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!

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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.