UFOs, Swallows Day, and Placentia

Q: Where’s the best place to see UFOs in Orange County?
Downtown Huntington Beach is the most likely place, based on the many sightings mapped on the UFOStalker website used by Mutual UFO Network’s Orange County chapter. Of course, that part of town also has something like 825 percent more liquor licenses per capita than the rest of the county. (Perhaps the little green men like to tie one on?) But we can’t blame all UFO activity on schnockered sightings. Visit your local art school and then tell me there are no extraterrestrials among us.

Q: How did San Juan Capistrano end up with a huge Swallows Day festival—but no swallows?
In the 1920s, the mission’s Father St. John O’Sullivan spun the story of the cliff swallows’ 6,000-mile, clockworklike annual migration into a romantic legend. In 1930, his tale was published in “Capistrano Nights,” and the story became a publicity juggernaut. Media coverage of the swallows’ return every March 19 brought increased crowds each year. A national radio broadcast in 1936 marked the first organized recognition of the return, and the following year Capistrano High School principal Paul Richards launched what is now Fiesta de las Golondrinas to entertain the visitors. Originally featuring contests, games, and dancing, the event grew to include a trail ride and, beginning in the late 1950s, the equestrian Swallows Day Parade. The hit song “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” and a growing local population fanned the flames. Alas, the swallows skedaddled to the suburbs when downtown congestion and development drove them out. 

Q: My Spanish isn’t too good. What’s a Placentia?
For starters, it’s not Spanish. Historian Virginia Carpenter traced the word to King Henry IV of England, who named one of his castles Placentia in 1445. Locally, Placentia appeared in the 1870s, when teacher Sara McFadden suggested it as a name for a school district. A town followed the district and it became a city in 1926. Note also that Placentia rhymes with Valencia, suggesting sunny Spain, and thus echoing real estate sales motifs of the era. Historian Don Meadows called Placentia “Realtor Spanish” for “a pleasant place.”

Illustration by Devon Bowman

Chris Jepsen is the O.C. Answer Man. Have a question? Send it to cjepsen@socal.rr.com.

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue.

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