This oral history interview is a project of the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The legal rights of this material remain with the Outrigger Canoe Club. Anyone wishing to reproduce it or quote at length from it should contact the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The reader should be aware that an oral history document portrays information as recalled by the interviewee. Because of the spontaneous nature of this kind of document, it may contain statements and impressions that are not factual.
An Interview by Don Machado
August 31, 1983
I am Don Machado (DM), a member of’ the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club, and I have the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jessie C. Matthias (JM) at her apartment at 2415 Ala Wai Boulevard, Honolulu, Hawaii. Today is Wednesday, August 31, 1983.
DM: Jessie will you tell me when and where you were born?
JM: I was born in Berryessa, California, that is about 20 miles north of’ Napa, 45 miles north of San Francisco. My father was bringing horses and mules to the Hawaiian Islands to a stable called the Volcano Stables in Hilo for a Mr. Mackenzie. He liked it so he stayed. So we came over, and my brother and sister stayed; my mother went back and then I came back, and I stayed. Then I went back four times on the Matson four-masted schooners. Captain (William) Matson was the captain once, a Captain Saunders, and I forget who the other two were, but I had fun. It took us 23 to 26 days.
DM: What was the first year you came to Hawaii?
DM: What was the last time you came to Hawaii before you decided to stay?
JM: Well. Oh, my first house was at Onomea. My father went to work on a sugar plantation.
DM: That’s on the Big Island.
JM: That’s on Hawaii. We lived at Onomea and then my father was promoted to Puaka’a, that is two-and-a-half miles from Hilo, so I changed from Papaiko School to Hilo High School, and I rode a horse. I never made my lunch because I would let the other kids ride my horse in recess and they would give me an orange or an apple. I never made lunch.
DM: When did you graduate? Was it from Hilo High School?
JM: I didn’t graduate. I went to Hilo High School two years, 1911 and 1912. Then I went to America to graduate from high school, and I went to Napa, California and graduated and came back immediately, stopped off in Honolulu and talked to the head of the Department of Public Instruction to give me a permit to teach school, with the privilege that I would come back to Honolulu the next summer and go to the Normal School.
DM: Now, what year are we talking about?
JM: I am talking about 1915.
DM: Then you came back and you went to the Normal School?
JM: No, I went to Hilo and taught at Mountain View and lived with my sister and her husband and two kids. Then the next summer I came to Honolulu, went to the Normal School for two days and I didn’t like it, so, I don’t know how I met this man, but he was the purchasing agent for the City and County. Now, we don’t have unions or things, and we were walking up and down Fort Street and we went by a beautiful wholesale-retail grocery store, May & Company, and they hired me as order clerk. OK. The very first call that came in – oh, they paid me $90 a month which I had only got $60 for being a school teacher.
DM: Wasn’t May & Company connected with Liberty House in some way?
JM: May & Company was owned by Hackfeld. Then we go to war and then we change the name and it becomes American Factors, and Ehlers was across the street and we change its name to The Liberty House. We do away with the German names. And then, in 1917, I get married and move to Ewa Plantation.
DM: Tell me about the young man who captured your heart.
JM: Well, at that time there were 17 single men at Ewa, and once a month they had parties and we would be invited, six or eight or ten women – young girls – and they would come and get us, or we would go — and the most beautiful dinners and dances, but they were beautiful to us.
DM: Was this at the Plantation house?
JM: Yes – Ewa.
DM: That lovely white house?
JM: Renton [George, Sr.] was the manager, and in those days the manager thought he was God. He told you what to wear and how to wear it. For instance, one day he said to me, “I didn’t see you in church today”. Well, always having a brain that worked extra fast I said, “Well, if you’d been to the six o’clock Mass (and I am not Catholic) you’d have seem me”. I never was bothered any more…And, we had a cute 1ittle train, of’ which you have pictures in your Outrigger book, but they were small trains and they went to Ewa and back.
DM: Now, tell me a little bit more about your husband.
