details continued, “It was early in January that Sheffield embarked on his long and perilous trip in his boat, built in his backyard largely by his own labor. During the journey, Sheffield covered about 5000 miles. He said he selected the southern course to avoid gales.”
Having successfully reached his destination, Sheffield was greeted by his family at the Hilo harbor. His wife, also a Napa resident, had left Napa days earlier to fly to Hawaii. Both of their sons were residents of Hawaii.
The third Napa County resident whose talents were lauded in the 1940s by the local press was author Jessasym West. Her best known novel, “The Friendly Persuasion,” was released in 1945 to glowing reviews. Eventually, a movie based on the novel, and starring Gary Cooper, premiered in 1956.
Both the novel and feature film were inspired by her mother’s recollections of growing up as an Indiana Quaker. West’s mother had recounted those memories to her daughter when West was suffering from tuberculosis and confined to her mother’s home.
Actually, in 1934, West had been released from a sanitorium to her mother’s home and care following West’s diagnosis of being terminally ill. West had resided at that sanitorium since 1932. During those two years, or so, West wrote of her experiences at that facility. But is was her mother’s childhood memories that inspired West, an English teacher by trade, to write her first novel. Her decision to pursue a writing career was also encouraged by her Whittier College sweetheart and husband, Harry Maxwell McPherson, whom she had married in 1923.
West went on to write dozens of other books including, “A Mirror for the Sky,” “The Witch Diggers,” “South of the Angels,” and many more. West would continue to write until she suffered a stroke. It ultimately caused her death on Feb. 23, 1984 at the age of 81 years old.
These accounts from the 1940s are just a few of the many local newspaper articles heralding the talents, gifts and aspirations of Napa County residents.