Top of a sweet Santa Clarita late-spring morning to you, saddlepals. I’ve several thousand fresh mounts all saddled, trained as good listeners and ready for our usual Mighty Signal trail ride through local history.
We’ve some interesting vistas ahead. There’s an amazing local angle to the Robert F. Kennedy assassination 55 years back. We’ve got local snow storms — IN THE MONTH OF JUNE FOR CRYING OUT MERCY SAKES ALIVE!!!!
So. Best you bring a jacket.
There’s rattlesnake attacks and some extreme trivia of the first-ever “talkie” motion picture shown in our valley. We’ll even say howdy to Harry Potter.
I mentioned, didn’t I, that it snowed in June here?
Hop up in the saddle, sit back, square your shoulders and if horsemanship’s not your cup of tea, just assume the virtue and pretend you’re Annie Oakley or Shane…
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
OUR MOST FAMOUS TEETOTALER — First, as this is a history ride, perhaps we should look at the origin of the words, “teetotal” and “teetotaler.” The terms came from the mid-19th century temperance movement, which eventually created two constitutional amendments, the first (No. 18) to ban alcohol consumption and production and the second (No. 21) to bring booze all back.
At first, most early Prohibitionists felt beer and/or wine, in moderation, was OK. Later, the anti-alcohol groups were mostly in favor of TOTAL abstinence. The word, “teetotaler” has nothing to do with tea. The “T” part was just a playful emphasis and punch, as in Big Giant T for Total Abstinence.
Back on June 8, 1851, Henry Clay Needham was born in Kentucky. He’d later move to Newhall to start an ill-fated “dry” community here — a tough job in a valley that had many more pool halls and taverns than churches (zero). As a nationally famed Prohibitionist, Needham ran for just about every office available, from California Senate to the presidency — three times.
Needham was a good soul and it’s funny how many of us are afflicted with our own addictions, from food to scolding, perverse sexual practices to drugs. Needham’s vice? Sugar. A dear friend of mine who passed a while back lived to be 103 and she’d recall how H.C. was the talk of the town, how he’d longingly stare at the candy in Newhall’s storefront windows…
OUR FORGOTTEN AND BUSTLING CITY OF RAVENNA — The Soledad Post Office was established in the missing city of Ravenna. That’d be on June 9, 1868. There were only a few souls scattered throughout the rest of the valley, but, at Ravenna (located midway between Agua Dulce and Acton) the mining community had a population of more than 1,000. To put that in perspective, around the same time, sprawling Los Angeles had only about 5,000 souls…
JUNE 10, 1923
I’D KILL TO HAVE THE T-SHIRT — The Newhall Woman’s Club (Yup; It’s singular, as was the national charter organization) threw a vaudeville show 80 years back. Entertainment was the noted Buzzard Gulch Orchestra of Mint Canyon. I wonder if the city of Santa Clarita has them lined up for one of their Concerts in the Park this summer?
A CASE FOR LESS GOVERNMENT? — Way back when, volunteerism was the way this valley did their chores. There were no city employees to clean the streets. The Chamber of Commerce organized volunteer work brigades. Chore for this weekend 10 decades back was to hack down all the weeds in the empty lots around town and burn them. Carefully. We had a closer sense of community, too…
A SAD, LAST SONG — On this date, San Francisquito School closed for the summer. Staff, students and parents celebrated with a big barbecue and fiesta. Some of the Ruiz children entertained by playing violin, guitar and harmonica. Many of the Ruiz family would later perish just five years later in the great St. Francis Dam Disaster. A 200-foot monster wave of water rumbled down the Saugus canyon, killing hundreds. It was one of America’s worst man-made disasters. You can still see some of the wreckage today.
LIVING, AND DYING, WITH OUR CYCLE OF FIRE — Between May 1 and June 1 of 1923, over 20,000 acres of brush and forest burned in the Newhall-Saugus district.
JUNE 10, 1933
THAT TIME WE FOUGHT MEXICO. IN SAUGUS. — On this date, the Saugus train depot was used by Fox Films to create a huge Mexican battle scene. I don’t know the name of the film, but was assured (by non-detail-oriented former Signal staff of the day) that hundreds of extras, including many locals, were used in the production. The gunfire kept many a folk awake all night.
