Some Swallows Do Return To Capistrano

Posted on March 21, 2018 by Martin Oaks under Community, Hello world
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Holidays, particularly major ones like Christmas, tend to bring back memories of when lost loved ones were there to help celebrate.  At Martin Oaks Crematory and Cemetery in Lewisville, Texas, we can always tell when special holidays are coming, as flowers and other remembrances begin to appear at gravesides.

Even with the advent of more and more cremations, this is still true — since we inter cremains (graves for interment of ashes are half the price of graves for regular burials), family members stop by and visit these smaller graves.

But it doesn’t take a major holiday to key in memories of our beloved ones.  Such a special day recently took place this week and it did bring back some fond feelings.

Have you ever heard of the swallows of Capistrano?

This special day for the city of Capistrano, California dates back many years ago, but it really began as tourist attraction to 1910 when Rev. St. John O’Sullivan began celebrating the return of these birds to the mission at this Southern California seaside town.

For centuries, migratory cliff swallows would build their nests in the crevices of the church.  It is their summer home.  During winter months, the swallows head south to nesting grounds in Argentina.

For years, the birds would return to Capistrano on the Catholic feast day of St. Joseph, March 19.

This tradition used to be called the “miracle” of the swallows. The birds made this 6,000 mile trek in flocks — so many that the sky would darken with their arrival.

The theory was that the mission, at the time, was the largest building in the area and would thus serve as a nesting attraction.

Commemorated in songs, books and movies, the return of the swallows spread — to the point that it would bring people from all over the globe to witness the event.

You have to be of a certain age to recall many of these popular entertainments — the song, “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano,” which was composed by Leon Rene, first came to national attention in 1940 when both the Ink Spots and Glenn Miller recorded it.  Through the years, a variety of artists followed suit, including Pat Boone in 1957 and three years later (believe it or not), Elvis Presley.

Sadly, the tradition suffered a hit as the swallows began migrating to other Southern California towns — it is hypothesized that earthquake damage to the mission and the gradual urbanization of Capistrano combined to make the area a little less inviting.

Since thousands of tourists have been known to come to see this migration, their dwindling number provoked a great deal of local concern.  Experts in bird behavior were consulted and several steps have recently been taken to reverse the trend.

The first step was the so called vocalization remedy.  Mating calls were broadcast by loudspeakers to entice the birds — there was some success, but nothing like the previous multitudes.

A more successful move came three years ago with the so-called nest reenactment project. A wall was erected and manmade nests were installed — it has been shown that the birds prefer to return to existing nests.

This project seems to be producing better results.  A phone call to the mission this week was met with more promising news — although there were no flocks of returning swallows, the crowd of spectators (which numbered over 2,000) did have the opportunity to see some birds.  It is hoped that this trend will continue in the future.

As for our own personal memory, a spring vacation trip to Capistrano in the 1960’s with a favorite aunt and uncle — both of whom have now passed away — always comes to mind in the middle of March every year.

Life cycle events — whatever their nature — don’t have to be holidays.  Simple memories can bring back loved ones just as well.

Check out The Ink Spots version:

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