THE TRAVELLING season at the Mountains begins about the last of June, or by the middle of July, and ends in September, or early in October. While at home, during the summer or fall, waiting the close of the travelling season, that I might return to the Mountains and watch the approach of winter, I laid my plans, and provided things which experience and observation had taught me were necessary in mountain wanderings: strong clothing, not easily torn by bushes and briars, through which I might have to force my way; a knapsack, drinking-flask, hand-axe, etc. I rejected the idea of a gun, as being both inconvenient and unnecessary. An axe, I thought, would serve all ordinary purposes of offence and defence, and in case of the appearance of a bear or other large animal, I could run away. My grandfather–a deaf-mute–used only to carry a hay-fork when he went after his cows, at a time when wild beasts were plenty; and he said he found it a very efficient weapon.
Orders at last came for me to return and resume work at the Profile House, and I accordingly departed for the Mountains, where, on my arrival, I received a hearty welcome.
The first thing I did after arriving there, was to hurry down to the spot from which the “Profile” can best be seen, and take a good look at my old friend, whose towering form loomed up in the gathering darkness like some grim sentinel standing guard over the forest. Having paid my respects to him, I returned, to the hotel, of which I will give a brief description.
It has four hundred windows, and can accommodate several hundred guests. It is built in the form of a cross, and stands on a level plain, a few acres in extent, surrounded on all sides by lofty mountains. Its front faces the Franconia Notch, through which the waters of the Echo and Profile Lakes flow into the Pemigewasset River, and thence into Lake Winnipisoegee. It is one of the most convenient, commodious, and best-managed hotels in the Mountains; it is within easy distance of some of the most interesting of the natural curiosities: Eagle Cliff, Echo and Profile Lakes, the Cascade and Falls, the “Old Man,” the Basin, Pool, and Flume, Walker’s Falls, and other minor objects. With its telegraph and stage offices, its hosts of servants and hundreds of guests, it is a town in itself. Immense quantities of provisions are consumed, and teams are constantly bringing the necessaries and luxuries of life over the Mountains from Littleton, eleven miles off. The establishment is supplied with pure mountain spring water, than which the world knows no better article. The stables are extensive, as the travel demands it, and I have often counted three hundred and fifty horses stabled at once.
About three-fourths of a mile from the Profile House, nestling among the hills, and surrounded by a dense growth of trees, lies Echo Lake, a beautiful sheet of water, from which can be seen Eagle Cliff, Cannon Mountain, and Bald Mountain. It is remarkable for its echoes; the blowing of a tin horn, or shouting with the voice, will awake the “babbling gossips of the air,” who will return the sounds with wonderful distinctness; the report of a swivel or gun fired in a certain direction, will reverberate like peals of thunder among the Mountains. All this I know only from hearsay, and walking the echoes is one of the few occasions on which I keenly feel my loss of hearing. The best time to visit the lake is near sunset—the magical beauty of the scene can then be best understood; and, if a man be in a meditative mood, there is no better place to “look through nature up to nature’s God.”
Take a boat and row to the middle of the lake, which is about one mile long and three-quarters of a mile wide, and of great depth and clearness, and, by looking down into the water, you can readily imagine yourself floating in mid-air.
I have twice stolen out at midnight, and paddled around the lake by moonlight. On one occasion, the report having spread that a bear and a deer had been seen at the farther end of the lake, my curiosity induced me to take a boat and go down to the place by moonlight, to see if anything was to be seen. Arriving there, I stepped on shore, advanced a few steps, and peered into the bushes. I could see nothing; and the perfect stillness around me, together with the strange hour, gave me a sudden panic, and I dashed into the boat and swept homeward with all possible speed.
The lake is a very popular resort, and parties often carry musical instruments out in the boats, the playing of which has a very fine effect. It is one of those places of which the more you see the more you wish to see.
On the left of the Profile House is Eagle Cliff, a huge columnar crag, which towers far into the air, and seems almost to overhang the hotel, although it is in reality quite a distance off. Its top is a huge mass of jagged rocks, which leans over so much that it seems ready to fall from its place. The cliff derives its name from the fact that, high up on its face, and plainly visible from the hotel, there is a black-looking hole, where, for many years, a pair of eagles built their nest. Some mischievous persons went up one summer, with fire-arms, and frightened them away, much to the grief and indignation of the visitors, to whom the noble birds had afforded much gratification.
I have several times seen eagles sailing about the spot, and occasionally diving into the woods and then soaring away. I could not, from the distance, ascertain whether they obtained any prey, but was much interested in their movements, and wished for a nearer view. One day I was watching an eagle who had been hovering about the spot for some days, when I determined to get nearer, if possible. I plunged into the woods, and made my way as directly as I could towards the cliff. Reaching its foot, I commenced climbing up, taking care to keep out of sight of the eagle, who was now directly above me, sailing in a circle. I reached the foot of the crag, a distance of about three-quarters of a mile, after much exertion, and halted to rest. Through the branches above me I saw that the eagle had gone up higher, and I was afraid I had frightened him away. Wishing to get a better position, I crept cautiously on my hands and knees, and had nearly arrived at the place I wished, when I saw a plump rabbit sitting near its burrow. I sat down and watched it. In a few minutes I saw a dark object drop rapidly from the sky; the rabbit disappeared in its burrow; and the baffled eagle, for it was he, paused a moment, as if considering the situation, and then spreading his broad wings, he soared aloft again. He was only a short distance from me, and I had a splendid view of him. He was a noble specimen of the king of birds, with broad wings, heavy beak, and powerful claws. A momentary wish for a gun crossed my mind, but the next minute I was ashamed of myself, for it seemed almost a crime to shoot such a bird.
