The History of the George P. McKay Building

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George Parker McKay, a native of Oakland, California, and born in 1860, came to Oceanside in 1892 with his wife Mary Catherine. She was born in Germany, and was the daughter of Bernard Mebach, another early pioneer of Oceanside. The McKay, Mebach and Pieper families of Oceanside were intertwined in marriage and their German heritage kept them a tight-knit family.

In 1893 the George and Mary McKay opened a store on the corner of Cleveland and Second Street (Mission Avenue) which they operated for nearly 15 years. Along with selling a variety of goods and sporting equipment, they offered cigars, tobacco and ice cream.

Mary and George McKay (center) stand at their original store located on the northeast corner of
Cleveland and Second Streets (Mission Avenue) in 1904

George was an avid hunter and sportsman and was appointed “Official Weigher for the Southern California Rod and Reel Club.”

George P. McKay, third from left, with others in a local shooting competition.

Active in the community, George McKay was a charter member of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce which formed in 1896. Both he and his wife helped to promote and raise funds for Oceanside’s second pier. Mary McKay sold tickets to charity events at the Oceanside Opera House, the proceeds of which were donated to the pier fund.

The couple purchased a lot on the northeast corner of Cleveland and Third Streets (renamed Pier View Way) in 1907. Frederick W. Rieke, a local contractor, was hired to begin construction of a two-story new building.

The September 7, 1907  OCEANSIDE BLADE reported: The foundation was laid this week for a store building which is to be built for Geo. P. McKay, on his property on the corner of Third and Cleveland streets.  The building will be of two stories with a frontage of 60 feet on Third and 34 on Cleveland.  The lower floor will consist of a large storeroom and a smaller room for a soda and ice cream parlor.  Above will be living apartments comprising four rooms and a bath.  The building will be a combination of frame and brick of solid construction and with an attractive front.  F. W. Rieke has the contract for the construction.

The George P. McKay building, opened in 1908, northeast corner of Cleveland and Third Streets (Pier View Way)

The following year George and Catherine McKay moved into their new building which they occupied for the next eleven years. They sold everything from firearms to cameras, candies, phonographs, dry goods and souvenirs. George P. McKay was also a photographer and took several images of Oceanside and the San Luis Rey Valley which were published as popular postcards.

Interior of the McKay Store, George and Mary to the right.

In 1919, the McKays sold their building and its stock to Grove S. and Catherine DeLine of Los Angeles.  The couple planned to vacation in the mountains “for the benefit of Mrs. McKay’s health” but she died just a few months later and was buried at the Mission San Luis Rey cemetery. George McKay died in 1937 and was buried in Oceanview Cemetery and his gravemarker denotes that he was a “Native Son of the Golden West.”

The McKay building was renamed DeLine’s Variety Store which sold household items including dishes, stationery, notions and small appliances and a portion of the building rented out as a shoe repair.

Ad for Deline’s Variety Store in 1923, Oceanside Blade

In 1925 Thomas M. Johnson of Pasadena purchased the Deline’s business, stock and fixtures and entered into “a long lease on the building.” Johnson announced that he would specialize in “fishing tackle, sporting goods and stationery lines.”

Grove DeLine and his family returned to Los Angeles in 1928 and sold the building in to Ernest J. Van Vleet. Van Vleet (sometimes misspelled as Van Fleet) had settled in Fresno, California where he made a living as a farmer. He and his wife Ione had four children.

The Van Vleet family moved to Oceanside and for a brief time lived on the second floor. While the VanVleet’s maintained ownership of the building, they rented it out and in 1932 and the building became the new location for the Oceanside Radio Service. In the mid 1930’s the building occupied a restaurant and later a dress shop.

Madame Marie, a fortune teller, rented a room or suite in the building and did readings every day, advertising in the local paper that she answered “all questions.” 

The building was used as a café in the 1930s.

In 1945 the Van Vleet’s transferred title to their daughter Georgia B. Recek. Recek maintained ownership of the building for five decades. Georgia was a member of the First Christian Church of Oceanside and lived on Mission Avenue. She was known for her generosity and opened her home to several people over the 35 years she lived in Oceanside.

By 1948 the building was occupied by City Cleaners, a dry-cleaning business, operated by Alonzo Adams. This long-running business continued through the 1980s. But by then the beauty and of George McKay’s building had long faded and along with many buildings in downtown Oceanside had become an eyesore.

The McKay building in about 1991.

However, the McKay building was purchased by a new owner and in 1994 underwent a renovation and restoration. For about a year it was occupied by the Waterman Surf Art Gallery co-owned by Tom Glenn and Marcie Hintz.

In about 1999 the building was used as a beauty shop called “Talk of the Town” which leased the building in the early 2000’s.

Pier View Coffee in 2019

For the past several years it has been a favorite spot for coffee lovers known as Pier View Coffee. The George P. McKay building has weathered a lot of change over its 114+ year history. Its in the heart of downtown Oceanside, surround by both old and new architecture, and has kept its historic look and feel.

The Story of the North Oceanside School, 1951-1968

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For many years Oceanside’s early school system was a modest one, serving a population of just 3,500. In a ten year period the population increased by just 30 percent to 4,600 in 1940. But with the establishment of a large military training base to the north in 1942, Oceanside would face a population explosion that would take years to catch up in order to provide adequate housing and services.

With an estimated 5,000 civilians arriving to construct barracks, a hospital, and training facilities, and soon after 20,000 Marines to train at Camp Pendleton, Oceanside was inundated with people looking for housing. While most military personnel were being trained for war and being shipped off, many still came with their families. Oceanside was not prepared to meet such a large influx of people and with such an expansive military base to develop even after World War II, the population growth did not level off, but continued to increase.

In 1940 there was just over 600 students enrolled in Oceanside elementary schools, that number nearly doubled by 1946 and classrooms were bursting at the seams. By 1952, in six years time, the enrollment had grown nearly 200 percent with 3,602 students. The average annual increase was about 238 children per year.

Sterling Homes opened in 1945 on Mission Avenue, east of Archer Street.

Federal housing units, which opened in 1945 within city limits known as Sterling Homes, provided 668 housing units to military families. Schools classes had double sessions to accommodate children. That year the school district entered into an agreement to use buildings on Mission Avenue east of present day Canyon Drive, from a wartime Guayule project. For several years, this makeshift school known as Mission Road School was utilized for children living in Sterling Homes and the Eastside neighborhood.

A new school in South Oceanside and one on South Ditmar Street were built but more were needed. The district did not have the financial means to acquire land, hire architects and contracts for building.

In June of 1949 the school district received tentative approval of $253,614 for a building program, which was just a fraction of its $800,000 request to the State.

Portion of 1956 map, showing location of North Oceanside School off of North Ditmar Street.

That September planned construction of a new North Oceanside elementary school was announced. Land was located in the Clements Addition of Oceanside, at the 900 block of North Ditmar Street. The new school would have a kindergarten and six rooms and would serve the downtown population north of Mission Avenue, families living in North Oceanside Terrace, and the Homojo housing project near Camp Pendleton’s main gate. 

By January of 1950 the plans for the North Oceanside School were in the state architect’s office for approval. The City council closed parts of 9th street, 10th street, Ditmar and alleys “in order to make the site of the future North Oceanside School into one contiguous property.”

Kindergarten class at North Oceanside school, June 1951

Grading and construction took a little under a year and in March of 1951 an open house was held at the new school. Described as “airy” and the “best in modern schoolhouse planning” the North Oceanside School featured “large window areas and a rambling design”  which took “fullest advantage of California’s sunny climate and give the students a feeling of going to school outdoors rather than in the confines of a classroom.”

This aerial in 1965 captures just a glimpse of North Oceanside School in upper left hand corner.

“This new building in some ways is the finest of the group [of new schools],” Superintendent Stewart White stated in a letter to parents. One “innovation” was the classroom seating, “by grouping around tables rather than lining up in the traditional straight rows.”  

Even though the school year was nearly over, the need for additional classroom space was immediate. Students attending the overcrowded South Oceanside and Ditmar schools were sent to the North Oceanside School.

Delia Ernest, Principal of North Oceanside School from 1951 to 1957.

The principal of Oceanside’s newest school was Delia E. Ernst. Teachers were:  Mrs. Gladys Schrock, kindergarten; Miss Ernst, first grade; Mrs. Gladys Edwards, second grade; Mrs. Nancy McGlynn, third grade; Miss Catherine Cloyd, fourth grade; Mrs. Frances Houts, fifth grade, and Mrs. Irene Hill, sixth grade.

North Oceanside School’s 1st grade class in 1964

Just one month later the newly opened school was at capacity. Additional classrooms were to be added but funding was again the issue.

Due to the fact that so many of the students were from military families, the school district qualified for federal aid. In 1953 the then Oceanside-Libby School District received a whopping “7 percent of all federal funds allocated within the United States for school construction.’’

North Oceanside Kindergarten Classroom in 1959

By 1954 the North Oceanside School was so full that 6th graders were sent to the old Horne Street School near the high school. In June the district received funds needed to add another kindergarten, four classrooms and a multipurpose room to North Oceanside.

Expansion begun in September 1954 with the addition of four classrooms, one kindergarten room and a multipurpose room, which allowed for cafeteria service and “extra activities, indoor ‘rainy day’ playroom, assemblies and community functions after school hours.”

After completion, the North Oceanside School had a total of 10 classrooms and two kindergartens, which was reported to be “the maximum teaching space allowed for the 4.41 acre site.” Superintendent Ben F. Fugate said the expansion provided a capacity “of around 400 students, although the facilities could handle 450 if the need were urgent.”

That school year the district announced the school zones and bus schedules. The boundaries of each were listed as follows in the Oceanside Blade Tribune: 

  • South Oceanside School area includes all children south of the lagoon and of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Escondido Spur of the railroad (same as last fall).
  • All children living north of Second street; west of the freeway and south of the San Luis Rey River will attend North Oceanside School, except those in the new housing areas named above.
  • Mission Elementary School area will include all children living east of the freeway; north of the AT&SF Escondido Spur, and south of the San Luis Rey River.
  • Attending Horne Street School will be all children living south of Second Street; north of Elm, Washington and Minnesota (east of Grant Street) and west of the freeway.
  • Ditmar children will be all those living north of the lagoon and the AT&SF Escondido Spur; south of Elm, Washington and Minnesota (east of Grant Street) and west of the freeway.
  • The new Jefferson Junior High area will include all seventh and eighth graders of the district. Jefferson Junior High School is located at the corner of Acacia and Poplar Streets north of Mission Elementary School.
  • Children living in the Oceanside portion of Camp Joseph H. Pendleton should enroll at the Horne Street School, except seventh and eighth graders who will go to Jefferson Junior High.

In less than four years three additional schools had been built, but three older ones had been deemed unfit and were abandoned as instructional sites. Funds and resources were continually stretched to the limit and the Superintendent shared that “throughout the construction program the school district has been living on a hand-to-mouth, day-to-day basis” in order to serve the student population.  Rising enrollment resulted in the need for one new school each year. “We continue to hope for a leveling off in our rate of growth” the superintendent declared “but so far it hasn’t come.”

North Oceanside School Kindergarten Classroom 2, in 1963

Despite its additional classroom space, in 1955 the North Oceanside School had to send 38 6th graders to the Ditmar School. In addition, North Oceanside had 94 kindergartners divided between just two rooms; three 1st grade classes of 27 students; three 2nd grade classes of 30 students; and two 3rd grades with 36 students. One 4th grade class had 38 students and a 4th/5th combination of 36; lastly, the 5th grade class had a total of 38 students.  

In 1957 Joseph M. Trotter, Jr. was named the new principal for North Oceanside School, replacing Delia (Ernst) Larson. Trotter was a graduate of Oceanside-Carlsbad High School, studied at UCLA and San Diego State College, and had been a teacher in the Horne Street School.  

Aerial view of the North Oceanside School in 1962

School capacity was somewhat stabilizing with the continued building of new schools including what was then called the Laurel Street School, a new Mission Elementary and the North Terrace School. Homojo housing, which contained nearly 300 units near the Main Gate and relied heavily on the North Oceanside School, was removed altogether.

North Oceanside 3rd Grade class in 1966

But the school’s days were numbered. In 1965 it was announced that the property upon which the North Oceanside stood would soon be part of a “main interchange” connecting the I-5 with Hill Street (Coast Highway). The school district mourned the loss of the needed classrooms but remained hopeful that they could use the school through June of 1968.

From the Oceanside Blade Tribune in 1965

In 1966 a bleak outlook on the school was published, in contrast to just 15 years prior when the school was lauded. Larry Layton, North Oceanside’s last school principal, described his students as often neglected and that “they come to us with scratches” which was the startling headline in the Oceanside Blade Tribune.

The school of 422 students was a diverse one. “We have every color and race under the sun at our school and it is our source of strength, as well as a good lesson in democracy,” Layton said. But the turnover rate was unprecedented. “In one year there were only two of the original 33 left at the end of the semester in one class,” he remarked.

North Oceanside School, 5th Grade in 1967

Layton went on to list the challenges facing the students: “Eighty of the fathers of our children are in Vietnam. Four fathers have been killed. Many of the children come from broken homes. For one out of every four students at North Oceanside there is no father in the house. They come to us with scratches you can’t even see and we put bandages on them.”

1969 aerial shows beginning of demolition of the school buildings

By 1968 the North Oceanside School was vacated and the following year the original building was removed. Freeway construction crews used a portion of the school that remained as offices.

In 1971 the State Division of Highways put the former school site up for auction. The minimum opening bid was $40,000 for the 41,818 square foot parcel. The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported that “the surplus land and several buildings are all that remain of the old school site after redesign and construction of the interchange at Hill Street and Interstate Five.”

Aerial photos reveal what was left of the school was gone by the mid 1970s.

The North Oceanside School was in use for just seventeen years, compared to several schools in the district which have been in use for 5 to 7 decades. With such a short lifespan, it is no wonder some are unaware of its existence but for those who attended North Oceanside, it is an indelible part of their childhood memories.

History of the First South Oceanside School

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South Oceanside is a popular neighborhood referred by locals as “South O”, but more than just a neighborhood, it was once a township, separate from Oceanside. Annexed by the City of Oceanside in 1890, the boundaries are near Morse Street to the north and to the lagoon to the south, and goes as far east as Hunsaker Street. In 1949 two of the original street names were changed: Osuna to Nevada, and Estudillo to Clementine. Vista Way was originally named Wall Street which was changed in 1927.

