(The Daniel O’Connell Memorial Bench)
Intersection of Atwood, Bulkley & Harrison Streets, Sausalito CA 94965
(Scroll down for map)
To Get to Poet’s Corner: Walk up Princess St. from Bridgeway, turn left on Bulkley (or follow the steps that cut the corner from Princess to Bulkley) and continue up the winding street. After a few twists and turns the O’Connell Bench will be on your right.
This one has a sad story behind it, but offers us a quiet place to think about its message and a reminder of how good friends can preserve someone’s memory for over 100 years.
In 2018 the 117-year-old Poet’s Corner bench was restored and cleaned up by the Sausalito Beautiful service organization with $11,000 in donations (and the two photos below predate the renovation — I just like them so much I hate to update away from the weathered versions), and they have referred to it by a new name they created for the campaign, “Poet’s Corner.” Its traditional historical name is “The McConnell Memorial,” which begs the question, “Who was Daniel O’Connell?”
Daniel O’Connell was an Irish writer and poet who worked for the San Francisco Chronicle in the late 1800’s. He is remembered most as one of the founders of the Bohemian Club, which in 1872 was home to authors, composers and journalists but within a generation was taken over by wealthy business leaders and powerful politicians, a group that after 125 years still controls the Club today. O’Connell was a grand-nephew of the 18th century Irish patriot of the same name, and his writer friends included Bret Harte and Mark Twain.
O’Connell lived in Sausalito, on the first block of Cazneau St. a few blocks up the hill from the new Fire and Police buildings, with his wife and seven children. From all accounts he was both a respected writer (including poetry, hence “Poet’s Corner”) and a likable guy.
In 1899, at the age of 50, O’Connell caught a cold that turned into pneumonia and he died. How many of us have been diagnosed with a pneumonia of some kind in this modern age? It’s happened to me twice. Reminds us how much tougher things were 100 years ago.
The Sausalito community and the San Francisco journalists were deeply upset by his loss. The City of Sausalito donated the land and the San Franciscans built a memorial granite bench to him at the intersection of three Sausalito hillside streets, with a broad view of the Bay. A mosaic floor depicts a clover in honor of his Irish roots (see photo below).
Some sources list the Poet’s Corner bench as concrete, but the memorial itself is in fact carved granite from Madera County, with his name and a favorite poem.
Some of the Bay view is obscured now, but it’s still a lovely place to look out at the water and Angel Island. The bench is a short walk from downtown and a peaceful world away from the rush of Sausalito in the summertime.
OurSausalito.com Sr. Editor Sabine Stetson found the following account of the creation of the monument in a library record of a July 25, 1914 Sausalito News newspaper, which was in a letter to the editor (great work, Sabine!):
My Dear Mrs. Story-
After our conversation regarding the Dan O’Connell monument, I went directly to Mr. Charles Rollo Peters and got the following story:
Funds gathered from everywhere, excepting two small contributions from Sausalito. The principal contributors being Mr. J. V. Coleman, Charles Foster, Theo. Paine, Warren Paine, Emile Brugulere and Mr. Charles Rollo Peters, who gave a picture which sold for $750.
Newton J. Thorpe [a prominent turn of the century San Francisco architect] did the design gratis. Raymond Granite Company furnished the material gratis. Sausalito gave the ground and the spot chosen was on account of Its commanding view and its close proximity to Dan O’Connell’s “camp” [on Cazneau St.]
Cordially yours, CHARLES J DICKMAN.
We also owe thanks to Foster Brereton, a descendent of Charles Foster (named in the article above) for this story about the creation of the bench from the Honolulu Advertiser in 1901, which shows that the original concept sketch and the actual Poet’s Corner bench match in their designs. Note that the cartoonist misspelled O’Connell’s name!