How Do You Pronounce Glacier? And Other Alaska Fun Facts

Frank and Nell are steaming up to Juneau. Almost there! During this part of their five month journey it seems like they have an experience worth writing about to their New York cousins every other minute! I definitely am getting a sense that Frank is taking more notes here than he was during the legs in California and Oregon. In this part their fellow passengers get in an amusing argument over how to pronounce “glacier” right. I didn’t realize there even were different ways! This section finishes out with detailed descriptions of hunting, different Alaskan wildlife, and geology/mining in the Treadwell Mines area. Frank has said that Alaska is a great county, and it looks like the natural resources are what impress him the most. He half-joking says he wants to invest in Alaska fish canning and mining operations, I wonder if he would have ever actually considered it if the opportunity was right?

Passing between islands many thousands feet high, with here and there a narrow rivulet trickling down from above, or a large cataract of water falling from such a distance that ’tis lost in a mist before it reaches the bottom, we listen to an argument between an Englishman and a Chicago girl, as to the proper way to pronounce the word “glacier”.

Heretofore this couple have been on the best of terms, but now they are waxing warm, and presently they separate and are not seen together for an hour or more,- when the ice seems to have melted, and the bets are even, as to whether we can make a match of it. After this some of the passengers have the audacity to speak of them as “Mr. & Mrs. Glacier.”

But speaking of these islands, we could see with our field glasses, on several occasions, what appears to be deer, (or elephants, as a little girl called them) standing near the water’s edge, or sometime in the open. Once I saw a deer swimming across from one island to another, not more than 100 feet from our steamer.

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Deer captured by S.S. Dolphin, c. 1896-1913. University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Below the snow line, nearly all of these mountains are covered with forests, and we are told that all through the 20,000 islands of Alaska, bear, deer, and all kinds of game are abundant, and that it is veritably a sportsman’s paradise. Continue reading

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Tales of Gold and Tlingit Totempoles

The Felters have finally made it to Alaska! After many months of travel, Frank and Nell pass Dixon Entrance, the maritime boundary between the U.S. and Canada. In 1903, a treaty between the two countries made the northern line of this strait the official border. While they’re still on their steamer, the couple hear stories about Frank Dinsmore, a famous prospector who made a fortune in gold up around Bonanza Creek in 1896. Dinsmore’s success was described by Jack London and other travel writers and no doubt encouraged others to come north looking for gold. 

They stop briefly in the small town of Ft. Wrangell, where they admire Tlingit locals and their totem poles. I found it interesting that Frank decides not to describe the Native Americans he observes in Alaska in nearly as much detail as the Chinese immigrants he sees in California. “We did not have time to read any of these family histories, and besides we never believed in prying into other people’s affairs.” If they had asked, they would have learned that they had visited the grave of Chief Shakes (Kaawishté), a local leader who lived in Wrangell between 1840 and 1878. Shakes’ heirs still live in the area today. To learn more about Wrangell, visit their historical society!

After our missionary friend has subsided we listen to a young man who has made his pile, and has just deposited it in a Seattle Bank. Among other things he told of a certain Frank Dinsmore who took out $240000.00 of free gold in a single day at Bonanza Creek. He also spoke of several who came to Alaska with a few thousands in cash and dropped it all in worthless claims, returning home sick and tired of the Golden North. Before the British Government levied 10% royalty on all gold taken out of their territory in the Klondyke region the miners were inclined to boast of their big findings, but now, they keep their mouths shut and only pay royalty when they have to.

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Working No. 4 Bonanza, Klondike, sterograph, circa 1900. University of Alaska Anchorage.

In the year 1898 a royalty of $1,200,000.00 was paid to the British Government, and in 1899 over double that amount.

Just before our steamer cuts the Alaskan waters, we have a few ocean swells while passing Dixon’s Entrance, and here we are treated to a sign of 10 or 15 whales swimming among the surface of water, gathering in great mouthfuls of small fish and spouting out the water through the blow holes in the top of their heads. We have noticed a few whales previously, but never so many at one time, as on this occasion.

