One of San Diego’s most famous houses stands in Old Town at 4015 Harney Street. It’s a modest little structure that you might easily pass by without a second glance.
For a couple of years, 1853-1854, the Derby-Pendleton House was the home of Lieutenant George Horatio Derby, an American humorist who wrote articles for California newspapers, including the San Diego Herald, under the pseudonyms Squibob and John Phoenix. It is said his style of writing, employing absurdity, exaggeration, irreverence and good fun, inspired Mark Twain, Artemus Ward, Bret Harte and others.
Derby’s Wikipedia page states: According to the newly (2010) published Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. One, Ulysses S. Grant was a classmate of “Squibob’s” and the General told Twain some stories of Squibob at West Point.
In 1856 Derby’s immensely popular book Phoenixiana was published. It contains many of his humorous pieces, including articles he wrote concerning San Diego. I like the gentle humor of his description of Old Town’s Fourth of July in 1854. It is found on page 123: At 9 A.M. precisely, the San Diego Light Infantry, in full uniform, consisting of Brown’s little boy, in his shirt-tail, fired a national salute with a large bunch of fire-crackers. This part of the celebration went off admirably; with the exception of the young gentleman having set fire to his shirt tail, which was fortunately immediately extinguished without incident.
Why was Lt. George H. Derby, a West Point graduate and engineer of the United States Topographical Corps, in San Diego? To survey the San Diego River and build a dike that would divert its water into False Bay–now Mission Bay.
While in San Diego, he and his wife rented a prefabricated house that was originally brought by ship around Cape Horn. Learn all about the Derby-Pendleton House’s complex history here. It has had many owners, including William Heath Davis and Don Juan Bandini, and has been moved repeatedly.
You can see an historical marker concerning Derby Dike here. You might note that the marker was placed by Squibob Chapter, E Clampus Vitus.
The San Diego chapter of E Clampus Vitus, “a fraternal organization dedicated to the preservation of the heritage of the American West,” is named after Derby’s pseudonym, Squibob. The motto of Clampers is Credo Quia Absurdum, which purportedly means “I believe it because it is absurd.”
In 1962 an historical plaque was placed on The Derby-Pendleton House by the San Diego chapters of the Sons of the American Revolution and Daughters of the American Revolution. I took a photo of it yesterday.
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