Amen boy howdy, we’ve a most eclectic and entertaining trail ride ahead. Put your collective foot in the collective stirrup. When you swing up and onto the saddle, do note: There should not — we repeat — NOT be a tail in your immediate field of vision.
And that’s how you ride a horse.
C’mon. What say we disappear for a relaxing visit into the sweet yesterdays of Santa Clarita? Shall we mosey into the mystic?
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
NOT LIKE THERE WERE LOTS OF PEOPLE CHEERING, BUT … — Back on May 19, 1851, with absolutely no fanfare, the dirt wagon path from the Mission San Fernando up to San Francisquito Canyon and Elizabeth Lake roads was declared a public highway by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
SURE COULD USE THEM TODAY — Back in 1855, the Los Angeles Rangers were disbanded. Formed by our own Ignacio del Valle (owner of pretty much the entire SCV and mayor of Los Angeles), the Rangers were put together to stop crime in L.A. Pretty much, via lynching, shooting, stabbing, pistol-whipping, and harsh words, they did. Actually, the L.A. Rangers should have been called “The SCV Rangers.” A couple of local boys, Cyrus Lyon and W.W. Jenkins, were captains and Major Horace Bell headed up the crime-fighting unit. Heard they enjoyed their work.
WELCOME, TOMMY — Col. Thomas Mitchell arrived in the upper Canyon Country area on May 24, 1860, with the purpose of being a hermit. Instead, he became one of the SCV’s most influential figures, starting a huge ranch, businesses, and helping to build both the Newhall and Sulphur Springs elementaries.
MOO NO MORE — In May of 1862, after a season of torrential rains, we began a catastrophic drought that pretty much killed the huge cattle industry here in Santa Clarita. It pretty much didn’t rain for three years.
RA-MO-NA, I’M FALLING, UNDER YOUR SPELL . . . — One of America’s most influential novels of all time was inspired when author Helen Hunt Jackson visited the Camulos Ranch and wrote a novel about the romance of a half-breed and an Indian maiden. Not only did it start tens of thousands of Ramona book clubs all over the country, but its rich descriptions of Santa Clarita weather started an epic real estate migration to California. On May 23, 1910, famed movie producer D.W. Griffith released the movie version, which was shot at Rancho Camulos.
MAY 21, 1922
A PROUD VET — A.G. Thibaudeau attended the state convention for World War I disabled vets. Tibby wore many hats around town. He was a silent partner of The Mighty Signal, postman, real estate agent and daddy to Gladys Thibaudeau, who we used to know as Gladys Laney. Our dear pal made her transition a few years back at the age of 103. That convention? It was a pretty big to-do. More than 20,000 wounded veterans showed up in San Francisco.
O SAY, NOT JOSE — The Newhall Woman’s (yes; it’s ‘Woman’s’) Club met, and to kick off the meeting, they all sang the Star-Spangled Banner. Don’t hear that much these days at local service clubs…
NO RELATION TO TOM OR COLLEEN — I don’t know how we got this business, but the Hotel Lee placed a rather large advertisement for their hostel all the way in Downtown L.A. at 6th & Figueroa. Rooms (with a bath!) cost just $1.50 a night. The owners made a point of noting that the place was “morally and physically clean.” There’s a Tom Frew joke there somewhere, but I’ll avoid it…
MAY 21, 1932
LINDBERGH IN NEWHALL — The kidnap and murder of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh’s baby was making international headlines. The killers were still at large. Locally, The Signal was telling its readers to make better use of their time than reading the sordid bulletins. One reason might be that The Signal’s editor was protecting the grief-stricken parents. They were hiding from press and public at a friend’s house on Arcadia Street in Newhall. Lindbergh was the first person to fly non-stop (and solo) from New York to Paris.
BACK TO SOLITUDE — Victor Lopez returned from his regular home in Santa Barbara for the long fire season. This was Vic’s 10th year manning the big lookout fire tower atop Oat Mountain. Lopez would spend May to November, all by himself, in a huge wooden tower. Over the years, he had spotted hundreds of fires. Years earlier, we had our own giant fire tower on a tall hill in Downtown Newhall. Babcock Smith would later build his ranch there and in the 1920s, silent screen superstar William S. Hart would plant his mansion smack dab atop the fire tower site.
MAY 21, 1942
A HORSE TOO SPIRITED — Young Lyle Praether never came back to the ranch house for lunch. The horse trainer was working out a thoroughbred on the local Double V ranch’s race track. The horse bolted, then hit the brakes, sending Lyle head-first into a huge elderberry tree. Lyle died instantly.
NOT THE ORANGE JUICE — We hosted a huge dual meeting of The Minute Men and Minute Women. Sigh. Another straight line, we shall avoid. The groups raised money for World War II. Many locals and workers around the country regularly donated, with some having regular deductions from their hard-earned paychecks. Olive Carey, actress/rancher, wife of famed actor Harry Carey, was president of the SCV women’s chapter.
YEE AND OUCH! — A wretched and early heat wave hit Santa Clarita, bringing thermometers to a bubble with temps as high as 110. This is back when air conditioning was something for a science fiction novel.
STICKY SITUATION — Al “Sunshine” Plaman, manager of Hawley’s Drug Store in Newhall, was putting in a new “soda counter.” Signal Editor Fred Trueblood kidded him on the front page, noting that with all the war-effort recycling going on, Plaman could take all the chewing gum from underneath the old stools and give them to local garage owner Curley Aitken to retread tires.
