Like many other kids, my favourite page of the newspaper growing up was the comics page. Though it was later supplanted by the crossword page (though that's another story), my introduction to traditional media come in the form of those inked scribbles, filled with pithy wisdom, fantastic events, and witty observations.
One of my most beloved comics was Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz. I still vividly remember cleaning my local library out of Peanuts cartoon books on a regular basis in primary school, and devouring the biography of Schulz that I discovered after learning how to use the brand-new library computer search tool. The whimsical adventures of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Woodstock, Linus, Lucy, Sally, Schroeder, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie were one of my earliest guides to the vicissitudes of life. Being a young pianist, I naturally identified closest with Schroeder, his tiny piano, and his bust of Beethoven, but I loved all of them.
Roughly an hour's drive north of Berkeley is Santa Rosa, the town where Charles Schulz moved to in 1969, and resided in until his death in February 2000. Nowadays, one of the town's best attractions is the Charles M. Schulz Museum, dedicated to the life and livelihood of the cartoonist. There is simply no better place for a Peanuts fan to visit than this shrine to Schulz, and I had the opportunity to do so, driving up to Santa Rosa with some friends in mid-November.
Inside the museum are all kinds of memorabilia and paraphernalia from the world of Peanuts. There are themed, rotating exhibitions (with "Famous People Referenced in Peanuts" being on show during our visit), documentary and movie screenings, background history on the Peanuts movie and television series, and busts, models, and cutouts galore of the Peanuts characters.
Many of the displays were decorated with vibrant colour, adding yet more life to the typically black and white comic strips. Donated artwork from third party artists also featured heavily, including models of Snoopy's kennel, paintings, mosaics, glass models, and more.
There's even a detailed recreation of Charles Schulz's office and workdesk, along with a fascinating walk through his early life, army service, and the scribbled drawings that he was creating even then. It's easy to see how he became a cartoonist; he was an artist from the beginning.
And of course, there are hundreds and thousands of comic strips. Original strips lie under protective glass. Larger printouts decorate the walls, along with helpful explanations and ruminations on the underlying themes or goings-on in Schulz's life that inspired his work. A beautiful mosaic collage of Charlie Brown running to kick the football and Lucy ready to snatch it away dominates a wall, two stories tall and made entirely with panels of the comic itself.
Charles Schulz loved sports, and ice hockey was one of his favourites. He owned the Redwood Empire Ice Arena in Santa Rosa, and today the Arena is also known as Snoopy's Home Ice. Standing adjacent to the museum, it is home to the Warm Puppy Cafe, where Schulz would dine each day. It's a popular destination for the residents of Santa Rosa, and I was instantly jealous of the multitudes of young children who were already proficient on the ice. To have such ready access to a rink is something I could have only dreamed about growing up in country Australia. Scores of people - some with ice hockey gear, others evidently preparing to become figure skaters, and others just there to enjoy themselves - were whiling away this chilly fall day indoors and having a wonderful time.
Ice skating here is very cheap compared to Australia - the entry fee and skate hire was just $12. Having not ice skated for several years, I was initially pessimistic about how well I would do on the rink, but by the end of our three hours I had progressed to the point where I could skate around the arena at a respectable pace and without requiring the assistance of the wall. Not too bad if I do say so myself!
The extensive gift store on the complex sells just about every kind of Peanuts memorabilia you could imagine. I picked up some t-shirts for my brother, who is just about as big a Peanuts fan as I am.
The museum is a loving tribute to an man whose cartoons has captivated millions. Charles Schulz may have died over a decade ago, but his legacy lives on in the museum and through the television shows, movies, merchandise, and most especially the comics that he left behind. Santa Rosa isn't the easiest place to get to, but it's definitely worth the visit for Peanuts fans.