St. Helena’s past was much on display — and much in demand — on Sunday when the book, “Images of America St. Helena,” was introduced at a gala book signing at the Charles Krug Carriage House.
The event attracted more than 200 history buffs, 165 of whom purchased the St. Helena Historical Society-authored publication at $24 a copy. Overall, said Historical Society member Robyn Orsini, more than 200 books have already been sold.
“In terms of a continuous history, it’s really not,” said Historical Society president Skip Lane. “It’s not meant to be a comprehensive history, but I found it very hard to put down once I picked it up and started thumbing through it.
“I think lots of people who live here, or even those who are new here don’t know about all the stuff in the book,” Lane added. “They know there are wineries here but that’s about the extent of it. There’s a real flavor of the past, the Harvest Festival and the Pet Parade as we know them today.”
Annette Smith, an elementary school teacher and reading specialist, said she is a third-generation St. Helenan, said, “I’m buying a book for each of my children, who are the fourth. It’s exciting to have this book.
“It’s going to sell like hotcakes all over the country,” she predicted.
“St. Helena is a picturesque little town and when you’ve lived here a while you realize every street is named after settlers here. In that sense, this book is particularly vibrant,” said Chris Kidwell, membership committee chair for the Historical Society.
Several attendees praised Mariam Hansen, Susanne Salvestrin and Kim Farmer, the St. Helena Historical Society members who collected the photos and information.
Their collection ranged from Lily Paulson, Queen of the 1914 Vintage Festival, to Wesley “Jinks” Jennings, a lifelong St. Helenan who left only to fight in World War I. Jennings, an African American, is believed to have built the town’s first radio so he and his cohorts could listen to baseball games. Elvis Presley and then-gubernatorial candidate Ronald Reagan are also in the book.
Hansen said the most difficult photos to obtain were those of Mexican Americans, even though she went to school with several of them, and of Chinese Americans who built much of the pre-20th century wine industry infrastructure (caves, walls, etc.) before their St. Helena’s “Chinatown” burned to the ground.
Like virtually every town, St. Helena has its “skeletons in the closet,” but these will have to wait to be told in the next history book.
One is a lynching that occurred in 1888.
“It was a young man named John Wright,” Hansen said. “A member of a prominent family was harassing one of the prostitutes who happened to be Wright’s sister. He came to her defense and a shooting took place.
“The constable came and took him off to jail and a group of local citizens was able to get the keys. John Wright ended up hanging from a bridge over a creek near Beringer’s.”
“Images of America St. Helena” can be purchased by calling the Historical Society at 967-5502. The book is also available at Main Street Books and other stores in town.