Morgan Hill – Charles Kellogg was one of Morgan Hill’s most colorful citizens. He was also the most internationally famous person to have ever resided in our South Valley community. His claim to fame? He could sing like a bird.
Kellogg was born on a ranch near Susanville on Oct. 2, 1868. Joyce Hunter’s “Under the Shadow of El Toro” says his mother died when he was still an infant. His father Henry, Chinese miners and the local Native Americans raised him and taught him the ways of the natural world.
“The animals of the forest were his constant companions,” Hunter wrote. “His days were spent preoccupied with the birds and insects, listening and talking to them and reproducing in pitch and quality, their own language.”
By the time Kellogg was 22, his amazing ability to imitate the feathered creatures was gaining him national attention. Physicist Richard Zeckwer used a Helmholz tuning fork to test Kellogg’s avian voice. Zeckwer said that Kellogg’s bird voice had a vibration of 14,000 Hertz and reached levels of 40,000 Hertz – so high that it was inaudible to human ears. Normal human voices vibrate at 4,000 Hertz.
Calling himself “The Nature Singer,” Kellogg joined the vaudeville circuit and toured the country demonstrating his bird-like musical ability. With his wife Sarah – whom he playfully called “Sa’di – he traveled from city to city and amazed crowds who thronged to hear him warble out his bird songs.
When he wasn’t traveling, he spent his time with Sa’di in a cabin on the eastern foothills of south Santa Clara Valley. “He was attuned to the beauty of our local forests and lived in Morgan Hill for 30 years,” wrote U.R. Sharma in “Images of America: Morgan Hill,” a book featuring many historic photos of the community. ” “He and John Muir, father of the national parks movement, were kindred spirits.” The last known photograph ever taken of Muir was with Kellogg.
Kellogg’s fame spread and he became an international sensation as he performed in the great cities of Europe. In Paris, the French sculptor Auguste Rodin invited him to his home. “Although neither could speak the (other’s) language, their appreciation for each other’s talents drew a common and lasting bond,” Hunter wrote. And in London, Kellogg performed for 20,000 “enthralled spectators” at the city’s famous Crystal Palace built by the Victorians, she wrote.
But a career in entertainment wasn’t the Nature Singer’s main goal. He wanted to use his unique ability to primarily educate audiences about the world of nature – particular the beautiful redwood trees.
His wrote that his goal was: “To awaken interest in the great redwood forests of California, and to assist in their preservation.” And with a masterful skill at marketing, he created something unique to make people aware of the importance of these magnificent trees – the world’s first recreation vehicle.
Kellogg went to the forests of Humboldt County and worked for three days with a 14-foot one-man saw to cut out a 22-foot section of a giant redwood that had grown for 4,800 years. It weighed 36 tons. Then he spent three months using a ramrod to cut off six-inch sections of the timber to hollow it out.
When his shell was complete, he mounted it onto the chassis of a Nash Quad truck. He then drove the 300-mile journey to Morgan Hill where he converted this eight-ton shell into a recreational vehicle that included beds, table, stove, toilet, storage, electric lights and running water. He called the unique contraption his “Travel Log” and it quickly became nationally famous.
“From 1917 to 1921, Kellogg took his Travel Log on the road,” wrote journalist Ketzel Levine in an National Public Radio report. “He drove it across the country four times, coast-to-coast, bringing word of the redwoods to people who had never heard, let alone imagined, there could be such trees. He spoke of the accelerated logging taking place in the redwood forests, made impassioned pleas for the trees’ preservation, and spread the word about a fledgling organization looking for members. It was called the Save the Redwoods League.”
As Kellogg’s fame grew, scientists studied his amazing voice. The Bureau of Standards in Washington D.C., set up in front of him a flame under pressure so that could not be affected by ordinary sounds – including shouting. But Kellogg’s bird voice made the flame dance and even extinguished it when he roared.
“Using his bird voice over KGO Radio on August 19, 1926,” Joyce Hunter wrote, “Charles Kellogg extinguished a two-foot gas flame located some 40 miles away in San Jose…. History had been made and a new aspect of radio uncovered.”
For the rest of his life, Kellogg pursued his zest for nature and science. He believed that nature must be studied and preserved for the overall benefit to humankind. In 1939, Morgan Hill’s famous naturalist went to the Fiji islands in the Pacific and smuggled back to the United States some samples of the Kakaula plant. His hoped the plant’s unique chemical composition would provide a means of birth control as a natural contraceptive.
Kellogg died on Sept. 5, 1949. He’s virtually forgotten now by the world. But his Travel Log is still preserved at the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association Visitor Center at Humboldt Redwoods State Park. And recordings of his amazing “bird songs” can be heard on the Internet by logging onto the Web site www.npr.org/templates/story/
But Kellogg’s lasting legacy is
not his bird-song fame, but rather
in the preservation of America’s wilderness. As he wrote: “The stars, the tides, the migrations of birds, the appearance of the herbs, the trees, the flowers are all on time, giving that sense of harmony felt, and rejoiced in by all.”
Charles Kellogg’s home was on Tennant Avenue in the eastern foothills of Morgan Hill. He named his house Kellogg Springs.
The innovative Kellogg built a fireplace for the home that had a trickle of creek water flowing down the sides and across the hearth.
In 1917, Pacific Lumber Company gave Kellogg a fallen redwood tree estimated to contain $2,000 in lumber. The naturalist took three months to hollow it out into a four inch shell weighing 11 tons.
Kellogg used the chassis of a Nash Quad heavy-duty military truck for his “Travel Log.”
To sell Liberty Bonds, Kellogg toured the United States during World War I in his famous Travel Log.