The Complex Life of Griffith J. Griffith
January 5, 2020 9:26 PM   Subscribe

The Complex Life of Griffith J. Griffith Griffith J. Griffith donated the land for Griffith Park to the city of Los Angeles, and later bequeathed a trust to construct a free observatory to make astronomy accessible to the public. He also shot his wife in the head. L.A. historian Hadley Meares tells the story of Griffith J. Griffith, and it is fascinating.
posted by simonw (15 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Believing Tina to be the heir to the entire Briswalter fortune, Griffith began courting her. They were soon engaged, and announcements for the wedding appeared in all of the local papers. However, ten days before the wedding, Griffith discovered the Tina was only heir to half the Briswalter fortune. He wrote his betrothed a brutal letter, breaking off the engagement. Her Catholic family was appalled and begged Griffith to not disgrace their daughter in this way. He agreed to go through with the marriage, but only on the condition that Tina inherits the entire fortune — and that it be transferred to his name. Griffith claimed that this was not to steal the money, but to ensure that (according to the Times) “after marriage there would be no interference with his wife’s money on the part of her family.”
What a monster.
posted by simonw at 9:29 PM on January 5, 2020 [8 favorites]

As the great philosopher Malcolm Reynolds said: "It's my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sumbitch or another"

And boy was GJG one, but at least unlike most of the idiots with statues built in his honor his sphere of damage was relatively restricted.

Also, I really love the fact that his trust still operates to this day and sues LA every time they start talking about charging admission to the park. (I know it takes money to run the largest urban green space, but it tickles me that some vainglorious goober from the 1800s is keeping the park free of charge)
posted by drewbage1847 at 10:00 PM on January 5, 2020 [19 favorites]

So I was curious about this line "The Mesmers were descendants of the legendary Verdugo family, and therefore aristocracy in rough and tumble Los Angeles", and I can't say I can find any evidence this is true. Per his obituary, he was born in Alsace and married his wife in Ohio.

Another more partisan version of the story is here.
posted by tavella at 10:10 PM on January 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Times gives the same wording to her line (back in 93 when fact checking would have been more of a thing, but still - "Griffith’s wife, Mary Agnes Christina Mesmer, was a descendant of the Verdugo family, who received the King of Spain’s first land grant in the region--the 36,000-acre Rancho San Rafael--which made her a landowner too "

But even if Pere Mesmer wasn't directly of the line (guessing there's some tie, somewhere or hell.. LA has always been a city of reinvention or purchasing your heritage from the ranchos) - the fact that he helped raise the funds for St. Vibiana is big in LA history.
posted by drewbage1847 at 10:51 PM on January 5, 2020

“Doctor Sketchly”

and people wonder why I love LA
posted by mwhybark at 11:36 PM on January 5, 2020 [7 favorites]

So many fuckin' weirdos in LA.

I once heard that, though the Getty Museum was completed 12 years before J Paul Getty died, and that he was very particular about the construction of it, he never once visited it. WTF?
posted by dobbs at 1:25 AM on January 6, 2020

(just two years, the website reports)
posted by mwhybark at 1:33 AM on January 6, 2020

Complex? Just sounds like a massive, massive twat.
posted by bookbook at 2:45 AM on January 6, 2020 [8 favorites]

I recommend renaming Griffith Park, O.J. Simpson Park.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:47 AM on January 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Why on earth would anyone name their child Griffith Griffith? That's starting off in life with one strike against him.

Of course, this was the 19th century, when parents were naming their children Capability and things like that.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 5:43 AM on January 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by mojohand at 5:51 AM on January 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Mod note: One deleted. While it's fine to express your opinion or the light you see something in, please don't put words in other people's mouths to make it seem that they are saying something different than what they actually said. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 7:05 AM on January 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

That is... some story.

Still trying to work my way through the phrase "the bullet entered her forehead but miraculously split in two"... Miraculously?
posted by Mchelly at 9:59 AM on January 6, 2020


I had inferred that the splitting in two corresponded with a substantial change in trajectory - she lost an eye but it seems not to have gone straight through her brain?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 10:01 AM on January 6, 2020

The bullet halves traveled over the outside of her skull, under the scalp, instead of going through it. It happens occasionally with gunshot victims, or people hit by various kinds of shrapnel; it's one of the things the skull is there for. There's still important structures that can be in the path, obviously, but it's certainly more survivable than what bullets are supposed to do.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:02 PM on January 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

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