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5 Previous Attempts To Split Up California

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California is the third-largest state in the United States, with the Union’s largest population and economy. From the very beginning, it’s been a hard state to govern – and more than once, people have tried to fix California by cutting it into smaller states. There have been over 200 attempts to break up (or break away from) California; here are some the most important.

1. The Great Republic of Rough and Ready

No sooner had California been formed than people were already trying to get away from it. The 3,000 miners of Rough and Ready resented the new state of California for its heavy taxes and failure to maintain order. On April 7, 1850, they seceded from the state (and the Union). They revoked their secession in order to celebrate July 4 with a clear conscience (and to land a lucrative federal post office).

2. The State of Colorado

The antics of a few miners paled next to the growing crisis in America over slavery. Southern leaders hated the idea of a giant new free state. From 1850 to 1861, pro-slavery legislators introduced bills every year to divide the state. The state assembly passed one bill in 1854, to divide the state into the states of Colorado, California, and Shasta, but the state senate failed to pass it. The legislature and the governor passed a second attempt in 1859, which would have created a new state of Colorado out of southern California, but the arrival of the Civil War kept the proposal from reaching Congress.

3. From the Civil War to Jefferson

The Civil War made secession decidedly unfashionable, and the arrival of the railroads and the telegraph made it easier to govern such a large state. For decades, the tensions between California’s north and south and between the vast rural hinterlands and the big cities were tamped down. The last straw for the neglected northern counties was the Great Depression. In late 1941, Mayor Gilbert Gable of Port Orford, Oregon suggested that the northern counties of California should join the southern counties of Oregon in forming the new state of Jefferson. The proposal gained national attention when a group of armed hotheads blocked traffic on a national highway – but the attack on Pearl Harbor less than two weeks later ended the Jefferson movement.

4. Utopias

The social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s created a new wave of idealist secessionists. In March 1964, a small group of Native American activists protested at the abandoned prison of Alcatraz Island near San Francisco. A larger group returned in November 1969; at its height, the occupying activists had a population of 400. Federal law enforcement removed the last 15 occupiers on June 11, 1971. Other idealists dreamt of carving part of California out for themselves; the writer Ernest Callenbach wanted northern California to join the new nation of Ecotopia, an idea that spawned the Cascadia secession movement of the 21st century. A few Hispanic activists began calling for the integration of southern California into a new Spanish-speaking nation of Aztlán. And offshore, libertarians wanted to go even farther and create their own havens; the late 1960s saw failed attempts to create the platform nations of Taluga and Abalonia (the wreckage of which is now an attractive artificial reef).

5. The Return of Regionalism

While radicals of various stripes pursued their dreams, many legislators took up the idea of dividing the state in the 1960s for more practical reasons. Cultural differences between the cities and rural areas were aggravated by disputes over water management and annoyance over duplicated state offices in the north and south. A bill to divide north and south California passed the state Senate in 1966. Another proposal to split the state into thirds passed the state House of Representatives in 1993. Since then, the idea has percolated widely, and several northern counties have voted to resurrect the Jefferson project, but no serious proposal has come close to approval.

Today: The Six Californias Movement

Tim Draper, a billionaire best known for his investments in Hotmail and Skype, became the latest backer of a plan to split up California when he announced his Six Californias initiative in December 2013. Draper asserts that the state’s prison problem, high taxation, and educational outcomes show California is ungovernable in its current form. Opponents of the plan argue the state’s division would create administrative chaos and bitter disputes over taxes, water rights, and many other issues. Whatever a person’s position, they’ll have a chance to vote on it: thanks to a petition with 800,000 signatures, the Six Californias Initiative will go before California voters on the November 2016 ballot.

