Friday, April 09, 2021

Orange County’s Last Train Robbery

Wanted poster for Orange County’s last train robber. (Courtesy UCI)
Although cattle and cowboys still roamed the hills of Orange County in the 1920s, the days of the “Wild West” were largely over. Covered wagons, Indian villages and shootouts in the streets were by then the stuff of Tom Mix movies. And certainly it was assumed that the era of train robbery was over.

But on Aug. 24, 1925, sometime between a 7:40 p.m. departure from Oceanside and an 8:42 p.m. arrival in Santa Ana, the baggage and mail car of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway’s Number 75 train became the scene of a robbery and murder. 

The bandit first climbed on top of the already-rolling car and pried open a ventilator. Express agent Elmer Ellsworth Campbell, 62, was inside. As Campbell looked up to see what the noise was, he was shot through the head from above. As the train rattled swiftly down the tracks, the criminal attached a rope ladder to the ventilator with army picket pins and climbed down next to the car’s door. While Campbell lay unconscious in a spreading pool of blood, the robber used a hatchet to break a window in the door and force entry. 

Although ruthless, the criminal had clearly never robbed a train before. Had he known his “business,” he would have been aware of which kinds of mail bags held items of potential value and which did not. Instead, he went through a lot of bags of worthless mail and never disturbed any bags of registered mail. He also came unprepared to blow open the car’s safe. 

Authorities later said the criminal probably expected to find a large shipment of gold from the San Diego back country headed for the San Francisco mint. Instead, he seems to have come away with $27 from an express company strong box. After taking the cash, he escaped through the far door of the car, either immediately upon arrival in Santa Ana or while still en route.
The Santa Fe (ATSF) depot in Oceanside, 1931. (Courtesy Kansas Historical Society)
As the train pulled into Santa Ana, the baggage master, Tim Hill, pointed out the rope ladder and broken window to telegrapher Frank Claypool. The two entered the car and discovered Campbell, unconscious but still alive. Soon the depot was awash in policemen and railroad detectives. Campbell was sent to Santa Ana Valley Hospital where he died several days later without ever having regained consciousness. 

Some stories indicate that more than $2,000 was taken from the mail sacks, but contemporary accounts indicate that the postmaster had no idea what was in the mail on the #75. He wasn’t even able to say with certainty that any mail had been taken.

Some speculated that two robbers had worked in tandem on the train and that at least one or two others had assisted in the planning and getaway stages of the crime. 

The Santa Fe Railroad and the American Railway Express Co. each offered thousand dollar rewards for the arrest and conviction of the assailants. Reward posters and embellished stories spread across the Southwest, with some newspapers even claiming that a $10,000 reward had been offered for the criminals, dead or alive. 

The public was understandably eager to provide “tips.” It began with reports from Riverside, Lake Elsinore, Santa Ana and San Onofre of a large dark-colored car racing through their respective towns late on the night of the robbery. Another tip led to the arrest of two known Los Angeles criminals and Santa Ana hairdresser Pearl Anderson, who were all later released.
The Santa Fe depot in Santa Ana, 1925. (Courtesy Rob Richardson)
Later, a supply sergeant at the Monterey Presidio – freshly arrested for trying to rob a theater safe – claimed his commanding officer, First Lieutenant Clarence Kennedy Aikin, was really the brains behind the Santa Fe robbery. The authorities in Monterey County were greatly excited about this breakthrough. The San Diego grand jury was looking forward to investigating as well. The press waited anxiously for a sensational trial. But the story fell apart almost immediately under the first attempts at investigation. Aikin was released from suspicion but resigned his commission, his reputation unjustly sullied by poor journalism.

Orange County’s last train robber was never found. 

[This article originally appeared in the Orange County Historical Society's County Courier in early 2019, and another version appeared later in the April 2019 edition of County Connection.]

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Historic Wintersburg update

The Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church in 1910.

In the April 1 edition of Rafu Shimpo, former Assemblyman Warren Furutani wrote about some of those opposing the preservation of Historic Wintersburg – an important Japanese American historical site in Huntington Beach. While many of the pro-bulldozer crowd are driven by the usual greed or banal ignorance, some of the opposition to preservation is, he says, “based on a simmering and festering hate against Asians, specifically Japanese.”

