GLIDDEN, Ralph Arthur

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Ralph Arthur Glidden (1881-1968)
Ralph Glidden with soapstone urn
Glidden's Catalina Museum of Island Indians
Ralph Glidden and some of his excavations,
Little Harbor, Santa Catalina Island
Courtesy Catalina Island Museum

GLIDDEN, Ralph Arthur (1881-1968), Massachusetts-born self-taught archaeologist who moved to Santa Catalina Island with his parents, Seth and Martha E. Glidden when he was 15. As a young man, Glidden took an interest in digging for Indian artifacts. His life-long career was sealed when he was hired by the Heye Foundation to collect Native American artifacts on the island for the Museum of the American Indian in New York. (The Heye Foundation had already purchased the Santa Catalina Island Indian artifact collection of E. L. Doran.) Glidden didn’t limit his collecting to Santa Catalina Island.

In 1915-1916, Glidden spent four months digging up graves and collecting artifacts on San Nicolas Island, along with Arthur B. Chappell and Arthur Taschenberger. He also collected on San Miguel Island. Glidden dug up hundreds of graves and obtained thousands of objects, many of which went to additional prestigious museums. Artifacts included bone flutes, war clubs and arrowheads, cooking stones used to boil soup in baskets and beads that were used as currency.

Encouraged by his collecting success, Glidden assembled a huge personal collection of artifacts and skeletal materials with which he began his own Indian museum at his home in Avalon in 1922. The museum incorporated Native American bones as architectural elements, including windows edged with finger and toe bones, leg and arm bones as shelf brackets and ceiling panels decorated with vertebra and shoulder blades. In the 1930s admission was 35 cents.

Glidden discovered 105 campsites and uncovered at least 316 burials on the island. [W. J. Wlodarski A Bibliography of Catalina Island Investigations and Excavations 1850-1980 1982]. He continued his explorations into the 1950s.


From an exhibit at the Santa Catalina Island Museum:

Glidden's Last Days: “By the late 1920s Glidden's museum was struggling, and he attempted to stimulate interest by spinning sensational tales about his research on Santa Catalina: he found evidence of a race of giants ont he island; he was convinced that "white Indians" once inhabited Santa Catalina; he discovered an Indian map, which led to the fabled loft Temple of the Sun God that was bigger in scope than Stonehenge. Glidden's reputation was soon destroyed, and he was forced to close his huseum in 1950. But during the last eighteen years of his life, Glidden continued to spread exaggerated accounts of his discoveries. He claimed that he had uncovered a "secret history" of Catalina Island, which he refused to divulge until he was paid for his collection of skeletal remains and artifacts. His asking price was steep. He required an annual annuity for life, funding for five expeditions, and the necessary financing for various publications that included a large monograph chronicling all of his excavations. In 1962, he finally sold his collection for $5,000, far less than he had anticipated. The purchaser Philip Knight Wrigley, donated the entire collection to the Catalina Island Museum later that year. After Glidden's death in 1968, it was discovered that his History of Catalina Island Indians contained less than ten pages of text.”


Ralph Glidden died on July 20, 1968 at age 86. Glidden and his wife, Anna Mae Glidden (1881-1959), are buried at Avalon Cemetery, Santa Catalina Island.

In 1962 Philip K. Wrigley purchased Glidden's entire collection for $5000 and donated it to the Catalina Island Museum. The Native American Grave and Repatriation Act of 1990 granted Native Americans the right to claim the remains of their ancestors and other sacred objects. Today, museums in the United States no longer exhibit Native American remains. All of the Catalina Island Museum's American Indian remains are housed at the University of California at Los Angeles and studied by archaeologists at the university's Fowler Museum. The artifacts remained on the island. Much of his collection is now in the Catalina Island Museum at Avalon. A collection of 536 black and white negatives, 5 x 7, from his excavations on San Clemente, San Miguel, San Nicolas and Santa Catalina islands is in the National Museum of the American Indian Archives, Cultural Resources Center, Suitland, Maryland [NMAI.AC.001.028].

Ralph Glidden’s mother’s maiden name was Graves.


