Memorial to the White Deer of Mission Hills – San Diego, California - Atlas Obscura
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Memorial to the White Deer of Mission Hills

Presidio Park

A secluded hilltop monument marks the final resting place of Lucy, Presidio Park's beloved white deer. 

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Tucked in a remote corner of Presidio Park overlooking the Mission Hills neighborhood of San Diego, California, is a memorial to a white fallow deer named Lucy. The monument is at the top of a hill in an area known as Inspiration Point. It consists of three rough-hewn standing stones placed next to the perimeter of a sculpted concrete watering hole. Around the bowl-like depression in the center of the circular concrete slab are the footprint tracks of woodland birds and animals, including the hoof prints of a diminutive deer. The tracks form trails in the concrete as if left by animals coming to drink. 

Fallow deer are not native to Southern California, and no one knows for sure how Lucy came to reside in Mission Hills in 1965. The most common (though unconfirmed) story is that she and her male sibling were sold to a local landowner by the San Diego Zoo because the Zoo’s ungulates were overcrowded. Lucy and her brother subsequently escaped from the private property in Mission Hills. The male deer was never seen again, but Lucy took up residence in Presidio Park.

Lucy roamed Presidio Park and the Mission Hills neighborhood for more than a decade, becoming a beloved local celebrity. The residents of Mission Hills were enchanted by the wraithlike deer haunting the wooded heights above their neighborhood. They installed salt licks and left water, fruit, and vegetables for her. Residents often spotted Lucy on the hills above Interstate 8, and children delighted to see the white doe when she grazed near the playground and baseball field.

As the area around Presidio Park became more developed, Lucy’s unrestricted wandering became more treacherous. On December 31, 1975, locals reported seeing the deer attempting to cross the multilane I-8 Freeway. Some callers even believed they saw her struck and possibly injured by a vehicle. It was apparent that Lucy’s story might not have a fairy tale ending. Park rangers decided that Lucy should be caught and moved to a more rural location for her safety and wellbeing. Animal Control Officer Paul Coplin located the deer and attempted to tranquilize her with a dart gun. Tragically, the tranquilizer caused Lucy to stop breathing, and she died.

Residents were outraged and grief-stricken by Lucy’s death. There were calls for an investigation and a petition for the immediate dismissal of Officer Coplin. Lucy’s body was placed in a wooden casket, and she was interred atop the hill at Inspiration Point.  More than 125 grieving San Diegans attended the deer’s graveside service and burial. Margaret Price, a local artist, led a citizen’s committee to raise funds to place a permanent memorial to the deer at her burial site.

The monument was installed in 1976 and features the three standing stones carved by San Diego artist Charles Faust. Next to the concrete watering hole is a bronze plaque engraved with these words: “The White Deer of Mission Hills. Bliss in solitude beneath this tree, Formless, silent, spirit free. A friend.”

Almost 50 years later, some say that at dawn or twilight you might still catch a glimpse of a white deer moving quietly through the eucalyptus trees at Inspiration Point.

Know Before You Go

To reach Lucy's Memorial, turn up the steep driveway off Taylor Street, just east of Presidio Park’s main entrance. The driveway ends at the Inspiration Point parking lot.  At the back of the parking lot is an open lawn area leading uphill.  The Memorial is at the top of the hill to the right and under some trees.

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