It became the scariest movie ever because of the pet birds. My sister and I were spending the night with our friends. And we were home alone. Up in our friends’ bedrooms, the cutest little pet birds flew in their cages hung from the ceiling. Down in the family room, we snuggled under blankets as we watched Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” As the birds terrorized the townspeople, our blankets went higher and higher up our faces as our eyes got wider and wider. When the movie ended, we climbed the stairs to visit the little birdies. But they were lying down, lifeless in their cages. The birds were dead.
Twenty-five years later, I find myself living in Sonoma County where the movie was filmed. And this year for the 50th anniversary of “The Birds,” Bodega and Bodega Bay had a big celebration. It was my chance to enjoy this history of Sonoma County and relive the scariest story from my childhood. To prepare, I introduced my oldest to this suspenseful classic. He was a little bored, “When are the birds gonna start attacking people?” (Read, “When are people going to stop talking so we can get to the action?”) The terror of suspense was lost on him until the end when he was practically holding his breath to see if they would make it out alive.
With the movie review under our belt, our first stop for the anniversary celebration was the Potter Schoolhouse in Bodega. As we drove west on Bodega Highway, the schoolhouse was the first building we saw as we came into town. Perched atop the hill, it has a striking presence. Built in 1873, the schoolhouse was saved from demolition to be used in the movie. Now a personal residence, the owner gave a wonderful tour of the first floor classroom used in the movie and the upstairs ballroom. The restoration was a labor of love by her parents, and her family continues the care of this historic landmark despite the thousands of crazy visitors who pretend to run away from the birds outside her home.
Just a short walk from the schoolhouse is the Saint Teresa of Avila Church. Though not featured prominently in the film, Hitchcock did attend services here during the filming. Built in 1862, this is a beautiful little church and the oldest church in continuous use in Sonoma County. Ansel Adams immortalized it with his photograph “Church and Road” in 1953. With a lovely tour guide who marveled at the biblical names of my children, I stood in awe of the beauty of this simple yet elegant building which has told the story of God for over 150 years.
On our way out of Bodega, we stopped at the Bodega Country Store. Half museum and half general store, this place provided some great photo ops. A statue of Hitchcock and a phone booth being attacked by birds stand out front. Though my other two kids hadn’t seen the movie, they somehow knew what to do as they covered in fear in the phone booth.
For the end of “The Birds” celebration, we drove to The Tides Wharf Restaurant in Bodega Bay. Now much larger than when it was filmed for the movie in the 1960s, The Tides is an impressive restaurant with a wide back deck to eat by the bay. While my family ordered our fish and chips, I stood in line to meet the star from “The Birds” – Tippi Hedren. While other fans around me adjusted their Tippi costumes, I was deciding what to say to her. I’ve never met a movie star, let alone the one from my scariest childhood memory. So I told her about the pet birds. And her eyes got wide.
If you enjoyed this travel piece, you might like A Visit Back to the Future.
To learn more about the author, visit Jenny Klouse. She appreciates the camera work and story telling in many Hitchcock films, but “The Birds” remains her favorite.
Photographs courtesy of Jenny Klouse.