Map of South Oceanside, 1887

In the 1880’s the unincorporated area was largely owned by John Chauncey Hayes. Born in Los Angeles in 1852, Hayes was the son of Benjamin R. Hayes, an attorney and noted California historian. J. Chauncey Hayes graduated from Santa Clara College, then studied law with his father, and was admitted to the bar in 1877.  He settled in the San Luis Rey Valley and served as justice of the peace.  

John Chauncey Hayes

In 1887 Hayes established South Oceanside which at one time had its own bank, depot, school, cemetery, and several buildings made of bricks at a brickyard near Kelly and Ditmar Streets. He also published his own newspaper, the South Oceanside Diamond.

Hayes petitioned the County Board of Supervisors in 1888 to form the South Oceanside School District, which was granted. The following year the district voted and approved a new $3,000 school building.

The South Oceanside School House, 1889

In August of 1889 the contract to build the school house was given to W. E. Damron to build a two story brick building at a cost of $1,600. The wood work and painting was given to R. C. Mills for $1,070. The South Oceanside Diamond reported that the work had already begun and that work would be completed in sixty day. The school was located on Block 41 near the southeast corner of Whaley and Ditmar Streets.

A census taken in 1891 reported that 43 children were living in the South Oceanside School District which would have included a portion of Carlsbad. One of the earliest teachers was a Mrs. Roberts, who resided in Los Angeles but would come down for the school year. Students were taught up to the 8th grade and then went on to high school in Oceanside.

T. V. Dodd, an educator at South Oceanside

Thomas V.  Dodd, also taught at South Oceanside in the 1890s. He was a superintendent of schools in Madison, Indiana for many years. After coming to Oceanside he taught at several schools in San Diego County and later taught science at the Oceanside high school.

Lillie V. Deering was then hired to teach at the South Oceanside School. But the school was open and closed during the school year at various times, likely due to lack of attendance. South Oceanside was not heavily populated and it is likely that families sent their children to the Oceanside grammar school on Horne Street. In September of 1900 it was announced that the school would close for a few months, with no explanation.

In 1901 Mrs. Clewett was announced as the new teacher, but was replaced by Miss Alice Martin two months later. In 1902 the Ocanside Blade reported the school had a “daily attendance of 18.” In 1904 the school reported 14 students.

Isabel S. Kennedy of Del Mar was hired as teacher of the school in 1906. At the time there were just 9 pupils. The following year Mary E. Clark was employed as teacher of the South Oceanside School.

In 1909 Joseph George Martin of Fallbrook was hired to teach at South Oceanside. A native of Ireland, Martin came to San Diego County in 1877 and had taught for nearly 30 years in and around Fallbrook. In June of that year one student, Nora Marron, graduated from the Eighth grade. The Blade reported that “Prof. Martin, who has had charge of the South Oceanside School, is a faithful and experienced teacher and the pupils do good work under his guidance.”

Martin continued to teach another four years at South Oceanside. In 1913 three students graduated from 8th grade: McKinley Hayes, May A. Birchley and Emma Billick.

However, the following school year the school was “suspended”. It seems there were just a handful of students and many area residents thought students should attend larger schools in Oceanside or Carlsbad. It is unknown if school resumed that year but it was opened again in 1914 with Josefa Elena Jascen as teacher. In February of 1915 the school was closed for one month due to a lack of funds.

Jascen retuned the following school year and the local paper reported “a good attendance” of pupils which included Teresa and Cecilia Marron, Victoria Murrietta, Margarita, Harvey and Herminia Jascen, Morea Foster, Edgar and Irma Spaulding, Thomas Warson, Barbara Libby, Clifford Cole and Madalera Foussat.

The South Oceanside School after it had been dismantled and rebuilt in 1916. Windows and appear to be the same as original schoolhouse. Students pose with teachers, one of whom is Josefa Elena Jacsen.

Irma Spaulding attended the school between 1915 and 1920. Her family moved to South Oceanside in 1912 and operated a dairy farm. Irma’s father, Warren E. Spaulding, along with Earl Frazee, were Trustees of the school at the time.

In 1916 the school needed repairs, and a tax was approved in which to raise $249 for repairs. By August of that year it was reported by the Oceanside Register that “the work of improvements on the South Oceanside school building has been completed and school will be opened by Miss Josephine Jascen in a few days.”

Irma Spaulding said in an interview decades later that her father had dismantled the second story of the school. So it was likely then the school went from a large two story building to a smaller single story one.

Students pose on steps of the South Oceanside School, circa 1919

The school was probably permanently closed by 1924 and what remained of the school building was either sold and moved, or dismantled altogether. 

Today the only South Oceanside School anyone remembers is the one located at Horne and Cassidy Streets. Construction began in 1947 and it opened the following year, initially only offering classes for kindergarten through the 3rd grade.

The corner lot where the original school sat at Ditmar and Whaley Streets remained vacant for years until 1949, when the South Oceanside Community Methodist Church began construction for their new church building. As work commenced the brick foundation for this historic school was discovered.                                                                               

Death of a Starlet – The Rise and Fall of Dariel Jean Johnson

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In 1942 a 14-year-old girl made national entertainment news when she was discovered by actress Judy Garland during a performance at the Wilshire Ebell Club in Los Angeles.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Dariel Jean was performing in a production called “Cavalcade of Youth” when she caught the eye of Garland, who urged studio executives to sign her. In 8th grade, attending Bret Harte Junior High School in Los Angeles, Dariel’s seven year contract was approved on her 14th birthday by Judge Emmet H. Wilson.

From the Los Angeles Times Wed., November 11,1942

Dariel Jean Johnson was born November 10, 1928 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was the youngest child of Lee and Mabel Johnson. Lee Johnson worked as an accountant and by the late 1930s moved his family to Los Angeles.

Vivian Blaine’s column “Star Dust” noted Dariel Jean Johnson in newspapers around the country. February 19, 1943

She was signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, earning $75 a week, and it was reported that she was taking acting and ballet lessons to prepare for “important roles in forth coming pictures.” The “discovery” of Dariel Jean was featured in newspapers across the country in Virginia Vale’s column “Star Dust” regaling her contract with MGM.  Then in December of that year it was reported that she would appear in “Girl Crazy” staring Garland and Mickey Rooney. However, she did not appear in the film, or at least is not credited with any role.

Dariel Jean, age 16, poses while performing “Fellow on a Furlough”, 1944. Universal Pictures

In 1944 Dariel Jean did perform in “Fellow on a Furlough” directed by Vernon Keays and produced by Will Cowan of Universal Pictures. The musical short featured Bob Chester and His Orchestra and starred Hal Derwin and Rose Anne Stevens; other performers included the Les Paul Trio and the Nillson Sisters. It was released on March 1st in theaters and included as a bonus reel along with feature films.

Movie ad, with bonus feature, “Fellow on a Furlough”

It is unknown if Dariel was included in any other studio productions but she did attend a “legislative attaches’ dinner” in Sacramento in 1945 along with other performers including Vivian Blaine, Dorothy Lamour and Leo Carillo. The group of fourteen actors, singers and dancers then entertained patients in several hospitals, including military hospitals in the San Francisco area.

Nothing else is known of her contract with studios MGM or Universal, but it is likely they did not resign her. At the age of 18, with her short career as a starlet seemingly behind her, Dariel Jean married Alvin Thomas Budd on September 23, 1947. Budd was a California native, born in 1925, a veteran of World War II, and employed with the telephone company. One year after they were married Dariel gave birth to a baby girl.  

In 1950 the family of three had settled down to a domesticated life in Orange County and although Hollywood was less than 60 miles away, they were worlds apart.  On the surface, all must have seemed well for Dariel Jean, who had lived a semi-charmed life, transitioning from a brief time in the limelight into the routine of family life. But there was something amiss; something troubling.

Dariel Jean Budd with daughter. This photo may have been taken on the back lot of one of the movie studios.
USC DIGITAL LIBRARY, LOS ANGELES EXAMINER NEGATIVES COLLECTION, 1950-1961

Alvin Budd left for a job in Hawaii as a radio operator, but Dariel and her young daughter stayed behind, living in Newport Beach with a roommate identified only as Mrs. Robert Shand. Mother and child were to eventually meet Alvin in Hawaii, but on Monday, August 13, 1951 Dariel Jean  drove south on Highway 101 through the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and pulled off near Aliso Canyon, on a beach area five miles north of Oceanside. She was presumably there to meet a “friend.”

Whether she met that friend or not is unknown, but on August 16, 1951 a group of Camp Pendleton Marines would discover a grisly scene. Dariel Jean’s life had come to a sudden end.

The Oceanside Blade Tribune published the tragic story on August 17, 1951 with the headline “Discover Body Young Lady Aliso Canyon” with the sad details that Marines on maneuvers had “discovered the body of a 23-year-old woman in a car parked in Aliso Canyon, seven miles north of Oceanside on the Camp Pendleton reservation.  The woman identified as Dariel Jean Budd, of Newport Beach, had apparently been dead for several days. She was found slumped across the front seat of the car, a .32 caliber pistol clutched in her right hand. Upon examination it was found that a bullet had entered the right side of her head just above the ear and emerged a little higher above the left ear, lodging in the car top. The slug will be extracted from the automobile for examination. The young woman was clad in slacks and a blouse. She gripped the steering wheel of the car with her left hand.”

The FBI was called to investigate, likely because the death occurred on federal property. Investigators found the car doors locked and made entry by forcing a window open. An automatic pistol of “foreign make” was found lying on the seat. A small wicker purse was on the floor containing a makeup kit, along with a green wallet which revealed an identification card from the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, and a driver’s license, identifying the lifeless body as Dariel Jean Budd. Authorities contacted her husband Alvin Budd, who made arrangements to quickly return to California.

The body of his wife was taken to Davis Mortuary in Oceanside and an autopsy performed. San Diego County Coroner A. E. Gallagher said “evidence indicated a suicide.” He reported that “the barrel of the gun had been placed close against the right side of the head, as there were powder burns at the entrance of the bullet wound.” He added there were “no other marks on or about the body to indicate that there had been any violence in connection with the death.”

Despite the finding of suicide, her roommate was interviewed and said that Dariel Jean did not know how to load or fire a gun and that she had planned to leave on August 30th to join her husband in Hawaii. One additional detail she provided was that Dariel had left Monday afternoon to meet a Camp Pendleton Marine by the name of Ernie. The two had met at a dance just four days prior on August 10th, but Mrs. Shand described the relationship as “casual.”

What led Dariel Jean to end her life? Was it an overwhelming disappointment of a failed movie contract? Did an unhappy marriage lead to a brief affair?  From whom and when did she acquire a gun?

As Dariel Jean viewed the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing on the shoreline from her car window, was she waiting for a friend or a lover? It is unknown if investigators tried to determine the identity of Ernie. Did Dariel Jean ever meet up with him that day? If he existed, he never stepped forward.

In the scrapbooks of Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department was a torn photograph of Dariel Jean. In the photo she is gripping the steering wheel with her left hand and a gun is resting in the crook of her right hand. It seems an odd position of each. But with the coroner’s ruling as suicide, the death of Dariel Jean no longer warranted further investigation.

Photo from the Captain Harold Davis Collection. Note Dariel’s hand gripping the steering wheel.

It was a sad ending for a young woman who appeared to have fame and stardom within reach, but it had slipped through her fingers. She was discovered by one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Garland herself would die a lonely death years later despite the fame she had gained. She is quoted as saying, “If I am a legend, then why am I so lonely?”

Dariel Jean died alone in her car, either by her own hand or that of someone else. It wasn’t the “Hollywood ending” anyone expected.

End of an Era – The Flying Bridge (and Coffee Dan’s)

The Flying Bridge Restaurant at 1105 North Coast Highway (North Hill Street) is no more. Its unique “coffee shop architecture” and Googie stylings weren’t enough to save it from demolition. The prime location of the restaurant, providing panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and San Luis Rey River, will be redeveloped. It will not be the first time.  

The Real Auto Camp at 1103 North Hill Street (Coast Highway) in the 1920s.

Before the Flying Bridge Restaurant (and Coffee Dan’s) was built, the expansive property was the site of an early auto camp owned by Frank and Anne Martin. The Martin Auto Camp was in an ideal location as it was the first travelers would encounter as they drove into the Oceanside city limits along the original Highway 101.

The auto camp was later sold to Tony Janek and Julia Ravast in 1924, who renamed it the Real Auto Camp. Sam Stock purchased the site in 1927 and continued ownership through 1944.

The original Bridge Motel owned by Frank and Dorothy Satten

Dorothy and Frank Satten subsequently purchased the property and in 1951, they built eight new room units along with an administration center and opened the Bridge Motel.  Although the property was jointly owned, Dorothy Satten is credited with the development and success of the motel, which continued to expand. A 1954 ad described the 18-unit motel as “one of the finest in the west” and offered wall to wall carpets, Beauty Rest mattresses, tubs and showers and “free” television.

By 1963 the motel had increased to 30 units and was renamed the Bridge Motor Inn of San Luis Rey with a large marquis sign erected at the motel site.

The addition coincided with the building of a new 8,500 square foot restaurant building that housed two separate restaurants: Coffee Dan’s was a casual diner operated by Joseph Bulasky, president of Coffee Dan’s, Inc. of Beverly Hills; the Flying Bridge Room was a formal dining eatery which jutted out over the San Luis Rey River and provided a view of the newly built harbor. 

The Flying Bridge Restaurant under construction

In lieu of a traditional groundbreaking ceremony, a unique “space breaking” event via helicopter was used to cut the ceremonial ribbon marking the restaurant’s opening. A wire connected to the building from the hovering aircraft was then cut by a pair of shears.

1962 ceremony for new restaurant

The local newspaper reported that “a marine décor is used in both dining places” and the Flying Bridge Room “has its walls decorated with wood carvings from old ships.”  The motel-restaurant complex was considered “the town showplace, frequented by movie stars” and even California governor, Ronald Reagan.

View of Coffee Dan’s

Although other Coffee Dan’s in Southern California were designed with a Polynesian theme, the subject resource which housed both Coffee Dan’s and the Flying Bridge, was designed to mimic a ship. This ship theme was the overall design element inside and out. Even the name of the restaurant “Flying Bridge” is a nautical term for the open area of a ship which provides unobstructed views.

The restaurant was designed by Tom Hayward, an architect of note. The zigzag wall and saw tooth roofline on the east facing façade were distinctive features in other similar coffee shops in the Los Angeles area and could also be attributed as “Googie.” Googie architecture can be recognized by several design elements, which include cantilevered roofs, sharp angular or eccentric shapes that are built to resemble a specific object like a space rocket, and in this building’s case, a ship. 

1963 ad for Coffee Dan’s depicting restaurant building

The Flying Bridge Restaurant was a trendy local spot for years. The banquet room hosted events for a variety of businesses and organizations. By the 1980s it was a popular spot for singles clubs.

