Of the four children born at the Kelley home in Mendocino, Otis is the most elusive. Details are missing and you can’t help wondering what really happened with him.
Big sister Daisy did things in a grand way – from touching the tomb goods of King Tut, to her generous and giving spirit. People today still remember Daisy MacCallum.
Older brother Russell, dying at the age of twenty-three, has only a brief history that is memorable because of its poignancy. We can only wonder what he would have become.
Otis’ other sister, Elise, was influential in significant ways in San Francisco, enough to make headlines in finance, real estate, and social causes.
In contrast, Otis, our youngest Kelley kid, didn’t seem to have a list of accomplishments to brag about. But – Otis did have a vital role to play, because he and his wife, Annie Agnes McGuire, produced eight children.
It is this lasting legacy for which we most remember and appreciate him now. Without the progeny produced by these two reluctant lovebirds, there would be no Kelley descendants today.
Let’s back up. Otis was born July 21, 1869. Like his siblings, he attended Mendocino public schools, did well in his studies, and at the age of eighteen, went off to college in San Francisco for a year. But he never traveled to Europe for that “finishing off,” like his sisters and brother had done.
Instead, he stayed in the big city and was employed as a young man by his wealthy uncle, Sam Blair, and in other positions related to accounting. However, in 1894 he created his own big news with his very public arrest at the Bay District Racetrack.
The headlines in Ukiah and San Francisco papers shouted: ARRESTED AT THE RACES, Otis Kelly Wanted by the Authorities of Mendocino. The Young Man’s Cousin, William S. Blair, Makes a Vain Attempt to Free the Prisoner.” The Mendocino Beacon did not run the story in his hometown.
Apparently, Otis must have promised the beautiful and popular Annie McGuire that he would marry her when she became pregnant, then changed his mind. Her mother, Rose McGuire, took out a warrant, accusing him of seducing her girl, who was just 17 years old. Otis, age 25, was taken briefly to jail, then freed on $2,000 bail.
We don’t really know what happened then. It was two years between the birth of his first son, Lloyd, and their belated marriage in a private San Francisco home in 1897.
What we do know is that Annie and son (sans Otis) lived with her mother in Mendocino. We have pictures of them laughing and hugging, and Lloyd appears to be the darling of his aunts and uncles. During this awkward interlude, the Beacon reported on parties and masquerade balls “Miss Annie McGuire” enjoyed with her brothers and sisters.
Eventually, Otis and Annie Kelley got it together and set up housekeeping in San Francisco. Children kept coming until the last member of their clan was born in 1918, twenty-three years after their first child. They were, in order, Lloyd, Richard, Margaret, Carroll, James, Mervyn, Katherine, and Gordon.
Annie raised the six boys and two girls as Catholics, like her family, and not as Protestants like the other Kelleys. Of the eight, five married. The others lived out most of their lives in the large two-story, shingle-style family home Aunt Elise built for them at 2 Sixth Avenue near the Presidio in San Francisco. When Margaret’s marriage ended in divorce, she came back to live at Sixth Avenue with her son, Blair.
In cataloguing the comings and goings of this group, it was a surprise to see how often they came to Mendocino to stay with Aunt Daisy and Grandma Kelley. Otis and Annie’s children were a familiar sight in town, and people recognized them as a part of the community, even though they lived in San Francisco.
Otis and his sons Carroll and James were here the most. Otis lived at Daisy’s house for two years in the early 1920s while she traveled the world with cousin Jennie Blair. At one time, he must have lived in his childhood house because the Beacon described what is now our Museum as “the Otis Kelley residence.”
His son Carroll owned property here and was briefly married to Mrs. Clyta Reese, who worked for his Aunt Daisy before Clyta passed away at an early age. James too resided at the Kelley House for many years before his death in 1962, at one time dating Jean Paoli.
With this last story, our series featuring the Kelley family now comes to an end. Despite the years separating their times and ours, this is a family much like one we might know today. There were both brave deeds and mistakes, accomplishments and lost dreams, disagreements and strong family bonds – common to people of any time or place.
The Kelley House Museum’s new permanent Kelley Family Exhibit can show you even more. We have lots of photos and more stories to share. Please come in for a visit!
Museum hours: 11am to 3pm Thursdays through Sundays. kelleyhousemuseum.org