“Coastland” by Galen Wolf (Part I)


“It is June and the year is 1885.

“The train you boarded at Third and Townsend Streets, San Francisco, has been running southerly, through meadows and marshes for nearly an hour. Now it is slowing. A few houses pass the window. The brakes grind.

“The conductor flings open the door and his shout runs the length of the car: ‘San Mateo!’ You are on your way to the coastland.

“As you step down, a few surprising vehicles meet the eye. Hitched to a well-chewed pole are dog-carts, jaunting carts, tallyho and tandem. The horses are bobbed roached and the harness silver trimmed. They tell of the playland of the millionaires, D.O. Mills, Flood, Crocker, Parrot and Wm. Ralston.

“Beyond these polished but effete conveyances looms a great Concord coach, utilitarian as a merchantman in a harbor of yachts. It is the ship of the West, tremendously traditional, almost mystic. And it will carry you to the land behind the mountains.

“Its bulging body is Indian red and striped with gold. A landscape is painted on scrolled panels on either door. Leather straps support it in place of springs, and it will rock and roll like a true ship in a sea.

“Today four horses draw it. Often there are six, and it has carried the unbelievable number of twenty eight passengers. They ride in three layers, a top-heavy shortcake of seating. In the coach itself, on the roof with legs dangling, and on a seat like a hatch on top.

“Bob Rawles sits on the high perch of the driver. The passengers gather about.

“Here is Loren Coburn of the Pescadero lands, crackers and cheese in his pockets. R.I. Knapp, short and bearded, back from his plow works in San Jose. A tall man, bearded like a patriarch, swings up. You recognize James Hatch.

“The vigorous form of Chas. Borden, pipe smoking , piles in. You ask about the redwood canyon he has acquired form the Lanes and about the progress of the mill.

“A bareheaded man with pale face and ample moustache collects the fare; Ferdinand Levy. It is one dollar to Half Moon, two dollars and a half to Pescadero.

“Rawles gathers the lines, cracks his whip. The coach rolls out of town, along a single street bordering the railroad tracks. It crosses the meandering red-rock roadway of Camino Real.

“Here stands a sign post. Some joker has shot a piece from it. Truncated, it read, “Moonbay and scadero”. Beyond, the green-grey hills rise.

…to be continued…

Photo: courtesy San Mateo County History Museum. Visit the museum at the historic Redwood City Courthouse in Redwood City.

1860 Shipwrecks & A Cemetery in the Sand Dunes, Part II-Conclusion (short version)

bones1.jpgPhoto taken in the 1970s.

As night fell, the crew believed they were 40 miles offshore–but soon discovered they were in the midst of crashing breakers. The “Coya” rammed a reef, rolled over and sank instantly.

Twenty-six of the passengers, including the crew, drowned. Two men and a boy managed to survive by clinging to a rock, then swam ashore for help.

Two years later in November, 1868, a combination of a steel gray sky, gusty, unpredictable winds and heavy seas blinded the ship “Hellespont” as she struggled up the coast carrying one thousand tons of coal.

Captain Soule, a native of Brooklyn, New York, mistakenly believed he was 20 miles off the coast when the “Hellespont” was engulfed by the breakers and crashed into the black reefs.

As the breakers swung the “Hellespont” around wildly, the ship split in half–and the main deck was carried out to sea.

Captain Soule and seven of his men perished. The rest of the crew reached help at the Portuguese whaling station at Pigeon Point.

The tragic loss of lives aboard the three vessels contributed to a popular, local movement seeking construction of a lighthouse at Pigeon Point, a project completed in 1872.


The Cemetery in the Sand Dunes

In the summer of 2001 something white in the sand caught the eye of a hiker as he walked among the wind-eroded dunes near Point Ano Nuevo. There was something about it that made him start digging.

He quickly uncovered a shocking discovery that made him think violence had happened here: Murder.

For there, only inches beneath the sand in front of him, he later told the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department, there was a skull.

Actually, the sheriff’s investigation would find there were many skulls there and many leg and arm and back and rib bones. Dozens of them. Enough to fill a cemetery.

And indeed, that’s what the hiker had found, a cemetery lost for decades among the shifting sand dunes.

While wrong about this being a murder scene, the hiker was right in surmising that these unfortunates had died violently and the clue was in the roaring of the surf that pounded the nearby beaches.

The sound of the surf is probably the last thing these poor souls heard and is precisely why most of them died.

These dead people had once strode the decks of sailing ships such as the “Sir John Franklin”, the “Coya” and the “Hellespont”.

