Hearing the Call of the Wild in California

Because many people think of Alaska when they hear the name of Jack London, it can come as a surprise that his home and grave are in California. Or maybe that was just me. Located in Sonoma, near the cute town of Glen Ellen, Jack London State Park is an all day treat.You might want to visit fall, winter or spring though as summer can be brutally hot. London, the author of such well known stories such as The Call of the Wild, White Fang and Sea Wolf, was born and raised in nearby Oakland.

London bought this property in 1911 with his second wife. They lived here in the cottage while their dream home was being built. The dream home was called Wolf House and was to be truly magnificent. Beauty Ranch, as London called the property,was his playground, laboratory, and office. London and his wife were enthusiastic outdoor people, riding horses and hiking all over the property, often entertaining guests there. London was very interested in agriculture and used sustainable practices before those were trendy. Many of his ideas failed but you have to give him points for trying and throwing a lot of money at it.

I particularly enjoyed visiting the cottage where the Londons lived while Wolf House was under construction. There is a short video clip about the cottage and the Londons once you enter. The cottage contains his study, his desk, and most poignantly, the sleeping porch where London died in 1916 as well as his wife’s room. The cottage is a short drive from the museum and grave and has different opening hours and a separate admission price. The flower gardens and views of the vineyard are really lovely there.

Tragically, Wolf House burnt down right before the Londons were to move in. The ruins of the house are starkly beautiful and you can roam around them easily. The path to the ruins is well marked from the museum. The museum is housed in the House of Happy Walls, the home that Mrs. London built after Jack’s death to live in herself and develop as a museum for her husband’s work. The museum has exhibits about London’s travels, especially aboard the Snark. There are items from those travels as well as many editions of his books and photos. There is a gift shop in the museum.

Jack London was cremated and his ashes buried under a rock on a hill,near the graves of two children who had lived on the property before he purchased it. London’s second wife was also buried there after her death in 1955. Charmian London must have been a fascinating person in her own right. You learn a lot about her here at the park and she protected Jack’s legacy well. There is a short walk through the woods and up the hill to the gravesite from the museum.

Because the London home is part of the larger state park, there are picnic tables and several other hiking trails that you can enjoy. There is a per vehicle entrance fee into the state park.

Visiting Jack London State Park is well worth the time. You get a beautiful setting in Sonoma close to many wineries, hiking trails, and lovely picnic spots. The museum, ruins of Wolf House, the cottage and the gravesite all convey a real sense of Jack London and his life there. The docents at the cottage are friendly and knowledgable about London and recommended a recent biography, Jack London: An American Life by Earle Labor as a good place to start reading about London and his unconventional life. Great place to visit and learn more about an American author.

Finding the wild horses of Chincoteague

imageimageimageimageimageLike most girls in the 70’s, I read and loved the horse books ,Misty of Chincoteague and Stormy, Misty’s Foal. For a lifetime, I have imagined a herd of wild ponies and could picture them swimming in the sea between the islands. The unique place names of Chincoteague and Assateague rattled around in my brain until I finally realized they were real islands and not that far from where my brother lives. So, I packed up my daughter, my mother, and our bags and we drove to Virginia’s eastern shore to Chincoteague to track down those horses from those long ago stories.

We stayed at a quaint bed and breakfast called the Island Manor House. It is across the street from sister property, Miss Molly’s Inn. It was at Miss Molly’s, that author Marguerite Henry stayed as she wrote Misty of Chincoteague in 1947. There is a plaque out front commemorating that visit. Every shop on Chincoteague sells copies of that book as well as the others in the series. The public library right down the street, has a wonderful display of horses and horse books to lure you into the bright and cheerful library. There is even a bronze statue of Misty on the west side of Main Street.

Those familiar with the story know that the wild horses live on Assateague Island, which is a National seashore and wildlife refuge. We biked over to the island, enjoyed climbing up to the top of the lighthouse, and of course, spending a day at the beach. The wild horse herds roam freely and it is fun to go out to see which horses you can spot from the road or the walking and biking trails. The big event happens each year at the end of July when the Pony Swim is held. The herds are rounded up and then they swim across the Assateague channel to Chincotesgue where the foals are auctioned off. This is hard for a lot of people to see as the foals are taken from their mamas. The remaining herd then swims back across to Assateague to roam freely for another year. Proceeds from the auction support the Volunteer Fire Company and is necessary to maintain the health of the herd in numbers that the island can support. The Pony swim and auction figure prominently in the book series.

