Thursday, July 29, 2010

Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site

I have only read one of Eugene O'Neill's plays- "A Long Days Journey into Night"- but I was still interested in viewing the home where he wrote this seminal work. It is free to view, but you generally have to have reservations except on Saturdays during the summer. I was glad that I had extensively checked the directions on the website because it is very different from most National Parks. You cannot just drive up to the house because the house is located along a small, private road with other houses in Danville, CA so you have to meet at the San Ramon Valley Museum where a shuttle will take you the site. On Saturdays during the Summer, the shuttle leaves at 10, 12, and 2. I went to the 2 pm group and I was one of only 3 people which was nice because we were able to ask the rangers stationed throughout the home about some specifics rather than just having the self-guided brochure tour. The park ranger driving the bus was this sweet old man who would provide narration about the history of the town as we drown to the site. He said that Danville is known for 3 things: Eugene O'Neill, the restaurant where the choking scene was filmed in Mrs. Doubtfire, and Captain Sully who landed the plane onto the Hudson River.

The O'Neill home sits on a hillside with a great view of the valley and Mount Tam.

This winding path to the house was purposefully constructed to emulate the Chinese proverb "Evil moves only in a straight line." It is only fitting that they called the house the "Tao House"


O'Neill LOVED the water and so he chose this particular location so that he could swim year round in this pool. Everyday he would go out for a swim at 1 pm after he had spent the morning writing.

There are still several barns- one in which they perform some of his plays every year. They have kept a more rustic feel to the grounds.

The O'Neill's had a dalmatian dog named "Silverdene Emblem" but they primarily called him "Blemie." As I know from experience, pets can literally become another member of the family. They buried their beloved Blemie out in the yard, under the shade of a large tree.

I love the epitaph of "Sleep in Peace, Faithful Friend"

Near the grave site, they had a panel touting the "Last Will and Testament of Silverdene Emblem O'Neill" (obviously written by O'Neill in the voice of Blemie). I was actually so touched by what was written here as I can relate with our beloved Spankie growing older as well.

I did not know very much about the life of O'Neill and so I was struck by just how much of his life was like the tragedies his works attempted to capture. His father was an actor and his mother was addicted to morphine so he had a very rough childhood. He tried to commit suicide while in his 20s and had several failed marriages (his 3rd time was the charm). He also had 3 kids- two boys and girl- and both boys ultimately committed suicide in their adulthood (his daughter married Charlie Chaplin and had like seven kids so she was ok). Long Day's Journey into Night is VERY autobiographical- he reportedly would just cry at his desk while he wrote it. He had said that it was not to be published until 25 years after his death but his wife released it after 3 (his 3rd wife Carlotta with whom he lived in the Tao House had her own way of running things as she had the bedroom with the best view even though she had bad eyesight, probably due to her having to interpret Eugene's handwriting. As he got older, his handwriting became smaller and shakier- they had a sample of it and I could not decipher most words, even with the help of a magnifying glass). Eugene was only able to write with a pen and paper according to his own literary process and so as his disease worsened, he ultimately was unable to write. O'Neill had his own library where he had 2 desks where he would work on two plays simultaneously, with one manuscript on each desk. I loved that he could just wheel back and forth between them. He owned an amazing 8,000 books which he kept in his home- a man after my own heart, though I am no where near that amount (but I have no idea just how many I do have between my apartment and even more at my parents house). Eugene won several Pulitzer Prizes and a Nobel Prize for Literature. At the house, they have a copy of his Nobel which was specially designed to capture his works. After going to the site, I definitely want to read some more of his works since I have an even better understanding about the man who created them.