Category: History

Crown Prince Lookout

There’s a lot of weird history from World War II. One strange chapter relates to the Air Warning Service (AWS). It was staffed by civilians, most of them female, who observed the skies of our country and warned of any approaching enemy aircraft. Of which there were none. No, the 48 contiguous states were never invaded by air, land, or sea, during World War II. At least not that I’m aware of.

About 750,000 strong searched our skies from 1942 to 1944. They were stationed along our west and east coasts. Each member of the AWS received about six weeks of training in aircraft recognition, so that they could detect the difference between friendly planes and enemy planes.

Their training proved very popular, and became a fad among those who were not in the AWS. Clubs sprang up all over the country, where members dedicated themselves to learning how to recognize aircraft. Well, they didn’t have TV in those days, so they had to do something for entertainment.

Supposedly, Crown Prince Lookout, in what was then Joshua Tree National Monument (now a National Park), was one of the many aircraft observation posts of the AWS. I say supposedly, because the information on this is sketchy.

I’ve hiked to Crown Prince Lookout several times, to search for any evidence of this post. The trail is unmarked and unmaintained, but with a little diligence, and guidance from a book, the site can be located.

Crown Prince Lookout, from the approach trail, below. There’s only one sane way up, and it’s tricky to find.

It’s a hill full of piled up granite boulders. The only way up is through a chimney-like acclivity, requiring a little bit of cragsmanship to negotiate. Atop Crown Prince Lookout is a square, cement foundation about 4 feet by 4 feet, that appears to be the remnant of a communication tower. Surrounding this foundation are a number of small, cement footings level to the ground, that appear to be the attachment points for stabilizing guy wires that kept the tower from being blown over.

Atop Crown Prince Lookout. The tower foundation is at the upper left corner of photo.

Transporting the material to build this tower, up the treacherous route to the summit of Crown Prince Lookout, must have required some ingenuity and perseverance. And then manning (or womanning, as was more likely the case) this point, with binoculars scanning the sky, looking for Zeros and bombers that never materialized, must have required tremendous patience.

Looking south, from the tower foundation.

Or maybe it was fun. For those who love to haunt high, lonely places, the solitude offered by Crown Prince Lookout may have been spiritually transformative. I can only imagine how peaceful it felt in that isolated location, in the time of the world’s largest war. It’s a great place to meditate.

Looking southwest from Crown Prince Lookout. This is likely the direction any enemy planes would have come from.

Spirit of the Thirteenth

On this day 156 years ago, the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. This was the brainchild of Abraham Lincoln, and it completely ended slavery in the United States, eight months after Robert E. Lee’s surrender. That’s right, for eight months after the Civil War ended, slavery was still legal in some parts of the U.S.A.

This year Congress created a new federal holiday, called “Juneteenth.” Juneteenth will fall on June 19th of every year, except when it occurs on the weekend, in which case it will fall on Friday, the 18th, or Monday, the 20th. It commemorates the end of slavery in Texas, which was the last Confederate state to allow slave ownership. This end occurred on June 19th, 1865.

However, slavery was still legal in two border states that had not joined the Confederacy. These were Delaware and Kentucky. Slavery had already been prohibited in the other two borders states, Missouri and Maryland, by state legislative action.

A slave market in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1864.

On December 6th, 1865, Georgia became the 27th state to approve the Thirteenth Amendment, making it an official part of our Constitution. It’s ironic that manumission was inaugurated by a former slave state of the Deep South. But let’s be real. This was more like a transfer of ownership from plantations to a fellow named Jim Crow. Conditions for African-Americans immediately after the Civil War may have been a step up from antebellum days, but I wouldn’t call it a giant leap.

Let’s also be real about slavery in general. Can it really be abolished? Or is it an integral part of human nature? From what I’ve seen, slavery is all around us. It seems to me that humans love trying to enslave each other.

For instance, have your ever loaned money to someone, and not been paid back? You worked hard for that money. So you became the borrower’s slave.

Are you working hard to pay off credit cards that charge interest at usury rates? Now you’re the borrower, but still a slave.

Are you always doing favors for someone, who never returns favors? Slavery.

Addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs? This is slavery to the purveyors of those substances.

Can’t stop blogging? Don’t want to let your followers down? You could be a blogoholic slave.

Are you working two or more jobs at minimum wage, and barely making ends meet? Some would call you a wage-slave.

Do your kids do chores without pay? If so then you’re the master and they’re your little slaves.

Yep, slavery is all over the place. Ever check out those tags on the clothes you buy? Most clothing sold in America is produced in third world countries, and often by children working long hours in factories under miserable conditions, for meager pay. How is this not slavery?

The coffles of illegal immigrants flooding across our borders contain our imported slaves. We can thank slavery for some of those nice fruits and vegetables sold cheap at the supermarket.

Sex trafficking? That’s a euphemism for sex slavery.

My wife gave me a honeydew list. Slavery, in my view.

My boss at work always appreciated it when employees worked off-the-clock, or through their lunch breaks. And this kept him off their backs. He understood the value of slavery.

