Biographies & Memoirs



WHILE FORD HAD BEEN OBSESSED WITH THE GRAND CANYON from the first time he laid eyes on it, he had no concept of how many other people would come to feel the same way. But from its cautious beginnings as an extreme-tourism attraction, the South Rim had blossomed into one of the most popular destinations in the world. Before the train line opened to the canyon, about eight hundred intrepid visitors came every year. But the number of tourists grew exponentially each year after El Tovar was finished. By 1911, more than thirty thousand people were visiting annually. Most came by train, although an increasing number came by automobile. And occasionally someone arrived who was wealthy enough to do both.

When steel magnate Andrew Carnegie commissioned his own Santa Fe train to the canyon for a handful of his closest friends, it included six private Pullmans—plus a special car just to haul his guests’ autos. This allowed Carnegie’s party to motor along the South Rim—where there was just a mile and a half of dirt road—and stop periodically to throw pebbles over the edge and wait to hear them strike far below. (When Carnegie grew bored with this, he reportedly turned to a nearby tourist and, treating him like his best golfing buddy, said, “What a bunker this canyon would make! I should hate to have to make it.”)

Unfortunately, the Grand Canyon simply was not prepared for so many visitors, and nobody was sure who should be responsible for improving conditions on the South Rim—the local businessmen, the railroad, the state government (Arizona had finally been admitted to the Union in 1912), or the federal government. The debate quickly reached the highest levels in Washington. And Ford found himself caught up in the larger discussion about the future of America’s national parks; he was a featured speaker at the groundbreaking conferences, starting in 1911, that led to the creation of the National Park Service in 1916. Even though the Grand Canyon wasn’t yet a national park—a victim of political forces locally and nationally—the secretary of the interior, Walter Fisher, relied on Ford’s advice and counsel. While much of the national park debate involved issues of conservation, wildlife, and forestry, in the new and vexing areas of hospitality and transportation nobody knew more than Ford.

It would be exceedingly inappropriate,” Secretary Fisher declared at the first national parks conference, “if we did not hear from Mr. Harvey.”

Over the years, Ford cautioned the national parks stakeholders—everyone from foresters, politicians, park superintendents, hotel managers, and transportation executives to automobile enthusiasts and environmentalists such as John Muir—about the practical challenges of life and commerce inside a natural national treasure. His speeches always showed deep humility and a touch of humor. One year he began: “Gentlemen, you are not to blame for what you are about to suffer; neither am I. When honored by your chairman with an invitation to address you, I replied by letter that I was totally inexperienced in speaking and could not talk. His response was a telegram reading: ‘Many thanks. Appreciate your willingness to speak.’”

There were, at that time, only thirteen national parks—all in the West, since the idea of federal oversight and protection started there. Lincoln recognized Yosemite in California as early as 1864 (although it was under state control until 1890) and Yellowstone became the first true national park in 1872, created on territorial land that later became parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. The Grand Canyon and twenty other western sites carried the lesser designation of “national monuments”—with less government protection and funding, either by the Interior Department, the Agriculture Department, or the War Department. (Similar natural sites in the East were protected by the states.) Like the canyon, most of the parks and monuments had been settled by private companies or individuals, and connected to the world by the railroads. Now that people were traveling more—and the government was regulating the railroads more—it seemed clear that a federal agency with a proper budget was needed to oversee these protected areas, a true National Park Service.

Ford argued forcefully that the federal government, and not the companies that held the hotel concessions, should be building the roads needed inside the national parks and monuments, because the roads were for everyone, not just hotel guests. When he failed to convince the Interior Department to fund the road he wanted along the South Rim, he got Ed Ripley and the Santa Fe to put up the $200,000 ($4.6 million) required to grade and pave a nine-mile stretch until it was, according to one Fred Harvey pamphlet, “wide, safe, dustless and level as a floor … a city boulevard in the wilderness … in places, there is a sheer drop of 2000 feet … yet you are as safe as in an easy chair at home.”

