Museum a treasure trove of Daly City's 100 years

March 22, 2011 6:40:04 PM PDT
People in Daly City are celebrating an important milestone. It has been 100 years since Daly City incorporated. A couple of years ago it even got a history museum, but the woman behind it has been collecting Daly City history all of her life.

If you ever assumed that putting a museum together is easy, the reality is it takes patience, organization, time and perspective. In Daly City you will find all of those qualities in Bunny Gillespie.

"My mother was a school teacher," says Gillespie. "My mother believed in collecting items of historical value."

Gillespie has lived all 85 years of her life in Daly City, and as the city celebrates its centennial arrives, she is a very good person to have around.

"What are we celebrating? The fact that we are here," she says.

People have lived in what became Daly City since Robert Thornton settled in 1852 and began selling land. It gets its name from a rancher, John Daly, who ran a dairy on what was then, and remains now, the top of the hill which would later become Mission Street.

"Daly died in 1923 and actually I have been asked if I knew John Daly personally, was he a friend of mine?" says Gillespie.

Even the story of how this museum came to pass is worth an exhibit. It used to be the Daly City Public Library, and most of the stuff now inside it used to be in Gillespie's garage.

"It's really hard to say -- what is Daly City famous for? And you sort of think, it really isn't famous for anything," she says.

Not exactly. Broderick and Terry fought their famous last duel in what would become Daly City in 1859. The men had disagreed what side California should back in the Civil War.

"Mr. Terry, who was a judge, killed Mr. Broderick, who was a senator," explains Gillespie.

Later, San Franciscans would visit Daly City for prize fights because gambling remained legal in San Mateo County, a Bucoloc country setting filled with fine homes and rural traditions.

And who can forget the mystery blimp of World War II?

"So in the bay, and the waters around it, they were looking for enemy submarines," says Gillespie.

Part of the gondola and the gas bag were collected when the L8 crashed on Bellevue Avenue with no sign of its two-man crew, just an open door. Gillespie was in the crowd that day. She thinks the first man fell overboard while looking at an oil slick.

"The one that was then piloting probably reached out to try and grab him, and they both went out," she says.

Gillespie is a mine of information and her legacy to Daly City is all this stuff, all these memories. They are treasures now on a city's centennial.

"I am happy to get my garage back," jokes Gillespie.

The Daly City History Museum is open every Tuesday and Thursday from noon to 3 p.m. and on the first and third Saturdays of every month from noon to 3 p.m.

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