JM: My husband came from Cardiff, Wales. He belonged to the singing people from Wales that went all over the world – a beautiful voice. They were all bookkeepers or CPAs. He learned how to hula, to do your bamboo dances, to play the ukulele, to do anything that was Hawaiian.
DM: Now, he was at the Ewa Plantation.
JM: He was in the bookkeeping department at Ewa Plantation.
DM: So you were married, when?
JM: January 20, 1917.
DM: In Ewa?
JM: At Haleiwa, by a Christian Science minister. Don’t ask me how I got him! Then we stayed at the beautiful Ha1eiwa Hotel, which during World War II the Army took over, or the Navy, and then later it burned down. It was beautiful. We stayed all night, and two friends – one of them was Miriam Stacker, whose sister was a good swimmer, Ruth Stacker, who belonged to the Outrigger – and the man ran some hotel out on King and Punahou . What was the name of it?
DM: Er …
JM: On the town corner.
DM: Not the McDonald Hotel …
JM: Uh-uh. We didn’t have them in those days.
DM: Was there a Casa del Sueno?
DM: There was a place called Casa del Sueno on …
JM: We had the Pleasanton on the corner of Wilder and Punahou.
DM: Uh-uh …
JM: This was down on the corner of King and Punahou. Everybody stayed there. Nice meals. I also remember the street cars and the head man, the No. 1 conductor, was a Mr. Heapy. He was a remittance man from England. He and his wife ran a restaurant where I stayed, and that was on Punchbowl and Young Street – a hotel.
DM: Now, tell me about your children.
JM: I had one daughter born Janu…no, March 16, 1921. There she is at seven years old, or six, at the Outrigger Canoe Club under the…thing. And then when she graduated from Roosevelt she said, “Don’t you dare let them use that picture in the book.” You can see it was day time, it’s underneath the…
JM: … and I had it framed somewhere on the…
DM: I understand that you were a member of the Uluniu Club. Tell me about Uluniu and its relationship with the Outrigger, and what you remember about both of the clubs.
JM: Well, Mr. (Alexander Hume) Ford also encouraged the women – there would be women and men. We belonged, more like a family, we went every Saturday and Sunday, and we would have lunch and then we would go home, but we went twice a week, and we enjoyed it. Then, later you see, when my husband died I moved down to Haulani Court, next door to the Halekulani, and I could walk up to the Outrigger.
DM: Now, what year are we talking about?
JM: We are talking from 1933 to ’53. Twenty years I lived within walking distance of the Outrigger. OK. We had lost many, many thousands of dollars which we had bought Pauoa Valley, and in those years bankruptcy was a disgrace, so we sold everything we had to pay it off, so that it was no disgrace. The husband was dead in a year, so I hadn’t worked for fourteen years because in those years white women did not work. We stayed at home. We had beautiful homes and gardens and maids and laundry people, and a yard man. We had beautiful hardwood floors, and oriental rugs. We were built three or four feet off the ground so that you had the air underneath and could treat the foundation and the dirt for termites. But they were so much prettier than your concrete floors. That was pretty time. You lived beautifully. You had beautiful luncheons. You only entertained in your home. You never went to a bar, or somewhere else to entertain. I could have twenty card tables to dinner or to lunch in my living room – dining room.
DM: Now, where was your home?
JM: Kahawai Street.
DM: Oh, yes.
JM: There was nothing in Woodlawn. There were taro patches behind me and then the Matthiases developed over across the duck ponds, and we had beautiful lots and we’d sell the lots, and then my husband was the head of the home developing of Lewers & Cooke – a big retail-wholesale lumber company.
DM: You mentioned Kahawai Street. Isn’t that where Mrs. Massey 1ived’?
JM: Yes. She lived next door to me – mentally about nine-ten years old. I had a big cat with a bell around its neck, and I heard it walking around in her house, and I’d go over and say, “Natalie, I want my cat”. She says, “I don’t have it”. I said, “I can hear it with a bell on it”. She would go walking in Woodlawn at two and three o’clock in the morning. She was supposed to have been raped down here, oh, near … where the Ilikai is now.
