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From the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: Westwood’s Big Tyler Family

Westwood’s Tyler family in a photo from the August 20th, 1952 issue of the Sacramento Bee

by Susan Couso

In 1952 our world was different. It’s difficult to imagine, but the average home cost only $9,050. Of course, the average home was pretty small by today’s standards, and an ‘open concept’ floor plan was unheard of.

No one had dreamed of a ‘play-room’ for the younger members of the family, kids played outside whenever possible.

You could buy a new Ford sedan for just over $1,500, and gasoline was 20 cents per gallon. But to put things into perspective, the average annual income hovered around $3,000.

Great advances were being made in the technical world. Many homes had televisions and telephones and the first graphic computer game, XOX, was created (a version of Tic-Tac-toe), but the computers were huge, taking up an entire room. At this time, they were a sort of gimmick, and no one had a home computer.

In politics, Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of the British Empire and a very popular Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidential election over Adlai Stevenson.

Jonas Salk saved the lives of thousands of children when he perfected the first Polio vaccine and families rushed to get their children vaccinated to protect them from this devastating disease. And for the first time, contraceptive pills allowed families to control their destiny in a new way.

I Love Lucy premiered on television, and the Kentucky Derby was nationally televised. Television was here to stay and was soon to become the media which connected the world. Its images far surpassed the spoken word of the radio.

The country was relieved to see the end of World War II and the homecoming soldiers settled the country, but in 1952, they were sent off again to the Korean Conflict to suppress the communist aggression from the North Koreans.

Life was different and patriotism and loyalty and family values were supreme in the minds of most Americans. American flags were sacred, and Mom, apple pie, and a good baseball game made life enjoyable. The loss of so many young soldiers during the war led many to rethink their values.

As California officials planned for the California State Fair that year, they chose ‘The Family’ as their theme.

The 20-year-old radio show, ‘One Man’s Family’ had a large part in the State Fair celebration, and its cast acted out their scenes to open the festivities.

As ‘One Man’s Family’ was broadcast from the stage to 12 western states by NBC Radio, Bob Letts, commentator from KNBC, San Francisco, introduced Governor Earl Warren and his family. Then, the William M. Tyler family from Westwood was brought to the stage.

The Tylers became famous in a rather unusual way. Fair officials had begun a search early in the year to find California’s largest family, and the Tylers, all born in California ‘fit the bill’ perfectly.

William Merritt Tyler was born in 1889 in Sierra County, and his lovely bride, Nettie May was born there in 1900. They met, fell in love, and in November of 1916, the 27-year-old groom and 16-year-old bride made it official.

Thus began a long (and I do mean long) line of little Tylers: Ellen M., William L., James Alden, Mary Jane, Margaret M., George ‘Tim’ Ernest, Florence Amelia, Howard Fay, Ethel Joan, Clara Luella, Lawrence Patterson, Henry C., Alice Sarah, Robert Allen, Thomas L., Wendell, Joseph, and Beatrice Ann. Three others sadly passed away in infancy. Twenty-one little Tylers in all.

The family rented their home at 211 Fir Street in Westwood, and there wasn’t an inch to spare.

As the older children moved away and began their own families, grandchildren started to live with William and Nettie also. It was a lively place, but the diminutive Nettie, standing at 4’9” had firm control of the situation. And she loved babies!

William, towering over his wife at 5’ 6”, worked in the lumber mill, but always seemed to have the energy necessary to be a dad to his huge family.

When the State Fair Officials contacted the Tylers, the family was surprised. They seemed perfectly ordinary to themselves. The whole family was invited to attend the August 28th fair as special guests.

The parents and sixteen of the children had never even been to a fair and didn’t know what to expect. Nettie revealed that she had never been farther away than Reno!

But the children were excited. Authorities contacted the armed forces, in an attempt to get William L. home from the Air Force, Henry C. home from his service on the U.S.S. Salem, and Lawrence P. home from Korea where he was serving with the Marines.

Nettie wasn’t too excited about the fair, but she was ecstatic at the thought of seeing her sons, and fourteen of her precious children made it to the fair. One noticeable absence was 16-year-old Alice Sarah who had recently eloped!

The family was taken by bus to the fairgrounds, and as they arrived, they were serenaded by The California National Guard Air Force Band playing, California, Here I Come.

After the opening ceremonies, the Tyler family was treated to an all-expense-paid day of fun. The family spent the day among the livestock, vegetables, and flowers before enjoying the evening entertainment. Jack Benny was the headliner. He was the highest-paid entertainer in the fair’s history.

As the fair closed its 11-day run, the Tyler family was back at home. In Westwood, things settled down and the day of fun and infamy only remained in memory. The children grew up and moved away to their own lives, and William and Nettie were the King and Queen of the ‘empty nest’ syndrome.

The couple led a peaceful family-oriented life in Westwood until William died in 1964. Nettie lived on until 1987. They are both buried in the Westwood Cemetery. In Nettie’s obituary she was survived by sixteen children, thirty-five grandchildren, thirty-five great-grandchildren, and ten great-great-grandchildren.

If you are a fan of our weekly history stories you should join the Lassen County Historical Society! It’s a fun way to be a part of our county’s rich history. When you sign up, you’ll receive regular Historical Society newsletters with interesting stories and information. Membership is open to anyone with an interest in area history.

Through your membership you help preserve local history. You can download a membership application by clicking here.

Jeremy Couso
Jeremy Couso
SusanvilleStuff.com Publisher/Editor
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