He writes that because of Mary Urashima’s work to save Wintersburg, “she has become a ‘proxy’ target for the haters and racists that have come out from … the shadows to attack Mary. But in actuality the attacks are on the Japanese and Asian community. …Mary has received graphics and pictures depicting anti-Asian attitudes, old World War II-type anti-Japanese ads and one superimposing Mary’s face on a woman bound and placed on the railroad tracks... In other words, a death threat couched in an old-time graphic.”

Furutani calls on civic leaders and the general public to “…Shine a bright light on these cowardly actions by anonymous haters and racists. We can stand with Mary and the Wintersburg Project. The bright, warm light of the truth and exposing the festering hate that lingers just below the surface and right under our noses will drive these cowards back under the rocks from whence they came.”

I do not believe that there's a large number of people in Huntington Beach (despite recent smears against this city) who are racist. But after watching the Wintersburg battle for many years, I know that at least some of that kind of evil exists in our midst. And I know that even a relative handful of dregs can do a lot of harm and deserve to be called out for their egregious behavior. 

Yes, world history is full of racism (and other unfortunate isms) at every turn -- but it's most disheartening to see the study and preservation of local history subverted to serve modern racist purposes (or any other stupid social agenda). Local history is a search for the truth and can be a lot of fun, too. Seeing it bastardized and used as a tool to spread ignorance and grind axes is infuriating. And seeing Mary threatened is sad and extremely upsetting.


Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Review: Stack’s Liberty Ranch Collection, Vol. II

Ken Stack asked me to give him my thoughts on Volume II of his Stack’s Liberty Ranch Collection book series, published last year. I thought it might be more useful to share my thoughts with my readers also. (Full disclosure: Ken is a friend of mine. But I don't think that's swayed my opinion of his work.)

In 2020, Knott's Berry Farm (barely) celebrated it's 100th year amid the COVID-19 lockdowns. As far as I can tell, the best Knott's souvenir one could have acquired during the centennial was Ken's beautiful new book. And if you have anything more than a faint interest in the history of Knott’s, you need this book. 

Ken has one of the most amazing collections of theme park material anywhere, and he makes the most of it here, showing off highlights of his photo, ephemera and artifact collections. There’s enough explanatory text to keep the newbies from getting confused, along with a sprinkling of newly unearthed facts, but it’s largely a *visual* feast. 

If you want to read a history of Knott’s, Ken points out, you should find a copy of Merritt and Lynxwiler’s Knott’s Preserved. (An observation with which I concur.) But if you want to take it the next step and are particularly fond of theme park eye candy, you need to check out Stack’s Liberty Ranch Collection.

The bulk of Volume II is about Knott’s Berry Farm, but there are also smaller sections of the California Alligator Farm (which stood across La Palma Ave. from Knott’s) and Movieland Wax Museum (which was just down the street), and Ken has drummed the best photos I’ve ever seen of these two lesser roadside attractions.  

But back to Knott’s,…

I’ve been working with the entire Knott’s Berry Farm and Bud Hurlbut Collections at the County Archives for well over a decade now, and I sometimes get to thinking I’ve seen everything there is to see on the subject. I clearly have not. Or at least I hadn’t until I picked up this book. There are detailed colored images showing previously seldom seen or completely unseen views of favorite attractions. Everything from a color(!) photo of the little devil who ran Knott’s “volcano,” to colorful hand-painted signs from the 1940s, to a montage of tourist snapshots that reminded me just how amazing Boot Hill was when I was a kid. But better still (from my perspective) are features that were new to me. For example: The lifelike miner working inside the gold mine (near today’s GhostRider), the interior view of the “peek-ins” in the long-gone Indian Village, and the patriotic “My Credo” cards handed out by Walter Knott at the opening of his replica of Independence Hall. 

There are some gems in this book that are worth the price of admission all by themselves, including the full transcript of the Covered Wagon Show (1941) and before-during-and-after photos of Ken’s restoration of artist Paul Von Klieben’s giant portrait of Geronimo (which once hung in the Knott’s Steakhouse). 

