Sunday, August 27, 2006

Creepy Tales from Santa Cruz Past

Here are two spoooooooky things about Santa Cruz that I learned on exactly the same day...

1. In August of 1961, a large flock of sooty shearwaters ate tainted plankton, became aggressive and confused, then flew ashore in the dark, smashing into all obstacles in their way.

Here are some of the best parts of the story, as reported by the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

"A massive flight of sooty shearwaters, fresh from a feast of anchovies, collided with shoreside structures from Pleasure Point to Rio del Mar during the night.

Residents, especially in the Pleasure Point and Capitola area were awakened about 3 a.m. today by the rain of birds, slamming against their homes.

Dead, and stunned, seabirds littered the streets and roads in the foggy, early dawn. Startled by the invasion, residents rushed out on their lawns with flashlights, then rushed back inside, as the birds flew toward their light.


When the light of day made the area visible, residents found the streets covered with birds. The birds disgorged bits of fish and fish skeletons over the streets and lawns and housetops, leaving an overpowering fishy stench."

Of course, the best part of the story is this paragraph:

"The word of the bird invasion spread fast throughout the state. Cameramen from San Francisco papers were out in the early morning fog, and a phone call came to the Sentinel from Alfred Hitchcock from Hollywood, requesting that a Sentinel be sent to him. He has a home in the Santa Cruz mountains."

Two years later, Hitchcock made The Birds. It has been noted that the Santa Cruz incident caused Hitchcock to reconsider his earlier rejection of the eponymous Daphne du Maurier short story as a potential source for a movie.

A freaky story and a charming titbit of movie history, read the full Sentinel article here.

2. In the early 1970s, Santa Cruz became known as the "Murder Capital of the World," as three mass-murderers lived in the county. As the Sentinel rerports, one of them killed woman hitch-hikers because women caused him "grief," while the other two killers appear to have been driven by complete psychosis (one of them killed to "prevent earthquakes"--apparently unsuccessfully).

This story is really interesting for several reasons, especially in the ways that the whole thing was interpreted through the disconnect between hippies and the mainstream culture. In the light of 30 years of subsequent history, hippies have come to seem so harmless (although unpleasantly-scented)--for the most part, people no longer associate the extreme left with murder.

Read the full Sentinel piece here.

This is one of the most interesting aspects of Christopher Sorrentino's Trance, a fictionalization of the Patty Hearst kidnapping and a broader portrayal of that era in American history. The stoners and slackers in Sorrentino's novel are totally recognizable to anyone who has spent significant time on a contemporary college campus; however, instead of organizing drum circles, many of the burnouts of the 1960s/70s organized (using that word loosely) violent revolutionary plots. In our culture, the disaffected youths who don't go to college are no longer interested in politics; and the disaffected youths who do go to college, end up learning to express their political disaffection in diversity skits. While this is certainly to be preferred, aren't there some other options? Can't we be leftists without shooting people or performing activist theater?

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