The Mysterious Giants of Catalina Island

Catalina Island, California

Throughout cultures all over the world there have long been legends of giants living amongst us, colossal beings that our ancestors saw and even worshipped, but these creatures seem to have been lost to time and regulated to pure myth. Yet is there any chance that true giants really did exist at some point? There have been many theories of this and even supposed evidence dug up from time to time in the form of bones or even full skeletons of giants, and one of the most sensational such claims of its time was made on a tiny island lying just off the coast of California. Was this land once roamed by real giants?

Lying just off the coast of the U.S. state of California, around 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles, is the quaint Santa Catalina Island, also called simply Catalina Island. The 22 mile by 8 mile island is part of the Channel Islands archipelago and incorporated into Los Angeles County, and it also has a rather colorful history. Originally settled by the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe of Native Americans in around 7000 BC, the island was claimed by Spain in 1542 and later it passed into the possession of Mexico and after that to the United States. Catalina Island was long used as a base of operations for a variety of nefarious sorts, including smugglers and otter poachers, until it was eventually turned into a tourist resort in the 1920s by the tycoon William Wrigley, Jr., of the chewing gum empire. Although the island is now a popular tourist destination and frequently visited by vacationers from nearby Los Angeles, which lies only an hour boat ride away, there is another odd facet of the island’s history that most people may be unaware of.

During these excursions he uncovered an alleged 800 secret burial sites around the island and a myriad of Indian artifacts and relics, as well as thousands of ancient Native remains, which he often sold to museums and collectors. When William Wrigley, Jr. bought the island in the 1920s, he went about ensuring that these artifacts would be preserved, and ordered that all such finds would be the exclusive property of the Field Museum of Natural History of Chicago. Interestingly, the Heye Foundation, to whom Glidden had sold a large amount of such remains and relics, was contracted by the the museum to carry out all excavations on Catalina Island, and he managed to snag a top spot in this pursuit, which enabled him to keep up his excavations uninhibited.In 1896 a 15-year-old boy named Ralph Glidden moved to Catalina Island with his family, where he would go on to find work as a carpenter before developing a burgeoning interest in the various Indian artifacts and middens and burial sites to be found scattered about the Channel Islands after he purportedly stubbed his toe on a human skull while looking for pearls on San Nicolas Island. He then became obsessed with such things and became an amateur archaeologist of sorts, going on to organize numerous excavations to uncover ancient burial sites on Catalina Island between the years of 1919 and 1928.

Unfortunately for Glidden, in 1924 the foundation cut all funding, and he was forced to keep his head above water by opening a ramshackle museum for his finds in the town of Avalon, on Catalina Island, which he called the “Catalina Museum of Island Indians,” and where he exhibited his discoveries to anyone willing to pay admission. The whole museum was a rather grim and gruesome affair, utilizing Indian skeletons as decorations and upping the spooky factor, but it worked in that it drew slews of curiosity seekers even as he amassed more for his collection. It could all be seen in retrospect as rather exploitative, turning these priceless treasures form the past into macabre exhibitions for the curious and making money off of them, but by all accounts Glidden was actually quite serious about the scientific pursuit of archeology, and in those days this sort of behavior was sort of par for the course concerning ancient artifacts and remains.

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Ralph Glidden holding an ancient Native American urn

Yet among all of the curious discoveries made by Glidden was the most bizarre of all; his claim that he had uncovered a race of giants who had once inhabited the island. He would come forward to announce that during his excavations he had come across several skeletons across the island that were far larger than normal humans, measuring an alleged 7 to 9 feet tall. This he would concoct into a theory that the island had once been inhabited by a race of fair-skinned, blue-eyed giants, with the average height of a full grown male estimated as being around 7 feet. The claim of course generated widespread media interest, and in one issue of the The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Nov. 10, 1929, it was written:

He (Glidden) claims overwhelming proof that a fair skinned, fair haired, highly intelligent race of great stature lived on Catalina Island, off the southwestern coast of California, perhaps three thousand years ago, and that his excavation of a huge cache of skeletons, domestic utensils, urns, wampum, etc., is quite out of the ordinary class of Indian discoveries.

A skeleton of a young girl, evidently of high rank, within a large funeral urn, was surrounded by those of sixty four children, and in various parts of the island more than three thousand other skeletons were found, practically all the males averaging around seven feet in height, one being seven feet eight inches from the top of his head to the ankle, and another being 9 feet 2 inches tall.

