Into the Past

Megan and I decided to take a break from the rainy present to visit the stormy past.

The Kelley House museum in the Village had an exhibit on local shipwrecks, of which there have been many. There were more than 160 between 1850 and 1900. It’s less surprising to me that there were so many wrecks on these rocky shores than that people attempted to sail them at all. And those who did and chose to come ashore here did so on a sort of Victorian zip line:

passengers-04

It’s also surprising to me that this area, still so rural and isolated, was one of California’s original counties and that the Village was settled shortly after the Gold Rush, in 1850.

One of these many wrecks was the Frolic, a clipper ship loaded with luxurious cargo from China, including porcelain (Megan was wearing a necklace set with a piece of patterned porcelain recovered from the wreck of the Frolic), silk, gold jewelry, ivory napkin rings and thousands of bottles of Edinburgh ale, which had already traveled two-thirds of the way around the globe from the British Isles via India. She ran aground near what is now Point Cabrillo* in the (undoubtedly foggy) summer of 1850.

The crew, including Captain Faucon, immortalized by Richard Dana as the good captain in “Two Years Before the Mast”, abandoned ship, and in salvaging the wreck, the redwood forests on shore were discovered. An industry was born.

The owner of the Kelley House was no stranger to ocean travel. He convinced his reluctant bride in Prince Edward Island to join him in the wilds of Mendocino by promising to build her a nice house, which he did:

kelley

It still has a stunning view of both the ocean and the Village. He ran the mercantile next door, where his strict Baptist wife once chopped open a barrel with a hatchet, thinking it contained liquor, when it in fact contained molasses.

To avoid further messy confrontations, he built his wife her very own church, which can be glimpsed in the photo above. Mrs. Kelley’s piety was not shared by her son and heir, who had his own son and heir with the family’s maid, marrying her two years after the baby’s birth. The fact that the maid was Catholic was apparently more horrifying to the elder Mrs. Kelley than the rather shocking circumstances of her grandchild’s birth.

We thoroughly enjoyed our little trip into the past. As we left the lovely house and the friendly docents, we passed the duck pond, where it seems the whale watching season has begun:

pond

In the background on the right hand side, you can see Mrs. Kelley’s red church and part of the octagonal privy she insisted on using for her entire long life (she lived to be 90), considering indoor plumbing unhygienic. The very fancy house**:

machouse

Mr. Kelley built for his beautiful daughter Daisy’s:

daisy

wedding present in 1879 was between the Kelley House and the church, and featured not only indoor plumbing but “sprinkles”, or showers.

*It would be nearly 60 years before the lighthouse would be built there. I wonder if the Frolic could have been saved if the lighthouse was there on that long ago summer night?

**I happened to be there when I got Megan’s frantic call about Star being towed in Megan’s car in San Francisco. I was delivering a gift basket to Aaron Paul, my crush from “Breaking Bad”. It’s probably just as well for both of us that he wasn’t there.

A YEAR AGO: Some nice surprises in the mail.

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2 Comments


  1. What a wonderful story, thanks much for sharing Suzy, I always enjoy hearing of your adventures, you present them so well along with great photos, second best thing from being right on seen. Have a great week.


  2. one more place on my list for when i visit California

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