Lane Dooling and the Marin History Museum: “Because History Isn’t Boring!”


Jacob Salveson, Contributor

History is more than books, buildings, and artifacts. History is about people—triumphant and tragic, magical and mundane. History is not stagnant. It is not dead. It is living and breathing, and constantly taking new forms and being shaped by the present. A prime example of this is Lane Dooling from the Marin History Museum, enriching those around her, not only through the relics of the past, but also by the vibrant perspective of the present.

Most San Rafael natives have stopped by Boyd Memorial Park. A local park nestled at the turn on Laurel Place, it’s the perfect place to relax with your dog, kids, or have some lunch. Right below lies The Marin History Museum building that sticks out from the modern buildings nearby. The structure itself carries an interesting history tethered to that of San Rafael’s.

Built in the 1800s, it served as a guesthouse for the Boyds, a wealthy family that made its fortune during the Gold Rush. Through this, the Boyd family legacy soared to great success, but then plummeted to epic tragedy, as both Boyd teenage sons died of heart failure within months of each other. On the heels of this grief, the father, John Boyd, bestowed upon the city of San Rafael a land grant including his guest house: The Boyd Gatehouse. From the pinnacle of John Boyd’s success to the depth of his sorrow, the Marin History Museum was born.

From the outside, the Marin History Museum looks imposing. Even as a guest house, it scales three stories. The architecture is gothic with white blinds covering the windows. Black railings surround the house, and intricate gray arches darken the atmosphere. But after passing through the towering green door, the mood softens. 

Visitors are greeted by warm lights and a series of historic photographs showing parts of Marin from a forgotten time. Just to the left, a member of the staff, Lane Dooling, Head of Social Media and Marketing, greets guests with a big smile and open arms. The light shines on a table surrounded by relics of the past.  From there, Lane’s history, and the history of San Rafael- is explored. 

Born and raised in San Rafael, Lane Dooling has a knowing smile, lively spirit, and shining blue eyes. As she tucks her blonde hair behind her ear, she opens up about her own life. Her voice carries a genuine curiosity and enthusiasm not expected from someone who works at a museum. 

Dooling has an uncanny ability to connect every conversation back to something in history.Whether it be early 20th century bootlegging, prohibition, or the San Rafael courthouse since set ablaze, Dooling never fails to find the connection. Sitting down with Dooling, it is apparent that a visit to the History Museum is enriched-not by the many artifacts, tokens, and books, but rather, by Dooling herself, who lives and embodies San Rafael’s spirit and history.

Lane spent most of her early life in San Rafael. In the 1970s, she attended Sun Valley Elementary School and San Rafael High School. She was always active, participating in cheerleading and joining the first all-female soccer team. Lane looks back fondly at her time at SRHS, recalling one teacher in particular. “I really loved Mrs. Joy in high school,” Lane stated thoughtfully. ”Even back then I thought it was really impressive that she was one of, what, 3 female math teachers?” Lane continued, “Mrs. Joy was really a role model… She lost her husband, and I really appreciated her perseverance through that.”

After graduating, she enrolled at UCSB and had a great experience. Nevertheless, Lane sought more variety and some fresh perspectives. “I felt like people were just from Southern or Northern California,” she declared. “I just kept wondering, ‘Where are all the international students?’” Drawn to the diversity of the campus, Lane transferred to Berkeley where she graduated with a Sociology Degree.

Lane’s expertise lies in 20th Century history—in particular, the Great Depression. All the tragedy and sadness of this time (The Dust Bowl, the mass unemployment, the poverty), make this one of the most despondent times in US history. Despite this, Lane sees the beauty of perseverance. For Lane, this struggle to overcome adversity and survive represents one of the most pivotal and impactful chapters of our history.  Just as Lane studied hardship (of the Depression era), so too did she experience her own form of hardship. 

Her father passed away when she was still young; fifty years later, her mother was diagnosed with dementia. For the next 9 years, Lane took up the role of caregiver for her mother until her mother’s eventual passing. Through challenging times, Lane found solidarity with her community. 

She began to develop close bonds with people around her. Lane’s perspective broadened, as she became more appreciative of everyone’s unique and diverse qualities. As she reflected on her journey, Lane observed, “The more people that can be authentic, with no judgment, no stigma, the world would be better.” Through adversity, Lane became even more compassionate, thoughtful, and considerate.

Based on feedback from her friends and family, Lane is among the most generous, kind-hearted and accomplished people they know. Cathy Lynn, Lane’s longtime friend of 40 years (and maid-of-honor at her wedding) spoke about Lane’s impact. “She is really giving and always practicing acts of kindness. She loves writing and history and even has had some of her articles published.”

Coworker and longtime friend, Heather Powell, reflected fondly on Lane as the “classical maternal mom-type” who is “always thinking about other people, super enthusiastic, and kind of an out-of-the-box thinker.” She went further to describe her as “probably the most generous, thoughtful person I think I’ve ever met.” Powell still remembers a time when her son was sick and she was struggling to get dinner prepared. Then, out of the blue, she heard the doorbell. Three large pizzas were just delivered at the door. “Apparently, Lane had ordered them for us without us even asking.” For Dooling, this show of kindness was hardly a consideration, it was simply automatic. 

As I gathered my notes and laptop, with a smile, Lane revealed the unwritten motto of the Marin History Museum: “Because history isn’t boring!” From triumph to tragedy to overcoming adversity, Lane and the Marin History Museum shared a parallel journey. While the walls of the building are stoic and inactive, Lane, and all of the Marin History Museum staff, fill those rooms with warmth and vitality. Speaking with Lane Dooling in the Marin History Museum, one thing became clear: history is not dead. It is not just in books. History is right before us, living and breathing, and most certainly isn’t boring!