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Photo by Matthew Schiff, San Diego History Museum

Wyatt Earp Promissory Note.

1. Wyatt Earp Promissory Note

Most San Diegans who recognize the name know that the onetime deputy sheriff of Tombstone, Arizona, was also a notorious carpetbagger. Earp and his pal, Doc Holliday, killed — some say murdered — three cowboys during the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Eventually, Earp, with various clans gunning for him, left Arizona and followed Horace Greeley’s advice: “Go West, young man.” His love of gambling brought him to San Diego in 1885. With the hand-rubbing promise of the railroad (which never came), he wagered his and others’ money during the real-estate boom. He controlled four saloons and gambling halls, two near Sixth and E Street, and one, the Oyster Bar, in the Louis Bank building on Fifth Avenue. (The district, once the Stingaree, is today’s beer-and-burger haven, the Gaslamp.) On a very good night, Earp raked in as much as $1000. Flush, he spent it on prizefighters and racehorses, games in which, citing Raymond Starr’s phrase, the greedy Earp “sought to divest other speculators of their profits.” But the law caught up with him. This note, in the research library of the San Diego History Museum, is for $1000, payable to W. P. Walters, and it is signed by Earp and John Morales, an accomplice, no doubt; it is dated 1894. By then, the lawman was an outlaw, having ventured as far as Alaska, though Walters’s suit forced him to return and pay up. Progress, indeed, since it was a court, not a corral, settlement.

Photo by Jason Fudge, anthropology department, San Diego State University, Seth Mallios

Bomb Shelter Pills.

2. Bomb Shelter Pills

Even in paradise, the Cold War occasioned the stashing of survival kits in many a San Diego basement, in homes, businesses, and schools. These three vials were located in supply barrels stacked in the San Diego State College administration building cellar, placed there in January 1964. We tend to date our showdown with the commies to the 1950s, but the fallout-shelter craze occurred from 1962 to 1970. Each person was provisioned for two weeks — the optimal time officials believed it took for nuclear fallout to clear. (An astoundingly dumb notion, considering denizens of Hiroshima were still dying, two decades on.) Shelter kits had food (1600 biscuits in 18-pound tins), water (in 17½-gallon drums), sanitation supplies, a radiation-detection kit, a medical pack, and pamphlets on caring for those poisoned by atomic dust. Among the medicines were eye and nose drops, penicillin tablets, and an extract called cascara sagrada or “sacred bark,” a natural laxative. (For those scared s---less.) In America, some 200,000 home shelters were erected while millions of subterranean hideouts were equipped courtesy of the Office of Civil Defense. When the siren sounded, one ran to the nearest sign, often nailed around public schools — three inverted yellow triangles encircled in black.

“Rhythm of the Rain,” the Cascades.


The Cascades, "Rhythm of the Rain"

3. “Rhythm of the Rain,” the Cascades

In the halcyon months before JFK died, four skinny kids from San Diego recorded the city’s greatest original pop tune. A timeless 2´30˝. The vinyl 45. The juke box. The home turntable and its mechanical arm dropping onto the turning groove. The same 2:30 playing over and over and over on every car radio during March 1963, when it climbed to number two on national charts, barred from the top by “Walk Like a Man” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. With a few sailors from the USS Jason, John Gummoe formed the Cascades. He wrote the song during a thunderstorm, while on duty in the Aleutian islands. In November 1962, the group cut the single, a million-seller bought by tens of thousands of San Diego kids, at Phil Spector’s Gold Star Studio in Hollywood, using an echo chamber to layer voices, instruments, and drums. Gummoe’s solo voice combined with the Everly Brothers’–style harmony (ahhhh, gone away; pitter pat, pat-pat-pat), the rinky-ding-ding melody on glockenspiel, and that peerless opening — thunder crash, falling rain, tune rolling in, one of the sweetest blends ever of lyric and sound effect to texturize a pop tune.

Photo by Donna Inocencio, San Diego Chinese Historical Museum

Chinese Laundry Ticket Pad.

4. Chinese Laundry Ticket Pad

One hundred years ago, the local Chinese population got its foothold via hand laundries. Before that, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 limited the numbers the U.S. allowed in, a response to the fear that foreigners would take jobs from natives. Ticket-printers marketed this fear to the laundries themselves, which were located in Chinatown, near to Earp’s gambling dens. Under glass at the Chinese Historical Museum, the pad’s cover rings with the stereotype of the Chinaman: sinister grin, pointy fingernails, (probably) high on opium. In the bamboo lettering, you can almost hear the jeering English rhyme. The man’s queue, or pigtail (which runs down his back), was a symbol of oppression in China; in America, it meant pride in one’s heritage and a kind of allegiance to their adopted home. Growing one’s queue long and braiding it showed your group that you weren’t going back to China. Why a laundry? A small business was a way to be one’s own boss, to open a shop with very little money and do what many, especially port-calling sailors (the main clientele), considered beneath them — washing clothes.

Photo by Thomas Larson, courtesy of Eric “Bird” Huffman, Bird’s Surf Shed

Bob Simmons Surfboard.

5. Bob Simmons Surfboard

Once, surfboards were made from redwood planks and weighed 75 pounds. But surfer Bob Simmons, an ungainly kid from L.A. who beat cancer with a plant-based diet and lived out of his 1937 Ford Tudor sedan, changed that. During the war, he was a machinist, then studied hydrodynamics at San Diego State. A loner, Simmons loved to mull a board’s lift, drag, shape, and weight. As a shaper, he garage-worked boards, using the new Styrofoam or other materials from the war. Late 1940s, he sculpted a 25-pound balsa board with a fiberglass seal that shimmered like corn syrup. Its rounded bottom, contoured rails, spoonlike nose, wide-and-thin squared-off tail, and skeg, or rudder, made the plank wave-face fast. Simmons rode his last wave in 1954, when he was struck in the head by his board at Windansea beach; a lifeguard buddy found his body days later. (A fellow surfer rode this board — which can be seen at Bird’s Surf Shed — near Windansea the same day Simmons died.) Nowadays, a Bob Simmons (he made about 100) commands $25,000 at auction. An 11-footer recently went to a Hawaiian collector for $40,000. A Skip Frye board, with its foiled fins, is a descendant of Simmons’s innovations, heir to the master’s graceful, curvy contours.

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