Make sure you’re wearing your winter duds. There’s snow ahead in our time traveling forecast. We’ve also the weirdest darn traffic accident in local history to go along with an entire passel of heroes, villains and gee whiz events. Saddle up, amigos…
(PHOTO CAPTION: Early in 1947, the Black Dahlia case was the lead story in the L.A. papers. Elizabeth Short was a waitress whose naked body was found cut in half in a Downtown L.A. park. The local papers called it the Black Dahlia Murder (after a film murder mystery) to sell papers. It spawned a fear craze here in the SCV, with a spate of non-existent dead bodies being reported all over the valley. One hysterical woman called in about a corpse in Canyon Country under a tree. When police rushed to the scene, expecting a dismembered corpse, they found a napper instead. The Black Dahlia is one of Los Angeles County’s longest unsolved homicide. More than 50 men and women confessed to the crime over the years, with many more offering up relatives as the murderer.)
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
• Back on February 7, 1919, the very first edition of The Signal was published by World War I vet, Ed Brown and his wife, Blanche. Setting the standard with that first issue, the very first typographical error in The Signal was leaving the “j” off the word, “jackass.” The Signal actually started on January 1, 1919, but it was a month later when they published.
• Legendary silent film star William S. Hart purchased the Horseshoe Ranch from Babcock Smith back on Feb. 5th, 1921. Babby’s original house is the bunkhouse down on the flatlands of the park.
• Feb. 2, 1848, the Treaty of Hidalgo was signed. California became a U.S. possession and everyone who used to be a citizen of the Mexican-run territory was now a citizen of the U.S. Locally, that affected about the 60 or so folk living in the Santa Clarita. Interestingly, when Bill Hart Jr. sued the county, trying to get the fortune and mansion his father had left them, the absolute last volley his attorneys fired, in 1956, was to argue that the Treat of Hidalgo was illegal, therefore, all property transactions in California were null and void. The judge laughed the poor attorney out of court.
• One of the valley’s most controversial figures, General Edward Fitzgerald Beale, was born on February 4, 1822 in Washington D.C. He amassed a fortune in sometimes very questionable real estate deals and while leading several progressive movements to help Indians, was also in charge of an Indian Affairs agency that was sometimes responsible for wholesale massacres on the Native Americans. When Abraham Lincoln refused to appoint him United States Surveyor General, the president commented: “He tends to become master of all he surveys.”
FEBRUARY 2, 1927
• It was an odd case and local law enforcement didn’t know whether to classify as suicide or accident. A 26-year-old Gas Company employee was found dead in his Cozy Court room, a victim of asphyxiation from gas. He had complained of pain from tonsillitis.
• I’ll bet the local Sheriff’s Dept. would love a month’s caseload like Jeb Stuart had to handle. The local captain reported a crime spree for January of 1927 — 48 investigations and 28 arrests. Breaking the latter down, it worked out to: 15 auto thefts; 8 runaway boys; 2 burglaries; 2 petty larcenies; and one generic misdemeanor. Jeb also had to write up 8 traffic accidents.
• We had an actual jury trial in A.B. Perkins court. Roy Moore was charged with failing to keep the horns of a deer he shot, which carried a staggering $300 fine. I say staggering because $600 would get you a brand new Saugus house in 1927 — total price. Moore ended up paying $50.
FEBRUARY 2, 1937
• We were coming off a drought the previous year and although we were enjoying a wet winter, the underground water tables were dangerously low. I’ve read and heard stories about how, in the 1700s, the streams ran bank to bank, year round here and were more like small rivers than dry creeks.
• The Newhall Woman’s (Yes. For some reason, they referred to themselves in the singular.) Club was founded in 1900 and thrived until its closure (lack of interest) in 1990. On this date, the freezing weather of the 1937 winter cracked open a water pipe. It was three days before anyone discovered the problem and the flood ruined the gals’ clubhouse.
• One of the warmest places in the SCV was in Happy Valley. Today, it’s one of the area’s oldest residential areas. But in 1937, it was still ranch and farmland. The Witter Turkey Ranch was home to more than 2,000 gobblers. Mr. Witter had a system of gas heaters which kept his pens at 93 degrees when the turkeys were small. He also used a certain kind of moss to line the floors. The moss absorbed all the — ahem — byproducts and killed the odor. Mr. Witter was a pretty successful farmer, so much so he was able to turn down a special order for 50,000 turkey eggs (at 25 cents a piece).