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Getty Images (Johnson) / iStock (ghosts)
When Lexicographer Samuel Johnson Became a Ghostbuster
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Getty Images (Johnson) / iStock (ghosts)

Dr. Samuel Johnson is today best known for his Dictionary of the English Language (1755), which remained the foremost authority on the English language until the Oxford English Dictionary appeared more than a century later. The dictionary took Johnson nine years to complete, for which he was paid the princely sum of 1500 guineas—equivalent to $300,000 (or £210,000) today. Although it wasn’t quite the commercial success its publishers hoped it would be, it allowed Johnson the freedom to explore his own interests and endeavors: He spent several years editing and annotating his own editions of all of Shakespeare’s plays, and traveled extensively around Britain with his friend (and eventual biographer) James Boswell—and, in 1762, helped to investigate a haunted house.

Johnson—who was born on this day in 1709 and is the subject of today's Google Doodle—had a lifelong interest in the paranormal, once commenting that he thought it was “wonderful” that it was still “undecided whether or not there has ever been an instance of the spirit of any person appearing after death. All argument is against it, but all belief is for it.” According to Boswell, however, he was more of a skeptic than an out-and-out believer, and refused to accept anything without seeing the evidence for himself. So when the news broke of an apparently haunted house just a few streets away from his own home in central London, Johnson jumped at the chance to perhaps see a ghost with his own eyes.

The haunting began in the early 1760s, when a young couple, William and Fanny Kent, began renting a room from a local landlord, Richard (or William—sources disagree, but for clarity, we'll use Richard) Parsons, at 25 Cock Lane in Smithfield, London. Soon after the Kents moved in, Richard’s daughter, Betty, began to hear strange knocking and scratching sounds all around the house, and eventually claimed to have seen a ghost in her bedroom.

Richard soon discovered that William was a widower and that Fanny was in fact his deceased wife's sister; under canon law, the pair couldn't be married, and Richard became convinced that the ghost must be that of William's deceased first wife, Elizabeth, blaming William’s presence in the house for all of the strange occurrences. He promptly evicted the Kents and the noises soon subsided—but when Fanny also died just a few weeks later, they immediately resumed and again seemed to center around Betty. In desperation, a series of séances were held at the Cock Lane house, and finally Fanny’s ghost supposedly confirmed her presence by knocking on the table. When questioned, Fanny claimed that William had killed her by poisoning her food with arsenic—an accusation William understandably denied.

By now, news of the Cock Lane Ghost had spread all across the city, and when the story broke in the press, dozens of curious Londoners began turning up at the house, queuing for hours outside in the street hoping to see any sign of supernatural activity. According to some accounts, Parsons even charged visitors to come in and “talk” to the ghost, who would communicate with knocks and other disembodied noises.

But with the suspicion of murder now in the air, the Cock Lane haunting changed from a local curiosity into a full-blown criminal investigation. A committee was formed to examine the case, and Johnson was brought in to record their findings and investigate the case for himself.

On February 1, 1762, one final séance was held with all members of the committee—Johnson included—in attendance. He recorded that:

About 10 at night the gentlemen met in the chamber in which the girl [Betty] supposed to be disturbed by a spirit had, with proper caution, been put to bed by several ladies. They sat rather more than an hour, and hearing nothing, went down stairs, when they interrogated the father of the girl, who denied, in the strongest terms, any knowledge or belief of fraud … While they were enquiring and deliberating, they were summoned into the girl’s chamber by some ladies who were near her bed, and who had heard knocks and scratches. When the gentlemen entered, the girl declared that she felt the spirit like a mouse upon her back.

But the committee were suspicious. Betty was asked to hold out her hands in front of her, in sight of everyone in the room:

From that time—though the spirit was very solemnly required to manifest its existence by appearance, by impression on the hand or body of any present, by scratches, knocks, or any other agency—no evidence of any preternatural power was exhibited.

Johnson ultimately concluded that it was “the opinion of the whole assembly that the child has some art of making or counterfeiting a particular noise, and that there is no agency of any higher cause.” And he was right.

As the investigation continued, it was eventually discovered that Richard Parsons had earlier borrowed a considerable amount of money from William Kent that he had no means (nor apparently any intention) of repaying. The two men had a falling out, and Parsons set about elaborately framing Kent for both Fanny and Elizabeth's deaths. The ghostly scratching and knocking noises had all been Betty’s work; she hidden a small wooden board into the hem of her clothing with which to tap or scratch on the walls or furniture when prompted.

