Rainmaker Charles Hatfield
Two-photo combo of rainmaker Charles Hatfield. On left is a March 15, 1924, image of Hatfield, on ladder of tower he built for rainmaking in Coalinga, California. Hatfield, on right, scans sky for Los Angeles Times photographer Gordon Wallace during a 1947 interview at his Eagle Rock home.
The current California drought has brought a renewed interest in rainmaker Charles Hatfield, famous for his 1915 job in San Diego. Hatfield was hired to fill a reservoir. Instead, January 1916, storms arrived washing out dams, bridges and causing heavy damage. Hatfield took credit for the storm but fled town. The resulting lawsuits were not settled until 1938.
Two good Hatfield stories are:
With San Diego Again Drought-ridden, 1915 ‘Rainmaker’ Saga Is Revisited by Tony Perry, published May 25, 2015, and L.A. Then and Now: ’Cloud Coaxer’ Had a Stormy Career in Parched Deserts by Cecilia Rasmussen, published May 6, 2001.
Hatfield died Jan. 12, 1958, but his death was kept secret until that April. A short story in the April 15, 1958, Los Angeles Times reported:
Death of Hatfield the Rainmaker three months ago in Pearblossom was disclosed yesterday.
Charles Mallory Hatfield, 82, died of a heart ailment Jan. 12 at the home of his brother Paul. …
The brother assertedly asked morticians and others connected with Hatfield’s funeral arrangements to keep the death a secret.
Disclosure of the rainmaker’s passing followed an inquiry from San Diego – scene of his most overwhelming success in bringing rain more than 40 years ago.
Hatfield was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park Jan. 12. The private graveside services were attended only by his brother and the latter’s wife; the Rev. Charles Surber, pastor of the Palmdale Presbyterian Church and E. W. Linaker, whose Chapel of the Valley Mortuary in Palmdale arranged the rites.
It was a clear, sunny day–vivid contrast to the black days in January, 1916, when he is supposed to have produced such torrential rains in the San Diego area that two dams and 110 railroad bridges were washed out, with millions of dollars in damage.
Hatfield carried his rainmaking secret with him to the grave. The closest he ever came to revealing any portion of it was in an interview at his Eagle Rock home in 1947, when he commented about dry ice experimentation in causing rain, “They’ll make it.”
His own experiments started in 1902 on one of his father’s large San Diego County ranches when he produced .03 inch during the dry season. In 1904 he was paid $1000 by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce for bringing on 18 inches of rain.
Other Hatfield rainmaking efforts were staged on behalf of placer miners around Dawson City, Alaska, who were short of water to pan gold; in Central America, to douse a raging banana plantation fire with man-made rain, and in Italy, to help drought-ridden farmers.
Illustration from March 30, 1924, Los Angeles Times during coverage of Charles Hatfield rainmaking work in Coalinga, Calif. Credit: ProQuest.
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