Ford also urged the leaders of the national parks movement to always keep in mind the broad range of visitors. “All classes of people visit our national parks,” he said. “Many do not care what they spend, or do not care what it costs if they get what they want. Others are not so particular what they get if it does not cost too much. They must all be taken care of.” Besides economic differences, there were also all different kinds of tourists. Some were intrepid and adventurous, others quite the opposite.

For the first class, the conventional sort of things would be rather objectionable,” Ford explained. “His enjoyment would be that of the explorer; the sense of the unusual would appeal to him; and I must say that I think it is the higher sense. But the bulk of our visitors belong to the other class. They want comfort … [and] they have to be taken care of when they go to the Grand Canyon. There must be some sort of a program for those people; there must be something conventional for them to do. To expect them to seek their own entertainment and take care of themselves is to expect the impossible.”

He did not, however, discriminate between the different kinds of visitors. In one memorable parks conference speech, he described a trip he and Freddy took to the canyon in which they tried to have it both ways—daring to travel by auto across Arizona, but also trying to assure all creature comforts, including separate cars for the servants and a chef.

We took a Packard Forty-eight six-cylinder car for ourselves, with a driver, and a Cadillac Four with our bedding and camping equipment,” Ford explained, “then we took a little Chevrolet car for our retainers … and were not to suffer any inconvenience or want if we could help it.” But not long after they set out, heavy rains caused the Colorado River to flood one of the roads. When they tried to drive through, the two big cars were damaged so badly they were forced to leave behind their attendants, gear, and food and just take the Chevrolet “without anything except a little chap to drive us.” They reached moonlit Mesa Verde at 3:00 a.m., slept in the car, and the next morning met a husband and wife camping nearby who offered them breakfast. When “the chap” wouldn’t take any payment for the food, Ford offered to treat him to some gasoline—“he had a cheap little car of some sort”—at the local supply store, which he could just have billed to Fred Harvey.

“I thought that was too small a compensation for so welcome a breakfast,” Ford said, chuckling, “but when I got the bill for the gasoline I changed my mind. He had purchased ten gallons at a dollar and a half per gallon, which made my breakfast bill $15 ($303).”

Ford also argued forcefully that hospitality services at each park should be controlled by only one company. “In my opinion, the hotels in each national park should be in one man’s hands,” he said. “He should not be there simply with a license to get as much money as possible, but should have a definite obligation and responsibility in the way of satisfactory service. It is no small undertaking to do this properly … A good hotel is a good hotel wherever operated, just as a good man is a good man wherever you find him … I think that is probably so of any business, but it seems to me to be more so in the case of a hotel—regardless of the fact that after a man has made a failure of everything else, he usually thinks he can run a hotel.”

The idea Ford proposed of a “regulated monopoly” at each park was particularly appealing to Stephen Mather, the powerful Chicago industrialist who had become a champion of the parks (and was eventually named the founding director of the National Park Service). Mather, who had made his money in the borax business, was Ford’s age, and they became instant friends and allies in park politics.

Scenery is a splendid thing when it is viewed by a man who is in a contented frame of mind,” Mather told one national parks conference. “Give him a poor breakfast after he has had a bad night’s sleep, and he will not care how fine your scenery is.”

FORD HAD LEARNED the hard way what happens at a park when hotels, trail guides, mule skinners, and photographers compete against one another. There had always been grumbling about Ford and his fancy hotel and his salaried Indians. (“You know how the Grand Canyon was formed?” went one popular joke on the South Rim. “Fred Harvey lost a nickel and started digging for it.”) Now there were legal struggles: One old-timer, Ralph Cameron, who blazed and owned the popular Bright Angel Trail, was claiming he owned the mining rights to most of the tourist South Rim, including the land under El Tovar. Since Cameron had become a U.S. congressman, he also made trouble for Ford in Washington, and was one reason the canyon still wasn’t a national park.

