On This Day: The Arrest of Adolf Bornhauser as an Alien Enemy, Los Angeles, 15 November 1917

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Earlier this year, as part of our ongoing commemoration of the centennial of America’s entry into World War I, the Homestead included an interesting artifact, the booking card from the museum’s collection of suspected “alien enemy” Anton Berschneider, in a museum exhibit about the conflict.

Booking card front
This booking card from the Homestead’s collection is from the arrest, a century ago today, of German-born Los Angeles baker Adolf Bornhauser on suspicion of his being an “alien enemy.”

During the summer, the card was part of the History Keepers exhibit mounted by LA as Subject and the California Historical Society at a gallery on Olvera Street at the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument.  Berschneider’s story was told by my colleague Gennie Truelock in this August post from this blog.

The Homestead’s holdings, however, include another such booking card for another suspected “alien enemy,” Gustav Adolf Bornhauser, who was arrested by the county sheriff’s department on this day a century ago.

Booking card physical details
Physical details pertaining to age, weight, height and others from the booking card.

While, with Berschneider, we knew something about the circumstances of his arrest and then confinement in a prison camp in Utah, but not much about his life generally, the opposite is the case with Bornhauser.  In other words, we know nothing about the specifics of his arrest and the submission of the matter to the federal Department of Justice, but plenty about his life broadly.

First, as to the card, Bornhauser was booked as prisoner number 9676 and duly fingerprinted.  He was then examined and described as 28 years of age, a native of Germany, a baker by trade, with a heights of 5’8″ and weight at 136 pounds.  He had light hair, blue eyes, and his teeth were good.  His front view and profile photographs were taken with his prisoner number.  Then, the card stated that, on the following day the 16th, Bornhauser was “Taken by Dept Justice.”

Booking photos
The side and front portrait photos taken of Bornhauser during his booking.

Beyond that, nothing is known of what was done with him, though it appears that any imprisonment or detainment was short, as will be seen in the details of his life.  As to that . . .

Gustav Adolf Bornhauser, who went by his middle name, was a native of  Waldshut, Germany, a city in the southwestern corner of the country in the Baden-Württemburg province along the Swiss border.  His birthday of 16 April 1889, predated by just four days that of an undistinguished Austrian corporal in the German Army when Bornhauser was arrested, and who shared a common name.  This, of course, was Adolf Hitler.

Declaration of Intention 5Apr17
Bornhauser’s “Declaration of Intention” for citizenship, completed on 5 April 1917, the day before American entered World War I.  His request was denied and he applied again in 1934, on the 17th anniversary of his arrest.  Though not known, he presumably was admitted to citizenship then.

Bornhauser undoubtedly learned his trade as a baker in his hometown, but, in October 1912, traveled across Germany to Bremen, in the northwest section of the nation, and set sail on the S.S. Kronprinz [Crown Prince] Wilhelm, which traveled on the Weser River and then through the North Sea before making a trans-Atlantic crossing to New York.

Within a few years, Bornhauser was in Los Angeles as he appears in the 1916 city directory, living in downtown and working at his trade.  In early April of the following year, just a day before the United States declared war on Germany and entered the conflict, he completed a Declaration of Intention for citizenship, though nothing further was done with this at the time.

WWI registration 5Jun 17
The front of Bornhauser’s registration for selective service for World War I, 5 June 1917.

On 5 June 1917, Bornhauser joined Americans across the country in a mass registration for selective service.  On his card, he noted that he’d filed a “declared intent” with regard to citizenship; gave his occupation as a “pastry baker” for the “Pig ‘n Whistle” restaurant in downtown Los Angeles (the Hollywood location is still in business) that opened a few years prior; and requested an exemption from the draft because of a dependent aunt.

Just before his arrest, on the 11th or 14th of November (depending on which document is examined), Bornhauser married Devina Ferguson, a native of Connecticut.  The timing of the wedding to his arrest is certainly interesting, though there is no way to know if there was a connection of the former with the latter.

1930 federal census
The Bornhauser family’s listing in the 1930 census when the resided in west Alhambra and Adolf was a baker for the F.C. Nash and Company store in Pasadena.

As noted above, it is not known whether his case progressed any further than the investigative stage with the federal Department of Justice.  In the 1918 Los Angeles City Directory, he was listed as living in downtown and working at his trade.  However, within a few years, Bornhauser, his wife and their family, which eventually included a son and three daughters, relocated to Alhambra, where Walter P. Temple, owner of the Homestead since late 1917, and his family were living.

In the 1930 federal census, Bornhauser was listed as a pastry baker in a department store and, over a decade later, when he registered for the draft in the Second World War (with apparently no question as to his loyalties), he listed his employer of F.C. Nash and Company of Pasadena.  The firm started with a grocery store in the city in 1889 and eventually grew to a department store chain with six locations in the region.

WWII registration early 1942
Bornhauser’s registration card for selective service during World War II.

On what was almost certainly a coincidence, Bornhauser filed a new “Declaration of Intent” for citizenship on 15 November 1934, the 17th anniversary of his arrest as an “alien enemy”.  Notably, the form (unlike its predecessor) had space for both “nationality”, which was filled in as “German” and “race,” which had “Swiss” in it.  Because his hometown was very close to the border between Germany and Switzerland, that wasn’t surprising, but what exactly constitutes the difference between “race” and “nationality” is interesting to ponder.

After years of living in Alhambra and by the early 1950s, Bornhauser moved to Temple City, founded by Walter P. Temple in 1923, and he continued working as a baker until he was in his seventies.  He lived a remarkably long life, dying in January 1988 a few months shy of his 99th birthday, and was buried next to his wife at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier.

Adolf wife and family 1950s
Bornhauser, right, with his wife Devina, center, and family members, ca. 1950s.  From a family tree posted on Ancestry.com

Periodically in American history, the question of the loyalty of “aliens” has been one of significant controversy.  The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, gave President John Adams the power to deport non-citizens considered to be dangerous to the U.S. and to crack down on criticism of the federal government.

Beyond the “alien enemy” arrests and, in many cases, detainment, during the First World War, there was, during World War II, the internment of Japanese citizens and Japanese-Americans under three proclamations by President Franklin D. Roosevelt under the premise that they were “potentially dangerous.”

Rose Hills gravestone
Bornhauser’s grave marker at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier.  From Bornhauser’s listing on Find-a-Grave.com

Now, significant attention is being paid to President Donald Trump’s attempts to limit travel to the country from several Muslim-majority countries, because of perceived concerns about terrorism.

These examples are a reminder that wartime conflict can lead to serious consequences involving the status of alien residents and their perceived loyalties to their home countries and to the U.S.

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