"I am begging you now, with all my heart, not to let the world forget that he laid his hand upon the hills of California with the biggest writing of all his writing and imagination and wisdom … Just don’t let all who listen and read and run, forget Jack London’s biggest dream." — Charmian London, December 1916
She spent just 13 years with Jack London, yet the wife of one of America’s most beloved writers, bravest adventurers, earliest environmentalists and infatuated lover of Sonoma Valley devoted nearly 40 years, until her death in 1955, to protecting and polishing his legacy. This year marks a century since London’s 1916 death at the young age of 40, and Charmian London would likely be pleased that so much of his Glen Ellen ranch, his accomplishments and his memory have been maintained.
“Mate Woman,” as London called her, spent decades tending to his copyrights, writings and legacy, a prolific output of more than 50 works of fiction and nonfiction, and hundreds of short stories, essays, newspaper and magazine articles, speeches and letters translated into as many as 70 languages. And with London’s stepsister, Eliza Shepard, she struggled through the Depression and World War II to preserve his beloved mountainside and keep his Beauty Ranch going.
“Jack London loved Sonoma, and in an important way he was one of the first people to put Sonoma on the map and in the international imagination,” said Kevin Starr, a state librarian emeritus and author of a book series on California, “Americans and the California Dream.” “He sought the redemptive life on the land in Glen Ellen and as a rancher. Collectively, within the 50-plus books he wrote, are guide maps of Sonoma places that later became famous.”
This is a watershed year for Jack London State Historic Park, which occupies a portion of the original Beauty Ranch. The Jack London Park Partners group is dedicated in 2016 to celebrating London’s enduring legacy. Special events and activities kicked off on Jan. 12, London’s birthday, and will culminate Nov. 22 with a memorial at his graveside on the centennial of his death. Fittingly, London died on his ranch and is buried there.
To honor her husband, Charmian London built a sturdy stone lodge she called the House of Happy Walls, a smaller version of the magnificent Wolf House that mysteriously burned to the ground on a hot August night in 1913, weeks before the couple were to have moved in. Like Wolf House, Happy Walls was designed by eminent Bay Area architect Albert Farr to eventually serve as a Jack London museum. The first public visitors streamed under the portico in 1960, finally fulfilling Charmian’s wishes. Nearly 100,000 people a year now come to Jack London State Historic Park, and he is remembered by readers around the world.
SOURCE OF CREATIVITY
As a writer, London’s creative fire was stoked by social revolution. Far more than a manly writer of popular adventure stories such as “The Call of the Wild” (1903) and “White Fang” (1906), he also exposed the plight of the underclass and the working poor. His dystopian “The Iron Heel” described the rise of a tyrannical oligarchy that some observers find relevant today. He dressed in rags and lived in the impoversihed East End of Lond to research “The People of the Abyss.” His unfettered range took in everything from astral projection to prize fighting to penal reform.