Sybil & Louis at Tunitas Creek: (Short Version) Conclusion


Not only was the artisit Sybil Easterday’s home at Tunitas Creek, the end of the Ocean Shore Railroad’s line– but her husband Louis ran the rustic saloon there. Louis, whose drinking was anything but recreational, often barricaded himself in his office at the back of the saloon. During these serious drinking bouts, he surrounded himself with “firearms from a complete arsenal,” making it clear he wanted to be left alone.

Until her marriage, Sybil’s life seemed to have been orderly. The house, landscaped with pretty flowers and shrubs, had been built with money from her commissions. It stood in a secluded spot beneath a bridge. Valuable antiques, handcarved furniture, as well as statuettes and paintings, examples of her work, filled the rooms.

But suddenly her life took a dark turn.

Just before Valentine’s Day in 1916, Sybil, now 40, faced a horrible domestic crisis. She later recounted that the 33-year-old Louis had been drinking heavily as usual and had shut himself up in his office–but this time he did not respond to her pleas to open the door.

Some locals thought it unusual that instead of calling the police, she summoned Dr. Clarence V. Thompson. A county supervisor, Dr. Thompson resided with his wife in a big two-story house in Pescadero. He had set up a “hospital” in his home but few if any patients were admitted there.

When Dr. Thompson arrived at Tunitas Creek, he found the doors of the saloon broken in and rushed to the back office.

Before him, Sybil’s husband Louis was slumped over, a gaping wound in his chest. A double-barreled shotgun lay on the floor.

The official inquest called it a suicide.

After Louis’s death, Sybil and Flora, her invalid mother, pursued a reclusive life. Sybil, who died in 1961, was seldom seen but there were those who remember the vision of a lonely figure wandering around her property at Tunitas Creek, a rifle in her hands.

[Examples of Sybil Easterday’s sculpture can be viewed at the San Mateo County History Museum in Redwood City–but the artist’s eccentricity has provided her most enduring legacy.]

Photo: Sybil Easterday, courtesy San Mateo County History Museum

Sybil & Louis at Tunitas Creek: (Short Version) (Part I)

Dressed in ribbons and bows, Sybil Easterday was a precocious little girl who felt comfortable reciting poetry before audiences.

But as a young, eccentric sculptress at the turn of the century, she gained notoriety preferring the comfort of men’s trousers to the dainty frocks worn by her contemporaries.

Newspapers in New York City and San Francisco ran amusing pieces about the beautiful young woman from Tunitas Creek, south of Half Moon Bay. Sybil, a graduate of San Francisco’s Mark Hopkins School of Art, did not understand all the fuss.

She thought it quite natural to wear practical clothing while dipping her fingers into the tubs of wet, sticky plaster that she used to mold portrait busts.

As the sole female finalist in a competition to do a bust of President William McKinley for the City of San Jose, Sybil enhanced her reputation. She lost in the finals and took off for Mexico.

She thrived in Mexico’s artist colony, mailing smiling photographs of herself and new friends to her parents at Tunitas Creek. This may have been her happiest, most productive creative period.

Before the 1906 earthquake, she returned to the Coastside. But as time passed, Sybil painted and sculpted less and less. She enjoyed hosting large dinner parties and designed lovely, individually hand-printed menus for these affairs.

In late 1915, Sybil wed Louis Paulsen, a wealthy young bachelor from San Francisco. They probably met through the prominent Wienke family, who operated a resort hotel at Moss Beach–near the tracks of the Ocean Shore Railroad.

Sybil and her husband resided at the isolated Tunitas Creek home with Flora, her widowed mother.

Perhaps it was symbolic that Sybil’s life was interwined with the Ocean Shore Railroad, originally planned to extend as far as Santa Cruz. But the doomed Ocean Shore ran out of money and the tracks never got farther than Tunitas Creek, a few steps from the artist’s home. Passengers wishing to travel farther south climbed aboard a large touring car for the long, dusty trip to Santa Cruz.

…To Be Continued…

Photo: Courtesy San Mateo County History Museum. Visit the new gallerys at the San Mateo County History Museum at the historic Redwood City Courthouse in Redwood City.