Give Jacob Chon full marks for having a healthy sense of cynicism.
Chon, a junior at San Marino High School, received an assignment in his Honors United States History class and wasn’t satisfied with the results of his research.
“It was to write a report on Henry Huntington,” said Chon of the man who could be considered San Marino’s founding father. Chon sank his teeth into the research he was able to access and, well, didn’t really care for the taste.
“I was looking for information so I could give a balanced perspective on what kind of an industrial business leader he was,” Chon explained. “I was unable to find any negative information surrounding him.”
Jacob informed his teacher, Peter Paccone, about what he suspected was one-sided reporting and the wheels began to spin. An intermediary arranged a meeting at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens and this past Monday afternoon, Jacob sat down with Randy Shulman, the institution’s vice president for advancement, in the Munger Research Center for a little history lesson.
Shulman, who graduated from San Marino High School, spent about 45 minutes explaining what he knows of Huntington, most of which centered around Huntington’s later years. He photocopied excerpts from books on Huntington that he felt would assist Chon in presenting a balanced report. Shulman said that Huntington is believed to have been a kind, personable individual who was much loved by those he interacted with on a daily basis.
“When he walked onto the floor at his railroad yard, he greeted his employees by name,” Shulman explained. He also mentioned that Huntington and his wife, Arabella, made substantial financial donations to each of the country’s traditionally black colleges.
“There are no letters explaining why, it was just very important to them,” Shulman said.
Chon was also somewhat surprised when Shulman mentioned that Huntington intended on leaving his estate as a museum from the time it was built. Shulman explained many design features of what is now the Main Art Gallery which indicate it was constructed to accommodate large crowds.
“The hallways are so wide and the rooms are so large that it appears it was designed to be more than a residence,” he said.
When asked directly if Huntington lived a life above reproach, Shulman mentioned that Huntington married his aunt.
“It was not a blood relation, but that is about all there is as far as anything controversial,” he said.
Arabella Huntington was the widow of Henry’s uncle, Collis Huntington. Several years after Collis passed a way, Henry and Arabella—who were the same age—began a letter-writing correspondence and later wed.
“It was a different time,” Chon said of the union. “And that is nowhere near as scandalous as many of the other business leaders of the Gilded Age.”
Afterwards, Chon said he was “satisfied” by the wisdom Shulman had imparted.
“It’s obvious he knows a lot about Henry Huntington,” Chon said. “It was mostly about the latter part of his life, but it still makes up a huge majority of what Huntington was as a business leader and a patron of the arts.”
All that remains to be seen is how Jacob describes the meeting in the paper’s appendix.
Jacob is the son of John and Jane Chon. He has a twin brother, Thomas, and two younger sisters, Jillian and Jodie.