Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Archive for the ‘United States.’ Category

Perry Mason’s Mysteries Rooted in Ventura

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perrymason1A triangular buttress supports the Mission San Buenaventura

facade that was fractured by an 1812 earthquake.

— Cecil Scaglione photo

 

By Beverly Rahn, Mature Life Features

VENTURA, Calif. —- One of the biggest mysteries to locals is why the ghost of Erle Stanley Gardner hasn’t lured more visitors to his home town.

Hundreds of thousands of tourists and travelers, most of them from the sprawling Los Angeles metropolis an hour away on the portion of Highway 101 that’s called the Ventura Freeway, visit Santa Barbara next door each year.

They drive right by the Pierpont Inn, where the creator of Perry Mason went for victory dinners after his successes in the nearby Ventura County courthouse. It was straightforward country-lawyer cuisine — steak, baked potato and green salad —  but it’s no longer on the inn’s regular menu. Nowadays, you should try the bouillabaisse.

Gardner began his 150-novel career, which he launched with a short story using the pseudonym Charles M. Green, in his second-floor law office at California and Main streets overlooking downtown’s commercial core.

He didn’t have to turn to writing to achieve success, said Richard Senate, who has written about Ventura’s most famous resident and bills himself as a tour guide and ghost hunter.

“Erle Stanley Gardner was a good lawyer and probably would have become at least a California Supreme Court judge,” Senate said.

“He was a founder of the Downtown Lions Club and the Elks Club here. But he was — he would have liked to have been — Perry Mason. He actually did pull off some of the stunts that appeared in the Perry Mason books, movies, radio shows, comic books and television shows.

“To keep from getting mixed up with his settings, Gardner used this courtroom, his office and the views from each of them as models for his settings.”

Visitors to the real courtroom enter the City of Buenaventura — that’s the official name of the municipality popularly known as Ventura — city hall through its bronze sliding grilled entrance adorned with depictions of lima beans. (“Ventura was once the lima-bean capital of the world,” Senate explained.)

Railway officials shortened the city’s name because it was too long for their schedules.

The civic center, perched on a hill overlooking Gardner’s office and the Pacific, served as a courthouse until it was scheduled for demolition after a 1962 earthquake. The city bought it for $140,000 and spent $4 million making it quake-proof. The prototype of Perry Mason’s courtroom is on the second floor.

“After World War II, a young Navy officer named George Bush came here with his family in 1949 to learn the oil business,” Senate said.

Keeping an eye on the comings and goings in front of City Hall is a bronze statue of Fr. Junipero Serra, the Franciscan friar who founded Mission San Buenaventura in 1782.

The mission, a half-dozen blocks below the civic center, features a triangular buttress across its face — a support installed after an 1812 earthquake fractured its face. Also visible are two metal crosses imbedded on each side of the front door. These are assurances that the building will remain operating as a Roman Catholic church into perpetuity.

Visitors can circle these two complexes on a variety of walking and motor tours of such attractions as blocks of Victorian houses, oil-boom mansions from the 1920s, flower gardens, some three-dozen antique boutiques downtown alone, and a meandering string of art studios, galleries and workshops.

Senate offers an array of spirited attractions. On the list are ghost-and-ghoul hunts in and around City Hall, Pierpont Inn and various downtown restaurants, a trip back to 3,000-year-old artifacts left by ancestors of the present-day Chumash Indians, and an opportunity at attempting to unravel the location of Mission San Buenaventura’s legendary treasure chest crammed with gold and silver.

But there are more than mansions, missions and mysteries to experience in this coastal community a $30 shuttle ride from Los Angeles International Airport.

Ventura’s oceanfront harbor, which offers marine diversions to please visitors of all ages, is embraced by a 125-year-old pier and 33 acres of galleries, cafes and restaurants to suit all tastes. Boats shuttle several times a day to and from the Channel Islands for hiking, picnicking, snorkeling and camping.

Prices and times vary for the crossing but whatever vessel you choose is worth it just to watch the dozens of porpoise pods slip, slide, slap, soar, swoop and swish all around your boat as pelicans patrol overhead. You might also encounter orcas or gray, minke, humpback or blue whales.

Twenty minutes southeast of town, the Ronald Reagan presidential library is enshrined atop a Simi Valley hill. One visitor declared, after seeing the reproduced Oval Office, “I could sense the power of the presidency.”

