John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, Helen Keller…Miss Piggy?

What could these famous people, and well, uh, a porcine prima donna have in common?

Perhaps you remember that in December we visited the  historical Mission Inn and the Festival of Lights in Riverside, California? If not, before I direct you to other facets of this remarkable hotel you may want to catch up HERE.

The Mission Inn started as a 12-room adobe boarding house, built in 1876 by Christopher Columbus Miller. Within just a few short years his son purchased the adobe and the surrounding property, and recognizing the steady influx of tourists, son Frank began to build a luxury hotel.


The Inn, constructed in Mission Revival Style and incorporating elements of the 21 California Missions, is very proud of its history.DSC_5597

The more I learned about the Inn’s legacy, the greater my curiosity about the whole of the City of Riverside. What was it that brought turn of the century tourists to a city 54 miles east of Los Angeles?

And what would have been the Inn’s attraction to  eight U.S. Presidents, dozens of leaders and entertainers, including Susan B. Anthony and Albert Einstein, Sarah Bernhardt and Harry Houdini–and much later, of course, Miss Piggy? I’ve included a more detailed list of notables HERE.

It’s an impressive group of people.  But what was it about Riverside?

Extra large chair built specifically for President Taft's visit.
Extra large chair built specifically for President Taft’s visit.

I was surprised to learn that by the 1890’s Riverside was the richest city per capita in the United States.

In the latter half of the 19th century Los Angeles was still virtually lawless, wild, and considered unsafe by many easterners. Elite and proper members of society were drawn away from wild west Los Angeles, preferring to settle in cities to the east, including Riverside, with its beautiful agricultural land, noted as the birthplace of the California citrus industry.

The railroads promoted tourism, promising climate conditions conducive to good health. Southern California was an easy sell, especially to  people with respiratory illnesses, in particular tuberculosis, one of the leading causes of death in the United States in the early twentieth century.

Early California tourism material produced by the railroads.
Early California tourism material produced by the railroads.

One of the most fascinating facts discovered about the Miller family is learning more about their extensive bell collection. Although holiday crowds  prevented us from experiencing a full tour of the grounds, I later read that 400 of the total that once exceeded 800 bells are interspersed throughout the hotel and gardens.

I must go back to find the other several hundred!

But right inside the Inn’s lobby is a bell that certainly piqued my interest.

Oldest dated bell in Christendom, A.D. 1247.
Oldest dated bell in Christendom, A.D. 1247.

The case held the information that this bell, dated A.D. 1247, was the oldest bell in Christendom. I had to know more.

The story goes that the bell was bought in England, along with two other bells, for around $25.

The shopkeeper attempted to give Mr. Miller the other two bells, but realizing there had been a mistake selling this particularly valuable bell, attempted to withdraw it from the sale.  Mr. Miller protested, and bearing the receipt for the purchase prevailed, bringing it back to the Mission Inn.


I partnered with Mr. Google to better understand the claim that this was indeed the oldest–in Christendom, or the Christian world, which seemed quite a claim!

By far not an exhaustive search, I did learn that  “The Oldest Bell (In the New World)” is hanging in St. Stephens Episcopal Church in East Hadden, Connecticut, originally cast for a Spanish monastery in 815. A.D.–that would be Muslim Spain.

And in China? Certainly many chimes and bells appeared before the Qin Dynasty (221 BC-206 BC). There are many very old and rare bells.

This particular bell may indeed be the oldest in Christendom, and by any standard it is impressive.

And if you like bells, how about this one?


This Nanking temple bell is purported to be one of the first items to leave China following the 1912 Boxer Rebellion. According to story, Louis Comfort Tiffany wrote a blank check and offered it to Frank Miller in the hopes of purchasing this bell. And here it sits in Riverside, California.

I intend to visit the Inn again (and again!) to scour other corners of Riverside as well. I’m greatly impressed with two things: The magnificence of what I saw and all that I learned about the history of the Inn and the City of Riverside, AND, how much I don’t yet know about either!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And Miss Piggy?

She and Supermodels Vendela and  Kathy Ireland shot a Frito-Lay commercial at the Mission Inn.  Miss Piggy was spotted somewhere in the area of the pool.

You never know who you’ll find in the spotlight of the Mission Inn.

There I was, minding my own business…listening to a little Christmas music…

If you missed my previous post about the outrageous desecration of ancient California Native American petroglyphs you might want to catch up here.  I assure you I have no intention of continuing with themes related to negativity and odious behaviors, but based on a morning encounter with a billboard, I just couldn’t resist sharing what occurred this morning–a final emphasis on how much work goes into maintaining balance, while cultivating positivity!

It’s kind of tricky business to put yourself out there as a positive outlook blog–breathelighter’s primary focus is towards encouraging general well-being and the ways that I maintain balance, then this week I switched gears quickly and talked about being outraged.  My natural set-point is balanced more heavily towards optimism, but sometimes I lose that perspective, despite my best efforts. Occasionally I realize that although I don’t very often lean into depression, if I’m not careful, I can swallow a heavy dose of cynicism.

It’s not my best trait. But when I don’t actively affirm more positive attributes in others I fall into a well-nursed  negative and complaining tone.

I  know to take responsibility for how I feed my emotions. It’s my problem if I listen to others complain, or digest non-stop media messages designed to elicit a negative emotional response. It’s certainly my own fault if I choose to be addicted to the daily news…most of it is rubbish.

When I realize I’m tumbling into the abyss of gloom, I usually know what works to lift me out.

So that’s what I was doing this morning.  On the way to work I chose to keep the radio off, and as I was cheerfully listening to a favorite Christmas CD I pulled up to the first large intersection and quickly glanced to my right. Whoa! My head did one of those whiplash hard snaps! Where just yesterday a billboard promoting a local health food store stood mighty and tall right next to a “Christmas at Disneyland” advertisement, this is what I read.

Well, that will wake you up!  It wasn’t even 7:00 a.m. yet!  Even Christmas music can’t quite calm that jolt!

The San Gabriel Valley has the largest concentration of Chinese Americans in the entire United States. You can see the message is printed in English and Chinese. I won’t comment on the board’s content except to say that I feel ignorant of the issue. The billboard did its job in raising some level of awareness and I’ll fact check as soon as I’m able.


So where do I go from here?

I have an activist nature…I don’t ignore problems very well (not that I don’t sometimes try…)

I wonder if young people know of Helen Keller?  She inspires me.  As a deafblind social activist–did you know she helped found the ACLU? –she lived her own words:  “Although the world is full of suffering it is full also of the overcoming of it.”

She doesn’t sound cynical, does she?

There are so many people doing really GOOD things to the benefit others.

I have been hearing some wonderful stories of examples of hardworking, committed people not necessarily actively seeking global change, but  finding creative ways that make a difference right on their doorstep.

So that’s my focus for the rest of this week.

My next post will share a couple of stories highlighting people/places or things that inspire me. Maybe you’ll also enjoy the benefit of a little shift in focus.

I hope you’ll come back and be buoyed along with me.

And the music I was listening to on the way to work? Music always elevates my mood.

I’ve added a page at the top of the blog banner where I’ve listed some of my favorite holiday tunes. It’s just for fun. Maybe you can leave a comment there and let me know what you are listening to this holiday season.

I suggest we all turn down the noise! If you’re more disciplined than I am, try turning it completely off!