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Women of Riverside’s Mission Inn take center stage in new museum exhibit

In the first heyday of the Mission Inn , history curator Karen Raines says, owner Frank Miller was a “marketing genius” at bringing new visitors to the hotel.
But it was another Miller who made them repeat customers.
“They would come to meet Frank Miller,” Raines said. “They’d come back for Alice.”
The story of “Sister Alice” is typical of the features in the Mission Inn Museum ‘s current exhibition, “Women of the Mission Inn,” Raines said. These women played an indispensable role in the inn’s history, but they’ve always been in the background until people get to know them.
Raines said she’s always wanted to curate an exhibit that brings these women into the foreground.
“We talk about Frank Miller so much,” Raines said. “He didn’t do it alone.”
Mission Inn Guide May Spiller, left, opens the Women of the Mission Inn at the landmark Riverside, Calif. hotel. The exhibit runs March 23 through August 31, 2018. Photographed on April 13, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Karen Raines, the Mission Inn Museum’s history curator, gives a nod to May Spiller, who’s part of the Women of the Mission Inn exhibit.
Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG
A piece from Amelia Earhart’s airplane is featured at the Women of the Mission Inn exhibit which runs March 23 through August 31, 2018. The landmark Riverside, Calif. hotel museum was photographed on April 13, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Sandie Frawley and husband traveled from their Pleasanton, Calif. home solely for the Women of the Mission Inn exhibit at the landmark Riverside, Calif. hotel. “This is fabulous. I give it a ten,” Frawley, a self-described road tripper, exclaims. Photographed on April 13, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
A poem written by Helen Keller on Mission Inn letterhead is on display at Women of the Mission Inn exhibit which runs March 23 through August 31, 2018. Photographed April 13, 2018 at the museum which shares the property of the landmark Riverside, Calif. hotel. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
A poem written by Helen Keller on Mission Inn letterhead is on display at Women of the Mission Inn exhibit which runs March 23 through August 31, 2018. Photographed April 13, 2018 at the museum which shares the property of the landmark Riverside, Calif. hotel. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Marion Miller, pictured, and her fashionable hats are on display at Women of the Mission Inn exhibit which runs March 23 through August 31, 2018. Photographed April 13, 2018 at the museum which shares the property of the landmark Riverside, Calif. hotel. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
This Harry Chapman Ford painting of a decaying mission is part of Patsy O’Toole’s collection. The Women of the Mission Inn exhibit runs March 23 through August 31, 2018. Photographed April 13, 2018 at the museum which shares the property of the landmark Riverside, Calif. hotel. O’Toole is not pictured. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
“May Spiller (background) never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” Karen Raines, Mission Inn Museum’s history curator, says. The Women of the Mission Inn exhibit runs March 23 through August 31, 2018. Photographed on April 13, 2018 at the Riverside, Calif. hotel. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
The sign says please do not touch the historic artifacts. The Women of the Mission Inn exhibit runs March 23 through August 31, 2018. Photographed on April 13, 2018 at the Riverside, Calif. hotel. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
The hats of Mission Inn tour guide May Spiller are featured at The Women of the Mission Inn exhibit which runs March 23 through August 31, 2018 at the landmark Riverside, Calif. hotel. Photographed on April 13, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Helen Hutchings, pictured, dolls are featured at the Women of the Mission Inn at the landmark Riverside, Calif. hotel. The exhibit runs March 23 through August 31, 2018. Photographed on April 13, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
The Women of the Mission Inn runs March 23 through August 31, 2018 at the landmark Riverside, Calif. hotel. Photographed on April 13, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Mission Inn records, foreground, and fashion from the Women of the Mission Inn runs March 23 through August 31, 2018 at the landmark Riverside, Calif. hotel. Photographed on April 13, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Show Caption of Expand
The result can be seen from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m daily until Aug. 31 at the Mission Inn Museum , 3696 Main St. in Riverside.
The one-room exhibition covers guests, waitresses, maids, shop clerks, performers, managers, owners and advocates. Text and their possessions tell the stories of how the women made people welcome at the inn, spread its reputation — sometimes through tall tales — and preserved its history.
“We’ve heard them whispering for a long time,” Raines said. “This exhibit gives them a megaphone.”
FIVE HIGHLIGHTS
A few key parts of the Women of the Mission Inn exhibit include the following.
The hats of Mission Inn tour guide May Spiller are featured at The Women of the Mission Inn exhibit which runs March 23 through August 31, 2018 at the landmark Riverside, Calif. hotel. Photographed on April 13, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Item: May Spiller’s hats
Details: Spiller, one of the first guides to the Mission Inn, began wearing her “trademark” hats because of the European tradition of wearing head coverings in church.
“An extravagance, perhaps, but one can afford so few vices,” said Spiller, also a fan of Turkish cigarettes and Cutty Sark scotch.
She also gave unauthorized tours and described herself as “Riverside’s biggest liar.”
Item: Piece from Amelia Earhart’s airplane
A piece from Amelia Earhart’s airplane is featured at the Women of the Mission Inn exhibit which runs March 23 through August 31, 2018. The landmark Riverside, Calif. hotel museum was photographed on April 13, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Details: The famed aviator, who was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and set other records, stayed at the Mission Inn multiple times.
The piece shown at the Mission Inn Museum is from Hawaii, where Earhart was attempting a flight around the world.
Earhart’s plane disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on a later stage of that attempt to circumnavigate the globe.
 
 
 
A poem written by Helen Keller on Mission Inn letterhead is on display at Women of the Mission Inn exhibit which runs March 23 through August 31, 2018. Photographed April 13, 2018 at the museum which shares the property of the landmark Riverside, Calif. hotel. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
 
Item: Poem by Helen Keller on Mission Inn letterhead
Details: The poem is addressed to “Mr. Miller.”
In block letters, it reads:
“When beautiful
dreams are realized they enter
lives dark as night and change
their blackness into light”
Item: Helen Hutchings’ dolls
Helen Hutchings, pictured, dolls are featured at the Women of the Mission Inn at the landmark Riverside, Calif. hotel. The exhibit runs March 23 through August 31, 2018. Photographed on April 13, 2018. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Details: Hutchings, Frank Miller’s granddaughter, had a massive doll collection, and the museum still has 711 of them. She can also be seen in a photograph holding a deer doll displayed in the exhibit.
 
 
 
 
This Harry Chapman Ford painting of a decaying mission is part of Patsy O’Toole’s collection. The Women of the Mission Inn exhibit runs March 23 through August 31, 2018. Photographed April 13, 2018 at the museum which shares the property of the landmark Riverside, Calif. hotel. O’Toole is not pictured. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Item: The story of Patsy O’Toole
Details: Today, the only known collection of a set of paintings by Harry Chapman Ford that spurred a movement to conserve the California missions is at the Mission Inn.
In the 1960s, the damaged paintings were thrown into a dumpster, where Patsy O’Toole, the first president of Friends of the Mission Inn, rescued them — twice.
The paintings were restored in the 1980s.
 
 

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