The book also cleared up some hazy areas of my Knott’s knowledge, even after all these years. The book includes, for instance, an early 1950s map of the “farm” that shows how pedestrian traffic flowed through the property in that era. Likewise, a photo spread on the short-lived buffalo corrals finally helped me pinpoint their location in my mind’s eye. In fact, I think any Knott’s fan will find a lot of “aha” moments in this book.

There were parts of the book that made me laugh – like the over-the-top 1940s promotional piece (on page six) by Ghost Town News publisher and ex-con Nichols Field Wilson, stumping for Knott’s Berry Place (pre-1947) with all the subtlety of a carnival barker.

And there were parts that I found rather touching, including Ken’s acknowledgement of the contributions of the late Phil Brigandi and John Waite. 

Every page of the book is full color. The printing is crisp and color-correct and the paper was clearly selected to show it all off. There’s a slight sheen to the black areas when held under bright light – but that’s an observation from someone who’s curious about print processes rather than a complaint. This is a quality product in more ways than one.

And curiously, the day after reading this book, I'm left with the feeling that I've actually just *been* to (an earlier incarnation of) Knott's Berry Farm. 

If I have any complaint about the book, it’s that I want more. (For example, I’d like the map of Jungle Island to be larger, so I can see more detail.) But more is, with any luck, coming in the form of Volume III someday. 

Both volumes I and II can be purchased through Ken’s website:

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Father O’Sullivan and the Spanish Flu in Capistrano

Socially distanced on Camino Capistrano, circa 1918. (Photo courtesy O.C. Archives)

San Juan Capistrano, famous for capitalizing on the romance of all things Spanish, found nothing romantic about the Spanish Influenza of 1918. The journals of Monsignor St. John O’Sullivan of Mission San Juan Capistrano provide a unique snapshot of the way the dreaded virus impacted this small Orange County community and other contemporary sources help flesh out the tale.

Even as the Great War raged across Europe, the “Spanish Influenza” (a.k.a. the grip, la grippe, or the 1918 Flu) ultimately infected about a third of the world’s population and killed at least fifty million people. (Keep in mind, the world population then was about 1.8 billion, compared to today’s 7.8 billion.) Cases of the Spanish flu began showing up in Southern California in mid-September 1918 and by mid-October the epidemic had a strong foothold in Orange County. By then, the County Hospital was closed to visitors, public gatherings were sparsely attended, and churches suspended services. Meanwhile, the County Jail acted like something of an incubator.

Each city was largely left to decide for themselves how best to combat the virus. Many promoted the use of gauze masks. Most closed their schools at least for a time, often continuing education via correspondence. Various schemes for quarantine were instituted.

The disease came through the region in three main waves – spring, fall and winter – and wreaked havoc each time. No area of the county was spared, but largely Hispanic communities like Delhi and San Juan Capistrano were particularly hard hit. 

Father St. John O’Sullivan (1874-1933) was directed to San Juan Capistrano from Arizona by Father Alfred Quetu in 1910. O’Sullivan suffered from tuberculosis, and a parish in a small sleepy town with a good climate seemed like something he might be able to manage in the time he had left. Hopes for his survival and his ability to accomplish anything were low. But O’Sullivan fell in love with the town, regained much of his strength, lived another 23 years, and profoundly changed San Juan Capistrano, its historic mission, and California forever.

Starting in a tent amid the ruins of the Old Mission (which hadn’t had a priest in residence since 1886), he gradually brought the place back to life – both as a church and as an important historic site. He restored the Serra Chapel, replaced weeds with gardens, rebuilt walls with his own hands, added a parish school, and methodically turned the old ruins back into Mission San Juan Capistrano.  He also wrote books about Capistrano and popularized the local legend of the swallows. Throughout the state, his work served as the model for how to preserve and restore the old California Missions.

O’Sullivan was also beloved locally as an excellent parish priest, a good citizen and a fine man. One part of that reputation, no doubt, came from his time assisting the community during the difficult months of the Spanish flu epidemic. 