JM: I think that was a bunch of baloney, because she had been out and left with a young man. She was married, now. Her husband was a lieutenant in the Navy. And, that’s when we brought her mother, Mrs. Fortescue. And they killed the three Hawaiian boys, and then we bring Clarence Darrow….OK. And I meet the mother and the husband. She, now, would have been taken care of and wouldn’t be walking around and going to the University and mentally test for nine or ten years old.
DM: You mentioned Alexander Hume Ford. Do you remember him? Do you remember what he looked like? What kind or a person was he? What kind of a personality?
JM: He was a funny little man. Oh, yes, he was tiny.
DM: About how tall?
JM: Well, anything’s bigger than me, but I don’t feel that way. Now, remember, now that we have lost our money, the husband is dead, and I am going back to work. I am the first female auditor in the Hawaiian Islands.
DM: You were working for…?
JM: Hawaiian Trust. After five years, I want to be the cashier down in the pretty lobby.
DM: Where was the Hawaiian Trust?
JM: Well, they just knocked it down – right there on King Street and the Mall – they just knocked it down. It’s a new name – some bank now. Right next to the (older) Bank of Hawaii which they knocked down, and Bishop Trust moved across the street.
DM: So it would have been on the corner…where you worked would have been the corner of what?
JM: Well, it’s on King Street but one off the Mall. They just knocked it down this week. (The Kauikeolani Building)
DM: Oh, yes, I know where it is. Yes, that used to be the Hawaii National Bank – OK. So, you become the first female cashier. Now, this had a relationship with Alexander Hume Ford?
JM: No, no, no. I am already beyond. I get out because I can’t afford to belong to the Outrigger because I am living on the ocean, and I can go swimming, and in those days when we went to the Outrigger we got very poor service because they would give you the bill and you would tip the waiter, so they waited on tourists and other people, and the members were the hind end. So I got out, and I don’t remember exactly, and don’t try to find out from your office, when I rejoined. I think I paid $50 or $100. I lived over on Liliuokalani then, in a cottage. I had moved in ‘53 back to……
DM: I see. You were near the Halekulani and then you moved to your….
JM: 20 years, near the Halekulani.
DM: I see, in something like a court….
JM: …on the beach, and you did DeRussey, and you went through the war. Admiral Halsey, he lived in the court.
DM: Now, the Outrigger Canoe Club, how did you remember it in those days?
DM: Really. Now what did it look like?
JM: Well, you have pictures of it in your book.
DM: Yeah. I remember being there.
JM: I could walk up, which I did.
DM: Now, did you ever see Alexander Hume Ford at the Outrigger?
JM: Oh, sure.
DM: Tell me a little bit about him.
JM: Funny little guy. We were friends. I could yak any time.
DM: What would you talk about?
JM: Everything, because I am one of those that knows everything and about anywhere I go.
JM: If there was a new subdivision anywhere my husband would say, “Don’t go up that street, it’s going to be busy”, that’s the street I would go up.
DM: You’re what they call a maverick. That is good. You are the type of person who makes life interesting.
JM: Oh, yeah. I got to know all about it.
DM: Now, was he always dressed up whenever you saw him, impeccably dressed? I get that picture of him.
JM: Oh, yes, shirt and pants and shoes and things. But he was tiny.
DM: And what kind of a voice did he have?
JM: Not particularly anything you’d remember.
DM: Did he speak distinctly – a real gentleman?
JM: Oh, yes. Always a gentleman.
DM: I understand that he was engaged in a lot of activities.
DM: What were some of the things that he did that you remember?
JM: That’s all in your book.
DM: Was he a writer, didn’t he write?
JM: Yes, but nothing to…I mean, he wrote about things, but nothing particular.
DM: Now, you mentioned that you lived near General Halsey.
JM: He lived in the court with me. There were fourteen cottages in Haulani.
DM: Let me correct that, not General Halsey, Admiral Halsey. My apologies for getting him in the Army when he was in the Navy.
JM: The Yorktown sat right out in the bay.
