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House of Happy Walls Reopening Weekend Sunday Lineup

Special tours are available throughout the day. For a complete list of weekend activities visit jacklondonpark.com.

Here are some highlights

11:30 a.m.: Bay Area TV personality Doug McConnell, host of “The Open Road with Doug McConnell,” on NBC Bay Area, discusses Jack London in The House of Happy Walls.

11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.: A community picnic in the Oak Grove Picnic area for a celebratory community picnic featuring hot dogs provided by Sonoma Lions Club. Kite flying, face painting, carriage rides (noon to 2 p.m. and music by Wine County Ragtime Festival’s Director, John Partridge in the Eucalyptus Grove picnic area

1 p.m.: Jack London scholar Cecelia Tichi, a professor of English and American Studies at Vanderbilt Unitery, hosts a lecture, “Jack London: A Farmer on the Forefront — Then and Now,” on the sunporch of the House of Happy Walls Museum.

2 p.m.: Award-winning author Jean Walker Harvey reads her new children’s book, “Boats on Bay,” followed by a Boat Mobile Craft Activity.

When the grieving widow Charmian London embarked on construction of her new house on Sonoma Mountain almost a century ago, she dubbed it, somewhat ironically, “The House of Happy Walls.”

Inside it would contain many of the important objects and memorabilia from happier times — her full and passionate life with the internationally renowned writer and adventurer Jack London.

And yet the public museum that eventually opened in the House of Happy Walls after her death contained scant mention of Charmian, the formidable “Mate-Woman” who worked closely with London and shared many of his adventures, including their storied voyage to the South Seas on The Snark.

But now that nearly 60-year-old oversight has been corrected. A new $800,000 renovation of the museum in Jack London State Historic Park that formally opened to the public this weekend with celebrations, a picnic and special events and talks, gives Charmian her due, showing what an integral partner she was to London.

“We wanted to make sure there were exhibits that focused on Charmian London because this was her house. She built this house after he died and there was almost nothing in here about her. Just her little closet,” said Susan St. Marie, the director of program and volunteer management at the Glen Ellen park.

The house itself, built over many years starting in 1919, three years after Jack’s death, remains largely as Charmian left it when she died in 1955.

But the exhibits inside have been re-imagined for the digital age, with audio-visual and interactive components to appeal to a younger generation of visitors.

It is the first time the exhibit has been changed in any notable way since the park first opened in 1960, said Lou Leal, the volunteer historian for the park.

Through the camera

Visitors can look through a “camera” to view photos taken by London, who also was an accomplished photographer, as if they are seeing them through his own camera lens. In another area they can type out messages on what looks like an old-fashioned typewriter, but is really a computer, to show the technology he used to write his 50 books.

They can then print out their messages and reactions to what they’re seeing and tack them up, part of an effort to engage visitors with interactive elements.

When museum visitors go upstairs, they will also see larger-than-life photos of Charmian, the woman who, like Jack, lived big.

She was brazenly independent for her day, an accomplished pianist, photographer, working woman and contributor to the Overland Monthly — a magazine owned by her aunt and uncle — through which she met the promising young writer Jack London.

A considerable amount of space has now been given to the sophisticated and independent woman who was far more than London’s muse.

She figures prominently in a display on the 1907 Snark expedition and has her own exhibit titled, “The New Woman.”

It describes her as a “feminist model” for the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a woman who was educated, self-sufficient, liberated and who “valued her own mind as much as any man’s.”

Kids can hop aboard a saddle that Charmian rode astride at a time when most women road sidesaddle, and, through a new audio-visual component to the museum exhibits, hear the sound of leather on horseback.

House of Happy Walls Reopening Weekend Sunday Lineup

Special tours are available throughout the day. For a complete list of weekend activities visit jacklondonpark.com.

Here are some highlights

11:30 a.m.: Bay Area TV personality Doug McConnell, host of “The Open Road with Doug McConnell,” on NBC Bay Area, discusses Jack London in The House of Happy Walls.

11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.: A community picnic in the Oak Grove Picnic area for a celebratory community picnic featuring hot dogs provided by Sonoma Lions Club. Kite flying, face painting, carriage rides (noon to 2 p.m. and music by Wine County Ragtime Festival’s Director, John Partridge in the Eucalyptus Grove picnic area

1 p.m.: Jack London scholar Cecelia Tichi, a professor of English and American Studies at Vanderbilt Unitery, hosts a lecture, “Jack London: A Farmer on the Forefront — Then and Now,” on the sunporch of the House of Happy Walls Museum.

2 p.m.: Award-winning author Jean Walker Harvey reads her new children’s book, “Boats on Bay,” followed by a Boat Mobile Craft Activity.

“It provides an opportunity for people to have a better understanding of Jack London, as a person, and not just as a historical figure, and of Jack’s life with Charmian,” Leal said.

Other audio components bring the sounds of London’s time to life, from the scratchy records they would have played on their phonograph to the sound of a wooden boat with canvas sail cutting through the waves and weighing anchor.

Design specialists

The exhibit was designed by the Sibbett Group, which specializes in museum design, and built by Gizmo Art Production.

But a large consortium of Jack London scholars, state parks people, curators, park staff and other interested stakeholders, met and offered input for the emphasis and interpretation of a man whose life was so multi-faceted.

“We had a huge meeting where we threw up all these ideas, then pared them down,” St. Marie said.

“First of all, we wanted to tell the story of Jack London based on the man and his incredible inspiration to other people, his indomitable spirit.”

A new display in the former dining room offers a deeper look at London’s sustainable agricultural practices, which are commonly accepted today but visionary for their time, and sometimes mocked by his contemporaries.

And there is a section on London the outdoorsman and athlete that includes a reproduction of the type of surfboard he would have used in the early 1900s. London is credited with helping to introduce the sport to the mainland.

Charmian embarked on building The House of Happy Walls with the idea that it would be a museum to her life with Jack.

For Wolf House

They had gathered many things on their travels, some purchased expressly to decorate The Wolf House, their dream house that burned to the ground in 1913 just as they were nearing completion.

A small room upstairs now is devoted to a display of the items acquired for Wolf House.

Charmian lived in the House of Happy Walls from 1935 until several years before death. She had fallen on the stairs and broken her hip and had to move back into the cottage where she lived with Jack.

It was during those final years that she gave serious thought to the idea that the House of Happy Walls could serve a broader mission as a public museum, Leal said.

Most of the same historical objects included in the old exhibit remain. But some of the original furnishings have been replaced with comfortable chairs that visitors can actually sit in.

Family album

The big fireplaces on the main floor used to be blocked off. Now people can sit by the fireplace and browse through “The Family Album” with photos of London and his daughters Joan and Becky.

Each display has a table and earpieces with an audio component as well as photos and historical objects.

Other major additions include a big topographical map on the main floor with push buttons that light up to highlight special features and trails on the 1,400-acre property, and a big globe on the second floor that lights up to pinpoint places where London traveled.

The new exhibit was paid for exclusively through private donations and fundraising by the Jack London Park Partners, which manage the park for the state.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5204.

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