Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
By Steven Dugan
Homestead docent Eldon Dunn never ceases to amaze us! After studying math and science in college, he spent his working years as a civilian scientist for the United States Navy. He is an avid reader, photographer, Disney enthusiast, genealogist, and lover of Sudoku puzzles. He’s also quite comfortable in the spotlight. Aside from giving public presentations related to his job for the Navy, Eldon has sung with a number of social and church groups, and even fills in on a semi-regular basis for his minister when he’s out of town. It’s no wonder he enjoys giving tours! A museum volunteer for 32 years, we recently asked him to share some of his observations and experiences on what he’s called his “second career” at the Homestead.
Where does your interest in history come from?
That’s a very good question, one that I have pondered many times in the 32 years I have been a Homestead Museum docent. It is true that I took the required history classes in both high school and college; but didn’t find them to be especially interesting. Once I began giving presentations to various groups as a federal employee, I started to realize I was enjoying that aspect of my job. I decided that I must have been a bit too immature to appreciate history when I was younger. What really sparked my interest was learning more about my ancestry and family history. The more I discovered the interesting affairs my ancestors were involved with, the more excited I became studying history.
How do you make a connection with your visitors when your give tours?
I try to learn where their homes are located and tell some element of our story related to that. Also, the ethnicity of the visitors can be helpful in telling them we have tours in other languages. Even the suicide of William Workman can be used as an example of what happens when we fail to learn to deal with disappointment at an early age. Getting into that subject is very simple now that we have material in the West Room of the Workman House that deals with the subject of the suicide. In other words, I try to relate the problems facing the Workman and Temple families with the same or similar problems facing us today.
Every docent has a favorite part of the story we share. What’s yours?
That’s a tough one! Nothing stands out for me in that regard, but I usually ask folks what one would put into the large, cold-storage “closet” in the pantry [of La Casa Nueva]. (Most people have no problem with that question.) And I like to ask what might have been going on in the small room on the west side of the La Casa Nueva courtyard with the rotatable chair in its center (for those who haven’t visited the museum, it’s the Barbershop!).
What has been your most memorable experience as a docent?
This question was asked at a recent Volunteer Appreciation Dinner. Museum director Karen Wade shared the story of a public tour I gave shortly after I became a docent at the Homestead.
Everyone on the tour was a member of the Temple family, and Walter Jr. (Wally), the only surviving member of the family who lived in La Casa Nueva, was among them. When I saw him I fell silent and listened to him regale his relatives with stories as we walked around.
We arrived in front of La Casa Nueva and at the northwest corner of the front porch is a sculpture of a tree with a lizard perched on it. Wally told us that the worker who made the sculpture told him the lizard walked up while he was plastering the area. According to the story, the sculptor then grabbed the lizard, threw Plaster of Paris on it, and slapped it right on the tree, forever immortalizing the lizard at the Temple home.
Wally then turned to me and said, “Do you believe that?”
After carefully looking at the lizard and noticing a notch in the Plaster of Paris between the lizard and tree, I replied, “No, do you?”
With all the confidence in the world Wally answered in the affirmative, thus settling the matter once and for all!