BRUCE. OUR FORGOTTEN MOVIE STAR — Here’s some amazing trivia for you. On this date, 90 years ago, the first talking picture EVER shown in the SCV was offered via the Newhall School PTA. The film? “The Cougar, by Bruce, The State Lion Hunter.” Hmmm. Wonder if the state was so small then, the California Directory of Employees just had him listed as, “Bruce.” Anywho. Admission was two bits for adults and a dime for kids. Rare, but if there’s a Gen X-er or Z-er reading, “two bits” is slang for a quarter. Wonder what they’d think of movie tickets going for a bargain of $10 to a high of $22? And don’t even ask about popcorn because you can’t afford it…
‘COWBOY AND WRITER.’ LOOKS PLUMB GRAND ON A BUSINESS CARD — For novelists, the day your book gets published is one of the best, and worst, days of your life. Our own Two-Gun Bill Hart’s novel, “Hoofbeats” hit the stores on this date. It was praised AND panned by The New York Sun. The book was about a Montana pony that grows into a magnificent wonder horse. The Sun noted that Hart didn’t have much of a plot or story-telling abilities, but that he did both with refreshing description: “No one could read it and harbor the thought that this was ghost written.”
JUNE 10, 1943
AND, HE COULD DELIVER PACKAGES IN LESS THAN A SECOND — On this date, Harry Potter started a new job in the Santa Clarita Valley. Nope. Not the world-famous young sorcery student. This Harry Potter took over W.T. Stonecypher’s job as rural postal carrier in Saugus.
UH, WEARING ‘RAIL THIN?’ — Morrison-Knudsen, the giant San Francisco-based construction company, won the bid to improve the rails in the SCV. A huge work force landed in the valley, modernizing the ancient lines. We were having record train traffic through here because of the war and the old infrastructure was just wearing thin.
JUNE 10, 1953
TODAY, OUR FEARLESS HOA’S DO NOT ALLOW RATTLESNAKES — Rancher Bill Schmidt of Hasley Canyon had more than a little trouble getting to sleep on this date a half-century back. Barefoot and standing in his undies, he was prepared to retire for the evening when he spotted a large rattlesnake in his bedroom. The reptile was coiled, ready to strike, only 3 feet away from him. Not moving, Schmidt hoarsely tried to call to his wife to bring him a rifle. He had a little difficulty getting her attention without further startling the venomous visitor. Mrs. Schmidt finally did bring some serious ordnance and Bill blew the three-rattle viper into Snake Heaven. Odd thing was, the Schmidts lived in an all-stone home. Only moments earlier, their 2-year-old had been playing on the floor in the bedroom. Crawling around on hands and knees, Bill found a small hole in the masonry where the snake had burrowed through.
SNOW. YES. I SAID, ‘SNOW,’ SPELT ‘S.N.O.W.,’ RIGHT HERE, ON THE VALLEY FLOOR. IN BLANKETY-BLANK JUNE!!! — You know me and weather. I love those oddball stories. Check out this one. Here it was June and a huge cold front blew through, pummeling the area with a quick dumping of an inch of rain. There was lightning, hail AND SNOW — up to 6 inches of it at about the 1,200-foot elevation. That’s pert-near the whole valley. The sudden downpour also caused mudslides in several homes and businesses.
JUNE 10, 1963
IN THE HALCYON DAYS OF SCV ELBOW ROOM — We graduate them by the thousands today, but, 60 years back, there was only one high school and Hart High (forever home of the mighty Indians) had only 180 seniors in the graduating class of 1963.
IT DIDN’T HAVE ‘JOE GUTENBERG’ STENCILED ON THE SIDE, BUT CRIPES, IT WAS OLD — It was the end of an era for The Mighty Signal. New owner, editor and publisher, Ray Brooks, sold the old hand-fed letterpress to a newspaper in Guadalajara, Mexico, and started printing The Signal on his new, modern offset press. It took about six hours to print 3,000 copies of The Signal by the old press. It took another three hours to hand fold the papers. The new offset method allowed Brooks to print AND fold the 3,000 Signals in less than 15 minutes. Brooks also started the “free” circulation plan. He more than doubled the paper’s print run to 7,000 and handed them out “free” to most homes and businesses. Actually, Brooks started this program where delivery kids threw the paper and collected a volunteer fee of a quarter a month. Half of it went back to the paper, half to the delivery folk. Brooks circumnavigated the problem of old Signal subscribers by making sure they got their paper hand-delivered and that they weren’t asked to fork over the quarter until their subscription ran out.
