Those with Free Spirits, who know how to be released, and soar, come to Black Point and Fort Mason. Here we will make a stand for Arts and Culture. Here the Nation of California will be born. The epicenter is here. We will put on a lightshow. They will see our light in the sky, and in the bay, playing with whales and dolphins. They will marvel.
Jessie Benton Fremont held a salon at Black Point. Mark Twain was a frequent guest. Rena gave me permission to install her in ‘The Muse Hall of Fame’. If not for the painting I did of Rena, Christine would never have married Garth Benton. I am the official Benton Historian. There is not other.
I just read Carrie Fisher predicted her own death, as did Mark Twain, and, allegedly my sister. Carrie was hired to do a screenplay about Christine. Debbie died the next day.
Jon ‘Master of the Rose’
Blunt said, Fisher also had a scary premonition.
“She put a cardboard cutout of herself as Leia outside my room, with her date of birth and date of death on her forehead,” he told the Times. “I’m trying to remember what the date was, because it was around now — and I remember thinking it was too soon.”
JOELY: I’ve been having an out-of-body experience. The world lost Carrie and Debbie, of course, but– and– and Princess Leia and we lost our hero. We lost– our mirror.”
Our members are to hear much about this Cathedral of the Soul in the near future, and at present I wish merely to announce its name and present to you a brief picture of what it is. This cathedral is that great holy of holies and Cosmic sanctum maintained by the beams of thought waves of thousands of our most advanced members, who have been prepared and trained to direct these beams of thought at certain periods of the day and the week toward one central point, and there becomes a manifest power, a creative force, a health giving and peace giving nucleus far removed from the material trials and problems, limitations and destructive elements of the earth plane.
While men have been busy planning, building, and directing great spires and towers of earthly cathedrals that would reach high into the heavens and become the material abiding place for those in devotion and meditation, we have been creating this cathedral of prayer and illumination, Cosmic joy, and peace high above every material plane and ascent into the Cosmic itself.”
Twain’s landing place was San Francisco. As Ben Tarnoff explains in his deftly written, wholly absorbing “The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature,” the city was an ideal crucible for an ambitious young writer on the make. It prospered during the Civil War and had a literate population that craved a new kind of writing. Important patrons such as Jessie Benton Fremont and Thomas Starr King nurtured the nascent talents of Charles Warren Stoddard, Ina Coolbrith, and most prominently Harte, a disciplined dandy and a brilliant mentor and editor who founded The Californian, a literary paper where Stoddard published his first poem and Twain refined his style in the fall of 1864.
Jesse Benton Fremont
by Susan Saperstein
She is thought to be the real author behind the successful writings of John C. Fremont (general, senator, presidential candidate, and the Pathfinder of the West) describing his explorations. Jesse Benton Fremont (1824– 1902), Fremont’s wife, was also the daughter of Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, a leading advocate of Manifest Destiny, a political movement pushing expansion to the West. And in her event-filled life, some of her happiest times were at her house in San Francisco’s Black Point area, now known as Fort Mason.
The Fremonts lived there between 1860 and 1861. The prop- erty included three sides of the point, and Jesse described it “like being on the bow of a ship.” They had a clear view of the Golden Gate, so named by John when he first viewed it in 1846. Alcatraz was so close that Jesse is said to have called the lighthouse on the island her nightlight.
The Spanish called the area Point San Jose and built a battery in 1797. However, cold winds and fog soon made the cannons useless. By the time the Mexicans were ruling in the 1820s, the area was known as Black Point for the dark vegetation on the land.
Their house was one of six on the point. Jesse remodeled the house and added roses, fuchsias, and walkways on the 13 acres. Their home became a salon for San Francisco intellectuals. Thomas Starr King, the newly appointed minister of the Unitarian church, was a fixture for dinner and tea. Young Bret Harte, whose writing Jesse admired, became a Sunday dinner regular, as did photographer Carleton Watkins. She invited literary celebrities when they came to townó including Herman Melville, who was trying to get over the failure of Moby Dick. Conversations in her salon led to early conservation efforts when Jesse and a group including Watkins, Starr King, Fredrick Law Olmsted, and Israel Ward Raymond lobbied Congress and President Lincoln to preserve Yosemite and Mariposa Big Trees. Jesse’s husband, however, often away on business ventures, was not a regular at her gatherings.