DM: You mean off Waikiki.
JM: Right off Haulani. OK. Before the war they lived there and he had a chauffeur and a beautiful car, and I had a daughter who was only four feet tall, and she was working. When the war broke out she was working for the Army at Punahou and then she went to Red Hill. He used to loan…She’d say, “Hi, Bill” to the Admiral and he would let us have the car and the driver so that he did things even before the war, and after. We had blackout for four years. Don’t know why we didn’t all die of pneumonia because you would put plywood over the windows and doors and I had loads of young people 17-18 years old. And they couldn’t go home so they slept on the floor, seven or eight of them, but we never drank and we never smoked and we have many older women and men now that I was kind to in those years.
DM: Tell me about some of these people who would come to your house. Were any of them members of the Outrigger?
JM: OK. I have known all of the Kahanamokus forever, Duke, Henry, Sam, Bill and their sister, and I knew Charlie Lambert, I knew all the old timers – Harry Cooke and people who were here forever. And, let’s see, who else? I’ve known every president of the Outrigger since they started – well, at least after ’17.
DM: Do you have any favorites? That’s a dangerous question, but….
JM: I don’t think so, because I just like people.
DM: Now, during the war did life at the Outrigger and the Uluniu change very much?
JM: I don’t think so, because in those days everybody was kind to each other. You helped each other, you considered each other, which now we seem to have lost. I mean this. I go to the beach three or four times a week. I can walk from where I live to the beach, go swimming, and you’d be amazed the water is just as nice as it is down at the Outrigger, and the people say, “I haven’t seen you for a week”, and I say, “That’s funny, I’ve swam three times this week”. Where?” “At Kuhio Beach”, I can’t believe it. You’d be surprised. .Just as nice.
DM: Do you have any special memories of anything in Honolulu or Hawaii that you’d like to talk about?
JM: Well, I remember the beautiful Royal. Hawaiian downtown on Hotel Street where the Army-Navy “Y” is now, and we had the Black Cat Cafe across the street, and we had a few prostitutes and a little drinking in a bar. I remember Judge Steiner’s family. They had a walkway, and the Moana had a walkway, and we used to go out to the end and play music and sing, and have fun.
DM: What did the Royal Hawaiian look like?
JM: Beautiful. Big wide lanais….
DM: Was it wooden, or….
JM: Sure. Not too high, three or four stories, with beautiful big wide lanais with big rocking chairs with arms on them, that you could rock. I remember it very well, because we could come in from Ewa and go to the Royal Hawaiian downtown.
DM: You came from Ewa by train, did you?
JM: We came in from Ewa. We had trains and I’d use the train when I’d get mad at the husband and pack my suitcase and come to town and go to the Young Hotel. Then he would come and pick me up and back we would go in a car.
DM: What did it cost to ride the train, do you remember?
JM: I have no idea. I don’t know if’ it was 50 cents or a dollar.
DM: And, how long would it take to come from Ewa’?
JM: Oh, quite a way, because you stopped all the way out to let people off and on.
DM: I see. What would it be – an hour, two hours?
JM: No, an hour.
DM: About an hour.
JM: And everybody knew everybody else, and you visited on the train.
DM: You lived on a plantation with your husband because he was an auditor for the Ewa Plantation.
JM: Yeah. For a couple of years.
DM: Tell me about plantation living. Was it a gracious life?
JM: Not gracious, because of the way the managers handled the situation. For instance, I had a baby grand piano and I couldn’t play it on Sunday because he didn’t want me to, but because they might hear it at the church. I used to go riding with one of the lunas, Frank Van Gieson, and the manager decided he didn’t want me doing that so told my husband that I couldn’t do it. And the manager died and his son was appointed as the manager, so now the old man died and we had George for the manager, but by that time I had left.
My husband was in uniform at Schofield in 1918. So I went through World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and we are trying hard to have another war.
DM: Yes, I hope we don’t have another war. So your husband then was in World War I.
DM: Did he leave Hawaii?
DM: I see.
