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The Short Life and Internet Fame of Phyllis Stalnaker, A 'Weedhead Tramp'

Phyllis Stalnaker pops up on the internet with varying degrees of regularity, but little is known of the woman herself. What we do know is that she should be remembered for more than being labelled a 'weedhead, tramp'

In the context of this time period, it is important to note that the definition of tramp was "a long-term homeless person who travels from place to place as a vagrant, traditionally walking all year round. The word tramp became a common way to refer to such people in 19th-century Britain and America."⁣

In January 1961, at the age of just 35 Phyllis passed away. That probably would have been the end of it. An anonymous woman originally from the Midwest who died young after living a non-notable life in California, away from the spotlight.

But Phyllis was "revived." With the help of the internet. Decades after she or anyone else could advocate for her.

Much of her wider history will remain unknown. But here's what is available, from online sources such as Find a Grave.

  • She was born Phyllis J. Stalnaker on October 19, 1925, in Nebraska (possibly in the vicinity of Columbus).

  • Her parents were Archie Laverne Stalnaker (1900-1946) and Mildred Clara Crawford Stalnaker (1907-2001). Mildred was a seamstress and member of the San Diego Zoological Society. She's buried in Mount Hope Cemetery.

  • She had a young brother, Gorden Rex Stalnaker, who lived from 1927-2007 and served in the Navy in World War II, and two other brothers: Darrell D. Stalnaker and Archie L. Stalnaker.

  • Shortly before her 15th birthday, she was seriously injured after being thrown from a horse. (That's per the October 10, 1940, issue of the San Diego Union.) That would have been about four years before her arrest.

  • At some point she married James Harris and they lived at 7575 Pacific Avenue in Lemon Grove, California (San Diego County).

  • She died on Jan 2, 1961, in San Diego, California. No cause of death was cited, though she was in a hospital when she died. Her service was in a mortuary, not a church. She's buried in Mount Hope Cemetery. According to her obituary, she had lived in San Diego County for 25 years at the time of her death. She did not have any children. Her three brothers were all living in Lemon Grove at the time of her death.

In reality, it's more than likely that Phyllis was arrested purely because a Police officer took a dislike to her. As one Reddit commentator put it -

"Funny to some of us now because we take our freedoms for granted. But in 1944 in San Diego, charged as a tramp meant that the police officer didn't like her being where she was found on the streets. The law (CPC 647e) was only declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1983 (103 S.Ct. 1855, 1860] Rehnquist/White dissenting). Freedom isn't free. Rarely is it gained by blowing up foreigners around the world."


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