Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Mystery book cover unmystified

When Phil Brigandi died in 2019, we (his historian friends) spent countless hours working to appropriately distribute his vast personal historical library and artifacts to the appropriate institutions. (Again, many thanks to his brothers for allowing us to do this.) Because we knew his areas of historical study, most items were fairly easy to identify. But there are certain items that have taken longer to puzzle out. For instance, when I found this front cover torn off an old hardbound book in his apartment, I had no idea of its significance. I *did* know that it must have SOME significance, or Phil wouldn’t have kept it. He was methodical about collecting and only kept things that were somehow relevant.

In this case, a bit of searching turned up information about Mr. Mason M. Fishback, who once owned the book this cover once, well, COVERED. 

Mason Fishback from the 1930 OUHS annual.

Mason McCloud Fishback was born in Marshall, Illinois on Feb. 1, 1878 to James and Orrel Fishback. He left Illinois for Orange County in the very early 1900s. He started as a history teacher at Orange Union High School (which was also Phil’s beloved alma mater) in 1906. In 1915 he married Lenore Rose, but she died in April 1917. The following year, while continuing to teach, he was given the additional responsibility of becoming the Boys’ Vice Principal for Orange High. He remained in that position for the rest of his life. 

During World War II Fishback led the successful effort at OUHS to raise enough funds by selling oranges to buy the Red Cross another ambulance to serve on the front lines. For this, he received a personal thank-you from President Woodrow Wilson.

In 1920, Mason married fellow Orange High teacher, Mabel Parker. According to the National Register of Historic Places application for Old Towne Orange, Mason had a new Dutch Colonial Revival home built for his bride at 284 N. Glassell Ave. in Orange, which was completed in 1921. 

A modern view of 284 N. Glassell Ave.

Mason was an authority on the life of Abraham Lincoln, and he was well-liked at work and in the community. In fact, at the time of his death, January 9, 1941, the Los Angeles Times referred to him as “the most popular man in the county.”

Luckily, the house at 284 N. Glassell still stands and is a perfect match for the house depicted on Fishback’s “Ex Libris” label. It appears the house is now the headquarters for the local law firms.

The Ex Libris labels themselves were undoubtedly created and placed in the books of Fishback’s personal library around the time of his death. As books were given to the city library, the church or friends, the labels would serve as a continuing memorial to Orange’s favorite vice principal.

Closeup of the label.
Now knowing that Fishback was such a well-known figure in Orange during his era, knowing his association with Orange High, and knowing that the house on the label is in historic Downtown Orange, it makes perfect sense that Phil would save this relic. He was, among other things, the great City of Orange historian.