In about five minutes the rabbit appeared again, and almost at the same instant the eagle swept down, with a speed which set the bushes and leaves in motion like a breeze; and, grasping the unlucky rabbit in its claws, sailed gracefully away over the forest, and disappeared behind the cliff.
Before leaving the spot I took a survey of the rocks at the foot of the crag, and in one place I noticed a huge slab of rock standing on its edge, with a very slight hold on the face of the cliff. It had been loosened by frost, or other causes, and was evidently ready to slip or slide down the mountain by a very slight force. It would, I think, cover a quarter of an acre, and certainly weighed many tons.
The next spring, before the snow had quite disappeared, I was one day going to dinner with the rest of the workmen, when I suddenly felt a heavy jarring of the earth beneath my feet. At the same instant the man behind me gave me a heavy blow on the back, and when I turned sharply around, pointed to Eagle Cliff. I looked, and saw that the great slab before mentioned had got loose, and gone crashing and tearing to the foot of the Mountain. Deaf though I was, I was sensible of a terrible crash and an indescribable roaring. An immense column of smoke rose slowly up, and gradually disappeared.
The next morning I was one of a party who ascended to the spot where the slab had been. The immense mass of rock had cleared a path for itself for many rods below, sweeping the trees before it like chaff, and grinding some of them to powder. Rocks, large and small, were scattered far and wide, as they had been hurled from the path of the slab in its passage downward. I have seen snow-avalanches sweep down a mountain-side, and carry much before them, but this, being a solid mass of rock, far exceeded them in destructive force. I am inclined to think a number of such slides, at different periods, are what caused the outline of a human face known as “The Old Man,” and I also think that, in time, other slides will occur which will entirely obliterate it. In my explorations over and upon the rocks which constitute the “Profile,” I have noticed crevices and cracks in abundance, on which the action of frost and ice must eventually have a ruinous result. Of this I shall speak more fully hereafter, and shall also have more to say of Eagle Cliff, with which I afterwards became intimately acquainted.
Building a Boat-House
A boat-house being required at the Profile Lake, I was selected to build it. It was by no means a pleasant job, not on account of the work—that was easy enough—but by reason of the spot being just within the woods, which close down on the lake and swarm with midgets. These pests of the mountains often shorten the visits of tourists; they especially interfere with the labors of the artists, the enjoyment of the ramblers, and peace of everybody, everywhere, except in the hotels, their immediate vicinity, and some few other favored spots. I commenced operations, keeping up a fire to windward, and working in the smoke as best I might. From the spot where I worked I had a full view of the “Old Man,” and, during the month that I was stationed there, I saw him in all the various aspects which the changes in the weather give him. My attention was divided between my work and the “Old Man” a good part of the time, and I often hit my fingers in the attempt to drive a nail and look the other way at once. Somehow, I could not help looking; the stern old face had a sort of fascination for me, and I almost worshipped it sometimes. Working at the lake, I had charge of the boats used by the guests of the hotel. One day I saw a stout old gentleman and three ladies coming towards the boats.
They stopped to enjoy the scenery for some time, and then the old gentleman called for me. I had my eyes on him, expecting to be spoken to, and I pointed to my ears and shook my head. He pointed to the boat, with a smile, and then to himself and party, signifying that he wanted one. I came down and cast one off for him; he stepped into it, stood erect, while the ladies took seats, and then throwing off his coat and gloves, he sat down, put out the oars, and sent the boat over the surface of the lake with a long, regular stroke, which showed him to be a sailor, and a man-of-war. In the course of an hour he returned, paid the customary fee, and went away. His bearing convinced me that he was no ordinary man. There were no signs of rank about him, only an indefinable something which created that impression. In the evening there was a ball, and I saw the old gentleman walking about with quite a crowd following, and learned that he was Admiral Farragut. I mentally did homage to the naval hero, and studied him with interest, during his stay in the grand parlor where the ball took place. The next day, while I was at work as usual, the Admiral came along, asked for slate and pencil, and engaged me in conversation in regard to the circumstances attending my visit to the “Old Man,” while I was constructing my “model”; a copy of which, hanging in the hotel, had attracted his attention on the previous evening. In regard to my exploration on the dizzy heights of the “Profile,” the Admiral asked me if I was not afraid at the time; to which, Yankee-like, I replied by asking him if he was not afraid when he stood in the shrouds of his vessel at the capture of New Orleans? He incidentally remarked that he was acquainted with the veteran Laurent Clerc, who came from France, the first instructor of deaf-mutes in America, and others of our notable men.