Right at the bridge linking the two islands is the Museum of Chincoteague. Besides wonderful exhibits about island life, artifacts from the islands and the original Fresnel lens from the lighthouse, fans of the books can see Misty and Stormy who are preserved in all their taxidermied glory. There are several exhibits about the books and the people featured in the series. Well worth a stop.

There is a lot to do on the islands besides following Marguerite Henry and her horses. There are miles of trails to walk and bike, sunset pontoon boat cruises, the lighthouse, the beach, birding opportunities, shops, restaurants, and great ice cream. Bring your mosquito spray in the summer as those pests are voracious. You will see families with children carrying the Misty books and excitedly looking for the wild horse herds. 40 years after first reading Misty of Chincoteague, I felt like those kids clutching their books, so excited to be where the wild ponies roam and swim.

Helpful websites

Hemingway in Cuba

When you think of Hemingway, Cuba comes to mind pretty quickly   After all, he lived here for years, fished here, drank a lot here and wrote several of his best known books here.  So, on my recent trip to Cuba, I couldn’t wait to see where I might cross paths with Ernest.  It didn’t take long once we arrived in the village of Cojimar, on the outskirts of Havana.  Cojimar was the inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea and as I watched small fishing boats leaving the dock, I could almost picture it. Hemingway had his fishing boat here and often ate and drank at a local bar that still stands.  There is a bronze bust of Hemingway here that is a nice place to read a few chapters of The Old Man and the Sea and to look out onto the water but Cojimar is no longer a sleepy fishing village.

A short drive takes you into Havana where there are several Hemingway spots to explore.  First up is the Hotel Ambos Mundos.  Hemingway rented a room here for 7 years in the 1930’s.  He stayed in room 511 and it has been kept as it would have looked in his time   There are some photographs and memorabilia in the hotel.  Hemingway started writing For Whom the Bell Tolls while staying here.  He did then move to a house outside of town that is open to the public but our tour was not allowed to visit as the admission fees go to the government.  Visitors from outside the United States or on a different type of visa should try to go if they can.

Havana has two bars that are connected to Hemingway that I found.  The first, Bodeguita del Medio brags that it is the home of the Mojito.  The inside is full of photos and objects and signatures of famous customers.  A lot of famous people have stopped in over the years, including writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Nat King Cole.  Hemingway reportedly came here as well but was not a regular.  To find where he usually hung out, a walk of 8 or 9 blocks brings you to the Floridita.  There is a life size statue of Ernest at his favorite place at the bar that you can elbow your way to to get a picture.  Daiquiris were his drink of choice here and there were many people enjoying one while I was there .  Other famous writers who have visited the bar include Ezra Pound, Graham Greene and John Dos Passos. There are photos and memorabilia to look at but it is a crowded spot so don’t expect to find a quiet table to enjoy that daiquiri.

Cuba is a fascinating place to visit.  The people are warm and friendly.  Drinks are cheap.  Crime is low.  None of that has changed since Hemingway made his home here.  It is easy to see why he fell in love with Cuba and its people.


Looking for Jamie Fraser in Scotland

     I have been a huge fan of the book series Outlander for well over 15 years.  I have read all 8 and am eagerly awaiting the ninth book which is due out soon.  I even got to meet and have dinner with author, Diana Gabaldon, several years ago when she spoke in Greeley.  What a fun night that was and she patiently took pictures and signed books for all of us crazy fans.  So, it should be no surprise to all of you that when I was recently in Scotland, one thing I had to do was an Outlander tour!  Scotland is enjoying a resurgence of tourism because of Outlander, the STARZ show,  and they are very good sports about it really.  I like the show too but still think the books are WAY better.  Sam Heughan is awesome as Jamie though so no complaints there!

