Point Sur – The Worst Possible Place for a Shipwreck

Laurie S. Harmon was born in Machais, on the northern coast of Maine, in 1840. After the death of her first husband, Francis Longfellow, she traveled to San Francisco to visit her brother. In the days before the opening of the transcontinental railroad and the Panama Canal, there were only two ways to get from Maine to San Francisco (3,000 miles, as the crow flies), and both were extremely strenuous and required months of travel. One could endure a lengthy and bumpy stagecoach crossing, or a take a ship around the horn – a long and dangerous journey through one of the most treacherous maritime passages in the world. Laurie Harmon’s granddaughter, Mildred E. Millington of Monterey, described Harmon (who lived to be 93 years-old) as “a fire of a little woman, about as big as a minute, who was busy all the time.” In San Francisco, Laurie met a Continue Reading

Categories: California History.

The Folklore of Big Sur

When I visited Big Sur in the 1990s, a lifelong resident of the community told me a story about a woman who, for many years, lived in one of those Big Sur homes set high upon the edge of a bluff, hundreds of feet above the sea, with the breakers crashing on the rocks below. Day after day, she backed the same automobile out of the same carport, without incident – week after week, decade after decade. Until one fateful day, perhaps diverting her eyes from the rear-view mirror for a mere fraction of a second, she backed out of the carport just a wee bit too far, and went right off the cliff, to her death. At the time of my visit, this tragedy had recently occurred, and neighbors were still talking about it. In a few decades, this historical incident will be relegated to the annals of folklore. Continue Reading

Categories: California History.

Gabriel of Carmel – The Oldest Catholic in the World

In 1835, circus magnate and sideshow pioneer P.T. Barnum began exhibiting a blind, elderly, and nearly paralyzed African American woman named Joice Heth. Barnum advertised that Heth was 161 years old, and that she had been the nurse of the infant George Washington. “Joice Heth came on the scene just three years after the 100th anniversary of George Washington’s birth and nine years after the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams,” wrote historian May V. Thompson. “Americans were feeling the Revolutionary War generation slipping away, at a time when sectional differences leading up to the Civil War, were escalating. They were desperate to hold on to that earlier, ‘purer’ time, and thus were willing to suspend rational thought to believe that an elderly African American woman could actually be over 150 years old and the former nursemaid of an infant George Washington.” Barnum profited handsomely from his exploitation of Continue Reading

Categories: California History.