Kage Baker, as you Dear Readers may know, was deeply fascinated with Catalina Island. It figures largely and repeatedly in her Company series – not just because it was conveniently there and had a history as weird as snakes’ suspenders, but because Kage had been exploring its past since her early 20’s.
Discovering, along the way, that its history was a patchwork of peculiar, unlikely and outright absurd, she wrote it into her Hidden History as one of the Omphalos of the Really, Really Strange. It’s amazing if you actually know how many of the unlikely details Kage wrote into the Company history of Catalina are real … while I am not certain if there is an archive in an abandoned mine outside of Avalon, for instance, there is certainly an old and nearly invisible mine adit up there. It doesn’t show on any maps, and barely shows to an interested hiker’s eye. But we found it, Kage and I. Couldn’t get very close, due to an unfortunate encounter with a wild boar – but we found it.
The Museum in the beautiful Casino building always drew Kage like a magnet: a visit there was a requirement of every trip. We pored over every exhibit, and pestered the curator to look at the reserved artifacts; so few people usually showed any interest in the Island’s past, that we got to see a lot of very odd stuff just because the staff was bored to distraction.
However, portions of the Island’s history are … very reserved. Hidden, all but forgotten, and definitely not publicized any more. Things like the Army outpost at Two Harbors, or the eccentric settlement of Queen City; or the activities of Ralph Glidden.
Kimberly woke me up with an article on Glidden from today’s L.A. Times. She was thrilled and horrified at what it said. Once I was up and checking my mail, I found that the semi-divine Athene had also sent me a link to the same article:
This is one of the stories that has been gradually left out of the history of Catalina – and if you read the article, Dear Readers, you will discern several reasons why. Most of them have to do with bones – stolen, mis-labelled, bought and sold and used most inappropriately as decorations in Glidden’s private Wunderkammer. While the article is about the splendid recovery of Glidden’s missing notes and photos – after decades of mystery, they’ve turned up in a lost storage room in the Casino – the underlying story is one of really appalling scientific incompetence and outright scammery.
I knew some of this story; I knew about the private museum Glidden built, though not how he had decorated it. I knew his notes were missing, thus totally bollixing a lot of his archeological claims – I knew he was just about the nadir of the indie “gentleman archeologist”, a bumbler and a pot hunter. But I didn’t know that he had destroyed native graves, sold their bones and grave goods, salted their looted graves with anonymous skeletons bought on the cheap from curio shops in Los Angeles … or that he was regarded as being responsible for just about single-handedly ruining Catalina Island’s Native American heritage.
So this article was enlightening and amazing. Also hilarious, in a black humour way. Because I know what Kage would say, and in fact what some of you are saying now, nodding over this blog:
Yep. This has to be a Company job. Someone stashed all those boxes of the odious Glidden’s notes in a dusty little room in the arched walls of the Casino, knowing the cache would be safe as could be until it was time for it to be found. Many mysteries will be solved by those notes and photos; many of the disinherited dead will be identified and returned in honour to their people. Some artifacts will be more firmly established in their context; some will be revealed as Glidden-perpetrated fakes. The causes of truth and history will be served!
And all this will distract people, too. So no one will wander around asking questions about the many square miles of the interior that no longer appear on any maps. (Except, of course, the one I have …) No one will go bug the librarian at the tiny library to see that Civil War threat estimate they have, or go look for the detailed mineral survey that was done and then suppressed, or ponder why the Silver Canyon UFO film (astoundingly clear) is no longer identified as such in the archives; the road to the site has vanished, too.
Of course, you can still search out these delicious little mysteries. There are some clues still in plain sight, or stashed away by slightly loony old ladies. Kage and I used to joke about operatives coming to get us, and hope they’d send Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax.
So I invite you to join me in my favourite conspiracy theory, Dear Readers. You can start with Mr. Glidden.