Behold the war machine of Gen. Harrison Gray Otis! A 1910 Franklin Model H landaulet!
| Virtually no one who writes about The Times and Gen. Harrison Gray Otis can resist referring to a cannon mounted on his car. Otis is “the man you love to hate” of Los Angeles history, and what could be more delicious than the armor-plated Otis-mobile with its fearsome artillery piece.
Sorry. It was an auto horn. Honk!
At right, a May 21, 1910, article in The Times describes the custom Franklin. Curiously enough, although Otis wasn’t a shy man, The Times was coy about who owned the new vehicle.
It’s a bit difficult to tell from the photo, but the front of the car (which was air-cooled and had no radiator) resembled a large cannon – at least according to The Times. The bronze car horn was meant to emphasize this military appearance. Here’s a modern photo of a Franklin, which shows the rounded hood and front grille. And yes, it looks a bit like a cannon.
Let’s roll backward through a few examples and see who got it wrong. Ready?
“… Harrison Gray Otis "patrolled the streets in his private limousine with a cannon mounted on the hood," “Dominion From Sea to Sea” by Bruce Cummings, 2009.
“…to emphasize his truculence, he later had a small, functional cannon installed on the hood of his Packard touring car,” "American Urban Politics in a Global Age," by Paul Kantor and Dennis R. Judd, 2008. [A Packard? Oops!]
Gen. Harrison Gray Otis "continued to live in a perpetual state of combat readiness, dressing for work in uniform and mounting a small cannon on the hood of his car," "High Steel," by Jim Rasenberger, 2004.
[Updated Aug. 29, 2010: "a small, functional cannon was installed on the hood of Otis' touring car to intimidate onlookers," "City of Quartz," Mike Davis, 1992.]
"While Harrison Gray Otis patrolled the streets in his private limousine with a cannon mounted on the hood…" "Water and Power," William L. Kahrl, 1983.
"Otis took to riding around Los Angeles in a huge touring car with a cannon mounted on it," "The Powers That Be," David Halberstam, 1979. [Not the late David Halberstam! Nooooo!].
[Updated Aug. 27, 2010: "Otis toured the city with a small cannon mounted on his car," "Thinking Big," Robert Gottlieb and Irene Wolf, 1977.]
"While Harrison Gray Otis patrolled the streets in his private limousine with a cannon mounted on the hood…," California Historical Quarterly, 1976.
Let’s skip a bit. I think we’re getting close to the roots here.
And we find it in Louis Adamic’s 1931 book, “Dynamite,” “… while fighting the unions, he mounted a small cannon on the hood of his automobile!”
If anyone finds an earlier example, please send it along.
Note: The mystery isn’t over. The “prominent citizen” who bought the car had this inscribed on it: 1G. 1B. 1R. Cal. SSA. GV WYB. Any guesses?