     So in Edinburgh, my tolerant daughter, who was not into Outlander at the time,  and I signed on for a full day Outlander tour with Rabbies Tours. Oh yes, friends, you can join fellow Outlander fans and a kilted tour guide like our man Grant, and indulge your wee passion for Jaime and Claire and all things Outlander.   We started out just outside of Edinburgh with a stop to see a real standing stone. Listening to the soundtrack from the show as we drove along just put you in the right mood. Then it was off to the very picturesque village of Culross which was used as the fictional town of Cranesmuir in the series.  We saw Geillis Duncan’s house and the square where Jamie freed a young lad’s ear which was nailed to a post. Our guide told us how the series used bits and pieces from one location and another and how much they had to build up around each location then haul it all away once filming was done.  We got to go to Castle Doune or Castle Leoch as we know it. Monty Python fans will recognize the castle from the Search for the Holy Grail as well.  The kitchen there was used as inspiration for the set design for Mrs. Fitzgibbon’s castle kitchen. Leoch was fun to roam around and the gift shop had a outlander costumes for you to try on for photos. You too can look like Claire but guys shouldn’t even attempt to look like Jamie, sorry guys.   We had lunch in Linlithgow where the evocative ruins of the castle that Mary Queen of Scots was born in are before we headed to Blackness castle which served as Fort William in the Outlander series.  This is a great stop as  you could picture Black Jack Randal flogging Jamie and in another great scene, Jamie climbs through the window to rescue Claire. All of that was shot at Blackness castle. Last, but not least, we stopped at Lallybroch. This old manor  house is not open to the public but the owner charges a parking fee and you can park and get out to see the front of the home.  We had a great time taking pictures at the fictional Lallybroch and one of our tour members came prepared with a sign saying “ looking for Jamie Fraser” that everyone used as a photo prop.  A good time was had by all.

This one day Outlander tour was a lot of fun and all the sights are just a short distance out of Edinburgh.  To get to Culloden battlefield , you need to get way up north in the Highlands . Of course, I had to do that so we set out on a two day overnight trip which included Culloden. This is of course, a real battlefield and figures prominently in the Outlander story line. Our guide, again with Rabbies tours, had wonderful historical background about the battle and the clans. We found the    real clan Fraser stone on the battlefield  which is well visited  with a lot of flowers even though our Jamie is fictional, the clan is real.  Culloden is windy and boggy and eerie and no trip to Scotland is complete without seeing Culloden. 

There are many more Outlander film sights near Glasgow where the show is filmed on a sound stage but we didn’t get there on this trip. So, if you are a fan of the books and the show, I highly recommend an Outlander tour from Edinburgh. Not only do you get to have fun with film locations but you see beautiful Scottish scenery and meet fellow Outlander fans.   After spending a whole day on the tour, my daughter came home and read the first few books and watched the show and can now be counted as an Outlander fan like her mother.  Or at least a fan of Sam Heughan…




Finding Michener’s Centennial in northern Colorado

My son and husband love the mini series Centennial.  They have watched it countless times.  I enjoy it too but am more familiar with some of author James Michener’s other huge books like Iberia, Hawaii, and Texas.  Every time I finish one of his massive books, I feel like I should have earned college credit in that subject.  So yesterday, with my friend Carol, we went to the Michener library on the campus of the University of Northern Colorado for an exhibit on Day of the Dead art and when we saw there is a permanent Michener exhibit one floor up, we headed upstairs to see what we could find.

James Michener was a writer who wrote  50 books in 50 years.  His Tales of the South Pacific won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 and became the musical South Pacific.  His book Centennial became the much loved mini series and was shot in and around Greeley.  Michener donated most of his papers and materials to the library at UNC and the library houses the notes, outlines, proofs ,notebooks, photos ,and artifacts from his novel Centennial, as well as 1,000 linear fee of correspondence, unpublished manuscripts and personal papers.  Besides being a writer, Michener ran for Congress in 1962 and served on various committees.  He died in 1997.

The Michener exhibit showcases photos, letters and book covers.  But some of the more interesting objects were campaign buttons from his congressional run, notebook used by him while researching and writing Centennial , a map of the local area where the mini series was shot and photos that Michener took himself .  But clearly, the weirdest item was a display of his dentures!  They caught our eye for sure but it did seem pretty strange to include.  I found the stained glass panel of Centennial character Potatoes Brumbaugh more fun.  I was told it used to hang in a restaurant named after that same character in Greeley years ago.

