Richard “Doc” Stull is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology & Recreation Administration at Humboldt State University. He is an avid fan of writer/adventurer Jack London, to say the least. He is also a docent at Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen, about 20 minutes north of Sonoma.
John Griffith "Jack" London, born John Griffith Chaney, was born January 12, 1876 and died November 22, 1916. He was an American author, journalist, and social activist. Stull said he is the most translated author in the world.
Jack London, whose life symbolized the power of will, was the most successful writer in America in the early 20th Century. His vigorous stories of men and animals against the environment, and survival against hardships were drawn mainly from his own experience. He was rejected 600 times by publishing houses and wrote 1,000 words every day. His books have been translated into more than 70 languages.
Stull said, “He was the Elvis Presley of the literary world.”
An illegitimate child, London spent his childhood in poverty in the Oakland slums. He was an oyster pirate at the age of 15 and was later employed by the state catching the very people he had worked with. At the age of 17, he ventured to sea on a sealing ship. The turning point of his life was a 30-day imprisonment that was so degrading it made him decide to turn to education and pursue a career in writing.
In 1893, at age 19, he worked on a sailing vessel and the next year he took to the rails. He was the first person to humanize “tramping,” which was riding the trains across the country. In 1908 he wrote On the Road.
After his years in the Klondike searching for gold he came back to write some of his best short stories; among them, The Call of the Wild, and White Fang. His best novel, The Sea-Wolf, was based on his experiences at sea. His work embraced the concepts of unconfined individualism and Darwinism in its exploration of the laws of nature.
London was a passionate advocate of unionization, socialism, and the rights of workers and wrote several powerful works dealing with these topics such as his novel The Iron Heel, his non-fiction exposé The People of the Abyss, and The War of the Classes.
Although London grew up in the slums and on the waterfront in Oakland he made trips on occasion up the coast to Eureka. At the time Eureka was a working lumber town full of sawmills, lumberjacks, and plenty of saloons. Working men would line up three deep for drinks along Two Street, or Second Street as it is now called.
One day in 1912 he was having a drink in the Oberon Saloon, across from the Vance Hotel in Old Town Eureka, when he got into an argument with one of the famous Murphy boys from a very well known lumber family who owned Pacific Lumber Company. Mr. Murphy took exception to London’s politics, and invited him to settle the matter in the then-approved fashion. The door was locked, the shades drawn, and the fistfight lasted most of an hour.
Nearly a century later, the name “Oberon” still graces the tiled threshold near the corner of Second and F Streets, and the same ornate Victorian chandelier that witnessed the famous brawl still illuminates the long narrow building. But the polished bar is gone and new businesses have taken the space.
Former Life & Times Newspaper owner and Garberville resident, Bill Roddy, once told a story about playing drums at a very young age at the Oberon. He said a new janitor was hired and “cleaned” the bar, removing all the old cobwebs. He was fired the next day when the owner came in and said, “Do you know what you have done? Those cobwebs have been here ever since Jack London and the Murphy boys had their famous fight.”
London married Charmian Kittredge in 1905 and purchased a 1,000-acre ranch in Glen Ellen, north of Sonoma. He wrote that, "Next to my wife, the ranch is the dearest thing in the world to me."
He and Charmian spent $80,000 ($2,070,000 in current value) to build a 15,000-square-foot stone mansion, Wolf House, on the property. It was designed by architect Albert Farr who also designed the historic Benbow Inn. Just as the mansion was nearing completion, two weeks before the Londons planned to move in, it was destroyed by fire.
London died November 22, 1916, at his cottage on the ranch. His death certificate gives the cause as uremia, following acute renal colic, commonly caused by kidney stones. Uremia is also known as uremic poisoning. He was in extreme pain and taking morphine, and it is possible that a morphine overdose, accidental or deliberate, may have contributed to his death.
London’s ashes were buried, together with those of Charmian (who died in 1955), in Jack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen. The simple grave is marked only by a mossy boulder, which was taken from the rocks used to build Wolf House. He had said, “When I die, just roll a rock from the Wolf House over my ashes.”
For more information about Jack London State Park, or to reserve a personal tour with Stull, go online to their website, call 707-938-5216, or check them out on Facebook.
It is definitely worth the trip to see this amazing park. There are various tours you can take and a winery and restaurant are on site. Stull said special arrangements are available for those who have physical constraints. Just call ahead and let them know. He volunteers usually one weekend a month and invites everyone to come down and spend the day with Jack London.
REDWOOD TIMES PHOTO BY SUSAN GARDNER
1. Dick “Doc” Stull talks passionately about Jack London.
2. Jack London (John Griffith) (1876-1916)