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Down Memory Lane:Celebrating 25 years
Down Memory Lane

Down Memory Lane:Celebrating 25 years

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This Thursday, July 9, will mark the 25th anniversary of the debut of Memory Lane as well as the beginning of my professional association with Napa Valley Register as an independent contractor writer and columnist. In honor of this occasion, today’s column will offer highlights from 1995, a look back at some favorite stories and a few other thoughts.

At the national level, in 1995, Cal Ripken, Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles played his 2,131 consecutive game on Sept. 6, breaking Lou Gehrig’s 1949 record of 2,130 games. In October, the United Nations commemorated its 50th anniversary. On Oct. 16 hundreds of thousands of primarily African American men gathered in Washington, D.C. to participate in the Million Man March.

Locally in 1995, Napa County endured two significant floods occurring in January and March. In July, Calistoga, St. Helena and Yountville were each applying for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds to fix and prevent flood damage.

As many area residents were dealing with that serious issue, other locals were pleasantly distracted by Hollywood. The 1995 Napa Valley Film Festival kicked off with an advanced screening of a movie filmed in Napa and Sonoma counties, “A Walk in the Clouds.”

In July, some Napans took their own chance for stardom. The Register reported, “More than 60 Napa kids auditioned for starring roles in an Oscar Mayer TV commercial. The scene in front of Albertson’s (now Whole Foods) supermarket in Bel Aire Plaza was pure Hollywood, with the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile—27-foot-long hot-dog on wheels—serving as the backdrop for the talent search.” Those children had only 30 seconds to audition by singing either the “Weiner Jingle” or “Bologna Song.”

Napa County history has captured and holds a plethora of equally memorable events and people from its past. This abundance of material created quite a challenge in selecting the following historical highlights. These two true stories, although very different, share some marked similarities. While they profoundly stirred the community, the fate of the main subjects remain unknown, to most.

One of the most distinctive individuals to pass through Napa Valley and leave his brief, yet sensational, mark was Frank Baroni. Due to the attire he wore — clothing and accessories typically reserved for European royalty, locals nicknamed him “Count Baroni.” His entry into the local historical archives occurred in the late-1800s.

Known as a generous and affable gentleman, Baroni shocked the community when he revealed a malevolent side. During a weekly card game with two of his Napa friends, Fred Crowey and Max Schwartz, Crowey made a comment to Baroni. With great anger, Baroni abruptly stood up from his chair, pulled out a concealed pistol and declared, “I am going to kill you!”

With that statement, Crowey ran out of the building and onto Napa’s Main Street with Baroni in hot pursuit. As Baroni took shots at Crowey, Schwartz was far behind trying to reason with his irate friend. As the by-standers scattered in self defense, it was quite the fantastic scene in the typically quiet downtown Napa.

The local constable arrived on that scene as Baroni was kneeling down to take better aim at Crowey. As Baroni was being hauled off to jail, cursing all the way, Crowey ran home leaving his friend Schwartz and fellow Napans on the street in utter bewilderment.

Crowey never pressed charges, so Baroni had to be set free. Upon his release from jail, Baroni went to his hotel room, gathered his belongings and left Napa, forever. This event was the topic about town for some time, especially ‘What was Crowey’s offending comment?” Although pressured by many Napans to divulge that secret, Crowey never revealed what he had said to Baroni.

While what was uttered to and became of Baroni remains unknown, so does the fate of a little girl whose story of neglect grabbed local hearts and headlines in Dec. 1964. According to the Register, the Napa authorities received word of a child, a 14-month-old girl, suffering from parental neglect.

When the Napa police officers arrived at her home, they initially found only her mother and 2-year-old brother. But just beyond that living room was the small room where the child in question was kept. The mother offered no resistance and allowed the officers to enter that room. There, they found the little girl laying on a bare mattress clad only in a soiled diaper.

When the authorities faced the mother about removing the girl from the home, the young woman said they could have the toddler as the mother had all she wanted—her beautiful son. She also had mentioned she had tried to sell the little girl for $500 and was tired of waiting for a buyer.

As her paperwork was being processed, the little girl was enjoying the attention of her rescuers. It seems she had won every heart at the Napa Police Department. The officers and staff bought her clothes, toys and countless other gifts. They even bought one another congratulatory cigars banded with the announcement, “It’s a girl!” With the parental custody release papers signed, the little girl was placed in foster care.

The two previous stories are just a pair of the many local history stories covered in Memory Lane. Since July 9, 1995, it has been a wonderful experience sharing our local history with you, which I have, and do, deeply appreciate. I also look forward to continuing our walk down Napa County’s Memory Lane.

Before closing this special celebratory column, I would like to thank Kevin Courtney for “discovering” me 25 years ago. I also thank Sasha Paulsen for being an understanding and constructive editor. And, last but definitely not the least, I am most grateful for you, the readers! Thank you for reading, and especially commenting on, Memory Lane. Happy 25th anniversary!

Email Rebecca Yerger at yergerenterprises@yahoo.com.

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