Michener dedicated this library in 1972 and I loved this quote from his dedication speech.  ” A library is a temporary resting place where the great ideas of the world are kept in order”.

Consider that Michener once said’ I spend about two years thinking about a book, two years doing background work, two years writing and whenever I have abbreviated this schedule it has been to my detriment”.  I have never taken two years to read one of his books but they are hefty.  If that is too daunting for you, make some popcorn and settle in for the mini series Centennial which is wonderful. It is a 12 part series that traces the history of a fictional town in Colorado through the people who settled it over the centuries.  The cast included Raymond Burr, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Conrad and Lynn Redgrave to name just a few. My family can quote entire episodes.  Or watch South Pacific.  Or stop in at the Michener library and see his dentures.  However you choose to get to know James Michener, you will be entertained and better for it.



Heidi’s Real Switzerland

One of the books that I loved as a girl was Heidi by Johanna Spyri.  It is the story of an orphan girl named Heidi who goes to live with her grumpy grandfather in the Alps.  She makes a best friend out of Peter, the goatherd and Klara the town girl.  The book was published in 1880 and has been translated into 50 languages.  Movies and cartoons have been made.  I have never been able to see beautiful Swiss mountains and not think about Heidi.  So, when I saw that we were going to be close to the real Swiss town that inspired the author to write the book, I had to go!  I made my college age daughter watch the newest movie version of Heidi so she could go with me with the same level of excitement. Not sure she was as excited but she humored me!

From Zurich, we took a train about an hour to Sargans, did a quick transfer and within a few minutes we were in Maienfeld.  This little town and the alps nearby were the setting for Heidi.  Author Johanna Spyri walked and hiked here frequently and thus Heidi was born.  We got off the train and quickly found a Heidi gift store a block from the station.  They sell all kinds of Heidi souvenirs and snacks.  The cashier told us it was a fairly long uphill walk to the Heidi attractions and since I was limping from an injury, that was a concern.  On weekends in the summer, there is a bus that meets the train to take visitors up to Heididorf but we were there during the week.  A kind woman shopping in the store took pity on us and drove us up to the village.

Once we arrived at Heididorf, we bought tickets at the museum and gift shop building.  Yes, even more Heidi souvenirs and books to purchase!  There are bathrooms there and some snacks and drinks for purchase.  There is also the “smallest post office in Switzerland” inside and you can buy a Heidi postcard and send it home with a special cancellation stamp as a souvenir.  We did that and then headed out to see the attractions.

Kids will enjoy the live goats and chickens in the farmyard.  There are statues of Heidi and Peter.  We headed to the replica of Heidi’s house first.  Lots of rooms set up as a typical Alps home with the book characters placed in the rooms.  There was a smaller mountain hut to look through as well.  The buildings are set with a lovely backdrop of meadows and mountains behind them.  It is peaceful and pretty.

Back in the building with the ticket office, the upstairs houses the museum about the author and the book.  There are good exhibits about Spyri’s life and writing and costumes from the most recent Heidi movie.  They have copies of the book in many different languages and formats and an exhibit on the cartoon that is very popular in Asia.

One thing we didn’t get to do that I would really have liked to is the Heidi Adventure Trail.  This is an almost 2 hour walk uphill to the Alp where you follow 12 illustrated markers that tell the story.  The views and the huts at the top are reportedly very scenic.  With a bad foot, I wasn’t able to do that on this visit.  My daughter and I had to walk down through the town of Maienfeld back to the train station, which is a lovely walk.  Frequent trains to Sargans and back to Zurich or onward to other destinations are easy to catch.

If you are in the area and are a fan of the Heidi, it is a pleasant stop.  I would not go out of your way to get there unless you have young children with you who might extend the visit by enjoying the animals and play area.  I was happy to see the area that inspired one of my favorite childhood books and would highly recommend the latest movie adaptation filmed in 2015.

Southern Sampler


On a recent trip to Georgia and Virginia to visit family, I managed to find all kinds of book nerd delights. Several authors I was well acquainted with but many local finds were unexpected. As blog readers know by now, I have a particular soft spot for Edgar Allan Poe and was happy to add another brush with Poe to my collection. So, without further adieu, here is what I found rambling about the South.