Glidden collected on:

  • San Miguel Island
  • San Nicolas Island
  • Santa Catalina Island


  • 1932. Glidden, Ralph Stone Map Guides to Buried Relics [Santa Catalina Island] 1932 p. 29, January 1932
[original in SCIF archives] [Glidden file]


  • 1978. WLODARSKI, Robert J. Ralph Glidden and His Museum and Collection The Masterkey 52(1):4-10, 1978


  • 1978. WLODARSKI, Robert J. Ralph Glidden's Catalina Investigations The Masterkey 53(2):55-61, 1978


Indian Country: Dr. Glidden and his museum


In the News~

April 6, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. A single contractor, Seth Glidden, furnishes a list of cottages and improvements which he has completed since the beginning of the year, which includes the following: for Mrs. F. M. Battles of Pomona, a seven-room cottage on Sumner Avenue; for C. M. Richardson of the California Hardware Company of Los Angeles, five-room cottage on Clarissa Avenue; for John Robarts, a four-room cottage on Pescador Street… Mr. Glidden is building for himself three flats of five rooms each, and one of four rooms, on Maiden Lane, to cost $3000.”


April 8, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Judge Bailard of Santa Ana came over yesterday and contracted with Seth Glidden for a nice six-room cottage on Clarissa Avenue.”


February 29, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “To bring back the relic hunters of San Nicolas Island, the launch Cornell, Captain George Cornell will leave here at midnight Tuesday. In the island party are: A. B. Chappell, Ralph Glidden and A. Taschenberger who left Avalon November 13, 1915 to search for Indian curios. Only once since leaving here has news of them been received. Many valuable relics had been collected.”


March 13, 1916 [LAT]: “Returning with a collection of San Nicolas Island relics that would cause envy in the mind of any museum curator in the country, Captain A. P. Chappel, Ralph Glidden and A. Taschenberger arrived at Avalon last night on the launch Cornell after four months of self-exile on the outermost of the Channel Islands. During their stay on the islands the men opened scores of ancient graves and brought back with them an as yet unclassified collection of mortars and pestles, wampum, ‘feast recording tablets,’ stone pipes, arrow points and heads, flat knives, flutes, paint-pots, treasure boxes, bone and abalone fish hooks, abalone ear-rings, and many other relics that have not yet been classified by the hunters… The curios brought from San Nicolas Island are now of greater value than previously believed, owing to the fact that two valuable life-time collections were destroyed in the Avalon fire. With this destruction a collection owned by Mrs. Blanch Trask was also lost.”


April 3, 1917 [TI/Avalon]: “Ralph Glidden made a trip to Los Angeles last week.”


November 20, 1917 [TI/Avalon]: “Mr. Ralph Glidden has been over, spending a few days with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Seth Glidden.”


March 26, 1918 [TI/Avalon]: “Indian relics for Heye Foundation. Many valuable Indian relics which were found on San Nicolas Island by Arthur B. Chappell, Ralph Glidden and Arthur Taschenberger, in the Fall of 1916, are now on their way to New York City, the property of the Heye Foundation of the Museum of the American Indian. The original collection comprised some 900 pieces, including skulls, mortars, pestles, arrowheads, war clubs, knives, etc. Among the relics added to the Heye Foundation are two Indian spears, a decorated blow pipe, two smoking pipes, a skinning knife, a decorated dagger, a decorated flute, a medicine mixer, two knife blades, two soapstone battle axes, a decorated mortar (abalone money), a whalebone idol, two decorated pestles, a harpoon, a stone needle, a war club, a tombstone, a treasure box, and a decorated flute. Mr. E. A. Place, who is purchasing agent for the Heye Foundation, said: ‘The duplicates in the collection are of value to us from an ethnographical point of view, as they furnish evidence relative to the skill of the early inhabitants of the Channel Islands. Several years ago we purchased the Doran collection of Indian relics for the Heye Foundation at New York, and we believe that we have been able to complete the record by the material obtained from the San Nicolas collectors… Had we not already purchased the Doran collection of relics of the Channel Island aborigines, we would undoubtedly have taken over the entire collection of Messrs. Chappel, Glidden and Taschenberger. The relics will be displayed at 156 Broadway, New York City. At a later date the museum authorities expect to publish a monograph pertaining to the Pacific coast Indian, his habits, customs, skill, etc.”


