Thursday, August 23, 2012

El Camino Real Bell

In 1769, El Camino Real, or the King’s Highway, was a footpath begun by the Franciscans to link the California Missions north from San Diego to Sonoma. Each mission was situated in areas where large Native American populations lived, where the soil was fertile enough to sustain a settlement. As time progressed and more missions were built, the footpath became a roadway wide enough to accommodate horses and wagons. A large portion of the route would eventually be paralleled by state highway 101.

In 1906, an effort was initiated to commemorate El Camino Real with the placement of 85-pound bells along the state highway. These distinctive bells were hung on supports in the form of a shepherd’s crook. By the 1960s, most of the original 450 bells had disappeared due to theft, vandalism or re-routing of the roadways.

Toward the end of the twentieth century, preservation organizations and individuals renewed a state-wide effort of marking El Camino Real with new bells and crook supports. Utilizing an original 1906 bell as a pattern, the newer versions are still being cast by the California Bell Company, headquartered in Saratoga. A video of the company’s casting process may be found here.

Maureen Everett, a San Jose resident, generously donated a crook and bell to History San José. Two enthusiastic volunteers dug the 4 foot hole necessary to support the bell. This week, the pole was cemented, the crook fastened and the bell hung.

The museum’s bell is adjacent to the Trolley Barn and near the Phelan Avenue gate entrance. Utilizing this marker, the El Camino Real story will be integrated into our Historic Transportation Education program, enlightening school aged children about this portion of California’s heritage.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tuskegee Airman Samuel L. Washington

Lt. Samuel L. Washington
In spite of adversity and limited opportunities, African Americans played a significant role in U.S. military history over the past 300 years. They were denied military leadership roles and skilled training because of societal ignorance and prejudice. Before 1940, African Americans were barred from flying for the U.S. military. Civil rights organizations and the Black press exerted pressure that resulted in the formation of an all African American pursuit squadron based in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1941. They became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

“Tuskegee Airmen” refers to all who were involved in the so-called “Tuskegee Experiment,” the Army Air Corps program to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.

The Tuskegee Airmen overcame segregation and prejudice to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II. They proved conclusively that African Americans could fly and maintain sophisticated combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen’s achievements, together with the men and women who supported them, paved the way for the full integration of the U.S. military.

A native of Cleveland, Samuel L. Washington graduated from the Tuskegee program on June 27, 1944 and was appointed as flight officer. With his fellow classmates, Officer Washington was assigned to the 99th squadron of the 332nd. Based in Italy, flying P-40 and P-51 fighting aircraft, the squadron provided air support for numerous bomber missions over Germany. After retiring from military service, Lieutenant Washington eventually settled in San Jose with his wife Mary. The decorated war veteran died in 1981. Postmortem, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2006.

Some of the items donated by the Washington family
This past week, Mary Parks Washington and her daughter Jan made a remarkable donation of artifacts and documents pertaining to Samuel’s service with the Air Force. Included in this unique donation are his duffel bag, flight jacket, head gear, goggles, enlistment papers, various medals, and dog tag.

To honor the service of Lieutenant Samuel L. Washington and his fellow servicemen, these newly received artifacts will be on display in the lobby of the Pacific Hotel during this Saturday’s August 4th Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive event at History Park.