JM: He was going to go to England with two or three other people. One of them was Francis Brown, and another was Johnny Noble, and other young men, and something was the matter with his feet that they wouldn’t accept him. But he went into the National Guard and then they were drafted in Schofield.
DM: But he stayed at Schofield during the war.
JM: He stayed at Schofield for the duration, and I lived on College Street which I think is Paki now, next door to Miss (Juliette) Fraser, the artist. And down in the next block was the (John) Guild family, which we all had known.
DM: Now, I want you to tell me about your Teddy bear.
DM: When you received it. What its history was, and of course, where it is at the present time.
JM: OK. In 1906 I am back in California, in Napa, and we have the earthquake and the fire. I am in bed with pneumonia, but I never had any after I grew up so let’s have it all then. I used to sing at churches and the Methodist church wanted me to sing and I told my mother if she’d buy me a bear, I’d sing. So Teddy Roosevelt was President of the United States, and I got a real Teddy bear. They are prettier than the regular bear. They have little pug noses, they have pretty arms, and they are cuddly. I never slept with him or kissed him, but I had a Teddy bear and I brought it back to the Hawaiian Islands. OK, after I married and have a child I give it to her. She is going to the Mainland. She was one that would sit it in a corner, and she was drowned in Puget Sound – my only daughter – and her things came home, and then a few years later. Time Magazine ran four pages of Teddy Roosevelt and his Teddy bears, and I thought I have one of those. It was in a bag up on a shelf. I go get it and it was older than anybody else’s in the magazine. OK. Later, I tried to give it to the Art Academy, and I took it down but the woman who was the president wasn’t interested – not an old, but a white haired middle (aged) lady, so I told her to go to hell, kept my bear, and I came home.
So later I decide I am going to try it again, and Bob Krauss and I run ads on a Sunday morning, “Jessie is looking for a home for her Teddy bear”. I had 142 telephone calls and 67 letters. Some of them were fantastic the different people that wanted him and why, and when and who. OK, I even had an artist who came up and drew a picture of my Teddy bear. Then a Mr. Henry Clark, who was the head of Castle & Cooke, knew me when I was an auditor at Hawaiian Trust, calls me up and says, “Jessie, I’d be happy to have your bear, and if we don’t have room for it, we’ll build one”, and he built a new children’s room and we have the bear sitting in a rocking chair under a glass dome.
DM: Now, this is at the…..
JM: Art Academy.
DM: Now, you sailed on the Fall of Clyde on your first trip to Hawaii.
JM: I was eight years old.
DM: And, of course I you sailed on other types of sailing ships, but….
JM: All Matson’s.
DM: I see. But the Falls of Clyde, you sailed on it just once.
DM: What do you remember about the Falls of Clyde – about a trip on a sailing ship?
JM: You remember that when we would be becalmed, the boys end men would all go swimming off the side. How come the sharks didn’t come and eat them? Well, a little girl — you couldn’t do it, but I could climb up the ladders and they would make me come down. You remember playing games, and you slept — they had bunks — you slept in bunks. You went to big tables and they had framework around your plate and your· cups and saucers because you rolled – you see, your boat rolls, and most of the people were nice to kids, and people said, “What did you have to eat?” Kids don’t care what they have to eat as long as they have enough to eat, and you see we had no electricity, no refrigerators, it was ice. You had lots of dried things, like buckalau, dried fish.
DM: Codfish, um.
JM: But as far as remembering it – forget it.
DM: How long a trip would that be?
JM: Twenty–three – twenty-six days.
DM: Well, tell me – you have lived in Hawaii for really – how many years?
JM: Well, originally, 1904.
DM: I don’t think I got your birthdate, did you give me your birth date?
JM: September 13, 1898.
DM: OK. What – you’ve seen so many tremendous changes here in Hawaii, what would your dream be for the Hawaii of the future? Do you think that we could head in any direction that you would be pleased with at this point?