At the close of the interview I felt much elated by having had a personal conversation, all to myself, with the hero of New Orleans. There was nothing remarkable, to be sure, in his talking with me as he did; but in my regard to the fact as one of the events of my life, I am no more absurd, to say the least, than are the multitudes who throng wherever our great statesmen and generals happen to sojourn, and crowd and elbow each other in desperate eagerness to get a sight of the man or a shake of his hand. The Admiral impressed me as a dignified, but genial old man, with nothing of the aristocrat about him—a genuine son of the sea—fond of society, and carrying with him a certain air, which, while conducive to social intercourse, repelled any approach to familiarity. I hoped to see him again, but when I returned from my work at night, I learned that he was gone. I saw him, some time afterward, in the Railroad Station, at Hartford, Conn., and had the pleasure of being recognized, and getting a shake of his hand, just as he stepped on board of a train. He stands high in my estimation of men, and, hero-worship or not, I say: Long live Admiral Farragut.
A Week with a Photographer
There came to the Profile House a seedy-looking man, whose baggage was two heavy chests, and who, as we soon discovered, was a photographer, sent by a firm in New York to take views of the places of interest in the Mountains. He was not a very prepossessing individual; wore an army uniform, and had only one eye, black and piercing, but we were soon interested in him. We learned that he went out with Dr. Kane’s expedition in search of Sir John Franklin, as a photographer, but the intense cold prevented him from taking views, and he was otherwise employed. He had been in the army during our civil war, and a splinter destroyed one of his eyes at the battle of Malvern Hill.
He had come to the Mountains at the wrong time, July and August being the best months for photographing. He remained over a week without seeing a single fair day, and was almost in despair. He wished to engage me to guide and assist him in taking views, at the first opportunity, and I obtained permission to help him for a week. He wished to go to some parts of the Mountains which had never been visited by photographers.
We loaded ourselves with his apparatus and other necessary articles, and went here and there for some time with varied success. He at last decided to ascend Eagle Cliff, and try to get views of the Profile House and the surrounding scenery. Our loads weighed over a hundred pounds each, and the ascent was hard indeed, but we finally reached the spot where I had watched the eagle, as related before. We cut down several trees, made a clearing, and built a staging about six feet high, from which a wide view could be had. He succeeded, in taking several good pictures.
The next day we talked it over, and determined to camp out two days. Taking our loads, as before, with provisions enough to last until our return, we proceeded to the “Basin,” taking views on the way.
The “Basin” is a deep hollow worn in the solid granite by the long-continued action of the water, which falls into it over a ledge a few feet in height, and escapes through a small, opening at the opposite side. Its shortest width is twenty feet, and its depth fifteen feet. It forms a mammoth bowl, which is always filled with very cold and pure water. The water is very clear, and the bottom can be distinctly seen. Viewed from a certain spot on one side, the other side assumes the form of a gigantic foot, with the sole outward, and fully exposed to the action of the water. It is a beautiful place, close to the road, and it is pleasant to linger there and watch the eddying whirl of waters.
At the Basin we determined to remain all day and night. After taking a few views in different positions, in each of which I figured, the photographer removed his apparatus to the other side, and had got it adjusted, when he hit one leg of the stand with his foot and sent the whole into the Basin. In trying to save it, he slipped, and fell in himself. I was standing near him, and, knowing that he could not swim, I made such haste to catch him that I, too, went headlong into the water. The water was icy cold, it being near November. Being a good swimmer, I soon placed my companion where he could hold on for a few minutes, and having got out myself, I helped him to do the same. We were in a bad way, certainly; both of us wet to the skin, and the apparatus fifteen feet under water. The poor fellow actually wept, believing he had lost it forever; but I told him I would get it again, even if I had to dive for it. Procuring a long pole, we made a very good grappling with some nails we had with us, and let it down, but found it too short. Splicing it with cords, we again let it down, and, as I was feeling about for the object of our search, I lost my balance and fell into the Basin a second time. I had, at previous times, like many others, stood on the brink of the Basin, and longed for a plunge in the “delicious-looking bath”; but I changed my mind entirely after this second experience, and at all subsequent visits to the spot, I “looked but longed no more.” Undaunted, I climbed out, and we renewed our attempts to recover the apparatus, which we finally succeeded in doing.
Oh! How we capered and laughed, forgetting that we were thoroughly wet, two miles from any house, and without the means to make a fire. By the time that we began to realize our situation, and consider what we should do, a team happened along and we procured some matches of the driver, and determined to stay all night, as we had at first intended. We built a large fire, and so far dried our clothes that we felt comfortable, and then worked on till near sundown, when we looked about for a place to spend the night. I remembered having seen a small shanty, somewhere in the vicinity, a year before, and went to look for it. After a diligent search, I found it about half a mile away, and returned to guide my comrade to it, marking the trees as I went, to insure a speedy return. It was the best place we could find; and we proceeded to make ourselves comfortable, although the fact that there was an old bear-trap near by, brought up rather unpleasant associations; the idea of one of those animals coming along, not being agreeable.
