History of a Wandering Yankee: Journey to the Santa Cruz Mountains

Continuing their leisurely trip up to Alaska, Frank and Nell take a day-trip up to the Santa Cruz Mountains with some new friends from San Francisco. In his usual fashion, Frank takes time to describe the huge trees and mountains in detail for his New York cousins. Also in this section is a story about Mark Twain visiting similar mountains in Switzerland and finding a clever way to experience mountain climbing without all the bother of actually climbing. Twain would have been well known to the Felters’ New York relatives- he lived nearby in Elmira NY for many years.

Shortly after our Chinese affair we joined a party of excursionists and took a ride Southwest into the Santa Cruz Mountains, passing through the beautiful towns of Santa Clara, and San Jose, from which latter place one can take the stage for Mount Hamilton and Lick Observatory, where the 36 inch telescope, the second or third largest in the world is mounted, over 4200 feet above the sea.

We did not take this side trip but kept on until we reached a magnificent forest grove and picnic ground, among the redwood trees.

Sequioa
Visitors beneath the General Grant Tree in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, 1900. National Park Service.

These are a smaller species of the “Sequoia Grande,” the noted big trees of California, some of which reach a height of 400 feet, and a diameter of 30 feet. The largest tree known, in the Santa Cruz Mountains is 21 feet through and 300 feet high, but we did not go far enough to see it. Sometime we intend to visit the genuine “big trees” and if possible

Mark Twain
Twain writing at his Elmira home, Quarry Farm, in 1880. Bancroft Library.

to climb one or two of them. If we cannot do it any other way we will follow the example of Mark Twain when he was traveling in Switzerland. He wished very much to say that he had climbed a certain icy crag, which was not only very high and difficult to ascent, but was extremely dangerous as well. While debating with his traveling companion, his courier, whether to climb or not to climb, they are accosted by a man with a large telescope, mounted, and aimed at the peak of the mountain. “Here you are sir, have a look through the most powerful glass in Europe, sir:- take you within ten feet of the top sir:- all for two francs” So Mark, who is quick to see his chance, takes a look through the great telescope, and is seemingly carried so close to the icy top that he stretches forth his hand to break off an icicle, and draws it back involuntarily, with his fingers chilled, and the drops of perspiration which had been formed on his face from the heat of his argument with the courier, were frozen solid. Mark then retires a few feet and remarks that ” ’tis the real thing,” warms his chilled veins with a flask of brandy, while the courier takes his trip to the summit, and he is able to get back with a few cold chills down his marrow.

Mark has in the meantime paid the bill and taken a receipt in full for two round trips to the Summit. This he shows as evidence that, accompanied by his courier he reached a point within ten feet of this icy crag.

However let us leave Mark to his own ample resources and finish out lunch in the Santa Cruz forest. We do this, listening to the Band awhile, and then return to our San Francisco home.

Having rested a few days, and attended theatres a few evenings we cross the ferry one morning to Sausalito, and from thence proceed by train to the summit of Mount Tamalpias which is nearly 2600 feet high an almost isolated peak near the Coast, and North of San Francisco. We were about 1-1/2 hours on the cars, changing once, and the better part of the trip was on the crookedest railroad in the world.

There are 277 curves in a little more than eight miles of rail. The view is certainly grand from the summit:- looking down below on the city of San Francisco in front, -on the right we gaze miles out to sea, while to the left the Sierras loom up in their grandeur and magnitude, and we feel that we would like to step over the few hundred miles intervening. The atmosphere of California is so clear oftentimes that a distance of 50 or 100 miles seems but a step. Sometimes however, especially along the coast, the fogs come in from the ocean and envelope everything as in a wet sheet.

The summers of Frisco are very cool, and were it not for the high winds of July and August would be delightful. As it is the winders are much more pleasant, and while the Eastern States are covered with snow the people housed up are trying to keep warm, -the residents of San Francisco can pick flowers from their dooryards and eat Strawberries ad libitum.

This post is part of a longer travelogue written by Frank L. Felter of Los Angeles, a distant relative of mine, as he and his wife Nell journeyed up to and around Alaska in 1900. To read the previous part, click here. To read the next part, click here.

