Orange County's Great Drought of 1864

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Back to the future!

Rain finally hit Southern California earlier this week--flash floods in the Inland Empire, downpours in Long Beach, 0.001 of an inch in Fullerton. It inspired reams of social-media snark in our parched region, bitter humor to make sense of a historic drought that has gone on for three years now with no signs of deliverance in the near or far future.

Meteorologists keep telling us we're suffering the worst dry spell on record, and they're right in a sense--data with the Western Regional Climate Center, California's official tracker of weather figures, goes back only to 1895. But in the annals of Southern California exist detailed accounts of an even-harsher drought that fundamentally changed the region: a two-year debacle that hit its driest days 150 years ago, in what a rancher of the era described as "perfect devastation."

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Axioms for Organizers, Collection of Sayings by Legendary Community Organizer Fred Ross, to Be Released This Month!

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Photo courtesy of Fred Ross, Jr.
Ross, at left, with César Chávez
Earlier this summer, legendary community activists Fred Ross, Sr. was finally inducted into the California Hall of Fame. Ross, you may have heard your pinko commie friends once say, was a titan of civil rights in California, mentoring a young César Chávez, helping to orchestrate the rise of Latino power in East Los Angeles, and even scoring some victories in Orange County before vendidos ran him out of town at the behest of their gabacho overlords. Awesome, awesome guy.

A ceremony for Ross and other inductees (which this year include Joan Didion, Francis Ford Coppola, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) is scheduled for October in Sacramento. In the meanwhile, Ross' son, union organizer Fred Ross, Jr., is prepping an e-book of his dad's sayings.

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Emigdio Vasquez, Legendary Chicano Artist, Passes Away

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Photo by Keith May
Vasquez, in front of his "controversial" mural, in 2009

Emigidio Vasquez, a legendary Chicano artist most famous for his epic murals that continue to dot Orange County, passed away yesterday after a long illness. He was 74.

Born in the mining town of Jerome, Arizona, Vasquez moved to Orange's Cypress Street barrio in the 1940s and eventually gravitated toward painting. In his heyday, he achieved the almost-impossible: mainstream, underground AND governmental success, as his works became famous nationwide among art lovers and lionized among Chicano activists. He even scored contracts to do public murals for the county of Orange (the sprawling epic of OC history off the old OCTA bus terminal near the Civic Center in SanTana) and the city of Anaheim (in a mural located in the lobby of Anaheim City Hall) during the 1980s.

Unfortunately, Orange County is an ingrate, and Vasquez and his supporters spent the last years of his life trying to preserve his work from being destroyed by the elements, indifference, and law enforcement.


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Santiago Canyon College Names Library in Honor of Lorenzo Ramirez, Plaintiff in Mendez, et al v. Westminster

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Courtesy of the Ramirez family
Lorenzo, at left, with his sons and wife
Slowly but surely, the forgotten heroes of OC history are getting their due, getting rooms and parks and other public spaces named after them (so much better than naming streets after Klan members, ¿que no?). Last month, the Rancho Santiago Community College District Board of Trustees took a step in this right direction by naming the Santiago Canyon College Library after civil rights pioneer Lorenzo Ramirez.

Ramirez, you may not recall, was one of five fathers who were plaintiffs in Mendez, et al v. Westminster, the school desegregation case in the late 1940s that served as a precursor to the far-more-famous Brown v. Board of Education. Mendez, et al is pretty well known in Southern California at this point, but almost all of the attention was placed on the Mendez family, with the other four clans relegated to a footnote at best.

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Origins of the Bowers Museum's Bell Rock and Maze Stone

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Photos by Joel Robinson
Bell Rock at Bowers Museum Courtyard
Have you ever been to the old courtyard in Bower's
Museum? If so, did you notice the
large granite boulders placed amongst the landscaping? If you look closely, you'll find that
one of the boulders is called the Bell Rock Its surface is strewn with cupules and the underside is curved like the palm of a hand. The other one, tucked away in some old cactus, is known as the Maze Stone, which has faint carvings of a maze-like pattern on its surface. Both boulders were relocated to Bowers from the Santa Ana Mountains in the 1930s--and this is where our story begins.


