By Alana Turingan
Holiday excitement is in the air. As November arrives we of course recall the famous story of the first Thanksgiving: the 1621 feast of good harvest between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe.
But what about the other European explorers who had celebrated their arrival on the Floridian peninsula a century before?
After all, many feasts were held in the 1500s: by Juan Ponce de León in 1528 and 1531; by Pánfilo de Narváez around Tampa Bay and St. Marks in 1528; by Hernando de Soto in 1539 at Shaw’s Point; by Father Luis Cáncer de Barbastro in 1549 at Tampa Bay; by Tristán de Luna in 1559 at Penascola Bay; and even by René Goulaine de Laudonnière of France, who celebrated with the Timucua Indians near present day Jacksonville on June 30, 1564.
Two feasts stand out in particular. After sighting land on August 28, 1565, St. Augustine’s feast day, Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales presided over a mass to celebrate safely landing in the new world. Following the service, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles organized a feast and invited the Timucua tribe. St. Augustine was founded here.
Later, Juan de Oñate led a 50-day exploration through the Chihuahuan Dessert. The exploration ended with the discovery of the Rio Grande and a feast of thanks with the Mansos Indians on April 30, 1598 near San Elizario, Texas. They gave thanks not just for surviving the desert. They also had a political motive: staking Spain’s claim on La Toma, the Rio Grande.
For the Spaniards and French, thanksgiving was more than a harvest celebration. It was an act of gratitude for finding new land and claiming the territory for their European empires. As we sit down with our families it’s important to remember the multiple facets of the first Thanksgiving and appreciate how these narratives weave into the American identity.
In honor of Veterans Day, The Costa Mesa Historical Society presents its annual salute to our veterans with U.S. Air Force Captain Gary Barnhill on Sunday, November 17, 2019.
Captain Gary Barnhill, illustrious Air Force pilot whose missions included hazardous and challenging F-105 missions over North Vietnam in the highest threat air environment of the entire Viet Nam War, will share his presentation “Downtown, everything is waiting for you” from Petula Clark’s 1964 hit song. “Downtown” referred metaphorically to Hanoi. “Everything is Waiting for You” was the pilot’s gallows humor for the SAM missiles and Anti-Aircraft Artillery that greeted each entry into North Vietnam airspace. He will briefly describe flying the high-accident-rate F-100C in Europe circa 1958 and sitting Nuclear Alert as a still maturing young lad of 22. The main topic is flying the F-105 Thunderchief in 1965 during Rolling Thunder; the air campaign to bomb targets in North Vietnam, which lasted until late 1969. He will “take you along” on an aerial refueling episode with an extremely unusual ending. He will also “take you along” on an interesting Hunter Killer “Experimental” mission to find and destroy a SAM missile, which up to that time, had never been accomplished. After 11 years in USAF, there was a brief flirtation with CIA, a career with Trans World Airlines, air show pilot, and founder of a B-747 pilot leasing firm.
Decorations & Awards: Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal.2nd AD, Good Conduct Medal, Armed Forces expeditionary Medal w/star, Vietnam Svc Medal, Armed Forces Longevity Svc Award w/OLC, Armed Forces Reserve Medal
Mr. Barnhill belongs to the Freedom Committee of Orange County (http://fc-oc.org) whose members speak to high school students and civic groups to bring “living history” into the classroom and instill a sense of patriotism in future generations.
Bring a friend and join us to hear this “from the cockpit” narrative of the war in the sky!
Seating is limited, for RESERVATIONS call (949) 631-5918. Doors open at 2:00, program at 2:30. Free admission and refreshments. We are located at 1870 Anaheim Ave. northwest corner of the Lions Park complex.Visit www.costamesahistory.org or go to facebook/costa mesa historical society for more information.
Note: Due to construction, entry to parking lot must be made from Anaheim Ave.
In the October 2019 Fairview Register, we look back on the life of Refugio Leon, tell some scary stories, preview the society elections, and look forward to theater legend Tom Titus’s opening of this year’s Speaker Series.
- The Life of Refugio “Ralph” Leon
- The Theatre in Review with Tom Titus
- The Other Side of History
- Society’s Ghosts Wonder Where the Humans Are
- 2020 Society Elections of Officers and Board Members
November is fast approaching and so are our annual elections. This is where you, our members, have the opportunity to become a candidate or nominate another member for any of the following positions: President, 1st Vice President, 2nd Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and Board Director.
Our officers and board members can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound, aren’t faster than a speeding bullet, or more powerful than a locomotive.
They are just ordinary people from the community who are interested in preserving our local history. If you’re interested or need more information, please call or stop by.
If you’re not interested in any of the positions above, perhaps you would enjoy participating by being on one of our committees. Why not check us out? We could use you.
By Bob Palazzola
We knew that the need for volunteers was always an ongoing problem. However, I was surprised to find out that it was even a concern for ghosts of our building. Are you listening Tess?
