It was a story that put San Marino on the map, and for not the most uplifting of reasons.
On April 8, 1949 a three-year-old girl named Kathy Fiscus fell down an old abandoned well located on the current site of San Marino High School’s Titan Stadium. Unfortunately, despite all efforts, Kathy could not be saved. The rescue attempt received nationwide attention in the United States, as KTLA and a team that included reporter Stan Chambers carried it live on radio and television. The event was covered on scene for a 27-½ hour period. It is considered a watershed event in TV history, as it is recognized as the first live coverage of a breaking news story.
The tragedy will be the subject of William Deverell’s presentation to the San Marino City Club on Tuesday, January 15.
A Professor of History at USC and Director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, Deverell will in the fall be releasing a book about the Kathy Fiscus story. His presentation marks the buildup to the 70th anniversary of Kathy’s death and Deverell will be revealing new information on the tragedy based on recent findings.
“As you know, this has been a passion of mine, regardless of its sad, tragic outcome,” Deverell said earlier this week.
There was a longstanding belief that the well Kathy fell into was located on the upper field at San Marino High School on the northwest border of the campus, where a plaque memorializes her all-too-brief existence. Other opinions have placed the site under the third tennis court, but Deverell believes the well in which Kathy lost her life—the Johnson Well, one of six operated by the California Water & Telephone Company at the time—was actually located between the east end zone and inside lane of the track at Titan Stadium. One of the many tragic ironies of the story is that Kathy’s father, Dave Fiscus, worked for the California Water & Telephone Company.
Deverell is also the founding director of the Collections Convergence Initiative at the USC Libraries. He is a scholar of the 19th and 20th century American West, writing on environmental, political, ethnic, and social history. He is currently at work on a project examining the history of Old Chinatown in Los Angeles and a book on the post-Civil War American West. The Institute on California and the West is about to launch at multi-year investigation of fire in the West across the last 1000 years.
Professor Deverell received his undergraduate degree in American Studies from Stanford and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in American history from Princeton. He lives in Pasadena with his wife Jenny Watts, curator of photography at The Huntington, and their two children, Helen and John.
City Club members may RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (626) 765-4411 and leaving a message with the member’s name and the full name of any guest whom the member wishes to invite. Adult guests will be welcome at this event for $30, and $15 for children, payable at the door by check or credit card. For more information on this event, please visit the City Club’s website at www.sanmarinocityclub.org.