Over the years, Dan earned a reputation that he was cheap, liked to drink and did not bathe or behave well around women. This was not refuted by testimony in a Los Angeles courtroom in October 1891.
Jim Rich as "Dirty Dan Harris"
Just how dirty was Dirty Dan?
It can be difficult to sort out fact from fiction when it comes to Fairhaven founder, Daniel J. Harris.
During a 1956 interview, Whatcom County resident, Phillip M. Clark remembers meeting Harris at his cabin at the high water mark on the shore of Fairhaven. Clark, a young boy at the time, visited with his father and recalls the cabin was full of chickens just running around and "maps, maps, maps, god almighty there were maps of everything."
Clark guessed Dan was in his early 50s at the time of their meeting and described him as "smart, plenty smart, and he was well educated and he was nobody’s fool. But he was a dirty man, he never washed himself and that’s the reason he got to be known as Dirty Dan Harris."
To hear this interview go to Ralph Thacker's Website about Dirty Dan. Audio Clips
Daniel J. Harris died in Los Angeles on August 18, 1890 at the approximate age of 58. At that time he was known as "Grease Pot Dan". A nasty fight over his estate kept Harris and the sensational details of the trial in the L.A. newspapers for weeks and attracted large crowds to the courthouse.
On October 3, 1891 the Los Angeles Herald printed the following headline:
WAS HE A CRANK?
The Queer Characteristics of Daniel J. Harris
A Witness Says He was Penurious and Filthy
Features of His Conduct Which were Decidedly Peculiar
The lawsuit involved the relatives of Dan Harris who were trying to recover $27,000 allegedly stolen by Dan’s doctor and his wife. It was argued that Dan was of unsound mind at the time. The courtroom was packed each day with observers interested in the sensational details.
The lawyers for the Harris family asked the following question to a number of doctors who were called to testify. It was a long multi-part question taking in details they had learned from earlier witnesses.
"Suppose the following facts were true? Daniel J. Harris:
- Was filthy in his person and habits.
- Never combed his hair or changed his shirt, except when urged thereto by his attendants.
- Wore mean apparel which looked dirty and uncomfortable.
- Did not want to change his clothes.
- Beat upon the piano in a random like way, not being able to play the piano, and did so with his pants off.
- Cursed and swore because his clothes were sent to the laundry to be washed.
- Possessed a large amount of property but worried and said he would be in the poor house if he was sick much longer."
A day earlier, the L.A. Herald reported the testimony of a doctor who stated "He was the dirtiest man I was ever called upon to attend.” A ruckus would ensue to get him to change his undergarments or if the sheets were washed. Dan would "wail” at the expense of clean sheets.
It was at this court session that the ladies were asked to excuse themselves before the subject of what Harris had to say about women was discussed. Those remarks will remain a mystery as the L.A. Herald felt that none of them were fit for publication.
With regards to Dirty Dan's penchant for alcohol, the testimony revealed his doctor administered small amounts of whiskey, also champagne – about one bottle a day, along with plenty of ice.
Daniel J. Harris is said to have cleaned up his act, both with regards to hygiene and his behavior towards women, during the time he met and married Bertha Wasmer in 1883 and moved to Los Angeles in 1888. However it wasn't long after Bertha's death in November 1888 that his bad habits and behavior returned and reputation and reality were one in the same.
Trivia: The 1888 Los Angeles Directory shows Daniel J. Harris lived at 221 Girard, a street that no longer exists. Today it is the site of Staples Center, one of the major sporting venues in Downtown Los Angeles.