Author Eugenia Price fell in love with St Simons Island, as have I. After visiting Christ Church Cemetery, she became interested in some of the island’s early settlers which lead to her St Simons Trilogy ( The Beloved Invader, New Moon Rising and The Lighthouse ). You can follow her stories with visits to the Lighthouse and to Christ Church. She went on to write many more well loved books, some set in Florida but also a series set in nearby Savannah. She is buried in the Christ Church cemetery near the graves of those characters she brought to life in her books.

Leaving St Simons and an hour up the coast to Savannah, you are in the land of all things Good and Evil. John Berendt’s 1994 book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, is set in Savannah. You can tour the Mercer House where the murder in the book happened. There are all kinds of tours of the city based on the book. A trip to the evocative Bonaventure Cemetery where the original sculpture for the book cover was originally located is a must. That statue has been moved to protect the cemetery from being overrun with fans of the book but the cemetery offers beautiful flowers, moss draped trees and tombs of unique design. While at Bonaventure, I stopped by the grave of Poet and author, Conrad Aiken. His tomb was mentioned in Berendt’s book as well so is well marked for anyone looking for it. I have not read any of Aiken but after finding his grave, I feel like I should check out his poems and writing. There are many organized tours of the cemetery though the actual cemetery that figures in the book is located in nearby Beaufort.

Once I had my fill of tombs and moss and blooming azaleas, I headed back into the historic district of Savannah to hunt down Flannery O’ Connor. Flannery wrote many short stories and two novels set in the South which are often full of grotesque characters and happenings. Southern Gothic is the term often used to describe her writings which include A Good Man is Hard to Find and the Violent Bear it Away. She was born in Savannah and lived in this house until her mid teens. The house is open limited hours for tours. I didn’t get to go in on this visit so will have to go back. She lived and died in Milledgeville, Georgia and there is a museum there in her memory as well so you could easily add on a visit there to round out your O’ Connor pilgrimage.

Savannah and St Simons island are wonderful destinations for food, beaches, architecture, history, music, gardens and for book lovers! I next headed to Richmond, Virginia to visit my mom. I am there frequently so have done all the major Civil War sights. Richmond too has an awesome cemetery for those who want to find civil war generals and officers and even a few US Presidents ( and one confederate one) but on this trip I skipped all of that. Instead , I took my nephew to Belle Isle for a school project.

Belle Isle is an island in the middle of the James River in downtown Richmond. It is the subject of the book, Hell on Belle Isle, Diary of a Civil War POW by Don Allison. Belle Isle was a Civil War prison for captured Union soldiers. The diary of Osborn Coburn, who spent months starving and freezing out in the open on the Island during the war is a heart breaking read. Thousands of captured soldiers suffered and died here by neglect, including Coburn. Today, it is a green park area where you can walk all over the island and enjoy the rocks and rapids in the river. But the sight of the Tredegar Iron works right across the river is a stark reminder of what this area was like in the 1860s. Tredegar is now a very well done museum of the Civil War which you can tour before or after your visit to Belle Isle.

My family lives in nearby Ashland. Ashland was founded as a railroad town in the mid 1800’s and boasts some beautiful old houses, Randolph Macon College and the home of Patrick Henry and birthplace of Henry Clay. However, one house on the town walking tour caught my eye. 706 Center Street was the home of Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton. So, you ask? She was the childhood sweetheart of Edgar Allan Poe. He left her to attend the University of Virginia and she married another. Poe later wrote Tamerlane, probably about her. After she was widowed, they renewed their friendship. I attended Easter service at my mom’s church, which happens to be the church that Sarah helped establish. Be still my tell tale heart!

I learned all kinds of interesting local history from the Ashland Museum and guide, Nelson Vaughn. While there, we met local author Roseann Groat Shalf and picked up a copy of her book, Ashland, Ashland: The Story of a Turn of the Century Railroad Town. We had lunch at Hanover Tavern in neighboring Hanover, another spot full of history. I never get tired of visiting the south. There is so much to see and do and learn -from the wars that shaped our history to historical and literary figures to beautiful homes and gardens and countryside. My book club just finished America’s First Daughter about Patsy Jefferson. I should head up to Charlottesville and visit Monticello next. So much to see, so little time…


All Things Steinbeck

Two of my favorite books are East of Eden and Travels with Charley. So, when I was in Salinas, California recently, I had to stop at the National Steinbeck Center. For a Steinbeck fan, it is a must see and because the exhibits are unique and interesting, even a casual reader will be intrigued.