We ate our supper cold, and made our bed with moss and blankets. We were afraid to build a fire in that place, for fear of a conflagration in the woods, a thing which had happened before from the same cause. The gloom of the forest, and the rapidly-increasing darkness, were indeed thrilling. The darkness put it out of our power to converse, which was rather uncomfortable. All was utter silence to me; my companion doing the hearing for both of us, while, I suppose, I did my share of the thinking. Neither of us slept much that night, the strangeness of my position and my own thoughts keeping me awake; while the rustling of swaying branches, the voice of falling waters, and the hooting of owls, made it impossible for him to sleep. He told me afterward, that the owls scared him badly; and I confessed that my imagination conjured up so many bears, snakes, and other denizens of the forest, that I was heartily glad when morning came. At day-break my companion fell asleep, and remained so, until a large owl, of which I had a good view, awakened him by its hooting, when I told him to keep watch, and was soon asleep, careless whether he obeyed orders or not.
Refreshed by our naps, we ate our breakfasts and returned to the Basin, from which we went to the Pool, but were unable to take any views, on account of cloudy weather. We took lodgings at the Flume House, and the next day, after obtaining views of the Flume, we commenced our return.
Arriving at the foot of Mount Lafayette, we halted, and held a consultation as to the possible advantage of ascending it, and the probability of being able to obtain views from its summit. It was late in the season, and the ascent was dangerous, on account of the frost-clouds, to be caught in one of which is almost certain death.
I had ventured up, a few days before, at a time when there was a dense frost-cloud, and all the trees above were covered with a white and glistening coat of frost. I wanted to feel how cold it was, and to ascertain how far I could endure it. (The reader will observe, that to go up when a frost-cloud is abroad, and approach it from below, is a very different thing from having one sweep down upon, and envelope, the unfortunate person who happens to be in the way. In the former case, one can retreat at pleasure; in the latter, one seldom escapes with life.) I carried with me overcoat and mittens, which I did not need to put on for some time, it being a warm day. As I approached the border of the frost-cloud, I put them on, and ventured some distance up. I felt it, sure enough. It was a stinging, suffocating cold; the air was filled with minute particles of frozen mist, and my hair and beard were quickly white; while my clothes, before I left, were frozen stiff. When I could bear the cold no longer, I beat a retreat.
I noticed a very singular thing during my stay: The wind was blowing quite hard, and the particles of mist or frost, clinging to the trees and to each other, made icicles, which did not hang down as we generally see them, but stood out horizontally from trees, rocks, stumps, etc., giving the whole a very striking appearance.
As I descended to warmer regions, the heat gradually thawed out my frozen clothes; and when I arrived at the foot of the mountain, I was as wet as if I had been plunged under water. It will now be seen how dangerous it was for us to venture up. If we reached the top, and a frost-cloud should be seen coming, we could not possibly reach a place of safety with our loads. We finally decided to make the attempt.
The photographer and myself slowly ascended with our heavy loads, keeping a sharp look-out, after leaving the line of the forest, for any appearance of danger. As we neared the top of the Mountain we saw a spot of cloud afar off, which I knew was a sign of the approach of the frost-demon, and we turned and rapidly made our way back, narrowly escaping the deadly embraces of the cloud, so speedily did it sweep after us. Of course, all our labor was lost; taking views was impossible. We gave up the attempt, and returned to the Profile House. The next day we made an equally fruitless ascent of Cannon Mountain; after which, the prospect was so bad that my photograph-ing friend gave up the job, packed his things, bade farewell to the Mountains, and returned to New York.
A Deaf and Dumb Guide Better Than None
Soon after the departure of my friend the one-eyed photograph man, a gentleman made his appearance at the Profile House, who hailed from New Jersey. He came very late, as the season had closed to all intents and purposes, and only a few stragglers remained of the swarm of visitors. He inquired for a Guide, and was told that the regular Guides had all gone home, but that I would make a good one, as I was well acquainted with the Mountains, and had served in that capacity before. On learning that I was deaf and dumb; he flatly refused to take me, adding some very uncomplimentary remarks, which were reported to me, of which I took no apparent notice, although I made a memorandum of them in my mind. One day he ventured out alone in search of Walker’s Falls, of which I shall have more to say hereafter. It was in the afternoon, and the hill-tops were enveloped in clouds. The distance to the Falls, from the road leading to the Flume House, is one mile and a-half. Neglect and mountain storms had nearly obliterated that half of the path nearest the Falls, making it easy to lose one’s way. At sundown, the gentleman had not returned, and an alarm was raised. I was requested to go in search of him, and at once consented, glad of the chance to show him that his estimation of a Deaf and Dumb was wrong; and I started off alone. After leaving the road, I soon found his trail in the soft moss, it retaining the impression of a person’s foot for a long time; and pursued it with all possible haste, as the dusk was coming on and time was precious.
