Nicholas L. Whittell


, , , , , ,

After my recent trip to Colma, which I wrote about in my blog post about visiting the family graves, a few questions arose in my mind.  As I mentioned before, it was a very moving experience and I am glad I took the time to do it, but those questions have been nagging me.  The first, is why the Whittells are split with Hugh, A.P. and his wife, and Florence, over in the east cemetery and George Sr., Jr., Elia, Anna, and the Lunings in the west cemetery in the Whittell crypt.  There is certainly room for the other Whittells.  So I started searching for burial records and finally hit gold. I found the order for grave removals that moved the Lunings from their family crypt into the Whittell crypt (posted below).  It was done in 1928, meaning that it was either George Jr. and/or Anna that ordered the move.  Eugene Connelly, who was noted as the person on the document who ordered the move, was a long-time employee of both Sr. and Jr.  The Lunings had been buried in the Laurel Hill cemetery, which was part of the decision to remove burial grounds from within the city limits of San Francisco.  Here is a bit more information on that:  Since the Whittells of course had the means to move their ancestors, they did so.  Of another note, according to newspaper sources, Hugh Whittell had his large pyramid headstone created before he passed and would visit it often.  He did not want a family crypt, but rather to use his headstone to show off his many accomplishments – some of which seem unlikely to have been possible.  That, however, is another blog post.

WhittellGraveRemovals California, San Francisco Area Funeral Home Records, 1895-1985 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: San Francisco Area Funeral Home Records, 1895-1985.

The second question was about Nicholas, Jr.’s brother.  As I peered into the crypt, I noticed that Nicholas Whittell’s place of rest was the furthest from the door.  This made it difficult to see, but from what I could tell it read 1880 – 1885.  But wait, they were twins, weren’t they?  So it should read 1881.  I used the zoom on my camera:


As with a great deal of the Whittell history, I started wondering where did the twin story come from?  We have no birth certificates or anything along those lines in the archives.  Perhaps because it was so far from the door I was reading it wrong.  Once I got back to the Lodge and looked at the photo closer I knew it read 1880.  Then I found the removal record.  There is Nicholas L. Whittell and his death was noted as March 19th, 1885 at age 4 years, 11 months, and 20 days.  That is a very detailed account of days and the date making it highly likely it is correct because of that amount of detail.  So doing the calculation, that means he was born on March 30, 1880.

I am very confident in saying that Nicholas and George Jr. were not twins.  Between the detail in the record, no history that I can find of twins on either side of the family, and no credible sources saying otherwise, there is no real case to support the twin story. However, if anyone can find credible material that says otherwise, I would love to see it!

More to come – so much to discover about this amazing family…


Mingo at Thunderbird


, , ,

While I cannot find any photographs of Bill the lion or of the other Whittell animals (aside from the dogs) ever making the trip from the Woodside estate up to Thunderbird Lodge, I do adore this photograph of Mingo visiting during construction.


Mingo at Thunderbird Lodge, Lake Tahoe, c. 1938. TLPS Archives.

– Jesse

Whittell Family Graves


, , , , ,

I recently spent some time tracking down primary sources about the Whittell family in the Bay Area.  It will take me some time to get all that together in a blog format to report back some of the amazing things I found about our Whittells, but in the meantime, I thought I would share some pictures with you.  Once I finished in the city, I headed down to Colma to visit the family graves; it was a very moving experience.  As a historian, I am used to the fact my subjects are, well, dead.  However, sometimes moments hit when it becomes very personal and history comes alive.  After spending so much time investigating their lives, it was very overwhelming to be standing near them.  I left flowers and pulled some weeds, but it touched me that it was clear no one has visited in a long time.  I plan to try and do this regularly.

I found it interesting the family is split up in the Cypress Lawn cemeteries.  In the east cemetery is the family crypt which holds Nicholas Luning,  Ellen Luning, B. Dempsy (Ellen’s mother), John Nicholas Luning and Arthur H. Luning (they share one space, both were about a year old at death), Nicholas Luning Jr., and two empty spaces. Across from them are George Whittell Sr., Anna L. Whittell, George Whittell Jr., Elia Whittell, and Nicholas Whittell and three empty spaces.  Most of George Sr.’s wealth and influence was inherited from his father-in-law, Nicholas Luning, so this might be why he, rather than Hugh Whittell, is interned in the crypt.  It is a beautiful specimen of Art Deco design.

IMG_0976 IMG_0977

IMG_0975 IMG_0979 IMG_0980 IMG_0981 IMG_0983 IMG_0984


The rest of the Whittells are over in the west cemetery.  Most notable is Hugh Whittell’s large pyramid.   Near that is the graves of Dr. A.P. Whittell, his wife Jennie, their daughter Florence Whittell Albert (or as I call her Florence Irene), and Flora Wharry (Hugh’s only daughter).