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Tlingit Killer Whale Figure, 1962. National Museum of the American Indian.

Continue reading

Alaska Really is a Great Country

It’s early fall, 1900, and Frank and Nell have almost made it to Alaska. Voyaging on the steamer Cottage City, the trip along the British Columbia coast is one of the most treacherous in the world. Hundreds of ships sank along the sharp rocks and strong currents on this very route. Though the journey is perilous, the Felters are not alone. Friendly missionaries and successful gold miners from Dawson fill their heads with stories about the land and its riches. Did you know the word “Alaska” is an Aleut word meaning “great county” or “great land?” As Frank mentions here, the 1867 Alaska Purchase was known as Secretary of State William Seward’s “Folly” at the time, but after gold was discovered in the Yukon in 1896 thousands traveled up to strike it rich. The friends that the Felters make on the Cottage City were probably some of the first fortune hunters to make it to Alaska in the 1890s.

Steamer_COTTAGE_CITY_in_Wrangell_Narrows_circa_18901900

Cottage City, circa 1890-1900. University of Washington Libraries.

The water is perfectly smooth until we cross the straits of Juan De Fuca, to Victoria when the vessel tosses about some, but ’tis near midnight and we are too sleepy to notice the rolling very much and go back to sleep. Next morning the gong wakes us up and we hurry down to breakfast for the cool air coming in the stateroom has given us a good appetite.

As we take our places at the table we all are looking to see who our companions are to be en route. Directly opposite to us is a neat looking young minister from Portland and a middle aged D.D., who is not so neat in appearance, but who bears the title of “Superintendent of the Mission Service, in Alaska.” At the end of the table to the left sits a gentleman with his wife and daughter, one on either side. He wears a watch chain made of Gold nuggets, and with his daughter enjoys the celebrity of having belonged to one of the first parties that passed over the Chilcoot Trail and reached Dawson. The young lady has a rather pretty face and often amuses us with some of her experiences.

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Heart of the Klondike by Scott Marble, c. 1897. Library of Congress.

Conversation is slow at our first breakfast, and as soon as the meal is over everyone goes out on deck to see where we are. Continue reading

“Wild Sublimity and Weird Grandeur:” A Ride Up the Columbia River

Frank and Nell are finally finishing up the Continental US portion of their vacation. In this section, they travel up the Columbia River to Portland, noting the many natural wonders that can be seen along the way. Frank compares the Columbia to the Hudson River, but dares to say that the East Coast river barely compares. I wonder if Frank’s New York cousins thought he was bragging a bit too much in his letter? The Felters mention several other noteworthy items here: the impressive Oregon lumber and produce industries in action, the mighty Cascade Locks, and a funny story about a stubborn pony that just won’t get on their boat. At the turn of the century, Oregon and the Pacific Northwest were still lush and contained many natural resources that would have stood out compared to areas in the East that had been clear cut long ago. We end with the Felters boarding the steamer “Cottage City” finally headed for Alaska!

Now we are passing Multnomah Falls. The stream as it leaves the mountain top above, is Thirty feet wide, yet it seems but a foot or two across, so high is it: the fall being 860 feet perpendicularly.

A little later we are abreast of Cape Horn, which is seemingly a mass of rock and metal fused at some time ages ago, and at a later period the bottom gave way and a portion went down, leaving an almost perpendicular cliff 2500 feet high.

There are numerous points in the upper Columbia that resemble the Hudson River scenery: but in the Columbia’s ocean of waters, its score of cataracts, its rugged crags and towering precipices, its snow capped peaks, its beautiful colorings and changing shadows, its majestic heights and awful depths, and in its wild sublimity and weird grandeur,- the Hudson cannot, -nor can any other river compare favorably with the Columbia.

The Cascade Locks some 40 or 50 miles East of Portland, were built by the U.S. Government at a cost of Twenty Millions, and now the steamers pass through these locks, where formerly a railroad had to be used to transfer passengers and goods around these dangerous rocks to the steamers on the other side.

Cascade Locks

Cascade Locks and Mt. Adams, 1920. Library of Congress.

