LAUREL CANYON—It started with a curiosity: how did Hermits Glen get its name?  I thought it must be whimsical or based on fact.   I did some research and learned that in 1907 a poor soul on his death bed was presumably the Hermit of Laurel Canyon.  I wrote a story about that hermit on September 21, 2008. He was known locally as Dr. Watson and he was being coaxed down off the hill in 1907 by Dr. Yoakum, variously described as a faith healer or quack who sought to buy/steal the land from the hermit. Watson always claimed that his home rested on a vein of gold worth oodles of money. He had settled in Laurel Canyon to mine gold and had lived off the land for years.

Since then I’ve found more hermit stories.  Before Dr. Watson there was Frederick Shaw who listed his address as “Cahuenga” or “Mt. Olympus,” but was living on 160 acres parcel in Laurel Canyon that had recently homesteaded.  Was this the same acreage settled by Dr. Watson?  Ralph Shaffer, Professor at Cal Poly Pomona and author of “”˜Crazy Shaw’ Frederick M. Shaw: Southern California’s Forgotten Dreamer,” wrote that this naked Hermit of Laurel Canyon was the forerunner of our trademark counter-culture.  Shaw was born in 1827 and died in 1914.  This hermit was a regularly published correspondent to the L.A. Times, full of avant-garde ideas and theories, among them touting Southern California’s climate as an aide to good health.

In the early 1930s, a reporter for the Canyon Crier, a Laurel Canyon resident and mother, Beatrice Cornell, set about collecting information about the local hermits. Her daughters “The Hicks Girls” remember their mother serving Peter the Hermit tea in their living room.  Mrs. Cornell wrote a book, “The Hermits of Laurel Canyon.” Peter the Hermit was reported to sometimes live in a tree house.  Mrs. Cornell reported that the first known hermit in the area was John and “he came west to die.”  With time on his hands he began prospecting for gold.  His sister sent money and a local physician dropped by with food.  This might indeed have been the Dr. Watson hermit.  It does seem that some of the distinguishing details about the hermits have been muddled through the years.

Mrs. Cornell and her family were most familiar with Peter the Hermit.  Peter was a believer in mysticism and held séances.  If you consider that Houdini was also a mystic seeking to contact people who had crossed over, I’d say that it was not a chance event that brought these two men to Laurel Canyon.

Tuan, a 1930s hermit, was tried and acquitted of assault 1936.  Tuan, the giant, aka John Walsh, was alleged to have attacked his neighbors when they parked their cars across the path that led to his cabin.  Mrs. Cornell described Waan, as he was known locally, as a young philosopher who had chosen a semi-primitive lifestyle.  He spent 26 years living in Laurel Canyon.  He was known for his wood sculpting.

So, the Hermits have spawned two books, and a 1938 quip from author Lee Shipley, “It is asserted that Peter the Hermit wants a more secluded home. Pray par don me if I doubt it.  The Laurel Canyon hermits have always made it a practice to live within walking distance of Hollywood Boulevard”¦ A few years ago there were so many hermits up there that there was talk of a hermits Luncheon Club.”