The Book of Gold
San Francisco’s Legion of Honor was inspired by the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, which houses Napoleon’s order of merit. Dedicated on Armistice (Veteran’s) Day, November 11, 1924, the Legion of Honor was given by Adolph and Alma Spreckels to the people of San Francisco to honor the thousands of Californians who died in the First World War.
Before the Legion of Honor was completed in 1923, the American Legion marked its annual convention in San Francisco with a ceremony in the Legion’s outer courtyard, the Court of Honor. Among the invited guests was a group of Gold Star mothers who had lost sons in France. Seated with them were disabled veterans: amputees, the blind, and the shell-shocked. According to Alma Spreckels’s biographer, Bernice Scharlach, it was this event that probably inspired Mrs. Spreckels to create the Book of Gold and dedicate it to the Gold Star mothers. She had military records painstakingly searched for the names and hometowns of Californians who died in the war. A calligrapher then inscribed the approximately 3,600 names in the Book of Gold. The project took eight years to complete.
When the Book of Gold was finished, Mrs. Spreckels took it to Paris. There, at the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur, marshals Ferdinand Foch, Joseph-Jacques-Césaire Joffre, and Philippe Pétain signed the book. Other distinguished individuals added their signatures and personal messages. General John Joseph Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe, signed the title page under the single word Mothers! in Gothic script.
The Book of Gold is a large, leather-bound volume with ivory-colored crosses applied to the front and back covers with gold stitching. The front cover is stitched with the title Our Sons 1914–1918. The pages are made of parchment and the quotes and names on each page are handwritten in black ink. The Book of Gold was on display in the entrance vestibule of the Legion of Honor until 1941, when it was placed in the Fine Arts Museums’ archives for safekeeping. It is shown annually at the Legion during the month of November to honor California veterans.