Historic photos capture celebrity visitors in Sonoma County

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Even before the days of world-class wines and fine dining, Sonoma County had its fair share of famous visitors. Maybe it was its picturesque rolling hills, therapeutic hot springs or lazy river that made the county a tourist destination.

Luther Burbank sought to share his love of the place he called “the chosen spot of all this earth” in the early 1900s. His horticultural ingenuity brought him international fame and a slew of equally distinguished friends. Visitors to his famous home and gardens included Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Swami Paramahansa Yogananda, who introduced yoga and meditation to the West. Even after Burbank’s death, the gardens continued to attract celebrity guests. In 1929, three years after his death, wife Elizabeth Waters Burbank hosted Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

Eadweard Muybridge, “the father of motion pictures,” was drawn to Sonoma’s pastoral beauty, too. He captured images of life at Buena Vista Winery in the 1870s. His experiments with stop-motion photography laid the groundwork for the invention of modern cinema.

The majestic redwoods of Monte Rio also have attracted presidents, politicians, business leaders, artists and musicians to the county since the 1880s. The Bohemian Club, a secretive San Francisco-based men’s club, has held weeklong encampments at Monte Rio’s Bohemian Grove for over 130 years. Early visitors included sugar baron Adolph Spreckels, former President Herbert Hoover, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, author Jack London and winemaker Arpad Haraszthy.

A century later, Sonoma County turned to movie stars and athletes to promote a number of charitable causes. Ronald Reagan, Liberace and seven-time Mr. Olympia Arnold Schwarzenegger visited Petaluma to promote World Wrist Wrestling Championships in the 1960s and 70s. Jayne Mansfield and her second husband, former Mr. America Mickey Hargitay, used their stardom to boost attendance at an Easterseals benefit race at the Cotati Raceway in 196=0.

Click through our gallery above to see some of the other historic celebrity visitors to Sonoma County.

— Sonoma Index-Tribune editor Jason Walsh contributed to this report.

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