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Wife vs. Sheriff: 1914 Scandal Was Worse Than 2012 Version 

Wednesday, May 9 2012
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You know that deposed San Francisco sheriff whose life and career were immolated following a sordid accusation from his wife? You sure? Because this isn't a story about Ross Mirkarimi. Nearly 100 years back, San Francisco Sheriff Frederick Eggers' personal and political life exploded even more violently than our current sheriff-in-limbo's. Following their New Year's Eve confrontation, Lopez has supported her husband. Eggers' wife, however, not only divorced hers — she led his recall effort.

"Sheriff Fred Eggers is the latest to join 'that innumerable caravan' of divorce defendants which moves 'to the pale realms' of alimony," reported the San Francisco Chronicle on Feb. 20, 1914, in language more florid than Filoli Gardens. "Yesterday the law firm of Stafford & Stafford put on file with the County Clerk a complaint by Mary Eggers charging the Sheriff with being a cruel husband.... It has taken the Sheriff and his spouse thirty-eight years to discover that marriage is for them a failure." But at least it was quiet: "Mrs. Eggers says that for the past year and more she and her husband, though living under the same roof, have not spoken to each other."

Hell hath no fury like a sheriff's wife given the silent treatment. "ASKS DIVORCE AND RECALL," blared a Chronicle headline from March 3, 1914. "This is not spite work," Mary Eggers was quoted as saying. "I simply do not believe that Sheriff Eggers is a fit man to be in a public office."

She found 9,999 others who felt the same. A group of Frederick Eggers' political foes turned in a recall petition that November. Then the mess grew even messier: Eggers swore out an arrest warrant on one of the organizers, former Undersheriff Fred Klevesahl, on charges that many of the signatures were forged. Another petition organizer, H.J. Stafford, was none other than Mary Eggers' divorce lawyer. The embattled sheriff claimed the signatures "were secured only by telling people that the petition was for Eggers' re-election or for peace in Europe."

At this point, Team Mirkarimi has not adopted the "peace in Europe" strategy.

The recall effort ultimately failed — but, then as now, the heavy reporting of the scandal did the incumbent no favors. Eggers was crushed in the September 1915 election, winning just one-third the votes of Thomas "Boss" Finn (whom Eggers had unseated in 1911).

Two weeks after Eggers vacated office on Jan. 8, 1916, his successors busted a massive planned jailbreak. "It was not the habit of Sheriff Eggers, it is said, to make periodical searches of prisoners," noted the Chron. And his bad press didn't stop there. "Ex-Sheriff Must Pay Divorced Wife $600," read a March headline. Mary Eggers had agreed to a payment of just $200 a month as long as Frederick Eggers "remained sheriff." After spearheading the effort to drive him from office, she successfully sued for triple the agreed-upon payment.

Eggers, however, was the visionary behind the San Francisco Jail vegetable garden — which, the Chron noted, saved the city $100 a month. So he had that going for him.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Bio:
Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" is a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly, which he has written for since 2007. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers... more

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