April 23, 1918 [TI/Avalon]: “Mrs. A. S. Glidden of Pasadena is visiting her mother, Mrs. Seth Glidden of Maiden Lane, for a few days.”


February 25, 1920 [LAT]: “Evidence of a murder committed many years ago was unearthed near Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, yesterday, when the skeleton of a man, with three bullet holes in the skull, was found by Ralph Glidden, who is digging at Johnson’s Landing to gather relics for the Heye Foundation of the American Indian, New York. The murdered man was shot and then buried, according to Mr. Glidden, fifty feet above high water mark and only two feet below the earth’s surface… Mr. Glidden says that the victim probably was lying on his right side when the bullets were fired, or perhaps on his face… Mr. Glidden states that so far his crew of workmen has also found thirty Indian skeletons…”


July 11, 1920 [LAT]: “Ancient toothbrush, powder puff found. A toothbrush made of a stingray’s gills and a powder puff of stone—toilet articles used by Pimugna Indians on Santa Catalina Island generations before white men introduced the standard drug store articles—have just been unearthed by Ralph Glidden in his research work on the island for the Heye Foundation of the American Indian. Both relics of aboriginal vanity were found among other household treasures in chieftans’ graves… Mr. Glidden states that he has never found a decayed tooth in a Channel Island Indian’s head.”


August 16, 1920 [LAT]: “Catalina yields specimens that tell of distinct race of bygone age. Two perfect skulls were exhibited yesterday as the trophies of a day’s excavating at Catalina by Mrs. George Heye, who is visiting here with her husband, George Heye, founder and president of the Museum of the American Indian in New York, Harmon W. Hendricks, vice-president of the museum and Ralph Glidden. Mr. Glidden has for several months been conducting archaeological research work on the Channel Islands for the museum. Mrs. Heye made her discoveries on the Isthmus last Friday…‘The collection of specimens which we have secured from Catalina Island in the eight months which Mr. Glidden has devoted to Catalina Island, far exceed my highest expectations,’ said Mr. Heye… ‘We found many pipes, both stone and clay, beautifully carved on bowl and stem,; said Mr. Glidden. ‘Most popular in the designs are the figures of birds, no doubt because these people were worshipers of the raven…”


October 17, 1920 [LAT]: “Antiquarians’ estimates of the culture of the Pimugna Indians, inhabitants of Catalina Island for hundreds of years before Cabrillo discovered that beauty spot for white men, will have to be revised in the light of evidence just dug up in an ancient graveyard at White’s Landing. Ralph Glidden, who has been excavating there for the Heye Foundation of the American Indian, has just shipped out a cargo of trophies that includes 122 dead Indians, and, more significant, a large number of beautifully carved pipes and flutes. Until these samples of handicraft were found, said Mr. Glidden yesterday, the best authorities believed the Pimugnas were a very primitive people, unskilled in any craft. The aboriginies’ bones, pipes, musical instruments and many other articles are being shipped to the Heye Museum of the American Indian in New York…”


October 19, 1920 [SBMP]: “…Ralph Glidden, who has been excavating on the islands for the Heye Foundation of the American Indian, has just shipped a cargo of trophies that include 122 dead Indians, and more significant, a large number of beautifully carved pipes and flutes…”


December 22, 1920 [SBMP]: “…Ralph Glidden, representing the Heye Foundation of New Your Museum of the American Indian, after searching in vain the sand wastes of the desert isle of San Miguel and nearly all the Channel Islands, is about to turn his attention to Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands convinced, he says, that Cabrillo’s burial place and leaden casket are somewhere else than on San Miguel. Accompanied by Arthur Taschenberger, who was with him during his three months on San Miguel seeking Indian relics, Glidden plans to search every foot of the two larger Channel Islands, it is understood, for historical data regarding the aborigines, including more than twenty large Indian camp grounds, traces of which, he declares, are still to be found.”


November 1, 1921 [OT]: “With provisions to last four months, Ralph Glidden left Thursday evening for San Nicolas Island, representing the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, New York City. An effort will be made to locate the exact spot where the "Lone Woman of San Nicolas" lived for more than twenty years.”