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Gus Egolf: Captain of the Antique Industry

Gustavus “Gus” Egolf was a German immigrant who settled in Pennsylvania and eventually became one of the most prominent antique dealers in the United States.

Gus Egolf
Gus Egolf with a “homemade velocipede,” 1896. Photo credit: PA State Archives, MG 171.21

Egolf was born in Baden, Germany in 1849 and moved to Philadelphia at a young age. He attended school sporadically until the age of fourteen, when he became a teamster. Saving as much money as he could for nine years, Egolf eventually was able to launch a contracting business where he employed eight teams who hauled goods all around Philadelphia. By the early 1870s, he was a financially successful businessman and went on an extended holiday to his first home in Baden. Afterwards, he spent several months touring Germany, France, Ireland, and England. Perhaps it was because of the many  treasures that he saw on his European travels, when Egolf returned to Philadelphia he established an antique, china, and furniture business.

Business in the antique trade was good to Egolf and he had to move his store several times larger and larger buildings to make room for all his wares. It was around this time that he also married his wife Eliza Egolf (no relation I think). They would have 10 children together. In 1879 he moved out to nearby Norristown where he occupied a four story building on Main Street. Egolf was also a prominent local historian and was well known nationally for his extensive personal collections of antique coins and china.

Gus Egolf Furniture
Advertisement for Egolf’s furniture and anqitue business from a c. 1900 Directory of Montgomery County, PA.

The captain of the antique industry also caught the attention of one of the most important advocates for Pennsylvania history- Samuel Pennypacker. Pennypacker, best known for serving as the Republican Governor of Pennsylvania from 1903-1907, was an avid collector of antiques and other historical items- especially books. Pennypacker had so many books!

Samuel Pennypacker
Governor Pennypacker in 1906. Capital Preservation Committee.

Pennypacker served as the president of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and personally published several books on the history of the Keystone State. As a prominent politician and lawyer from a venerable Philadelphia family, Pennypacker had the means and energy to amass a huge collection of antique books, maps, and other historical materials that documented the history of the state. And Gus Egolf was Pennypacker’s favorite antique dealer. Here is what Pennypacker remembered about Mr. Egolf in his autobiography:

“My books came to me in all kinds of ways, and from over the earth, and I became known to the dealers and writers not only at home but in Amsterdam, London and Berlin. Some of the incidents which occur in the search for out-of-the-way treasures are both romantic and dramatic. Gus Egolf, short and stout, with a wen on the back of his neck nearly as large as his head, a keen dealer in old furniture and old books, lived and still lives in Norristown, where he has a store. Often I went ‘incog’ in an old suit and broken hat with him to the sales of the German farmers in the country and I have bought as many as a three-bushel bag full of books at a sale. The auctioneer would hold them up at a window, half a dozen at a time, and knock them down for a few pennies. There was little or no opportunity for preliminary inspection and often the purchase proved to be of little value, but every once in a while there turned up a Franklin, an Ephrata or a Sower imprint. In this way I secured nearly all of my Schwenkfelder literature.”

Pennypacker also supported his antique dealer politically. The Governor appointed Egolf (a staunch Republican who “always contributes his share to the success of the party at the polls”) a factory inspector in Philadelphia, a position that Egolf held until he died in 1916.

It doesn’t appear that Egolf’s antique business lasted long after his death, but it was a major force in the antique world at the time. Today, you may find an old clock or a piece of china or furniture with his name on it though, a reminder of the many antiques and fine articles that were made or sent to him from all over the world and sold at his store.

A Hot Reception for the Cold War: Civil Defense in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania was hundreds of miles from the battlefields of the Cold War, but the state was prepared to be on the front line of war at a moment’s notice. With the ever-present threat of nuclear  warfare hovering over the state, officials worked tirelessly to protect the Commonwealth. Beginning in the early 1950s federal, state, and local government created a civil-defense system for Pennsylvania that would prepare citizens for an inevitable nuclear attack.