The following article is from our Fairview Register newsletter as it appeared in the May 1989 issue, apparently written by one of our ghostly inhabitants.
“A Message From The Ghosts”
To be honest with you the ghosts are really inhabiting the Historical Society. We have a lot of fun with the many collections of happenings of Costa Mesa. Just wish more of those humans would show up and get things together so we don’t get so mixed up sometimes. We know you humans get so busy making history you forget it needs to be sorted and put together, so even us ghosts can find what we want to read.
We saw in the newsletter last month a volunteer sign-up form was enclosed. Don’t you humans read the newsletter? Looking on the president’s desk, only one person replied that they would help. Now you know that it takes more people to run this society of the city of Costa Mesa. The group has officers and Board members. According to the minutes, some of them even miss sometimes.
The quilts that are on display are sure pretty and nice to roll up in when we play. Only thing is we have a hard time getting them back hung up pretty like they are supposed to be for public to view. We thought about getting in the picture cards and messing them up, but the new shelves and picture storage is going to be so nice, we can find our ghost friends much easier.
I want to tell you that the ghosts of the Costa Mesa Historical Society really appreciate the work you humans are doing, but please hurry so we can find what we want to read. Somebody’s coming… Good-bye.
By Tess Bernstein
Have you ever seen those TV shows that investigate hauntings? They always end up at the local historical society to research the history of the house or land. In fact, the West Coast wing of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS), the organization behind the hit TV show Ghost Hunters, once contacted the Costa Mesa Historical Society for info. But it’s not just professional ghost hunters we hear from. We get lots of visits from regular Costa Mesans who want to know about the things that go bump in the night. This month we celebrate Halloween by sharing a few of the spooky inquiries we’ve gotten.
One day a call came into the society. Gladys answered the phone, and we overheard her becoming increasingly blunt. “Well, you will just have to come in,” she said until she hung up. Later that day, two young sisters came in very upset wanting to know the history of their house. After we talked for a bit, they finally told me “the real reason” for their visit. Once while home alone they heard footsteps coming from upstairs and listened as the noise descended the stairway. Another day they heard the front door open and close and what sounded like keys thrown on to the counter. When they looked, no one was there, there were no keys, and the door was still locked.
Theater Ghost Lady
A girl came into the society and wanted to know the history of the _______ movie theater because she believed it to be haunted. When she and her friend walked into theater 9 one day, they saw an older woman wearing 19th-century clothes. She appeared almost translucent, then, just like that, she vanished. For reasons of her own, the friend sat in the same seat the specter had occupied. It wasn’t long before she felt ill and left. The girl stayed to finish the movie but found herself distracted by a bone-chilling cold around her seat, colder than the rest of the theater.
Once we received an email from a woman who didn’t mince words about why she was inquiring. She lived in a fairly new apartment — so what were those strange noises she heard every night? She wondered if it was built on top of… something.
A young man came in one day and wanted information on the house he had just rented. We looked up his address and talked for a bit. Then he said, “Let me tell you the real reason I’m here.” He had only lived there a short while when things seemed to fly off the shelves, and he heard strange noises and loud bangs. His wife and three kids were so frightened they didn’t want to stay there alone. So these days what would you do? He Googled his house and found a photo of DEA agents swarming all over it Could this be the source for the strange activity?
The Costa Mesa Historical Society has old phone books, newspapers, photos, and other databases available to help you answer both your normal and paranormal historical questions. Do you have unusual activity in your house? Knowing the history may shed some light. We’d love to hear your stories. Just tell me “the real reason why.”
More Haunted Places in Costa Mesa
There’s no shortage of places in Costa Mesa that people believe are haunted. The October 27, 2006, Orange County Register lists a few:
Costa Mesa City Hall Some claim to have seen a ghost dressed as a 19th-century police officer at the building’s entrance. Witnesses claim the Victorian is ticketing a “scantily clad” woman.
Estancia High School Many have reported crying babies and faulty light fixtures in the science department, as well as an extreme chill apparently unrelated to the school’s subzero air conditioning. Others claim to hear athletic ghosts taking a dip in the pool or shooting hoops.
South Coast Plaza If it’s 3 a.m. you may want to stay clear of Nordstrom’s… unless you want to get hit by a flying mannequin.
Tess Bernstein is a long-time society volunteer and board member. She first got involved with the society to investigate her own haunted house.
Refugio Leon’s family moved to Costa Mesa’s west side in 1922 when he was just a toddler. He lived in the city for 87 years before passing away in 2009.
His father had been a farmer in Arizona. At first, he worked as a gardener for Fanny Bixby and Carl Spencer. Later, he farmed the mesa, too.