The Bridge Motor Inn of San Luis Rey marquee and a view of the restaurant building in 1979.

In 1999 Jack McCabe gave the aging restaurant a $200,000 “facelift” reopening the coffee shop which had been temporarily closed and revamping the restaurant’s interior. For a brief time, it was even renamed McCabe’s Bridge Restaurant.

1999 ad McCabe’s “Bridge Restaurant

By 2001 the restaurant had changed hands to Patti and Dan Cannon and Jan and Ron DesRosier. The owners implemented “fundraising meals” which featured all-you-can-eat spaghetti and/or pizza for $8.50 to help non-profits and others with fundraisers. It was so successful the owners of the Flying Bridge were nominated and won KGTV Channel 10’s award for “Leaders of San Diego.”

In 2008 the restaurant closed, awaiting a new hotel development of the property which at the time seemed imminent. For the last fourteen years the restaurant at its prominent position near the north end of Oceanside was left to decay. Vandalized and boarded up the end was near, but it’s still a bit of shock to see a pile of rubble where once stood the Flying Bridge.

History of the “Top Gun” House

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Oceanside has several notable landmarks including the Pier and the historic Mission San Luis Rey.  However, one of the most notable and beloved landmarks is what we know as the “Top Gun” House. It has been newly restored, in all its Victorian-detailed glory, nestled within a new oceanfront resort on North Pacific Street.  

Sarah and Henry Graves pose in front of their newly built cottage in 1888. Note the train depot to the left and the small house located behind the property to the right. (photo courtesy Save Our Heritage Organization)

To tell the story of the “Top Gun” house, we need to go back to the earliest days of Oceanside. Andrew Jackson Myers, a rancher in the San Luis Rey Valley, noted that a railroad line had just been completed Los Angeles to San Diego (by way of Riverside) along the Pacific coastline. Myers then applied for and received a land grant of 160 acres in 1883. The trains would travel directly over Myers’ new land grant making his property very valuable. 

That year, a town was surveyed, laid out and streets were named. Myers began advertising his new town in newspapers all over Southern California. This new town of Oceanside was touted as a new “resort city” and excursion trains brought prospective land buyers from the inland valleys.

The train stopped at a simple wooden platform to unload passengers. There wasn’t much to see in those very early years, but one of the first commercial blocks contained the Hayes Land Office, the Louis Billiard Hall and Mayroffer’s Saloon.

One of the earliest photos of Oceanside. Louis Billiard Hall and Hayes Land Office at Cleveland and Second Streets (present day Mission Avenue) circa 1885/86.

Visitors wishing to wade in the Pacific Oceanside could use the bathhouse built by Andrew Jackson Myers, just below the bluff on the beach (located where the current Beach Community Center now stands) which afforded beach goers the opportunity to change into their bathing attire.     

Andrew Jackson Myers’ bathhouse located on the beach north of the present day pier, 1880s

Described as a “seaside resort” in brochures and pamphlets, interest in the new town was great. With a name like “Oceanside” there was truth in advertising.  In August of 1886 the San Diego Union published a story about our development, “The location is a most desirable one, combining a magnificent beach, high and level ground for a town site, magnificent climate and charming scenery.

The trains came from Los Angeles to Oceanside via Colton and passengers came to Oceanside as early as 1883 and 1884 to inspect the burgeoning town and invest in ocean and beach front real estate. Many residents of Riverside, Redlands and San Bernardino purchased property in Oceanside and built vacation homes here. 

View of Oceanside, looking east. Circa 1889

In 1886 Dr. Henry Graves of Riverside came to Oceanside and while here bought a portion of a lot on North Pacific Street for just $1.00.  The following year Graves purchased two more lots, one of which was on the northwest corner of Pacific and First Streets (now Seagaze Drive). Lot 7 on Block 16 was purchased for $1050.00 and would be the site of new summer home for himself and his wife Sarah.

Henry Graves was born in Coshocton, Ohio on February 10, 1827. He attended medical school in Iowa, and later moved to Middleport, Illinois where he opened a practice in 1857. By 1860 Henry had married his wife Sarah, who was born in 1833, and was also a native of Ohio. The two were living in Hiawatha, Kansas and lived in house on Kickapoo Street. In 1868, Sarah Graves gave birth to a son, Henry E. Graves.

Graves was Post Surgeon at the Whetsone Indian Agency in 1871 as well as the Spotted Tail Agency in Sheridan County, Nebraska in 1871. The latter agency was the first to be constructed within the Great Sioux Reservation established by a treaty in 1868 and was named for Brule Sioux Chief Spotted Tail.

Returning to Hiawatha, Graves was appointed postmaster in1875 and operated a drugstore. In 1879 Henry Graves was elected to the city council there and was appointed chairman of the Republicans of Brown County committee. In 1883, Henry and Sarah Graves left Hiawatha, Kansas, and moved to Riverside, California where they purchased a ranch on Brockton Avenue. He continued his medical practice there but also engaged in citrus farming.

The Graves house was built in 1888. From the South Oceanside Diamond, November 2, 1888

Dr. Graves undoubtedly read of Oceanside in the local papers where the excursion trips were posted and after making a trip of his own, was sold on the newly established town. Several months after purchasing his oceanfront lot atop Pacific Street, Graves had a home built. The South Oceanside Diamond reported on November 2, 1888:  “Dr. Grave’s house, under the skillful management of Ed. Durgan is nearing completion.” (Note: It has been erroneously reported for a number of years that the house was built in 1887.)

The ornate Victorian cottage was built as a vacation home, Dr. and Mrs. Graves would “summer” in Oceanside and return to Riverside.  The local paper described it is “their annual vacation by the seaside.” The couple continued to visit Oceanside each year. In 1904 they had an extended stay as the Oceanside Blade reported on May 21, 1904: “Dr. and Mrs. Henry Graves [are] down from Riverside and will remain in their cottage by the seaside until October.”

The Graves’ cottage in about 1892

The Graves sold their Oceanside home in March of 1905 for $1800, to Charles H. and Lillian Burlock. Dr. Henry Graves died on October 20, 1905, in Riverside at the age of 78.

Charles Burlock was appointed deputy constable in 1897 by Benjamin Franklin Hubbert. Burlock married Lilian Wilcox in 1899 and moved to San Diego where he was the manager of the San Diego Gold Mining and Milling Company.  The Burlocks sold the house to J. F. Anderson, and it was then transferred to Southwestern Realty in 1910. But even as late as 1914, locals continued to refer to the house at the “Graves’ cottage” because of its longtime association with Dr. and Mrs. Graves.

In 1921 the home was purchased by F. C. Janssen who was active in Oceanside real estate. The cottage was sold in 1926 to B. C. and Margaret Beers, the former being the President of the First National Bank of Oceanside and the developer of the Plumosa Heights subdivision on Alberta, Leonard and West Streets.

The Graves house with enclosed side porch. Circa 1940s.

The cottage was sold again to Edward and Edith Deggendorf in 1928, who promptly sold it to Angeline G. Morgan who also purchased a house and lot behind the Graves house on Lot 6. Born Angeline Elizabeth Gregory in 1889, she was a native of Topeka Kansas. She moved to San Bernardino, California in about 1904 with her parents Merritt and Ruth Gregory. In 1917 Angelina was married to Alfred Powell Morgan of New York City, but the marriage was short-lived, although the union produced a son, William Merritt.

Angeline Morgan enlarged the former Graves cottage in 1929. She rented out the house until 1936 when she came to live there herself for a period of about five or six years until returning to San Bernardino to be nearer to her son. She relocated again by 1950 and her son, William M. Morgan, rented the house to the rear (112 First Street) for he and his family.

The house located at 112 First Street (Seagaze Drive) was enlarged by Angeline Morgan. She used it as a rental for years. It was used for many of the Oceanside scenes in the “Top Gun” movie. Photo taken in 1992.

By 1966 Morgan had moved to Encinitas and the cottage was purchased by the owner of the beach amusement park, Pacific Holidayland. That year, Oceanside’s only oceanfront hotel, the Colonial Inn, was torn down. It had been built as the El San Luis Rey in 1904. Plans were to build a new resort hotel which never came to fruition. For six decades Oceanside went without a resort property, although in 2007 the Wyndham (which is a timeshare) and in 2013 the Springhill Marriot were built. What is a resort city without a resort hotel?

The Graves house reverted again to a rental property and over the years became dilapidated. Lynn and William Rego of West Covina, however, saw a diamond in the rough, and purchased the house in December of 1975 for $75,000. Much like Dr. and Mrs. Graves, they spent their summers in Oceanside looking over the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and renting it out the remainder of the year.

Top Gun house, 1992

For over 90 years the house had been painted in dark hues, which is discernible even when viewing the house in black and white photos. Years ago, the original brown color was revealed in paint scrapings.  It was the Regos who painted the house its signature blue color that most remember. Little did they know that Hollywood would notice their little blue Victorian cottage by the sea.

Actress Kelly McGills far left, with Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott during filming of Top Gun June 27, 1985.

In 1985 the Regos were contacted by Paramount Pictures looking for a beach cottage for a film location. Paramount rented the house (including the property at 112 First Street) in June for two weeks. The crew prepped the perimeter of the property by removing parking and street signs and covering the curbs with sand.  The movie being filmed was “Top Gun”, which became a blockbuster upon its release in 1986.

A candid scene with Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise, June 27, 1985 while filming at the Top Gun House

The movie made Tom Cruise a household name and the iconic scene of Maverick riding his motorcycle on palm-lined Pacific Street in Oceanside is every local’s favorite. Certainly, for Oceansiders some of the most memorable scenes of the movie “Top Gun” were filmed at the Victorian cottage, which was the featured as the home of Cruise’s love interest, flight instructor Charlie, played by Kelly McGillis.

The house at 112 First Street (Seagaze Drive) behind the Top Gun house being prepped for filming, June 1985.

Thereafter, it would forever be Oceanside’s “Top Gun” house. Fans of the movie from all over the world flocked to have their photo taken in front of the iconic house and stand on the porch.

In 1992 the Graves house was included in a Cultural Resource Survey prepared by S. Kathleen Flanigan along with Susan and Richard Carrico. This survey is an extensive list of homes and buildings eligible for historic register.  It was noted that the house at 102 North Pacific Street was “one of the few 1880s beach cottages remaining in near-pristine condition.”

Tom Cruise poses on motorcycle with member of the film crew, June 27, 1985

In 2001 the City of Oceanside acquired the Graves house through eminent domain to control future development of the oceanfront block in hopes of securing a resort project. Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) recognized the significance of the Graves house in 2001 and included it on their Most Endangered List of Historic Resources, saying: “This sweet Victorian era seaside cottage was built for Doctor Graves from Riverside. It is the oldest and last best beachfront cottage in Oceanside. Featured in the movie Top Gun, it has consequently been known as the Top Gun Cottage. The site is threatened by the huge hotel development proposed by Manchester Resort Hotels and the City of Oceanside. The cottage is on a corner of the property and could easily be integrated into the development and used as an adjunct facility to the hotel. Right now, it appears it will be moved off site, out of context, with its use yet to be determined.”

Top Gun House side view. Note addition to the house made by Angeline Morgan years ago. Photo taken 1998

The Manchester project, a twelve-story, 475 room hotel failed, leaving Oceanside without its desired resort hotel overlooking the Oceanside Pier. However, two blocks fronting Pacific Street were cleared in anticipation of a new hotel project. Block 16 on which the Top Gun house was located, had four other historic homes. The house known as the Pishon house, located on the southwest corner of Mission and Pacific Streets was moved to a location on Maxson Street. Three other historic houses were demolished, including the house behind the Graves house, at 112 First Street (now Seagaze) which was used in the “Top Gun” movie.

Original fireplace and mantel in the Graves’ cottage

By 2010 the “Top Gun” house was the only structure remaining on the block and seemed to be in the “Danger Zone.” With the house vacant, members of the Oceanside Historical Society kept an eye on it for several years, reporting break-ins and other issues. Twice the organization helped to hoist the sagging porches, had it painted and erected a large sign to inform passersby about the historical significance of the house and to assure those concerned that the house would be restored. In 2009 a fence was put up around the property, which was necessary to protect the house from further intentional damage.

John Daley, left, works to help level side porch of the house in December 2013.

In 2018 S. D. Malkin Properties, Inc. announced two new resort projects by developer Jeremy Cohen. Many wondered what would become of the “Top Gun” house. With the support and influence of Save Our Heritage Organization and the Oceanside Historical Society, the Graves house aka “Top Gun” house would be restored by S. D. Malkin and used as the “centerpiece of Oceanside’s much anticipated new oceanfront resort.”

Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new hotels were held in February of 2019. The cottage was relocated one block away for structural restoration. Curious residents peeked through fencing to view its progress.

Top Gun House under reconstruction, April 2020

Afterward much of the work had been completed, it was moved one block north of its original location in front of the beautiful new Mission Pacific Hotel. The cottage is still situated on North Pacific Street, facing the ocean, which was important in preserving its historical integrity and setting. There was still work to be down to the cottage at its new location, but brief glimpses made way to a “full reveal” as it reemerged to its adoring fans. Architectural Digest reported: “Among the projects were restoring the wood cladding and front windows, dismantling the original chimney, and rebuilding it with the same historic bricks, and bringing back gingerbread details. Both porches had also been damaged and were restored.” Beautifully painted the cottage has been reborn and to borrow from the movie’s famous love song, it’s sure to take your “breath away.”

The beautifully restored Victorian Cottage known as the Top Gun house in 2022. (photo by Visit Oceanside)

The beloved “Top Gun” House celebrated its much-anticipated grand opening on May 20, 2022, as the home of the High-Pie Shop, which is filled with memorabilia from the hit movie. Just days later was the release of the long-awaited sequel “Top Gun: Maverick” starring Tom Cruise. To the delight of movie fans, a replica motorcycle like the one Maverick rode on his iconic scene in Oceanside, was placed in front of the house Lines now form around the house to view the interior and purchase a pie. People pose on the front porch for selfies and group shots and pretend to be Maverick on his bike.

With two new beautiful hotels, Oceanside has regained or fulfilled its resort status, envisioned so many years ago by our founder Andrew Jackson Myers. The careful restoration of the historic Graves House, aka the “Top Gun” house is a crowning jewel on the oceanfront.  It is sure to hold a place in the hearts of locals as well as movie fans for many years to come.

