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Robert Louis Stevenson - One Visit….and So Many Memorials

Are San Franciscans star struck? This may explain why San Francisco and California has many commemorations to Robert Louis Stevenson, a Scotsman who was here for less than a year. If you have been on our Chinatown or Gold Rush tours, you know about the memorial in Portsmouth Square pictured here. There is also a plaque located on the site where he once lived, an elementary school and a state park named for him, and museum dedicated to his work in the Wine Country.

Stevenson was in San Francisco, waiting for the divorce of the woman he loved, and recuperating from his arduous journey here. He often visited Portsmouth Square, now marked by this memorial.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) wrote plays, essays, short stories, poetry. He is best remembered for the books Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When he came to California, he was not yet famous. He had fallen in love with Fanny Osborne at a French art colony. She was married and had several children. When her husband cut off her allowance, she came back home to California. However, a year later she wired a message to Stevenson---and he promptly set out for California from Europe, a journey of 6,000 miles. It had been said that the trans-Atlantic and cross-country trip nearly killed him. He arrived in Monterey, California to see Fanny. Not long after, she was advised to wait out her divorce in her husband’s house in Oakland to keep custody of her young son.

Stevenson came to San Francisco in August, 1879 and rented a room in a building which then stood at 608 Bush Street. There is a plaque on that site commemorating him.

They married in May, 1880 and honeymooned in Napa County. The Robert Louis Stevenson State Park is located there now. And in the town of St. Helena, the Silverado Museum was established to house a collection of Stevenson books, memorabilia and manuscripts. The two eventually moved to Samoa, where Stevenson was know as Tusitala, or the Storyteller. He died there at the age of 44.

Fanny’s story is interesting. She was from Indiana, married Sam Osbourne. She spend the next years following her husband to Virginia City, Nevada and in gold mining towns. They settled in Oakland, by now she had 3 children, and took up painting at the San Francisco School of Design. She wanted to study art in Europe and convinced her husband to let her go with the children. She met Stevenson at an art retreat outside Paris. She was there for several years before her husband called her back. Interestingly, she was the second older woman, with children, named Fanny, that Stevenson had fallen in love.

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