Point Sur Lighthouse and the USS Macon
August 13, 2009
Watercolor is still the primary medium, but historical anecdotes are increasingly on the menu at the California Collectors Series Web site featuring Royce Vaughn's original notecards and art.
The San Francisco Chronicle fell from the sky one day
Ask any guy of a certain age about the zeppelin that fell into the ocean just south of California’s Point Sur Lighthouse and he’ll tell you all about it, adding the story of its amazing “air mail” delivery to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt the year before.
See it now. FDR was on the deck of an aircraft cruiser in the middle of the Pacific in July 1934 on the way to the Panama Canal. Let’s say, just for the heck of it, that he wanted to know the baseball scores from the night before and was wishing perhaps he had a copy of the newspaper sports section. Suddenly from out of the blue came two airplanes launched from the Navy’s new reconnaissance zeppelin, the USS Macon, dropping bundles of postage stamps and the San Francisco Chronicle!
Yes, it was yesterday’s paper, but the point was made. By calculating the exact spot in the middle of the ocean where the President’s ship would be and racing 3,500 miles to find it, the Navy showed how accurately the Macon could perform.
Lighthouse at Point Sur
Image courtesy of JB Imaging
From the collection of Andrew and Scharlene Heston
And then the zeppelin fell.
Unfortunately, the Navy’s grand
aviation experiment was about to end.
Waves crash daily against the rocks of the jagged California coastline, but on February 12, 1935, the threat of danger wasn’t in the water. It was in the air.
Around 5 PM, Point Sur lighthouse keeper Thomas Henderson suddenly saw a silent, extraordinarily large shape blotting out the sun – the same shadow FDR would have seen the year before, the same shadow Tim Thomas from the Monterey Maritime History Museum once said would be like “the Titanic floating over your house.”
It was the USS Macon (three times the size of a 747 jumbo jet airplane), built for the Navy with four Sparrowhead fighter airplanes on board that could be launched and retrieved during flight. Its already damaged tail fins were severed by a coastal squall and shards of metal pierced the airship's rear gas cells. It spun out of control – up then down -- and within minutes sank into the water.
Eighty-three men had been on board. All but two survived.
The Last Rigid-Body US Airship
The zeppelin was built in Ohio during the Depression to provide long range reconnaissance for the Pacific Fleet and for 16 months was berthed at Moffett Air Field in Sunnyvale, California, in a specially built hangar that was "large enough to hold a luxury cruise ship." People like then Stanford student David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard Company and founder of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), were fascinated by it. It was the last rigid-body airship built in the United States.
Early attempts to find the wreckage were unsuccessful until 1990. But in 2006 a five day, multi-agency collaborative expedition conducted a detailed archeological survey of the crash site, using a deep-diving, remotely-operated vehicle (ROV).
They found the crash site 1,400 feet below sea level spread over 75,000 square feet of the ocean floor.
References: California Lighthouses, Point St. George to the Gulf of Santa Catalina, by Bruce Roberts and Ray Jones, Globe Pequot Press; www.Moffettfield museum.org; Carolyn Jones, San Francisco Chronicle, September 27, 2006; www.underwatertimes.com, October 18, 2006
“Point Sur Lighthouse” is one of a series of watercolors celebrating California lighthouses and the historic role lighthouse keepers have played in standing watch over the coast. It was done for Andrew Heston, shown at the top of the rugged 200 foot hill.
Prints and new cards available
Matted 8x10 prints of Royce’s cards are now available, including " Lighthouse at Point Sur,""Blue Angels Over San Francisco" and "Saint Paul Church Before the New School was Built“(better known in some circles as the site of Whoopi Goldberg’s movie, “Sister Act” and in others as the site of Stephanie and Daniel’s wedding!) Check out the collection of watercolors which stretch along the California coastline -- and inland too -- from La Jolla to Sonoma.
Thank you, Porter
Sometimes there are people who come into your life, or back into your life, just when you need them. Working with UGAL.com, Porter William orchestrated the look and feel of this Web site. Gently but aggressively, he pushed this 20th century couple into cyberspace. In the meantime, he’s built his passion for architecture and interior design into his www.worldrelics.net and his own brand of San Francisco hospitality into his newest endeavor, www.entertainingpeople.com.
How do antiques and food combine? San Francisco style, he says on his “Entertaining People” weekly TV food show on Comcast. With what he would certainly call an extra dollop of panache, he’s as likely to present food on 200-year-old reclaimed terra cotta roof tiles from Provence as he is to combine Chinese scallops with Mandarin oranges and wasabi paste. Very San Francisco….Very Porter.
Stick with us! This is an island evolving in cyberspace...