Posted Oct 06, 2020 | By Alejandra Cerball
Shipwrecks, Bone Models and Alcohol Smuggling: These Are the Strange and Unusual Travel Experiences in Oxnard
Everybody has their share of unique and wild travel stories, but what do you know about Oxnard’s history? In the 1920s, Hueneme was used as a base to distribute liquor during the Prohibition era. Thirty-six cases of whiskey were seized while the rum runners got away. Did you know some people consider it bad luck to rename a ship? A look at the history surrounding the La Jenelle shipwreck in Silver Strand Beach and its many names. Plus, why French prisoners of war in the 18th and 19th centuries used meat bones to build tiny model vessels and how the collection ended up in Oxnard.
From shipwrecks, bone models, ghost sightings and alcohol smuggling, we’ll dive into some of Oxnard’s strange and unusual travel experiences and where you can find the action during your visit.
In the 1920s, Prohibition made it illegal to manufacture, transport, and sell alcohol in the U.S, but that didn’t stop smugglers from wanting a taste of the action. Rum smugglers delivered the goods to speakeasies so people could sip on whiskey and rum. According to a May 7, 1928 news article by the Oxnard Courier, (the newspaper at the time), 36 cases of whiskey were seized in an abandoned Hueneme barn, while the smugglers escaped. Sheriff’s deputies believed that the operations were part of a gang of bootleggers who worked along the Santa Barbara Channel to bring in liquor from a “mother ship” using smaller boats to transport the load.
Here’s what happened:
While the smugglers were loading liquor into a car on the beach, sheriff’s deputies became suspicious and started their search. While the suspects were trying to escape, the getaway car broke down, and they stored the liquor in the barn until they could get a spare tire. Authorities later found the whiskey in the barn and kept watch for the smugglers. A man who was changing the tire ran away when he realized authorities were approaching him. A Chrysler 80 roadster suddenly came tearing up the road. The officers tried to stop the car, but the driver slammed into reverse and backed away. They were never caught.
In the mood for Prohibition-Style Craft Cocktails in Oxnard? Visit 1901 Speakeasy located inside La Dolce Vita Restaurant in the Heritage Square. No password required!
If you travel to the South end of Silver Strand Beach, you’ll find rusty pieces of metal from the 1970 La Jenelle shipwreck. The Western Steamship Company owned the ship, and there were plans to turn it into a floating restaurant, according to Adri Howe, Administrative Manager Channel Islands Maritime Museum. The museum houses a permanent exhibit of some of the remains of the luxury ocean liner.
The Western Steamship Company decided to temporarily anchor the La Jenelle out at sea before selling it. But a storm rolled in, which led to the demise of the La Jenelle. When it crashed into the shore, the ship began to tip and took on water. “The only two crew members aboard tried to pump the water out of the ship’s interior,” says Howe, but the crew was unsuccessful because there were too many broken windows.
Do you believe in superstitions? Ask any sailor, and they’ll tell you that it’s bad luck to rename a ship. Some consider the proper way to rename a boat is to hold a christening ceremony.
A look at the history of the La Jenelle:
SS Borinquen was a passenger liner built in the United States in 1931. After being requisitioned for troop transport service by the United States Army for World War II and continued service post war the ship was sold in 1949 and became the Arosa Star. After further sales and changes in the cruise ship regulations, the ship was again sold and grounded as La Jenelle on the California coast in 1970.
La Jenelle was renamed five times, which could have brought on the bad luck. “It is said that the god Poseidon writes down the name of every christened ship in his ledger, and if he notices that a ship has a new name, he thinks that there must be something questionable or deceitful happening. You don’t want the gods to think you are trying to fool them,” says Howe.
Visit Channel Islands Maritime Museum to check out the permanent exhibit – La Jenelle, The Ship with Five Names.
Want to know what French sailors who were captured by the British did during the Napoleonic Wars? They built tiny model ships using bones leftover from their meals. The time was 1790 to 1815, and the prisoners developed a small business building model ships and selling them. The collection of nine Prisoner of War models is available on display at the Channel Islands Maritime Museum.
“The bone models were collected by Harry Nelson and his wife, Joyce. The couple had a passion for maritime art and traveled extensively. The Museum came to life because of their vision, passion, and their collection,” says Howe.
Although the museum is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, you’ll want to stop by for a visit as soon as they open up. The Nelson Foundation recently purchased another beautiful bone model, and it will join the rest of the collection in a new exhibit area that the museum is currently building.
“It is incredible that these fragile models have survived. They have obviously been well cared for by previous owners who understood the unique qualities of these beautifully detailed gems,” says Howe.
Whether you think ghosts are real or not, people in Oxnard claim to have seen more than a few. Richard Senate is a paranormal investigator and ghost storyteller in Ventura County. The author knows about more than 40 ghost sightings in the area and shared some of these stories in “Never 30,” a Ventura County Star podcast.
Infeliz Maria – Spotted twice in La Colonia
“A woman wanted to be beautiful in the eyes of her lover, so she made a deal with the devil to make her beautiful in the eyes of her rich boyfriend,” says Senate. The devil told her he would grant her wish if she killed her three children. According to the legend, when she did, the devil gave her the head and hooves of her boyfriend’s favorite horse. “She lures young women into a life of sin,” says Senate in the “More Ghosts Stories” podcast episode.
The bloody man by the railroad tracks – Reportedly seen five times
Senate tells the tale of a damaged and bloody man that wanders near the tracks on Gonzales Road in Oxnard. Nurses from St. John’s hospital reported seeing the man who looks like he’s been hit by a train. Be on the lookout for a ghost wearing a cowboy hat.
Evil Dwarf at Oxnard Shores – Folklore? Fiction? People claim to have spotted a small man with a hunchback who is supposed to bring evil luck to people, says Senate.
“The Channel Islands have three islands that are allegedly haunted,” says Howe. “San Miguel, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa.”
Listen to the ‘Never 30’ podcast on ghosts here.
According to the National Directory of Haunted Places by Dennis William Hauck, the ghost of Rudolph Valentino is said to pace the veranda at his 1921 Oxnard beach house. Read more about Celebrity Homes in Oxnard.
Explore these strange and unusual travel experiences on your visit to Oxnard. Be sure to visit the Channel Islands Maritime Museum to learn about some of these interesting stories and check out maritime exhibits and paintings from Dutch master Ludolf Backhuysen and Eugene-Louis Boudin, who was Claude Monet’s mentor. There’s a lot of history here, the oldest painting in the museum is almost 400 years old.