The Center is set up by book title so each twist and turn in the space delights with exhibits from that book such as movie clips, manuscripts, posters, and fun activities like a Steinbeck crossword puzzle, the truck from Travels with Charley, replica rooms from certain books etc.. There are small theatres or screens where you can watch the movie or play versions of classics such as Of Mice and Men. The gift shop is chock full of Steinbeck books, and fun items.

A few blocks down the street is the Steinbeck house which now serves lunch. When we were there, the house was closed but as we were taking pictures out front, several very nice volunteers noticed us and asked if we wanted to see the house. Yes!! We were treated to a private tour of the main floor and taken upstairs to see the non public spaces too. They have some excellent Steinbeck family photos and mementos in the house. Wish we could have had lunch there, will need to go back another time. Steinbeck is buried in the nearby cemetery but it too is closed on Sundays.

Salinas is a pleasant town surrounded by large strawberry and lettuce fields. In nearby Monterey, you can continue your Steinbeck pilgrimage to see Cannery Row, Ed Ricketts laboratory, and several statues and plaques about Steinbeck.

The National Steinbeck Center hosts an annual Steinbeck festival as well as a birthday commemoration each year. The archives contain correspondence, family artifacts, interviews, foreign book editions, manuscripts and photos. There are several introductory short films about Steinbeck and the area that you can watch before you tour the exhibits. I love that such an impressive museum solely revolves around an American author and his stories, many of which I have grown to love. The Center and the Steinbeck house also have some of the nicest volunteers and staff and there is a tasty Mexican restaurant just down the street! Are you a Steinbeck fan and if so, what book is your favorite?


Book characters as scarecrows in Cambria, California.


I was recently in beautiful Cambria, California to enjoy walking on Moonstone Beach and to visit Hearst Castle with a friend. We spent an idyllic few days walking the coastal trail to a lighthouse, driving up Highway 1 towards Big Sur and watching the elephant seals on the beach.

But we happened to be there during the town’s annual Scarecrow Festival which runs the month of October every year. They take scarecrows to a whole new level here! Most businesses participate by placing one or multiple very creative figures out front. Artists, surfers, animals, and ghouls galore are represented but my favorites were all the literary characters you could find all over town! Families were out with children posing with their favorite book characters which just added to the fun. There is a community wide contest for new entries each year and I understand that some of these scarecrows are saved and are placed in new locations around town from year to year as well. Creators start months in advance to craft these elaborate ” scarecrows”.

Above  you will find, Peter Pan and Wendy with Captain Hook, Edgar Alan Poe, Charlotte’s Web, Harry Potter, Old Mother Hubbard, Cinderella, the dwarfs from Snow White and Ichabad Crane and the Headless Horseman as well as a creative rendition of Oh, the Places You Will Go.

Seeing all of these characters gave me a serious case of scarecrow envy.  But what character or author would I want to put in my own front yard? They used Poe, who if you have read this blog before, you know I have a soft spot for.  I loved their scene with him but now it has been done!  Maybe Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or something from my childhood like Nancy Drew or the Peanuts gang?  So many options.   Leave a comment and tell me what literary scarecrow you would place in your yard!






In Love with Robert Louis Stevenson in California



Their love affair reads like a romance novel, Louis, as he was known, met Fanny in an idyllic village in France and immediately fell in love. They had a passionate affair and then she left him to return to the US. She changed her mind, sent for him and he immediately went after her, taking a ship, a train, a stagecoach and almost dropped dead at her feet in Monterey. They were finally married and lived together until his death. Of course, life is more complicated than that. Fanny was already married, had children and wasn’t at all sure that a sickly writer was a good bet. Their story is one of the things you will learn about at the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum in St. Helena, California.