Following World War II, American relations with the Soviet Union swiftly broke down and seemed to be on the brink of war. At the same time, American and Soviet forces were working the develop new powerful nuclear weapons that would likely target cities and other civilian areas. Once the Soviets successfully tested their own nuclear bomb in 1949, the American home-front became much more vulnerable to attack. Many Americans feared attacks like the ones that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki only a few years earlier. The United States began to train and prepare citizens for civil-defense: to protect themselves and their property in the event of a nuclear attack. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania developed a sophisticated civil-defense system within the state. “There’s still a big difference between taking a punch you’re prepared for,” Commonwealth officials reasoned, “and getting knocked out in the first round because you didn’t see it coming.”

“By every possible criterion, Pennsylvania will be a No. 1 target so long as men possess weapons,” one civil-defense pamphlet read. Civil-defense officials feared that the concentration of resources, vital industry, and transportation systems would make the Commonwealth a likely target for Soviet bombers. If Pennsylvania’s resources and industries were bombed and destroyed, they reasoned, “there would be little point in any farther resistance on the battlefields. The war would be over and the country in the hands of a foreign overlord.” Continue reading “A Hot Reception for the Cold War: Civil Defense in Pennsylvania”

History of a Wandering Yankee: Chinatown

After returning from the Cliff House, Frank and Nell visited San Francisco’s celebrated Chinatown, at that time the largest in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of Asian immigrants traveled to the United States via San Francisco’s Angel Island Immigration Station and other Pacific ports in the 19th century. Many of them came to work in mines or built railroads. Like many other migrants, Asian immigrants faced routine discrimination from their neighbors. Frank makes a few comments about the “savage” customs and activities he observes in that are typical of the era. I wonder what Frank’s New York cousins thought about Chinatown and its people…

[May 1900]

To one unaccustomed to living in a seaport the shipping would be of great interest, as here all kinds of vessels can be seen, loading and unloading, going to, or coming from Chinese, Japanese, Australian, Alaskan and European ports.

The Union Iron Works employ about 2000 men in the building of war vessels for the Government.

Chinatown_Barton
Loren Barton, Chinatown Market, San Francisco, ca. 1924. Smithsonian American Art Museum.

I muse not forget to speak of Chinatown, for this is one of the most interesting places to see in all Frisco. It covers an area of about 12 blocks, and the population is variously estimated at from 20- to 40,000. Here the Chinaman lives very nearly the same as in his native cities. All the stores, restaurants and theatres are run by the Chinese. We did not attend the theatre, but were told that the performance is continuous, and that their orchestral discord is nearly always fatal to the visitor, although they themselves seem to enjoy it very much. The Chinese New Year, which occurs in January and February, is the best time to visit Chinatown. We had during this their season of festivities, visited Chinatown in Los Angeles, which is the same as in Frisco, though smaller. On that occasion, early in last February, we were part of a company setting out to see the sights of a Chinese New Year. Their streets were well lighted by the characteristic Chinese lantern, some of them several feet in diameter. From the balconies, which are built in the second story mostly, we saw and heard several bands of Chinese musicians, each endeavoring to make a more discordant noise than his neighbor: some drumming on cocoanut shells:- some striking copper plates, some blowing on a poor apology for a fish horn. While listening to this soulful music we heard a heart-rending shriek and though some one had been driven mad, or had committed suicide, but it was proved to be only a new piece of music coming in on the home stretch, a sort of cocoanut shell with a violin attachment. Continue reading “History of a Wandering Yankee: Chinatown”

History of a Wandering Yankee: Cliff House and Sutro Baths

After Frank and Nell arrive in foggy San Francisco, it doesn’t take long before they begin to explore the city. The Felters were particularly excited about visiting sights along the coastline like the Cliff House, Sutro Baths, and Seal Rocks. I like the description of the water slide (“chute”) and the different ways bathers ride the copper chute down into the pool. As Frank says, “tis a most fascinating sport!” The Cliff House and Sutro Baths were both sadly destroyed by fires in 1907 and 1966.

Cliff House and Seal Rocks
Frank and Nell could have looked out this very same window out onto the Pacific Ocean! Cliff House and Seal Rocks, circa 1905. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

[Spring 1900]

Our trunks come and we unpack and rest ourselves, ready for the morrow’s excursions.

