Wednesday, May 18, 2016

My Favorite Museum

Today is International Museum Day, and I am a docent for the Museum of Ventura County. This is my identification badge, and a thumbs up from a dear friend, who really supported my becoming a docent.
Docent Name Tag, Museum of Ventura County


I've been lucky in my life. When I was 7 years old I met a man who lived in Piru, California, who owned a private museum. When I was in the Army, I was stationed right outside of Washington, D.C. at Ft Lee in Virginia. I visited a museum in D.C. every weekend or day off from school.
Lechler Museum, Piru, California


After leaving Ft Lee, I was sent to Europe. Instead of coming back to the good old USA, I decided to take leave in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Turkey, Germany, and Tunis, which my German girlfriend at the time forgot to mention is in North Africa. But I survived, and I visited museums.
Lechler Museum Ephemera


In short, I've been to a lot of museums. Then I married a woman I was with for 23 years who loved museums more than life itself. She could have been a tour guide at a bunch of museums but she grew to love my friends' private museum in Piru, California, as much as I did.
Lechler Museum, Outbuildings


Indeed, Lechler's Museum, run my my late pal, Harry H. Lechler, was just so very unique, for so many reasons. This guy was just a card, he knew everything, had seen everything, and remembered most of it pretty well. He was a gatherer, and collector, and his wife was a saint. Harry and Peggy are both gone now and the collection was spread far and wide but I can still remember it so well.
Lechler Museum, Courtyard



My favorite thing ever was the albino deer, which was just slightly ahead of the albino gopher. Harry was personal friends with a taxidermist from Fillmore, California, and when he died at the end of the 1940's his wife called Harry. 
Albino Deer, Lechler Museum


She said he did not come and get those "nasty stuffed things," then she was going to make a bonfire of them. He had both a bald eagle, and a golden eagle in his collection, both collected well before any laws prohibiting ownership of these items. He also had bobcat, lynx, roadrunner, fox, beaver, and other animals in his collection.
Postcard, Lechler Museum


He had a crank candlestick telephone that worked. My son spoke to him on it when he was 8 years old. He's 28 now and still remembers the moment. When people left Piru, which probably never saw more than 3000 residents at anytime in its history, they would come and give Harry their stuff. 
Money Display, Lechler Museum


In 1969, he built a 1000 square foot building on his property to house the main portion of the collection, but he had other outbuildings on his property that he used for presentation. Nothing was stored he would say, he wanted everyone to see everything.
Main Building, Lechler Museum

So I was lucky to meet him when I was 7 years old. He gave me this card. It was the hotel that his father owned in the city, and where Harry's job was to empty the "slop jars" in the morning. He had the actress Mary Pickford's signature in the hotel register, along with D.W. Griffith. Pickford stayed in the hotel while making the movie Ramona in nearby Rancho Camulos.
Business Card, Mountain View Hotel, Piru, CA, 1905

I've had this card for 50 years now, and I still get a thrill, when I show it to people. There is not another one anywhere. It's allegedly the first picture ever taken of the hotel, but who knows?

What I know and remember on this day that we remember museums, is that this man let hundreds of people into his personal home, and history, and did it for 50 years. He never asked for payment and actually paid you for coming. He gave you a wooden nickel, just like this one.
Wooden Nickel, Lechler Museum

A few days before the auction company came to catalog and remove everything for the sale he called me to his home and asked me what I would like. It took me a minute but then I realized he was asking me what I wanted from the assembled thousands of things that made up the collection. I wanted to tell him I loved him and that what I wanted was for him to always be there. But that could never happen.
Lechler Museum, Interior w/ghost


He was old, and tired, and his wife was old and tired, and he loved her true. They were both pushing middle 80's and they were winding down. I knew they would go away one day but I never wanted to see that day come. So I took nothing that day, but just before he left town for good, he shoved a box of treasures on me.
Interior, Lechler Museum


Personal histories, books, papers, and objects specific to Ventura County and its history. I never wanted them but I guess he knew I would make sure they got into the right hands when the time came. I don't know. I miss that cranky old man because now I am a cranky old man, who knows too much, and can't help but be excited by everything and nothing.
Name Tag, AMNH

I've seen the Mona Lisa at the Lourve. Been to the Tate, MoMa, Rembrandt Museum in Amsterdam, and everything in between. You could lock me in a museum and as long as there was water I could survive. I know I could. But on this day I just wanted to remember an old man who taught me to listen, remember, and love.

Please visit the @museumofventuracounty, and support museums wherever they are and wherever you are. God bless you Harry. Hope you are well on this special day.
Apricots Drying, Piru California, 1903


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