It was necessary for me to keep directly on the trail, and I, being deaf, might pass quite near him without seeing him, and he might not see or hear me. I found, by the direction of his trail, that he had gone wrong, and could not possibly have reached the Falls. I found him perched on a rock, wiping his brow vigorously. He had given himself up for lost, and his conduct, when he saw me, somewhat belied his previously-expressed opinion of a deaf-mute guide. He caught my hand and shook it warmly. We had no time to waste in words, and if we had, it was too dark to write, by which method only could we communicate.
Beckoning him to follow, I took the back track, and went forward at a rapid rate, up hill and down, over rocks and stumps, through bushes and briars, intent on gaining the main road before utter darkness came on. He came after me, panting and perspiring, frequently stumbling over some obstacles, and falling headlong; and, plainly objecting to such rapid locomotion, I confess to having experienced a sort of malicious pleasure in leading him such a race, in consideration of his remarks on me the other day. After a while I became slightly anxious, as the darkness increased, lest we should miss the way; but while turning it over in my mind, we burst through a clump of bushes, directly into the road, and I shortly had the pleasure of seeing him safe in the arms of his anxious wife.
For the rest of his stay, he employed me as his guide, paying me liberally; besides stating, at the close of my engagement, that, although he had travelled much, both in the old world and the new, he had never had a better guide.
My Ascent of Mount Lafayette
The most remarkable sight I had ever witnessed, occurred one afternoon this season. The clouds were gathering, and slowly descending, and there was every appearance of a rain-storm, when I determined to venture up the Mountain, to see whether it was clear at the top. I hurried up as fast as I could, and having made the ascent, passing through a dense cloud on my way, I was rewarded by a singular sight. Below me, and shutting off all other view, was, apparently, a thick field of cotton, almost tempting me to jump into its soft folds. I learned, afterward, that soon after my departure from the hotel it commenced raining heavily, and the people there thought I was in a bad plight for venturing on the Mountain at such an improper time. They did not appreciate my love of adventure, and my desire to experience the sensation of being above a storm-cloud. I had often read of persons standing on the top of a mountain while there was a storm raging below them, and I now felt quite elated at my good fortune in witnessing a similar scene.
Very soon the cotton-cloud changed to a bright red color, as if on fire, caught from the sun, which was shining brightly above. The scene now became sublime, beyond my ability to describe. I was reminded of the Israelites fleeing from Egypt, guided by a pillar of fire by night. For many miles around, this magnificent sight met my eye. Soon, however, I noticed that the cloud was rising, which made me feel quite uneasy, for fear that I should get a thorough soaking, which would render me quite uncomfortable, and perhaps place me in a dangerous plight from the cold and wet, and there was no chance for escape; so I had to content myself by waiting its approach. I saw no lightning, nor did I feel any jar from the thunder, in which I was somewhat disappointed. As the cloud arose, I was agreeably surprised to find that it did not rain at all, but there was a thick mist or cloud rising fast, and in a few minutes it had passed above my head, slowly uniting, until it appeared like a great white cloth or sheet spread over many miles around. The whole Mountain range came into full view, in all its grandeur and majesty.
I was riveted to the spot in amazement at this unexpected scene, and I can hardly find words to portray the beautiful spectacle. The rising of a mammoth curtain in a mammoth theatre, might give some idea of what I beheld coming into view: a grand panorama of splendid and varied landscape. Mount Washington, thirty miles away, revealed itself in mighty grandeur, with all its surroundings of minor hills. But the descending sun warned me not to tarry, but to hasten down while yet there was daylight enough to guide my steps. I found most of the path very wet and muddy, but reached the hotel without harm.
A Party Overwhelmed by a Severe Rain-Storm
To show the danger there is in incautiously attempting an ascent of the Mountains, I will narrate an incident that occurred in the early part of this season.
A party of five gentlemen and five ladies determined to risk the ascent of Mount Lafayette quite early, being, I think, the first party of the season, notwithstanding the remonstrances of the hotel-keeper. The weather appeared quite unpromising, but, having a guide, they ventured off, and reached the top of the Mountain without particular adventure. They had hardly dismounted, and taken a view of the scene before them, when they were surrounded by a dense cloud, which totally obscured their vision. Quickly mounting their horses, they had gone but a few rods when a heavy rain-storm burst upon them, forming a torrent, which filled the path so that they could not find their way.
The horses refused to move, being frightened and bewildered, and even a hard beating had no effect upon them. The whole party was in a very dangerous plight, for they were pitiable-looking objects, completely drenched; and the ladies looked most miserable, helpless, and trembling with fear and the cold. They were held on to the horses by the gentlemen accompanying them, or they would have fallen exhausted to the ground. The rain poured in ceaseless torrents, as if from sheer malice, to punish the imprudent adventurers.