So rapid is the current here, that to make a few hundred feet progress diagonally across and up the river, requires an hour or two of time when the river is high and to go directly up the stream, through the rapids would be impossible.

It is along here that this mighty river has found its way through and across the Cascade range of Mountains. At this point the average yearly rainfall is Eighty (80) inches, while a mile or so further East it is only Eighteen (18) inches, or less than one-fourth the amount.

We reach our destination The Dalles about eight o’clock in the evening, two hours late from the fact that our boat was stopped 121 times, more or less, to take on or put off freight and passengers, during the trip. Once we saw a man on the bank waving his arms wildly about, and the Captain therefore ran the boat over against the sandy shore, and a gang plank was run out. The man ashore tried to lead a horse up the plank, but the horse didn’t want to come abroad. Then two men pulled while two men pushed: but all to no purpose, the little animal jumped off the side of the plank and swam ashore. This occurred several times, and the Captain, very much disgusted, rang the bell to go ahread, and we left out friend and his obstinate little cayuse on the shore. The man was very much crestfallen, but the cayuse shook himself and winked at us, and seemed very happy to still be on dry land. We lost about 20 minutes by this episode, but were well repaid by the diversion it gave us. Continue reading

Vacationing Among Oregon’s Salmon Canneries

After they’re done visiting the horse canning factory, Frank and Nell explore a salmon canning facility. Apparently they were really interested in the industrial food processing in the Pacific Northwest! In this section Frank goes into detail about the procedure of cutting, canning, and boiling salmon that his New York cousins probably bought and ate. In the late 19th century, Oregon canneries employed thousands of Chinese workers, who worked long and dangerous hours for little pay or respect. Frank does seem to be a little impressed with their efficiency and hard work though. After this, they return to admiring the sights in northern Oregon- they’re most impressed with the Columbia River. The Felters are almost done with the continental U.S., they’ll be in Alaska soon!

Scandanavian Salmon

Columbia River Salmon label (canned in Astoria, Oregon), 1885. Oregon Blue Book.

Passing on by the Horse Cannery, we see between here and Astoria a great many Salmon Canneries, and Salmon wheels, which latter, huge affairs cost come $4000.00 each. The wheels revolve in the water by action of the current and as they turn around lift up and empty into a trough or chute any and all salmon foolish enough to try to pass up stream at this point. The Salmon are also caught in the sein or net, and millions of dollars are invested in this industry of the Columbia. This season is an unprofitable one for the canneries.

Columbia River Salmon

Seining on the Upper Columbia, c. 1906. Library of Congress.

The price demanded for the chinooks 7-1/2 to 10 cents per pound of gross weight, as compared with 4 cents per pound paid by the Canneries last year. We spend a couple of hours in one of these Canneries at Astoria, and was surprised at the cleanliness shown in the process. A large Cannery may employ as many as One Thousand chinamen.

The fish are weighed in huge boxes and then emptied where a man is stationed, who cuts off the head, rips open and tears out the offal, passes the fish along to the next chinaman and commences on another fish, the whole operation taking less than five seconds. Just as rapidly does the next man do his part and pass along to the third who does likewise, until eventually the salmon are canned, nicely wrapped and put in cases ready to ship. A few points were impressed on my mind, so much that I will repeat them.

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Chinese Workers in Astoria Cannery, circa 1900. Oregon Historical Society.

First, the fish are thoroughly washed but are never scaled. Second, the cans are soldered by machinery. Third, the fish are not cooked until after being sealed up. Iron trays on wheels holding from 500 to 1000 cans are shoved into a boiler where they are kept two or three hours, in steam sufficiently hot to cook the fish. Fourth, the flat cans are filled with the choicest parts of the fish, and the tall cans are mostly filled with the scraps and small pieces. Fifth, you probably knew all this before, so I will put the subject aside.

Celilo Salmon

Celilo Salmon label, 1890. Oregon Blue Book.

At Astoria, Ten miles above its mouth, the Columbia river is nine (9) miles wide and some distance further ’tis (17) seventeen miles across.