 

–30–

 

Written by Cecil Scaglione

January 8, 2017 at 8:37 pm

Jim Thorpe’s Legacy Buried in Pennsylvania Coal Town

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                                           By Cecil Scaglione

Mature Life Features 

JIM THORPE, Penn. — Rolling along the country roads stitched through this northeastern pocket of the Keystone State is akin to meandering through central Italy, where every hill is crowned by  a town with its own version of history.

Jim Thorpe is like that. The all-round all-American athlete after whom this town is named was not born here, did not attend school here, and there is no evidence he ever set foot or even drove through here.

Yet this “Gateway to the Poconos,” which as been proclaimed one of the nation’s prettiest towns, owes its survival to the Oklahoma-born Olympic champion who, when the King of Sweden handed him his pentathlon and decathlon medals at the 1912 Olympic Games in Sweden and proclaimed him “the greatest athlete in the world,” said “Thanks, King.”

This struggling little coal community was known as Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk until the 1950s. A sign with that historic title still hangs from  the front of its Victorian train station. It populace had blazed through the heyday of coal and railroad expansion and was existing on those fumes of fame when Thorpe died in 1953. His widow, disappointed and disgusted when Oklahoma movers and shakers refused to establish a memorial to their renowned native son, began shopping around for a place that would welcome his remains.

The Mauch Chunk leaders heard of her efforts when she landed in Philadelphia and, desperate for new lifeblood and new business, agreed to build a memorial for her late husband and rename their town after him. They even dug up some soil from the Stockholm Olympic Stadium and used it to form a small mound at the base of his monument.

Native-American tribal and family factions in Oklahoma have battled through several courtroms to have his remains returned to the Sooner State. An appeals-court decision last year appears to have settled things by leaving matters as they lay.

Visiters who pop into this forest-girdled Carbon County community mid-way between Wilkes Barre and Allentown and wish to visit the man’s memorial head across the Lehigh River about a mile north of downtown to a small park dedicated to the football Hall of Famer who was arguably the finest all-round athlete in recorded history.

If they park in the lot beside the train station that debouched passengers into the heart of the commercial zone, they’re more likely to see Molly Maguires Pub and Steakhouse, a benign reminder that this is where four members of the infamous group involved in a bloody mining war were found guilty of murder and hanged in the mid-1870s.

Comfortable memories of the community’s salad days are housed in the Asa Packer Mansion straddling a hill overlooking the town. Packer started out as an apprentice carpenter who opened a store in Mauch Chunk while operating a boat yard that made vessels for transporting coal along the Lehigh Canal. This led him into the mining industry and, eventually, railroading. His first link was built to Easton, Penn., and his Lehigh Valley Railroad eventually reached out to the Jersey shore. When he died in 1879, his estate was valued at $54 million.

The comfort of his life as an industrialist, congressman, candidate for governor, presidential nominee, and judge are on view for tours of the Victorian building that peers over the town to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church perched on a hill on the other side of the village. Packer was, of course, instrumental in having this Gothic landmark built. Among its eye-catching features are two vibrant Tiffany windows. Today, the church has just a little more than 30 members.

— 30 —

 

 

Written by Cecil Scaglione

February 16, 2016 at 7:52 am

Try the Wright Stuff at Outer Banks

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The storied Cape Hatteras lighthouse stands as high as a 20 story building, making it the tallest brick lighthouse in the nation.

Story & photo by

Cecil Scaglione

Mature Life Features

NAG’S HEAD, N.C. —- It was the Wright place and the Wright time for 73-year-old Charles Dettor and his 66-year-old wife, Ruth, to learn how to fly.

The couple donned helmets and hang-gliding harness on the largest living sand dune in America to emulate the Wrights’ historic moment more than a century earlier just up the road at Kill Devil Hills. That’s where a memorial to Orville and Wilbur Wright’s famous flights is operated by the National Park Service.

It was the wide-open rolling dunes, privacy, and persistent wind at Kill Devil Hills that opened the skies for air travel. Not Kitty Hawk farther down the road. Any local will tell you bluntly – you don’t even have to ask – that Kitty Hawk gets all the glamor because the Kill Devil Hills telegraph station was closed that December day in 1903 when the Wright brothers completed their four controlled flights. So they made their announcement to the world through the Kitty Hawk telegraph office. And that’s how that locale blew into history.