Slavery is so much a part of the human condition, and of every culture, that I don’t think there’s any way to completely escape it. The best we can do is avoid it as much as possible. So try to keep people from exploiting you. And try to avoid exploiting others. Don’t expect anyone to be your slave.

And then you will honor the true spirit of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Mission San Luis Rey

Back in the 90’s, my wife and I made it our mission to visit missions. We set a goal to see all of the old Spanish missions in California. There are 21 in total, and so far we’ve managed to tour 16. We planned to visit four more in 2020, but then Covid hit and the missions were closed to tourists.

California is reluctantly returning to normal, and our coronaphobia has been slowly ebbing. All of the missions are once again open to the public, so next week we’re heading off to visit a trio of them. We hope to get there before the omicron variant sets off a new wave of paranoia.

Meanwhile, the very first mission we saw together, about 25 years ago, was Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, located in Oceanside, California. A few weeks ago we traveled to Oceanside and paid that mission a repeat visit.

Mission San Luis Rey. That’s my wife in the purple muumuu, trying to get away from me and my pesky camera. The sky was unbelievably clear and blue that morning, but by mid-afternoon a heavy fog rolled in from the Pacific. Which is typical weather for Oceanside.

Mission San Luis Rey was founded in 1798. Its location near the San Luis Rey River was meant to bridge the gap between Mission San Diego de Alcala and Mission San Juan Capistrano. The idea of the old Spanish planners was to space the missions out so that they were all within a day’s walk from each other. Thus, if you were to travel by foot from the furthest south mission in San Diego, to the furthest north mission in Sonoma, you’d always have a safe shelter to lay your head at night.

Mission San Luis Rey de Francia was named after King Louis IX of France, who reigned from 1226 to 1270, and who was the only French king to be canonized as a saint. Why saints were shot out of a cannon, I’ll never figure out. Must have been one of those weird medieval practices.

King Louis IX, brandishing an ancient sex toy. No wonder he was canonized.

The first head of Mission San Luis Rey was Father Antonio Peyri, and he knew what the hell he was doing. This man of the cloth missed his calling. He should have been a businessman. Under Peyri’s leadership, San Luis Rey became the largest, most prosperous, and most populated of all the California missions.

It arrogated a million acres of surrounding land, it enslaved 2,700 Luiseno Indians, and it developed gigantic herds of livestock, including 50,000 cattle and sheep, 1,300 goats, 300 pigs, and 2,000 horses. At its peak in 1831, it produced 395,000 bushels of grain, and drowned California in 2,500 barrels of wine.

Inside the mission church, where mass is still held on a regular basis.

Father Peyri also planted the very first pepper tree in California. The seed for this tree was brought from Peru as a gift, by a sailor. This tree grew high, wide, and strong, and propagated. It’s the ancestor of all the California pepper trees found throughout the state. And this original tree, planted by Father Peyri, is still living, providing a broad swath of shade on the mission grounds, even today.

Father Peyri’s Pepper Tree.

In the 1830s, the new country of Mexico decided to secularize the Spanish missions. Father Peyri despaired over this and returned to Spain, where he died a few years later. Under secularization, mission lands were supposed to be distributed to the Indians, but that didn’t last long. And at Mission San Luis Rey, as well as the other missions, the Indians were soon run off, with their lands taken over by powerful Mexican politicians and ranchers.

In 1846, the Mexican governor of California, Pio Pico, and his brother Andres Pico, took over most of the vast acreage surrounding the mission. But shortly after that, California was conquered by the United States during the Mexican-American War, and the mission was abandoned, neglected, and fell into ruins.

The mission cemetery. Many of the graves date back to the 1800s.

In fact, this was happening to all the missions, and it seemed they would crumble into the pages of history, and only be remembered in whimsical paragraphs penned by nostalgic historians. But then, on March 18, 1865, exactly four weeks before he died, President Abraham Lincoln signed an executive order that returned the California missions to the Catholic Church.

The original executive order, signed by Lincoln, is on display at Mission San Luis Rey.

This order was mainly for the buildings. Most of the land that surrounded the missions was never returned. Still, it was a necessary step toward preserving these ancient, historic structures.

It took awhile, but in 1892 a group of Franciscan friars arrived from Mexico and began restoring the ruins of Mission San Luis Rey. And today most of the mission has been refurbished to its original grandeur, although there are a few restoration projects still in the works.

The Franciscan Order does not have monks. Rather, they are called “friars.” This is a group of friars exiting the mission about a hundred years ago, probably after cooking a hearty chicken lunch. The camera I had back then could only take black-and-white photos, so please pardon the lack of color.

You can attend mass at Mission San Luis Rey, as it is a working parish of the Catholic Church. We enjoyed our time there, and the peaceful, numinous atmosphere that we encountered as we strolled the grounds. It’s a beautiful place to visit.

Carriage Arch. This is one of the last remnants of the mission’s original quadrangle. Father Peyri’s pepper tree is at the middle-right, in the Retreat Gardens.

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