SHE WAS A PAL OF THE PALOMINO — On this date, Mrs. Damaris Fay (Dee) Goehring, famed Western writer and horsewoman, passed away. The Newhall woman and her husband, Clyde, had won more than 370 awards for showing their matched Palominos around the world. In neighboring San Fernando, they kept an open spot in the parade for the husband-and-wife team who had, for years, ridden there, and honored them with a moment of silence. I’m not sure, and I have to do some serious digging, but I think the Placerita couple sold Roy Rogers his fabled Palomino, later to be known as Trigger.
RE: TRIGGER — If you’re a movie buff, see the Errol Flynn classic, “Robin Hood.” Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland) rides the Palomino and future Trigger in the swashbuckler. Before he went all Hollywood and changed his name, Trigger went by Golden Cloud.
JUNE 5, 1968
NEWHALL WOMAN SHOT AT RFK’S ASSASSINATION — On this date, Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles at the Ambassador Hotel by Sirhan Sirhan. The displaced Palestinian wounded five other people, including Newhall woman Betty Evans, wife of local (and long-time defunct) Record newspaper editor/owner, Art Evans. Betty was shot in the head and, miraculously, the bullet lodged between the skull and skin just above her right eye. By dark happenstance, Betty and Art had been in downtown L.A. and just decided to drop in at the Ambassador to visit an old friend — Pierre Salinger. Betty made a marvelous and quick recovery and asked for and received the bullet from the FBI. (A little note here: Art would later remarry and his second wife, coincidentally, was also named Betty. Don’t get the two confused.) Pundits have pointed out that Sirhan’s assassination may have been the first Middle East terrorist attack on America. And, of course, RFK’s son, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is running for president in 2024.
NOT THE FIRST SCV-KENNEDY CONNECTION — RFK Sr.’s brother, Ted Kenndy, spoke here at the local Democratic Club to stump for his brother, John, and his bid for the 1960 White House. Must’ve helped. JFK won.
JUNE 10, 1973
CRIPES! A PEDICURE MUST HAVE COST A FORTUNE!! — Olive Hixson’s cat gave birth to a litter on this date and Mrs. H had to count a few times to make sure she wasn’t seeing things. One of the kitties had 22 toes. Bright side? They weren’t all on one or each paw. Cats usually have 16 (four per, no opposable, or, for that matter, disposable thumbs; couldn’t hold a hammer or glass of milk to save their lives).
JUST MONKEYIN’ AROUND — One of the items up for bid at the big Boys & Girls Club Auction were three head masks from the original film, “Planet of the Apes.” (Actually, the organization back then was called The Newhall-Saugus Boys Club.) And, to put an end to those terrible rumors, former mayor Bob Kellar did not — I repeat, DID NOT — pose for the creation of those first masks. (Luvs ya, Bob.)
AND NO. HE DIDN’T ORDER A BREAK-IN AT COC — While we were going through the scandal of Richard M. Nixon and Watergate, a bit of local trivia popped up from years earlier. It seems H.R. Haldeman, one of the president’s right-hand men, was on the board of trustees at CalArts. I’ve no documentation, but I’m betting ol’ H.R. didn’t attend many board meetings…
JUNE 10, 1983
GETTING KINDA BIBLICAL — The old Bank of America building on then San Fernando Road and today, Main Street, was sold — to a church. Nothing like throwing the money changers out of — well — the bank?
THE ULTIMATE MAJOR LEAGUE FREQUENT FLYER — Inger Tudo and Todd Zeile were chosen as Hart High’s Girl & Boy of the Year at the annual Spring Tea & Fashion Show. Spring Tea & Fashion Show? That’s gotta be a special Dodger Night years later. Zeile, by the way, set a Major Baseball League record for homering for the most different teams. He’s got to have rented an empty Kmart just to store his MLB uniforms and memorabilia. In a career spanning 1989-2004, the former Indian all-star played in The Bigs for: the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Colorado Rockies, New York Yankees, and, the Montreal Expos. Heavens. I think what with Climate Change, half those cities are now underwater, aren’t they?
• • •
Heck of a trek today, wasn’t it? Thanks for meeting up at The Mighty Signal’s hitching post and learning a smidge about this amazing and wonderful community we share. See you back here next weekend with another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Until then — ¡vayan con Dios, amigos!
If you enjoy the Time Ranger, you’re going to love his local history volumes. Visit johnbostonbooks.com. Order John Boston’s terribly exciting Volumes I & II on “SCV Monsters, Ghouls, Ghosts, Bigfoot” & all our local paranormal stories. Great summer reads. Leave a kindly review…