The Curious Life and Tall Tales of John Murile Caves

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Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department was a collector of many things, including three large scrapbooks in which he placed various photos of crime and accident scenes, along with a variety of newspaper articles dating from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department

One scrapbook contained a human-interest story of John M. Caves, a retired sea captain who was hospitalized in the Oceanside Community Hospital. This was not Caves’ first visit to Oceanside, and it wouldn’t be his last. Curious, about Mr. Caves and his peculiar claims, I did a bit of research and uncovered two different hoaxes perpetuated by Caves for over four decades. In between he would murder a traveling companion and serve time in prison.

John Murile Caves was born January 4, 1882, in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, a small borough of less than 2,000 person in Allegheny County. He was the second of four children born to Samuel T. and Martha Caves, who lived in a rather stately home at 713 Pennsylvania Street in the town of Oakmont. His siblings were Samuel Meredith, Henry Adams and Mary Caves. Their father Samuel Caves worked as a blacksmith with Verona Tool Works.

713 Pennsylvania Avenue, Oakmont, Pennsylvania, the home of Samuel and Martha Caves

At the age of 18 John Murile Caves was still living with his parents but held no occupation, nor was he attending school, in an era where this would have been atypical. His brothers, one older and one younger were both employed at Verona Tool Works with their father.

In 1907, at the age of 25, John was arrested along with two other men for breaking into a train car. In the newspaper account, John Caves was described as a “cripple who walked with a crutch” and “peddled shoestrings.” This may have been the first of John Caves’ personas as he was not at all crippled, at least not permanently. T. B. Shaffer, the railroad detective, reported that Caves’ two companions seemed distraught about their arrest, but in contrast John Caves was “cheerful” about the encounter. Regardless of his hapless attitude, the arrest landed Caves in jail, awaiting trial for several months after which he was found not guilty and released.

Walking Career Begins

John Caves would begin an “illustrious walking career” two years later in 1909. No official record was found of the starting point or date but in September 7, 1909, the Quincy Journal announced that Caves had arrived in Macomb, Illinois.

Going by the moniker of “Happy Jack” the Journal reported that Caves had started his walk on April 6th of that year, starting from Boston. He claimed he ran away from home at the age of 9 and (incredulously) had already completed two walking trips across the continent. Now he was determined to travel around the world against a wager of $2,000 from “Bryan’s Commoner and Munsey’s Magazine”, which purportedly provided the route that he should travel.

According to Caves, he was not to ask for a cent from anyone along the way but could accept gifts. Apparently and supposedly people were very generous as he claimed to have eaten no less than three meals a day and stayed at the finest of hotels while on his journey.

Caves further claimed he had a year in which to complete his trip across the United States, but four years to travel the world. Caves announced his intention to make his way to Lincoln, Nebraska and from there to San Francisco where he would eat a Christmas Dinner. The article ended that “Happy Jack” was 28 years old and walked at an “easy gait of 5 miles an hour.”

On September 21, 1909, Caves had walked to, or at least arrived in, Burlington, Iowa by way of Fort Madison. The Burlington Hawk Eye reported that Caves had now walked 10,090 miles and that he was on his way to Des Moines to Omaha, then to San Francisco “by Christmas.” From there Caves said he would get “free passage to Japan and Australia, from Australia to London and from there home again.” Caves next stopping place on his route would be Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, the newspaper informed readers.

For the next several years John Caves would convince or at least amuse folks with variations of this tale, and it would be perpetuated from town to town, newspaper to newspaper. But the good residents of Ottumwa, Iowa saw through the tall tales and when Caves stopped through their town they were not taken in by his charm or his story. The Burlington Evening Gazette in Burlington, Iowa (where he been just days before) disclosed: “Happy Jack, the big bum alleged globetrotter, who is trying to fool the people throughout the country, was arrested for drunkenness in Ottumwa.”

The Ottumwa Courtier shared this news in September of 1909: “John M. Caves, who claims to be a globetrotter, has clasped to his belt of claims another item. Yesterday he proceeded to tank up as much of the brew down his throat, but before he covered as much distance in this direction as he claims he has covered over the country, he fell into the hands of Office L. Lightner. ‘Happy Jack’ was jugged, and in police court he acknowledged he was drunk. Judge Morrissey gave him three days to repent.”

From the Burlington Evening Gazette, September 27, 1909

After this encounter and 3-day jail stay, on September 27th Caves had reached Albia, Iowa, stating, “I’m still going. Roads are good. I’m making 50 miles a day. I will be out of the state, Saturday, October 2.”

Oh, but “Happy Jack” was still in the state of Iowa on October 5th where he was giving a lecture of his travels in Glenwood at the Opera House.

Did Caves ever make it to Omaha or San Francisco? It is hard to say. Perhaps he was detoured.

In Trouble

Eight years later John Caves was in the news again when in August of 1917, he was arrested for assaulting a railroad conductor with a knife while working as a restaurant cook. He pled guilty and was put on parole. 

WWI registration card with John Murile Caves. Note date of birth

In September of 1918 Caves was working as a “blacksmith helper” at Verona Tool Works where his father was employed in Oakmont, Pennsylvania (his hometown), according to his World War I registration card. He seemed to have settled down for a very brief time, but he would soon be on the move again for another walking trip “around the world.”

But before that Caves found himself again in trouble with authorities when on May 22, 1921, he was arrested in Bellwood, Pennsylvania. After an altercation with members of a train crew, he was ejected and in retaliation threw a rock that subsequently hit the brakeman. Caves spent over two weeks in jail until his day in court. The Altoona Mirror reported: “Happy Jack Caves, an individual of tall stature who assured the court that he was ‘a sailor from the high seas’ who had come to this section of the country to visit some friend and became intoxicated, pled guilty to through a stone through a passenger car window near Bellwood.”

Bellwood Train Station, Bellwood Pennsylvania where Caves was arrested

It is worth noting that Caves would again claim to be a sailor decades later. However, before that reinvention, he began another worldwide trek.

A Trip “Around the World” Begins

On April 1, 1919, (notably April Fool’s Day), Caves purportedly began a journey from Boston that would take him to every continent in the world, and every state in the U.S. Supposedly a total of 16 men began this trek, that would take them 99,986 miles in a period of three years. The winner of this race of sorts would allegedly win $30,000, which is equivalent to $500,000 today. The contest was supposedly sponsored by Johns Hopkins University and was the starting point.

Nothing was found about this race or contest until June 25, 1921 (two years later from its supposed start date) when the Times Herald in Olean, New York ran a story with the headline: “Happy Jack Is Ahead On His Hike Schedule.” The story stated that he had arrived in Olean, New York at 5:35 am from Eldred, Pennsylvania (a distance of about 13 miles). At that time Caves had claimed to have visited 42 of the then 48 states and that he 28 days ahead of schedule. He was due to return to Boston April 1, 1922.

The following details were included in the Times Herald article, and it is worth noting that similar details, which varied from time to time, would run in more than 50 articles from just as many newspapers around the eastern part of the country:

  • In every state and county which he enters he has to go to the capital and county seat. When he returns to Boston, he must have a dollar for every county seat and $5 for every capital.”
  • Additionally, he was to receive a signature from every town or city official that he passed through and dutifully mail these signatures to the “committee in charge.”
  • He was not allowed to “ask for rides or money” but he was allowed to accept “gifts of money.” The prohibition of rides included a reward of $500 to anyone who witnessed him riding rather than walking.

Happy Jack Caves walked an amazing 40 miles a day, at least according to the Herald piece, and at the time the article was written, he simply carried a knapsack weighing 65 pounds.

On July 12, 1921 the Hudson Columbia Republican newspaper reported that “Happy Jack” arrived in Hudson, New York from Albany. He had purportedly completed 70,182 miles, 23,000 of which were on foot. Caves claimed to have 20,804 miles to complete before April 1, 1922. From Hudson he was on his way to New York City, to Fall River, Massachusetts, then back to New York to Niagara Falls and then on to Canada and Montreal.   Countries claimed already visited were: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Greece, France, Russian, England, Germany, Australia, Japan, China, as well as “every country in South and Central America.”

Caves arrived in Uniontown, Pennsylvania on August 15th. The newspaper there reported that Caves was walking to settle a $30,000 wager between the Boston Pedestrian Club and the Pedestrian Club of John Hopkins University. He was on his way to Greensburg next, but the newspaper also added the unbelievable detail that Caves had “circumnavigated a wheelbarrow around the globe during the years 1893-97.” (He would have been 11 years old based on Caves’ ACTUAL age.)

On October 7, 1921 Caves passed through Massillon, Ohio “enroute to New England and Canada.”  The stories kept coming as Caves went from town to town. The journey expanded, he turned his 65 pound knapsack and instead began pushing a wheelbarrow and the wager or bet became prize money instead, which grew. Caves followed no particular route but seemingly meandered back and forth, retracing his steps while approaching “the last leg,” while the finish line seemed elusive.

On or about November 2, 1921 Caves arrived in Bucyrus, Ohio and then made his way to Marion, Ohio, where he stayed at the Royal Hotel on Main Street. In just five months his story had changed significantly. According to the Marion Star, Caves had traveled 91,000 miles, visiting every country in the world, but had eight of the U.S. states left to visit (not six) but he was now 38 days ahead of schedule. During this tremendous journey Caves claimed to have worn out 90 pairs of shoes covering 43,000 miles on foot. At this point, the traveler was accepting gifts as the article stated he “‘passed the hat” while giving lectures on his adventures.  

The following day the Richwood Gazette in Richwood, Ohio informed its readers that Caves arrived in town. This time Caves was to walk 99,986 miles and had 5,000 to go but was still a full 38 days ahead of schedule. The Gazette reported that Caves could ask for nothing except water and the use of a telephone.

Caves made it to Newport, Kentucky (population 316) the following day – traveling over 140 miles to do so. Even at 40 miles a day it would take him over three days nearly a week to travel that distance, so it is safe to say that he hitched a ride or hopped a train. At Newport Caves claimed to have 2500 miles to go, adding that the money he collected from county seats and state capitols was sent directly to the “Pedestrian Club of Boston” who co-sponsored the trek with Johns Hopkins Hospital.

It was more likely that he simply pocketed any money he received from gullible officials who believed his elaborate stories.

Later that month Caves made his way 400 miles south to Huntsville, Alabama. He claimed to have been 38 days ahead of schedule of his deadline of April 1, 1922. In Huntsville Caves claimed that he was native of Norway and this “fact” would often be included in many subsequent stories.

Caves trip from Richwood, Ohio to Huntsville, Alabama, a distance of 493 miles

There was no telling how much farther south he traveled and then supposedly headed north towards the finish line. Little is known of Caves and his travels until June of 1922, well after the supposed deadline.

The Wheelbarrow

The Baltimore Sun announced the arrival of “Happy Jack Caves” on June 26, 1922 with the headline “World Pedestrian Here.” Caves was on the “last lap of his journey” and now it seems he had four months (rather than three) to complete his trek. More new details were that he now pushed a wheelbarrow containing a tent and cooking utensils and a Great Dane dog was his companion.

Now he added a detail to his ever evolving story that 17 other contestants had begun with him, but they had all dropped out. In addition, out of the 99,986 miles required he had just 700 to go, although it was reported he had visited every “state in the Union” and in “every foreign country.” But if Caves was now in Baltimore, Maryland, the finish line (Boston) was just 400 miles away.

Three weeks later, on July 11, 1922 Caves was in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania a mere 80 mile trip, but it seems Caves was no longer keeping his 40 mile a day pace. The Evening News of that city reported that he had “traversed every country, continent, ocean and sea, and river in the world” along with just 45 states (versus all 48). Although these details varied, Caves still had no less than 700 miles to go, despite the fact that he had traveled 80 since his last encounter.

Rather than traveling northeast to Boston to the “finish line”, Caves instead went west to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a distance of 24 miles, arriving July 24th. He then continued on a southwesterly direction to Shippensburg, (population 4300) a distance of just 20 miles, arriving July 26th.

From Baltimore, Maryland to Indiana Pennsylvania in June/July 1922

A representative of the town’s newspaper interviewed “Happy Jack” who now claimed to have been born in 1861, coming to America in 1881 from Norway. Still on his “last stretch” but traveling in the opposite direction, Caves added to his tall tale saying that he had been in 4 wars. His story evolved again saying he had visited “all the principle countries” — Europe, Asia and Africa and had been to 47 states. To keep track from his last count of 45, what two states did he visit in two weeks as he had only been in Pennsylvania during that time frame?

If that wasn’t enough, Caves’ wheelbarrow was said to have weighed 165 pounds and he claimed to have worn out 5 wheels, 12 axles and exactly 284 bearings, along with 46 pairs of shoes. The article went on to say that Caves expected to arrive in Boston by August 18 or 20 (even though he wasn’t headed that way) and that he was going to beat the world record by 8 months. It concluded by saying that Caves was on his way next to Hagerstown.

It was noted by one newspaper that Caves offered proof of his travels by newspaper clippings that he collected about himself. It was also pointed out that while his wheelbarrow was plastered with photos, clippings and postcards of places he claimed to have visited, none of them were outside of the United States.

On August 30, 1922, Caves meandered his way northwest (away from Boston) to Saltsburg, to Blairsville and then traveled east to Indiana, Pennsylvania. The local newspaper there said that Caves eight months away now (probably because he wasn’t going in the right direction)! It went on to say that he was a happy looking man and that at age 61 (he was really 40) “looks good for at least that many more.” After his stay Caves was on his way to Punxsutawney.

Several months seem to pass without a “Happy Jack” sighting until December 9, 1922 when Caves traveled to Snow Hill, Maryland. This 300 mile route traveling southeast was nowhere nearer Boston and he most certainly did not complete his journey by August. Nonetheless the paper dutifully reported that Caves was on his “last leg” of his journey. Notably, Caves talents and skills expounded as now he spoke 17 languages, all of which he was “more proficient in than English.”

But Caves could top even that, by saying that in 1888 he had pushed a “hogshead” (a 63-gallon barrel) from Boston to San Francisco. By completing this fete he won $16,000. If that claim wasn’t wild enough, he added that next he had SKIPPED across the entire continent and out of 24 contestants he was the only one to finish and was awarded $12,000. (Caves also claimed to have roller skated from coast to coast.)

Did anyone question these claims? The newspapers seemed very happy to take him at his word or at least print them.

Finally, it seemed that Caves’ journey was over when the Boston Globe announced on December 19, 1922, that John Muriel Caves had finished his endurance walk around the globe after reaching Wilmington, Delaware. (Eight months later than one of his supposed deadlines).

The Journey Continues

But “Happy Jack” was not finished. It seems he started over OR more likely just kept his ruse going, traveling to towns he had not yet visited with the same story. No doubt this was a continuation of the “original contest” or journey, but no one seemed to know or realize.