Jessie Benton Fremont at Blackpoint
by Jo Medrano
Mrs. General Fremont on porch at Black Point, 1863.
Photo: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library
Mrs. General Fremont on her porch at Black Point, c. 1863.
Photo: Jesse Brown Cook collection, online archive of California
Black Point (now Fort Mason), 1870. Spring Valley Water Co. brought water through the flume that skirts the cliffs. Small farms run down to the shore. Alcatraz is in the distance.
Photo: Private Collection, San Francisco, CA
John C. Fremont bought a farm for his wife Jessie on the north edge of San Francisco, on a small rocky peninsula then known as Blackpoint, about 1860. At the time of purchase, they were living in Bear Valley in the Sierras. In Bear Valley Jessie Fremont developed physical problems due to the intense heat. She wrote that a buried egg would cook in just a few minutes. One account states that it was 106 degrees at sunset–not an uncommon temperature that year. So we can probably imagine her delight when John C. came back from a business trip to San Francisco in 1861, and told her they were moving to the city. Blackpoint was a self-sustaining farm, and Jessie’s favorite home. She had relatives living with her, as well as visits from other relatives in addition to local and national celebrities.
Spring Valley Water Company flume is visible at right; Small farms on the hill above c. 1870
Photo: Private Collection, San Francisco, CA
As a matter of fact, a influential San Franciscan, I.W. Raymond, visited the Fremonts in Bear Valley and traveled with them to see the place that wasn’t yet named Yosemite. He was a key person in the 1864 action of President Lincoln which made Yosemite a protected place.
Black Point is described in “Jesse Fremont: A woman who made history” as “a small headland jutting out into the channel entrance of the harbor, in fact directly opposite the Golden Gate, affording an unbroken view westward to the Pacific and eastward toward the mountains of Contra Costa.” Jessie said she “loved this sea home so much that I had joy even in the tolling of the fogbell”. It was here she planned and built her “sunset beach.”
The federal government took over Black Point soon after Jessie and John Fremont went back east to be involved in the civil war. John fought for compensation for the expropriated house and land until the day he died.
When Thomas Starr King first walked to the pulpit of the San Francisco Unitarian Church in 1860, the eyes of the congregation turned to this small, frail man. Many asked, “Could this youthful person with his beardless, boyish face be the celebrated preacher from Boston?”
King laughed. “Though I weigh only 120 pounds,” he said, “when I’m mad, I weigh a ton.”
That fiery passion would be King’s stock in trade during his years in California, from 1860 to 1864. Abraham Lincoln said he believed the Rev. Thomas Starr King was the person most responsible for keeping California in the Union during the early days of the Civil War.
King’s reputation as a noted orator had led the San Francisco congregation to ask him to come west, with little hope he would agree. During his 11 years as minister of Boston’s Hollis Street Unitarian Church, King increased the congregation to five times its original size and pulled the church out of bankruptcy. Ralph Waldo Emerson, noted essayist and poet, said after hearing one of King’s sermons, “That is preaching!” Churches in Chicago and Brooklyn sought King as their minister, but this popular Boston pastor rejected them. San Francisco, he decided, offered the greatest challenge.
California in Crisis
California was headed into a crisis. At hand was a showdown between the free states of the Union and the slave states. California’s governor and most members of the state legislature were sympathetic to the Confederacy. The only effective voice against slavery, Sen. David C. Broderick, had been killed in a duel the year before.
The San Francisco congregation’s initial disappointment about King’s slender, boyish appearance soon gave way to wonder, then delight at his rich, golden voice. Not only did King establish his reputation as an orator and preacher that first Sunday in San Francisco, but the news soon spread statewide, attracting worshipers from Stockton and Sacramento.
Less than a month after King arrived in California, the Republican National Convention met in Chicago and nominated Abraham Lincoln as its presidential candidate. In the following election, Lincoln carried California by only 711 votes.
Southern states soon abandoned the Union. The crucial question on the minds of many Americans was: Would California join them and deliver the state’s immense natural resources into the hands of Confederate President Jefferson Davis? Support for secession was strong in southern California, where the Confederate flag had flown over Los Angeles’s main plaza on the Fourth of July.
At that time the U.S. Congress was so convinced of a secessionist plot that it required Easterners to secure passports for travel to California. Justifying Congress’ fears was a secret paramilitary California secessionist organization of about 16,000 members, called the Knights of the Golden Circle.
