Scott O’Dell (1898-1989) resided in Julian, California, in a house that is now privately owned but available to the public as an AirBnB. While living there, he researched and wrote Island of the Blue Dolphins, one of the most popular novels ever published by a US author (1960) that has become a staple on school reading lists for more than 50 years. The book is based on the real-life story of a character named “Karana,” the lone Native American survivor on San Nicolas Island off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. (San Nicolas Island is among a group of non-residential islands known as “Channel Islands”; the population of Santa Barbara is approximately 92.000.)
A two-minute video of our visit to the setting Scott O’Dell explored can be seen on our Author Adventures YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/KEQrefPkPEY.
While Author Adventures focuses on authors’ homes and workplaces, rather than story settings, we make an exception for this historic literary landmark for two reasons: (1) we believe Scott O’Dell invested a tremendous amount of work time researching the area to have written such a vivid account, and (2) the final resting place of the woman on whom Karana is based is at the Old Santa Barbara Mission, which does a compelling job of exhibiting her story, aligning it with Scott O’Dell’s, and preserving her grave marker where she is buried. Plus, the public is encouraged to visit!
The marker is in its original location, but the room is relatively new so worth a visit even if you have been to the Old Santa Barbara Mission in the past. To see the exhibit, you will need to purchase a ticket inside the Mission, which will allow you to explore all of the Mission’s museum and grounds. Group tours are available as well.
The Island of the Blue Dolphins Exhibit
The exhibit is in a room along a corridor that borders the large central courtyard. Intended for all ages, the 21st century-style exhibit visually depicts and explains the story through the eyes of anthropologists, historians, archaeologists, writers, and educators. The room includes an activity table and replica of an island hut welcoming the participation of young children. It is an example for all historic museums on how to best display an historic story while linking its relevance to today’s world.
The Burial Marker
The marker is in the cemetery, near the bell tower. It is among the oldest burials at the Mission. Due to the years and early customs, the marker is small and easy to miss, which is one of many reasons to stroll the cemetery area slowly and with quiet reverence as mourners and other praying visitors may be present. In addition to the marker, a bronze tribute plaque is posted at the bell tower.
For More Information
To read more about Scott O’Dell and his books, visit his website at: https://scottodell.com/my-life-%26-books. For information about the Old Santa Barbara Mission, visit: https://www.santabarbaramission.org. For information on the Airbnb, click here: Historic Stoneapple Farm Writers Cottage.
San Nicolas Island identified in the book is not open to the public, but the US National Park Service created videos for students about it. You can see them on YouTube at https://www.nps.gov/subjects/islandofthebluedolphins/follow.htm.
The Santa Barbara Mission is the 9th and second-to-last stop on our Southern California Author Adventures Trail. See other California literary landmarks here: https://authoradventures.org/trails/by-state/california.