You may already have made plans for Lummis Day, scheduled for Sunday, June 5, or you’ve seen the posters and signs. For lifelong residents of Highland Park and Mount Washington, Charles Fletcher Lummis is a household name--a mythical figure comprising equal parts Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyan and Mark Twain.
Recent transplants to the area, though, might not be so familiar with the so-called "grandfather of Arroyo Culture." Others may find themselves asking what, exactly, is Lummis Day?
In case you don’t know about Lummis, or have forgotten, here is my very brief biography. There are many sources of additional biographical stuff about him, and I invite you to look them up.
Charles Fletcher Lummis was born March 1, 1859, in Lynn, MA.
He attended Harvard for a while and was a classmate of Theodore Roosevelt, but dropped out during his senior year.
Lummis gained national fame in 1884 when, at the age of 25, he walked from Cincinnati to Los Angeles in 143 days. He had been hired as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, then called the Los Angeles Daily Times, and sent weekly dispatches to the paper all about his voyage.
He became the first city editor of the Los Angeles Times.
In 1887 he overworked himself into an apparent stroke that left him partially paralyzed on his left side.
He decided he would attempt to cure himself by moving to New Mexico and vowed to live in the wilderness until he was well. While he was there he got very involved with Indian rights and exposing local corruption.
His efforts made him very popular out there, but when the paralysis "cleared up," he cleared out. He stayed very active in supporting Indian rights.
He returned to Los Angeles to edit Land of Sunshine, a new magazine about the West, which was later renamed Out West. He published works by writers such as John Muir and Jack London.
In 1895 he began building his home, El Alisal, on what is now 200 E. Avenue 43. He built the house on his own from large rocks and telephone poles purchased from the Santa Fe Railroad, river rocks taken right out of the and other found materials. He popularized the Arroyo rockwork style of architecture still prevalent in Highland Park and Mount Washington, as well as the surrounding neighorhoods and towns.
He did a legendary amount of entertaining, through parties he called "noises," for local artists, actors and visiting writers, dignitaries and celebrities. Will Rogers, Theodore Roosevelt, Clarence Darrow, John Philip Sousa, John Muir, Charles Russell and Carl Sandburg all came to visit at El Alisal for those parties/salons. Some even helped him build his house.
The parties often included a Spanish/Mexican/Native American dinner, Spanish dancers, as well as music by a resident Andalusian troubadour.
One cool detail about this house is that the fireplace was carved by Gutzon Borglum, the creator of Mount Rushmore.
In 1904 Lummis became the head librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library.
In 1907, he established the Southwest Museum, which opened in August 1914.
He also headed the Sequoya League, which supported Indian rights, and the Landmarks Club, which was largely responsible for restoring the Spanish missions.
Lummis lived in El Alisal until his death in 1928.
There's much more to learn about Lummis and a fine way to continue your studies is to attend the Lummis Day festivities. The event is split between two locations. A poetry reading and a print show will take place between 10:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. at El Alisal. A few blocks away, at the , a party the likes of which would make Lummis Proud is scheduled. There will be music, dance, food and an array of community vendors.
Enjoy Lummis Day, but don't work too hard trying to do it all. You don't want to end up in New Mexico, waiting for your stroke induce paralysis to clear up.