The brisk breezes that still lure hang gliders to this ring of barrier islands sheltering the North Carolina shore are what give the place its spanking-clean look. Everything is scoured by sand. Cookie-cutter salt-box houses on stilts and lattice-wrapped carports stretch along the 75-odd miles of beachfront. They come in all shades of gray – tan, white, ecru, taupe, azure, cream, yellow, and aqua, but still look gray – and straddle both sides of Highway 12, the asphalt spine that stretches south from just below the Virginia border to Ocracoke Island just past that storied point of fact and fiction, Cape Hatteras.

It’s a 90-minute drive from the Norfolk airport to the Sanderling, our lodgings just a few miles south of Currituck Lighthouse that warns ships away from the northern end of these Outer Banks. It’s a restful resort that wraps itself in the ambience of the area that’s a mix of edgy New England coolness and soft warm touch of the South. Each room has its own balcony so you can watch the sun rise out of the Atlantic and set into Currituck Sound. And it has its own fine dining room, the Left Bank, where the menu ranges from sweetbreads to softshell crab. These latter delicacies are served in most diners, saloons, and eateries all along the Banks. We learned in the nearby town of Manteo (pronounced MAN-ayo), on Roanoke Island, how they’re farmed.

“They’re called peelers,” our guide explained as as we kayaked along the Manteo waterfront. They’re trapped in wire cages much like lobster and, since crabs molt only under a full moon, light bulbs are placed over the traps to confuse the crustaceans. As soon as the peelers shed their carapaces, the crab catchers pick them out and trim them ready for sale.

Across the cove from the town’s core is the Elizabeth II – the original. It’s a three-masted barque that, with a crew of 12, sailed to Roanoke Island as part of a British squadron on a clandestine mission to collect intelligence about the motives of the Spaniards in the New World. The vessel flies the British flag of the period: a red St. Andrew’s cross in a white square at the top inner corner with a field of alternating white and green stripes, “green being the color of the Protestant Queen Elizabeth manipulating her way through a Roman Catholic Spanish world,” according to a re-enactor on board.

He explained that Sir Richard Grenville left 108 men on the island before returning to England for supplies. The crew explored the region and determined that Chesapeake Bay was much better suited for settling because Roanoke was wrapped in too many shifting sand bars and navigational hazards.

As part of the community’s efforts to nurture its roots with the past are the Elizabethan Gardens opened in 1954 as a living memorial to the original settlement. It features a niche dedicated to Virginia Dare, the first English-speaking child born in North America. It also serves as a reminder that the settlement had to become self-supporting with the original mariners carting over cattle, sheep, and even honeybees, which did not exist here before the British arrived. These sailors had to maneuver their way through the sinister shifting shoals that gave this stretch of coastline the name, The Graveyard of the Atlantic.

Adding to the dangers over the years was Edward Teach, the notorious pirate known as Blackbeard who used the area below Cape Hatteras as a hideout because his shallow-draft ships could slide in and out over the sand bars that the heavier British warships couldn’t manage. The Ocracoke Lighthouse, shortest in the state, marks the inlet Teach had mastered. It’s a few miles south of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which is the tallest brick lighthouse in the nation. A few miles farther north is the fourth lighthouse on the North Carolina coast. The Bodie Lighthouse guards the Oregon Inlet, that leads to Roanoke Island and is where the sport-fishing fleet anchors.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2005

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 20, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Tantalizing Taos Tempts Tourists

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Retired wagon rests by Martinez Hacienda on outskirts of Taos. New Mexico

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By Cecil Scaglione

Mature Life Features

TAOS, N.M. —- This citadel community of some 6,000 people nestled in a high-desert valley is gearing up for another onslaught. Over the past four centuries, locals have survived attacks by conquistadors, hostile Native American tribes, scheming land-grabbers, marauding Civil War troops, and hippies. Rather than repel these waves, Taos embraced them and packaged their best qualities to lure more of their newest invaders: tourists.

There’s much more to absorb than artifacts and adobes. You can ski at nearby Snake Dance from Thanksgiving through April. Hike or bike along the rim of the dizzying Rio Grande Gorge a few miles out of town, where it’s unlikely you’ll encounter anyone who’ll smash your serenity or solitude.

Trip over to the village of Arroyo Seco and grab some comforting ice cream before a libation at Abe’s Cantina y Cocina, where the founder’s Japanese flag souvenired from World War II still hangs over the back of the bar.

