Verden O. Davidson

Richard Nielsen

The Manuel DeFraga family posed in front of their rented ranch house at the Shafter Home Ranch on Point Reyes, circa 1895–1900. © Pt Reyes Nat’l Seashore

Few probably take time to look at the roster of men on the doughboy memorial at the Marin County Civic Center, dedicated to those Marin County citizens who made the supreme sacrifice through their enlistment during World War I. This is the story of one of these men.

Tall, brown haired, blue-eyed Verden O. Davidson hailed from Moreau on the northern edge of the Ozark Mountains in Missouri. Born in early 1888, he entered adolescence with only his widowed mother and two much younger twin sisters. Without the influence of his father and an itch to travel, he left home at age 14 and soon found himself in trouble with the law, spending time in juvenile hall in eastern Kansas.

Verden O. Davidson making adjustments to the antenna located at the Bolinas Marconi station, c.1914–15. © Ron Harris

As a teacher, I would tell my students, “You are what you become,” so they would realize that the mistakes of their youth need not keep them from moving in a positive direction and becoming successful later in life. Verden exemplified this trajectory. After apprenticing as a shoemaker, restlessness led him to enlist in the Army in 1906. There, he served as a private for a short but unremarkable time, before leaving the Army for the Navy. As a skilled mechanic, his itch to travel was realized aboard the USS Annapolis in the South Pacific. After completing his enlistment, he went to San Francisco where he accepted a position as a rigger at the newly built Marconi radio station in Bolinas. At the station, he employed skills which he had recently acquired in the Navy. Verden had found his calling. He had left his youthful indiscretions behind to become successful as a well-liked member of the crew of the Marconi radio station. Among the new skills he added to his repertoire was climbing the 320-foot steel masts to make adjustments to the massive antenna structure that they supported.

Verden’s mechanical skills were balanced with social skills, which he employed on the committees making arrangements for the first of many dances at the Marconi Hotel in April 1915. The hotel, which served as a residence for the majority of men working at the radio station, had a large living room, with ample space to serve as a dance floor. A number of well known couples from the Bolinas community had been invited. But naturally, invitations were also extended to young ladies of the community to provide dance partners for the mostly young, unmarried Marconi men. Among these were two daughters of the well established DeFraga family, Helen and Marie. This would be the beginning of a courtship between Marie and Verden that led to their marriage in June of the following year at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Bolinas.

Their first baby girl, Helen, arrived in July, 1917. But their joy would be diminished when the government closed the Marconi station in early April, 1918. This was ostensibly done on the pretext that the Germans might overhear transmissions. The truth was more nefarious, however, as political efforts were being secretly fomented by a few congressmen to push Marconi out of the United States.

Jobless, Verden re-enlisted in the Navy at Bolinas on April 7th, and was elevated to Chief Boatswains Mate, much above his prior status. He was assigned to Naval Air Station San Diego. Tragedy struck in early fall, when he came down with the Spanish Flu, then raging through military facilities and on the European Front towards the end of World War I. More military men would die of the pandemic than on the battle front. In November, Verden died, never getting to see his second daughter, who wasn’t born until February 1919. She was given the name Levona, after Verden’s mother. Verden was one of a number of people in the Bolinas community to catch the Spanish flu and among several who succumbed.

Tombstone of Verden & Marie Davidson at the Bolinas Cemetery. © Richard Nielsen

Marie moved to the McCurdy Ranch north of Bolinas, where she began raising her two daughters. Eventually, she moved to San Jose and later to the Santa Cruz area. All the while, she kept in close contact with the Bolinas community through correspondence with Mamie Fontes, a resident there. Her heart remained in Bolinas, as Verden had been laid to rest in the cemetery next to the church where they had been married. Marie would never remarry and chose to be buried next to Verden when she died nearly 79 years later at age 102. Marie & Verden’s daughter Levona followed in her father’s footsteps by serving in the Navy during World War II and later marrying a Navy man.

Originally published at https://annetkent.kontribune.com.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store