Revealing the Thunderbird … one photo at a time | SierraSun.com

Revealing the Thunderbird … one photo at a time

Kyle Magin,
Sun News Service

Courtesy photo

Bill Watson received a letter and a bound album in January that surprised him.

Photos of the historic Thunderbird Lodge found its way to Watson, with pictures predating anything the lodge had on file. In fact, the pictures predated the Thunderbird itself, showing the 1930s construction of the East Shore lodge.

The photos came courtesy of Scott Rayer, a Henderson, Nev. man who saw a story about the Thunderbird on a local TV station.

Rayer’s mother, Jacqueline Emeriaud Rayer, was a niece to George and Elia Whittell, the lodge’s builders and first inhabitants.

According to Rayer’s e-mail correspondence with Watson, Jacqueline was basically indentured to the Whittells. Rayer said that in exchange for room and board and medical care, Jacqueline was Elia Whittell’s personal maid, tending to her needs from the age of 13 in 1933 until Jacqueline married in 1947.

Rayer relays in his correspondence that Jacqueline was sent to America from her native France to live with the Whittells after an accident resulting in a broken leg for her. Jacqueline’s mother, Marie Paschal, a sister to Elia Whittell, apparently sent young Jacqueline to live with the Whittells since they helped to pay for surgeries after she broke her leg.

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From this, Rayer conjectures his mother was in effect indentured to the Whittells.

“Jacqueline was at the ‘beck and call’ for Elia during most of her stay with the Whittells,” Rayer says in the e-mail.

This later led to tension between Elia and Jacqueline, and Rayer said that after an argument shortly following Jacqueline’s marriage to his father, the two never spoke again.

Rayer received the album after his mother died in 2003 and meant to dispose of it.

Thankfully, said Watson, he didn’t. His gift to the lodge is delivering vital clues about the people who lived in Lake Tahoe’s castle and even clues about its early construction.

As curator of the Thunderbird Lodge and head of the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society, Watson said he was thrilled with the find.