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Orange County's Loneliest Boneyard: Holy Cross Cemetery in Anaheim

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Photos by Yesenia Varela
One of the cemetery's antiquated tombstones
You know a cemetery is lonely when the man in charge of it doesn't have a clue about its history. And that's exactly the case with Holy Cross Cemetery in Anaheim, one of the oldest Catholic cemeteries in Orange County--and one of the most overlooked.

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Miguel Suarez Orozco, Pioneering Spanish-Language OC Journalist, Passes Away

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Photo courtesy of Carla Zarate
Que descance en paz, maestro....
If you were a reporter who was covering Latino anything in Orange County from the early 1990s through the middle of last decade, you knew who Miguel Suárez Orozco was even if you never talked to him. He was always the unassuming reporter with a Canon around his neck, a notepad and pen in his hands, and inevitably wearing a sports coat--the epitome of a class act. He was an entertainment reporter and editor for Excelsior, the Spanish-language weekly of the Orange County Register from 1993 until 2008, and before that, a longtime presence in Southern California Spanish-language media.

Last week, Suarez Orozco passed away at 73 years from cancer at his home in Palm Desert.

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"Mystic Arts" Returns to Laguna Beach

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Close up of Dion Wright's Taxonomic Mandala
Anyone familiar with Orange County's 1960s folklore knows that Laguna Beach was the center of Southern California's underground hippie scene.

In fact, that center had a street address: 670 S. Coast Hwy., where, just after the 1967 Summer of Love, a head shop, art gallery, book store and exotic-goods retailer opened its doors. Mystic Arts World, as the place was known, was also essentially a front for the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, the legendary group of surfers and smugglers who for a time operated the nation's largest hashish and LSD network.

Mystic Arts World burned down under mysterious circumstances (some, including artist and Brotherhood cohort Dion Wright, claim it was the work of members of the John Birch Society) some 43 years ago this month. But now, just next door, at 664 S. Coast Hwy., a new Mystic Arts has opened its doors, and the art gallery and exotic-goods store appears to have the Brotherhood's blessing.

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OC Still Losing Young Adults to Cooler, Better Places: Report

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Photo from the Ed Carrrasco Archives
I saw the best minds of my generations getting the hell out of Orange County the moment they turned 18 or realized that Yorba Linda is still among us. Colonies of talented OCers exist across the U.S., with Austin, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Portland being the ones most of the people I know who left now live.

Maybe it's because I'm a coffin dodger now, but I thought that trend had finally finished, that young naranjeros were finally being like us lunatics and deciding to fight in the belly of the OC beast instead of bouncing for progressive paradise. Shows how much I know: U.S. Census figures shows that we've lost over 50,000 residents in the 18-44 age range, making us age at a faster rate than California or the nation. And a bunch of Brave New Urbanists want your ideas to help stop this.

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From Kobe Bryant's Rap Album to Gwen Stefani's Chola, OC's 7 Most Legendary Holy Grails

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Photo by Christopher Victorio
Kobe: tell us how our list tastes. O-kay...
Our cover story this week is my examination of one of Orange County's most infamous legends: the Indian massacre at Black Star Canyon that all of us know about but that most likely didn't happen, and definitely not how we've heard it. It's a story that took months of research, and made me delve into beaucoup archives, so OC history is swimming in me right now, you know?

I was never able to find definitive primary-source proof that the Black Star Canyon slaughter ever happened, which got me thinking: what other OC holy grails are there, artifacts or incidents that might or might have happened or treasures that exist but haven't seen the light of day due to its explosive content? There's actually quite of few of them floating around Orange County, and the following are just the most prominent. Enjoy, and pass it on!

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