More on Montara’s Artists Mikie Benedict & Howard Gilligan

I was looking into the Fine Arts Colony at Montara when I read in a 1900s issue of the “Coastside Comet” newspaper that a cottage called the Van Suppe Poet & Peasant Cottage was for rent. We’re talking about nearly 100 years ago. The man who took the ad out listed conditions: if you wanted to rent the Van Suppe Poet & Peasant Cottage in Montara you had to be an artist.

The contact person in the ad was Chauncey McGovern.

I knew who Chauncey was–I had come across the locally famous handwriting expert’s name while researching the unsolved murder of wealthy Sarah Coburn in the tiny village of Pescadero in 1919.

The 19th century Austrian composer Franz Von Suppe died in the late 1890s.

I discovered that the Von Suppe cottage still stood and pianist/free lance writer Mikie Benedict lived there. She had inherited the historical home from Howard Gilligan, a unique artist who made Montara his home.


Above: Harold Gilligan self-portrait, courtesy Mikie Benedict.

…to be continued…

Handwriting Expert Chauncey McGovern, The Artist’s Colony & A Famous Pescadero Murder Case: Part II

In his July 30th report, the handwriting expert Chauncey McGovern raised grave suspicions. He advised all parties that the signature was not that of Sarah Coburn. There were too many variations, he noted, between the signature on the will and the one on official records.

The “sâ€? and the subsequent “aâ€? on the official documents, for example, were not connected—but they were connected on the alleged forgery. On the official documents, the “aâ€? was executed with one stroke, while it took two strokes on the will. In the authentic signature, the final “hâ€? in the name, Sarah, “faded out in a flourishâ€?. In the will it looked like a drawn line.

Finally, Chauncey McGovern pointed out that the will was typed on a typewriter of “ancient vintageâ€?. Only Sarah’s signature was actually signed by hand. The letters and the alignment indicated that the will had not been typed by a stenographer – and, in his opinion, not in a lawyer’s office.


Did Sarah Coburn know how to type? No one knew for certain.

McGovern’s report did not speculate on who the alleged forger might have been.

In 1920 the will contest was dismissed when a financial agreement was reached between the beneficiaries of Sarah’s will and the East Coast relatives. By that time, the plaintiff’s attorney Charles Humphrey had acquired a desirable stretch of South Coast property. At the scenic Pescadero ranch he now owned, Humphrey entertained a steady stream of guests until his death in the 1940s.

A year after the case was dismissed, Chauncey McGovern’s ad seeking artists to rent the Von Suppe Poet and Peasant Cottage in Montara appeared in the Half Moon Bay Review.

In the early 1990s the cottage still stood in Montara, across the way from the old Montara Schoolhouse on Sixth Street. At that time, maintaining its tradition, the Von Suppe cottage was home to a music teacher.

Handwriting Expert Chauncey McGovern, The Artist’s Colony & A Famous Pescadero Murder Case: Part I

NOTE: While researching old newspapers for my book called “The Coburn Mysteryâ€?– a true story of murder [unsolved] and revenge set in 19th & early 20th century Pescadero– I ran into names of many prominent Bay Area attorneys because the main character, Loren Coburn, had earned the “overly litigiousâ€? moniker.

If Loren had a problem, he sued. He sued everybody. That’s why there’s so much information on his long, long life.

And being detailed oriented, I also happily found and pursued the “little storiesâ€? I found within the big one. Tangents.

Cottage For Rent In the Montara Artist’s Colony

“Cottage For Rent: The Von Suppe, Poet & Peasant Cottage of the Montara Fine Arts Colony Country Clubâ€?—that’s what the ad said that appeared in the summer 1921 issue of the Half Moon Bay Review.

(Von Suppe was a 19th century European theatrical conductor, the composer of 150 operettas. He became well known for composing the overture to “Poet and Peasantâ€?.)

The Review ad described the cottage as a “5-room, rustic camping out structure, rose vine covered, dozen 10-year-old Eucalyptus trees, on Bret Harte Hill near corner of Elbert Hubbard Road and Rudyard Kipling Ave.—within 200 feet of spacious schoolhouse and one block from Ocean Shore Auto Blvd.—tenants preferably artists, authors musicians. Weekly $5.00â€?.

Artists were directed to contact Chauncey McGovern, president of the Montara Fine Arts Club. Although we don’t know if he dabbled in painting, labored over romantic poetry or composed music, McGovern’s line of work as a well known San Francisco handwriting expert made his life from ordinary.

McGovern either rode the Ocean Shore Railroad (if it was still running) or drove to his San Francisco office in the Hearst Building. There is no doubt that he knew Harr Wagner, the educator, publisher and real estate developer whose dream was to turn Montara nto an artist’s colony. Harr and wife Madge Morris, a minor California poet, hosted many literary barbecues at their home, marked by stone pillars.

Chauncey McGovern’s introduction to the Coastside may or may not have originated at Wagner’s parties. His association with the fine arts club and cottage at Montara could also have come as a result of legal business that introduced him to Pescadero, south of Half Moon Bay.

In 1919, San Francisco attorney Charles F. Humphrey hired McGovern to verify the signature on Sarah S. Coburn’s last will. The elderly, wealthy widow had been clubbed to death in her Pescadero home in the summer of that year. The will–dated Feb. 19, 1919–was found by Half Moon Bay’s Dr. W. A. Brooke, then the county coroner, in a room adjacent to the one in which the body lay motionless.

Attorney Humphrey represented the disgruntled East Coast family members who had been omitted from the rich woman’s will. Aside from a few minor bequests to friends, the bulk of the estate was left to “strangers in bloodâ€?.

Feeling cheated out of their rightful inheritance, the East Coast relatives challenged the authenticity of Sarah Coburn’s signature.

The relatives wondered if that was even her signature—or if she knew what she was signing. After engaging Humphrey’s legal services, papers were filed to initiate a heated will contest.

Enter handwriting expert Chauncey McGovern, also president of the Montara Fine Arts Club.

Examples of Sarah’s handwriting were turned over to McGovern to examine. These included Sarah’s handwriting on official documents and the outside of folders, to be compared with a photo of the signature that appeared on the will.

…To be continued….