Guide to the Joseph Skirm Journals Collection (1858-1911) – History

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Joseph H. Skirm was born in New Jersey in 1832.  Though said to be eccentric at times, Skirm was an intelligent man, learning five languages well enough to be fluent. He is also said to have been deeply interested in classical literature, of which he was often immersed in during his days as schoolteacher in Soquel (S.C. Sentinel 1975). During his period as schoolteacher, Skirm became interested in the practice of law.  His interest in law eventually led to a career, and Joseph Skirm was elected to serve as district attorney of Santa Cruz County. Skirm served as district attorney for two more terms, in the years 1858 and 1859, respectfully. In 1879, Skirm was nominated as a candidate for Superior Judge of Santa Cruz County (Source: S.C. Sentinel 1912). He is said to have been a brilliant, yet slightly eccentric litigator. His concern for the less fortunate folks whom sought his services were displayed through his dismissal of payment for legal services from such folk who sought his assistance in the seemingly ever-open door of his office on Front Street (Source: S.C. Sentinel 10/19/1975 and S.C. Morning Sentinel 2/18/1912). His genial, yet eccentric nature is best exhibited by two instances that occurred during his lifetime, and continued to astound in stories told even after his death (S.C. Morning Sentinel 1912, and S.C. Sentinel 1975). One instance concerns a mouse that Skirm kept in his office and allowed to share his lunch. The other is more romantic, concerning the firing of a bullet by Skirm at the suitor of a woman whom Skirm was enamored of (S.C. Morning Sentinel 1912). The young woman, the 18-year old, Mary Berger, was being wooed by John Elliot Jr. Skirm, not content with the competition for the lady’s affection,  fired a gun at Elliot, whom managed to escape, the bullet instead lodging in the side of the “Flatiron” building of downtown Santa Cruz. This bullet could be seen there until the 1989 earthquake (Source: S.C. Morning Sentinel 1912 and Marla Novo).  Joseph Skirm married Mary Berger shortly after.  He and Mary Berger had several children. Skirm’s productive life as litigator ended when he fell ill with pneumonia, and passed away a couple of week after his wife, Mary Berger. Joseph Skirm had many descendants and his estate fell to three of his children. His descendants included Harry, George, Mary Elizabeth and Charles Skirm, Mrs. C.B. Westover, and Mrs. P.M. MacCarty. He was preceded in death by his sons James and Joseph Skirm (S.C. Morning Sentinel 1912). Joseph H. Skirm is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Santa Cruz County along with his wife, in plot # 218 (Source: Evergreen Files, Joseph H. Skirm).