Recollecting that we are almost alone in a great city, we get a City map and guide book, lest we may lose ourselves.

There is a splendid car service in Frisco, and one can get a good idea of the City by patronizing the car lines, on some of which, by their system of transfers, you can ride an hour of two for a nickel.

Frisco has many hills, and the cars, mostly cable, have to climb grades as steep as 26%, which is a rise of 26 feet in every 100 feet of travel.

Cliff House
Cliff House, circa 1902. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

During our stay in Frisco we rode out to the Cliff House many times. This Hotel is built on a projecting rock at the entrance to Golden Gate and can be seen many miles out at sea.

From the balcony which faces the ocean, and which is entirely enclosed in glass, one can get a beautiful view of the Pacific in all kinds of weather and look down into the water as it breaks into foam and spray against the cliff below.

Seal Rocks.jpg
Seal Rocks circa 1898. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

A few hundred feet out are some large rocks which are often covered with thousands of seals and from that fact are called Seal Rocks.

Close to the Cliff House is the entrance to the famous Sutro Baths, and the Museu, the largest salt water baths in the world. There are seats surrounding the tanks which will accommodate 10,000 spectators. The building is 500 feet by 250 feet. The main tank is 300 feet long, and this, with five smaller ones, ’tis said will hold 2,000,000 gallons of water, and will accommodate thousands of bathers.Here one can sit for hours and watch the bathers dive off the high perches, -swim about, -or slide down the chutes. The water is heated to different temperatures in the different tanks, and one can choose any degree of heat desired. Depth of water varies from two feet to eight feet in order to accommodate women and children as well as the strong swimmer. The tanks can be emptied and filled by the action of the tides. Twenty-five cents admits one to the building and pays for a bathing suit. We were particularly interested in the chutes, which consist of a slide commencing 18 or 20 feet above the water, and extending downward in an almost vertical line about twelve feet, and then gradually curving until it reaches the surface of the water  horizontally.

Sutro Baths
Sutro Baths, circa 1898. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

This slide is covered with copper plates, and when in use, a stream of water is constantly flowing over its surface which makes it extremely slippery. The bather mounts the stairs to its top, and looks down. If ’tis his first trial, he puts one foot over, then the other and holds on the sides with both hands, then after waiting four or five minutes, he either tries to get back and give it up, or else takes a long breath and lets go. In less than three seconds he has slid down and gone under water several feet. If the individual happens to be of the female persuasion she invariably screams when she starts and of course goes under water with her mouth wide open. This is more interesting to the spectators than to her, but she comes up all right, and after a while her friends persuade her to try it again, and go down head first. This takes lots of nerve, but is entirely successful, and as she comes down with tremendous speed, is shot out and skims gracefully along the surface of the water half across the tank, -all in a few seconds. Having acquired the nerve and the proper method, ’tis a most fascinating sport, and some parts of the day an almost continuous stream of bathers is shooting down this steep incline: sometimes several going down together holding to each other as in a chain.

Sutro Baths today
The ruins of the Sutro Baths as seen in 2012. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

During afternoon and evening there are concerts, and this immense building is filled sometimes with the sweet strains of a dream ragtime. Here one can find ample accommodation and amusement for several days, as there is a Hotel, a restaurant, theatre, museum, and picture gallery, all enclosed in this class covered structure.

I could write a week of the beauties and sights of San Francisco, and then not do justice to the subject. In many respects Frisco is like all large cities, having its system of Public Parks, its museums, observatories, theatres and churches, fountains, libraries, Art galleries, public buildings, cemeteries, race-tracks, etc., etc.

This post is part of a longer travelogue written by Frank L. Felter of Los Angeles, a distant relative of mine, as he and his wife Nell journeyed up to and around Alaska in 1900. To read the previous part, click here. To read the next part, click here.

 

History of a Wandering Yankee: Arrival in San Francisco

In the beginning of his 20 page (single spaced!) letter detailing his adventures in Alaska to family in New York, Frank Felter describes why he and his wife Nell wanted to take this trip. Their journey begins as they depart from their home in Los Angeles and travel to San Francisco by steamer, where they would stay for several days before heading further north. I can imagine how exciting it would have been to see San Francisco slowly appear through the fog on that spring day!

