That’s Amazing! Huell Howser Archives

Today’s episode “That’s Amazing! Huell Howser Archives” is on Apple Podcasts, SpotifyOvercast, Libsyn, Pocket CastStitcher, iHeartRadio, or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Today we visit the Chapman University exhibit of the archives of broadcaster Huell Howser, of “California’s Gold” PBS fame. If you don’t recall the name, you’ll probably remember the face: iconic sunglasses perched on a pleasant tan visage, cheerful smile (with perfect teeth), all solidly topped by steely (and precisely) cropped hair. There’s that linebacker build, those muscular arms and barrel chest, clad in a Polo or button-down short-sleeved shirt and a pair of chinos (or shorts). He looked like he should be playing football on a beach somewhere in Southern California. You know. HUELL HOWSER. Ok. Well, then, the voice will jolt you back to memory lane…you didn’t expect it when you saw him, but as soon as you heard his Grand Ol’ Opry Nashville roots “That’s amazing!” catchphrase, you couldn’t help be settle down for a homestyle good time as Huell presented – with all his heart and soul – his latest find somewhere in the state of California.

Kym finds Huell’s catchphrase. Huell Howser Archives, Leatherby Libraries, Chapman University, Orange, CA.

If you grew up in the 80s and 90s in California you would have to work pretty hard to miss seeing a Huell Howser human interest piece. At one point his shows aired 6 nights a week on KCET, with over a million viewers, including overseas military via the American Forces Radio and Television Services. If you weren’t learning about the next hidden gem in “California’s Gold” you could be “Visiting…With Huell Howser,” taking a “Road Trip With Huell Howser,” learn about all the county fairs, parks, and vast coastline in “California’s Golden Fairs,” “California’s Golden Parks,” and, you guessed it, “California’s Golden Coast.” Huell may have originally hailed from Nashville, TN, and even worked in New York for CBS and CNN for awhile…but when he landed in Los Angeles, CA, in 1980, broadcast gold was made. Forever.

The world became a bit less bright, and definitely less amazing on 7 January 2013 when 67 year old Huell succumbed to the prostate cancer he’d been privately battling. After he was diagnosed with cancer, he began making arrangements to leave over 5,000 videos of raw and edited footage as well as show notes, personal papers, knickknacks, mementos, books, art and furniture to Chapman University in Orange, CA, which was finalized in 2012. He never got to see the exhibit as it is today, which he originally intended to just be a donation for digital archival purposes. He had no idea his death would lead hundreds of loyal fans searching for his much-needed goodness to traipse into the Chapman University library, disrupting students’ studies to view the lobby displays of his legacy. University top-brass took note and (thankfully) dedicated a permanent archival exhibit just one floor down in what is now known as the California’s Gold Exhibit and Huell Howser Archives.

So. That’s where we went Saturday (Leap Day!) with our trusty Tascom digital recorder. Oh… yeah. Well, Kris hasn’t learned the ins and outs of recording on the fly with the digi handheld. So, sound quality is a bit…meh, BUT! It’s real, it’s raw…just like our morning walk episode, you’ll feel like you’re right there with us as we descend the echoey stairs in search of the archive only to discover Huell’s AMAZING industrial found art…seriously. Probably the best thing we learned that day – and there were a LOT of a-ha moments – was that the man saw beauty in EVERYTHING. He took junkyard scraps and transformed them into gallery-quality art pieces and functional furniture that he kept in all his houses (yep, plural…including a Volcano Rock House).

Walking through the door of room B11, the first thing you notice is the prominent “THAT’S AMAZING!” photo of Huell greeting you. At your feet, the black floor contains a large white outline of the state of California with labels overlapping each other pinpointing name after name after name AFTER NAME of alllllll the towns Huell visited and showcased over the years.

That 70’s Huell with Porky the Pig and family. This is the segment that started the magic back in Nashville.

Along the wall is a timeline mural and in the center of the room are thick columns – all of this covered with photos and blurbs about all the wild, whimsical and wonderful characters Huell met along the way. You can see what his office looked like – right down to the hand-drawn calendar, and the homemade coffee mug used as a pen holder. And right there right in front of you is The Camera. Yep, the one Luis Fuerte used to film all the episodes of “California’s Gold.” In the Artifact Room there are displays of personal items from childhood (Boy Scouts handbook, a miniature pop gun), broadcasting gear such as his camera bag from his early days in Nashville, favorite baseball hats (the SPAM hat is the best), art and findings from his travels, a boatload of books, and even an original John Romita hand-drawn comic of Huell meeting Stan Lee.