On January 9, 1923 he arrived in Reading, Pennsylvania. Caves was on his “last lap” of a “hike” around the world. They happily put him up at the local YMCA, noting that Caves had “obtained the seal and signature of every burgess, mayor and county clerk, or prothonotary of every borough, city or county through which he passed.”

Martha Meredith Caves, John’s mother, died on June 14, 1923 at her home in Oakmont, Pennsylvania at the age of 71. It is possible that John was there for her funeral, but he did not stay long. Just about two weeks later he arrived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on June 27, 1923.

His arrival was regaled with a large photo in the newspaper with the headline that read: “Pedestrian Here is Near End of Journey Around the World.” Some of the “facts” remained the same: 1. The race started April 1, 1919; 2. Seventeen contestants began the race but only he continued; 3. Caves had to obtain signatures from every clerk, mayor (or king). Compared to his “previous race”, he had now worn out 47 pairs of shoes, 7 wheels, 28 axles and 284 ball bearings.

“Happy Jack” John Caves with his wheelbarrow, July, 1923 (Library of Congress)

On July 5th the Chronicle Newspaper of Shippensburg, PA noted that Caves had passed through Lancaster and noted that he had traveled through Shippensburg a year prior. They did not question why he was back in the area, seemingly traveling in circles.

In May of 1924 the Edwardsville Journal, Edwardsville, Illinois announced that Caves was nearing the end of his “long walk.” He had until September 29 to arrive in Chicago, but since he was well ahead of time, he was “not rushing.” It was revealed he had been in a St. Louis Hospital for two weeks and that his dog had to be kenneled for sore feet. Caves had now worn out 52 pairs of shoes and 28 axles on his wheelbarrow. This time the newer added detail was that out of 17 contestants, Caves was the only one left, but the others had simply not quit, as previously reported, Caves now said that 5 died while walking and 2 were killed in accidents.

Happy Jack made his way to Columbus, Indiana on January 8, 1925. Embellishments of his travels continued, including that he was given 39 dogs by the Boston Kennel Club over the course of his trip as traveling companions. He spoke all of 21 languages and was an interpreter during wartime. It was also noted that he had worn out 83 pair of specially made boots, 9 wheels and 286 ball bearings. Caves purportedly was on his way to Indianapolis to obtain the signature of the governor and that after doing so his list of signatures would be complete. He then had until January 25th to reach Boston to finish. But he never made it to Boston because he was still on his “last lap” when he reached Greenfield, Indiana on January 27th.

Close up view of “Happy Jack’s” wheelbarrow with photos and names of states he allegedly visited.

He then made his way to Dayton, Ohio and from there to Marion, Ohio on February 25, 1925. The local paper noted that Caves was on his “return trip” and that he had passed through 3 1/2 years earlier. No one seemed to notice that he was meandering from town to town.

Caves visited Crestline, Ohio one month later on March 21st. The newspaper shared that Caves had just ten days to complete his walk and claim a $10,000 prize (considerably less than $30,000 to $50,000 claimed a few years ago).  It was astutely noted that he would have to travel 100 miles a day to make that happen. Days later Caves “was found ill” and brought to the Monnette hospital to recover from an undisclosed malady.

Route from Seymour Indiana to Bucyrus, Ohio in 1925

On November 3, 1925 Caves was hospitalized again, for gall stones. He was still on the “last leg” of his journey, of course. This time it was disclosed he would receive $26,000. The following month he was in Kingsport, Tennessee. In April of 1926 Caves arrived in Wythville, Virginia where he declared he had just 930 miles to go.

Then finally, on April 22, 1926 it was announced that he had arrived at the Potomac Park Tourist Camp in Washington, D.C., which apparently was the new finish line or the completion of his 99,986 “required” mileage. The accomplishment took 8 years, 3 months, 21 days and 5 hours, according to Caves, but if he started April 1, 1919, it really took 7 years and just 21 days. (But who’s counting?) Caves claimed he continued without “a day’s interruption” which wasn’t true because of recorded hospitalizations.

Caves gave his usual statistics to the newspaper: he had worn through 90 shoes, 30 wheelbarrows, 28 axels and 30 dogs, which had all died according to Cave. He also kept track of his lectures which totaled 321.

Caves revealed that he was on his way next to Annapolis, and then headed north to meet up with his wife and 5 children! At least once he claimed he had 4 children and years later he would repeat a story that his one and only wife had died from scarlet fever while traveling around the Horn.

Whiskey and Bay Rum

Despite the completion of his required 99,986 miles, John Caves continued to travel and on May 27, 1927 he was in Plymouth, North Carolina where he was scheduled for a lecture at Darden’s Christian Church to talk about his travels. The lecture was well attended but it came to abrupt halt when church leaders determined Caves was under the influence of whiskey.

On January 15, 1928 Caves was a patient in the Allegheny Hospital after a “general breakdown” although doctors could not decide the cause of his illness. He had visited his sister who was a nurse at Pittsburg Tuberculosis Hospital and had fallen while on the road near the town of Creighton. Curiously, it was revealed that Caves had been unable to talk or hear for a period of two years and communicated by writing with paper and pencil. This, of course, was untrue because of his willingness and ability to give lectures from town to town.

The Pittsburg Press, who announced Caves’ hospitalization, also reported that “during his long walk, the best time Caves made was 8 miles an hour” and that he once walked 71.5 miles in 21 hours.

In early March of 1929 his travels came to another halt in Akron, Ohio after he was “picked up” by police after drinking too much Bay Rum, which was used as cologne and aftershave lotion. The newspaper reported that the 50-year-old (closer to his actual age than most reports) had been wandering for 10 years. Caves told authorities he was the only one left in the race and he had to do now was to walk to Boston. “No more bay rum for me,” as he allegedly continued on to the fictional finish line.

Caves drank Bay Rum intended to be used as an after shave

However, later that year, Caves was found by police in Lancaster, Pennsylvania after drinking nearly a half bottle of Bay Rum (which was 58% grain alcohol). Caves claimed that he was cold and in an effort to warm up he drank the highly toxic alcohol mixture that was used as astringent.

It seems as Caves continued drinking, the public began to question some of his claims. The Intelligencer Journal printed Caves’ claim that he had traveled 99,000 miles in 12 years (with a starting year of 1917 rather than 1919) and figured that Happy Jack would have to average 22 miles a day, each and every day including “Sundays and holidays.”

Lancaster police noted that Happy Jack was neither happy nor congenial and he was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

But things would get worse for “Happy Jack” when on February 20, 1930 the Morning Post of Camden, New Jersey revealed that Caves was penniless, his dog was dead and his wheelbarrow wrecked. The newspaper cited that Caves had started his “endurance trip” 11 years ago and noted that he passed through Camden in 1926, obtaining the signatures of the County Clerk. But now he hobbled into the police station on crutches, looking for food and a place to sleep.

Caves claimed to have been struck by an automobile at Kennett Square, PA a month earlier, suffering a broken ankle. As a result of the accident he was hospitalized nearly three weeks at the Chester Hospital. The hospital gave Caves enough money to reach Philadelphia and from there he had made his way to Camden. He was sent to the Salvation Army barracks but instead went to the police department located next door because the former institute was “too crowded.” Caves informed the newspaper that he had completed 99,286 miles (still 700 shy, even years later, of the required 99,986).

Murder in Macungie

Six weeks later “Happy Jack Caves” was arrested and charged with murder on March 30, 1930. The Berwick Enterprise of Berwick, Pennsylvania said that it was the same Caves “who gained fame” by pushing a wheelbarrow “from New York to Los Angeles.” Caves was arrested for the stabbing death of John Barrett during an argument at a “hobo camp” near Swabia Creek on the outskirts of Macungie, a small town near Allentown. He confessed to the stabbing but claimed self-defense.

A subsequent newspaper reported that Caves was “well known in police circles” because of his frequent arrests for drunkenness and disorderly conduct. No longer referred to as an adventurer, he was now simply a “wanderer,” an “itinerant” or even a “hobo,” and his walking expedition called a “stunt”.

Published accounts detailed that Caves stabbed Barrett after a dispute over milk and the killing was witnessed by four young boys. He was placed in the Lehigh County jail awaiting trial. Despite previous newspaper accounts that he was 62 years old, the jail records list his correct age at 48.

The Lehigh County Jail where Caves awaited trial.

During his trial in June of 1930, Caves testified in his own defense including the fact that he was a “consort of wayfarers and hoboes” with colorful nicknames such as “Baltimore Whitie”, “Old Man Morrissey” and “Barrett the Barber”, whom he killed.

Barrett was given his nickname because he carried a razor around his neck. He was portrayed by others as ferocious and vicious.

Caves voice was described as thin and high pitched as he recounted how the two men had met in “The Jungles”, an Allentown hobo camp. Caves would beg for food for Barrett and himself, since he was a more sympathetic figure on crutches. After an argument over milk in the coffee, apparently Barrett was too liberal with the pour, Caves said Barrett struck him with a pocketknife and he in turn simply grabbed a butcher knife in self defense. The knife hit Barrett in the heart, killing him instantly.

The prosecution called four young boys to contradict Caves’ version of what happened. John Ritter, 12, Edwin Bortz, 13, Harold Rhoads, 10 and Donald Rhoads, 12 spent the entire afternoon with the two men and each testified that Caves “quarreled and grumbled” throughout the day about various things, including about a piece of liver.

The boys also testified that Caves had begged for and acquired turnips, potatoes, onions, and coffee. The two men, and apparently the boys as well, stole two kettles, two knives and “a big piece of suet” (animal fat). Caves had managed to collect $2.85 after panhandling which he used to buy bread, cigarettes and four containers of “canned heat” (Sterno). Perhaps the intention was to warm a meal with the aforementioned ingredients, Caves instead made an alcoholic mixture to drink with the liquid contents after squeezing it through a handkerchief and diluting it with water. This was not an uncommon practice during Prohibition, particularly in hobo camps.

Caves drank “canned heat” after filtering it and diluting it with water.

While at their encampment, Barrett complained that Caves put too much water in the coffee and Caves in turn complained that Barrett put in too much milk. Angry, Caves lunged at Barrett with his crutches, hitting him in the mouth and cutting his lip. The incident resulted in the soup that would be the group’s meal being spilled.

Caves reportedly said to Barrett, “Are you sorry for what you did?” to which his companion replied, “Do you want some more?”  Caves then responded angrily, “I’ll give you some more!” and suddenly drew a knife, stabbing Barrett.

Afterwards, Caves placed a pocketknife in the hands of the lifeless Barrett and went through his pockets. He found two coins but said in disgust, “Two lousy cents” and then kicked Barrett’s dead body. As he walked or hobbled away, Caves said to the boys, “This is the second time he tried to kill himself.”  To which Donald Rhoads replied, “You killed him, you skunk!”

John M. Caves was found guilty of 2nd degree murder after the jury deliberated over 29 hours. The only relative that showed support by attending the trial was his sister Mary Caves, who took the verdict much harder than her brother. It was revealed that he showed no sign of emotion except what was termed “a sigh of relief.”

Eastern State Penitentiary (from easternstate.org)

Caves was sentenced 6 to 12 years and sent to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Noted for its innovative wagon wheel design, the imposing prison once housed notorious gangster Al Capone. Caves was given the prisoner number of C-6262.

Records provided by Eastern State Penitentiary and the Pennsylvania State Archives indicate that Caves’ stay there was not without problems. He was sent to solitary confinement more than once for fighting.

The prison was visited by Dr. Doncaster G. Humm of Los Angeles, who specialized in “industrial psychology”, visited and interviewed several prisoners, including Caves, to “secure material for research.” He would later publish his findings and identified seven different temperaments defined as “normal, hysteroid, manic, depressive, autistic, paranoid and epileptoid.” Humm was of the opinion that “the marriage of those with a poor hereditary background should be discouraged. Sterilization and marriage education were suggested as eugenic ideals.”

Doncaster George Humm, Bucknell University, 1909

Records show that on June 5, 1934 Caves was transferred to Graterford Prison, a newer facility, but he was returned on January 3, 1935. Nine days later he was transferred to the Lehigh County Jail, then released on parole June 26, 1936. In December 16, 1936 he was once again returned to Eastern State Penitentiary for violation of parole.

Cave was released again on parole on June 16, 1937, perhaps because his father died, but the Pittsburgh Press reported in October that Caves had nowhere to go and asked to go back to prison. He was returned on November 7th.

John M. Caves’ World War II Registration Card

By 1940 Caves was paroled again, because in April of 1942 Caves filled out a World War II registration card (for men born on or after April 28, 1877 or before February 16, 1897). At that time he listed his address as 428 Fourth Street in his hometown of Oakmont, Pennsylvania.  He was officially discharged from the penal system on January 3, 1943, which was nearly 12 years from his sentencing.

A New Life – A New Story

One year after his official release, John Murile Caves began a tour of the country with a new life story of adventure which again brought him notoriety and attention — that of an elderly seafaring captain. 

On April 10, 1944, the Cumberland News of Cumberland, Maryland said that the “80-year-old former merchant marine captain, John M. Caves, Baltimore, was taken to Memorial hospital at 7:15 pm yesterday by Officer John G. Powers after being stricken with a heart attack near Central Y.M.C.A.  His condition was reported to be fair.”

Seven months later Cave had made his way to the west coast to Southern California. In January 1945, he reportedly collapsed in Descanso, about 40 miles east of San Diego. He was picked up by the Highway Patrol and brought to San Diego and was described as “penniless and ill.” However, Caves’ story was filled with heroic yet fantastical details, saying that he was a merchant marine for 65 years, “shipping supplies in five major wars, six historical rebellions, captaining the lead ship in the first convoy to Guadalcanal, and losing his own ship January 16, 1942, off the coast of Newfoundland.”

He told Patrolman George Dowdy that he was hitch-hiking home to Philadelphia so that he could get medical attention and “get back into service again.” The San Diego Union promulgated this “fantastic story” but didn’t seem to question any detail. Caves, who claimed again to be from Norway, said that at age 10 he was a mess boy “on an old Norwegian sailing vessel” and that he had traveled no less than 208 trips around Cape Horn. When asked about a wife, he said he married a daughter of another sea captain many years ago, but she had died of scarlet fever while rounding the Horn. 

Additionally, Caves claimed to have continued his career “through World War II and until, he left a ship at Richmond, California in December 14, 1943, his career was halted by a hit-and-run auto driver.”

He gave his date of birth as January 4, 1861 (21 years earlier than his actual birth year) and his birthplace as Upland, Norway. The newspaper article concluded with a story that Caves was the captain of the Jenny P. Higy (or Hickey in other accounts), which sunk off the coast of Newfoundland in 1942, “carrying 250 Polish refugees and a crew of 85.” All lives were saved but Caves lost his life savings. (Editor’s Note: No record could be found a ship by this name being sunk or a similar event.)

