Friday, April 17, 2015

Abe Lincoln, Steve Martin and Knott's Berry Farm

Steve Martin as Asa Trenchard in Our American Cousin, 1965.
A couple days ago, Janet Whitcomb, who usually writes about South O.C. history, emailed me a great North O.C. story taken from her own childhood memories. It was so interesting, in fact, that I asked if she'd let me share it here. So without further ado,...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015
From: Janet Whitcomb:
Subject: With apologies to Sgt. Pepper: It was 150 years ago today...

This morning I suddenly realized, while listening to my car's radio on my way to work, that I knew exactly where I was 50 years ago.

Knott's Berry Farm!

More specifically, my mother and grandmother took me to see an abridged production of Our American Cousin at Knott's Berry Farm's Birdcage Theater. And it may well have been that we attended on April 14th instead of the 15th . . . but read on, and I’ll go into that issue a bit later.

Our American Cousin was the play President and Mrs. Lincoln attended the evening of April 14, 1865. And as anyone who has studied American history knows, during the play's performance—halfway through Act III, Scene 2, to be a bit more exact—John Wilkes Booth gained access to the theater box where the Lincolns and their guests were seated and assassinated President Lincoln.
Martin's rustic character proves out-of-place in Victorian England.
As for our presence at Knott's Berry Farm's Birdcage Theater . . . We arrived in the afternoon (it was a school day, after all) with the express purpose of attending the play. (These were the days when both entrance to and parking at Knott's were free of charge.) Soon we'd found seats in the theater and, once the lights went down, saw to our immediate right—where a "box seat" would've been located—the silhouetted figure of Lincoln. This silhouette remained lit until the third act, when immediately after the following line:
"Don't know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdologizing old man-trap."
—a single shot rang out and the entire theater went dark. Then the lights came up, one of the play's actors rushed out and very nervously announced: "On this day, one hundred years ago, the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was shot."[Or died, depending on which day we were there, as Lincoln was shot on April 14th and died April 15th. I simply remember my mom made sure I was aware that we were attending on a Very Important Anniversary.] The actor then added a few other words to the effect that Lincoln would live forever in the hearts of Americans, and that the play would now resume.

Which it did . . . minus the illuminated silhouette.

Obviously all of this made an impression on me, for as I was driving to school this morning I heard about commemoration ceremonies at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. At which point I recalled that my mother and grandmother were thoughtful enough to give me a Lincoln memory of my own.

And here’s a postscript to this “memory play”: Upon looking up the Birdcage Theater’s production of Our American Cousin online, I found information  indicating that actor/comedian Steve Martin may well have been in the production we saw. This link takes you to [Dave DeCaro's website], Daveland, which displays a very young Steve Martin, in photos from the production dated June 1965. So perhaps Steve was on stage in April as well.  I certainly remember the barn backdrop with the exaggerated perspective. At the time, however, I was far more interested in animals and drawing than I was in actors!

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Discovering Bunnyhenge

In early 2013, while grading land for the new Newport Beach Civic Center Park, backhoe operator Greg Oswald uncovered an amazing relic of Orange County’s prehistoric past. “The side of the area I was digging caved in a little, and suddenly I was looking at a huge pair of bunny ears!”

Those ears turned out to be part of the first of two ancient eight-foot-tall stone figures on the site depicting Desert Cottontail Rabbits (Sylvilagus audubonii). Then, something even more astonishing was found: A large circle of sixteen, four-foot-tall stone rabbits on top of a hill.

“We were shocked,” said Jack O’Hare of the project’s landscape architecture firm, Peter Walter Partners. “But the archaeologist monitoring the dig, Hazel Lepus, told us that native rock art is often found near water, and this is right next to a small wetland habitat.”

Archaeologists estimated that this “Bunnyhenge” was built anywhere from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. “Radiocarbon dating suggests that the bunnies were carved between 2400 and 2200 BC,” said Lepus. “Based on protein residue sampling, it appears the rabbits were originally brightly colored with ochre pigment. A variety of other natural colors were used to highlight the eyes.”
These sorts of monolithic stone animal effigies are extremely rare, but not unheard of. Similar sites have been discovered from the Conejo Valley to Caerbannog, Wales. In fact, at roughly the same time as the Newport Bunnyhenge discovery, a large figure of a dog relieving himself was found only a mile away, near the Orange County Museum of Art.

“These ‘rabbit rings’ had ceremonial or religious significance, and were probably used in puberty or fertility rights,” said Dr. Peter Binkenstein, who teaches anthropology and Native American Folklore at South Dakota State University. “But bunnyhenges were also used as calendars. By observing the alignment of the stars, sun, moon and planets in relationship to their floppy ears, one could mark the passing of the seasons.”

Further excavation showed that the center of the Bunnyhenge circle was used as some sort of fire pit. This led the City Council to briefly propose a ban on the site.
Local Juaneño and Gabrieleno Indian leaders are baffled by the stone rabbits. But the site is drawing people with neopagan and new age beliefs. In the wee small hours of Feb. 20th, reports of strange goings-on and possible fire at the park brought the Newport Beach Police to investigate. All they found was a smoldering bunch of white sage and a bag of Purina Rabbit Chow (Garden Recipe) – its contents scattered across the circle.

“Something was definitely going on up there,” said NBPD Lieutenant Frank Harvey. “This is one of the most culturally sensitive places in our city and as a resident myself, it makes me hopping mad to think of someone messing it up.”