And because we’re kind of getting the hang of this interview stuff, we took advantage of being the only visitors left in the room, and asked the resident pro, John Carlo, Archivist, if we could pick his brain and man, he was a wealth of knowledge. So BONUS! You don’t have to listen to us gab for 45 minutes like we usually do. If you visit the archives, DEFINITELY see if John is available to chat you up.

So, folks, if you remember Huell fondly, we hope you enjoy this episode. Yes, we realize we did a poor imitation of Huell’s accent too many times (KRIS), but rest assured, we did it out of pure joy and love for the man, never, ever as ridicule. And of course, we unironically say, “That’s Amazing!” all throughout the episode because the archives truly are…amazing.

It’s fitting that the man who spent 30+ years highlighting little-known, quirky treasures up and down the state of California would inspire exactly the kind of place he avidly searched for and shared with the world. We can almost hear Huell walking down those stairs, stopping often with Southern-boy giddiness, asking Luis, “did you get that?” as he wanders and wonders through the three-room hidden gem showcasing his life.

If you’re local or visiting Southern California, you can’t miss a visit to Old Orange. If you want to visit the archives (Yes. Yes you do.) they are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. You might want to call ahead just in case to be sure the archive isn’t closed for a special event. Large groups can call ahead to make arrangements with the archivist. The displays rotate some items every few months, so multiple visits are totally necessary.

Leatherby Libraries building, Chapman University, Orange, CA.

Chapman University is just north of the circle (The Plaza) on Glassell. You can park in the lower level of the parking garage off Walnut street (at the time of this writing you can get 4 hours for $3) or you can find a spot in one of the many parking lots in the area (and another new parking structure off Chapman near Ruby’s). That means you can enjoy the neighborhood as you make your way to the school. Just be very careful if you want to try your luck parking on the street. There’s some funky rules about who can park where, and if you park in the wrong place without a parking permit, the fine will set you back over $30 (uh…last time Kris checked, about 6 years ago that was the going price for not paying attention to her surroundings…so it’s likely the fines have gone up). Just watch for the signs. Leatherby Libraries (yep, not library, it’s plural) is right next to the field. To access the archives, take the stairs or the elevator to the basement (not gloomy whatsoever…true story) and you’ll find yourself face to face with that smiling photo of Huell.

When you’re finished with those archives, be sure to check out the Center for American War Letters Archives display near the entrance to the Huell Howser Archives. Each month they highlight the service of a soldier, sailor, marine or homefront warrior, displaying letters and other personal ephemera. The actual archives room has the same hours as the Huell Howser Archives, and their entrance is to the immediate left of the stairway.

To rejuvenate after you visit with Huell, Old Orange is chock full of delicious restaurants, antique stores and small shops selling art, pottery, home goods, comic books, vintage clothes, and toys. There’s even TWO Starbucks.

We urge you to visit the archives. And we urge you to watch reruns of Huell’s shows. This world needs more Huells…we need more unabashed joy in the adventure of discovery and human connection.

Today’s episode is released twice: in audio-only mp3 format AND in an image-enhanced mp4 format. Not all podcast apps support enhanced podcasts (Spotify, for instance), and we discovered if we only release an enhanced episode, it’s not that the images don’t show up, the entire episode won’t publish to that platform! So…two versions it is. If you are interested in viewing the images while listening, you can go to your app store and download Apple Podcasts, Overcast, or Pocketcast. We’re not sure if Google Play or Stitcher support enhanced shows, so let us know if you listen on those platforms and can view the photos.

As an added bonus, here’s some of the images we share on the episode today:

The anteroom of the Huell Howser Archives, Leatherby Libraries, Chapman University, Orange, CA.
The memento cabinet housing some of Huell’s favorite gifts and mementos.
The camera used to film “California’s Gold”. Huell Howser Archives, Leatherby Libraries, Chapman University, Orange, CA.
Huell’s tape viewing desk. Huell Howser Archives, Leatherby Libraries, Chapman University, Orange, CA.
Huell shoveling sauerkraut. Huell Howser Archives, Leatherby Libraries, Chapman University, Orange, CA.
Huell’s Herald’s of Peace Torch, 1996 Olympics, Los Angeles, CA. Huell Howser Archives, Leatherby Libraries, Chapman University, Orange, CA.
Huell, Nita the Elephant, and Charlie. This was Huell’s favorite segment in all his years of broadcasting. Huell Howser Archives, Leatherby Libraries, Chapman University, Orange, CA.
Huell got Simpsonized. Huell Howser Archives, Leatherby Libraries, Chapman University, Orange, CA.
John Romita’s personalized drawing of Huell and Stan Lee. Huell Howser Archives, Leatherby Libraries, Chapman University, Orange, CA.
Huell’s 1957 copy of the Boy Scouts Handbook for Boys. Huell Howser Archives, Leatherby Libraries, Chapman University, Orange, CA.
A fine example of the industrial art Huell loved. Huell Howser Archives, Leatherby Libraries, Chapman University, Orange, CA.
Some of Huell’s books and mementos in the artifacts room of the Huell Howser Archives, Leatherby Libraries, Chapman University, Orange, CA.