At the rim itself, there was sometimes open warfare over customers. “From the time a tourist arrives at the canyon he is continually harassed by crowds of livery solicitors and guides, who on many occasions have fought with pistols and knives over prospective customers,” a U.S. Forest Service official told the Washington Post, claiming the poor visitors were forced to “dodge behind trees to escape injury.”

The veteran manager at the Grand Canyon, Charlie Brant, did his best to keep peace with his competitors. But the truth was, Ford had tried to buy them all out—and when they wouldn’t sell, he decided that Fred Harvey should create its own superior version of just about everything available at the South Rim. This meant offering better rides on better mules down a better trail, better tour guides with better tall tales, and a new rim-side photography studio (where the photographers were more interested in pictures than “rimming”). So, Ford actually had his own trail blazed down into the canyon, along an old Indian path that could be reached only by the Santa Fe’s newly paved road. And the railroad commissioned two small buildings for which Mary Colter did the architecture as well as the interiors—tasty little projects she controlled completely, unlike the larger hotels, where she was still doing mostly interior decoration.

Colter built a new photography studio and postcard shop, near El Tovar, the Lookout Studio, a small stacked-stone building full of rudimentary telescopes that had short paths leading down along the canyon wall. Its location was chosen so that guests strolling from El Tovar would find it before reaching the older, renowned Kolb Brothers Studio.

And eight miles down the road from the hotel, at the summit of Ford’s new trail into the canyon, Colter conjured a structure that appeared to have been sitting there, undiscovered, for decades—designed to look like the secret home of one of those “hermits” mythologized by the greatest Grand Canyon yarn spinners. She called it Hermit’s Rest and, following the theme, named the new path down into the canyon Hermit’s Trail. Colter modeled her hermit theme and backstory on an actual person—Louis Boucher, a scrawny old French-Canadian prospector who always rode a white mule with a bell around its neck—but the novel architecture was entirely her own. The building appeared to be constructed from haphazard chunks of the very same rock covering the ground, with a large, seemingly precarious chimney and a front porch made from stripped logs and tree trunks. Inside, the main room was a hermit’s fantasy—more than half the space was taken up by an enormous fireplace big enough to stand in, an arched hearth contained within another twenty-foot-high arched hearth, with decades’ worth of simulated soot and smoke damage. The furniture was carved from tree trunks, and on the stone floor in front of the fireplace was a bearskin rug with a roaring head.

When some of the first railroad employees saw Hermit’s Rest, they didn’t get it. The place was a mess, full of dirt and cobwebs.

“Why don’t you clean it up?” they asked Colter.

You can’t imagine what it cost to make it look like this,” she said, laughing.

Each year more tourists arrived at the Grand Canyon, and the competition for them became fiercer. In 1914, William Randolph Hearst bought one of the last remaining South Rim properties, the Grandview Hotel and its twenty-acre plot, and let it be known that he planned to build his own modern hotel there, “the most palatial and commodious in the entire West.” He even floated the idea that he would establish residency there and run for senator from Arizona. Hearst never did anything with the Grandview, but adding him to the list of Ford’s Grand Canyon adversaries certainly affected the chess strategy for control of the South Rim. And it set back still further the lobbying effort to make the canyon a national park.

Ford did have some powerful supporters on the national park issue. The Philadelphia-based editors of the enormously popular Saturday Evening Post even got involved, assigning one of the national magazine’s best and liveliest writers, Irvin S. Cobb, to visit the canyon and do a long, illustrated travel piece. It was the first in a series called “Roughing It De Luxe,” in which he updated Mark Twain’s classic journal of “variegated vagabondizing” by riding the Santa Fe from Chicago all the way to California. The articles were then published as a book, the entire first half of which covered Cobb’s amusing experiences at the Grand Canyon. He was one of the first national writers to memorably describe the quintessential American experience of riding mules down a precarious rocky trail into the canyon:

Down a winding footpath moves the procession, with the guide in front, and behind him in single file his string of pilgrims—all as nervous as cats and some holding onto their saddle-pommels with death grips. Just under the first terrace a halt is made while the official photographer takes a picture; and when you get back he has your finished copy ready for you, so you can see for yourself just how pale and haggard and walleyed … you looked. The parade moves on. All at once you notice that the person immediately ahead of you has apparently ridden right over the wall of the canyon. A moment ago his arched back loomed before you; now he is utterly gone. It is at this point that some tourists tender their resignations—to take effect immediately. To the credit of the sex, be it said, the statistics show that fewer women quit here than the men. But nearly always there is some man who remembers where he left his umbrella or something, and he goes back after it …

Over the ridge and down the steep declivity beyond goes your mule, slipping a little. He is reared back until his rump almost brushes the trail; he grunts mild protests at every lurching step … You reflect that thousands of persons have already done this thing … [and] no serious accident has yet occurred—which is some comfort, but not much … Then something happens. The trail … takes an abrupt turn to the right. You duck your head and go through a little tunnel in the rock … and as you emerge on the lower side you forget all about your insurance papers and freeze to your pommel with both hands, and cram your poor cold feet into the stirrups … and all your vital organs come up in your throat, where you can taste them … You have come out on a place where the trail clings to the sheer side of the dizziest, deepest chasm in the known world. One of your legs is scraping against the ever-lasting granite; the other is dangling over half a mile of fresh mountain air … Then to you there comes the pleasing reflection that if your mule slipped and you fell off and were dashed to fragments, they would not be large, mussy, irregular fragments, but little teensy-weensy fragments … only your mule never slips off!

It is contrary to a mule’s religion and politics … to slip off … [although] my mule had one very disconcerting way about [her]. When she came to a particularly scary spot, which was every minute or so, she would stop dead still … then she would face outward and crane her neck over the fathomless void of the bottomless pit, and for a space of moments would gaze steadily downward, with a despondent droop of her fiddle-shaped head and a suicidal gleam in her mournful eyes.

AT THE TURN of the century, a group of western businessmen invented a slogan they thought would help equate tourism and patriotism: “See America First.” As part of their campaign, they claimed that the United States was losing over $200 million ($4.4 billion) a year because Americans spent their tourism dollars in Europe.

But in 1915, with Europe at war, tourists suddenly had no choice but to “See America First.” As a cartoon in the Santa Fe employee magazine pointed out, “Europe is Closed.” And, amazingly, the war “closed” the Continent just as America was opening not one but two world’s fairs—both of which were in key cities for Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe. San Francisco was hosting the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a huge, traditional world’s fair celebrating the recent opening of the Panama Canal while showcasing the recovery of the city since the earthquake. San Diego was hosting the Panama-California Exposition, a smaller, more regional fair focused primarily on the culture of the Southwest—and created primarily to capitalize on the millions of travelers expected to flock to California.

Ford had agreed that Fred Harvey would create a preposterously ambitious exhibit at each world’s fair. In San Francisco, they were building a massive scale model of the Grand Canyon more than a city block long. For San Diego, however, they had something more astonishing in mind: a ten-acre, full-scale pueblo village where hundreds of Native Americans could actually live, work, and, most important, “be real Indians” for an entire year. For the Fred Harvey Indian ethnology buffs—Ford, Minnie and John Huckel, Herman Schweizer, and Mary Colter—it was the challenge of a lifetime.

Each exhibit had a budget of more than $160,000 ($3.5 million) and had been in the works for years, with the railroad planning a huge “two fairs for one fare” ad campaign. An artist had camped out in the Grand Canyon for two months, along with a Santa Fe escort, to make sketches for the massive panorama—to be viewed from a “deluxe coach” holding thirty to forty people at a time. For the San Diego exhibit, Mary Colter spent months doing sketches and paintings in the Kansas City office for Ford and the Huckels to ponder, before she built a wax model and then three different plaster models on the way to a final approved design. All the while, Herman Schweizer was down in Albuquerque laboring not only to get enough Indian crafts for both fairs but to hire enough Indians.