The Parsons—along with a servant and a preacher, who were also in on the scam—were all prosecuted, and Richard was sentenced to two years in prison.

Although the Cock Lane haunting turned out to be a hoax, Johnson remained open minded about the supernatural. “If a form should appear,” he later told Boswell, “and a voice tell me that a particular man had died at a particular place, and a particular hour, a fact which I had no apprehension of, nor any means of knowing, and this fact, with all its circumstances, should afterwards be unquestionably proved, I should, in that case, be persuaded that I had supernatural intelligence imparted to me.”

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The King of Kong © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery
The Mountains of Kong: The Majestic West African Range That Never Existed
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The King of Kong © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

If you look closely at a 19th century map of Africa, you’ll notice one major way that it differs from contemporary maps, one that has nothing to do with changing political or cartographical styles. More likely than not, it features a mountain range that no longer appears on modern maps, as WIRED explains. Because it never existed in the first place.

A 19th century map of West Africa
From Milner's Descriptive Atlas, 1850

The “Mountains of Kong” appeared on almost every major commercial map of Africa in the 1800s, stretching across the western part of the continent between the Gulf of Guinea and the Niger River. This mythical east-west mountain range is now the subject of an art exhibition at London’s Michael Hoppen Gallery.

In "Mountains of Kong," stereoscopic images by artist Jim Naughten—the same format that allowed Victorians with wanderlust to feel like they’d seen the world—reveal his view of the world of wildlife that might have existed inside the imagined mountains. As the gallery describes it, “he imagines a fictitious record made for posterity and scientific purposes during an expedition of the mountain range.” We’ve reproduced the images here, but to get the full effect, you’ll have to go to the gallery in person, where you can view them in 3D with a stereoscope (like the ones you no doubt played with as a kid).

Toucans fight a snake in two almost-identical side-by-side images.
The Toucans © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

Naughten created the images by taking two photographs for each, and moving the camera over some 3 inches for the second photo to make a stereoscopic scene. The landscapes were created by shooting images of Scottish and Welsh mountains and dioramas in natural history museums, using Photoshop to change the hues of the images to make them seem more otherworldly. His blue-and-pink-hued images depict fearsome apes, toucans sparring with snakes, jagged peaks, and other scenes that seem both plausible and fantastical at the same time.

The Mountains of Kong appeared in several hundred maps up until the 20th century. The first, in 1798, was created by the prominent geographer James Rennell to accompany a book by Scottish explorer Mungo Park about his first journey to West Africa. In it, Park recounts gazing on a distant range, and “people informed me, that these mountains were situated in a large and powerful kingdom called Kong.” Rennell, in turn, took this brief observation and, based on his own theories about the course of the Niger River, drew a map showing the mountain range that he thought was the source of the river. Even explorers who later spent time in the area believed the mountains existed—with some even claiming that they crossed them.

Two colobuses stand in a tree on a mountaintop.
The Colobus © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

The authority of the maps wasn’t questioned, even by those who had been to the actual territory where they were depicted as standing. Writers began to describe them as “lofty,” “barren,” and “snow-covered.” Some said they were rugged granite peaks; others described them as limestone terraces. In almost all cases, they were described as “blue.” Their elevation ranged from 2500 feet to 14,000 feet, depending on the source. Over the course of the 19th century, “there was a general southward ‘drift’ in the location,” as one pair of scholars put it.

Though geographers cast some doubt on the range’s existence as time went on, the Mountains of Kong continued to appear on maps until French explorer Louis-Gustave Binger’s Niger River expedition between 1887 and 1889, after which Binger definitively declared their nonexistence.

By 1891, the Mountains of Kong began dropping off of maps, though the name Kong still appeared as the name of the region. By the early 20th century, the mountains were gone for good, fading into the forgotten annals of cartographic history.

[h/t WIRED]

All images courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery.


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