Every day during the pandemic, Dr. Ruggles Allerton Cushman (1856-1954) – who lived in and had a busy practice in Santa Ana – would come down to San Juan Capistrano to tend to the ill. He would arrive at or before 10 o'clock each morning and meet O’Sullivan at the Mission. Together, they went from house to house, visiting the afflicted.

Newspapers gave daily death counts and case counts, although they were wildly inaccurate, leaving out many unreported cases, including quite a few of those living in the country between incorporated cities. Likewise, County death records fail to fully paint the picture, as the causes of death listed for many are listed as afflictions likely caused by a preceding case of influenza. For instance, while the causes of death for many during 1918 are listed clearly as “Influenza,” “Spanish Influenza,” ‘Pneumonia ‘Influenza,’” or “Lobar Pneumonia ‘Influenza,’” others are simply listed as “Pneumonia” or “Lobar Pneumonia,” leaving the underlying cause of the pneumonia in question. Sometimes, however, it's possible to make educated guesses, as in the case of Jennie Lopez, age 22, who died of “Lobar Pneumonia” on October 24, 1918, just a week after two members of her family died of “Pneumonia ‘Influenza’.”

Father St. John O'Sullivan

The whereabouts of O’Sullivan’s original journals are unknown, but luckily, famed ethnologist John Peabody Harrington transcribed his entries for 1918 and 1919 into his own notes. Notice that for each entry, O’Sullivan kept a running tally of cases in Capistrano and even went back to correct his own math at one point. A transcription of these entries follows in bold type, interspersed with other information (in italics) to provide context. By the time of the first of these entries, Santa Ana was the only large city in Orange County still “open.” Appropriately, the first entry tells how “la grippe” came to San Juan Capistrano:

Oct. 23, 1918 - Wednesday - The influenza appeared among walnut pickers in the orchard attended by Barns. A young man, Mexican, came on the stage from El Toro on Sunday afternoon last. The same night he was taken sick. Tuesday morning, Dr. Cushman was called from Santa Ana and found two others, a man and a woman also sick. This morning (Wednesday) two other men were sick in a neighboring tent. 

Have warned all to stay at home as much as possible. Saw trustees Woodward and Rosenbaum and they closed the school yesterday afternoon. Got them to close last Wednesday but they opened up again Monday. Asked Dan Salazar and he closed his pool room. No public mass Sunday or Sunday week, but about ten came anyway last Sunday.

By October. 26, two hundred and seventy-six cases of the Spanish Influenza had been reported to the County Health Officer, with most of those coming from "south" Orange County. (South Orange County was then considered anything south of about Katella Ave. in Anaheim) were in short supply at the County Hospital (now the site of UCI Medical Center) and patients sometimes had to be cared for by relatives or other volunteers. Doctors were also in shorter supply than usual, with several of them serving in the military during the war.

Oct. 29 - Tuesday - No public mass last Sunday - 1 at mass, except household. So far, the following had the influenza, all of them developed since last Friday, and as well as I can remember in the order named: Reginaldo Yorba, Librada Yorba, Fidel Yorba, Ernesto Salazar, John and George Hunn, Adela Ricardes, Cristin Garcia, Dan Garcia, Clemencia and Ventura Garcia, Dan Salazar, Mrs. [Magdalena] Salazar, Eduardo Salazar, Pete Rios. [Pete Rios] was brought to county hospital last night, and I learn by phone that [he] is in a dangerous condition this afternoon, 4 p.m.  Milo Stevens and family up the Trabuco are reported all down with the influenza. 

Miguel Aguilar is down with it. All the walnut house help are now sick with it except apparently Mr. Van der Leck. They are Miguel Aguilar, Fidel Yorba, Cristina Garcia (Mrs. "Slats" Watenburg), and Ventura and Clemencia Garcia [?], Adela [?].

