by Bard C. Cosman
The Journal of the San Diego Historical Society, Volume 44, No. 4, Fall 1998, pp. 245-257.
By far the most popular children's writer of the early twentieth century was L. Frank Baum, creator of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the Oz series. In Baum's books The Sea Fairies, Sky Island, and The Scarecrow of Oz, the young heroine Trot starts her adventures from a home place that has physical beauty, variety, and mystery. This is in contrast to the rest of the Oz series, in which the child protagonist escapes to an exciting and beautiful fairyland from a prosaic or austere home setting, exemplified by Dorothy Gale's Kansas. Trot's home is in La Jolla, which Baum visited in 1904-5, when he began wintering at Coronado. Baum's impressions of La Jolla as a magical place are understandable in light of his previous experience and both echo and enhance a popular stereotype of Southern California as an earthly paradise.
L. Frank Baum's Oz stories follow a pattern in which a child hero sets out, often
accidentally, for an adventure in fairyland from a starting place that is dull or
blighted. Dorothy Gale's Kansas, in the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is the
model: W.W. Denslow drew its severe, monotonous landscape in gray, in contrast to his
color pictures of Oz, and the 1939 MGM film mimicked his technique by presenting Kansas in
black-and-white and Oz in color. Throughout the fourteen-volume series there are sharply
drawn contrasts between the gray, careworn adult world and the vibrant vision of a child's
imagination, or between the stolidity of mid-America and the exuberance of Oz.
The other locations from which Baum's mortal protagonists reach Oz (or neighboring fairylands) are similarly monotonous: the humdrum California farmland from which Dorothy and Zeb fall into an earthquake fissure in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, the featureless, destructive ocean on which Betsy Bobbin is shipwrecked in Tik-Tok of Oz, or the hardscrabble Kansas from which Dorothy must eventually escape permanently, in The Emerald City of Oz. Even the fairy children who have adventures in Oz start at the periphery, in adverse or austere settings: for example, Tip's virtual slavery in Gillikin Country in The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ojo the Unlucky's blighted home in rural Munchkin Country in The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Prince Inga's pillaged island home in Rinkitink in Oz, and Ann Soforth and Kiki Aru's stultifying isolation in Oogaboo and Mount Munch, in Tik-Tok of Oz and The Magic of Oz.
A remarkable counter example is found in the three books which feature the child
heroine Trot and the peg-leg sailor Cap'nBill: The Sea Fairies, Sky Island,
and The Scarecrow of Oz. Of these only the last is part of the Oz series by
title, but all three are rightfully in the Oz canon, as characters and settings are
intertwined. The Sea Fairies, published in 1911, introduces the spectacular
coastal California home from which Trot and Cap'n Bill depart for their adventures (Figure
1). Sky Island (1912) has the same initial setting, and it features Button-Bright
and Polychrome, both characters from The Road to Oz (Figure 2). The Scarecrow
of Oz (1915) is the formal confluence of the narrative streams, starting at Trot's
clifftop home and ending in the Emerald City, where from then on Trot and Cap'n Bill
participate as minor characters in subsequent Oz stories.
What is different about the gateway to Oz in these books? Unlike Dorothy's Kansas, Betsy's Pacific, or Zeb's California farm, Trot's home is picturesque in the extreme. In The Sea Fairies we are introduced to Trot's cottage by the giant acacia tree, both located on a high bluff overlooking the Pacific. An unnamed village a mile distant is "built upon a bend of the coast...overlooking a pretty bay." Just around the North Promontory from the village are the "great caves which the waves had washed out of the rocky coast during many years of steady effort." Called Dead Man's Cave, Bumble Cave, Smuggler's Cave, Echo Cave, and Giant's Cave, these caves can be entered only from the water (Figure 3). A nearby spot on the coast is identified as Smuggler's Cove. Trot's guide in this exciting landscape is the well-travelled Cap'n Bill, who "had been wrecked on desert island like Robinson Crusoe and been attacked by cannibals and had a host of other exciting adventures," not her parents, who are an absent ship's captain and a preoccupied housewife.
In Baum's other fairy tales, when a child leaves her drab home and enters a landscape of wonders, she must also leave her everyday parent-guardians and travel with an intriguing parent-substitute whose wisdom and experience are from a world unlike her own: consider the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), the Wizard (Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz), the Shaggy Man (The Road to Oz, Tik-Tok of Oz), King Rinkitink (Rinkitink in Oz), Princess Ozma (Glinda of Oz), and others. The three Trot/Cap'n Bill books are distinct in that the child (Trot) starts out more than halfway to fairyland, already living in a place of beauty, wonder, and mystery with an adult companion who fits the adventure-companion mold perfectly (Cap'n Bill). It only remains for a portal to open, and the transition to fairyland is immediate.
