Santa Catalina Island

On November 24, 1602, the eve of St. Catherine’s Day, Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno sighted three islands. He renamed Pimu, the largest island, Santa Catalina. Pimu—so-called by its native inhabitants, the Pimungan (or Pimuvit) people, was first discovered by Spaniards in October 1542 who claimed the island for their king.

“Twenty-six miles across the sea,
Santa Catalina is a-waitin’ for me…”

26 Miles (Santa Catalina). Sung by the Four Preps. Words and music by Glen Larson and Bruce Belland; Beechwood Music Corp., 1957

The Beach at Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, Cal. c1903. Photochrom Prints. Prints & Photographs Division

Archaeological evidence shows that the island was inhabited by maritime hunter-gatherers at least 7,000 years ago. Members of the Takic branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family, the residents developed a strong seagoing trade with the peoples of both nearby islands (Santa Barbara, San Nicolas, and probably San Clemente) and the mainland.

Aleut, Russian, and American hunters trapped sea otters in Santa Catalina waters while the island was controlled by Spain. Under subsequent Mexican rule, smugglers used Santa Catalina as a warehouse for undeclared cargo. Under the terms of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Santa Catalina became part of the United States.

Avalon, Catalina Island. Pacific Photo Co., c1911. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division.

In his 1898 book Happy Days in Southern California, Frederick Hastings Rindge wrote lyrically of the island:

In the distance the islands—Santa Catalina (Saint Catherine’s Isle), Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz—hold up their haughty heads, proud of their victories over the storms.

…In aboriginal days, these islands were more populous than the mainland.

But Catalina is the isle that appeals to the people. Her rock-bound coasts are jeweled with abalones: she is the queen of the sea’s domain. Wonderful is she for her submarine gardens in the still waters.

The abalone shells are sent to New York to be made into buttons, and are brought back to California for sale. They should be made here and give wages to our own.

“By the Side of the Sunset Sea.” In Happy Days in Southern California, by Frederick Hastings Rindge. Cambridge, Mass., Los Angeles, Cal., 1898. [Image 25] “California as I Saw It”: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849 to 1900. General Collections

Steamship ticket office at pier, Avalon, Catalina Island, Calif. [between 1900 and 1915]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

In the twentieth century, Santa Catalina became a vacation spot. Tourists traveled to the island to visit its hotels and watch its famous flying fish. Avalon, the island’s only city, was incorporated in 1913. In 1972, most of the island’s interior and forty-eight miles of coastline were deeded to the nonprofit Catalina Island Conservancy.

Although the popular 1950s song said Santa Catalina is “Twenty-six miles across the sea,” it is only approximately twenty miles from Los Angeles.

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Ruby Shoots Oswald!

On November 24, 1963, Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy, in a Dallas police station. Broadcasting live from the scene, television cameras captured Oswald’s murder and shocked television viewers became unwitting witnesses to the crime.

Jack Ruby, bust portrait, facing right, arriving in court. United Press International, 1965. New York World-Telegram & Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. Prints & Photographs Division
The Dramatic Slaying of Lee Harvey Oswald by Ruby. Bob Jackson, photographer, Dallas Times-Herald, 1963. New York World-Telegram & Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Ruby was found guilty of murder on March 14, 1964, and sentenced to death. During an appeal hearing in 1965 in Dallas, Ruby passed the note shown below to his attorney Elmer Gertz. With its references to government authorities killing and torturing people in the courthouse, the note revealed Ruby’s deteriorating mental state.

Elmer, you must believe me, that I am not imagining crazy thoughts, etc. This is all so hopeless, that they have everything in the bag and there isn’t any chance of hope for me. These hearings are just stalling for time.

Note, Jack Ruby to attorney Elmer Gertz…September 9, 1965. (Elmer Gertz Papers). Manuscript Division

In October 1966, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Dallas reversed Ruby’s conviction on the grounds of improper admission of testimony and the necessity of a change of venue. Arrangements were made for a new trial to be held in Wichita Falls, Texas, in February 1967. However, Ruby was admitted to Dallas’ Parkland Hospital on December 9, 1966; he died of cancer there on January 3, 1967.

President Lyndon Johnson appointed the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. Chaired by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Warren Commission, as it is commonly known, investigated the circumstances surrounding the shootings of Kennedy and Oswald. Commission members included Michigan Congressman and future President Gerald R. Ford. In September 1964, the commission reported it found no evidence that Oswald and Ruby were involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the president.

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