Monday, August 1, 2011

Sara Gerstle

Sara Gerstle (b. San Francisco, California, 16 November 1874; d. New York, New York, 17 August 1956)

Sara Hecht was the daughter of M. H. Hecht, a shoe merchant of German descent, and his wife Alice.  In October 1896 she married William Lewis Gerstle (1868-1947), the son of Lewis Gerstle (1824-1892), the Vice President of the Alaska Commercial Company.  The Gerstle family was very affluent, having a house on Washington Street in San Francisco, and a summer home in San Rafael. In the late 1920s, William L. Gerstle was the president of the San Francisco Art commission.

William and Sara Gerstle had one child, daughter Miriam Alice Gerstle (1898-1989), who became an artist and who married the British architect Grey Wornum (1888-1957), the designer of the Royal Institute of British Architects building in London, completed in 1934.

Late in life, while in the hospital, Sara Gerstle wrote some short stories while recuperating from an illness.  Two small books of these stories were printed in fine press editions limited to 150 copies.  Four Ghost Stories (San Francisco: Adrian Wilson, Printer at the Sign of the Interplayers, 1951) has a short introduction by the author’s daughter, signed M. W. [Miriam Wornum]. The follow-up booklet is Three Houses (San Francisco: Adrian Wilson, Printer at the Sign of the Interplayers, 1952). The blurb on the latter describes the contents as follows:  “Here is another small book by Sara Gerstle which leaves the ghosts not quite so much in possession. Last time they had it all their own way, slithering and sliding at their own pace through the pages. Here the three houses are of first importance, and though none of them are quite what they seem to be, it is a slow infiltration, a glance over one’s shoulder, and a thought after the light has been put out, that makes this not a book of ghosts, but a book of houses with a question mark. Two of the houses have been lived in by the author.”  The autobiographical element is apparent in the only story to have been reprinted from these rare volumes, “Death of a Good Cook,” which can be found in Haunted San Francisco (2004), edited by Rand Richards.  It reads very much like the usual tale of a personal encounter with the supernatural; it is matter-of-factly told, with little interest in atmosphere or effect. Thus, it is more a specimen of folk tale than of literary creation.

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