By late October, the practice of quarantining flu-infected individuals and households was becoming significantly more common in Southern California. On October 29, the Santa Ana Register reported that 113 homes in Santa Ana were quarantined, public gatherings were prohibited, numerous local doctors were down ill, and there was little chance of the schools being reopened the following week. "Every bed in the County Hospital was filled. Nearly all of the new patients were Mexicans. The hospital has been going ahead heroically under heavy odds. With illness on the staff and the work very heavy, the hospital has been doing excellent work. Just at present there is a decided shortage in nurses... The most serious phase of the situation so far as getting the flu under control is the indifference and ignorance of a large share of the Mexican population. Many of the Mexicans resent quarantine keenly and use diverse means of breaking it. ...It is almost impossible to keep the Mexicans from visiting the sick. There is little question but that there are a good many more cases of influenza among the Mexicans than the doctors or health authorities know about. A large proportion of the deaths that have occurred have been among the Mexicans. Failure to take care of themselves, crowded and insanitary conditions in their homes ... makes the disease more deadly among them."

Oct. 30 - Dr. Cushman here last night. We visited nine houses: Salazar, 4 sick with the influenza. Yorbas, 3 sick. Andres Garcia 3, Filipe Garcia 2, Mike Aguilar 2, Hunn 2, Angel Caperon 1, Joe Ricardes 3, Santos Yorba 1 (doubtful), Vicente Oliveras 2, Salazars 1. 

Tonight, the doctor came again. At Mike Aguilar's, two more sick. At Caperons, one more. At Andres Garcia's, one more. Found John Lobo, wife and three children sick. This [makes] 37 cases among our people. Simmons and wife and one or two children sick.

Pete Rios taken to County hospital night before last from Milo Stevens up the Trabuco with [pneumonia] from the flu.

Vida Van der Leck returned from L.A. last Thursday just recovering from it. All the Olivares family of [Gasa?] seem to have had it and recovered.

Dr. R. A. Cushman

On Halloween the Santa Ana Register reported on a different kind of mask than those usually associated with the holiday: "Masks are rapidly disappearing in business houses. They have not been worn very extensively in this city, and some doctors maintain that there is more danger in their use by inexperienced people than without them. Proper sterilization is necessary to make the masks safe, and it is said that very few people take the proper precaution. Some are known to have taken a mask after boiling it and placed it in a bag in which soiled masks had been carried." The epidemic did nothing, however, to curtail trick-or-treating and other Halloween shenanigans.

Nov. 1 - Apparently no new cases yesterday, but today Dr. Cushman came in the afternoon to see Ubaldo Manriquez. I did not know the doctor was here until after he left. Immediately phoned for him. Vicente Olivares’ "Bill" down with it. Gracia Olivares, Clotilde Garcia, Beatriz Garcia, Tula de Rios, Delfina Rios, Florencia Rios, John Agular are those who fell sick today -- and Ubaldo Manriquez. Nine new cases. 37+9=46

Nov. 2 - Six new cases today. Jesus and Gabriel Caperon, Dona Balbineda and little David Yorba. Lillie is better. Two cases near Serra. Paul Bucheim and [the wife of one of the section house men got it.] 

The section house was where the men who ran the local railroad operations lived. Serra was the name for the old rail stop at Capistrano Beach.

Nov 3 - Sunday - New cases, Lenora, Juanita and Daniel Rios, and Beatrix Garcia. Joe Lopez, Rosa Aguilar and her two children Crescencia and the baby. 8=51=59

Nov. 4 - No new cases today that I know of.

Nov. 5 - Fe Ramos, Octavia Ochoa, Sara de Belasquez, Andres Garcia, Virginia Watenburg (age 4) - 5 new cases today. Baby of Pedro Harday died today but not of the influenza. Also Marcos, Rosa's little baby sick. 6+59=65

Nov. 6 - New cases: Joe Yorba, Josephine Rios, Grace Combs, Teodoro Olivares. 4+65=69

Nov. 7 - New cases: Joe Olivares and two children, Hortensia and baby. Rosenda de Ramos and Esperanza, Ramon Rios. Nieves de Sepulveda and baby. Lorenza de Manriquez. 11+65=76

Gave John Aguilar, who has developed pneumonia, all the sacraments. The war ended today and the bells were run to announce it by Albert Watenburg, Julian Aguilar and one other (false alarm).

