Autry Museum of Western Heritage

Los Angeles, California

(213) 667-2000


Gold Fever! The Lure and Legacy of the Califomia Gold Rush


One hundred and fifty years ago, the exclamation that gold had been found in California reverberated around the world. People flooded into the region from all parts changing its future -- and that of Southern California -- forever. Gold Fever! The Lure and Legacy of the Califomia Gold Rush is the most comprehensive exhibit ever produced on this historic era. It opens at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage on Sept. 19 and continues through Jan. 24, 1999.

Daguerreotype - Miner with Pick, Shovel and Pan, c. 1850. Photo from the collection of Matthew R. Isenburg

Interpreting the impact of the California Gold Rush from 1848 to the present, Gold Fever! has drawn record numbers since opening at The Oakland Museum of California, which organized the exhibit. More than 1,000 artifacts and works of art will be on view, many of which have never been publicly displayed. Included, for instance, are California gold specimens and magnificent decorative objects, such as the one-pound gold and gold quartz ring made for President Franklin Pierce; the stern of the famous Gold Rush ship Niantic, sheathed in copper; a portion of a miner's hand-hewn log cabin re-created with furnishings and accessories for life in the gold fields; and a powerful hydraulic monitor used to wash soil away and expose gold deposits.

Sponsored in Los Angeles by Wells Fargo, with additional support provided by ARCO, Gold Fever! is a monumental exhibit that will fill three ofthe Autry's major galleries. Gold Fever! immerses visitors in the sights, sounds and atmosphere ofa remarkable era noted for its greed, its glory and the stampede of fortune seekers that poured into California. The exhibition depicts the explosive impact of the Gold Rush on California's economy, population, environment and cultural diversity.

Gold in quartz. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California

Visitors also will hear from the men, women and children who were caught up in the frenzy of gold fever through a personal audio tour developed by Antenna Theater of Sausalito, Calif. The state-of-the-art audio program, triggered by sensors as the visitor moves from room to room, incorporates an innovative, theatrical approach, with actors presenting passionate, insightful first-person accounts taken from journals and orrespondence of the era. The audio presentation gives visitors a sense of being "on the scene" as people sought their fortunes and sometimes fought for their lives in the free-for-all of Gold Rush California.

Copper plated mining pan from the collection of Norm Wilson.

Many of the stories in Gold Fever! will be new to those who learned about the Gold Rush only from textbooks or a casual tour of Sutter's Mill. The objects, documents and images in the exhibition express the simultaneous acquisition of extraordinary fortunes by some and utter catastrophes for many others, including California's Native Americans and Califomios. It explores its impact on Southern California, as well as the staggering effect of mining techniques explores the staggering effect of mining techniques on California's natural resources and the consequent birth of the conservation movement.

Daguerreotype - Mining Operations on the American River near Sacramento, c. 1850

Visitors to Gold Fever! first enter an archaeological "dig" filled with 1850s goods, many excavated from partially burned ships, piers and buildings found beneath modern day San Francisco, including remarkably preserved jars of Gold Rush-era olives. A second area represents those who already lived in California on the eve of the Gold Rush -- Native peoples, Californio vaqueros, Russian traders and others. Visitors then experience the moment of discovery of gold by James Marshall in the mill race at Sutter's Mill and pick up contemporary newspaper accounts of the extraordinary riches found there.

Tableaux of miners' lives and those who arrived to exploit other opportunities vividly depict the experiences of the Anglo Americans, Europeans, Mexicans, Chileans, Chinese, Hawaiians, African Americans and others who made the difficult journey to California and took up residence in the gold fields and burgeoning cities.

Gold Nuggets. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California

Finally, the exhibition will examine the continuing legacy ofthe Gold Rush. "If we open our eyes, we can enjoy the wonderful metaphor of a golden California, and identify with the bold entrepreneurs who struck it rich in mines or in capital endeavors," says Thomas Frye, Gold Fever! project director. "But we also need to look at the Gold Rush in a new light. The real challenge is to examine both the winners and losers, and to look inward at ourselves and think of California's future, our own cultural value systems and our need to preserve the golden land that sustains us."

Gold Fever! is the second exhibition presented at the Autry Museum in observation of the 150th anniversary of the California Gold Rush. The first, Culture y Cultura will remain on exhibit through Sept. 7. Other exhibitions in this series, which will extend into the year 2000, will focus on Chinese settlement in California and the development of the citrus industry.

George Henry Burgess, San Francisco in July, 1849, 1891, oil on canvas, Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, gift of the Women's Board c. 1998, Oakland Museum of California

The Autry Museum is devoted to the distinctive history and mythology of the American West, from its prehistoric roots to its Gold Rush days and the illusory impressions left by film, radio and television.

It is the only museum to so broadly span the West's geographic and artistic scope and to present the region's diverse ethnic and cultural elements. The museum's nine galleries present a collection of national treasures -- the paintings of Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran; the armor of Spanish conquisradors; the chaps, spurs and saddles of cowboys and vaqueros, and costumes and posters fiom America's most beloved Western films.

The museum, a 501(c)3 public charity, has relied on community support since it opened in 1988. Built with an initial $54-million gift from the Autry Foundation, the museum's collection of significant and historical firearms is the country's finest. Its material related to the mythical West is the best in the world.

Museum hours for Gold Fever! The Lure and Legacy of the Califomia Gold Rush will be Tuesday - Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. A special admission ticket of $3, plus general admission, is required to see Gold Fever! Museum general admission is $7.50 for adults, $5 for seniors and students with valid ID, and $6 for children ages 2 through 12. The Autry Museum is located in Griffith Park at 4700 Western Heritage Way, adjacent to the Los Angeles Zoo, where the 5 and 134 fieeways meet. Parking is free.

The exhibition was made possible with the generous support of The National Endowment for the Humanities, The Clorox Company Foundation, Wayne and Gladys Valley Foundation, City of Oakland, California Department of Education, Oakand Museum Women's Board, Walter & Elise Haas Fund, Kaiser Permanente, Wells Fargo, F. E. Corder, Levi Strauss Foundation, The Bernard Osher Foundation, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, The Rockefeller Foundation, The L. J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation, Transamerica Foundation, and members and friends of the Oakland Museum of California Foundation.

rev. 11/26/10

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