History Mystery: Dollar Bills on the Ceiling

By Tiffany Ranney posted 09-08-2017 00:10

  

You walk into a bar or saloon, order a drink, and notice dollar bills on the ceiling. There is a tradition to stapling dollar bills on the ceiling of bars. Sometimes, with the name and date you were there, and who you were with; other times with stories, wishes, or drawings.

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Ginger Armstrong, bartender at the Round Robin, making a donation to charity

 

Some bars take them down every time the ceiling gets full, like the owners at the Round Robin in Santa Rosa, California, who donate all funds to charity. The last time they did this, all funds were donated to the Battered Women’s Foundation. The Round Robin recently lost one of their own to cancer and the next time they take the money down, it will be donated to cancer research. [1]

                          

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Round Robin on the left, about 1949, photo credit to George Catelli; Round Robin on the right, 2017

 

Other taverns never take their currency down, with layers of memories and history stuck to the ceiling. An example of this lies with The Washoe House in Petaluma, CA, one of the original bars to start this tradition. The Washoe House was built in 1859 as a stagecoach stop between Petaluma and Santa Rosa. It soon became the hub of Sonoma County, and still stands today. [2][3]

 

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Washoe House 2017 on left, Washoe House about 1900 on right, Photo Credit to Sonoma County Library

 

In 1946, Sonoma County broke away from the Mexican government through a coup d'état; the city of Sonoma was the capital. The city of Sonoma was the resting area for people going between Sacramento and San Francisco. The California Republic, also known as The Bear Republic, lasted only a short period. The United States quickly occupied the area and in 1850, California became the 31st state in The United States Federation. The war taking place in Sonoma pushed people to the nearby cities of Vallejo (California’s first Capital), Santa Rosa and Petaluma. New routes between Sacramento and San Francisco were formed and unoccupied territories were explored and occupied. [4][5][6][7][8]

 

The California Gold Rush started January 24, 1848. People flocked from all over to strike it big in the gold industry. Some found gold and got rich; others went home empty-handed. Times were rough, and returning to where one came from became a bigger challenge every month. [9]

 

The Gold Rush brought over 300,000 transplants to California and with the influx of people came the decline of resources and supplies. 90,000 of these immigrants came in 1849 (they were called the Forty-Niners). Over 100,000 Native Californians died between 1848-1868, as resources dwindled and their hunting and gathering areas became occupied by newcomers. Many who could not make it home, stayed, making California their new home. The struggle for jobs, land, food, and other mainstays left people wondering how they could get home and encouraged new transplants to stow money in a safe place, like on the ceiling of a bar. They would write their names on their “Get Home” money and staple it to the ceiling of the local bar. If they did not find gold, they could come back to the bar, still having enough money to get back. [9][10][11][12][13]

 

Whether miners never made it back from mining, or they no longer needed the money, cash was abandoned to the ceilings of these pubs. The money that was never claimed, stayed there, and in some pubs, is still there today. Thus, the tradition of pinning money to the ceiling of a bar was born.

 

 

 

References:

1. Interview with Bill Cutting, owner and operator of the Round Robin in Santa Rosa.

2. Washoe House Covered in Layers of History, story by Katie Watts (Petaluma Towns Correspondent) May 24th, 2014.

3. Interview with Emily Drew, granddaughter of the owner and waitress at the Washoe House.

4. "California County History". CSAC.org. California State Association of Counties. 2014. Retrieved July 22, 2017.

5. "Sonoma County History". Calarchives4u.com. March 19, 2014. Retrieved July 17, 2017.

6. Bancroft, Hubert Howe (1888). History of California: 1848-1859. History Company.

7. Harlow, Neal (1982). California Conquered: The Annexation of a Mexican Province 1846–1850.

8. CSMM, The California State Military Museum" Captain John Charles Fremont and the Bear Flag Revolt" Retrieved July 15, 2017.

9. Brands, H. W. (2003). The Age of Gold: the California Gold Rush and the New American Dream. New York: Anchor Books.

10. Fremont, John Charles (1886). Memoirs of My Life and Times, Vol. 1. Cooper Square Press

11. Hague, Harlan; Langum, David J. (1990). Thomas O. Larkin: A Life of Patriotism and Profit in Old California. University of Oklahoma Press.

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