SEVERELY WOUNDED — Harley Grimm, 18, was shot on this date, but not by a German, Japanese or Italian war foe. He and two friends were playing around with a hunting rifle up Forrest Park when it went off, sending a round into Grimm’s chest. It nearly hit Grimm in the heart.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AMERICAN — This weekend in 1942 marked the first-year anniversary of the American Theater. Silent star William S. Hart spoke to the crowd and one of the features was his epic Western, “Tumbleweeds.” Theater manager Hal Hall gave a free matinee to local kids. Hall added 100 seats and a new “modern air washing and cooling system.” Hmmm — 110 degrees? We’d hope so…
MAY 21, 1952
DEATH & CASTAIC COMMUNISM — FBI agents were scrounging through Castaic, looking for communists. It was a rather oddball search. Seems Castaician George Seer had committed suicide. He left a note in a typewriter to also serve as his will. Seer left all his earthly possessions, money and home to the Communist Party. Seer had concocted a complicated pully system to pull the trigger of a rifle. His body had been in the house for weeks and was in an advanced state of decomposition.
THE BEARD EPIC — This weekend in 1952 marked the starting pistol for the Newhall Fourth of July Beard-Growing Contest. Appropriately, the event was called The Whisker Derby.
STRIKE’S OVER — The first Greyhound bus in months motored into Newhall, ending a lengthy drivers’ strike. The busmen agreed to a raise, a 40-hour and five-day week because NO ONE likes a sleepy bus driver.
FIRE’S A-COMIN’!! — Firefighters declared this the worst possible fire season in decades. An abundant crop of wild dry grass made brush fires more than a possibility. Ranchers had to add hours to their chores to mow down the weeds.
MAY 21, 1962
GOLD FEVER — More than 8,000 souls hit Placerita Canyon for the annual Placerita Pageant. Event planners planted 50 pounds of gems and kids were reportedly wading waist-deep in the creek in some spots. Back then, the Placerita Creek often ran year-round, bank to bank. The event celebrated the Placerita gold discovery of 1842.
NO DROUGHT FOR US — What helped turn Placerita Creek into not quite the mighty Mississippi was a splendiferous rainy season. We had 28 inches of precipitation in Downtown Newhall, up to 40 in some of the higher elevations, which, of course, found its way down to Placerita.
PAYING THE MAN — Many locals were outraged to learn that property taxes in rural outlying areas, like the SCV, would be going through the roof. Tax bills would be increased by as much as 100% to 300%. Newhall escaped the dramatic increases.
MAY 21, 1972
EARLY GASCÓN? — Clarence Stewart became a local hero when he jumped from his truck to rescue a woman during a purse snatching attack. The perp, Gordon Lydell, 18, turned on Stewart and stabbed him several times in the chest. Lydell received a 60-day jail sentence from a Los Angeles judge.
KNIFINGS, PART TWO — Two Arroyo Seco middle school boys were involved in a knifing, right outside of campus after school. Five older boys in a car had stopped and words were exchanged with the two Seco students. A fight broke out and oddly enough, two of the five older boys were stabbed by the junior-highers. The injured attackers and the knife-wielding 8th-graders were carted off to the hospital and juvenile hall.
THE MISSING JR. HIGH — Around the same time, the William S. Hart Union High School District was trying to plant another middle school. Los Robles was set to go in the tony ranchette enclave of Sand Canyon. Some well-connected local boys squelched the idea.
ROAR NO MORE — Actors John Marshall and his wife Tippi Hedren are famous locally for their huge wild animal compound up Soledad Canyon. But few realize the pair tried to open an epic sanctuary for hippos, elephants, lions, tigers and giant beastly things — in Towsley Canyon in Newhall. The park was to be in partnership with Magic Mountain. They planned to take busloads of tourists from The Happy Hump over to the proposed Towsley African veldt. The permit was never granted.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, CC — On this date in 1972, the Valencia Civic Center opened. We’re not good with math, but doesn’t that add up to 50 years ago?
MAY 21, 1982
FATAL FIRE — It was beyond tragedy. The Riddle family had just moved into their Green Valley home on a Thursday. Furniture was still on the front lawn, waiting to be moved in. Ten hours later, their new home burned to the ground and three of the family died. Mother Gene Riddle, 24, and two of her small children perished. The husband, Anthony, escaped alive but had third-degree burns over more than half his body.
NO LONGER WESTERN — Rivendale was built to be one of the top country events centers in the west. Today, it’s Ed Davis Park in Towsley Canyon, but the land off Calgrove Boulevard had epic equestrian and arena structures for concerts and rodeos. Owned by the Sylmar Corp., Rivendale cancelled all but two events for the summer of 1982. One performer, Bobby Bare, backed out of his show when only 300 tickets were sold. You can still see the empty concrete horse stalls at the park today.
LIKE MARK TWAIN, REPORTS OF HIS DEATH WERE GREATLY EXAGGERATED — Long-time dentist Jim Dudley found his phone ringing off the hook. Patients were calling to offer condolences about his passing. Fortunately, The Signal wasn’t at fault this time. A rumor had just sprouted that he had passed away. Dudley and staff spent a week telling early mourners that the good dentist was still “…drilling in Newhall and farming in Canyon Country…”
Actually, we should use our mysterious time-traveling skills to sneak back to something like October 2021. Time seems to be simply hurtling and we’re nearly in June 2022.’Tain’t right. Well. On the bright side, we have the moment, don’t we? With another one right behind? Take care, saddlepals. See you back here in seven and, until then, — vayan con Dios, amigos!
Check out John Boston’s new SCV history books — “Ghosts, Ghouls, Myths & Monsters — The Most Haunted Town in America,” Volumes One AND Two. Get ’em BOTH at johnbostonbooks.com.