"I can't see that the epidemic is letting up," Dr. C. D. Ball told the Register. "There are about twelve burials a day in the nearby cemetery. The south end of the county from Huntington Beach to San Juan Capistrano is rotten with it. I should say one-third of the houses have it." Dr. Cushman added, "I think it is wrong to quarantine heads of families. Families have been shut up, and no way to get food. There should be an inspector go to every quarantined family every day, and money appropriated to meet their wants. If it was cholera or smallpox, people would be wild. They are indifferent to this, it seems, yet it is a terrible disease--a terrible disease. I am not in favor of keeping the schools closed."

Federal health warning, Santa Ana Register, 10-17-1918

On November 7, the Orange County Board of Supervisors passed Ordinance No. 159. This emergency measure prohibited "the assembling and congregating of persons in public places, and public gatherings, without permission of the County Health Officer..." It called out such examples as "any public school, church, theater, pool or billiard room, dance hall, lodge room, club room or [public gatherings in] private homes out of incorporated municipalities." Violators could be fined up to $50 or jailed for up to 10 days.

Nov. 8 - New cases: Baby of Joe Olivares (Two others beside those recorded had it and recovered without doctor.) Francisco Ramos, Manuel Manriquez, Myrtle Combs. 6+76=82

False alarm about the end of the war.

Nov. 9 - New cases: Tom Ramos Sr., Tom Ramos Jr., Consuelo Stanfield, Margarita (Lopez), baby of Anita, Antonio. Mother and Anita had it and recovered without doctor. 82+8=90

Mrs. McHenry and oldest girl. 90+2=92

Nov. 10 - New cases: Clarence Mendelson, Aurilio Lopez. Newly found being sick some days. Delfina Sepulveda, Leguarda de Sepulveda, and eight at Jimenez. 12+92=104

Lillie Yorba had relapse - pneumonia. Mike Aguilar has bad interior left ear. Little Girl and wife of McHenry sick Friday 2+104=106.

Nov. 11 - War ended at 11 today French time. Brought Lilly to hospital today. Went with her in ambulance to County Hospital. Gave her sacraments. Did not visit all today. Only new cases I know of are Earl Stanfield and the grandmother, Refugio de Rios. 2+106=108. 

Found Candido Jimenez with pneumonia, fever 104°. Brought him and rest of family pills.

Nov. 12 - New cases: Jesus Maria Lopez, Jesusita. Baby boy at Lopez. Voila Keller de Aguilar, Gussie Mendelson, Willie Forbes, Jr., Guadalupe de Perez, Adela Lopez. Newly found, Francisca and Erolinda Jimenez. 10+108=118

Lilly reported better this evening. Lorenza de Manriquez and Candido Jimenez very sick. Mrs. McHenry had bad nose bleed this evening. Candido Jimenez had 104 2/5° this afternoon. Ten of them are sick.

By now there was a clear pattern throughout the county in which predominantly Mexican neighborhoods – which often held more family members and more generations per household – were being hit much harder by influenza than were predominately white neighborhoods. By mid-November, white parents in Santa Ana were requesting that any reopened schools be segregated with specific schools for the Mexicans. “This is a temporary adjustment,” reported the Register. “It is proposed to leave to the next school board the problem of a permanent adjustment.”

Fr. O'Sullivan in the Mission's Sacred Garden

Nov. 13 - New cases: Baby of Edonardo Perez, and he himself newly found, Eugene Arce. 3+118=121

Nov. 14 - New cases: William Forbes, Sr., and Francisca de Lopez. 2+121=123

Nov. 15 - Martin, Basilio and Theofila Perez, children. 3+123=126

Nov. 16 - Tiby Marquez, Mrs. William Forbes, Ysidro. 3+126=129. 