Folsom wharf.jpg
The Felters probably arrived in San Francisco at a wharf like the one on Folsom Street. Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Library.

Los Angeles, Cal. Dec. 1900

To Uncle, and to all our dear friends and relatives, East of the Rocky Mountains.

Having promised to write you something about our trip to Alaska, I will set about it without any preliminary remarks other than these:-

We did not to with the definite idea of bringing back half, or even a third of the “Klondyke Wealth” in our strong boxes, and of having a guard of thirty or forty well armed men to escort us back to civilization.

We did not set out with the purpose of melting the ice and snow with red paint, or of eventually reaching the North Pole.

We had no intention of taking the trip because it was popular, and to enable us to say we had “done” this, or had seen that wonderful thing.

We never for a moment entertained the thought of telling yarns about the frozen North, and impossible stories stories of occurences which never happened. We never considered any of the above inducements for journeying to Alaska. Our sole purpose was the somewhat selfish one of enjoying ourselves: of traveling by restful and easy stages, stopping here and there as our whims and caprices might direct us, and with the general idea of having a good time and a continuous holiday.

With this end in view we started out on the first of May,- left the beautiful city of the Angels and boarded the Steamer for San Francisco. Some of our friends went down to see us off, and they were so thoughtful and kind as to inform us that the Captain prophesied a rough trip. We kept up our spirits however, in the face of this news, and started off with the firm belief that the passage would be a smooth and delightful one.  Strange as it may seem, the wind began to moderate shortly after starting, and during the whole of the trip the weather was unexceptionable. The Captain said there must be a Mascot on board, for all the indications had pointed toward a very rough passage. We had a very pleasant time on board, reading, walking on the deck, or swapping stories with the other passengers. Continue reading “History of a Wandering Yankee: Arrival in San Francisco”

History of a Wandering Yankee

Port Chilkoot
Gil Smith, Port Chilkoot, Alaska, n.d., watercolor, Image credit: Smithsonian American Art Museum

For the next several months, I will be posting parts of a travelogue written by Frank L. Felter as he traveled through Alaska at the turn of the century. Frank is a very distant relative- my cousin six times removed (he is the cousin of my great, great, great, great grandfather). After his trip, he wrote all about it in a long letter to my family living in New York. Frank lived in Los Angeles and I doubt he traveled back east often. This letter/manuscript is incredibly detailed and has been a really interesting read. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

I’ll try to post the letter a page at a time, so expect to see many more posts after this one! I’ll end this post with the introduction my grandfather, Charles Sargent, wrote when he transcribed the original copy.

Map_of_maps__Alaska_and_British_Columbia_showing_the_Yukon_Cariboo_Cassiar_with_a_portion_of_the_Kootenay_gold_fields
Alaska and British Columbia showing the Yukon, Cariboo, Cassiar, with a portion of the Kootenay gold fields. 1901. Image source: University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Over one hundred years ago, the attached travelog was written by Frank Felter describing a trip he and his wife, Nell, made in the year 1900 from Los Angeles to Skagway, Alaska utilizing steamers and railroads. His vivid descriptions and attention to details reflect the fact that he must have taken copious notes along the way. His motivation to write this travelog was to tell his upstate New York cousins (Ostego County) about his experiences on the trip.

Since my “original” copy of this manuscript suffers from successive copying, I have had it retyped with absolutely no editing.

Frank and Nell left Los Angeles on May 1, 1900 and returned to L.A. on August 26 after extended lay overs in San Francisco, Portland and Skagway. On Sept. 18, 1900, after his return, Frank wrote a letter to his upstate New York cousins Frank and Mary Sargent (my grandparents) which stated:

“Have had lots of fun and seen lots of queer sights. Someday I think I’ll write a short story of my travels and have it printed and call it ‘History of a Wandering Yankee,’ sell it for 2¢ ea., 3 for a nickel. Would it pay do you think or had I better stick to my present occupation and mend shoes.”

I hope future generations will get their 2 cents worth as I have.

Incidentally, Frank Felter was the grandson of Hiram Hammond, my great, great grandfather.

Charles R. Sargent
Baltimore
February 2004