IMG_0986 IMG_0990 IMG_0992


IMG_0994     IMG_0996IMG_0997

































Then there is another Whittell in the west cemetery and this was the most saddening. Alfred is buried away from his family, alone.  To make it even more clear his place in the history as a Whittell, the headstone is missing.

IMG_20141018_131310531 (1)


I am very glad I took the time to visit and as I mentioned before, I hope to try and make it a regular occurrence.

– Jesse

New Collection Piece: Photograph of Josephine Cunningham Whittell


, , ,

Today we have a new acquisition into the photography collection here at TLPS.  This is a photograph of Josephine Cunningham Whittell (far right) with two other actresses from the musical “The Only Girl.”  The Broadway musical ran from November 1914 to June 1915.  I found this piece on Ebay and even though it is from after her marriage to George Whittell Jr., I wanted this photograph for our collection for a few reasons.  Those being that most of the photographs we have of Josephine are from her Hollywood years at a much later date; this would be more of what she looked like when she was with George. Also, her story is a large part in George’s earlier, pre-Thunderbird life, a story that is one of a very different man than he became in his later years.  I feel her place is important in the Whittell history if we are to understand George better.

– Jesse


From back of photo: “Miss Louise Kelley, Miss Vivian Wessell and Miss Josephine Whittell in ‘The Only Girl’ at the Lyric Theater.” TLPS Archives.

The Thunderbird


, , , ,

_MG_8924 as Smart Object-1

Thunderbird. Photo by Dewitt Jones Productions, 2007.

I know I focus a great deal on the history of the Lodge and George Whittell and I realized I am very overdue for a post about the grande dame of Lake Tahoe, the Thunderbird. Currently we are still raising funds to refurbish her engines; for more information on that project click the following link:

My goal for this post is to share some photographs you might not have seen before, so I dug into the archives and really explored the time when Bill Harrah owned her (1962-1978) and kept her at his Villa Harrah at Skyland Manor on the lake.  Here are just a few and more to come, I hope you enjoy!

– Jesse

PS – Next year is her Diamond Jubilee and we will have lots of fun things planned!

Villa from Lake (3)

Thunderbird docked at Villa Harrah. TLPS Archives.

Harrahs Pilothouse (1)

The pilothouse while under Harrah’s ownership. TLPS Archives.

Harrahs Interior (1)

Interior from Harrah’s ownership. TLPS Archives.

Leaving the Skyland dock. Note the “Skyland” on the transom. Whittell had “Tahoe” under the name. Today we only have her name. TLPS Archives.

Florence Irene?


, , ,

One of the most frustrating things for a researcher is finding wonderful pictures and having no clue who it is.  The photograph below was found on site when University of Nevada, Reno first came to Thunderbird Lodge.  I have no clue where the photo was found; for example were they in a box in George’s room? Were they scattered around? Or were they already in files?  On top of that, most were not labeled.  So who is this lovely lady?  My best guess is Florence Irene Whittell. As I wrote about her before, you will know she was George’s cousin.  The only photo I have of her is from a newspaper and does not show her face.  I hope to eventually confirm who this person is!


131 woman wearing large corsage

Unidentified woman. UNR Special Archives. UNRS-P1997-58-131.



, , , , ,

I am trying extremely hard to find out more about Elia, but her early life is still very much a mystery since she was not born in the United States.  This has made my research quite a bit more difficult.


Elia feeding one of the pet lions at Woodside, c. late 1930s. In the film there are two distinct lions, so I am not sure which is the lion Bill. TLPS Archives.

However, here are some still shots from some of the Whittell Films that I just adore of her.  She was NOT a woman who stayed inside and merely drank tea or knitted.  She loved to travel and was very active.  I have many pictures of her skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, swimming, and enjoying the outdoors.


Elia and perhaps Mae, sledding down the drive at Thunderbird Lodge. Date unknown. TLPS Archives.


Elia ice skating with an unidentified man in possibly Switzerland. Date unknown. TLPS Archives.


Elia taking a fall. Date unknown. TLPS Archives.


Elia taking skiing lesson, possibly in Switzerland. Date unknown. TLPS Archives.


Elia dragging a sled along. Date unknown. TLPS Archives.

As I am watching these films, I am wondering why so many of them are of Elia traveling.  Was that so George could see what she was up to? So he felt included?  Or was it just that they could afford the luxury at the time of having so many travels filmed? George did not accompany Elia on her international trips, but her niece Jacqueline is often present.   I am looking forward to finding out more about Elia.