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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Happy Birthday to the National Parks

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, which was created on August 25, 1916. In celebration, here are two great National Park items from our collection.

Yellowstone was established in 1872 as the first National Park (there were individual parks before the system to administer them was created). Drawing on the precedent of Yosemite, which had been created as state park in 1864,  the federal government stipulated that "the headwaters of the Yellowstone River … is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale … and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” In 1875 Gen. William Strong was invited by Secretary of War William Belknap and Gen. James Forsyth to accompany them on a 53 day trip to the new park. As he explained "I gladly accepted, believing it to be 'the chance of a lifetime'"

William Strong, A Trip to the Yellowstone National Park July, August, and September, 1875. Washignton, 1876. A 876tr. Collection of the Rosenbach.
Strong then published an account of the trip, drawn from his journals since "very little has been written on the wonders and beauties of the great Yellowstone park." The book seems to have been printed in a small edition of fewer than 100 copies, intended primarily for this friends.
William Strong, A Trip to the Yellowstone National Park July, August, and September, 1875. Washington, 1876. A 876tr. Collection of the Rosenbach.

There were no amenities in the new park so it was necessarily a camping trip, with supplies carried in by a train of pack animals. He described the sights he encountered, such as "Soda Mountain Springs or Mammoth Springs as they are sometimes called, is a great white mountain of soda and magnesia, surrounded by an immense number of boiling springs, which continually send up columns of sulphurous vapor...[The mountain is terraced into basins and] The edges and rims of many of the smaller basins are beautifully colored--pink, blue, and yellow predominating, and the incrustations on the sides and bottoms are exquisite in design. Nearly all visitors to the Mammoth Springs bathe in these scalloped basins and as the temperature of the pools varies form sixty to two hundred degrees, they have no difficulty  in selecting the temperature that suits them best."

He visited the canyon of the Yellowstone and claimed "the beauty of the falls of the Yellowstone, with the canon, just below the lower leap,  and the view one gets, even from above, surpasses a dozen Niagaras. And of course there was Old Faithful "the grandest spectacle I ever beheld. A great cauldron, extending into the very bowels of the earth, for aught we knew and heated by unknown fires, bubbling, boiling, and every sixty minutes emitting a column of water three by seven feet, to the height of one hundred and fifty feet."

Strong also commented on the game in the park, decrying the fact that the large game animals were being decimated by professional hunters, which he thought boded poorly for the generations of sport hunters (such as himself) to come.

The book is illustrated with photographs of the members of the traveling party and with sketches of some of the sights they encountered, including these images of lunch at Yellowstone Lake and a mud volcano.

William Strong, A Trip to the Yellowstone National Park July, August, and September, 1875. Washington, 1876. A 876tr. Collection of the Rosenbach.

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William Strong, A Trip to the Yellowstone National Park July, August, and September, 1875. Washington, 1876. A 876tr. Collection of the Rosenbach.


Mount Rainer Park was the fifth national park to be established; it was created from a national forest in 1899. Marianne Moore visited the park twice, in 1922 and 1923 during trips to see her brother who was stationed as a Navy chaplain stationed near Seattle. The park is the setting for one of Moore most significant poems: the 230-line long "An Octopus", published in The Dial in December 1924. (Poet John Ashbery described it as the most important poem of the 20th century)

Department of the Interior. Rules and Regulations. Mount Rainier National Park Washington. 1922. MML 1915 (photocopy) Collection of the Rosenbach.
The poem incorporates quotations from many texts about the park, including this National Park Service book of Rules and Regulations, which  described the mountain as "a glacial octopus," text which inspired the opening line of Moore's poem.

Department of the Interior. Rules and Regulations. Mount Rainier National Park Washington. 1922. MML 1915 (photocopy) Collection of the Rosenbach.


You can read much more about  the poem, and the circumstances of its creation, in former Rosenbacher Pat Willis's article "The Road to Paradise: First Notes on  Marianne Moore's An Octopus."



Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach and the primary poster for the Rosen-blog.



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