Check out The Mugly Truth Podcast’s episode “That’s Amazing! Huell Howser Archives, regular and enhanced versions, on Apple Podcasts, SpotifyOvercast, Libsyn, Pocket CastStitcher, iHeartRadio, or anywhere you listen to podcasts. Then all you need to do is 1) subscribe 2) download and 3) listen! AND!!! 4) If you enjoy what you hear, please leave a rating and a review (pretty please?). The more subscribers and reviews we get, the more opportunities we get to grow this podcast and bring you richer content.

And don’t forget to follow us here at themuglytruth.com (click that blue WordPress Follow button on the right side of your screen) so you get notifications every time we post an episode blog! You can also follow The Mugly Truth on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

© The Mugly Truth 2020 and © The Mugly Truth Podcast 2020. All rights reserved.
Intro and outro music, “Clever as a Fox”  by Espresso Music through premiumbeats.com.

All photos are courtesy Kym Wagner and Kris Core. All rights reserved.


San Juan Capistrano: History & Hauntings

Today’s episode “San Juan Capistrano: History & Hauntings” is on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, SpotifyOvercast, Libsyn, Pocket CastStitcher, iHeartRadio, or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Happy First Day of October everyone! Can you believe Fall is here? Football games are in full swing, baseball is winding up, leaves are turning…even in wacky Southern California we have had glimpses of Fall weather here and there. We’re ringing in the eerie days of October bright and early for you with today’s episode. We met up with our favorite local ghost tour company, Haunted Orange County, for another fun evening filled with rich history and lots of haunted stories replete with bandits, banshees and faceless monks. Our amazing guide, Charles (you’ll remember him from last year’s episode “Haunted Orange“) was in splendid guide mode as we walked through the quaint and über-historic town of San Juan Capistrano.

If you don’t live in this area, chances are you may still have heard about San Juan Capistrano. It’s famous for two things: 1) Mission San Juan Capistrano and 2) the swallows returning to town every year in March. If you live in Orange County – or even Southern California – something’s for certain: you either took a school tour of the Mission in elementary school and/or you had to do some kind of report on the Missions of California that probably included some form of construction project you proudly (or not) carried into your classroom to display along all the other renditions of Missions of our lovely state.

Let the adventures begin! Haunted Orange County’s Ghost Walk Tour of San Juan Capistrano. Photo courtesy Kris Core.

Having lived in Orange County, CA, all our lives, we never thought beyond the Mission when San Juan Capistrano is mentioned. Pity, that. It’s a fantastic town so full of history we could do a month or two of podcasts on downtown alone. We are grateful to Charles and Haunted Orange County for helping us see beyond the mission walls.

We showed up for our tour about an hour early and tried to get a “quick” bite to eat at Trevor’s by the Tracks restaurant. We waited in line for almost 10 minutes before hearing the hostess tell the couple ahead of us there was an hour wait for first available. Rats. While there are other less crowded restaurants in the same space, we trotted ourselves over to our old stand-by: Starbucks. After coffee and a sous vide egg bites (YUM), we headed back to the meeting point, checked in with Charles and after the (very loud) train pulled away, we crossed the tracks into another world. In fact, this is the interval sound effect we used in this episode. It was very exciting to experience the train pulling in and then departing. The energy of people going places…travelling…IT’S SO COOL!

Hummingbird House Cafe, San Juan Capistrano. Photo courtesy Kris Core.

If you haven’t been to Los Rios District of San Juan Capistrano, and you’re in the area, you must make this part of your adventure. Park in the parking structure next to the tracks (or in some of the other lots across the main street near the park), and as you walk toward the tracks, notice the tiny building which used to be the home of a very stubborn young woman.(Charles told this story, but you’ll have to hear it from him in person, since we only include highlights of his tour in today’s episode). It is now the Hummingbird House Cafe (Kris can attest to their delicious food from previous trips). As you cross the tracks, feel yourself melt into the past in this magical, relaxing street (which happens to be a working residential street so do watch out for cars which seem very incongruous in this setting). This street is the longest-occupied residential street in California, with houses dating back to the 1700’s. The oldest continual residence since then – lived in by the same family – is the Rios Adobe, now home and law office to Mr. Stephen Rios, Esquire. It is also, according to Charles, quite haunted.

