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Author delves into history of Carlsbad, unearths some ‘Legendery Locals’

CARLSBAD — A Carlsbad resident’s deep look into the city’s history comes from a different angle.

Cynthia Mestad Johnson’s book, “Legendary Locals of Carlsbad” features more than 100 families and residents from the past and present that have made the city what it is today.

Instead of lengthy chapters detailing their mark, Johnson rounded up photos of each person with a short biography of their contributions to the city.

Naturally, the book begins with the early settlers featuring Gerhard Schutte, the “Father of Carlsbad.” He was a Civil War veteran who fought for the Union, and he and his wife, Bertha, built the first two hotels in what would be come Carlsbad.

Carlsbad author Cynthia Mestad Johnson’s new book, “Legendary Locals of Carlsbad” was released in books stores on Monday.           Courtesy image
Carlsbad author Cynthia Mestad Johnson’s new book, “Legendary Locals of Carlsbad” was released in books stores on Monday. Courtesy image

“It was pretty tedious,” Johnson said of the work. “I took a lot of the pictures myself and the ones I didn’t, I had to get permission. Because it was limited in word count, I would interview someone for two, three hours and have five, six pages of notes that had to be paired down to a couple paragraphs.”

Johnson was asked by a sister publishing company to work on the Carlsbad project, which is drastically different from her other work.

But buyer beware as Arcadia Publishing has a series of books honoring city legends including Carlsbad, New Mexico, which has a similar cover.

“They have a series and are trying to expand it,” Johnson said. “It was fun meeting all these people. There were so many quality people in town. I was pretty blown away, to be honest.”

From the famous — such as skateboarding legend Tony Hawk and jazzercise founder Judi Sheppard-Missett, the book takes readers through all walks of life in Carlsbad.

The book also dabs into civic leaders such as the late former Mayor Bud Lewis and Paul Ecke Sr. and Paul Ecke Jr.

“I was really astonished at the giftedness — painters, scuplters, vocalists, musicians, actors,” she said of her biggest surprise subject, the arts. “It’s an incredible culture. It’s incredibly strong in Carlsbad.”

Yet another legend of Carlsbad was a rambunctious primate named El Bimbo, a chimpanzee.

El Bimbo lived during World War II, although his owner was off fighting, leaving caretaker duties to his girlfriend, Maggie.

She would open his cage and El Bimbo would run around the Barrio and down Taylor Street to Maggie’s aunt and uncle’s house, where they made tortillas, which El Bimbo loved.

A morbid legacy surrounds El Bimbo, though, as urban legend has it he disappeared and was buried inside a retaining wall.

Johnson discovered the chimps’ remains, but did not disclose the location of the primate.

“It just cracked me up and I said, ‘We can’t not put this guy in here,” she laughed. “It’s a dark secret and a lot of people don’t even know. It was a really funny story to hear.”

And while hundreds are featured, Johnson said many others were omitted after they declined to be interviewed for various reasons. Nevertheless, her one-year journey unraveling the movers and shakers of Carlsbad was an eye-opening experience.

As a 23-year resident, Johnson, who has published several history books and teaches eighth-grade history at Caesar Chavez Middle School in Oceanside, said the stories and people she crossed has changed her view of the city.

In addition, she was also challenged by interviewing subjects, as opposed to researching archives and documents at universities for her books detailing the slave trade in the 1800s.

“Another thing that was these people creating these nonprofits,” Johnson said. “I heard a lot of very unique and very, I would consider, very cool stories, but I was told I was not allowed to publish them. They were family secrets, and of course I honored that.”