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A collection that identifies California as a world apart

Something was unusual about the 1663 map of the Western Hemisphere.

Yes, much of the North and South American coasts followed contours geographers would recognize today. And in California, Santa Catalina, Santa Barbara and Point Reyes were clearly marked. But wait! What was that body of water marked Mare Vermiglio, or Red Sea, separating California from the mainland? And why was California a big carrot-shaped island?

That geographic oddity caught the attention of Glen McLaughlin, an American businessman who was browsing through antique maps at a shop in London in 1971. He bought it — and began pursuing a quirky and expensive passion that would lead him to devote an entire room in his San Jose-area home to what is believed to be the largest private collection of such maps.

"It was not a very pretty map, but it had the concept that California was a very different place, a special place," McLaughlin recalled about that first purchase.

Whatever the geographic facts or discredited myths, McLaughlin said people remain fascinated by the maps because in their hearts they still perceive California "as a big island floating in the Pacific off the West Coast of North America."

Jon Christensen, a UCLA history professor and environmental specialist, said McLaughlin has "that kind of obsession and vision and persistence to put together such a great collection. He was very disciplined and dedicated."

Christensen said such incorrect maps "often turn out to be some of the most interesting windows into history. They really show us that the past is a foreign country and people did things differently then and thought differently."

To read the full article by Larry Gordon click here.