History Blog

Six Degrees of Kevin “Turkey” Bacon

You’ve likely heard of the popular game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon[1] based on a real social theory suggesting that any two people in the world are linked by six or fewer acquaintances. The theory was first proposed in 1929 by Frigyes Karinthy[2], a Hungarian researcher, studying the urbanization of Europe after World War I, and was immortalized by John Guare in the title of his 1990 play, Six Degrees of Separation.[3] Perhaps more immortalizing was when students at Albright College, while apparently watching Footloose, experimented with the game and the actor, Kevin Bacon. The actor also runs the charitable website, sixdegrees.org, as a “social network for social good.”

Regardless, due to the “small world theory” or the Kevin Bacon Game, we can all tie ourselves to another, in theory, in six-or-less steps.

We decided to try the theory ourselves to see how the History Center relates to Thanksgiving.

  1. Today is Thanksgiving. And while we’re at it, “Happy Thanksgiving to all of you from all of us at San Diego History Center!” Thanksgiving traditionally, though today not universally, derives from the Plymouth Colony’s survival of the first winter on the western side of Cape Cod Bay in 1620.
  2. Thanksgiving was first proclaimed as a national observance by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.  Lincoln actually called two days of Thanksgiving that year, one in August in response to the devastation of the Battle of Gettysburg, and a second in November, “for the general good.”  It is this second proclamation, on the fourth Thursday of November, which has consistently been the document named for making Thanksgiving a federal holiday.
  3. Two years later, President Abraham Lincoln[4] – 23 days before his assassination – appointed Dr. Lewis C. Gunn as Assessor of Internal Revenue for the First Collection Division of California.   The History Center holds the actual document in its archives, pictured here, and authenticated by the Lincoln Presidential Library in 2011. This document is rare because most of Lincoln’s appointments were signed A. Lincoln.
  4. Dr. Gunn, who lived in San Francisco at the time of the appointment, moved to San Diego in 1868 to join his brother Douglas and sent for his daughter, Anna Lee, in 1875 to live permanently.
  5. The following year, Anna Lee meet her soon-to-be husband—named George Marston—when they both performed  in a play called The Courtship of Miles Standish, a Plymouth Pilgrim-themed poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in New England in 1858.  The Courtship relates the fictional story of a thwarted marriage proposal by the Pilgrim’s military captain, Miles Standish, by Priscilla Mullins, the one single woman of marriageable age that survived the first dreadful winter in Plymouth Colony in 1620 from where the storied narrative of Thanksgiving is derived.[1]
  6. And as we all know, George Marston founded the San Diego Historical Society in 1928 which is today known as the San Diego History Center located in Balboa Park though still operating the original home of the Historical Society, the Junípero Serra Museum in Presidio Park.

Whew! We did it!

So from our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and here’s to a prosperous, abundant new year!


[1] Records of a California Family: Journals and Letters of Lewis C. Gunn and Elizabeth Le Breton Gunn (San Diego, 1928), 270-71, quoting; Marston, Family Chronicle, 1:190-92, 205-06

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/8560483/Actors-Hollywood-career-spawned-Six-Degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon.html

[2] The Biography of Frigyes Karinthy.  http://www.karinthy.hu/pages/kf/en/

[3] Guare J(1990) Six Degrees of Separation (Vintage, New York).

[4] Rowe, Peter.  Two Lincoln Documents Found in San Diego.  San Diego Union- Tribune.­   February 7, 2011.

[5] Records of a California Family: Journals and Letters of Lewis C. Gunn and Elizabeth Le Breton Gunn (San Diego, 1928), 270-71, quoting; Marston, Family Chronicle, 1:190-92, 205-06

Grave Matters: History Lies Beneath Our Feet!

Did you know that a convicted boat thief, an American fur trader, and a former religious leader of the Mission San Diego de Alcalá, are just a few of the thousands of people interred in San Diego’s earliest graveyards and cemeteries. To most travelers, and residents alike, little is known of these individual’s lives or of their final resting place. El Jardín de Reyes (King’s Garden), Calvary Cemetery, and El Campo Santo Cemetery are names of the three final resting places that these three individuals are interred. You would never know to look at them today because they are well manicured locations on public grounds. Go visit one of them and you will be surprised that there is nothing to indicate that beneath your feet are the interred remains of thousands of past residents of San Diego, whose grave markings have simply melted into the surrounding environment, obscured by the passage of time and the elements, or have been covered over to allow for the expansion of the city. Some locations have bronze plaques dedicating the location to those who are interred, but nothing describing how at one point, that was hallowed ground. This can be a bit arresting for some who have picnicked or laid upon the grass on Presidio Hill in Presidio Park to learn of the human remains that could be found beneath them.