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Saturday, 21 April 2012

Interesting Fountain/Sculpture of the Week

The monument above (The Warning, sculpted by Eric Richards) was erected in 2003 in Santa Paula, California, to mark a heroic evening in 1928.  Motor Officers Thornton Edwards (on the Indian) and Stanley Baker (on the Harley) were on duty the evening of March 12, 1928, when California experienced what remains the second worst disaster in the state’s history.  The recently completed St. Francis Dam, 36 miles upstream in Santa Clarita, collapsed shortly after midnight.   The collapse released 52 billion gallons of water, and that water was headed directly toward Santa Paula.  The Santa Paula Police Department learned of the impending danger shortly after the dam broke.  Thornton and Baker spent the next 3 hours riding their motorcycles throughout Santa Paula, notifying residents and evacuating the town.  Thornton actually worked for the State Highway Department, which became the California Highway Patrol.  Baker was a Santa Paula Police Department Officer.  Although the records from this era are sketchy, legend holds that Thornton’s bike had to be repaired during his midnight ride when it ingested water.  As a result of these two officers’ actions, the residents of Santa Paula were successfully evacuated, and few Santa Paula residents died that night. 
The water released by the dam (the reservoir had just filled, and the poorly-designed dam was not strong enough to contain it) mixed with mud and debris to form a wall of slurry that advanced 54 miles to the ocean at about 12 miles per hour.  The disaster killed an estimated 470 people, and to this day, it is still the second worst disaster in California history.  Only the San Francisco earthquake and its resulting fires resulted in more death.  The Warning contains no mention of either motor officer’s name; rather, it is intended to honor all acts of heroism, and to honor those killed during the St. Francis Dam collapse.  If you head through downtown Santa Paula, The Warning is hard to miss, and it’s worth a trip to this beautiful town just to see it.
(Special thanks for the above research to Peggy Kelly, a reporter for the Santa Paula Times.)

1 comment:

  1. I'd only heard about this disaster recently. Saw an old film clip of this somewhere. I'll have to check out that sculpture sometime.