Bizarrely, this would turn out to be not the only claim of such amazing finds among the Channel Islands. Apparently in 1913, a German named Dr. A.W Furstenan had found the skeleton of what appeared to be an 8-foot tall human on Catalina Island, which was found amongst other artifacts including a flat stone bearing odd, unidentifiable symbols. This particular skeleton was allegedly found in Avalon Bay in hard black sand, and it reportedly mostly disintegrated when it was brought to the surface and exposed to air, leaving only the skull, jawbone, and a foot intact. There was also a later report of a dig on nearby Santa Rosa Island that in 1959 supposedly unearthed several 7-foot-tall skeletons with skulls painted red which had double rows of teeth and 6 fingers and toes instead of 5. Interestingly, double rows of teeth were apparently a common feature among the human remains found in the Channel Islands. Another of the Channel Islands, San Nicolas Island, was also the scene of numerous findings of larger than average human remains, which were surmised to be a different race from the more normal-sized inhabitants.

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Considering that many of the alleged giant skeletons of Catalina Island were claimed to have been buried in a ceremonial fashion in elaborate urns, Glidden surmised that the local natives worshiped them as some sort of gods. Of course, the findings themselves were viewed with open skepticism and even contempt by the mainstream archeology community. The whole thing was seen by scientists and academics as a last desperate attempt at a publicity stunt in order to drum up funding for the cash-strapped Glidden to do more digs, and as such no professional archeologists was even willing to travel out to Catalina Island to make an effort to verify the claims. Some locals have expressed doubts over the findings as well, such as one 89-year-old lifelong resident of Avalon and local historian by the name of Jeanne Hill, who said of Gidden and his museum:

It (the museum) was scary, very scary. Bones piled up all over the place. One skull had a light on in it. Years later, I came to doubt a lot of things about Ralph Glidden. Once, I found some receipts showing that he’d bought skeletons from a curio shop on Broadway in Los Angeles. There also used to be a fake archaeological dig site on the north end of the island that was assumed to have been Ralph’s work. Was a he a phony? Well, it has been said.

One of the main problems with Glidden’s fantastic discoveries is that there is very little hard evidence to show that any of what he said was true. There were those who came forward over the years to say that they had personally seen the skeletons, but these stories are circumstantial at best. Some of the bones were apparently sent to the University of California and The Smithsonian, but these institutions have repeatedly denied any such specimens in their collection when asked about it. Nevertheless, it has been speculated that they are indeed there, locked away in top secret vaults along with the field reports and photos to go with them. Regardless of whether any of this is true or not, none of the alleged skeletons has ever been officially released as evidence and it is unclear what happened to all of these supposed remains.

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Photo allegedly showing Ralph Gidden with a giant skeleton at a dig

One would think that Glidden would have taken many photos of these findings, and apparently he did, but these have proven to be hard to come across. Not helping matters is the fact that Glidden was said to be rather sloppy about marking or properly filing his photographs, meaning that many were mislabeled or lost. The most significant discovery made in recent years was a dusty box found in the back of the Catalina Island Museum’s archive in 2012, which held numerous documents written by Gidden and photographs of ancient Native relics and remains, including some that purportedly show the giant skeletons he claimed to have found, but these too are not always properly labelled and have very little information included with them to give them context. While it is disputed as to the veracity of the giant photos, one paranormal researcher named L.A. Marzulli has claimed that detailed analysis of the one of the photographs shows that the skeleton pictured seems to be real and that it would have measured 8 and a half feet tall in life, yet others maintain that the photo is a hoax. Marzulli has also said that one of the giant skeletons clearly showed 6 fingers.

While there is understandably skepticism as to Glidden’s findings, there are those who have used the purported discoveries to bolster their own theories, in particular Hollow Earth conspiracists, who had their heyday in the 19th and early 20th century and more or less believe that there is a whole other world existing under us, which can be accessed through several portals located throughout the world. At the time of Glidden’s discoveries it was speculated by Hollow Earth theorists that one of these portals might be found on Catalina Island and that the giants had been tasked as guardians of the gateway. So prevalent was this idea that several expeditions were made by the so-called “Hollow-Earthers” in the 1920s, but it is unknown what they found, if anything.

Glidden himself would eventually sell his entire collection of artifact and remains for $5,000 in 1962, although it is unknown if this included any of the supposed giants, and he would die in 1967 at the age of 87. It is quite possible that when he died he took many of the secrets of his work and the potential answers to the mysteries surrounding it with him. We are left to wonder at how much truth any of it has. Was Glidden a huckster out to get some cash and fame? Or did he really make what would constitute one of the most important archeological discoveries of all time? Was Catalina Island once the home of giants revered and worshiped by the Natives and if so what became of them? It is likely we will never know for sure.

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