February 22, 1922 [TI/Avalon]: “Ralph Glidden returned to Avalon, having spent four months on San Nicolas Island, securing Indian relics for the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, New York. His collection included three hundred and two complete skeletons; wampum, mortars and estles, fish hooks, shell pendants and ornaments and stone implements of many varieties.”


September 3, 1922 [LAT]: “Novel museum for Catalina. Two hundred feet above the Pacific Ocean and overlooking Avalon, on Catalina Island, Ralph Glidden—of the staff of the Museum of the American Indian, George G. Heye Foundation, in New York—will erect a museum of his own. Mr. Glidden is an archaeological authority on the famous Channel Islands, in whose history there is a steadily increasing interest… The Museum of the American Indian, George G. Heye Foundation, opened in 1916 in New York… Mr. Heye, director, commissioned Mr. Glidden to explore the Channel Islands and collect relics of vanished Indians. Although the islands have already been dug over by repeatedly by successive expeditions for archaeological research from this country and abroad, the results attained by Mr. Glidden have been little short of remarkable, in the judgment of scientific men. He has dug up more than 1000 skeletons. Nine months work on Catalina yielded 316. In five months he obtained 343 on San Miguel and 316 from San Nicolas in four months. Ass a result of these explorations the Heye Museum has the finest exhibit of Channel Islands Indian lore existent, not surpassed even by that of the Smithsonian in Washington.”


January 14, 1925 [TI/Avalon]: “Ralph Glidden and wife have returned from a pleasant mainland vacation, spent mainly at Pasadena and Los Angeles.“


January 14, 1925 [TI/Avalon]: “Mrs. Martha Glidden returned home Saturday after spending two weeks as the guest of Dr. and Mrs. J. Bresee of Pasadena. Mrs. Bresee is Mrs. Glidden's daughter.“


January 10, 1926 [LAT]: “Avalon. Catalina’s museum walls lined with Indians’ bones, relics of long-lost race. When the skeletons begin to rattle in Ralph Glidden’s closet, situated on one of Catalina’s hills, there is an awful racket. Fact is, there are just about 2000 skeletons rattling, or parts thereof. On Glidden Hill, where a big sign inscribed in red ochre designates a little white house as the Catalina Museum, are laid out in well-ordered cases, priceless relics of the ancient tribe of ‘white’ Indians who once inhabited Catalina Island…The little museum itself, is lined with human bones. The window frames are finger bones, the sills, toe bones, great rosettes grace the ceilings, these are human shoulder blades, shank bones form the braces of shelves upon which rest grinning skulls of noble Indian chieftans. On one little shelf rests a glass case containing some 4000 Indian teeth…”


November 21, 1926 [LAT]: “Avalon. Torn-up streets cause influx on relic search. With the extensive program of street improvement underway, the island city has become the scene of an excited treasure hunt… Professor Ralph Glidden, curator of the Catalina museum of the Channel Islands Indians, returned from an expedition in Mexico to be on the ground during the progress of the excavation work in the city…”


November 28, 1926 [LAT]: “Pioneer tells what Catalina looked like when she saw it some sixty-four years ago. Sixty-four years ago [1862] a tiny girl, Mary Lamoure, stepped from a skiff onto the beach of a barren island called Timms’ Landing, probably the first white child to visit the island… According to John N. Stewart, who has searched diligently for early Catalina history, the island was the summer playground of mainland Indians long before white men set foot on its shores. This is proven by the interesting relics collected by Ralph Glidden and housed in his museum on the western hillside of Avalon…”


July 8, 1927 [LAT]: “The Indian maid had her powder puff hundreds of years ago, according to Dr. Ralph Glidden, who has devoted years to study of ancient tribes which inhabited Catalina Island.”