All perished in the 1860s when their ships, blinded by the heavy fog, struck reefs between Pigeon Point and Ano Nuevo and sunk wuth heavy losses of life. The dead were buried side-by-side in a dunes area originally fenced off and marked with headstones.

The remains of ship’s officials were generally not found at these sites as relatives often claimed them for burial in family plots.

Overtime the strong winds disturbed the sand dune environment, exposing the cemetery site. the shipwreck victims had been buried in redwood coffins–but even this superior wood could not withstand the effect of the sometimes brutal weather and the coffins are now the consistency of wet cardboard.

When I last worked on this story, park rangers were working to stabilize this historical shipwreck gravesite so not to disturb the human remains. A pedestrian boardwalk was to be built with interpretive signs enabling the visitor to learn about the cemetery (and at the same time they will be advised of the laws against disturbing archaeological remains).

1860 Shipwrecks & A Cemetery in the Sand Dunes, Part I (short version)

Thick fog often hugs the rugged coastline near Point Ano Nuevo–but since 1872 the lighthouse at Pigeon Point has warned ships away from the nasty reefs that had once doomed many a vessel.

Before the lighthouse existed, many ships perished in the fog along that perilous coast, including the sailing vessels “Sir John Franklin”, “Coya” and “Hellespont”.

Without the warning beacon of a lighthouse, all three captains believed they were far enough out at sea, safely away from the spectacularly beautiful but dangerously deceptive coastline.

Carrying a cargo of pianos, dry goods and liquor bound for San Francisco in the winter of 1865, the Sir John Franklin lost her bearings in a dense fog and mopuntainous sea.

The weather cleared–but it was too late to save the “Sir John Franklin”. Caught by the fast moving breakers, the vessel screeched loudly as she slammed into the open fist of the reefs. Upon discovering a gaping hole in the vessel’s hull, all aboard abandoned ship.

The captain, first mate and eleven crew members struggled against the powerful surf but all met a watery death.

…To be continued…

Photo (1970s): courtesy Raymond E. Watson

Wilkinson School/Preschool News Flash!


News Flash From Ed Wilkinson:

“Our dear daughter Sara, who was born in the house, where she and her lovely family live, has always
provided our lives with surprises. stainedglass.JPG

The latest is this: The Martins (Sahl, Sara, Gabrielle, Benjamin, Elizabeth and Joseph are moving to Washington so that Sahl can begin a new career as a fireman.


The house at 130 Santa Anna Street will soon be on the market to be sold and our pre-school will be moving across the street to the Wilkinson School.

If you are interested in the house or have any questions or concerns, please call us at 650- 759-8883 or 650-726-4582.”


Backstory: The house was originally built, circa 1930, by California State Senator Harry Parkman. It is said that Senator Parkman hired a Swedish stonemason to build the gorgeous rock wall surrounding the home as well as the large fireplace inside.

Thanks for the “Thank You”

Thank you for your great site. I grew up in Half Moon Bay. As you know it is a very special place with special people. I live far away now, but it is nice to keep tabs our wonderful town through site’s like your and the Review. Please keep up the good work and thank you!

Clyde Wilson | Accounts Payable Coordinator
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

“Babagi” Comes To The Coastside: Part IV Conclusion

In Part III Babaji sat cross-legged on the Indian rug under the orange chute. A tanned, barefooted woman wearing a green and white sarong dropped a small bouquet of wildflowers at the master’s feet.

Then the woman sat down in front of Babaji and said: “You know I am fasting. This is the ninth day. I only have two more days to go.”

Babaji wrote on a large chalkboard that she looked well. His words were read out loud by one of his followers.

“But I don’t know how to explain to my friends why I am fasting.”

“Because you are,” Babaji wrote matter-of-factly. The woman, satisfied with the simple answer, closed her eyes as if meditating.

A young man asked whether dreaming was good.

“Yes,” wrote Babaji. “Dreaming is good for the imagination.”

There were many more questions–mostly from the followers–but the Coastsiders remained strangely silent. Then soft music began to fill the air as Babaji’s entourage played drums and a woman sang and played the flute.

In the early 1990s I asked Peggy Bazarnick, a follower of Babaji, if the master still lived in Santa Cruz. She said he did, although he regularly visited India. The Hunuman Foundation owned land, Peggy said, on Mt. Madonna on Summit Road, between Santa Cruz and San Jose, and Babaji was driven there weekly to give his followers personal interviews.

“He still never tells you what to do,” Peggy told me. “He wants people to be strong.”

Babi Hari Dass’ visit to San Gregorio did make one new convert. Hard as I have tried, I’ve been unable to recall who the Princeton resident was who took to wearing a chalkboard (see my post, “The Chalkboard Man”) around his neck.