Life wasn’t easy for the Leons, especially during the depression. The large extended family had no indoor plumbing, gas, or electricity. A wood stove provided heat, and they lit their house with coal oil lamps. With no ice box, the only thing that kept the food from spoiling was eating it first.
Leon attended Main School until it was damaged by an earthquake in 1933. He finished his schooling at grade 8.
“You’ve got enough education as long as you can handle a pick and a shovel,” his father said. “You can make a life. You’ve got to quit school and go to work.”
He went to work for Japanese farmers on the west side, including Bob Omori and George Inokuchi, eventually earning enough money to buy a ’26 Chrysler, which he drove to the movie theater in Santa Ana in his scant free time.
In 1936, he met the love of his life, Mary Saragosa. The two married in 1940. Only death could separate them 69 years later.
When the US entered WWII, Leon was working at Harvey Bear’s farm. Leon was the kind of hard worker Bear didn’t want to lose. So, he managed to secure Leon two deferments. But when the third call came, there no postponing any longer. Leon joined the army and immediately found himself under the command of General Patton. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, suffering a grave injury to his leg in the process. He returned a war hero, honored with a purple heart.
Leon convalesced in Long Beach, then returned to Costa Mesa where he began building a family. Life was still hard, but bit by bit things changed. They bought a TV around which neighbors gathered to watch the Sunday Night Movie. In 1952, he built a new house with all the modern conveniences – including, for the first time, indoor plumbing. Even so, his daughter still collected bottles for enough cash to buy movie tickets.
Leon worked with Bear until the farmer moved away. Then he worked at a farm in Huntington Beach, and eventually he got a job at Cla-Val, where he stayed on for 35 years. That was where he earned his nickname, “Ralph.”
“Haven’t you got a different name besides [Refugio]?” someone asked. “It’s pretty hard for me to pronounce, calling you Refugio.”
And it was Ralph after that.
In his retirement, “Ralph” was often seen in Lions Park, making friends with everyone he met. And, it’s said, he put his farming skills to good use in his home garden.
His early years might have been hard, but he looked back on them fondly.
“The life nowadays is hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry and run here and run there and all that,” he said. “Before, when we had hard times as kids, we just took it as it came. That’s it.”
We’d love to hear and preserve more stories like this — yours, too. Give us a call at (949) 631-5918 if you’d like to share, or drop us a line.
The Costa Mesa Historical Society is pleased to announce that actor/director/theater reviewer Tom Titus will be our speaker on Sunday October 20, 2019 .
Tom Titus was born in 1938, in Corry, Pennsylvania, where he was raised as the only child of Warren and Helen Titus and graduated from high school in 1956. Shortly afterward he embarked on a 60+-year career in journalism when he became sports editor of the Corry Evening Journal. After four years on the Journal, Tom entered the Army and served in Camp Casey, South Korea, on the staff of the 7th Infantry Division newspaper, the Bayonet. He later became managing editor of the paper and worked at the Pacific Stars and Stripes offices in Tokyo. On his return to the USA, Tom was transferred to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where he spent most weekends in New York City, picking up comp tickets to Broadway shows at the Manhattan USO, igniting a lifelong love of theater. In November, 1963, Tom packed his earthly goods into a 1957 DeSoto and set out for Los Angeles, where searching for work on an LA-area newspaper resulted in his hiring by the Daily Pilot in December as a city reporter, covering the events in Costa Mesa. His career with the theater began in February, 1965, when he reviewed a production of “A Thousand Clowns” at the old Laguna Playhouse. Shortly afterward, South Coast Repertory arrived and gave him much more to write about. From 1965 to the present, Tom has seen every SCR production and reviewed all but one – his son Tim pinch-hit in 2006 when Tom was hospitalized with pneumonia. Reviewing local theater gave Tom the yen to try it himself and in June, 1965, he made his acting debut in the first production of the Costa Mesa Civic Playhouse, “Send Me No Flowers.” He began directing in 1968 with his own play, “Summer Lightning,” at the Westminster Community Theater where he met his first wife, Beth. In 1970, Tom appeared in the first production of the Irvine Community Theater, “Come Blow Your Horn” and two years later he subsequently became the theater’s artistic director – a position he held for 31 years. Tom retired from his ICT position in 2003, shortly after meeting the lady he calls the true love of his life, Jurine Landoe – or “Deenie” as his granddaughters Riley and Kaylyn call her. He and Jurine have been a couple since 2002. In 1983, Tom discovered Scrabble and has played ever since. So come bring a friend and hear the tales of a true Thespian!
Seating is limited, for RESERVATIONS call (949) 631-5918. Doors open at 2:00, program at 2:30. Free admission and refreshments. We are located at 1870 Anaheim Ave. northwest corner of the Lions Park complex. Visit www.costamesahistory.org or go to facebook/costa mesa historical society for more information.
Note: Due to construction, entry to parking lot must be made from Anaheim Ave.