Rather than head to Philadelphia as planned, one month later “Captain” Caves was in Shreveport, Louisiana waiting for transportation to his “hometown” of Baltimore. It was a very familiar story published in the Shreveport Journal in February 1945, but with the added embellishment that he was the captain of the Paul Revere which brought needed supplies to Marines in Guadalcanal. His ship was torpedoed three times during 1941 and 1942. Caves shared the same story of losing a wife to scarlet fever.

The following month Caves arrived by train in Indianapolis, Indiana sickly and penniless. His age was given as 84 when he was really 63, but he happily told his yarns of his “long and colorful maritime career.”  He was, he said, headed to Baltimore.

However, three months later he was in Ogden, Utah. Seemingly in much better health he was entertaining folks with his stories at a local canteen. The Ogden Standard-Examiner reported on June 23, 1945 that Caves was the “oldest seafaring maritime captain still on active duty” who had “a store of sea tales as long as his years of service.” These talks, of course, included the sinking of the Jenny P. Hickey, and leading a convoy to Guadalcanal. Caves however, was not trying to get back home (to either his hometown in Philadelphia or Baltimore) but “to pick up another ship and another cargo of supplies to carry somewhere across the sea.”

Across the country and back in 1945

The following month, in July, Caves had not traveled east but west, and was in Tulare, California where he had collapsed from another heart attack. Information was provided that he was a retired sea captain but still “in service of the government at Port Hueneme.” His age was listed as 70 years old, which was a bit closer to his actual.

Just as when he claimed to have walked around the world, his only evidence of his seafaring career was saved newspaper clippings about himself from various towns he had visited.

In August of 1946, Caves was in a Bethsaida hospital in Maryland, after suffering yet another heart attack. Caves said he was “visiting” in Baltimore, but on his way to San Diego when he stricken.

One month later John M. Caves was in an Albuquerque jail for being in “a dazed condition.” It was assumed he was drunk (and likely he was) but because he claimed he was 87 years old, the police had pity on him and took him to the hospital. However, it was his second visit to the same hospital in as many days and the hospital said they could not handle him, so he was taken to the county jail. When taken to jail he “relapsed into a coma” and could not speak “from the effects of a medicine found in his possession.”

The police found previously published newspaper articles that Caves had collected about himself, one published out of Kansas stating that he was born in Superland, Norway and was a sea captain for 32 years. It seems while in Chapman, Kansas he stayed at a hospital there and officials discovered several receipts or bills for various hospitals around the country. Caves was crisscrossing the country, having “heart attacks”, telling his stories, collecting newspaper articles about himself, along with the bills, and going on to the next town.

He reportedly made his way to Newark, New Jersey in January of 1947 only to travel back west to California.

Oceanside, California

In February of 1947 he was found “writhing in pain” on a sidewalk in downtown Oceanside. It seems he had suffered another heart attack, but Captain Harold Davis took him to the local hospital where he made a quick recovery after taking “a heart pill.” Caves said he was on his way to Corona by bus but didn’t have any money. Davis bought the stranger some food, who claimed now to be 87 years old, listened to his stories of the sea and purchased him a bus ticket so he could go on to his next destination.

Months later, in October, Caves was in Redding, California where he suffered another one of his trademark heart attacks.  However, the next month while in Sacramento it was determined he was “just drunk” and not ill and was booked in the county jail.  In 1948 he was in El Paso, Texas where he was hospitalized for, (you guessed it) a heart attack. 

John Muriel Caves with his nurse at Oceanside in 1951

In March of 1951 John Caves was back in Oceanside, California. The Oceanside-Blade Tribune reported the following:

Police were called the other night to a modest room in a local hotel—an elderly man, a heart attack, not much if any money—and thereby hangs a tale. It’s a tale of the sea, of iron men and wooden ships, dating back to the middle of the last century. As it turns out, the tale has been told before, and Capt. Harold Davis of the local police department, along with a few other people, are wondering about it.”

Well, at least there was some skepticism but that didn’t keep the paper from sharing his stories, including how he was born in an igloo in Norway!

The account continued:  “Further checking by Capt. Davis showed that the man suffered heart attacks in this city in January [1947], and again in April, and there is evidence to show that his heart has put him in hospitals in other communities in California and Arizona at least. These circumstances, plus the fact that hospital nurses and Capt. Davis don’t think the man looks as old as the 92 years he claims to be, make observers somewhat doubtful. After all, a policeman of 20 years becomes so accustomed to hearing stories that he is inclined to believe nothing which can’t be documented. Still, it is a good story and the grizzled old gentleman tells is simply and well. He can’t prove it with papers, except for news clippings he has collected from other interviews, but on the other hand, his listeners can’t disprove it either. As far as we know, it may just be the best yarn since Edgar Allen Poe’s fabulous trans Atlantic balloon race.”

The Oceanside Blade Tribune then printed Caves’ “biography”, which was slightly similar in detail to other previous versions, but included mostly a new and different story of his early sea-faring career:

Capt. John Murile Caves, a Norseman, was born in 1859 in the Land of the Midnight Sun in an igloo. One of several children, he went to sea as a cabin boy when he was 10 years old, aboard a barkentine bound for San Francisco, around Cape Horn. From there the ship loaded with wheat and barley bound for England, and then back to Norway.

Later he shipped again aboard a three-masted, full-rigged ship to Boston with a load of matches. When they docked, he tried to run away, but was caught and taken back aboard ship.

Young Caves made a number of voyages, spending 11 years on Norwegian ships. On one cruise in 1881 his ship had docked in Baltimore, and was ready to set sail for San Francisco, when Caves met a man who agreed to help him get off the ship just before it sailed. He put his bags and seat chest in the forecastle, and that night a small boat came alongside and took Caves ashore.

He lay low for three months, living in the attic of a large hotel outside Baltimore, and then went to the US commissioner to get his first papers. He became naturalized in 1886, went to sea again aboard a ship to San Francisco, and on that particular trip the vessel sprang a leak out on the Atlantic. The crew had to pump her by hand all the way around Cape Horn to Frisco to keep her afloat, Caves recalls.

After that trip Caves decided to become a steward, but one trip and went back to being an able-bodied seaman. He said the crews, who were often shanghaied in those days, complained too much about the food.

By hard work and the good fortune of having captains over him who could teach him, Caves eventually worked his way up. On Caves’ second cruise the captain of the ship had his family aboard, including, two daughters who were school teachers and who helped young Caves with his education.

In 1890 he joined the US navy to increase his seafaring knowledge, signing on for four years, but stayed in for 10 and took part in the Spanish-American war. When he was discharged at Norfolk, he took the examination and received his captain’s license.

All told, Capt. Caves has been in five wars, serving in the merchant marine in all but the Spanish-American. The others are the Boxer war, the Boer war and World Wars 1 and 11. In the last one, in 1943, he says his ship was bombed on a return trip from the Marshall Islands. For 32 years he sailed the seven seas as ship’s captain.

Since the war his health has not been good, and when he was taken ill here Tuesday night he had come from a US merchant marine hospital in Fort Stanton, N.M. He was en route to Santa Ana, where a government pension check awaits him, and then he planned to go to Port Chicago to see a nephew who is about to ship out on his first deep-sea voyage as ship’s captain.

The article ended with this curious and telling notation: “Thursday afternoon, disappointed because the newspaper story had not appeared yet, Capt. Caves boarded a bus to Santa Ana.”

Just days later Caves was back in Oceanside. The Blade-Tribune said he had been in the hospital at Santa Ana for a heart attack. This return visit to Oceanside was not quite as welcoming as he landed in jail for vagrancy charges after panhandling.

After leaving Oceanside Caves traveled to Modesto three weeks later, had his requisite heart trouble but was jailed for vagrancy.

Two years later, in March of 1953, he stopped in Tucson, Arizona but was arrested for being drunk in public. Three weeks later Caves was in a Las Cruces, New Mexico hospital.

In June of 1953, Caves was on his fourth visit to Oceanside. This time he was given a Greyhound Bus Ticket by the “Oceanside Community Chest”, a local charity, for a one way trip to Los Angeles. The voucher was signed by Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department.

Conclusion

From 1956 to 1957 Caves traveled back and forth to Baltimore only to come back to San Diego, then on to Denver, Kansas City, Missouri, to Indianapolis, Indiana to Claymont, Pennsylvania and then to New York.

His brother Samuel Meredith Caves died in May of 1956. His sister Mary Caves, who faithfully attended his murder trial in support of her brother, died November 28, 1956 at the age of 77. On January 2, 1958 his last surviving sibling, Henry Adams Caves, died of a self-inflicted gunshot.

One of the last mentions of John Murile Caves was found on May 15, 1958 in the Evening Sun, Baltimore, Maryland. Isaac Berman, a real estate agent had been receiving bills from hospital and ambulance services all over the west coast addressed to “Capt. John M. Caves. Berman was quoted as saying, “Who is this man and why did he give my address?”

The Evening Sun announced that Caves was receiving welfare and had given the 228 South Broadway address as his home, and supplied it to the police as well.

Caves had been in the Maryland hospital in 1956, claiming to be 99 years old. He told the staff he came from New Mexico with money given to him by a minister. His next trip, he said, was to Washington, D. C. to see about his military pension. This was a story repeated in many of the articles, but he never received a pension because of the fact that he was never in the military or merchant marines.

He stayed for a full two weeks at the Maryland hospital and then just walked out one day. Although Caves claimed chest pains, the hospital had found nothing wrong with him, noting he ate “like a horse.” His two week stay in Room 528 was $400 which like dozens others went unpaid. Other bills were left unpaid as well. Exasperated Berman said, “I guess I’ll be sending mail back to the Post Office for him as long as I live.”

It seems that soon after this unwanted publicity, Caves was sent to stay at Delaware State Hospital Cemetery in New Castle. Many of the patients there were diagnosed with mental illness and a variety of disorders.

Delaware State Hospital aka Farnsworth

John Murile Caves died January 23, 1961, at the age of 79. He was buried in the Delaware State Hospital Cemetery and was given just a number to mark his burial spot.

The cube marking the gravesite of John Murile Caves (from findagrave.com)

According to Cris Barrish of WHYY, the cemetery “has 776 such cubes that are arranged in concentric circles in what’s now known as the Spiral Cemetery. A small and weathered stone angel with her hands clasped in prayer serves as a lone sentinel over the lost souls. Patients without families who would or could afford to bury them were instead laid to rest on site.”

View of square markers in the Delaware State Hospital cemetery (Cris Barrish, WHYY)

With all the attention and publicity he had received for four decades, his nameless resting place belies the colorful, if not fabricated, and sometimes troubled life of an infamous wanderer.

Thomas Happel, Fugitive

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Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department kept several scrapbooks in which he placed newspaper clippings, letters, and photographs, some of which were graphic in nature. Throughout these books, he wrote personal notes and memories about a particular crime or accident, or about a fellow officer he enjoyed working with in his long career.

Captain Harold B. Davis in 1955

Included in the many pages of one scrapbook were two mugshots of a Thomas Happel, along with two newspaper articles from the local newspaper. In his photos, Happel does not appear to be a hardened criminal, but he may just be one of the few, if not only person, to successfully escape from the Oceanside jail.

Mugshot of Thomas Happel

On September 25, 1951, Motorcycle Officer Hubert C. Russell spotted what he thought was a suspicious vehicle at a local service station. He noted a small corner window of the car was broken, and then noticed two teenage girls seated inside the vehicle while a young man talked outside with an attendant. A closer inspection of the car revealed keys that were broken off in the door locks and as the officer peered inside, “a jumble of blankets, clothing and other items.

With the likelihood of the car being stolen, Russell made contact with the driver, Thomas Happel, and instructed him to follow him to the police station. Happel seemingly complied and drove dutifully the few blocks to the Oceanside Police Department, then located at 305 North Nevada Street.

After pulling into the parking lot, Officer Russell waited for Happel to park, but instead Happel put his car into drive and sped away. Happel traveled north on Freeman Street with Russell in pursuit, joined by fellow Officer Paul Ricotta. As he attempted to make a left turn at Eighth Street (now Neptune) and make his way to Highway 101, Happel ran off the road and hit a house. Unhurt all three occupants of the car emerged and fled on foot. An unidentified Marine witnessed the trio running, followed by two uniformed officers, and took action, heading off Happel and bringing him down “with a flying tackle.”

Oceanside Motorcycle Officers Paul Ricotta and Hubert Russell

After taking Happel into custody, Oceanside Police discovered that Thomas Happel was an 18-year-old Air Force private who had gone “AWOL” from Lowery Fareli Field in Denver, Colorado. Walking away from his duty station, he stole a 1950 Ford and drove to his home state of Maryland, some nearly 1700 miles away. In Brooklyn, Maryland Happel picked up the two girls, ages 15 and 16, and obtained Maryland license plates for the stolen car, using a “phony registration slip.” Then the trio drove headed west, driving across the country while Happel cashed or wrote bad checks to pay for gas and food. Just before coming to California, Happel stole two wheels and tires in Arizona. 

The girls were never publicly identified because of their age, and were taken to the Anthony House in San Diego and then returned to their parents in Maryland.

Happel was booked and placed into a cell in the Oceanside jail, which was located on the second floor of the police station. That same night Happel escaped from his cell by breaking a bar off the grating of a roof ventilator and squeezing through a narrow opening. The Oceanside Blade Tribune described the scene: “The opening he made at one end of the grating was about seven inches wide and 10 inches long. Happel is about 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 130 pounds. The bar which he broke was not one of the original ones in the grating but had been welded on the cross-pieces after a similar escape attempt was once made through the opening.”

The account went on to say that “Happel must have had help from other prisoners in the cell block in order to get up to the ceiling and work the bar loose. When he had the piece of steel free, he used it to force the next bar over enough to get through.”

With Happel’s escape his list of charges continued to grow and the F.B.I. were now involved.  On the run, Happel stole another car, a Cadillac, which he abandoned in Fontana, California. He apparently stole yet a third vehicle and made his way east.

Mugshot, right profile, Thomas Happel

Three weeks later the Oceanside Police Department received word that Happel had been apprehended by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and was in custody in Oklahoma City. The fugitive was caught after a traffic accident at Woodward, Oklahoma and apparently tired of running, admitted his identity to law enforcement.

It was reported that Happel would be made to return to Oceanside to face charges, including felony escape, but it seems he managed to “escape” extradition and perhaps served his time elsewhere. Thomas Happel, it appears, gave up his brief stint as an outlaw and went on to live a presumably quiet life in south Florida.

