Hugo's Glass-bottom boats

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Glass bottom row boat, Aquarium.
Hugo's Glass Bottom Boats, Santa Catalina Island

ASPLUND, Hugo Hjalmar Rudolph (1848-1925), born in Luleå, Norrbotten, Sweden on April 7, 1848, he immigrated to the United States in 1868 at age 20. Asplund operated Hugo's glass-bottom row boats at Avalon for many years — from about 1885 into the first quarter of the 20th century. In 1915 he was one of the original twelve members of the Santa Catalina Island Twenty-Five Year Club.

By age 71, Hugo was renting a house on Maiden Lane in Avalon and was single [1920 census], and by 1924 he had lived on the island for 39 years. Asplund died on July 19, 1924 at age 76 in L.A. County Hospital.



In the News~

July 15, 1893 [Loud manuscript]: - “Avalon Crusoe.” ...Until now the only seat on the shore was at Hugo’s Stand. (1) Now the boat men have put up handsome seats along the waterfront.”


May 22, 1901 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. A southwester began blowing very unexpectedly last evening, and about 9 o’clock increased to quite a gale. Some of the boatmen were found unprepared, and, the gale being offshore, three boats went adrift. Two of these were valuable round-bottom skiffs belonging to Chappie, valued at $90, and the third was a glass-bottom boat belonging to Hugo, worth about $100. The loss of the boats was discovered at about 10 o’clock last night and Chappie procured the services of George Michaelis with his little fishing launch, and went out to find them. Nothing was seen of them in the darkness, and the searchers returned thoroughly drenched by the rough sea…”


June 13, 1901 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Hugo’s glass-bottom boat, which went adrift in a storm three weeks ago was recovered after an exciting experience by George Michaelis, who with his little launch, accompanied by Hugo, went to Newport after the craft Monday morning. They started homeward with the glass-bottom oat in tow, at 9 A.M. A heavy wind and rough sea sprung up, and after a hard struggle for several hours, it became apparent that the launch and her tow could not make the island. The fear of running out of gasoline in mid-channel in the raging seas, determined them to run to San Pedro for safety… Hugo, who has been a sailor all his life, says he would not take such chances again for all the boats in Avalon Bay.”


February 16, 1915 [TI/Avalon]: “A novel reception and dinner was given Sunday evening by Mr. A. A. Carraher at his home on Maiden Lane. Invitations were extended to the ‘old timers’ who had resided on the island twenty-five years or more. Covers were laid for twelve guests, and those present were: Captain J. W. Wilson (who wore a crown), Captain G. Farnsworth, P. V. Reyes, Captain V. Moricich, Captain J. Adargo, Captain Hugo Asplund, Captain J. Arcey, ‘Mexican Joe,’ Captain Tom Whittley, Captain Harry Doss, John Brinkley and Captain Al Holbrooke.”


June 25, 1924 [TI/Avalon]: “Hugo Asplund was born in Sweden, of Swedish parents, in the year 1848, and he is now 77 years of age. At the age of 12 he ran away from home, shipped out on a sea-going vessel, and continued as a deep sea sailor until 1886. He has shipped before the mast on full rigged ships, brigs, barks and barkentines, and knows the rigging and working of them all from A to Z. He has visited most all the important sea ports and seen a good portion of the world. He has resided on Catalina Island for thirty-nine years, and his occupation has been that of boatman and fisherman. He came in search of relief from rheumatism, and for years he used crutches as an aid to move about. He tried most all the hot springs in the country, but got no relief. After six years on the Island he discarded the crutches, and has only had one light attack since. At that time the Island was owned by Mr. Shatto, who later sold to the Banning Company. Mr. Asplund is one of the oldest boatmen on the Island, and has the distinction of acting as boatman for Mr. McFarland, Hugh McVale and a friend of Los Angeles, who were the first anglers to use rod and reel in fishing for the gay and festive yellowtail, which were here in great numbers at that time. Hugo claims to be the inventor of the glass-bottomed boats. He first used a piece of glass 12 x 14 inches, which covered a hole cut in the bottom of a large rowboat. Later a man by the name of Faggie added another glass, and applied for a patent, which was denied,because, should the glass break, the boat would fill with water. Later the glasses were set in wells, as they are today [1924]; but no patent was applied for. Hugo, when younger, and had some money, was very generous to those who were down and out, and helped many that I know of. He is a great lover of little children and animals, and no dog or cat goes hungry if he knows it. He often buys meat, and never forgets to take the bones to feed some dog or cat. At one time he owned the property opposite the New Catalina Hotel, but fate was against him, and through generosity he lost it all. Notwithstanding that, today he will share his last dollar with the needy. Now that his health is failing, he is unable to understand why he cannot work as he used to. But we know why — old age is knocking at the door.”


July 22, 1925 [TI/Avalon]: “Captain Hugo Asplund dies in L.A. Hospital. Captain Hugo Asplund, owner of the glass-bottom row boats Aquarium and La Paloma, died at the General Hospital, Los Angeles, Sunday evening. Captain Asplund was seventy years of age. The interment was at Los Angeles on Tuesday. Born in Denmark [Sweden], he came to California some forty years ago. For more than twenty years he had been a resident of Avalon. With his knowledge of sea faring life the Captain had been of great assistance to many of the local boatmen. 'Captain Hugo', as he was locally known, was of the old school of 'deep water sailors.' It is understood that two of his relatives reside in San Francisco.”