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Legend of the White Deer not a Myth
The White Deer of Mission Hills
Once Upon A Time
I learned of the white deer of Mission Hills only days ago, from an episode of Ken Kramer’s About San Diego featuring a segment on her. It got me; it was such a nice story that, although it’s been covered before (links below) it felt to me like it must be passed along. I realize it’s also coming up to the fifty year anniversary of when this began. So here we are.
There are multiple accounts and the details don’t always match but that does not alter the events as they occurred. It’s a sweet story, if you allow. And please do; I did.
- Video: Episode 4 - Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010 | Watch Ken Kramer's About San Diego Online | KPBS
A segment of this excellent TV show, Ken Kramer's "About San Diego", features the story of the white deer of Mission Hills.
Old Town with Presidio Park on the east end. Mission Hills is to the right. Heritage Park is also in the area.
- Junípero Serra Museum - Discover San Diego Museums | San Diego Museum Council
The Junípero Serra Museum, in Presidio Park, is one of the most familiar landmarks in San Diego. As a major symbol of the city, it stands atop the hil...
Father Junipero Serra Museum
Common and Calming Sight
The Mission Hills area of San Diego is nicely situated back from the bluffs overlooking Old Town, downtown, and several communities visible nearby from the lush, green hillside (map below). Think of it as nestled up on the hill behind the Father Junipero Serra Museum, which is easily identifiable from two major freeways.
Mission Hills has always been a quiet, pleasant neighborhood where one could appreciate the tranquility of each breaking morn. And just a few miles away is the San Diego Zoo, separated by bushy canyons and commercial and residential zones.
About fifty years ago around 1965, a couple of fallow white deer either escaped from the zoo, or from a Mission Valley farm that had previously acquired them from the zoo. The male was never observed again and his fate is not known. But, to the delight of many neighbors in the Mission Hills area, the female white deer became a welcome sight, frequenting the hiking paths throughout the hills.
She became a fixture for the next decade, often glimpsed by visitors to Presidio Park as she walked near the Father Junipero Serra Museum, and still seen regularly by the Hills residents who had named her “Lucy”.
She was casually adopted by the community as its unofficial mascot. Salt licks and other treats were left for her daily. She was treasured and, for those who were lucky enough to catch her unawares and enjoy watching her a few moments, she brightened their day.
OK, I know she was just an animal but, if I’d watched her pad into the yard and start munching fauna, I probably would have associated some magic or good fortune with seeing her, for the fun of it if for no other reason. According to those who did see her, she was never “pet-friendly”, always flitting off when approached. She was a wild animal, just very quiet about it, fitting in perfectly with life in the area.
Folks in Mission Hills became accustomed to Lucy’s presence, and through the years she reciprocated by becoming less wary of people and their machines. However, San Diego was growing and vehicle traffic in the area had been on the uptick for years. Even mindful adults had to use caution as pedestrians in the area.
San Diego Presidion Park ranger newsletter, Ranger Report, from 2006, revisiting the story.
Residents had developed a genuine concern for Lucy. Her neighborhood friends were acutely aware that, with all the traffic, Lucy could be run down without ever seeing it coming. Sure enough, one day in December of 1975, she was observed trying to cross the busy freeway. Another caller reported that she had been struck by a car but, if so, it did not impact her ability to maneuver.
The Presidio Park rangers, or Animal Control after being contacted by rangers, attempted unsuccessfully to snag Lucy but she was a wily white deer. With fewer options and heightened concern, it was decided to bring her down using a tranquilizer dart. Unfortunately, Lucy never awoke.
The Inscription on the plaque reads: “Bliss in solitude beneath this tree, formless, silent, spirit free.” – A Friend
Marking the Memory
The community was stunned. It was understood to be an accident but still shocked the residents who sensed Lucy’s loss immediately. A citizen’s committee was established to produce a memorial for her, a place to respect her memory.
In 1976, more than 200 people gathered to remember Lucy as her memorial was established at Inspiration Point, one of the places she was often seen grazing near. It’s a simple monument featuring a plaque and a small drinking pond with hoof prints leading away from it.
I lived in San Diego and even visited Presidio Park during that period. I never knew about Lucy or I would’ve searched for her, in possession of some treat to share, or leave for her. I guess she was a cherished secret of the Mission Hills clan. It must have felt nice just seeing her.
When it's misty on the trails at dawn or dusk it's the perfect setting for tricks on the eyes.There have been “reports” over the years of folks catching a fleeting glimpse of what looked like a white deer or its little white tail, disappearing into the bushes off the hiking trails, or grazing in the shadows.Lucy was such a sweetheart that some folks prefer to believe she’s still around.
The white deer of Mission Hills was something very special for a few people during a part of their lives. Many of us have a memory like that of our own. And we know that regardless of how careful we are, bad things happen, without warning. And that’s that. Gone as good as a dream.
So consider this a gentle reminder, as I did, from the memory of a gentle being, and you've heard this before but it's important enough to repeat. Each of us should appreciate what is special in our existence before it’s too late because, too often, it's too late way too soon.
Additional Links for this subject
It's not that each of these articles has different information, but more that each one is written in a slightly different tone. Most exhibit some awe between the lines; some are shorter and even tell the tale briskly. None are long, so read each one and take in the lore.
- Daily News - Google News Archive Search
An excellent article by a first-hand observer from 1976. Google News article "Legend of Lucy: Death takes the white deer"
- Front Pages - San Diego Magazine - December 2004 - San Diego, California
"IT’S BEEN NEARLY 20 YEARS since the celebrated White Deer of Mission Hills met her untimely demise"...an article featured in San Diego Magazine.
YELP link to location info & brief review
- White Deer Park - Old Town - San Diego, CA
1 Review of White Deer Park "Locals only also known as Inspiration Point to some, but White Deer Park is the most appropriate title.
MapQuest marks the monument with an "A"
MapQuest has goofed us all up at one time or another. Check your mapping before you go, it's a very busy area. Park and walk, you'll enjoy it.