Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Meet Your Neighbor: The Legend Hunter

Jack Innis
If all the talk about Balboa Park’s Centennial has aroused your curiosity about the history of our town, you probably know of a few places to find out more.  You can visit the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park, or maybe check out the beautiful new downtown library.

But the fact is, if you really want to know the “good stuff” about San Diego’s past, Bay Park is where you want to be, talking to long-time resident Jack Innis.  Innis, who is also known as the “San Diego Legend Hunter”, has just released the second edition of his popular book “San Diego Legends”. The new edition includes new chapters, for a total of 100 great San Diego stories you may never have heard.

The book is a fun read full of quirky characters and mysterious places that have played a role in San Diego’s history.  Innis has an engaging style and a journalist’s knack for pithy description.  His enthusiasm for these “oddball stories” (his words) comes through in the writing.

Jack Innis is a cheerful, energetic man who smiles easily and often. He has lived in Bay Park for 15 years and enjoys how central our neighborhood is. “I love how close we are to the beach, yet only an hour away you can find snow. And it’s great telling visitors coming by plane, call me when you land, by the time you get your bag I’ll be there to pick you up!” he said.

Wondering how he became the “Legend Hunter”?  In 1999 he was a journalist, working on a proposed history of Pt. Loma for a magazine-type article in a local newspaper.  It turned out there was really only room in the paper for a timeline and a few local legends.

Those legends were the most popular part of the issue and it got Jack thinking about eventually doing a book based on stories from all over the county. It became a reality with the publication in 2004 of the first edition of “San Diego Legends”.

The book has been popular since day one, and it lead to speaking engagements, over 100 at last count. Those appearances have turned out to have a side benefit; they have become a great way for Jack to get leads on new stories. "People come up to me after my talk and say 'You should check this place out' or 'Have you heard about this person?' " he said "That's where some really great stories come from."

Legends aren't the only thing Jack is interested in, he grows shiitake mushrooms and is involved in the San Diego Mycological Society.  His next projects include a novel and a series of mini-books about San Diego characters like Dr. Harry Wegeforth, founder of the San Diego Zoo.  "I've been working on the novel 10 years, doing a lot of research," he said of the book, which is in the historical fiction genre.

You just can't meet Jack and not walk away with another great "unknown" story from San Diego's past.  For example, did you know at one time Pt. Loma was slated to become a steel town like Pittsburgh? There were plans for a large steel smelting operation and the only thing that stopped it was a heart attack one of the backers back east had. When that happened they closed down what ever they had going, sold the property and went back home.

Jack's book, "San Diego Legends Second Edition" is available from Jack's website.  It's a great read for all ages, whether you have lived in San Diego all your life or you are a transplant.  And if you think you know a San Diego Legend that Jack doesn't, you can tell him about it here.   He is always out there hunting!

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