Simanaitis Says

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YESTERDAY, IN SimanaitisSays, Charles Fletcher Lummis left Harvard early, married his first Mrs. Lummis, walked across the U.S. in knickers and tomato-red knee socks to a job with the fledgling Los Angeles Times, and then took up for a while with Native Americans of the Twia Pueblo in Isleta, New Mexico. Today in Part 2, things get interesting.

Charles Fletcher Lummis,1859–1928, American journalist, Native American advocate, historian, poet, and librarian.

The Second Mrs. Lummis. In Isleta, Lummis met Eva Douglas, sister-in-law of an English trader. Before long, Charles divorced first wife Dorothea and married Eva. Notes Wikipedia, “Somehow he convinced Eva to stay with Dorothea in Los Angeles until the divorce went through.” There was to be a third Mrs. Lummis, but not until 1915.

El Alisal “Pleasure Palace.” In “The Library Fire That Ignited an Author’s Imagination,” The New York Times Book Review, October 21, 2018, Michael Lewis notes that back in Los Angeles, Lummis “built a private pleasure palace, employed a family of troubadours, threw the best parties in town, and, despite being married, slept with seemingly every women he met.”

The Lummis home, El Alisal, is a rustic American Craftsman stone house built at the turn of the century in northeast Los Angeles (just off what is now the Arroyo Seco Parkway, Rte. 110).

El Alisal, Spanish for “Alder Grove,” the Lummis home, now operated by the city of Los Angeles as a historic house museum. Image by Croman563.

Loomis the Librarian. It may seem odd that in 1905 a man with Lummis’s adventurous background would be made City Librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library. Indeed, it borders on notorious that the library’s board of directors fired Mary Jones, the perfectly competent person then in charge, and replaced her with Charles Lummis.

Michael Lewis shares the tidbit that, back when the Los Angeles Public Library opened in 1873, women were forbidden from the main reading room. Yet, by 1885, women were running the place. Then came Lummis in 1905….

Charles Lummis in 1897.

It’s not that Lummis didn’t have high ideals for the Los Angeles reading public. Notes Lewis, Lummis “paid a blacksmith to create an iron with a skull and crossbones brand, which he stamped into the frontispiece of ‘pseudoscience’ books. He then had the library create warning labels to paste into the books—his original plan was to include text that read: ‘This book is of the worse class that we can possibly keep in the library. We are sorry that you have not any better sense than to read it.’ ”

In an evidently rare showing of moderation, Lummis was persuaded to tone things down.

Not My Crush. “At the same time,” Lewis observes, “he was in many ways indefensible as the face of the public library. He continued to have sex with every woman he met. One of his troubadours murdered one of his housekeepers. Eventually—after having exerted enormous influence on the library— he was fired….”

Hardly the behavior of my junior high school crush. You remember her: tall, lithe, with glasses and shirtwaist dress. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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