A few days following our trip to Astoria, we started out to travel the upper Columbia as far as the steamers navigate, about 100 miles East of Portland. At 7-45 on this morning, we find ourselves opposite the town of Vancouver, and now we have the beautiful view of Mount Hood, to the right of us, 11,000 feet high: and on our left are Mount Rainier 14,448,- Mount St. Helens 9700: and Mount Adams 12400 feet high, each and all being covered with snow at their summit.

Below its junction with the Williamette, the Columbia is bordered mostly with low lands covered with trees and grasses, while some distance above the junction it is entirely different in character, and the trip is rightly said to be one of surprises, each bend of the river showing up new and wonderful formations.

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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The Dalles and Mt. Hood from the North Side of the Columbia River, 1912. Library of Congress.

Roast Horse- It’s What’s for Dinner

Frank and Nell have arrived in Portland. Though the path north to Alaska may look straightforward on a map, there are many bumps and surprising turns along the way. In this portion of his letter, Frank describes the terrible condition of Portland streets (you might even call the town Pothole Land…does that count as a pun?) The traveling pair also encounter an unscrupulous travel agent who tries to pass them a plugged quarter, and (my personal favorite) are slightly horrified by a visit to a canning factory that slaughters and processes “Roast Horse.” Turns out this was probably the Western Packing Company’s horse canning factory– the first plant of its kind in the world. Though unsavory it turns out Americans have a long history of dining on our steeds. Yikes! And speaking of unsavory- like his earlier observations on Chinese immigrants in San Francisco, Frank also takes the time to describe American Indians in the area as savage and child-like. Many other Americans writing in the early 20th century had the same superior attitudes in their writings.

Were it not for the fact that the bus is crowded we would be thrown from our seats every two minutes. The pavement has once been asphalt but now is full of holes. Portland is without exception the worst paved city I ever saw. If necessary to repair a sewer or water pipe, the asphalt is cut through, in the usual manner, and when repairs have been completed the excavation is filled with loose dirt which soon settles and leaves a deep hole. No attempt is made to repair this, or to fill it up again, and it is left to add one more bump to the thousands which already make life a misery to the Portland worse, and to those individuals who have the temerity to ride through these streets. I have spoken of this, first because it was the first impression made upon us as we were driven at a rapid pace regardless of bumps, -to the hotel, where we got out and were shown our rooms for the night.

Having cleaned off the dust of travel and partaken of a good dinner we walked around a little and then retired. The morrow finds us up early, for some car rides, which, when taken, demonstrate the fact that the upper and the residential parts of Portland are very beautiful.

Imperial Hotel_Portland

Imperial Hotel, Portland, Oregon, circa 1906. Oregon Historical Society.

So we set out to locate ourselves more pleasantly, and further up the hill among the trees, We succeed so well in this that we spend over five weeks in this city of wonderfully green trees, grass and shrubs, and flowers, all seeming to grow so luxuriantly, because they wanted to, and could not help it. June is the best month of the year to see Portland, -having so little rain and such abundance of flowers at that time. The winters here are extremely wet and rainy, as they are also in Tacoma and Seattle, farther North. Some people seem to have the impression that the North Western part of the United States must be extremely cold in winter, because of its high latitude. This is only true of that part of the Northwest that lies in winter, because of its high latitude. This is only true of that part of the Northwest that lies East of the Cascade range of mountains, while in all that part of Washington and Oregon which lies West of these mountains, and continuing nearly half of these States, the climate is mild the year round, having cool summers and warm winters. The lowest average which the thermometer has recorded here for many winters is 10 degrees above Zero, as compared with 15 and 20 below Zero for the same latitude on the Atlantic Coast.