Although the San Diego fair was smaller, it was in many ways more important to the railroad and Fred Harvey. The Indian Village there was meant to right some of the wrongs that had been done to native peoples at previous world’s fairs—where they had always been a main attraction, but were treated somewhat like freaks. The San Diego fair was being overseen by a new generation of southwestern ethnologists who were considered more sensitive to native peoples. By today’s standards, some of their rhetoric still sounds appalling: Although Indians were now being referred to as “the first Americans,” a considerable step up from “living ruins,” they continued to be treated as primitives, noble savages. Still, even the harshest of contemporary scholars view some of the social scientists most closely associated with the San Diego fair as having their hearts (if not their ethnic politics) in the right place. They were led by archaeologist Edgar Hewett, a rising star in Santa Fe who was the director of the School of American Archaeology and ran the popular Museum of New Mexico.

Herman Schweizer had hired Hewett’s protégé Jesse Nusbaum to oversee the construction of the village—which included two completely habitable pueblos and several other dwellings. Among those hired to live and work in the exhibit was Maria Martinez, a San Ildefonso Indian from outside of Santa Fe who would later be recognized as the re-inventor of one of the most beloved styles of Indian pottery: the stunning black-on-black matte earthenware that had been all but lost until it became her signature (and is widely copied to this day). It wasn’t easy keeping the Indians on their faux-adobe reservation. Many grew homesick and existentially depressed. Maria made her black pottery, and her husband, Julian, did his best to resist taunting the white visitors who wanted him to “act Indian.” But by summer, the Indians had been living in the village for five months, and many of them were fed up, looking to get out of their contracts. While they were being paid—for adults, $10 ($221) a week—some were terribly exploited: During the Fourth of July parade, for example, seven Indians were featured on the float of the Savage Tire Company. Later in the month, Taos Indians brought in by Fred Harvey created a huge controversy when they broke into the office of the New Mexico State Building and stole films that had been taken of them back home performing the “katsina dance” for the Fiesta de San Geronimo. They had asked a newsreel crew not to film certain rites, believing it would cast an evil spell on the tribesmen, but the cameraman did it anyway. Livid that the film was being shown at the fair, they were also convinced this was the reason for the terrible drought back at their pueblo.

Still, even with these controversies, the Indian Village exhibit at San Diego was considered a huge success, and the fair drew about four million people. While the San Francisco exposition drew five times as many visitors, the San Diego world’s fair had a much longer-lasting impact on California and the entire Southwest. It was a turning point, a sign that the area had come of age.

THE CALIFORNIA FAIRS helped jump-start Southwest tourism—as did all the newspaper articles and books about trips to the fair that were published over the next year. One of the more interesting books was written by Emily Post, before she became the country’s etiquette doyenne; in By Motor to the Golden Gate, she spent an entire chapter describing her visit to the Alvarado in Albuquerque, where she was regaled by Herman Schweizer on native lore—including why Indians ran away from tourists wearing violet (“the color of evil,” he said). She also learned that even though the Harvey hotels, which she admired, now had many patrons who arrived by auto, rail passengers still got special treatment:

Stopping at the various Harvey hotels of the Santa Fe system, yet not being travelers on the railroad, is very like being behind the scenes at the theater. The hotel people, curio-sellers and Indians are the actors, the travelers on the incoming trains are the audience. Other people don’t count.

For instance, you enter a tranquilly ordered dining-room. The head waitress attentively seats you, your own waitress quickly fetches your first course, and starts toward the pantry for the second, when suddenly a clerk appears and says “Twenty-six!” With the uniformity of a trained chorus every face turns toward the clock, and the whole scene becomes a flurry of white starched dresses running back and forth. Back with empty trays and forth with buttered rolls, radishes, cups of soup, like a ballet of abundance. You wonder if any one is going to bring your second course, but you might as well try to attract the attention of a hive of bees when they are swarming. Having nothing else to do you discover the mystic words twenty-six to be twenty-six places to set. Finally you descry your own waitress dealing slices of toast to imaginary diners at a far table.