• Several years before the American Theater would open in 1941, folks used to mosey to the Saugus Elementary Auditorium to watch “talking pictures.” On this date, the bill was “I Can’t Escape,” starring Lila Lee and Onslow Stevens. For you extreme film buffs, a little trivia: Lila Lee was born Augusta Wilhelmena Fredericka Appel. She was famous for playing “Carmen” opposite Rudolph Valentino in “Blood & Sand” in 1922. If I may stop a certain blonde named Daneen in her tracks — No. I did not see “Blood & Sand” at the movies when it first came out, thank you very much. How’s this for a string of unemployment: She made her second-to-last film, “Oh Boy” in 1938. She made her last film, “Cottonpickin’ Chickenpickers” in 1967.
• OK. Guess we have a whole passel of film buffs in the posse this morning. You want to know about Onslow Stevens? You’d probably recognize him if you saw his picture. He had a very successful career, first as a leading man and then as a character actor — usually as a rich, European or Arab type. Poor fellow made over 80 films, but died in a nursing home at the age of 75 under mysterious circumstances. His wife said he had been abused there.
FEBRUARY 2, 1947
• Let’s give a big ol’ roar to the Lions. Not the mountain lions, because we don’t want them chasing the horses, especially with us still on them. No. The Lions Club. With 48 original members, they signed their charter 60 years back. Chevy dealer Paul Carrell was the first president. Coincidentally, right around the same time, he opened the Tom C. Carrell “ultramodern” Chevrolet dealership in town, on San Fernando Road.
• Warren Graft essentially said: “Thanks for the help but don’t help me THAT much.” The sleeping 89-year-old pensioner was pulled from his burning shack behind the Saugus feedyards by two neighbor women. Graft wanted to run back in and get something, but one of the gals wouldn’t let him go back, and, in fact, sat on the poor old guy’s chest. Graft wrestled free, ran into the shack and pulled out a pillow case from between his flaming mattress. It held his entire bankroll: $1,665. And that was a sizable amount of dough. He’d need it, too. While he didn’t suffer a scratch, he lost his cabin and all his possessions.
• Bless their charitable hearts, Newhall Land & Farming Co. donated the land and, on this date, the county okayed $116,000 to help build Wm. S. Hart Park.
• We hardly even think of this, but when I was growing up, and certainly long before that, people were worried about rabies. The deadly mad dog disease was discovered in the valley and canines were put on quarantine to their yards. One dog, smack dab in the middle of town (Walnut Street) was found dead with the disease.
• Wayside Honor Rancho (today, Peter Pitchess Prison) was a country club holding house for lower case and celebrity criminals, including Robert Mitchum. On this date, one of their more famous guests was the tennis champ, Bill Tilden. The netter drew a year on a moral’s charge but, a model prisoner, he would serve 7-1/2 months. Guards said the once chipper champion seemed to be a broken man. Born to a wealthy family, he was ranked the No. 1 player in the world for seven years, mostly during the first World War. Poor fellow had a hellish childhood, losing three siblings and his mother by the time he was 15. His wealthy father shunned him and he was sent to live nearby with an aunt. Tilden used all the pent-up emotion to become one of the greatest tennis players of all time. A phenomenal athlete and a brilliant person, “Big” Bill was haunted and controversial when the world learned he was a homosexual. I can’t think of a greater tennis player. In the 1920s, he never lost a single important match in a 7-year-period and led the United States to as many Davis Cups — a record that no country or player has come close to 80 years later. The amazing thing is that while most tennis players are in their heyday in their youth, Tilden didn’t start playing seriously until he was 27. Tilden’s affection for the same sex came into light in a Nov. 23rd, 1946 arrest. He was seen fondling a teenage boy on Sunset Blvd. Tilden defended the youth was a male prostitute. He would later be arrested in 1949 on similar charges.