The scrapbooks of Harold Davis hold many more stories waiting to be told…  

The History of Boxing in Oceanside

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Al Barber and Battling Doty

Boxing fans may be interested to learn about the history of the sport and the stories of two early boxers in Oceanside.

Fighters in the early 20th century like Jim Jeffries, Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey ignited interest around the country and filled arenas for both amateur and professional bouts. But shortly after organized matches were brought to Oceanside, boxing was banned here for two decades.

John L. Sullivan, a bareknuckle fighter who became the first American heavyweight champion in 1882, may have been the inspiration for Oceanside’s founder Andrew Jackson Myers.  Myers, who was known to race a horse or two, was once featured in a local bout. The South Oceanside Diamond announced on August 10, 1888, that Myers would face the “Great Unknown” in a “grand slugging exhibition at the old Pavilion.” Spectators had to pay 50 cents to view the event, which also featured Myers’ son Joseph Myers and Charles Kolb in a bare-knuckle contest. 

Andrew Jackson Myers, Oceanside’s Founder

Local boxing enthusiasts were likely pleased when in 1908 the Oceanside Blade reported that the “Blake brothers have fitted up a gymnasium at the Mira Mar hotel for the free use of the young men of the town. The outfit is composed of a turning pole, swinging rings and trapeze.  Some of the citizens intend adding a punching bag, boxing gloves, etc., which will make it very complete. The hall room is used for the purpose.”

Aloysius Cloud Thill, known as “Allie”, was one of the first local boxers to box professionally. He was the son of Andrew and Clara Thill who relocated to Southern California, along with younger son Francis around 1910.

Born October 29, 1898, in Buffalo, Minnesota, Allie Thill was both studious and athletic. He was the Vice President of the Freshmen Society at the Oceanside-Carlsbad High School and played on the school baseball team.

The elder Thill owned a popular barber shop for years and both he and his son Allie shared the occupation. The Oceanside Blade commented on Thill’s barbershop in 1914: “A. Thill recently placed in front of his tonsorial parlor on Cleveland Street one of the niftiest barber poles ever seen in these parts, it is of the rotary kind and when lighted up at night makes a fellow want to get shaved whether he needs it or not.”

Andrew Thill, father of Aloysius Thill, at his barber shop. Edwin W. Everett seated.

In 1914 a group of Oceanside businessmen formed the California Social Club. Founding members included Hale Backensto and Andrew Thill. The club was formed for “educational and amusement purposes”. The source of amusement it seems was found in alcohol, which would find the club embroiled in controversy. But one other purpose of the organization was to hold boxing matches in Oceanside.

Hale Backensto, president of the Social Club, was in trouble for operating a “blind pig” or selling liquor without a license. He was arrested three times, and twice acquitted. He filed a $5,000 lawsuit against L. W. Stump, justice of the peace, and G. D. Love, constable for damages. Backensto’s arrests and subsequent lawsuit did not make him friends with the Oceanside City Council and Andrew Thill resigned from the social club.

Just before his 18th birthday, Allie Thill stepped into the boxing ring. He went by the name of Al Barber. The Oceanside Register shared some of the highlights of Al’s first fight against Fred Fadley on September 29, 1915: “Al Thill Wednesday night won an honor for himself and for Oceanside when be fought Fred Fadley in a four round go at the Field rink in San Diego. Although the fight was a draw Thill did splendid work and had fearful odds, his opponent being a trained fighter. Thill was supported by a score of local fans, whose voices were heard above the other 800 members of the audience. He won the favor of the whole crowd when he started the bout with an aggressive campaign against his opponent, giving him three punches for every one he received in the first round. In the second. Thill easily doubled the points over Fadley, but owing to lack of training, he tired out before the finish. With remarkable cleverness the local champ held off the well figured out blows of the San Diego fighter, but at two or three occasions failed to grasp opportunities to lay his opponent on his back. Had it not been for this, he would doubtlessly have been given the decision.”

Thill certainly made an impression, especially since he had started boxing only a week prior to his first match! Given direction by W. A. Roche, a member of the notorious California Social Club, Al Thill quickly became a local favorite, known for his heavy punch. 

The excitement of Thill’s prowess and future success brought boxing to Oceanside when the following month several bouts were held at Mildred Hall on North Tremont Street. The Oceanside Blade reported that “Frank Fields of San Diego, outboxed Charlie Tapsico, an Oceanside product, for three rounds of what was to have been a four-round bout.” (Charles Tapsico was an amateur boxer only and a mechanic by trade.)

Oceanside resident Charles Tapsico was featured in a local bout

Summaries of the other bouts were as follows: “Red Gardner stopped Blacky Sandow in two rounds while Billy Howard performed the same service for Billy Patton in the third. Al Barber secured the decision over Shano Rodriguez of Tia Juana, the contest going four rounds in one of the bouts.” The article concluded with the sensationalized detail that “there was a satisfactory amount of gore visible to satisfy the fans and the crowd seemed to have obtained the worth of the fifty and seventy-five cents charged for the seats.”

Despite the previous lawsuits and scandals, in November of 1915 the California Social Club held a subsequent boxing match in Oceanside promoted by Frank Fields, former boxing champion and promotor of San Diego.

Mildred Hall (arrow) where early boxing matches were held

In March of 1916 Allie Thill began training with Frank Fields. Thill and Fred Fadley fought again the following month at Oceanside’s Mildred Hall but once again the bout ended in a draw. The fight drew over 100 attendees who also saw other matches, one with locals Frank Mebach and William Patton, followed by Joe Lopez who outboxed the Oklahoma Kid, and then another draw between Windy Briley and Shining Oscar.

Al Thill would finally get his first winning decision on April 29th in a four-round match against “Young Sandy.”

Al Barber vs Joe Berry ad, courtesy of John Thill

On June 10, 1916 Thill as “Al Barber” faced Joe Berry, known as the “Italian Crackerjack” in Oceanside. The Oceanside Register announced the bout touting both fighters: “Berry has a knock-out punch that has set many other fighters to flee and young Barber’s courage in taking him on will win still higher praise among his many local admirers.”

At the height of enthusiasm and growing excitement of boxing matches, sanctioned or hosted by members of the now defunct California Social Club, the Oceanside City Council put an end to any and all future bouts. In July of 1916 they passed Ordinance No. 226 “Prohibiting the Holding of Sparring or Boxing Exhibition for Profit.” The ordinance read “Any person, who, within the corporate limits of the City of Oceanside, California, engages in or instigates, aids, abets or does any act to further any contest, sparring or boxing exhibition between two or more persons, with or without gloves, for prizes, reward or compensation, directly or indirectly, or who charges, receives, accepts, gives or takes any ticket, token, prize money, or thing of value from any person or persons for the purpose of seeing or witnessing any such contest, sparring or boxing exhibition —- shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $300.00 and be imprisoned for a period not to exceed three months or both such fine and imprisonment.”

Nonetheless, the Oceanside Register announced on October 20, 1916, that “Thill the Barber here, is soon to return to the boxing game. He is known as Al Barber and will meet Sandy from ‘Frisco. They are both said to be in first class condition and are about equally matched, so it ought to be a good fight.”  Due to the ban, this fight was likely not held in Oceanside.

Thill’s professional boxing career was interrupted in 1917 when he entered the Navy during world War I. Stationed in San Francisco, he met and married Cecilia Goodwin of Napa.  (This marriage ended in divorce, but Allie married again in 1926 to Ethel T. Vesely by whom he had two children.)

Oceanside’s early bandshell and arena where Al Barber boxed Kid Dillon

Although it appears his boxing career was well behind him, in July of 1919, Thill took to the ring again to entertain spectators in an exhibition held at the Oceanside Beach. The Oceanside Blade reported: “Saturday’s amusements under the supervision of W. H. Trotter were enjoyed by a crowd almost as large as that of the day before and consisted of music, dancing, sparring matches, rodeo, ball game and other sports. The boxing took place at the new band stand on the beach. Al Barber, the “Pride of Oceanside,” sparred four rounds to a draw with Kid Dillon of San Diego. Frank Fields and Battling Clark went four fast rounds, also to a draw.”

In 1924 Thill took over his father’s barbershop which had relocated to the basement of the Palace Hotel on North Hill Street (which his father built). He and his wife Ethel raised their two children, LaGloria and John (known to friends as Gloria and Jack), in a home located at 801 Alberta Street. Thill remained a sports enthusiast, hunting, golfing, playing billiards, and was one of the founders of Oceanside’s annual rough water swim. Active in a variety of local organizations, he served as commander of the Disabled American Veterans.

Al Thill died in 1962 and was laid to rest in Eternal Hills Memorial Park. His son Jack was proud of the fact that his dad never lost a professional fight.

Another Oceanside resident who stepped in the ring and went professional was George Webler, better known to boxing fans as “Battling Doty.”

Battling Doty’s “calling card”

The son of Thomas and Mary Webler, George Napoleon Webler, born in Kankakee, Illinois in 1903, was one of six children, and the oldest of three sons. George was named after his paternal grandfather, George A. Webler, who arrived in Oceanside in 1904 and operated a restaurant in downtown Oceanside.

Thomas Webler supported his large family by working at the Oceanside-Carlsbad High School as a custodian and groundskeeper. The Webler children all attended Oceanside schools, both grammar and high school. The boys were athletic and known for the prowess in foot racing and particularly baseball.

Although George Webler was skilled with a bat, he was just as well known for his fists. William Reid Couts remembered him all too well. “I remember George Webler; [he] was two grades ahead of me.  He used to beat me up pretty nearly every day. I always had a girl, you know, and Doty would want to take her away from me.  I remember one time he was on top of me, beating the hell out of me, one of the teachers took him off of me. 

“Doty was just a nickname they gave him; George was his first name.  If you looked up his records for his fight, it was Battling Doty.  He was a middleweight, I think he was a welterweight to start, but he wound up a middleweight.

George Webler did not graduate high school but instead, at the age of 17, joined the Navy. The Oceanside Blade reported on July 24, 1920, that, “George Webler has signed up as a jacktar in Uncle Sam’s Navy.” A jack tar was a term used to refer to seamen of Britain’s Merchant or Royal Navy, but by World War I it was also used for those in the U.S. Navy. The following week Webler left for training at Goat Island, San Francisco.

Webler’s time in the Navy was short because by 1921 he was back on the local Oceanside baseball team, where he played off and on for three more years.

By 1922 Webler went from a street fighter to a professional one, using the name of “Battling Doty”. In November of that year the Santa Ana newspaper reported that Battling Doty of Wintersburg was scheduled to fight Joe Riley. (Wintersburg is a small area or neighborhood near Huntington Beach, established largely by Japanese. It is unknown how or why Webler became associated with Wintersburg, he possibly lived there for a brief time.) In Oceanside he was a local favorite and by all accounts he was a powerful puncher.

Battling Doty in boxing pose

Webler lost his debut match with Riley on a technical knockout on November 15th but came back two weeks later in a rematch and won. A bout with Kid Tex ended in a win for Webler but he lost to Babe Orton in San Bernardino on March 1, 1923. Webler’s boxing career seesawed, with 28 wins, 26 losses and 7 draws. (Stats from boxerlist.com)

William Reid Couts, who spoke at length with his run-ins with Webler recounted vividly: “Man, that guy was ornery, even when he grew up he was ornery.  Mean!  I went to Escondido to see him fight one time, that’s when he was on his way down –when booze and women got him.  He was a good fighter, Doty was.  I seen him fight a couple of times. He fought everything in the west coast, the middle west. He was big time.  But you just can’t battle that booze. 

William Reid Couts in 1996.

Webler was in Escondido for a scheduled fight in 1924. Couts recalled an encounter with Doty before the match:  “I went over to Escondido and I walked in his dressing room, before Doty had this fight and he shook hands, ‘How are you?’ and all that and all of a sudden, WHAM, took me in the kidney, just WHAM.  No reason, absolutely no reason at all.  A professional fighter whacking you in the kidneys, they know where to hit, you know.  So I picked up something, I think it was a chair.  ‘I’m going to brain you, you son of a bitch.’  He said, ‘Come on, can’t you take anymore?’ ‘You watch your step,’ I said.  I always told him, ‘Someday I’m going to kill ya.’ 

From January to April of 1925 Doty dominated in the ring. He won seven consecutive bouts, two by knock out.

In March of that year Webler married Ruth Chambers of San Diego. The marriage however was short-lived. Ruth filed for annulment on the grounds that she was underage when the two married. She was just 16 ½ years old at the time of their nuptials. A judge granted the annulment in June 1925.

That year Doty fought seventeen matches professional matches, winning eleven, five of them consecutively; two ended in a draw. He fought three opponents in just as many days  in exhibition fights, which were just as long and grueling. In 1926 his win record was eight out of fifteen, with two draws. In 1927 Webler won just three out of eleven matches and was knocked out twice. His boxing career ended just after five years but his sixty-one professional fights, and numerous exhibitions took a toll.

Webler was working as a taxi driver in San Diego in 1928 and 1929. Perhaps his hard drinking caught up with him, along with the many hard punches his embattled body would have taken. Local newspapers circulated the sad story that he attempted to take his life by “inhaling gas in his room at 1334 Front Street.” He was taken by police ambulance and transported to the “psychopathic ward.”

He recovered and was released from the hospital but his life continued in a downward spiral. In 1930 he was arrested and found guilty of first-degree burglary while in Los Angeles. He was sentenced to 1 to 5 years and sent to San Quentin Prison on November 22nd.  Paroled in 1934 and discharged from supervision in 1936, Webler stayed in Northern California after his release. He worked as a shoe shiner along the Embarcadero in the 1940s.

George Webler’s mugshot, San Quentin

Unaware from his fall from grace, William Reid Couts, who had been the target of Webler as a young man, was still confounded by his assaults. “The last time I ever saw Doty I told him, ‘The day will come when I’m going to knock you from here to yesterday.’  Last I heard he was a merchant sailor.”

Then perhaps thinking of George’s probable age in 1987 (the year of his interview) added: “But he’d be 82, so I might not do it!  But believe me, I might think about it if I see him!” 

Couts was unaware of Battling Doty’s fall from grace, and his death which had occurred two decades previous. George Webler died May 31, 1966 in his hotel room at the Lincoln Hotel at 115 Market Street in San Francisco. Records indicate his cause of death was fatty degeneration of the liver, perhaps due to long term drinking. His sister Lillian Webler Newton paid his funeral and cremation expenses.

The City of Oceanside repealed the ban on boxing in June of 1938. The small town of Encinitas was featuring boxing every Thursday night and proved to be quite popular. Subsequently Councilmember Ted Holden stated at meeting that he had been approached by a “responsible party” about holding boxing matches of a “professional character”.

