Marin County’s Mountain Play owes a debt of gratitude to the commitment and vision of Austin Ramon Pohli who loved Mt. Tamalpais and had a passion for theater and song.
Ramon Pohli was born in San Francisco in 1893 to Emil and Kate Pohli. His family had a home in Mill Valley and he enjoyed exploring Mt. Tamalpais while he was growing up. Later, he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a member of the Psi Upsilon fraternity. In May of 1913, Pohli had just completed his junior year of college.
The first Mountain Play was actually a set of two plays: “Abraham and Isaac” followed by the Malvolio scene from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” The first performance was scheduled for Sunday, May 4th, 1913 at 2 o’clock. It was billed by the San Francisco Call as “the best amateur talent of the bay district.” The Call went on to say that plans should be made to spend the entire day on the mountain and to take a picnic lunch. Tickets were available at Sherman, Clay & Co. in both San Francisco and Oakland; at the publishing house of Paul Elder & Co. in San Francisco; and at various other locations in Berkeley and Mill Valley. Additional information and tickets could be attained by addressing the manager, Austin Ramon Pohli, 604 Mills building.
However, tragedy struck on May 20, 1913.
Ramon, along with his friends Kenneth L. Blanchard, Leland Forester and R. E. Bundel, went hiking in Yosemite and decided to climb Tenaya Canyon. After they passed Mirror Lake, they opted to follow Snow Creek instead of the designated trail. Suddenly, Pohli missed his footing on a spray-drenched boulder and was hurled over the falls, dashing against the rocks below. His friends were not able to rescue the body. U.S. cavalry and Indian guides were called in and later that evening they succeeded in recovering his body.
The Call, reporting the death the next day, said: “Austin R. Pohli was prominently identified with amateur theatricals at the University of California….” He and his friends had “… gone into the park for a two weeks’ outing in celebration of Pohli’s triumph with his Mount Tamalpais play.”
N. Gray & Co. of San Francisco handled the funeral arrangements and services were held at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Pohli was to be buried on Saturday, the 24th, according to an announcement in the Oakland Tribune.
One year later, on May 14, 1914, the Marin Journal reported that at dawn, on the following Sunday, May 17th, the ashes of Ramon Pohli “…will be scattered over the great rock that marks the entrance to the amphitheatre, and which in the future will be known as Pohli Rock.” The ceremony was witnessed by Rev. G. H. B. Wright, Mrs. Pohli, and friends and relatives. Though Ramon Pohli’s father was in Switzerland at the time, he had requested that his son’s ashes be scattered on the mountain, to honor Austin Ramon Pohli’s role in bringing about the first Mountain Play.
EDITORS NOTE: the May 14, 1914 Marin Journal further elaborated: “Ramon Pohli was a great factor in the bringing about of the last mountain play, which was also the first, and it was much through his work and influence that it was made possible. His great love for Tamalpais and the happy hours he spent on its peak, suggested that there his earthly remains should rest, which was requested by his father who is at present in Switzerland in behalf of the Panama Pacific International Exposition.”