|Florence Lowe "Pancho" Barnes|
July 14, 1901 - March 30, 1975
Born into Pasadena society, Barnes was a rebel from year one. Failing out of school and running away to Mexico on horseback are but two of her more-tame adolescent escapades. An inveterate prankster, she once left a suicide note for her private school roommate to find as Barnes lay prone on the floor covered in red ink. The fact that she had a penchant for raunchy storytelling and salty language made her first marriage to a minister an unlikely one. The union resulted in a child but a conventional life was not to be. An experienced horsewoman, Barnes took jobs as trainer and stuntwoman in traveling rodeos and in film. There is so much to be said for and about Pancho Barnes; but with it so eloquently and expertly stated here and here, for wacky tacky purposes, we'll just stick to a few highlights.
Barnes befriends actor Ramon Navarro and introduces him
to photographer George Hurrell, aiding the careers of both.
After four failed marriages, the protracted legal battle with the US government over land rites, and the mystery fire that destroyed her entire resort, Barnes ended up broke but not broken in the tiny town of Boron, a factory mining town. Feeling betrayed by some of her best clients, Barnes retreated into her modest home in the Mojave Desert. Because the door to the house was wide open (read: nonexistent), we decided to show ourselves in.
|It was much darker in the room than this picture would indicate. |
There was some kind of cellar but as it appeared to be just a giant
pit, I adhered quite strictly to the rules of my horror movie training.
DON'T GO IN THE BASEMENT!!!
|The remnants of the restroom painted a somewhat sunnier picture.|
|But even a boisterous desert dweller needs her privacy...|
Because she was such fixture of the "high desert," many members of the community feel like they knew her personally. In fact, many of them only really knew her by reputation alone, their anecdotes supported by the recitation of now-legendary stories told by older generations. One person we met in town remembered Barnes as a "real character" citing that it was oft said that "she had a face like a bag of worms!!!"
|We felt like we were touching a part of aviation history when we found|
the basin in which she washed her hands and her
Within one hundred miles of Pasadena, Boron is somehow worlds away from the privileged upbringing and rakish lifestyle Barnes had always enjoyed. In a town perpetually under the spell of the sandman, it appeared that Barnes would live out her remaining days in utter obscurity. Her high-flying adventures, however, could be forgotten by neither her community nor her Happy Bottom cohorts. In 1964, having been reintroduced to some of her old friends and colleagues, Barnes was was named the "First Citizen of Edwards Air Force Base" and scheduled regularly as a guest lecturer until her death in 1975. Since 1980, November 7 has been dedicated as Pancho Barnes Day, marked by a yearly celebration at the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base.
|"Where's the party?"|
We choose to celebrate Pancho Barnes as an icon all year long because, unpretentious and a little naughty, she pioneered aviation, women's rights, and wacky tacky living without even trying! It's great to know that Valerie Bertinelli will always be there to celebrate with us - and that's no sack of worms!!!
Pancho Barnes starring Valerie Bertinelli (1988)