City Clerk John Landes informed him of the 1916 ordinance and an additional 1930 ordinance banning matches except those under the auspices of the American Amateur Union. Rather than amend the previous ordinance it was suggested a new one altogether and to update others as it was pointed out that there was an ordinance forbidding “a speed of more than 8 miles an hour for motor vehicles.”

Later that summer Jim “Dynamite” Dawson and Herb ‘‘Dangerous” Dunham faced each other in a three-round boxing bout at the beach.

In 1941 Oceanside’s Recreation Park hosted exhibition boxing. On August 29th the main event featured a three-round battle between locals Johnnie Dominic “The Vegetable King” and “Hit ’Um” Eddie Hubbard.

Amateur boxing matches were featured at the Oceanside Athletic Club shortly after it opened in 1949. (Wrestling, however, proved much more popular.)

Joe Louis and Lee Ramage match up before match in 1934.

Lee Ramage, a native of San Diego, moved to Oceanside in 1950. In 1931 he was the Light Heavyweight Champion of California and fought 105 fights over his nine-year profession career. At the peak of his career, he was ranked in the top five of heavyweight boxers. Most notably he fought Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber, TWICE. In his first meeting with Louis in Chicago in 1934, Ramage held his own for seven rounds, but Louis won by TKO. Three months later they fought again in Los Angeles with the same result. Ramage operated a gas station/grocery store and trailer camp at 1624 South Hill Street (Coast Highway) in the 1950s.

Lee Ramage

Oceanside was thrilled to host Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson in 1958. Patterson stayed at a local hotel and trained at the Beach Community Center for his title bout against Roy Harris. Patterson was accompanied by his trainer and manager, the legendary Cus D’Amato who would train boxer Mike Tyson years later. 

Floyd Patterson training in Oceanside in 1958.

The History of the Schuyler Building and a New Future as The Brick Hotel

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The Schuyler Building at 408 Pier View Way in downtown Oceanside is just one of a three surviving brick buildings erected in the 1880s. It was built a 133 years ago in 1888, likely with bricks made from the local brickyard in South Oceanside.

The building was originally owned by John Franklin Schuyler, who was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, July 2, 1836. According to a biography, Schuyler “received a common-school education” and “when sixteen years of age he went to learn the tinner’s trade, after which he worked as a journeyman in several of the western States. In 1858 he came to California, where he worked in several places, and returned to New York City in 1864.” 

Schuyler married Ann Frances Barlow in 1864 and they had three children: Mary, Frank B., and Wilton S., all born in Nebraska, where they resided until 1884, when the family moved to San Bernardino, California.

The Schuyler Building on Third Street (Pier View Way) in 1888

John and Ann Schuyler moved to Oceanside in 1887 and opened his first hardware business on Second Street (now Mission Avenue) which he purchased from Oceanside’s founder Andrew Jackson Myers. In 1888 Schuyler constructed the two-story brick building at 408 Third Street (now Pier View Way). The South Oceanside Diamond newspaper reported on March 30, 1888 that Schuyler was moving “into his new building on Third Street.” Canvas awnings were added to the building in October.

Originally built with just two stories, the first floor contained a hardware store, which sold “general hardware, cutlery, stoves and tinware, water pipes, water tanks, pumps, gasoline stoves, crockery, and glassware,” as well as plumbing. The second floor was used for a fraternal lodge as well as a community meeting room, and one time even housed Oceanside’s early library. 

Advertisement in 1888 in the South Oceanside Diamond Newspaper

A prominent and active citizen, Schuyler served on the first board of trustees when Oceanside incorporated, as well as President, a mayoral position in today’s terms.  He also served on the Oceanside’s volunteer Fire Department and erected a small building to store the city’s fire equipment. Schuyler was the founding member of the Odd Fellows Lodge in Oceanside and his storefront also bore the lodge emblem which hosted the lodge meetings on the second floor. 

Schuyler building, far right circa 1900

John Schuyler died in 1907 and his death was announced in the Oceanside Blade:  Word was received on Friday, by the local Odd Fellow lodge, of the death of John Schuyler, a former well known resident of Oceanside and the organizer of the Oceanside I. O. O. F. Lodge. Mr. Schuyler was one of the prominent businessmen of Oceanside about twenty years ago, being the pioneer hardware merchant in this city, and active in the civic life of the town during his residence here. For the past ten years or so he had been making his home in Berkeley with his older son, Frank. He is survived by two sons. F. B. Schuyler of Berkeley, and Wilton S. Schuyler of St. Joseph Mo., and one daughter, Mrs. John Bond of Berkeley. The body will be brought to Oceanside, arriving Sunday, and interment will be made in the Odd Fellow cemetery beside Mrs. Schuyler who died about fifteen years ago. Services will be held under the auspices of the local lodge and will take place at the grave at noon, proceeding directly to the cemetery from the depot.”

Years before his death the Schuyler building was sold to John H. Buchanan, who in turn sold the property later that year to Peter J. Brannen. Brannen came from Los Angeles to Oceanside and continued operation of the hardware business. In 1905 he helped to form the First National Bank of Oceanside along with D. G. Harrington, C. J. Walker, and others. That year he remodeled the interior portions of the former Schuyler building and opened it as a boarding house.

The building was sold in 1913 to Oceanside resident Mary J. Walbridge. She leased the ground floor to Jack Taylor and Refugio Romo who opened a café. The second floor was leased to Refugio and his wife Madge Romo, and together they operated the “Romo boarding house” for several years.

In 1920, it was sold to James B. and Ella Kolb in 1920. James Kolb was the son of Jonathon and Frances Kolb, who first settled in Pala and later Fallbrook. The Kolb family had ties to Oceanside as early as 1884 and son Jesse Kolb established the Oceanside Garage on Hill Street. James and Ella Kolb sold the property to Thomas Russell Harriman of Pasadena in 1923.

The faded advertisement of Contreras & Gelpi grocery store was exposed after the stucco was removed

In late November of 1924 local grocers William Contreras and Carlos Gelpi rented the first-floor storeroom of the building. The Blade reported that the two businessmen had “bought the grocery line of L. W. Stump and will move the stock to the Romo building on Third street, where they will be open for business the first of the week. Mr. Contreras is well and popularly known as an employee of the Stump store for several years past and he and Mr. Gelpi are prepared to carry on the business in a manner that will win the approval of the public of Oceanside and this part of the county.” Contreras & Gelpi painted their names on the east side of the building, facing the alley.

Harriman dramatically altered the building in 1927 by lowering the ceiling to create a third floor as the Oceanside News reported: 

The Harriman building, adjoining The News office, an old landmark in the city, will soon be a modern building. The contract for remodeling the building was let to a contracting firm in Pasadena, where Mr. Harriman resides, and work was started with a vim Monday morning.

The brick building, which is now two-stories, will be made into a three-story building. The two upper floors will be made into a rooming and apartment house and will contain 22 rooms.  The ground floor occupied by Contreras & Gelpi, grocers, will be lowered to the street level and the old wooden floor will be replaced by a cement floor.  A handsome and modern front will be installed.

The grocery is doing business under difficulties during reconstruction. They have removed their stock of groceries, vegetables, etc. to the rear of the building and are using the alley entrance for their customers.  When the cement floor is placed in the front part, the stock will be moved back, while the rear part of the building is being reconstructed. When completed this will be one of the handsomest groceries in the Southland and the firm is more than glad to undergo grief to have a new storeroom.

A stairway leading to the upper floors will be constructed leading from the front on Third street. The cost of reconstruction is said to be $15,000. This building was one of the first brick blocks constructed in the city. It was a beauty in its day but is now hopelessly out of date. When reconstructed it will be one of the handsomest buildings in the city and one of the few three-story buildings.

View looking west on Third Street (Pier View Way) Hotel Tours to the right, circa 1930

After the building’s third story was added, the 2nd and 3rd floors became a 20-room hotel.  In 1928 the Hotel Tours was managed by Joseph and Julia Liggett. The Oceanside Blade made the announcement:

Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Liggett have furnished their new hotel Tours in a very attractive manner. By the help of Clyde Mullen of the Borden Furniture Store, the furniture of the twenty rooms is complete in every detail. The rooms are finished in green enamel prettily decorated and other rooms are furnished in walnut, making in all a pleasing homelike apartment. Mr. and Mrs. Leggett, who recently arrived from Denver, Colorado, were looking for a place in Southern California in which to go into business and selected Oceanside as it seemed a thriving growing town with an especially enjoyable climate. As another inducement, Mr. and Mrs. Liggett found old friends from Missouri, Mr. and Mrs. A. L. Davis, owners of the Davis garage on Hill Street. The name Hotel Tours is the same as the hotel that the Liggett’s owned in Denver. Some of their guests were friends from Denver who stopped upon seeing a hotel with a familiar name and were surprised to greet old friends in the proprietors.

Dr. J. J. Willis, a chiropractor from Santa Ana, took over the management of the Hotel Tours in 1931. He also set up an office at the hotel to see patients, but his stay in Oceanside was a brief one.

In 1932 Robert and Jessie Dewitt briefly ran the hotel for two years, but then went on to open the DeWitt Hotel at 133 South Hill Street (Coast Highway), which was formerly the Keisker Hotel. It is likely that in the early to mid 1930s the brick exterior was covered in a block-patterned stucco, which dramatically changed the look of the building. In addition a fire escape was added to the front and rear of the building.

1934 advertisement from the Oceanside Blade Tribune

Oceanside jewelers Clay and Emma Jolliff moved their jewelry business from 511 Second Street (Mission Avenue) to 408 Third Street (Pier View Way). This too was a short-term venture, when in 1933, Harry and Pearl Crutcher leased the first floor, which was used a heating and sheet metal business. The Crutcher’s assumed the management of the hotel in 1934, advertising the rate of 75 cents and up for a “modern, clean, and refined” establishment near the beach.

Later that year the Hotel Tours was leased to Charles and Luella Cundiff, with Minnie Eckert as “hostess-manager.”  An ad was placed in the Oceanside Blade Tribune in October which read:

“WANTED GUESTS – Economize in comfort in a modem, comfortable room with free use of community kitchen and sun parlor; rates as low as 75 cents day, $3 week; room and private bath, $1.50. Hotel Tours, opp. Post office.”

View of second story hall and stairway in 2017

Harriman’s widow, Josephine, sold the building in 1941 to Berta Witzemann who in turn leased the hotel to sisters Teva and Katherine Ward and the name was changed was to the Avon Hotel.   Many of the guests and long-term tenants included military couples newly stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton.

The building with the stucco finish and fire escape, circa 1960s

W. Frank Richardson, a local commercial photographer, set up shop on the ground floor of the building for just over a decade. In 1952 the first floor of the Schuyler building was leased to Bill’s Military Store and later Big 7 Military Store, while the upper floors continued to operate as the Avon Hotel.

At least three fires were reported over a ten-year period, which were the result of a hotel guest or resident falling asleep while smoking. No injuries were reported as a result of these fires.

Saul and Sophie Collen purchased the brick building in 1970. Saul Collen operated a number of hamburger stands, amusements and other businesses in town. He raised eyebrows and made headlines in 1955 when he added a dancer at Archie’s Burgers at 211 North Tremont Street. The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported: “Something new in the technique of hamburger merchandising was inaugurated last night at Archie’s Burgers. The innovation was in the person of Jeanne Ford, a close-cropped blonde strip-tease who put on two shows on a small stage at the rear of the establishment for the benefit of the ground beef patrons. Oceanside police and Marine MPs were on hand to shoo the under-age leathernecks away and to see just how far Miss Ford went with her uncovering act. Officers reported that the management had the front window screened with canvas so that the floor show couldn’t be seen from the street.”

In 1975 the property was foreclosed upon. It appears that a retail or surplus store continued operation on the first floor, while the hotel ceased operations. Much of downtown Oceanside had become a blighted area and the Oceanside Planning Commission had noted in a 1977 report that “high and increased incidence of vice and violent crime in a concentrated section of approximately four square blocks bounded by First, Tremont, Third and Freeman Streets.” The Schuyler building was in the heart of this concentrated area.

View of the Schuyler building from the M. P. Station corner of North Tremont and Third (Pier View Way) 1985

In 1979 the building was sold to Edmond William Dominguez of Encinitas. Dominguez made alterations to the building in 1981, removing the fire escape, and changing out the windows of the front façade on the second and third floors. The building was painted in garish vertical stripes. In 1994 the property was conveyed to his niece, Marie Davies, owner of Pollos Maria restaurants in Oceanside and Carlsbad. The first floor operated as Jeanette’s Dry Cleaning and the second floor was used largely for storage.

The Schuyler building as Jeanette’s Dry Cleaning. Note covered windows.

The building seemed little more than an eyesore to many in the downtown area but in 2017 the Aldrich family purchased the former hotel with eyes to refurbishing and repurposing it as a boutique hotel. Thomas Aldrich, project manager and his sister Lauren Sweeton, hotel manager, are the great-great grandchildren of John and Jeanie Aldrich who came to Oceanside in 1926 from Connecticut. The early Aldrich’s purchased a large two-story house at 615 Second Street (now Mission Avenue), and opened a boarding house referred to as Aldrich Manor. 

The Aldrich Boarding House at 615 Second Street (Mission Avenue)

As renovation of the Schuyler building began, the stucco was painstakingly removed, slowly exposing the original brick exterior which had been hidden for decades. Emerging was the painted ad of grocers Contreras & Gelpi on the eastside of the building, along the roofline the faded words “Rooms”, harkening back to its day as a boarding house and hotel.

The Schuyler building in 2017

Historic names were considered but it seemed fitting to give it its own identity and the decision was made to call it “The Brick Hotel.”  The restoration became a rebuilding project that spanned a five-year period and included earthquake retrofitting which required building a modern steel structure inside of the existing brick walls. This was accomplished by hand digging underneath the brick in small sections to ensure the building wouldn’t collapse, then pouring concrete footings to attach the steel to support the brick wall from earthquakes.

The Aldrich family, in Oceanside nearly 100 years, continues their legacy and early roots in the hospitality business. Their collective vision for this building has transformed and revitalized the block on which it sits. When completed, it will be modernly updated, both inside and out while retaining much of its historic charm and character. The Brick Hotel will offer ten beautifully appointed suites, as well as a restaurant and oyster bar on the ground floor, and a rooftop bar providing panoramic views of the city.

Rebuilding from the inside out

John Schuyler would be pleased that his building has not only endured but has been reborn. As The Brick Hotel it will create its own history and leave its mark on Downtown Oceanside.

Newly retrofitted, The Brick Hotel will open in early 2022. Note the restored “Contreras and Gelpi” ad on the east side of building

Learn more about The Brick Hotel https://www.thebrickhotel.com/