December 1, 1927 [LAT]: “Sun god temple hunted. Professor Glidden starts for Catalina Island’s interior to seek Channel Indians church. Equipped for an expedition to last four months, Professor Ralph Glidden, curator of the Catalina Island Museum of the Channel Indians, left Avalon yesterday for the interior of the island… Professor Glidden has received telegraphic permission from William Wrigley, Jr., now in Chicago, and owner of Catalina Island, to excavate in the interests of science for archaeological finds of the prehistoric island Indians for the Catalina museum…”


May 16, 1928 [LAT]: “Relics found on Catalina. A huge funeral urn fashioned out of native stone as skillfully as though turned out by a lathe, weighing 134 pounds and containing the skeleton of a small girl child, has been found buried on Catalina with sixty-four other small children piled in tiers of four deep around it by Professor Ralph Glidden, curator of the Catalina Museum for the Channel Indians… The cargo of finds with which Professor Glidden returned to Avalon weighs more than two tons and includes 2343 Indian skeletons, twenty-seven boxes of skulls, 100 small bowls, twenty-five ceremonial vessels, thirteen carved flutes, 150 plain heating stones and fifty-one carved…”


January 26, 1930 [LAT]: “Giant white Indian race stirs scientific research. Professor Ralph Glidden showing clam treasure box unearthed on Magic Isle to Miss Agnes Bell. The treasure box was found buried with Indian princess… Professor Ralph Glidden, Curator of the Catalina Museum of the Channel Islands Indians, has left on his third expedition to the interior of the Magic Isle. He is provisioned for a six-months expedition. His first camp will be made at Empire Landing, from which point he will work inland…”


April 2, 1930 [TI/Avalon]: “Although the writer of this article visited many of the Catalina Indian town sites and burial places of the interior while Professor Glidden had done his excavation work during the past 17 years, a recent visit to the museum was very interesting... One of the skulls measured 26 1/2 inches, and the body with it indicated that the man was fully seven feet in height.”


April 30, 1930 [LAT]: “The skulls of hundreds of Indians of a prehistoric eras on Catalina Island have been collected by Ralph Glidden, curator of the museum on the island. Most of the skulls shown here with Mr. Glidden are believed to be those of an extinct race of ‘white Indians’ who inhabited the island approximately 3000 years ago.”


May 25, 1930 [LAT]: “In a little museum , so high up on a mountain shelf at Avalon that few sight-seers take time to climb the zig-zagging stairway, Ralph Glidden has assembled a remarkable collection of Catalina Indian remains and relics. As the former Channel Islands representative of the Heye Foundation, he is a recognized authority on human fossils and artifacts; and, during the last nineteen years, he has himself dug up the skeletal remains of about 3500 primitive Indians, together with their treasure vessels and artifacts… What Mr. Glidden has learned from a lifetime’s highly specialized work can be summarized in a few sentences: he thinks most of these people belonged to the Shoshone stock…”


January 1932 [PSM]: “Stone map guides to buried relics. Secrets of old race on Catalina brought to light as long lost graves are found. An ancient chart, carved upon a thin, flat stone, has led to the discovery of a whole series of treasures buried centuries ago by red-skinned inhabitants of the barren Catalina Island… Several caches of Indian relics had previously been unearthed when Ralph Glidden ran across the stone chart on Santa Catalina Island. Its queer pattern of holes excited his curiosity. By a shrewd bit of detective work, starting with the position of the known caches, Glidden located a series of burial grounds…”


February 21, 1932 [LAT]: “The aborigines of Catalina… Professor Ralph Glidden, curator of the museum of the Channel Islands is here seen examining the skulls of early race unearthed at Catalina…”


November 6, 1932 [LAT]: “The mysterious children’s graves on Catalina Isle. Were sixty-four little tots killed 3000 years ago to be buried around the funeral urn of a child princess?… A huge funeral urn carved out of stone and containing the skeleton of a small girl-child crouched in an upright position with the finger bones of her little hands clenched over the wampum-inlaid brim, found on Catalina Island by Ralph Glidden, curator of the Catalina Museum of the Channel Indians, is acclaimed by scientists as one of the most startling and significant of recent archaeological finds in the Pacific Southwest…”


January 8, 1933 [OT]: “Girl odontologist. Miss Kay Brown of Southern California exhibiting part of her collection of 35,000 teeth taken from the former inhabitants of the Channel Islands Indians off the California coast. In her collection there are only twelve teeth that are unsound and may have caused their owners pain… Ralph Glidden was doing a lot of excavating on the Channel Islands, and Miss Kay Brown, the young lady with the 35,000 teeth, was his assistant. Every time they came across an Indian burial place, Miss Brown managed to add to the stock of teeth… Ralph Glidden has conducted extensive researches among the former habitations of this primitive people, and he is known for the large collection of their relics that he has assembled… These occupy an important part of the museum that he maintains at Avalon, on Catalina Island. ”


