The Four Wise Men of California

You know their names, as they would still expect you to.  Stanford. Hopkins. Huntington. Crocker. Together, they had the prescience, vision, wealth and power to make the dream of a transcontinental railroad a reality.

Of course, it helps when the president of the Central Pacific Railroad, Leland Stanford, was also the governor of the state.  Back in those days, details like that were a minor fact of life, not at all a conflict of interest.  Those who had, did, and those who had and did made this country what it was. And that was fine with most people.

We arrived in Sacramento mid-morning on a lovely Mother’s Day.  First, an explanation of where we have been the last two days, for those who have noticed our hiatus.  On Friday afternoon, we retrieved our car, now all better and running like a top.  But we had spent our whole day driving back to retrieve it, and there was no news to report.  So we set off for Stockton early the next day, hoping for adventures.  After all, now we had our very own car back in fighting form.

But Don was not in fighting form.  His internal combustion engine had a mechanical failure, which led us to spend many happy hours in the Doctors’ Hospital of Manteca, a lovely little place near Stockton.  As we have learned to expect, everyone in the ER who had any connection whatsoever to New York (state or city) wandered in at some point to share their story.  At least we got terrific service!

To jump forward and borrow a piece of art from the art museum in Sacramento, here is what Don says he felt like:





Here is what he actually looked like:

The story has a happy ending, and there is a good chance that he will fully recover, pending a full course of antibiotics.  Pray for him. But there was no time to post last night!

So back to Sacramento and a few observations.  This town has suffered every indignity that could be heaped on an American city in the last century.  We must have a freeway cutting through the city!  We must build an urban mall because everyone has fled to the suburbs and they clearly want a mall! And let’s put it below ground so the weather won’t interfere. We have to tear down all those old buildings!  Ooops!  Everyone wants the old buildings, so let’s reconstruct them and make them cute so everyone will go there to buy their ice cream and tee shirts.  Ooops! The freeway separates the mall from the new “Old Sacramento” so let’s build a tunnel under the freeway and put murals on it so people can walk there.  Abuse on abuse, and still they come.

Sacramento is of course the capital of California.  We observed the Capitol building from a distance, but couldn’t get close due to a bike race going on today. Some fun and funky things around town that managed to escape the wrecking ball also caught our eye.  But if you drive here, rest assured that there are plenty of parking lots, and everyone validates…

We started at the home of the main wise guy – Leland Stanford.  No one tried to position him as one of America’s great philanthropists, but he was an adept practitioner of the religion of his day – accumulating wealth.  His home served as the governor’s mansion while he led the state – and ran his railroad.  (Those two roles evidently worked very well together.   No annoying government bureaucracy in his way.) It has just been completely redone and is still used for state functions by the governor and others. The Stanfords themselves moved on to San Francisco and built a 60,000 square foot mansion on Nob Hill, which did not survive the fire following the earthquake in 1906.

Compare that to the home of his friend, E.B. Crocker. It is now attached to the Crocker Art Museum, so there was a bit more philanthropy evident here.  First, the main rooms of the original house – again, completely restored:

And then there is the museum itself.  A very nice collection of California artists, starting with our friend from the Laguna Beach Art Museum, Wayne Thiebaud.

We did wander under the tunnel and up into “Old” Sacramento, which – not surprisingly – was where everyone wanted to be today – not in that abandoned mall on the other side of the freeway.

Lots of history here. And the key to it all is in the Railroad Museum.  There you hear the story of the four wise men who agreed to finance the venture that would unite the nation and change the future of California.  Did they profit?  Indeed.  Did the rest of the world benefit?  In many many ways.  Everyone won, except perhaps for the poor Chinese laborers who made so much of it happen, and who were so abused in the process.

At any rate, it’s an amazing story, and much of it is preserved here, including the original locomotive that made the journey.  We actually got to touch it! There is also a comprehensive story of the evolution of rail travel – including tours of the wonderful sleepers and dining cars that made it so romantic. While we did indeed have a nice trip on today’s California Zephyr at the start of our trip, today’s train travel is a mere echo of what past travelers enjoyed.  Sigh.

All in all, it was a good day of history and art and general tourism.  We are back in motion!

2 thoughts on “The Four Wise Men of California

  1. Poor baby. Glad you are on the mend.

    Some of my fondest memories from my very young childhood are travelling back and forth by train from New York, where we lived, to Southern Illinois, where my father’s parents lived. The Pullman cars were great fun to little kids like my brother and me.

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