So, do ya think it still works?
June 6, 2008 4:25 PM   Subscribe

Allegedly, this is the original key to the choir loft of Mission San Luis Rey. A) How can I confirm its origins? B) What should I do with it?

My mother went to school at the Mission in the 1930s and tells that she was given this artifact by a priest who befriended her. It's just been kinda hanging out in our family ever since. I don't know how to verify its history, and I am not sure what the best place for it would be. I DO know that the best place for it probably isn't sitting on top of my television. No idea of its worth historically or monetarily. When I called the mission, they just sounded confused.
posted by miss lynnster to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
If it was me, I'd try to find somebody to donate it to. If the mission isn't into it (and it's probably worth trying to talk to a more senior person, or, if they have one, a librarian or historian or whatnot), perhaps the diocese would be, or maybe a local museum or historical society?
posted by box at 4:33 PM on June 6, 2008


If the mission itself is confused and/or uninterested (which I doubt they'd be if you find the right person to talk to), these folks might be able to help you and at the very least would love to hear the story.
posted by gyusan at 4:47 PM on June 6, 2008


The History Detectives would eat this up.
posted by steef at 5:17 PM on June 6, 2008


You need to talk to a curator. It looks like mayb the curator's name is Bradford Claybourn. The Mission's site doesn't list a curator, however, so this could be out of date. In any event, call again, ask to speak to the curator. Nobody else. Explain exactly what you have an offer to send a picture. It looks like the real thing. The curator will be very interested, I guarantee you.

If you still have trouble getting attention at the mission, try calling the curator of the San Diego Historical Society. Or, get hold of someone of the Mission's board of directors.

One way or another, please give this thing back to the Mission, but insist that they give you a written acknowledgment indicating that it has been catalogued as part of their collection.
posted by beagle at 6:02 PM on June 6, 2008


As Indiana Jones says, "That belongs in a museum."

Get in contact with the Mission and see if they want it back.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:24 PM on June 6, 2008


beagle has the exact right answer. There is no doubt in my mind that they would be interested, if you got the right person - and that person would be the curator. If you can't get in touch with the right person by calling the Mission, try contacting the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) at the California Office of Historic Preservation. They would know who best to contact.

As for verifying its origins, the curator at the mission would be able to say if it might fit the correct lock. It certainly looks authentic enough for the period, with a very distinct tooling that would be immediately recognizable to someone knowledgeable about the lock it's supposed to fit.
posted by gemmy at 7:07 PM on June 6, 2008


I don't know if anyone will still be checking back on this post, but I have further info on the key. There was a father at the mission named Bertrand Obrecht. He was a good friend of my maternal grandfather, apparently they were secret drinking buddies or something. Anyhow, when my grandfather was on his deathbed, Father Bertrand baptized him. Apparently it was out of his jurisdiction though so a big stink was made by his diocese and he was excommunicated from the mission and sent to San Francisco. My mother tried tracking him down years later to no avail, she said that people acted as though he never existed and it really upset her.

Apparently he gave my mom the key when she was in tenth grade which would've been around 1943, later than I'd thought. She is curious if I can find any info on Father Bertrand but I'll probably have to do another AskMe to figure out how to track down that info, I guess. But yeah, I'm 99% sure the key is real. Thanks for all of the great answers, I'll work on this next week. I'll let you know what I decide to do. :)
posted by miss lynnster at 12:53 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Okay! So I have an update.

I called the Mission again, and to drive the point home of what I have, I also e-mailed a jpeg of the key to them. Today I got an e-mail AND a phone call from the curator of their museum. Here's the e-mail:

Dear Lynn:

Thank you so much for leaving a voicemail message regarding the choir loft key. I am certainly interested in acquiring the key for the material culture collection of the museum. Authentic items belonging to the Spanish Colonial Period of the mission church are treasured artifacts. It is pieces like this that when identified and interpreted resonate so strongly with our visitors. The fact that the key was given to your mother by Fr. Bertrand is of great importance as is any other related information or documents about how it came to be in your possession. I am delighted in your interest in returning the key to its proper place.

I have your phone number and will call soon.

Cordially,
Bradford Claybourn
Museum Curator


He called me a few hours later. Apparently he took over as curator three years ago, and has been working on renovating the mission's stagnant museum. He was *very* excited about the key and so we're working on the details of getting it back home where it belongs. In the deal, he is also going to try to find out information on Father Bertrand for my mom and the story of how my mom came about having the key will probably be included in the museum display as well.

So there ya go! Thanks for all of your help, everyone. :)
posted by miss lynnster at 10:18 PM on June 23, 2008


Okay, so the key has arrived back home, safely in the hands of the curator of the Mission San Luis Rey museum. I believe they're creating a display for it... which seems more appropriate than having it sit atop my television set for another decade.

If you ever visit the mission, be sure to stop by the museum and give the key a friendly wave. :)
posted by miss lynnster at 5:39 PM on July 18, 2008


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