Ed Von der Porten, Santa Rosa teacher and maritime historian, dies at 84
Edward Paul Von der Porten, a former Santa Rosa High School teacher and maritime historian, dedicated six decades of work to stout defense of his premise that Sir Francis Drake’s famous 1579 landing in California was at Drakes Bay in the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Von der Porten, who moved from Santa Rosa to San Francisco in 1987, died Monday night from strokes following surgery at a San Francisco hospital. He was 84.
Against all challenges, which continue to come from points up and down the West Coast, Von der Porten insisted that Drake, the English pirate who was hauling a fortune in pilfered Spanish treasure, made landfall in a cove at the mouth of Drakes Estero and remained for 36 days to repair his leaking vessel, the Golden Hind.
When the National Park Service deemed the bay a national historic landmark in 2012, Von der Porten considered it vindication, even as the federal agency called it “the most likely site” of Drake’s landing and the first contact between Europeans and California native peoples.
Drakes Bay would stand as the location “until somebody can prove otherwise,” he said at the time.
Born to German immigrant parents in New York City, Von der Porten came to his lifelong interest in maritime events growing up in the World War II harbor city and then moving with his parents to the West Coast port of San Francisco.
His father’s proudest achievement, said his son, Michael Von der Porten of Santa Rosa, was bringing multiple disciplines together in the field of maritime history.
“He was there from the beginning,” his son said.
The elder Von der Porten’s study of 16th century Chinese porcelain fragments found at Drakes Bay led years later to the discovery, by means of similar fragments on a remote beach in Baja California, to the wreck site of a Spanish galleon.
A book on the Mexican expeditions is pending, his son said, as is a manuscript on Von der Porten’s work to refute the hoax involving Drake’s so-called “plate of brass,” a forgery created in the 1930s as a joke by a group of amateur historians.
Von der Porten made major contributions to education and culture in Santa Rosa after earning a bachelor’s degree in history from San Francisco State University in 1955. He and the late Saryl Corrick, a member of a Santa Rosa family, met at the school and married in 1954.
In 1958, the couple moved into her parents’ former home in the Grace Tract neighborhood.
He taught at Cook Junior High for a year and then at Santa Rosa High School, where he taught U.S. history, American government, English, geography and journalism until 1985.
His lessons on World War II Germany included a large Nazi flag and German military music in the classroom. To teach the dangerous power of propaganda and authoritarian ideology, his son said, Von der Porten challenged students with the question: “Why did you sit down and pay attention today?”
Following up that thesis for his master’s degree earned in 1965 at San Francisco State, Von Der Porten visited surviving Navy admirals and captains in Germany and wrote a book, “The German Navy in WWII,” with an introduction by Grand Adm. Karl Doenitz.