125 YEARS (AND COUNTING) OF PEOPLE DROWNING IN MACARTHUR PARK LAKE
For more than a century, the murky, 14' waters of MacArthur Park Lake have been a deadly destination. With news of its $2 million renovation, a few highlights. WARNING: this list isn't for the squeamish.
- •1890: 51-year-old Harriet Hutchins, a pastor's wife, drowns in an apparent suicide.She suffered from "melancholia" over the death of her teenage son, who had drown while swimming in an Eastside reservoir. The just-built West Lake sees its first casualty.
- •1900: 7 more people drown themselves in the lake, including a chambermaid, LAPD patrolman, and a bartender of a German saloon.After that, whenever someone went missing, the first impulse was to check the lake.
- •1920s: The park is lovely but the body count grows, including reckless boaters, disgraced lovers, and a peanut vendor who accidentally stumbled into the muck.
- •1930-40s: The lake, initially encompassing 17 acres and spanning two blocks, is divided in half to accommodate Wilshire boulevard.Most drownings are accidental with a handful of suicides and body dumps.
- •1951: John Ray Thompson, detained on a "morals" charge, breaks free from LAPD vice and flings himself into the lake.He gulps water to finish the job.
- •1970s: Now known as MacArthur Park, the lake is drained. Artifacts include countless guns and knives.Despite cleaning the lake, it's soon dirtied with more dead bodies.
- •1980s: Animals aren't safe either. The crack epidemic fills the park with so many hungry homeless rustling ducks on the lake, park officials remove the barbecue pits.Their logic: if you can't cook them, you won't kill them.
- •May 1982: Julio Marcial Chicas, known as the "King of MacArthur Park," drowns while trying to retrieve a tricycle from the water for $3.
- •1990-2000s: Abundant gang activity. It's drained again. More guns and knives.This time an artist makes a sculpture using sludge and glue to mold the artifacts together.
- •2008: Fast forward to Mark Oshiro, who was jogging by the lake and saw a man's head bobbing. When he jumped in to save him, the man grabbed Oshiro and pushed him under.He survived, pulling the man to the concrete. When the EMT arrived they chided him for jumping in because of "all the gnarly diseases" he could catch.
- •September 2012: Roy Robin Jacobs, who had a history of alcoholism and schizophrenia, went for an ill-advised swim.The verdict was accidental drowning.
- •December 2012: Justin Presley, 23, rushes the water naked to go skinny dipping.He was found by scuba divers, 14 feet down at the bottom of the lake, in a fetal position.
- •2013: Santos Lopez, from Mexico's Gulf Coast, was found in the lake with two bottles of vodka in his pocket. One full, the other empty.
- •January 2015: William Sanchez is pulled from the water--125 years to the day Harriet Hutchins floated to the surface.
- •**A full version of this piece, by Jesse Katz, can be found in LA mag's October issue. **On newsstands now.