Old Ben Park
Ben was a sea lion that is thought to have swam up from the island’s east end and into Avalon Bay in the late 1800’s. Deciding to make Avalon his home base, the large bull sea lion set about making friends of Islanders, visitors and local fishermen. He had a huge appetite, and since swordfish, tuna and albacore were not considered edible at the time, it was customary for fishermen to throw their catch back into Avalon Bay after having a photo taken with their fish. This custom provided Ben ample opportunity to dine in leisure and satisfy his gourmand tendencies.
Ben made friends with everyone. Although he was always social and friendly, he was not above a fondness for playing pranks. A daily prank that he enjoyed was played out on a small tour boat that cruised around the bay. Hiding out of sight until the last passenger had boarded, Ben would suddenly propel his huge bulk out of the water, making a torrential splash, roaring his distinctive bark and dousing the surprised passengers with seawater. He seemed to delight in the screams and laughter coming from the boat. He was quite friendly, posing for photos, hauling out of the water and waddling along the beachfront making friends and looking for any handouts.
It is likely that Old Ben (or some called him Big Ben) became the first movie star from Catalina Island. In 1915, Mack Sennet and his comedy troupe came to Catalina Island to film “The Sea Nymphs,” employing Ben as one of the stars.
If you were a swimmer during those days, you would frequently find yourself with Ben as your swimming partner. He loved swimming alongside others, sometimes switching from one swimmer to the next.
Having become the most popular personality in town, the last verified sighting of Ben was in 1921. Dedicated in 1975, a lovely bronze statue of Old Ben sits at the edge of Avalon Bay reminding all of the wonderful bond that can exist between people and animals.
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