I recently visited the museum with members of my book club. It is located in a separate building next to the public library in St. Helena in the Napa Valley of California. So, how did a museum dedicated to the Scottish writer of such classics as Treasure Island and Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde come to be located in California? Well, Stevenson and Fanny were finally married in nearby San Francisco and spent their honeymoon in Napa Valley. They arrived here and spent a few weeks in Calistoga and then finished their honeymoon in an abandoned mining bunkhouse in the mountains because nothing says romance like a dirty mine camp in the middle of nowhere. Fanny might have been regretting her decision fairly quickly. Louis wrote about their time in the Napa Valley in his book Silverado Squatters which local bookstores all carry here. You can visit some of the wineries that they might have stopped at which makes a trip here even more pleasant.

The museum itself contains the largest public display of Stevenson memorabilia in the world. We had a delightful tour by the docent who filled us in on the relationship between Fanny and Louis, his growing up years and at times, tense relationship with his father, his serious health issues and of course, his writing genius. The museum displays many personal possessions including a lock of his hair, his toy soldiers, marriage license, portraits, and items related to his travels. I also enjoyed the large art installation on the corner by the museum of the local school kid’s portrait interpretations of Stevenson. The museum has information for you to go to other sights in the area related to Stevenson, including a state park named for him where the honeymoon bunkhouse once stood. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 12-4 and is free though donations are appreciated.

We continued our quest for all things Stevenson in Monterey. It was here in Monterey that Louis caught up with Fanny and persuaded her to finally get a divorce and marry him. When he arrived in the fall of 1879, he was near death and spent several months recuperating at what was then known as the French Hotel, a two story Adobe. Now renamed the Robert Louis Stevenson house, it contains several rooms of furniture and other personal possessions of his. Highlights included a portrait of Louis done by Fanny, his jacket and signet ring and a traveling trunk with his name. We met two docents who gave us a wonderful description of his time there. They were members of the Robert Louis Stevenson club and were so passionate about him that they had traveled to Samoa to visit his last home and grave. If I ever get that far to follow an author, it will warrant several blog posts! The house is only open on Saturdays from 1-4 so you need to plan carefully to visit.

Robert Louis Stevenson was a fascinating man. His health was so poor, yet he traveled the world, married the woman he loved, and wrote exciting books that have become classics. Another local author, Jack London, was such a fan that he stopped to visit his home in Samoa and purchased the Stevenson family china, which is displayed at the museum in Jack London State park. Robert Louis Stevenson summed it up best when he said, ” I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move”. To follow Stevenson, you have to be willing to travel all over the world, but two good places to start are right here in California.

Books you might enjoy and helpful websites

Myself and the other fellow: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson by Claire Harmann

Under a Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

Silverado Squatters by Stevenson

Treasure island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Stevenson


http://www.parks.ca.gov. Click on Stevenson house


Raven about Poe

I have always had a soft spot in my tell tale heart for Edgar Allan Poe. I even hosted a Poe party for my book club where we had Poe themed snacks, made a Raven craft and had Poe nail art stickers. Yes, I am that book club person. So, on a visit to family in Virginia, I jumped at the chance to visit the Poe museum in Richmond. I even found a few more Poe connections in the region. So, here is my stalking Edgar trip.

The Edgar Allan Poe Museum is on Main street in downtown Richmond, Virginia. It bills itself as the largest public collection of Poe artifacts and memorabilia. For Poe fans, there are exhibits of movies, posters and art work related to any Poe title. For researchers,the museum allows access to 1st editions, manuscripts and letters. What I found the most interesting though were the personal items in the collection. They have Poe’s boyhood bed, some of his clothing, a lock of his hair, a traveling trunk and his walking stick. The stories of how they acquired some of those items was interesting but I will leave that for you to discover.

Outside the building, is a peaceful area called the Enchanted Garden. Besides being a green and quiet place to sit and visit with the two resident black cats ( Edgar and Pluto), the garden is available for events. The Poe shrine is interesting as the bricks used to build it came from a nearby building that housed the office that Poe used to work in. There is a bust of Poe in the brick area. Of course the museum has a gift shop where fans can buy all kinds of fun Poe themed stuff as well as books. It doesn’t take that long to visit the museum so I had plenty of time to stalk Edgar further in Richmond.