In early summer, you can discuss the qualities of adobe construction with volunteers scrambling around one of the most-photographed churches on the globe: San Francisco Assisi.  Because the church has no foundation, moisture seeps up into the walls and the outer skin crumbles. Volunteer parishioners apply a new coat of mud to the building each June. Building began in the 1700s and the church was completed in 1815. There are no windows because it was also designed as a fortress against vengeful Indians. Inside, where photographs are forbidden, is a picture of a pregnant Mary.
The Native American pueblo, which is open sometimes and sometimes not, that offers a window into tribal customs and culture is still a major attraction here and now houses a casino – the only one in the state that prohibits smoking and alcoholic drinks.

Nearby, the Martinez Hacienda opens a door to the early 1800s when Mexico ruled. Don Antonio Martinez was a trader, as were most early settlers, who began building the
ranch house in 1804 and kept adding to it as he and his family prospered.  The trader and his troupe bundled up their pelts and other goods for the annual trek to Mexico City to pay tribute to whoever was the ruler at the time.

Before leaving, you have to sample frito pie, the local junk food. The recipe is simple – taco chips drenched in chile sauce. It comes with red or green sauce. Red is hot. Green is not. Sometimes it’s the other way around. So when you ask for chile in a local restaurant, ask for Christmas so you get both red and green and suit yourself.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2006

Written by Cecil Scaglione

January 3, 2014 at 12:05 am

“The King” still Reigns in Faulkner Country

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11tupelo05AElvis at 13

Story & photo

By Sandy Katz

  Mature Life Features

TUPELO, Miss. —- The two-room dwelling where Elvis Presley came into this world still stands in a park here. Other local sites important to the formative years of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll include Milam Jr. High, where he won his first talent contest; the Tupelo hardware store where he bought his first guitar, and Tupelo fairgrounds, where he performed early in his career.

There are other aspects of culture and heritage of the Magnolia State handy, such as the nearby Tupelo National Battlefield, a reminder that many of the Civil War’s fiercest battles were fought on Mississippi soil. North and west of here is Holly Springs with its historic antebellum homes. Between these two communities is Oxford, immortalized in writings of William Faulkner, and the picturesque campus of the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss).

The Depression Era house where Elvis Presley was born in January 1935 was built by his father, a dairy farmer, for $180. Originally wallpapered with newspapers, each room now has flowered wallpaper and one lightbulb. In a 1957 hometown concert, Presley donated the proceeds to buy his birthplace and 15 surrounding acres. Elvis Presley Park now includes a memory walk where residents detail their recollections of the singer, a museum that traces his road to fame through a collection of his clothing from riding boots to a Las Vegas jumpsuit, a chapel, and an “Elvis at 13” bronze statue depicting him as a young boy in overalls with guitar in hand.

An annual Elvis Presley Festival the first weekend in June brings music, food, and fun to downtown Tupelo. Musicians from around the country play the music that influenced Elvis and music that he influenced. Among the festival events are a motorcycle show, pet parade, movie-
poster exhibit, and recliner, walking and bicycle races. When not singing, Elvis collected cars, often giving them away to friends. The Tupelo
Automobile Museum complements the nearby scenic made-for-cruising Natchez Trace Parkway. The 100-plus vehicles in the museum range from seven-horsepower models that could barely make it up hills to juiced-up Thunderbirds, Plymouths and Pontiacs. From the Fabulous Fifties,
there is a Corvette the color of Marilyn Monroe’s Technicolor-red lips, Mercurys and Buicks the color of lemons, and Packards and Edsels that really were lemons.

The Natchez Trace Parkway Visitors Center and Headquarters includes a giant mural depicting the history of the 444-mile route linking Natchez to Nashville. Designated a National Scenic Byway and an All-American Road, it is open year-round for motorists, hikers, and cyclists and offers visitors the opportunity for an unhurried trip through time.

With 64 antebellum properties in a landscape dotted with historic sites, magnificent homes, and wrought-iron fences, nearby Holly Springs draws thousands of visitors annually during the last week in April for the Holly Springs Pilgrimage. Guests are greeted by locals dressed in period costumes who provide detailed history about the homes, such as Walter Place, which was home of General Ulysses S. Grant.

Just off the town square is Graceland too, which attracts music fans to what possibly is the largest collection of Elvis Presley memorabilia on the planet. Owner Paul McLeod, who has been called the world’s number one Elvis fan, has spent more than four decades collecting every conceivable item related to the King. He and his son, Elvis Presley McLeod, offer tours every day around the clock.

