Thursday, February 19, 2015

Confessions of an historical stalker

History, once you’ve come down with the disease, is hard on the soul. It must be even harder on the souls of the dead, who are unable to defend themselves.

I have this idea that every moment in time still exists somewhere in some sort of parallel universe. It just doesn’t exist here, where I need it.

Which has forced me into stalking

That's become an annoyance to Miss Lukens, the unrequited love of my life, whom I first met 50 years after her expiration date.
1897 - Pasadena, California. From top left Helen Lukens, T.P. Lukens; Charlotte Dyer Lukens. Below, from left: William Ralph Jones and Charlotte Jones. The dog is only one enjoying the portrait sitting. Photographer is unknown.


For a decade, I would sneak into her house and search her parallel universe underwear drawer looking for the missing glass plate negatives of early Pasadena and the wilds of the turn-of-the-century Angeles National Forest.

The plates have since turned up, but probably would not have, had
I not been such a persistent stalker, helping to rescue her father from historical oblivion.

Instead of waiting for me for a century, like she promised, Helen Lukens ran off and married Edward Everett  Jones, and later married James Hamilton Gaut.

As Helen Lukens Gaut, she is best known for the flyleaf photograph
of John Muir in the Hetch Hetchy Valley. This is contained in the
Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography, Son of the Wilderness. You’ve got
to admit, I have pretty good taste in women.






Probably in the Angeles National Forest. Helen Lukens used both a Mitchell touring car and a Model T.


As with all long-term relationships, I became aware of some skeletons
in Helen’s closet.


The good, the bad, the strange


Helen Lukens Jones Gaut was a master wildland photographer, an unheralded pioneer among women photographers of the West. We assume most of her work was done on plate cameras, but the 116 flexible film was also available in the early 20th century. 

Marketing photographic art, however, was a dicey business, unless it was it was to accompany a story in newsprint or magazines.

Which turned her into a writer. Left to her own devices, she was a
terrible writer of Victorian prose. Her nonfiction account of the
mystique of Tahquitz Canyon in the San Jacinto wilderness, published in Out West is a wretched narrative of an American Indian Romeo and Juliet. Her chapbook, Trails to Peace, makes the Out West piece look like actual literature.

Helen sought to be a professional writer, that’s where the money was
in the great age of magazines, when the Post Office generously subsidized rates for the mailing of periodical literature.

Miss Lukens found her ecological niche in the celebration of the California bungalow. Almost all of her bungalow writing is pure fiction, but was not published as such.

She came clean to the census taker in 1910. She and Jim Gaut were
operating a rooming house that they did not own in Pasadena. She gave her occupation as writer; he as real estate tycoon. I guess they were kind of  between gigs.

Helen was the only child of Theodore Parker Lukens and Charlotte Dyer.

Dyer of Puritan stock; Lukens of sober German heritage. When the family migrated to the land of fruit and nuts, magical thinking was tolerated and always a close companion of the family. Theodore got a temporary gig as manager of the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve, which had everything except timber. Through the remainder of his life he sought to plant timber in the range - to grow a little hair on Mt. Baldy, so to speak.

His biographer said he was the Father of Forestry; others referred to him as Johnny Pinecone.



Helen Lukens at camp in the Angeles National Forest

Helen, who was both domesticated and adventurous, had a nice little
adventure in Palm Canyon around 1905. This was a Sierra Club expedition in the San Jacinto Mountains. John Muir was there, her father was there, and James Hamilton Gaut, of the federal Biological Survey, was there.

The next year, Edward Everett Jones was out and Gaut was in. The evidence that this transition did not go smoothly, is supported by the fact that Helen’s children, Charlotte and Ralph Jones became Charlotte and Ralph Gaut. Charlotte Gaut grew up to embrace mysticism. During her foray into life as a working girl in San Francisco, John Muir was asked to look after her. This occurred about 1910.

By 1920, Charlotte was an inmate at the Patton State Hospital for
the insane in San Bernardino. She remained there for 30 years, until
her death, reported in January, 1950. There is no evidence her body
was claimed although her mother, brother and children were alive then. The unclaimed dead at Patton were given to the Loma Linda University Medical Center.

When Charlotte was committed, her two children, Helen Lukens Jensen and Theodore Parker Jensen, became inmates of a Pasadena orphanage.

James Hamilton Gaut was not cut out for the rigors of the 20th Century:
James H. Gaut has lively experience with newly bought equine when the animal runs away today - Pasadena Evening Star, 9/29/1906,

Hit by train and may die : Shocking accident to well known realty
man : Foot caught in switch, he makes vain struggle : Right arm is
amputated and condition critical
-  Los Angeles Times, 7/10/1909,


J. H. Gaut killed today : Automobile dashes down Arbor Street hill and over Arroyo bank : Control of car lost by driver : Machine makes spectacular flight; Death follows instantly -  Pasadena Star, 9/14/1914.

Helen Lukens Jones Gaut retired from the literary/photography scene soon after her husband’s death. She was getting older and the California bungalow - Arts and Crafts movement was waning. She dabbled in songwriting, performing live on KHJ radio in the early 20’s and lived another 40 years after her husband’s death.

Her father’s collection of photographs and papers were bought by Dawson’s bookshop in Los Angeles at some point in the 50’s or 60’s. Those papers were sold to the Huntington Library in Pasadena, where they still reside.

Sadly the Huntington will not allow us riff-raff to finger the glass-plate negatives.

But Helen’s photographs remained obscure until they were brokered
through an art dealer to the Pasadena Museum of History after 2002. The museum has made these images permanently available on Flickr photo sharing web site.

Regards, B.T. Raven

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