Gave Candida Jimenez all the sacraments this afternoon. Guadalupe de Perez had 105° fever at 3 P.M. Tom Jimenez came down from Camp Fremont this morning in answer to night letter I sent him. Took Richard Mendelson - only one in his house not sick - over to Juan Yorba's. Error in numbers, McHenrys recorded twice. 129-2=127

Nov. 17 - Sunday - Found no new cases today. Dr. Cushman here in evening to see Candido who is very low. Heart good, temperature 102°, but lungs almost filled up. Guadalupe de Perez very bad, 104°. Doctor advises taking her to the hospital. Lilly Yorba to leave hospital tomorrow and go to her brother Rudolph's house near Tustin. Candido died at 10:30 P.M.

Nov. 18 - Guadalupe de Perez went to the hospital today with pneumonia. Tiby was worse this morning and Joe Avila's little boy sick. Doctor came but could not get up to Avila's, 5 miles toward the [San Juan] Hot Springs on account of muddy roads and rain. He left medicine and I wrote out instructions and sent them up by Damien Rios, who went on horseback.

New cases: Mrs. Staffel, Pilar Lobo, and presumably Jose Avila's little boy. 3+127=130 cases to date.

By now, the incidence of new cases was beginning to diminish throughout the county.

Nov. 19 - No new cases. Joe Avila's baby has not flu. 130-1=129

Nov. 20 - No new cases. Guadalupe de Perez died.

Nov. 21 - No new cases. Tiby better 99.3°. Viola de Aguilar 99.3°. Yisidro Villa better. Buried Guadalupe de Perez who died at County Farm yesterday. 

The County Farm was the Orange County Hospital and Poor Farm. The Poor Farm provided housing and work for those who were unable to otherwise care for themselves. The adjacent County Hospital – at that time housed in a purpose-built 1914 neo-classical building -- cared for those who could not afford medical help elsewhere.

White Cross Drug Store ad, Santa Ana Register, 10-22-1918

Dec. 12 - Since recording the preceding the following [have] taken the influenza: Joe Avila, his wife Amelia, Henry Jose, Jr., Julian and the baby, Clarence James, Glenn Cook, his cousin about the same age (15), Mrs. Roy Cook. 9+129=138

Mrs. Roy Cook took sick this morning. Julian Aguilar had it and recovered without the doctor. 1+138=139

Dec. 22 - Sunday - Pedrito Oyharzabal sick with flu last Sunday, had pneumonia about four days. Yesterday at 5 P.M. Temp. 103 4/5°. Resp 40. Pulse 128. Better today. 

Bennie Forster, three in section house. Polly Lopera (Wilson), Mrs. Congdon and Jack Congdon 8+138=146

By the middle of December, many of Southern California’s bans on public gathering were lifted – just in time for the holidays. At Mission San Juan Capistrano’s heavily attended 8:00 a.m. Christmas morning Mass, the congregation presented O'Sullivan with a generous gift "in gratitude for his faithful work during the influenza epidemic." (Santa Ana Register, 12-27-1918)

Jan. 8 - Since last, the following have had the flu -- Walter Congdon, Antonio Saragosa, Dominga Saragosa and the mother (in section) 146+4=150. 

Teodoro Belardes very low with pneumonia.

Jan. 10 -- Teodosio Belardes died today.

Jan. 15 -- Marcos Forster, sick on the 13th. Modesta Rios and Filomena de Ricardes same day. Frank Rios yesterday. 4+150=154. Today Frank Rios 104°.

Here the transcription ends. It would be fascinating to know what else O’Sullivan may have noted in his journals in the waning days of the epidemic and, indeed, throughout the rest of his time in San Juan Capistrano. 

New infections decreased significantly throughout Southern California by February 1919 and gradually fizzled out during that spring. Some believe a smaller fourth wave also swept through in the winter and spring of 1920, although that is not well documented. 

The task remains for some historian to spend the countless days of research needed to develop a full accounting of those who died of Spanish Influenza in Orange County. Finding those who died of “influenza” in the death rolls is straightforward enough, albeit time consuming. However, it is much harder – if not impossible – to sort through the deaths caused by potentially related conditions, like pneumonia, and determine which cases were brought about by the flu. In truth, the local death count may never be fully known. Even less knowable is the scope of the devastation brought to the family and friends of those who died. 

