- Part 1: Deadpan commentary and astonishment (January 2015)
- Part 2: Sound advice against dangerous feats (February 2015)
- Part 3: Reverence and the inadequacy of language (March 2015)
- Part 4: Praise for John Hance and his tall tales (April 2015)
- Part 5: The pursuit of wealth and happiness (May 2015)
The pursuit of wealth and the pursuit of happiness
A few tourists left comments aglow with pride or happiness. These remarks hint at the values of their writers. Perhaps the clearest example is that of BW Clowd, who records the first inner-canyon currency exchange:
Exchanged a five dollar gold piece for an English sovereign at a point where man never before passed money.
—B. W. Clowd, Woodbury, N.J. — May 17, 1893 (pg 66)
I’m intrigued by this passage, which appears early in the book, because it seems to reflect the once-prevailing view of Grand Canyon as an exploitable economic resource. It also reflects the nature of the book itself, which is little more than a hardbound, 19th-Century infomercial. (Incidentally, the value of that five-dollar piece in 1893 works out to about $130 today.)
Of course, many visitors traveled not in pursuit of wealth, but in pursuit of happiness. Many passages speak of “enjoying” the canyon, but only one speaks of actual joy:
To take a ride with Capt. Hance,
On his dead-level trail,
Is sure to fill one’s soul with joy,
Whatever else may fail.
—Caroline Carpenter, Mass. — May 5, 1898 (pg 113)
Caroline Carpenter appears to have been a professor of English literature and history at a Massachusetts seminary. She writes about the canyon as if it is a cure for anhedonia — i.e., the inability to feel pleasure.
Anhedonia was first named by French psychologist Théodule-Armand Ribot just two years earlier in 1896. And in the dark days before our current renaissance of emotionally aware self-help culture, many of Hance’s guests wrote in an anhedonic voice.
Finally, there are a few passages I found that are personal favorites of mine. There is this comment from 1897, which echoes my sentiments on the reasons to venture beneath the rim:
Went down into the cañon, under the guidance of Captain John Hance, and would advise everyone else to do likewise, as no proper conception of the cañon can be gained from above.
—Mr. and Mrs. Thos. Goffery, Liverpool — May 16, 1897
And there is this comment from 1898, which describes a trip in foul weather. The canyon, it seems, is almost always worth it:
Would do it again in similar weather, if necessary. Better in a snow-storm than not at all.
—Edwin O. Standard, Jr. — May 3, 1898 (pg 113)
There is this romantic, 19th-Century euphemism:
To Captain John Hance, of the Grand Cañon: Good-by; and may it be many a year before you take the trail to the camp from which no one comes back.
—Chas. H. Townsend. U. S. Fish Commissioner — September 21, 1898 (pg 125)
The editor may have inflated Townsend’s title here. Although he worked for the US Fish Commission, he does not appear to have been the actual commissioner of that agency.
Lastly, there is this remark:
I have been here two days, and never had so much fun since I had the measles.
—Harry Firve, Albuquerque, N. M. — April 29, 1896
If it is not exceedingly complimentary, it is not at all complimentary.