There was great consternation at the hotel when the storm came on, as it seemed unlikely that any of the party could survive its chilling effects. A quick consultation was had, and volunteers called for to go to the rescue. I quickly offered my services; and six others following my example, we hastily procured a two-horse carriage, and drove with great speed the three miles to the foot of the Mountain. Here we unharnessed the horses from the carriage, tying them, so they should not stray, and proceeded on foot up the Mountain, which we did with great difficulty, discomfort, and danger, the path being filled with water, and the pelting rain nearly blinding us. Finally, we reached the spot where the party stood, more dead than alive, and truly pitiable objects to behold. We did not stop to ask any questions, but quickly got the ladies off the horses, gave them a drink of something which the strictest teetotaller would probably not have denied them under the circumstances, and then each took one of the ladies and started down the Mountain again, the gentlemen gladly following with all possible speed. The horses were also induced to move, and when we got half way down, and had partially revived the almost perishing party, we again mounted them on their horses, putting a man on each side to hold them in place. By dint of great caution, we finally reached the carriage, into which we placed the ladies, letting their horses gallop off towards home. Again harnessing our horses to the carriage, we started off with all speed to the hotel, where we arrived without further mishap. The travelling party received prompt aid and by careful nursing, and the use of proper stimulants, they were fortunately able to be about the next morning, apparently none the worse for their dangerous predicament.
The Adventurous Little Girl
One Sunday afternoon, a little waiter-girl, not more than eleven years old, banteringly said that she would ascend Mount Lafayette alone, if no one would accompany her. Some of the older boys, who were fond of mischief, wishing to see some fun, and to test her strength, offered to go with her, promising help, if necessary, in the ascent and descent.
So off they started to the foot of the Mountain, without the knowledge of any older persons. The ascent was very difficult for one so young; she started up very courageously, but her strength not being equal to the task, she soon faltered; but the boys cruelly drove her up, by threats. She often wavered, but finally was enabled to nearly reach the top, a distance of about three miles from the foot of the Mountain. Here her tired limbs refused any longer to sustain her, and she fell, exhausted, to the ground.
The boys became quite alarmed at this result of their persuasion and threats, and, finding that the sun was getting well down, they became frightened, for fear that they should all perish with the cold at night.
One of the oldest, more courageous than the rest, offered to stay with the little girl while the rest should hasten back for help. Arriving at the hotel, they quickly gave the alarm, and men were dispatched for the little adventurer. She was brought down the Mountain more dead than alive, having fearful spasms, and reached the hotel utterly exhausted. A messenger was sent five miles for a doctor, by whose care she was revived, but without any particular desire to try such a jaunt again. It is, perhaps, needless to say, that the boys were more careful afterward, heartily thankful that no ill effects followed their fool-hardiness.
Taking the Measure of the Old Man of the Mountain
One day, while looking at the stucco-workers at the hotel, the idea struck me that a fac-simile of the “Old Man of the Mountain” might be made of Calcined Plaster. This was an idea which promised large rewards if it could be accomplished. But how to get an exact counterfeit presentment of His High Mightiness, that was the question. Cheered with the hope of success, I soon had my wits at work determining how to get at the measurements of the various rocks which combine to make up this wonderful profile. I was satisfied that it would take many weary hours of toil and danger to accomplish the task I had laid out for myself, but I was determined to succeed, and I did.
Preparing a clothes-line forty feet long, and a piece of white cotton cloth about four feet square, to the top and bottom of which I fastened heavy pieces of wood, so that their weight should keep the cloth smooth when spread out and suspended. One morning, without informing any one of my intention, I started quite early, taking along the line and cloth, not forgetting a lunch, and my little hatchet, and made the ascent directly from the Bowling Alley, straight to the Face, instead of by the ordinary path. The ascent was very difficult and dangerous, and I was very much fatigued, but finally succeeded in gaining the top.
After careful examination below, I reached the top of the head, and having attached my cloth to the line, I lowered it over the face, and fastened it in a crack in the rock. I could not see where it landed; so, after partaking of my lunch, I started back down the Mountain, being obliged to go to a point eighty rods beyond the hotel, in order to see where the cloth had rested. I found that it had landed on the nose, and, as that was one-half the height of the whole profile, I knew that the entire height must be eighty feet, or twice the length of my forty-foot line.
While I was still looking up at the face, some one gave the alarm at the hotel, that some vandal had painted a white spot on the Old Man’s nose, and quite spoiled his beauty. The hotel-keeper sent his clerk to ascertain what had been done, and to stop further depredations. Finding me intently watching the head, he presumed at once that I was the mischief-maker; he shook his fist at me, and then asked me, in writing, why I painted that spot on the nose? I laughed outright; and soon mollified him by telling him that it was impossible for any live man to get upon the nose. I then explained my object, and the means of obtaining the correct distances for the proposed fac-simile. He then returned to the hotel, and reported to the proprietor, who afterward desired me to be quick, and remove the unsightly spot.
So, early the next morning, I again ascended the Mountain, this time in a dense cloud; and having removed the cloth, returned to the hotel in season for breakfast.
The visit to the head was repeated in a few days, and I then even ventured, more than once, under the chin, which proved extremely hazardous; and, but for my determination to get an accurate measurement, would have been quickly abandoned, as too risky for mortal man to undertake. I was told that no man had ever been known to go there before; but, whether true or not, I do not intend ever to risk my wife’s husband’s neck on any such desperate errand again; all the money in Wall Street would now be no allurement. I accomplished my task, and succeeded in getting, by various methods, the exact size and form of the various features which combine to form this most wonderful profile.