What is that place? Though unnamed by Baum, it is clearly La Jolla, which the author
knew well from his winters in Southern California. La Jolla of the early 1900s is
described fairly precisely in the introductory chapters of the three books. Like Baum's
fictional village, La Jolla overlooks a small bay, is "nine mile from the railroad
station" (presumably Santa Fe Station), and had a small fishing fleet. Baum gives La
Jolla just a little of the prosaic quality of the typical protagonist's home when he says
"most of the people earn their living by fishing" and describes the villagers as
"simple." In fact, in Baum's time La Jolla was already a fairly sophisticated
resort, though not as developed as Coronado. Contemporary tourist pamphlets describe it as
"The Jewel of the Sea," "The Jewel by the Sea," or "The Little
City of Heart's Desire." La Jolla boosters have always cheerfully mistranslated
an early Spanish geographical term meaning a hollow (jolla) as 'jewel' (joya).
Located around a promontory at the north end of the village (as in Baum's description) are seven sea caves, with their only natural entrance from the water. Baum presumably inspected the interior of Sunny Jim's Cave, which became accessible from the land side via a tunnel built in 1902-3; he began wintering in Coronado in 1904. His names are more fanciful than the historical names for the individual caves, which include only Sunny Jim's and The White Lady. However, Dead Man's Cave could reasonably be an informal name Baum heard while visiting. In later years lifeguards "pulled dead bodies out of those caves," and the drop from the cliff above is still called Dead Man's Leap.
The author's son Frank Joslyn Baum, in his biography of his father, acknowledges the caves as La Jolla's: "the author had in mind the caves along the shore of La Jolla, just north of San Diego, where, at high tide, visitors enter by long stairways from the ground above, and enjoy the sight of sea life in its natural habitat." The rocky "cavern under the sea," which serves in The Scarecrow of Oz as an antechamber to fairylands bordering Oz, is a fair description of the interior of any of the caves.
Baum locates Trot's house on the bluffs north of the village of La Jolla, and she and Cap'n Bill launch their rowboat on the Pacific just below. Today's surfers thread their way down "zigzag...winding...steep" paths to the ocean, following in Trot and Cap'n Bill's footsteps. As Baum describes it, "[their]boat cut across a much larger bay toward a distant headland where the caves were located, right at the water's edge." They are crossing La Jolla Cove from northeast to southwest when they encounter the whirlpool that is their portal to fairyland (Figure4).
The only Smuggler's Cove along the California coast is in Santa Barbara County, two hundred miles to the north, so presumably Baum added this fictional name to enhance the romance and mystery of the setting. However, such names are not unknown around San Diego: Smuggler Gulch is a valley in Imperial Beach, the next town south of Baum's beloved Coronado, and the caves themselves are located at La Jolla Cove. Further acknowledgement of San Diego is found in the fish that Trot and Cap'n Bill encounter as they swim toward the mermaids' palace; they are yellowtail tuna, then a staple of San Diego's economy.
Sky Island is another identifiable feature of the La Jolla landscape: a "dim island lying on the horizon line...half in the sky" can be seen from Trot's clifftop home and has "an awful hard name to pernounce," so she calls it Sky Island. This corresponds to San Clemente Island or Santa Catalina Island (probably the former, which is due west and easier to see), whose Spanish names Trot found so difficult. On clear days both islands are visible on the horizon from the La Jolla Farms bluffs, just north of the village itself. Baum located Trot's house on these bluffs, which stand above Black's Beach.
In his article "The Coronado Fairyland," Scott Olsen (of Southwestern College in Chula Vista) mentions a Smuggler's Cove in the Coronado Islands, twenty miles off the coast of Coronado, and speculates that one of these islands, seen from the Coronado shore, may be Trot's Sky Island. This is unlikely, as Trot's home is La Jolla, not Coronado: there are no bluffs in Coronado, the highest point of which is 40 feet above sea level, whereas Trot lives on a high bluff across a bay from the sea caves, a mile from the village, a fairly precise La Jolla location. In addition, Smuggler's Cove in Sky Island is on the mainland coast.
From San Diego and Coronado, Baja California's Coronado Islands loom more closely than a "dim island lying on the horizon line"; that description fits San Clemente and Santa Catalina, 75 and 81 miles off La Jolla's shore, respectively. Finally, the Coronado Islands are not visible from the La Jolla Farms bluffs, where Trot's home was located, as they are blocked by headlands.
One of the two American islands, perhaps Santa Catalina, also likely corresponds to Pedloe Island, the island "lying off the California coast" on which Baum planned to build his Land of Oz theme park. Although, as one critic has pointed out, there never was a Pedloe Island, the name may have been transmuted in Frank J. Baum's memory. Baum mentions both Santa Catalina and the Coronado Islands by name in Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John.