Close by on the grounds of the state Capitol building, there is a statue of Poe that is placed near one of his boyhood homes. Sadly, that home was demolished many years ago. At nearby Saint John’s Episcopal Church, I found a memorial to Eliza Arnold Poe, Edgar’s mother who is buried in an unmarked grave there in the cemetery. She was an actress and died young, leaving a young Edgar behind. Saint John’s is famous as the church in which Patrick Henry gave his ” Give me liberty or give me death” speech. I was there in the summer where the speech is re enacted by costumed actors so you can watch that if you visit in the summer months.

One more spot in Virginia has a Poe connection and that is the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Edgar attended school there for one term before dropping out. The University has preserved his dorm room and you can see it as it would have been in his day.

I was finished with my time in Richmond and headed to Sullivan’s Island for a week at the beach. As I was driving into town, I noticed streets named for Poe such as Gold Bug Ave and Raven Drive. There was even a Poe’s Tavern in town that was decorated in Poe stuff. But why? Well a visit to Fort Moultrie at the south end of the island answered the question. Poe was a Private in the army and served there at Fort Moultrie. He enlisted as Edgar Perry in 1827. He spent time on the island, walking the beaches, working at the fort and meeting the locals. His time on Sullivan’s Island is reflected in his work and is the setting for The Gold Bug, The Balloon Hoax and The Oblong Box. Very cool! I just came for the beach but got some bonus Poe connections while I was there.

Edgar Allan Poe died in Baltimore and I hear they have several Poe places to visit so the next time I am in Baltimore, I can finish stalking Edgar. In the meantime, I have my Poe doll to keep me company and a few left over nail art stickers to put on. I hope you enjoyed this Poepourri of places to visit and I have included some websites that might be useful if you go.


Recommended Reading

Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography by Arthur Hobson Quinn


World Champion Obsessive Collector



Most people collect something-stamps, dolls, key chains, snow globes, fridge magnets. But Henry Clay Folger and his wife, Emily, were in a collecting league of their own. The Folgers collected books, and not just any old books. They collected Shakespeare books, you know, ones actually from Shakespeare’s time. I am sure it started out innocently enough, with a special purchase of some early Shakespeare edition. Then it became a thrill to track down more and then the obsession for First Folios began. Agents got involved, secrecy was paramount and the British got irritated that so many of their national treasures were being bought by someone out of the country. Like all collections out of control, huge sums of money were involved and the problem of where to put all of it became important. That is how I came to be at the Folger Shakespeare Library recently in Washington D. C.

Let’s back up. Henry Clay Folger was President of Standard Oil Company and he and Emily did not have children. So, they poured all their money and time into collecting rare books. They collected so much that they stored it all in crates in a storage facility in New York. Henry spent an entire year’s salary on one book. He had a particular fondness for Shakespeare First Folios. A First Folio was compiled in 1623 and was the first time Shakespeare’s plays were grouped into comedies and tragedies. Only 255 copies are known to have survived and our man, Henry Clay Folger, bought 82 of them. Each copy is slightly different. He and Emily also bought playbills, costumes and props from Shakespeare productions and all kinds of books from the mid 15 century on.

So, what to do with all of it? That was the question. The Folgers decided to start a library and leave all of their treasures to the public. Henry wanted the library’s reading room to look like a great hall of an English manor. The gardens showcase plants and statues inspired by Shakespeare plays. Henry died in 1930 before the library was completed but the very capable Emily completed the library before she died in 1936.

When you visit the Folger Shakespeare library today, the relief sculptures on the outside of the building show scenes from some of the greatest Shakespeare plays such as Romeo and Juliet, King Lear and Julius Caesar. The library holds performances in the theatre inside the building, gives tours, holds conferences and seminars and hosts exhibits. The library houses over 60,000 manuscripts from Elizabeth 1 to Mark Twain and has a copy of Henry the Eighth’s childhood book of Cicero. There is a First Folio on display. The library is located behind the US Capitol, near the Supreme Court building.

Before you go, brush up on your Shakespeare. I found the story of the Folgers and their collecting fascinating in The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare by Andrea Mays. They loved their collection so much that both Henry and Emily are buried inside the museum with all of their books. Now that is an obsession!