Santa Cruz County History - People

A Walk Through Time: George and Ernest Otto
by Janet Krassow and
by Randy Krassow

This father and son team led lives of great divergence. The father, George, died in great shame while the son, Ernest, was one of the most popular men to grace the community.

George Otto was another of the sturdy Germans who fled to America in order to escape the endless series of wars plaguing their homeland. In 1851, he arrieved in Santa Cruz after a short stay in Baltimore, Maryland, and quickly immersed himself in local business. After starting several personal businesses, George was elected County Treasurer in 1876, and subsequently reelected in 1878. During these years, however, his personal enterprises became heavily burdened with debt, and he began embezzling county funds to meet his business obligations. An audit of George's books in 1879 found that the treasury was $25,000 short. A grand jury indictment followed, and he was sent to San Quentin prison for five years. Upon his release from prison, George returned to Santa Cruz to rebuild his reputation, but he died in 1899 a broken man.

Photograph of the Lawn Memorial Section at Santa Cruz Memorial Park
The Lawn Memorial Section at Santa Cruz Memorial Park

George and his wife had Ernest in 1871 at their home on the corner of Cedar and Church streets. By the time Ernest was 18, he had found his niche in life as a reporter for the Santa Cruz Daily Surf. While with the Surf he wrote about every aspect of local life -- his most popular columns were vignettes about life along the waterfront and articles on local history.

During his 74 years as a columnist for both the Surf and Santa Cruz Sentinel-News, he became a personal friend of thousands of local residents. When he died in 1955, the Sentinel eulogized him as a "legend in the newspaper world."

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