FEBRUARY 2, 1957
• Here’s a phrase, con gusto, you hardly ever hear in the Santa Clarita: “SNOW DAY!” Sixty years back, for the first time since 1949, the valley floor was pelted with a major snowstorm. Well. Major for us. The breath of glaciers blew from the north and, for four days, Newhall was like a Swiss alpine village. At around the 3,000-foot elevation, we had two feet of white powder. Some playful kids in Acton ended up in major trouble. They were throwing snowballs at passing cars. One barrage hit the windshield. The driver panicked, hit the brakes and started a major rear-ender with several vehicles.
• It wasn’t the best of conditions to fight a major environmental nightmare. A big oil main busted in downtown Newhall. An ancient 8-inch pipe burst, creating a small volcano in the asphalt on San Fernando Road near Pine Street. Thick, gooey oil erupted, creating Lake Petrol from 3rd to 6th streets and into Newhall Creek.
• This might be the darn weirdest traffic accident in SCV history. Patrons of Oscar’s Cove, a dive up Mint Canyon, were more than surprised when the building seemed to explode. At first, they thought it was an earthquake. But, another explosion jarred the building and the front end of a big old Pontiac was sticking through the front door. The barstool leaners watched, in amazement, as the driver, Gene Gray, put it into reverse, rolled back a few yards, gunned it and rammed into the bar another eight times. Seems Gene didn’t want his 20-year-old wife, Lisa, frequenting the joint. He had asked her to leave politely. She refused. What’s a guy to do?
• I was just talking with a friend about how idiots like to pepper “No Shooting” signs in the last few enclaves of Santa Clarita. Well. This tidbit more than one-ups me. Deputy E.R. Acosta arrested a few guys for target practice. He confiscated the usual pistols and rifles, and, fortunately, the guys were most polite. One thing Acosta, nor any other deputy had ever encountered before was a 19th century Gatling gun. The boys were firing the original machine gun at a rate of 250 rounds per minute.
FEBRUARY 2, 1967
• One of my all-time favorite front-page photos appeared on this date. My good friend, Randy Lawrence, alleged Hart High letterman, resplended in his maroon and gray (that used to be Hart’s school colors prior to 1968) letterman’s jacket, was shown at his cake baking class, getting ready for Valentine’s Day. Live that one down, Randy...
• Canyon Country had a Paul Bunyan of a mud puddle. It was more of a lake. Neighbors were blaming the Solemint Water Company for the body of water, which got the Sheriff’s and all manner of county agencies involved. You could lose a good-sized pick-up in Lost Canyon’s uncharted water hazard.
FEBRUARY 2, 1977
• As always, it’s the government vs. us. A Gallup Poll indicated that by an overwhelming majority, parents No. 1 concern was a lack of discipline in schools. Yet, the state of California passed a measure mandating that before a student get a swat, the swatter had to have written permission from a parent. The Catch 22 was that only the A-student parents were giving the permission and the slacker/bully parents were not. On this date, the Sulphur Springs School District voted to outlaw corporal punishment. Ever the paper-creating monster, the district voted to hand out 8-step contracts to the problem kids, including building strong self-esteem. You know. Like the gang members have?
• Baxter Ward drew a lot of heat for his plan to bring back passenger trains. The idea was a smidge before its time, but, eventually, we would — despite the “Baxter’s Choo-Choo” ribbings — once again have commuter trains serving the SCV.
• Olene Ewell Shipley made the trivia and history books. She was named the first woman head ranger at Hart Park.
FEBRUARY 2, 1987
• Some 70 residents and neighbors showed up to protest my pal, Larry Rasmussen. Larry wanted to build a helicopter pad at his tony Wildwood Canyon home. Larry pointed out he’d only use the heliport a few times a year, and that the fire department would have a good landing strip. And the president. And Sky King and Penny, and those guys in the TV show, “The Whirlybirds...”
(SCV author John Boston also writes The Time Ranger & SCV History for your SCV Beacon. He’s has earned more than 100 major awards for writing, including being named, several times, America’s best humor, and, best serious columnist. Don’t forget to check out his national humor, entertainment & swashbuckling commentary website, America’s Humorist — http://www.johnbostonchronicles.com/) — © 2017 by John Boston. All rights reserved.
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