JM: Yes, if we went back to a Territory. I happened to know Queen Liliuokalani, because part of my family – two doctors – lived across the street where the Capitol is now. They knocked their homes down and built commercial buildings three-four stories high, and then a few years ago – guess what we did! We condemned the two buildings. Now condemnation is for the good of the most people. I really didn’t care if the Capitol was across the street from Washington Place or not. That was crooked politics then. My sister’s daughter married the son of Dr. Augur who lived across the street.
DM: You mentioned that you knew Queen Liliuokalani. Can you tell me about her and what contacts you had with her.
JM: A very gracious Hawaiian woman who was a friend of these two doctors’ wives and they introduced her to me, and I had cookies and a glass of milk with the Queen at Washington Place. I also went to her funeral.
DM: She died…what – about 1917? – Right after World War I, if I remember correctly, and so you would have known her during what period?
JM: Well, I came back to Honolulu in 1916.
DM: I see. So it would have been…..
JM: I was married in ’17, so….
DM: Was Washington Place very similar to what it is today?
JM: Exactly, in fact I am one of the original American Legion Auxiliary members of Honolulu Post No. 1, and Mr. (Wallace R.) Farrington was the Governor and his wife was president of the Honolulu unit and we had our meetings at Washington Place. It was beautiful.
DM: Do you have any advice to the young people of Hawaii, growing up in Hawaii today?
JM: Yes. Just have an education and know how to count and know how to spell.
DM: This is a former teacher speaking.
JM: Yes. Or just general knowledge. I never saw so many that can’t add, can’t spell and have no memories to begin with, and are rude. Now this is unnecessary. Rudeness.
DM: I understand that you had a buffet that was owned by King Kalakaua at one time.
JM: Yes. When he died Dr. (James T.) Wayson bought some of his furniture. Now, I didn’t say it was in the Capitol I said it belonged to King Kalakaua. So, being a member of the Friends of Iolani Palace I offered it to them, and they refused it. Now they could have put it at Washington Place, they could have put it anywhere, but they refused it. OK. Then I decide when I am gone I would like to have somebody that I like to have it. So the one who really should have it is Palani Vaughan — he is dressing like Kalakaua, he is singing Kalakaua, and he even has whiskers like Kalakaua. I left word at several places, but he didn’t know what I wanted so he never called. So I have been a friend of “Andy” Anderson and his wife before they were married. Their fathers and mothers and everybody. So I had loaned it when I moved into where I live now. There wasn’t room and it was too wide for the place it could have gone, so I put it into someone’s home out at Hawaii Kai and the woman died. I call up the man and I say, “Where is the buffet?” “Oh, he said, I have sold the house and I am leaving the buffet. So if you want it you’ll have to get it within three or four days”. So, I call up Andy and he is back East in Washington, but they never tell you those things – “he isn’t here” and bla, bla, bla. So when he, gets home, he calls me, and I tell him and he goes and gets it, and it is now sitting in the photo shop in a…I don’t know why he doesn’t put it in his beautiful restaurant, but he hasn’t and that’s where its sitting.
DM: Now, tell me how you acquired it, I think you may have mentioned it.
JM: Dr. Wayson. We buy a lot across the street from Dr. Wayson on Kahawai Street, and there are friends of mine living next door to the people, the Augurs who married my niece. She likes me and my baby and she had two daughters, and one of her daughters was having a baby. Mine could talk but couldn’t walk; hers could walk but couldn’t talk, but then mine was a little girl. Anyway, she liked me and she gave me the buffet for my new house. That’s how I got it. I didn’t pay for it, it was given to me. I could have sold it, but I didn’t want to sell it, but someday maybe Andy, if they don’t put him in jail now because he’d better not run for dog catcher right now.
DM: How did she acquire it from King Kalakaua, do you know?
JM: They bought it after Kalakaua died.
DM: Oh, I see.
JM: Like they put people’s furnishings…They had loads of huge big calabashes and trays, and all kinds of things. They lived in a big house right up there on Kahawai, so did Raymond Brown who was the Secretary or the Treasurer.
DM: Well, Jessie, thank you very much for sharing so much with us and my wish is that you have many more blessings for good health and a lot of long years in the future.