Then you hear the rumble of the train, the door leading to the platform opens and in come the passengers. And you, having no prospect of anything further to eat, watch the way the train supper is managed. Slices of toast and soup in cups are already at the place, then in files the white aproned chorus carrying enormous platters of freshly grilled beefsteak, and such savory broiled chicken that you, who are so hungry, can scarcely wait a moment patiently for your own waitress to appear. You notice also the gigantic pots of aromatically steaming coffee, tea and chocolate being poured in everyone’s cup but your own, and ravenously you watch the pantry door for that long tarrying one who went once upon a time to get some of these delectable viands for you.

“Will you have broiled chicken?” asks the faithless She you have been watching for, bending solicitously over a group of strange tourists at the next table. At last when the train people are quite supplied, your speeding Hebe returns to you and apologizes sweetly, “I am sorry but I had to help get train Number Seven’s supper. They’ve eaten all the broiled chicken that was cooked, but I’ll order you some more if you don’t mind waiting twenty minutes.”

By and by the train people leave, your chicken arrives and you finish your supper in commonplace tranquility.

With this dramatic increase in American leisure traveling—by train and by car—when Ford went to the next National Parks Conference, he announced that visitors to the Grand Canyon had increased fivefold in the past four years. In 1915, over 150,000 people had come to the Divine Abyss, more than had visited the three largest national parks, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Glacier, combined. But he was incredulous that all his years of lobbying for national park status—supported by everyone from Ed Ripley to Teddy Roosevelt—had so far come to nothing.

I have heard personally … about the fitness of the Grand Canyon … on different occasions from two Presidents of the United States, three Secretaries of the Interior, every United States Senator and Congressman I ever met who has been to the canyon, and innumerable distinguished men of letters and science and arts,” Ford lamented. “And still [it] is not a national park and, as far as I know, there is no definite step, not even a bill before Congress today, to make [it] a national park.”

Ford’s lobbying was partly altruistic. The infrastructure of the South Rim simply could not accommodate this many visitors—it wasn’t safe anymore for the tourists or the canyon. But he also had a business motive. The Grand Canyon had surprised everyone by becoming an enormous source of revenue for Fred Harvey—in fact, it was now the single most profitable location in the entire Harvey System, and the one with the most growth potential. Yet it was also the only location the Santa Fe couldn’t guarantee Ford could keep; the railroad owned its buildings there, but it could never control the land under them.

The only way for Ford to keep his business at the canyon was if the government made it a national park and Fred Harvey made an exclusive deal directly with the new National Park Service. That way, even if the Santa Fe lost interest in the canyon, Ford could have the contract to feed and house all South Rim visitors.

He was lobbying everyone he knew in the government, trying to call in favors for all the free meals and comped hotel rooms that he, and his father before him, had given public officials. Ed Ripley was also working his contacts, and out of sheer frustration even tried putting a huge financial gun to the government’s head. He publicly offered to make $1 million ($20.2 million) of improvements along the South Rim if Congress passed an authorization for national park status. When the bill failed, the offer was just as publicly withdrawn.

And as the war raged in Europe, America continued to bask in its isolationism, taking a good look at itself and liking what it was seeing. The U.S. population had just topped one hundred million, and the summer of 1916 was the best in the history of the country’s tourism.

The editor of National Geographic magazine, Gilbert Grosvenor, declared that Americans had finally realized the treasures of the Old World were eclipsed by the splendors of the new:

It is true that one finds more ancient culture in Europe … more splendid architecture … [and] better art. But in that architecture which is voiced in the glorious temples of the sequoia grove and in the castles of the Grand Canyon, in the art which is mirrored in American lakes, which is painted in geyser basins and frescoed upon the side walls of the mightiest canyons, there is a majesty and an appeal that the mere handiwork of men, splendid though it may be, can never rival.

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