When and how frequently Baum visited La Jolla is unknown, as Baum's movements in San Diego were not covered completely in the San Diego Union social pages, and La Jolla did not have its own newspapers until 1913. It is recorded that Mrs. Baum and their son Kenneth spent a day in La Jolla on March 19, 1905, and the descriptions of caves and cliffs ring clearly of personal experience. La Jolla was easily accessible by road and rail from San Diego, and there may have been many day trips from Coronado between 1904 and 1911, when the Baum family moved to Hollywood.
Baum frequently set his pseudonymous, non-fairytale novels,intended for adult or
teenage audiences, in places he had recently visited. Examples are The Last Egyptian:
A Romance of the Nile and The Boy Fortune Hunters in Egypt, written after a
cruise up the Nile; Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad, set in Taormina, Sicily
after Baum's trip there; and Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John, set (in part) in
Coronado. He also did this in his fairy tales, using the Great Plains in The Wonderful
Wizard of Oz and The Emerald City of Oz, South Dakota in The Twinkle
Tales, and La Jolla for the three Trot/Cap'n Bill books. But he evinced a special
appreciation and affection for the San Diego area that went beyond using it as a backdrop.
For Baum, it was an American fairyland.
Having lived in upstate New York, Chicago, and Aberdeen, South Dakota, L. Frank Baum was in a good position to appreciate the warm winters and scenic variety of Southern California. Even accounting for his usual hyperbole, Baum's public statements about the San Diego-Coronado area are striking: during his first winter there, he said in a San Diego Union interview: "...those who do not find Coronado a paradise have doubtless brought with them the same conditions that would render heaven unpleasant to them did they chance to gain admittance...."
Baum's explicitly calls the San Diego-Coronado area a fairyland in two 1905 ephemeral works. A poem in the San Diego Union entitled "Coronado: The Queen of Fairyland" contains these lines after a glowing description of the physical features of San Diego Bay:
And mortals whisper, wondering:
"Indeed, 'tis Fairyland!
For where is joy without alloy
Enchantment strange and grand."
And tired eyes grow bright again,
And careworn faces smile;
And dreams are sweet and moments fleet,
And hearts are free from guile.
In an introduction, the San Diego Union social reporter noted dryly, "It
takes Chicagoans to appreciate the attractions and comforts of life at Coronado."
Also in 1905, Baum published an unusual piece called "Nelebel's Fairyland" in the graduation issue of San Diego High School's magazine The Russ. It is unclear why the story was placed there, as The Russ usually printed the work of people associated with the school. This story details the construction of the San Diego area's spectacular landforms by immortal beings (knooks, ryls, and gigans) sent to accompany a wayward fairy (Nelebel) in her exile from Fairyland. She speaks for Baum when she says "Here is a new Fairyland, my friends! and to me it is far more lovely than the dark and stately groves of old Burzee. What matters our exile, when the beauties of this earthly paradise are ours to enjoy?" One easily imagines Baum comparing his new-found earthly paradise with the 'Burzee' of his childhood, his parents' estate near Syracuse, New York, which is wistfully recalled in many of his early writings.
In his 1911 girls' series novel Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John, Baum gives a less poetic but equally enthusiastic view of a picture-postcard California, citing the health-restoring quality of the "genial climate of California," and the "ideal climate at Coronado." The landforms of the San Diego Bay area are described several times, and one of the adolescent protagonists says "I never imagined any place could be so beautiful!" Enroute to Coronado, there is a nod to La Jolla: "From Escondido it was a short run to the sea and their first glimpse of the majestic Pacific was from a high bluff overhanging the water.
From this point the road ran south to San Diego, skirting the coast along a mountain trail that is admitted to be one of the most picturesque rides in America." And, echoing his 1905 verse tribute, Baum uses the "land of roses and sunshine" as a metaphor for the joy that is possible in a life that has been spent, in part, in the desert.
La Jolla, clearly recognizable in L. Frank Baum's The Sea Fairies, Sky Island, and The Scarecrow of Oz, is described as an idyllic place with features of his fairylands, dissimilar to the settings from which children enter Oz in the rest of the Oz series. This is understandable in light of Baum's personal history. His other writings about the San Diego-Coronado area confirm his impression of it as an earthly fairyland. Fantasy and reality easily become entwined at resort areas in general, and in Southern California in particular, which has often called itself and been called an earthly paradise. L. Frank Baum saw in the beauty and mystery of the La Jolla landscape an American place that was halfway to Oz.
The author thanks Jane Selvar, Section Supervisor, Special Collections, San Diego Public Library, and John C. Cash, Assistant Historian, San Diego High School Alumni Association, for their assistance.
Full text of this article provided by courtesy of the author and the Journal of San Diego History. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Richard W. Crawford
Editor, Journal of San Diego History
San Diego Historical Society
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