It’s been quite a week in the gallery for me. On Friday afternoon I took a friend and her three sisters, all from California, on a tour of the History Gallery. Fridays are my regular day in the gallery with students. I spent the morning on Gold Rush tours and was looking forward to covering the rest of the gallery with my friends.
First, my friends and I visited the WWII Kaiser Shipyards exhibit which, as you know, is one of my favorite stops.
The next stop was the “Garage,” where we store the kinds of computers I remember from the dark ages of the ’70s and ’80s. (Several of the computers look familiar since they’re the same as some I used to work on or own.)
As the computer teacher for several years at Wildwood Elementary School in the ’90s, I became very familiar with Apple Computers. The Macintosh debuted in January 1984 and we immediately bought one so that our daughter, who was then six months old, would get to use it.… Who were we kidding!
Then off to the bay titled Negotiating the Borders. This permanent display always seems to be relevant, in California, and now throughout the country. Whenever I stand before this exhibit, I appreciate how OMCA assiduously exposes both sides of the immigration argument. As with many of the exhibits, we ask for visitor input on a nearby wall. That is the most telling.
Here are some of the comments:
The curatorial staff collects all the comments. Sometimes those comments end up as permanent signage on the wall like this one:
From there we moved to the World Airways DC8 fuselage. World Airways was based in Oakland during the 1970s. This very plane was used to bring back children and babies from Vietnam. Our fuselage is from one of the planes involved in the April 1975 Saigon Baby Lift which brought more than 3,000 children to the United States. The infants made the journey in cardboard boxes, supplied by an Oakland stationery store, and strapped into the seats.
After I guided my friend Sally and her sisters Lori, Dorothy and Lizzy through the story of the Baby Lift, Sally gave me another story from this period. “Did you know that Tippi Hedren is responsible for all the Vietnamese nail shops in this country?,” she asked.
Tippi Hedren is known for the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds, and for being the mother of actress Melanie Griffith. Apparently, she is also known for initiating the Vietnamese nail salon industry. In the ’70s, she was visiting a Vietnamese refugee camp called Hope Village, near Sacramento, California. Some of the women were fascinated by her nails and Hedren had the idea to fly in her own manicurist to teach 20 women how to do nails. These women went on to teach others. Hedren also brought in to the camp staff from a local beauty school. Once these women graduated, Hedren helped them secure jobs all over Southern California. In California today 80% of all manicurists are Vietnamese; in the rest of the United States 51% are are Vietnamese.
I thought that this was a pretty cool and relevant story to add to my collection. Little did I know what else was to come that day…
Towards the middle of the tour a couple from New Mexico attached themselves to our tiny group, adding a nice balance. Well into our time together, I asked them where they were from and what they were interested in. Sometimes my enthusiasm gets the better of me and I forget to ask these questions right away.
Ben Glover and his wife Gerrie were visiting the museum with a specific focus: “Do you have anything about the Gold Rush here?,” Ben asked.
I was a little stunned—and also embarrassed— that I had waited so long to let them speak, but quickly responded, “Come with me, we sure do! I spent the morning giving Gold Rush tours and I guess I was hankering to talk about something else.”
As we walked from the back of the gallery to the Gold Rush bay in the front, Ben filled me in on his story: “I am the great-great grandson of Sam Brannon’s secretary, William Glover, who came with him on the boat and to the gold fields, Sutter’s Mill, and then returned back East. My great grandfather, William Francisco Glover, was the first Caucasian child born in San Francisco, then known as Yerba Buena. After he was born, his parents took him to the gold fields where they panned for gold and continued to work with Sam Brannan.”
Gerrie added the most interesting detail that baby William’s parents would dig a bowl-shaped recess in the ground for the infant to sleep in nearby while they panned for gold. It was unusual for the women to pan for gold because the heavy skirts, which can be seen on Mrs. Dikeman in the Dikeman kitchen, made it very difficult to do the hard work and being it was illegal for women to wear pants.
Pretty amazing story—and to think I almost missed it! Ben and I exchanged email addresses and I plan to gather more stories from him once he returns home.
I carry a small bag of props, and one of my Gold Rush tools are name tags for the children to wear. I pulled out my Sam Brannan tag for Gerrie and Ben to see. I keep a tiny envelope on the backside of the tag, filled with extra details in case someone wants extra information.
This Friday had already been a full day for me, but I decided to stay and grab food from one of the food trucks and then wander into the galleries.
Every Friday night OMCA closes off 10th street in front of the museum for Off The Grid food trucks to gather. The area is full of live music and dance, wine, and activities for children. It is Oakland at its best, with every age, color, grouping, and occupation represented. Some of the children who come on a regular basis with their families call it the end-of-the-week fiesta. The galleries are open and half-price for adults and free for children. The enthusiasm and energy brings life to every corner of the museum.
After I had eaten, as I strolled through the art and natural science galleries, I watched so many families enjoying the exhibits. I was tired and ready to head out, but took one last walk through the history gallery. It was about 8 pm. I stopped by the Kaiser Shipyard’s model of a liberty ship and, as I turned around, saw several men looking into the WWII kitchen display which features a mannequin of a woman welder, with her lunch box, ready to head out to work. On one wall an icebox stands and on top of it, a ball of tin foil.
I asked if the three men if they were having a good evening.
“Oh yes, now we are. We are history professors from Ohio State and we are visiting the area. We were told that we should go to Pier 39. Do you know what they have done to that place? It is terrible!”
One of the men had worked in San Francisco in the late ’80s and remembered a more accessible Fisherman’s Wharf and a much less chaotic Pier 39.
“None of us wanted to stay at Pier 39, and it was mid afternoon,” one of the professors continued. “We saw a billboard for the Oakland Museum.”
“We decided to take BART and come to see what this museum was about. We have been here since 4 pm and we didn’t even know about the food trucks. We have had some of the best food since we have been in San Francisco. It has been such a wonderful day. This gallery is amazing. You get to walk through one story after another. We have never seen anything like it, and we have all been to a lot of history museums over the years in the United States. You are so lucky.”
Yes, we are. The professors and I closed down the gallery, leaving when the guards did their last sweep. They were heading back to Ohio the next morning, with the Oakland Museum of California as the highlight of their trip to San Francisco.
And I was heading home, with the Oakland Museum the highlight of my day as well!