Rios House. This home is still occupied by direct descendents of the Rios family who have lived here continuously since 1700s. Photo courtesy Kris Core.

Turning to your right, there are many little homes converted to businesses – mostly cafes and colorful shops bursting with trinkets and artsy wares, and a tea house if you want to get your high tea on. But be sure to visit the Montanez Adobe with it’s lovely butterfly sanctuary out front. It’s not a walk-in tour, so you’ll have to call the museum ahead of time to go inside. Even if you can’t tour the interior, there are benches all around for you to sit and marvel at the peaceful loveliness of the garden.

The beautiful garden and butterfly sanctuary of the Montanez Adobe in the Rios District of San Juan Capistrano. Photo courtesy Kris Core.
Ramos House Restaurant; the “newest” house Charles talked about on his tour. Built in the 1800s – and vurrrrrrry haunted, as told by Charles in today’s episode.
View down Ramos Street in San Juan Capistrano. This is the longest-continuously occupied street in California. People have been in residence here since the 1700s.

Next to the Rios Adobe is Old Mr. Tree, a gigantic ancient pepper tree. If you look up, you’ll see a skull or two hanging from the branches (can you spot one in the photo?). To the left is a coffee shop called Hidden House Coffee; when we went back the next day for photos and a walkabout, the joint was hoppin’! If you don’t mind a bit of a wait, you can grab a bite and a cup of coffee before heading over to the Zoomars Petting Zoo.

The Old Mr. Tree of Ramos Street.

You don’t have to go into the petting zoo…you can walk along the outer edge and get a nice visual (and sniff) of the animals they have inside: chickens, emus, llamas (alpacas?), goats, horses…there’s more, we’re sure. Right now they are decorated for Halloween, and will be having their Pumpkinpalooza event all October, so if you have littles, take them on down! Haunted Orange County is also hosting a Sugar Skull Workshop on October 19, so sign up soon because they sell out fast.

Do the emu dance at the San Juan Capistrano Petting Zoo. Photo courtesy Kris Core.

Although Charles told us a story about a local “la llarona” (a child killing banshee, basically) who is said to wander the creek at the end of the path near the zoo, he assured us it’s all just an urban myth. (No, the movie is not about this la llarona legend. We don’t think it is anyway…)

Our tour took us past the petting zoo to the O’Neill Museum. This is the oldest wooden structure in the area, built in the 1870s by saloon owner Jose Dolores Garcia as a gift for his wife Refugio Yorba. Garcia was murdered, and his despondent wife sold the home to a Mr. Albert Pryor, and then it passed to the Cornwall family who donated the home to the Historical Society of San Juan Capistrano in the 1970s. The home was moved across the train tracks to its present location and is open to the public for a very fair requested donation of $1. To walk through this tiny home and see the furnishings (and the wallpaper incarnations), the artwork, and just feel the atmosphere and energy of the past within its walls is a must-do on your visit to the district. For Halloween, the Society is conducting their own Ghosts and Legends Tours on Friday, October 25, and Saturday, October 26, 2019. Please check the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society website for this and other events year ’round. We include Charles’ story of Mr. Garcia’s murder, and the hauntings of the building in today’s episode (including Mr. Pryor rocking in a rocking chair on the porch. As you can see below, there’s no rocking chair there…)

Exterior of San Juan Capistrano Historical Society O’Neill Museum. Photo courtesy Kris Core.

One of the highlights of the ghost tour, and of our day trip, was visiting the “second jail cell” of San Juan Capistrano. It’s literally an iron-work cage sitting in front of one of the museum’s buildings on property, and is open for anyone to go inside and get a feel for the eerie. Charles spoke of suicides and other horrible events related to this tiny little holding cell, and honestly, when we tried to get a photo of Kym going into the cell that night, the photos were streaked with all kinds of what looks like backscatter. Oddly enough, there was no wind or breeze, there were no bugs, no flurries, no mist to speak of that evening, not even people hurrying in and out of the frame of the camera. Yet every photo had issues with the quality. When visiting the next day, we both went inside the cage together but all we felt was cramped. But hey, look for yourself and see what you think:

Kym ready to go to jail. This was the clearest photo Kris got that night. Photo courtesy Kris Core.
Strange mist when taking photo of haunted jail cell at night. There was no wind, were no insects, no pollen, no mist and no one walking in front of the camera, or anything in the air that night. Yet every photo had these weird streaks. What do you think it is? Photo courtesy Kris Core.
Next day, Kym’s still ready to go to jail. Photo courtesy Kris Core.

