It’s a mystery within a mystery. How does the San Diego Natural History Museum play into a “White River Monster” story airing Thursday about bewildered residents of the town of Newport, Ark.?
Nine months ago, San Diego travel writer Maggie Espinosa was contacted by the Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum” directors to help produce tomorrow night’s episode, which airs at 10 p.m.
For years there had been occasional sightings of a huge gray, mysterious creature lurking beneath the surface in the White River. There also were reports of strange footprints and occasional eerie, unexplainable booming or bellowing sounds that further puzzled and frightened Newport residents.
In 1973, a fisherman captured a hazy and unidentifiable image of the “monster.” It was was described as “wide as a car and as long as three cars,” says Espinosa, former president of the San Diego Press Club.
As the legend grew and fear mounted, town leaders passed a regulation forbidding harassment or interaction with the monster. In 1973, Espinosa said a fence was built along the banks of the river where it had been spotted to protect those on land, and the area was referred to as the White River Monster Refuge.
As concern reached fever pitch, an expert in identifying hidden creatures, who had headed the official Loch Ness monster search in the Scottish Highlands, was called in to investigate.
Cryptozoologist Roy P. Mackal ruled out such possibilities as submerged boulders or wreckage from a ship that rose and sank with the changing currents.
His probe, in fact, led the Travel Channel series producers to the San Diego Natural History Museum. In its collection is a two-foot-long skull of a sea mammal that Mackal concluded was similar to the one terrorizing the tiny Arkansas town.
The creature was never captured, so the mystery still endures, but Mackal was so convinced he had hit upon the answer that he wrote a book explaining his theory.
Espinosa explores more details about the legendary beast on the Jan.11 show hosted by Don Wildman.
Stage credits: As British actor Gary Oldman accepted the Golden Globe Sunday for his portrayal of Prime Minister Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” former Coronado resident Lisa Bruce was among those he publicly thanked.
Bruce, one of the film’s producers, had premiered “Darkest Hour” at the Coronado Island Film Festival last November before its national debut. She grew up in Coronado, and her family still resides there.
She has a good track record. The previous year, she had screened her film, “The Theory of Everything,” during the festival. It later was nominated for five Academy Awards, and Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking.
Anniversary present: Instead of a lifeline to the city, the San Diego River seems to be an afterthought, an irritant when it floods, blocking roads and shopping center access, and a hideaway for the tents and sleeping bags of the homeless.
Nearly 250 years ago, though, the river was a beacon for Native Americans and Spanish settlers, who used it for drinking, farming and raising livestock.
Tom Fetter, board president of the San Diego History Center, wants to emphasize the key role the San Diego River played in our city’s establishment. An effort to rejuvenate the Junipero Serra Museum atop the presidio, which had many more visitors before the history center collection and operations moved to more spacious location in Balboa Park, has been slowly taking shape.
The center just received an $800,000 grant from the San Diego River Conservancy to create an exhibit telling the story of our namesake river and its historical significance.
After all, the presidio marks the birthplace in 1769 of the first mission in what is now California.
The center is working to raise the remaining $150,000 needed to complete its project. Bill Lawrence, History Center executive director, hopes to have the Serra Museum exhibit plus a new n ADA-accessible parking area complete before the city’s 250th birthday celebration in 2019.