June 10, 1934 [LAT]: “Avalon accommodations. With prognostications of weather prophets pointing to plenty of warm weather during the next three months, preparations for a busy summer season are being made at the Glidden Bungalows, Avalon, under the direction of Mrs. Martin Hall, the new manager, and Mrs. Ralph Glidden, resident owner…”


July 18, 1935 [TI/Avalon]: “Points of Interest—Glidden Indian Museum—Located on the West Terrance. A museum containing many relics of archaeological interest, and particularly of the Channel Islands Indians. Ralph Glidden, proprietor.”


February 11, 1937 [TI/Avalon]: “Recent excavations made on Santa Catalina Island by Ralph Glidden, curator of the Catalina Museum of the Channel Islands substantiated the historic references to a race of Indians of gigantic stature that once inhabited this island paradise. A great funeral urn fashioned out of stone, its rim decorated with four equi-distant circles of wampum is zealously guarded in a glass case in the Glidden Museum... Glidden found a man, probably a guard, that measured seven feet nine inches in height.”


October 30, 1938 [LAT]: “Throughout the ages the legend of a race of white Indians has intrigued the fancy of man… Do these Indians exist?… Whatever the answer may be, Ralph Glidden, owner of the Indian Museum at Catalina Island, has both documentary and physical indications that white Indians did inhabit the chain of islands of the Southern California coast. Whether you agree, and he does not expect you to, you must lend credence to his theories, for he knows this extinct race of people as does no other man. He has devoted more than thirty-five years to the piecing together of their history and has exhumed more than 6,000 skeletal remains of the Channel Islands Indians. Glidden went to the Channel Islands for pearls. He remained to dig up skeletons. About the turn of the century, he was searching for pearls on the bleakest of all islands—San Nicolas—where the wind gods constantly unloose their fury. He thought he would find pearls in abundance in the shells of the abalones that then crowded each other for space from the water line to as many fathoms as the bravest diver dared to reach. He found three pearls. They were of poor quality and turned a worthless black in a short time. But he did find his life work—archaeology…’ I found my first skeleton on San Nicolas, quite by accident… The wind had blown the sand away from it and I stumped my toe on a skull. I became so fascinated by my find that I have devoted my life to this work ever since’…”


June 20, 1941 [LAT]: “Glidden bungalows & rooms. Cottages (4 persons) per week $25… Mrs. Ralph Glidden, manager.”


March 15, 1945 [LAT]: “General George S. Patton, who recently swam a river in Germany twice to show troops it could be done, learned to swim in Avalon Bay… Ralph Glidden, another old-time resident confirmed Captain Chappell’s recollections…”


July 21, 1968 [LAT]: “Ralph Arthur Glidden, 70 years, a resident of Avalon, Catalina Island. Masonic service Wednesday 11 A.M. at the Congregational Church, Avalon, Catalina Island… Interment Avalon Cemetery…”


1980: Anthropologist, Clemente W. Meighan wrote: “My experience with Catalina Archaeology began in the early 1950s… When I came to Catalina, the Glidden Museum was closed to the public and had been for some years, reportedly because of some dispute Glidden had with the city over business licenses. However, the museum itself was intact and I was able to visit it on several occasions. This was not an enjoyable experience for an archaeologist—on the one hand there were many beautiful and unusual artifacts from Catalina and other islands to attract interest. But unfortunately the documentation was virtually nil, nothing was catalogued, grave lots and human bones had been irretrievably mixed together, and the collection was a classic example of acquiring objects while destroying all the contextual data. To top it all, Glidden had been much taken with pictures of monkish catacombs in Europe, and he had imitated them by nailing human bones to the walls and rafters in various fanciful patterns, using sets of femurs, pelves, and other bones mixed together from many Indian graves. He also had a small glass case which contained thousands of human teeth extracted from all the skulls and combined into one ‘display.’ The general effect was calculated to cause a big response from the tourists; its effect on the archaeologist was almost enough to cause an immediate coronary…” [Meighan, Clemente W. Catalina Archaeology: An Introduction in Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly 16(1 & 2): 1-4, January & April, 1980.