Photos of the 1918 flu pandemic in California

We’ve been through shutdowns like this before. In September of 1918, a global flu pandemic made entry into California. As with the coronavirus, the first cases were detected among travelers — a man who had returned to San Francisco from a trip to Chicago and seamen aboard a vessel that arrived to the harbor in…

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Illustrations of Los Angeles in Wes Anderson hues

The British artist George Townley creates gorgeous illustrations of Southern California’s architectural gems, work that was highlighted in the California Sun a couple years ago. Townley, 23, became enamored of California while attending Cal State San Marcos on a study abroad program a few years back. Using a stylus in Photoshop, he created drawings of…

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How John Steinbeck faced anti-Semitic attacks

John Steinbeck, born in Salinas on Feb. 27, 1902, wrote a series of articles as a young man for the San Francisco News about labor unrest in his hometown. A bloody crackdown on striking lettuce workers in 1936 inspired in Steinbeck a quest to give voice to the oppressed and resulted three years later with his masterwork…

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How Charles Schulz created “Peanuts” (and hated the name)

Charles Schulz, who spent much of his life in Santa Rosa, created a childhood world for Charlie Brown and the gang that became among the most influential comic strips in history, with more than 355 million daily readers worldwide. But one element of the strip always bothered Schulz. He hated the name. “Peanuts” was chosen…

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The storied life and tragic death of Leo Ryan

In November 1978 Leo Ryan, a U.S. congressman from California, was murdered along with four others on a remote airstrip in Guyana. Ryan had traveled there to follow up on concerns from his constituents that their family members were being sexually and mentally abused at the People’s Temple compound led by the Rev. Jim Jones.…

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The secret colossal trees of California’s North Coast

The General Sherman, a giant sequoia in California’s southern Sierra Nevada, is as wide as a three-lane highway, nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty, and older than Christ. It’s the champion of big trees, recognized as such for decades by American Forests, a nonprofit that has been ranking the world’s biggest trees since…

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James Dean’s fatal crash — and his enduring legend

On Sept. 30, 1955, a Ford sedan collided with a Porsche Spyder 550 on a lonely stretch of highway in Central California, killing a young James Dean. The crash was the earthly end of the 24-year-old star, but the beginning of his enduring legend. Dean only starred in three films. At the time of his…

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How Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo landed in California

Long before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Iberian explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo set off from Mexico in a bid to confirm long-told myths of a paradise abounding in gold at the edge of the known world. After three months at sea, he found it. In September of 1542 Cabrillo’s fleet of three ships became the…

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Clara Foltz’s remarkable lifetime of legal firsts

In September of 1878 the force of nature known as Clara Foltz passed the California bar, becoming the first female lawyer on the West Coast. The firsts didn’t stop there. Foltz was the first woman to serve as clerk of the state Assembly’s judiciary committee, the first woman deputy district attorney in the country, and…

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The short life of California’s first newspaper

California’s first newspaper was published in Monterey in August of 1846. Shortly after American forces seized the port city, the weekly Californian was founded by Walter Colton, the administrative leader of Monterey, and Robert Semple, a frontiersman from Kentucky. The local population didn’t exceed 1,000 souls at the time, and the newspapermen had to rely…

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The sorry story of John Sutter

The owner of the California property where gold was discovered died broke. Swiss pioneer John Sutter arrived near the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers on this week in 1839. He built a fort, persuaded the Mexican governor to grant him a massive expanse of land, and made plans to construct a city. Needing lumber,…

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Photographs of a California beautiful and battered

California is a land of white sand beaches and glistening granite peaks, but also of incinerated forests and dessicated hillsides. It’s this second California that has drawn the eye of the Thomas Heinser. For five years or so, the German-born, San Francisco-based photographer has made a study of the state’s scarred landscapes. His images, shot…

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