When I reported this last part of the adventure, no one was willing to believe that I had really been under the chin. Finding them so faithless, I offered to go once more, and prove my presence by building a fire under the chin, the smoke of which would be visible from the road. This I did; and then returning, without serious suffering, I was welcomed with amazement.
The spot I reached was directly under the chin, about twenty feet below it. If it had been possible to take along a short ladder, I could have gained foothold on a small projection, and touched the chin, which was about fifteen feet from the top to the neck, but it would have been extremely hazard-ous; for, if I had tripped ever so little, and lost my balance, I should have gone down the cliff some two thousand feet, and been dashed to pieces on the ragged rocks below. In case of such a termination, it is not likely that these sketches would ever have seen the light; and, after considering the matter of late, I am rather glad that I was preserved from falling.
I was very successful in making the desired model, and produced a truthful representation of the “Great Stone Face” for which I received the highest praise, and of which I made and sold a large number of copies.
The successful accomplishment of this undertaking rendered me quite famous in the Mountain region and there are many who visited the Mountains that year, who greatly assisted me in disposing of copies of the model. Among these was one of the editors of the New York Journal of Commerce, who gave me a “first-rate notice” in his gigantic newspaper, from which I extract the following:
“Mr. Wm. B. Swett, an ingenious deaf-mute, who has been employed for several summers at the Profile House, in the Franconia Mountains, and who is noted for his many adventures among them, produced, during the summer of 1866, a remarkable work—a fac-simile of the Great Stone Face.
“It was made from actual measurement; taken at great risk of life and limb, he having been on the brow five times, and is said to be the first, and perhaps the only man, who ever ventured under the Chin, to get a correct view of the rocks which constitute the face.
“The fact is not generally known, that the ‘Profile’ is produced, not by the edge of one rock, but by the accidental grouping of a number of rocks, at various distances from each other.
“The front of the top of the precipice, which is about sixteen hundred feet high, is a group of rocks one hundred feet in breadth, and eighty feet high. The Nose is forty feet from the Forehead. The Mouth, which seems an opening of two thin lips, is a side-long chasm, or break, of fifty feet in extent.
“Viewed from the front, the Profile disappears, and can, indeed, only be seen from one point.”
The Panther and Indian on Eagle Cliff
Always on the look-out for opportunities to make a sensation, and add to the attraction of the localities, both for my own profit and that of the proprietors, I conceived the idea of placing a wooden panther high up on Eagle Cliff, facing the hotel.
After frequent visits to the Cliff, for the purpose of selecting a good place, and of calculating the distance, I went to work on my model.
Aware that “distance lends enchantment to views,” I drew the outlines roughly, and made it eighteen feet long, and large in proportion. It represented the animal in a crouching attitude, ready for a spring. I made it in nine pieces, using pine plank, one inch thick, for the purpose. Having matched and painted, or daubed these pieces to my satisfaction, I made nine secret visits to the selected spot, to which I had previously “blazed” a path, carrying one piece each time; I secreted the pieces in the bushes, and waited for the proper time. When the hotel was well filled with guests, myself and a boy went up one morning at three o’clock, and put the model together, nailing it firmly to trees, and bracing it well. The location was the brink of a precipice; and, during erection, I had to crawl around on its very edge, where there was so little foot-hold that I had a rope around my waist, the other end of which was lashed to a tree. After the model was up, it looked so rough and uncouth that I began to have misgivings as to the effect from the hotel; and having given it a few more daubs of paint, I hurried back, anxious to get the first view of it from the place. It was not yet six o’clock, and no one had yet appeared. Having assured myself that the model was lightly placed, looked quite natural, and could not fail to be noticed, I retired, to watch the effect, feeling highly gratified with my success. Some early risers soon appeared on the piazza, stretching themselves, rubbing their eyes, and expanding their lungs with copious inhalations of the keen, pure, and bracing Mountain air. Having cleared the night-mists from eye and brain, they proceeded to enjoy the prospect. One of them, looking in the direction of the Cliff, suddenly started, rubbed his eyes, and looked again, to be sure he was not deceived, and called the attention of the next to the model. Instantly, all was excitement; the more casual spectators apparently taking it for a reality, and the cry of “a panther! a panther!!” which rang through the house, soon brought all who were about to the piazza and front yard; while those yet in their rooms threw up their windows, and looked eagerly forth; telescopes and opera-glasses were brought into requisition, and soon settled the nature of the object, after which, the guests began to speculate as to the author of this exploit. The editor of the New York Journal of Commerce, who had some previous knowledge of me, decided that it must be my doing. He hunted me up, and asked me about it. I told him the whole story; whereupon he took me with him, and introduced me to the crowd, who listened with interest to his repetition of my story, voted the deed a success, and made up a handsome purse, which was presented to me as a token of their appreciation.
The next spring I returned, and found the panther still in its place. A visit to the spot proved it to be uninjured by the storms of the past winter, and I determined to put up the figure of an Indian with a gun, in the act of shooting the panther. I made the figure and the gun out the same material I had used in constructing the panther—inch-pine lumber.
