by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Over our thirty-five years of operation, the Homestead has been fortunate to receive many donations of Workman and Temple family historic artifacts by descendants who want to see these objects preserved and presented to the public.
From photographs to letters to furniture to clothing, this growing number of family-related items not only helps to us to better tell the stories relating to the family history, but to put that history into a broader context of place (greater Los Angeles) and time (183o to 1930). This allows us to compare and contrast their lives to those of their contemporaries and to current life.
We can share these artifacts and their stories through exhibits in the Workman House, La Casa Nueva and in the Homestead Museum Gallery, as well as part of our many program offerings and on social media posts and posts on this blog. We’re thankful that descendants of the family continue to look to the museum as a place to keep these objects in good hands and as the best way to share what they have to offer to the public.
On Friday, descendants of John H. Temple and Anita Davoust, who owned the Homestead from 1888 to 1899, were here for a donation of many historic artifacts associated with that couple, especially Anita. Marilyn Gillespie, a great granddaughter of John and Anita, drove down from Las Vegas, where she is the director of the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, to finalize the gift of a wealth of interesting and informative objects.
Among them were serving pieces from a china set; kitchen ware including a colander, muffin pan and others; linens of all kinds including tablecloths, napkins and doilies; a dresser set; a stove-top iron; John’s leather gloves and jewelry box with a couple pairs of cufflinks; a child’s gown, probably for a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church; and more.
The most interesting of the artifacts is almost certainly the wedding dress worn by Anita when she married John on 30 September 1886. However, it isn’t necessarily the style or material type or appearance of the gown that has the most interest. Rather, it’s the story of what happened to it some 90 years ago.
Anita, who her descendants say was a superstitious person, was told by someone that keeping her wedding dress was bad luck. It had been in a wooden chest since her marriage about forty years prior and, apparently believing what she was told, Anita took the gown out and promptly tore most of it, excepting the bodice, into pieces. She then put the destroyed garment back in the chest where it remained until her death in 1942 and for decades beyond.
The Temple family home in South Los Angeles stayed in the possession of Anita and John’s daughter, Edith Temple Stanton, until she died in 1984, after living in the home for just over 70 years. The residence then went to Marilyn’s mother, Betty Temple Miner, who is now 90 years old and resides in Utah. After her aunt’s death, Mrs. Miner painstakingly went through the house, which was filled with material gathered over the decades, and found the pieces of her great-grandmother’s dress still in the chest.
About a decade or so ago, Mrs. Miner, an accomplished seamstress, decided to piece back what she could of the dress, adding modern material when she needed to. The result is a pretty remarkable feat. Mounted on a dress stand, an observer would be hard pressed (!) to tell that the gown was ever in the condition that it had been when it had been torn into pieces. Marilyn Gillespie had the dress on the stand in her vintage home in Utah ever since, but decided earlier this year that it was time to donate it to the Homestead.
The timing was excellent, given that in April 2015, we completed a renovation of the first floor of the Workman House that included an unexpected recreation of a late 19th century period bedroom where the bedroom set used by John and Anita, donated by Mrs. Miner and her cousin, F.P.F. Temple III in 1987, is now displayed.
The dresser set, some of the linens, John’s jewelry box with cufflinks, his gloves, and Anita’s reconstructed wedding dress along with the original shoes are among the artifacts donated on Friday that can be displayed in that room. This will add a great deal more to the appearance and to the stories we can tell of John and Anita’s years of ownership of the house and the Homestead.
Moreover, during next spring’s Victorian Fair and for the fairs that will be held annually after that, we can likely display other donated artifacts as part of showing how life was for the Temples and others during the late 19th century.
Gifts like these are invaluable for helping the Homestead do a better job in conveying the history of the site and region through all types of interpretive programs. Thanks to Marilyn, her mother and her family for continuing to support what we do by donations of artifacts like these and in other ways.
Meanwhile, future visitors who are reading this post: look forward to seeing some of these artifacts on display in the Workman House when you come to see the museum!