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Willamette River, Portland, Oregon, 1901. Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Portland is situated on the Willamette River a few miles south of its junction with the Columbia. It has a population of perhaps 80,000 and is cut in two by the Willamette, which is perhaps three-fourths of a mile wide at this point, and is crossed by four or five draw-bridges. We are extremely anxious for a steamboat ride on the river, and after a few inquiries learn that the Railroad and Steamship lines are cutting rates, and one can go by rail or water to Astoria, which is about 100 miles down the Columbia river for 25 cents (about one sixth the former price). Surely this would seem cheap enough, four miles for one cent, but when we went down to the wharf at Six o’clock one morning, prepared for the trip, we heard some one inquire of the agent (without a smile and in apparent earnestness) if the twenty-five cent ticket was for the round trip, and did it include a berth and meals? I won’t mention the name of the gentleman in question, but the agent looked at him a moment, turned white, and nearly fainted. So great was the shock that he forgot to give me in change the plugged quarter he had been holding in his hand while waiting for an easy victim to pass it on. At last the boat was off.

We go through the immense draw-bridges and soon cut the water at a rapid pace. These river steamers are all stern wheelers, and some are very speedy. A few miles on our journey and we are told to look to the left at the horses grazing. There seem to be 5000 or 10,000 of them, and the building close by is a cannery where these animals are put into tin cans and sold as “Roast Horse.” The greater amount of the product is shipped to Europe, but some is sold and consumed in the United States. A tenderloin of Horse is said to equal the best cut in a beef. These horses are most of them wild or unbroken, and are periodically driven into the railroad towns in vast herds by the Indians, who catch them wild, and sometimes raise them extensively. Their prices run from $1.00 to $3.00 for the “cayuse,” as they call these horses. The buyers, after picking out the best which sometimes bring them $15.00 or $20.00 each, ship the balance to the cannery by the train load, averaging $3.00 or more delivered.

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Blood Indian and Cayuse, Southern Alberta 1882. National Museum of the American Indian.

The Indians usually spend most of their money before leaving town all seeming to have a weakness for fire-water and bright colors.

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: Train to Portland

Frank and Nell are finally finished with San Francisco, and are now headed north to Alaska via Portland, Oregon. Never one to leave out a stray detail, Frank describes every bit of this 600 mile train ride (I think they were riding on the Southern Pacific Railroad). My favorite parts of this are a short stop at Shasta Springs and a ride on a huge ferry boat called the “Solano” (the largest ferry ever built- it could carry an entire train on it). Frank and Nell try in vain to get some reading done on the train but the scenery is just too interesting to ignore. But who can blame them for enjoying the view?

SPR Shasta Route

Southern Pacific Railroad Shasta Route, Milepost 324.99. 1997. Library of Congress.

We leave on June 2nd in the morning, and board the ferry boat which is the largest and finest I have ever seen (its capacity being 4000 people,) the whole upper deck being entirely enclosed in glass protects the passenger from the wind while offering every advantage to see around. It takes 30 minutes to cross the bay, and, arriving at Oakland (which is principally a residential city for San Francisco business men), we take the train for Portland Oregon, and nothing of interest occurs until we reach Porta Costa where our whole train (broken up into sections) is run on the ferry boat “Solano” and carried across an arm of the bay. Here one can get a good breakfast on the boat and have time to reach his seat on the cars before the train pushes off on dry land again. The Solano is 425 feet long, over a hundred feet wide, and will carry as many as 48 freight cars.

We now settle ourselves down comfortably for the day with pillows at our backs, and books to read, as this part of the ride is the least interesting. Continue reading

New Article Posted in New York History Blog

Good news! I got an article published by the New York History Blog. If you’re ever in search of interesting stories from the Empire state’s history, or news from historical organizations in the state then look no further.

Port Jervis Union_08291888My article tells the story of an 1888 presidential campaign rally for Benjamin Harrison that went horribly wrong. When local Republicans thought it would be a good idea to accompany their parade and liberty pole raising with a live cannon demonstration. The only problem was that their cannon was way too old to be used and ended exploding and killing three bystanders, including a distant relative of mine named Albert Sergeant.

http://newyorkhistoryblog.org/2017/12/18/a-cannon-explodes-19th-electioneering-in-otsego-county/

Though I like writing here on “Another Century” best, it’s nice to get my work out there with a wider audience too. I’m hoping to get a few more short pieces like this one published next year. Enjoy!

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.

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.

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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