MUROC ARMY AIR BASE, Calif --
Two brothers, Ralph and Clifford Corum, with Clifford’s wife and daughter, arrived to settle on a half-section (160 acres) of land 3/4 mile south of the Santa Fe watering station. The Corums were the earliest known settlers to homestead in the southeastern corner of Kern County. Clifford Corum set himself up in Los Angeles as a land agent, receiving the government’s bounty of $1 per acre for new settlement, while his brother dug shallow wells and cleared land for the newcomers. Within a few months, an estimated 300 homesteaders had become established on land which was now within the present-day borders of Edwards Air Force Base. The local aquifer was high, perhaps twenty feet, and small alfalfa fields began to appear, especially in areas west and south of the great dry lake.
Back in 1910, Ralph and Clifford Corum petitioned for a post office in their California high desert settlement. However, so goes the tale, a Corum post office already existed in Illinois; hence the Corums chose to reverse the letters and call the place Muroc. However, in researching the Corum/Muroc matter, I found nothing on the internet but a Corum Post Office, Tennessee. Besides, what about all the places named Columbus? Let’s just observe that the Corums’ Muroc officially existed from 1910 to 1951. It’s now part of Edwards Air Force Base (originally known as Muroc Air Force Base). The vastness of the place encouraged the Great Muroc Dry Lake Match Race of 1932, which all began with a party at Al Jolson’s Beverly Hills home. Phil Berg, business manager for the likes of Clark Gable and Gary Cooper, was there with his 1931 Model J Duesenberg. Zeppo and Chico Marx showed up in their 1927 Mercedes S Boattail Roadster, no doubt its supercharger emitting a proper shriek on arrival. Never one to pass up a good wager—and many bad ones as well—Chico challenged Berg to a $10,000 match race, with Muroc eventually (and soberly) selected as the venue. Come the appointed day, four chartered buses and at least one celebrity-piloted aircraft brought out 200 invited Hollywood celebs. Word got around, and perhaps a thousand ordinary folk showed up too. The initial $10,000 wager grew with side bets to some $25,000. The course was a 5-mile circle, traversed thrice. It was close at first, with speeds reaching 110 mph. Ultimately, the Duesenberg finished far in the lead and Chico lost his bet. Here’s another Chico Marx story: Befitting his nickname (pronounced “Chick-oh”), he was quite the womanizer. Once caught at this, Chico told his wife, “I wasn’t kissing her. I was whispering in her mouth.” Muroc’s Hollywood fame continued in 1936 when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer used it (in lieu of Bonneville Salt Flats) for the movie Speed.