Catalina Island
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December 14, 2017 - 8:51pm

Articles by Jim Watson

I have long wanted to a column on the fascinating story of Juana Maria, otherwise known as the “Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island,” and a bit of news last week has finally given me an excuse to do so.

Despite the fact that Scott O’Dell’s award-winning novel “The Island of the Blue Dolphins” has been required reading in many California schools for generations (and an excellent 1964 film), no doubt some of you are unfamiliar with the story.

Not that I feel constrained to limit ghost stories to certain, appropriate times of the year, but I have another little such tale I would like to “pass on” (pun intended) to you before we completely leave Halloween week.

You may recall an earlier column I wrote many moons ago titled “The Ghost in the Grumman Goose” wherein a Grumman Goose seaplane on its way to Catalina in 1947 with a plane full of happy passengers got lost in cloud cover near the Island.  

With Halloween just around the corner, it should be no surprise to anyone that, for this issue, “Mysterious Island” will turn to some of the Island’s most legendary ghost stories in none other than the legendary Avalon Casino.

Many of these stories revolve around the Mezzanine level between the downstairs theater and the upstairs ballroom, specifically the area around the women’s restroom on the building’s west side.

Slumbering beneath the serene waters of Cat Harbor on Catalina’s West End, sunk within the muds and shifting sands within the earthen confines of Ballast Point lie the remains of another chapter in Catalina’s maritime mysteries:  the wreck of the Chinese junk Ningpo.

If bulkheads could talk, these ship’s walls (or what’s left of them) could tell a harrowing tale of rebellion, warfare and assorted seafaring horrors.

By Jim Watson

We return you once again to the Mysteries of the Deep and another little gem I discovered while perusing vintage copies of the Catalina Islander. This one comes from the Jan. 14, 1925, edition of this very paper and involves a remarkable catch a fisherman made while surf fishing near Portuguese Bend in San Pedro.

“Strange Sea Freak Has Alligator Head, Body of Swordfish, Web Feet” says the headline of the short news article all the way back on page 9 of that issue.

In case your high school Italian isn’t so good, or if your high school didn’t offer Italian, the title of this segment roughly translates to “The Haunted Restaurant.”

As you may have surmised, this particular restaurant is one of several Italian restaurants in Avalon and one of my favorites on the Island.
But aside from the delicious Scampi al Vino Bianco and the incredible Luna Piena di Pollo, the restaurant holds another fascination for me: it just happens to have some of Avalon’s most astounding ghost stories.

From our “Maritime Mysteries” department comes this week’s column on an age-old, head-scratching riddle that has dogged historians for decades.  I know that just this morning you, too, were wondering, “Where in the world was Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo buried?”

For nearly a century, Catalina Island was poked and prodded by mining interests in the pursuit of a variety of earth’s metallic treasures, notably silver, lead and zinc and (to a far lesser extent) gold. The remnants of this once robust era are still out there in the hills and, as you will see if you keep prospecting deeper into this column, there is no shortage of mystery surrounding them.

This is the first of a three-part series on the mysterious system of natural caves and man-made mines on Catalina.

We all know and love the fresh air and rolling green hills of Catalina in the springtime; hills that fade to khaki beneath Monet skies in the summer.  But few people are aware that beneath this splendor, the Island is riddled with natural caves and the long-lost tunnels and forgotten mines of a bygone era when a significant portion of the Island’s revenue was gained by mineral operations.

Most regions of the country have, as part of their folklore, tales of “mysterious lights” that appear to lucky observers from time to time.

Known collectively as “ghost lights,” these phantasms are assigned paranormal causes by some, but written off by scientists as the spontaneous ignition of swamp gases or the atmospheric refraction of distant campfires, car headlights and even porch lights.