On George Washington’s birthday in 1861, King fired an opening salvo in support of his country. He spoke for two hours to over a thousand people about how they should remember Washington by preserving the Union.
“I pitched into Secession, Concession and (John C.) Calhoun (former U.S. vice president), right and left, and made the Southerners applaud,” King recalled. “I pledged California to a Northern Republic and to a flag that should have no treacherous threads of cotton in its warp, and the audience came down in thunder. At the close it was announced that I would repeat it the next night, and they gave me three rounds of cheers.”
Speaking up and down the state, King visited rugged mining camps and said he never knew the exhilaration of public oratory until he faced a front row of men armed with Bowie knives and revolvers. His friend, Edward Everett Hale, who made a similar contribution to saving the Union through his moving story, “The Man Without a Country,” said, “Starr King was an orator no one could silence and no one could answer.”
King covered his pulpit with an American flag and ended all his sermons with “God bless the president of the United States and all who serve with him the cause of a common country.” At one mass rally in San Francisco, 40,000 turned out to hear him speak. A group of Americans living in Victoria, B.C., sent him $1,000 for his work to preserve the Union. King was beginning to turn the tide.
In 1861, he threw himself into the gubernatorial campaign of his parishioner, Leland Stanford. King and author Bret Harte often accompanied Stanford on speaking tours. Stanford won an overwhelming victory and King sighed with relief.
“What a privilege it is to be an American!” he said. “What a year to live in! Worth all other times ever known in our history or any other!”
A New Front
The battle to keep California in the Union won, King now turned to the needs of its soldiers. The Union Army lacked provisions and medical personnel. Much of its food was rotting because of spoiled goods sold to the Army by war profiteers. Soldiers lacked sheets and blankets, and disease took a greater toll than Confederate bullets.
In response, the Rev. H.W. Bellows of New York organized the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a forerunner of the American Red Cross. Starr King immediately pitched in to help. Out of $4.8 million the commission raised throughout the U.S., King raised $1.25 million in California. About $200,000 came from San Francisco, a figure all the more impressive because of a series of natural disasters in the state, including a massive flood that turned the Sacramento-San Joaquín Valley into a vast lake and a drought that wiped out the wheat crop.
Now King found himself raising funds for flood and drought relief. He also carved out time to work for the rights of San Francisco’s African Americans and Chinese.
“We know,” said Edward Everett Hale of King, “that here is a heart as large as the world, so that you can not make it understand that it should hold back from any service to be rendered to any human being.”
Because of King’s success in patriotic and charitable causes, powerful friends encouraged him to run for the U.S. Senate. But he refused, saying he feared it would lead to political compromise and impair his ability to speak forthrightly. “I would rather,” he said, “swim to Australia.”
Relaxation and joy came from exploring California’s wilderness. He was among the first 100 Euro-Americans to visit Lake Tahoe. To him, the blue lake and green pines seemed in harmony with the deepest religion of the Bible.
Yosemite Valley and its giant trees gave him special delight. Back in New England he enjoyed exploring the White Hills of New Hampshire and wrote a book about them, “The White Hills—Their Legend, Landscape and Poetry.”
On entering California’s great valley, he said, “The Ninth Symphony (by Beethoven) is the Yosemite of music! Great is granite and the Yosemite is its prophet!” He climbed above the falls, attracted by a dome of granite towering 13,600 feet over the valley. Today it bears his name, Mt. Starr King.
San Francisco Church
Despite his many commitments in California, King always put his church first. When he arrived in San Francisco in 1860, the congregation struggled with a $30,000 debt. Within the first year, King managed to raise the funds to pay it off. Now he turned his attention to an expanding congregation in a too-small church. In October 1862, he set an $80,000 fundraising goal. By December of that year, the cornerstone of a new church was laid. In January 1864, King and his congregation celebrated the completion of the new building at 133 Geary street, adjacent to present-day Union Square. (The congregation eventually relocated its church again in 1889 to the corner of Franklin and Starr King streets in San Francisco, where the First Unitarian Universalist Society church stands today.)
His congregation now prosperous, the Union Army driving to victory and the Sanitary Commission on solid footing, King decided to take a much-needed sabbatical. He planned to rest, travel and write a book about the Sierras.