John Griffith London (born John Griffith Chaney; January 12, 1876 – November 22, 1916) was raised in Oakland, California, by his spiritualist mother and his stepfather, whose surname, London, he took.
At age 14 he quit school to escape poverty and gain adventure. He explored San Francisco Bay in his sloop, alternately stealing oysters or working for the government fish patrol.
He went to Japan as a sailor and saw much of the United States as a hobo riding freight trains and as a member of Charles T. Kelly’s industrial army (one of the many protest armies of the unemployed, like Coxey’s Army, that was born of the financial panic of 1893). London saw depression conditions, was jailed for vagrancy, and in 1894 became a militant socialist.
London studied magazines and then set himself a daily schedule of producing sonnets, ballads, jokes, anecdotes, adventure stories, or horror stories, steadily increasing his output.
The optimism and energy with which he attacked his task are best conveyed in his autobiographical novel Martin Eden (1909). Within two years, stories of his Alaskan adventures began to win acceptance for their fresh subject matter and virile force.
His first book, The Son of the Wolf: Tales of the Far North (1900), a collection of short stories that he had previously published in magazines, gained a wide audience.
Jack and Charmian Kittredge were married in Chicago on November 19, 1905. The London’s settled in Glen Ellen, California at Wake Robin Lodge and began to purchase land on Sonoma Mountain to build their future dream home, the Wolf House.
During the remainder of his life, London wrote and published steadily, completing some 50 books of fiction and nonfiction in 17 years. Although he became the highest-paid writer in the United States at that time, his earnings never matched his expenditures, and he was never freed of the urgency of writing for money. (Britannica)
London spent much of the last year of his life in Hawai‘i. He and his wife Charmian arrived in the winter of 1915–16 and stayed through late July.
London loved Hawai‘i. “The New York dweller must wait till summer for the Adirondacks, till winter for the Florida beach. But in Hawaii, say on the island of Oahu, the Honolulu dweller can decide each day what climate and what season he desires to spend the day in.” (Cosmopolitan, October 16, 1916)
It was the Londons’ second trip to the islands; their original visit in 1907 was the initial leg of their famous two-year voyage on his sailboat, the Snark. During that first trip, Jack fell in love not only with the locale but also its people.
In addition to travel essays, London wrote thirteen stories set in Hawaii, which were collected in two volumes, House of Pride (1912) and the posthumously published On the Makaloa Mat (1919).
One of these tales, “The Water Baby,” was the last story London completed, on October 2, 1916, and it is unlike anything he had previously written.
There is little in the way of action or adventure or human struggle; instead, the narrator John Lakana nurses a hangover while taking part in a largely one-sided conversation with Kohokumu, an old Hawaiian fisherman, whose very name (kumu) suggests a teacher or foundation.
(Lakana was the name given to London by Hawaiians, although, Charmian wrote in her journal, “how London can be transmuted into Lakana is as much a mystery as the mutation of [their friend] Thurston into Kakina.”) (Library of America)
“At any rate, my pleased partner struts as Lakana Kanaka (kanaka means literally man), while meekly I respond to Lakana Wahine.” (Charmian London)
London’s last trip to Hawai‘i lasted eight months during which time he met the Olympiad swimmer and Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku, Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana‘ole, Queen Lili‘uokalani and others, before returning to his Glen Ellen ranch in July 1916.
In the last two years of his life, he endured bouts of dysentery, gastric disorders and rheumatism. He and his wife made two extended recuperative trips to Hawaii, but London died on Beauty Ranch on November 22, 1916 at the age of 40.
He is buried at The 1,400-acre Jack London State Historic Park lies in the heart of Sonoma Valley wine country, some 60 miles north of San Francisco in Glen Ellen, California.
Originally, the land was the site of Jack London’s Beauty Ranch, where the author earnestly pursued his interests in scientific farming and animal husbandry.
“I ride out of my beautiful ranch,” London wrote. “Between my legs is a beautiful horse. The air is wine. The grapes on a score of rolling hills are red with autumn flame. Across Sonoma Mountain wisps of sea fog are stealing. The afternoon sun smolders in the drowsy sky. I have everything to make me glad I am alive.” (Smithsonian)
There is a museum in ‘The House of Happy Walls’ which Charmian built where you will find park information, exhibits and a small sales area. A nearby trail leads to Jack London’s grave and to the remains of ‘Wolf House,’ London’s dream house which was destroyed by fire in 1913. (CA Parks)