On our night tour, we went to the El Adobe Restaurant for more haunted stories. Passers-by leaving the restaurant kept saying how delicious the food is and so the next day we tried to go to lunch, but we were too early as the El Adobe was closed (it was just past 11 am). Disappointed at first, we were pleasantly uplifted by the offerings of Ellie’s Table across the street. At first glance it looked to be just a bakery and coffee shop, but they had a full menu and their display cases were packed with some nicely colorful and tasty looking premade sandwiches, salads, and of course baked amazingness. We each ordered an eggwhite burrito and cappuccino and sat on the terrace outside to eat. Coincidentally the restaurant was once the home of “Judge” Egan (who wasn’t really a judge) and was part of the tour (we realized once we sat down). In today’s episode, we share Charles’ story of the “Judge’s” not-so-legal construction endeavours. It’s a beautiful house (THE FLOORING!), shady history and all, and is definitely a nice eatery with reasonable prices.

We ended both tours in the same spot…in front of the majestic Mission San Juan Capistrano. We include Charles’ touching story of Father John O’Sullivan in our episode. O’Sullivan is credited with “saving” the mission, as he was responsible for creating the look of the campus as we see it today – taking it from ruins back to its (humble) glory. The Mission had been passed along for many years from governments to (rich) private owners where it fell into disrepair. Thankfully, Abraham Lincoln returned all missions to the Catholic church shortly before he was assassinated; if it wasn’t for President Lincoln, and then Father O’Sullivan, it’s likely we would only have blocks of masonry to study, rather than the beautiful heritage site we can explore now. Charles also talks about the earthquake that killed parishioners attending mass in the cathedral, and of the young woman who’s death caused a mysterious tolling of the mission bells, even though no one knew she had died, and no one had been in the bell tower when the bells pealed their mournful goodbye to their loyal servant.

The Mission in 1889, prior to restoration. Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
Father O’Sullivan on the grounds of the Mission San Juan Capistrano. Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
View of part of the original wall of Mission San Juan Capistrano from the street – part of this structure collapsed in an earthquake killing over 40 people attending mass at the time. Photo courtesy Kris Core.

If you can’t tell, we love San Juan Capistrano. There are many shops, restaurants, and parks to visit. We highly recommend you spend at last a day there, walking in Los Rios district, enjoying the local park, perusing the antique shops, and definitely visit the mission. You could even cross the 5 freeway and search out the private (and closed) cemetery Charles spoke of in the episode…we know where it is and we may just have to go back to see if we can sneak a peek somehow. Until then, we’ll have our photos, our memories, and definitely this episode to tide us over.

Many thanks again to Charles Spratley of Haunted Orange County. Charles has been conducting tours for 18 years; he is a history aficionado – his love of all things paranormal, antique, and teaching comes through on every tour. He’s our favorite guide and we hope to join him in future events! Be sure to take some cash to tip him at the end of the night. It’s well worth it.

Keep your eye on hauntedoc.com for additional tours (Black Star Canyon is on our radar!!!). You can also keep an eye out for similar events at https://www.santaanahistory.com/.

So. If you haven’t already listened, check out “San Juan Capistrano: History & Hauntings” episode on  iTunes/Apple Podcasts, SpotifyOvercast, Libsyn, Pocket CastStitcher, iHeartRadio, or anywhere you listen to podcasts. Then all you need to do is 1) subscribe 2) download and 3) listen! AND!!! 4) If you enjoy what you hear, please leave a rating and a review (pretty please?). The more subscribers and reviews we get, the more opportunities we get to grow this podcast and bring you richer content.

And don’t forget to follow us here at themuglytruth.com (click that blue WordPress Follow button on the right side of your screen) so you get notifications every time we post an episode blog! You can also follow The Mugly Truth on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

© The Mugly Truth 2019 and © The Mugly Truth Podcast 2019. All rights reserved.
Intro and outro music, “Clever as a Fox”  by Espresso Music through premiumbeats.com.

Featured Photo of Mission San Juan Capistrano courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
All other photos on this page courtesy of Kristen Core, all rights reserved.