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Fig Tales

Were the Kennedys complicitous in the death of Marilyn Monroe? Did the government cover up an alien crash-landing at Roswell, New Mexico? Were the Clintons involved in the death of Vince Foster? Was Christopher Marlowe, or perhaps Sir Francis Bacon, the actual author of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare? To these maddening historical mysteries we may now add another: Might the Fig Newton trace its origins to Glendale's historic Sahuaro Ranch?

Poppycock, you say. Unfounded balderdash, borne of a romantic turn of mind, an overactive imagination. Well, perhaps you're right. But look at the facts:

FACT: Sahuaro Ranch was founded as a citrus farm in 1885, by an investor from Peoria, Illinois, named William Henry Bartlett, a well-to-do man with many business contacts.

FACT: In 1890, the ranch produced its first major crop of figs, from a 100-acre orchard.

FACT: Just one year later, Nabisco introduced the perennial cookie favorite we still know as the Fig Newton.

These tantalizing tidbits (the facts, not the cookies) do not, of course, add up to anything like proof. A Sahuaro Ranch spokesperson with whom I chatted, seeing my pulse race at the thought of snack history in our own backyard, was quick to point out that this was merely a speculation among West Valley historians. "There's no documentation," she cautioned me.

Not yet, maybe. But how long can Valley news hounds be kept at bay from a juicy lead like this, now that I've broken it? My advice to those looking further into the story: Follow the money.

My advice to everyone else is to consider visiting Sahuaro Ranch, now a Glendale city park and historical site, and an exceedingly pleasant place to spend an afternoon. Tours through the lovely main house are given regularly; there's a nice gift shop, and the old packing facility now houses a small but well-kept museum with interesting changing displays. Best of all are the idyllic grounds, through which stroll chickens, peacocks and rabbits. Someone should stage a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream there.

Stop by, take a walk, and thrill to think that you may be standing on the very soil that produced the first Newton figs.

--M. V. Moorhead

Sahuaro Ranch is located at 9802 North 59th Avenue in Glendale. The grounds are open daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call 939-5782.


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