But thanks to Fr. St. John O’Sullivan, we have a much better idea of how one small town coped during one of its darkest hours.

[Author’s note: Special thanks to Eric Plunkett for finding historical needles in historical haystacks and to Stephanie George for her helpful editing and suggestions. This article was originally written for the Orange County Historical Society and first appeared on a page relating to OCHS on the website of the Heritage Museum of Orange County.]

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Hermann’s Slug Farm, Midway City

An early incarnation of Sidney Slug joins (L to R) Roger Hermann, Mrs. Hermann, and members of the Midway City Chamber of Commerce for the farm’s grand opening in 1953. (Photo from Midway City Times)

What’s the key to a successful tourist attraction? If you said, “gobs of mucus” or “tiny critters that barely move,” you would be wrong. That is, you’d be wrong if Midway City’s late, not-so-lamented Hermann’s Slug Farm was any indicator. 

Opening in October 1953 and closing in November 1955, the “farm” featured not only dozens of species of slugs, but also smaller numbers of snails and worms. It was located on the east side of Highway 39 (Beach Blvd), south of at Hazard Ave. Billboards along the highway read “See the World’s Most Playful Slugs!” and featured smiling cartoon gastropods frolicking on the beach, playing volleyball, building sandcastles, and so forth. Unsurprisingly, the actual slugs participated in none of these activities. 

The slug farm was the brainchild of Roger S. Hermann, a limacologist who’d retired from teaching at UCLA and wanted to share his passion for shell-less gastropod mollusks with a wider audience. 

If nothing else, Hermann picked a good location. Highway 39 had been a key route from Los Angeles County to Orange County’s beaches for decades and had spawned numerous other popular roadside attractions. Land in Midway City was affordable and had a naturally high water table and rich moist soil conducive to a healthy slug population. 

Visitors entered Hermann’s Slug Farm through “The World’s Largest Slug” – a slug-shaped building designed and built by artist Claude Bell, whose studio was just up the road at Knott’s Berry Farm. This giant gunite slug also housed a small gift shop featuring a variety of items – from cigarette lighters to bottle openers – emblazoned with the images of real slugs or the farm’s cartoon mascot, Sidney Slug. Among the most memorable items in the store were colorful ceramic banks shaped like Sidney, which sell for over $150 on eBay today. The gift shop also sold worms for gardening and fishing, as well as slugs that hadn’t “made the cut” in the farm’s exhibits.

From the entrance building, a silver trail, painted on the concrete walkways, led visitors from one exhibit to the next. Slug-shaped signs described each exhibit, as did the “Fun Map” booklet handed out at the farm’s entrance.

A silver lapel pin, as sold in the gift shop.
“Be sure to visit again at feeding time!” read a large sign over the main slug enclosure. But it took half a day to watch the slugs devour even one good-sized leaf. 

“Some of the slugs and snails were trained to perform tricks, but they did so very slowly,” said Terry McGee who worked summers at the farm as a teenager, spraying the gastropods to keep them moist. “Most people didn’t have the patience for that.”

Twice-daily slug races also failed to draw large crowds. 

Perhaps the Slug Farm’s most well-remembered attraction was a small terrarium where a trained slug would play a tiny piano each time a guest placed a nickel into a coin slot. A series of hidden electrodes herded the slug back and forth across the keyboard. It took the slug half an hour to play a small snippet of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag.”

But some just came to admire the surprisingly wide array of slug species. “The bright yellow banana slugs were probably our biggest hit,” said McGee.

The farm’s on-site snack shop, Gastropod Gastronomy, featured fried escargot on a stick and an assortment of hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream treats. As a safety precaution, no salt was available to customers.
Midway City briefly considered capitalizing on the Slug Farm by hosting a proposed annual Slug Fest and a Slug Parade before realizing the roadside attraction was a flop.

Indeed, Hermann’s Slug Farm never became popular. And business only got worse as new freeways pulled traffic off Highway 39 and as competition from other tourist attractions edged out “the little guy.” The slug farm closed for good on November 17, 1955, just four months after Disneyland opened its doors. 
Posted 4/1/2021