Before he became famous for such American classics as White Fang and Call of the Wild, writer Jack London lived a hard scrabble life in his boat along the Benicia waterfront. It was a time when canneries, saloons, a tannery and the Southern Pacific Depot and railroad line crowded the foot of First Street.
A special program focusing on London’s time in Benicia and his storied, colorful life as a writer, farmer, social activist, journalist, and romantic adventurer will offer audiences a fuller view of the famous author’s life.
Sponsored by the Benicia State Parks Association, Jack London in Benicia takes place 2pm, Sunday, Jan. 31th, inside the historic Benicia State Capitol, 116 West G St. at First Street. Cost is $10 for adults, and $5 for children aged 12-17. Part of the Capitol Neighbors Speaker Series, the program commemorates the 100th anniversary of London’s death and the 140th anniversary of his birth.
Event organizer Donnell Rubay said this program and others in the speaker series highlight Benicia’s rich history and also promote the downtown and its many colorful inhabitants. “It should be a very fascinating program,” she added. Proceeds will go toward association efforts to maintain the Benicia State Capitol and adjacent Fischer Hanlon House. Other event sponsors include California State Parks and city of Benicia.
Born in San Francisco in 1876, London packed much into his 40 years before he died in 1916 at his beloved Beauty Ranch in Sonoma Valley’s Glen Ellen, now the site of the Jack London State Historic Park. He wrote more numerous short stories, more than 50 books, was an outspoken Socialist and champion of the underdog, and even pioneered sustainable agriculture on his ranch. As a teen he rode the rails, lived as a hobo and devoured books in public libraries.
One of three program presenters, former Benicia Poet Laureate Joel Fallon, will set the scene, the times London lived in when America was still forming and workers and the poor had few protections. Fallon said he will talk about his political writings, his Socialist views and activism in fighting poverty, war and exploitation. “I will also challenge them to read Jack London,” Fallon said.
Jack London State Park Historian Lou Leal will then delve into London’s activities while living in Benicia, plus share other fascinating aspects of his life, Rubay said. Illustrations, photos and other information will also be shared.
Finally, Benicia poet Peter Bray will portray London and read passages from Tales of the Fish Patrol and John Barleycorn, both which mention Benicia. While in the city, the author nabbed fishing violators in the Carquinez Strait, and frequented the Jurgensen’s Saloon. Bray led a fight to save the old bar, which resulted in the top part being moved up First Street. It is now the Angel Heart 4 You metaphysical book and gift store.
As Benicia gears up for its Jack London program, the Jack London State Historic Park has touched off a year of celebrations designed to shed light on the author’s legacy. Activities include a book club, photography show, piano concerts, writing contests and other activities. For more details go jacklondonpark.com.