Faulkner fans flock to Oxford hoping to tap into what’s left of the Deep South and the Southern psyche. Downtown Oxford still looks like it did when Faulkner used it as a stage for his characters. The Nobel laureate was born in nearby New Albany and spent the last 32 years of his life here at Rowan Oak, a stereotypical antebellum home on the edge of the Ole Miss campus. The house has the rumpled appearance of the author, who wrote here such masterpieces as “Absalom, Absalom,” “Light in August,” “The Sound and the Fury,” and “Fable,” an outline of which scribbled in the author’ hand remains on the study wall. The university library’s Faulkner Room contains his Nobel Prize and some of his original manuscripts.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2005

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 25, 2013 at 7:35 am

On a Mission to Capture California Wines and Times

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMission San Miguel arch frames a statue of Fr. Junipero Serra, the Franciscan founder of California’s 21-mission chain.

Story & photo by

Cecil Scaglione

Mature Life Features

The real California, that land that’s a mixture of myth and movies, does exist.
All you have to do is follow the California mission trail down the 100-mile-long Salinas Valley, dubbed the Salad Bowl of the World, from Mission San Juan Bautista outside Salinas to San Luis Obispo mid-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
We took the scenic River Road that parallels the Salinas River and Highway 101 as far south as Mission Soledad. This quiet out-of-the-way mission is the 13th established by the Franciscan friars in the chain that forms the spine of the Golden State. It sits on a site that was served by native-built redwood aqueducts from hot springs eight miles away on the flanks of the Coastal Range.
Within a couple of hours’ drive time north from ‘Obispo are several other missions – Santa Cruz, San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo at Carmel, La Soledad, San Juan Bautista,  San Antonio, and San Miguel. They’re all worth a look-see but we saved a few for a return trip.
We drove onto the Hunter Ligget Military Reservation to get to Mission San Antonio, the next one down the road from Soledad. It was established third after the missions at San Diego and Carmel and is the only such sanctuary still on a military base. Besides serving as centers for settlement, the 21 California missions were built as military complexes roughly a day’s horse-ride apart.
It’s southern neighbor, San Miguel, was established in 1797 as the 16th mission on El Camino Real (The King’s Highway). Window panes are still made of stretched sheepskin, similar to those the padres substituted for glass.
Before heading on down to 240-year-old Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolos, we ducked into Paso Robles, one of the best-kept secrets on this out-of-the-mainstream tourist trail. It anchors a rolling Tuscan-lookalike landscape that supports some 70 wineries. It’s still a land where cowboys and charros share a glass of locally made wine after a hard day corralling cattle, manhandling trucks and tractors laden with produce of all kinds, or working the vineyards that quilt the undulating countryside.
Vintners here are even known to down a cold beer after a hot day tending vines.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2004

Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 16, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Free Lunch

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By Cecil Scaglione

Mature Life Features

After a lifetime of being told there’s no such thing as a free lunch, I got one this week.

Well, sorta.

It was during a date made by my wife, Bev, to meet a long-time friend at the Valley View Casino in north San Diego County. The casino-restaurant-hotel complex calls itself “San Diego’s Favorite” and boasts about featuring lobster under a portion of its glass-covered buffet counters.

The event dictated that we not worry about what didn’t get done around the house after the kids and grandkids returned to Phoenix Tuesday, wrapping up a weekend visit. We got most things re-arranged and cleaned up but the rest was left until after Bev’s auld-lang-syne appointment because she didn’t want to be so weary she couldn’t enjoy re-gossiping about the old days and catching up on the new days with her former neighbor, who had moved to Hawaii for several years before returning to Southern California after her husband died.

It took us about an hour to drive up to the casino, one of a dozen or so in the county. As the name suggests, it’s perched on a high hill overlooking the countryside that’s made up mostly of a deep valley surrounded by scrubby-looking hills peppered with scrubby looking rocks, shrubs and trees.

As the ladies dived into reminiscing while feeding a couple of slot machines, I went to a nearby counter and registered for a Player’s Cub card so the San Pascual Indian tribe could track how much money I lose. And I was told I get a free buffet, either lunch or dinner, with my new card.

I rushed back to tell Bev and she decided to get herself a free lunch — er, Players Club card — too.

As it turned out, the ladies quit feeding the machines and decided to feed themselves about the time I was ready to build my fortune. Bev’s wins and losses had bounced up and down and she wound up around $20 down. Since the buffet costs $19.95, she broke even. And, since I never got the opportunity to test my luck, I got a free lunch.

The operators have every right to boast about the buffet. It was extensive and fresh, with plenty of variety. But no lobster at lunch, only at dinner.

 

Written by Cecil Scaglione

July 11, 2013 at 8:48 pm