'The Strange and Mysterious Case of Dr. Glidden' tells the story of a man who created public entertainment from native inhabitants' bones.
By Louis Sahagun
"The Strange and Mysterious Case of Dr. Glidden," which opened over the weekend, examines the life and times of Ralph Glidden, a hucksterish entrepreneur who in the 1920s and '30s excavated bones and relics from Tongva Indian burial grounds for sale and trade. He also presided over an "Indian museum" literally made of bones and situated on a hill overlooking Avalon harbor.
News articles from the 1920s written by Glidden's publicist describe his "Indian museum" as a "unique and weirdly spectacular institution," with shoulder-blade cornices and windows edged with toe, ankle, wrist and finger bones. Leg and arm bones served as brackets for shelves lined with skulls. Ceiling panels were decorated with human vertebra and rosettes of shoulder blades.
The Catalina Island Museum's look back at Glidden is rooted in a discovery last year. Curator John Boraggina chanced upon boxes of Glidden's journals, ledgers, letters and photographs while searching a musty backroom for items for an exhibit of the World War II era.