The Indian was twenty feet high, and his gun was sixteen feet long, the barrel being eight inches wide. When I got the thing ready, I was very weak, from the effects of a bad cold, and was unable to conduct my operations as secretly as before. I, however, communicated my project to as few persons as possible, and got a gang of ten men to carry the pieces and the necessary implements, while I went with them to guide them to the spot, and to superintend operations. The day was hot, and the ascent rough, so that I was soon exhausted and had to be helped on the way. Long before we arrived at our destination, I was almost dead for want of a drink of water. We had brought none with us, but discovered a place where water was oozing from the face of the rock. It did not come fast enough to give me a drink, and it was thinly spread over so much surface that I could only moisten my parched lip and tongue. Taking a bag, which I had with me, I half filled it, with the soft moss of the forest; and, by pressing the bag against the face of the rock, absorbed all the water that came. When the bag, by its increased weight, appeared to contain a sufficient quantity, I applied my mouth to a corner, compressed the bag with my hands, and obtained a copious and delicious draught. Having satisfied my thirst, I again applied the bag to the rock, filled it as full as possible, and resumed the ascent. The bag furnished several refreshing draughts of water before we reached the desired place. It was necessary to locate the Indian at a considerable distance from the panther, in order to secure the proper effect; and, as we could not see the latter, it required several trips to and fro, and some nice calculations; but we finally got it right, as observation from the hotel afterwards proved. Having nailed it to the trees, and braced it firmly, we returned to the Profile House, where the guests showed their appreciation of the enterprise by a second liberal collection. At latest accounts during the summer of 1869, the panther and Indian still remained.
A Perilous Adventure
One Saturday noon, after dinner, the other workmen and myself were outside of the hotel, chatting and smoking, before resuming work, when one of them asked me, in a bantering way, if I could ascend Eagle Cliff directly from the hotel, instead of taking the usual roundabout way. After some hesitation, I said I could do it, and would go if I could get permission to leave work, and that I would fling out a white flag at the top. All the lumber which we used had to be brought over the Mountains on teams, and it was slow and tedious work. This was before the idea occurred to the proprietors to build a steam saw-mill, which was afterwards done, and from which an ample supply was furnished. As we happened to be out of lumber at the time, I readily obtained leave of absence.
Procuring a table-cloth and some stout twine, and taking neither coat, axe, or lunch, as usual—so confident was I that I should need none of them—I plunged into the woods, about two o’clock, P.M., and commenced the ascent. The day was warm; the work uncomfortable; and the midgets, or wood-flies, more troublesome than ever. I had to keep my hands constantly in motion about my face to keep them off; their bite being always annoying, and often poisonous. The ascent became more and more difficult, and I made up my mind that it was a mad work to get to the top; but, to think of returning, was not pleasant, as the boys would laugh at me. I might take the usual way, and no one be the wiser; but that would be a cheat, and so I kept on. I had often to scramble up on my hands and knees, and to pull myself up by roots and bushes, and be very cautious about it, as they had no firm hold in the ground, and were easily pulled up. A bush suddenly gave way in one place, and, had not a large tree prevented it, I should have had a serious fall upon the jagged rocks twenty feet below. It was now impossible to descend, for I was on a ledge from which no downward path was visible. Working my way up, with immense labor, I at last discovered a huge crack or fissure, some thirty feet long, two feet wide, and ten feet high, with several trees growing in it, and I squeezed myself up and through it. At its end I was glad to see that I was near the top, which I quickly gained. While resting from the fatigue induced by my exertions, I was troubled with unpleasant doubts about a safe return; but I dismissed them for the present, and, climbing the tallest tree I could find, I obtained a truly sublime view. The tree waved gently to and fro in the wind with a soothing effect; Lafayette lifted itself far toward the sky, and far below me was the Profile House, looking no larger than a birdhouse, such as are often set up by boys. I longed to have some of my friends present to share my delight. I tied the table-cloth out on the branches, and immediately the guests and workmen began to congregate in front of the hotel, and to wave their handkerchiefs, to show that they saw that I had really reached the top, although they probably had not expected to see me make my appearance in the top of a tree. Descending from the tree, after an hour of true enjoyment, I was soon convinced that it was impossible to return by the way I had come, and that my only course was to make the best of my way to the columnar crag, and search for a path down its side. The distance was only half a mile, but the undergrowth was so thick, and fallen trees so numerous, that my progress was very slow. I now repented not having brought my hand-axe, with which to cut my way through. The pitiless midgets followed me in clouds; I never smoke, or I could easily have kept them off. I have tried mosquito-netting around my head and face, but found it to answer no good purpose, as, besides being easily torn, it interfered with the frequent necessity of wiping away the perspiration, and was otherwise uncomfortable.
From the blink of the crag, to which I finally attained, I had another glorious view of the hills; a small part of the chin of the “Old Man” could be seen, but nothing of the nose, mouth, or forehead. I built a small fire in a hole in the rock, both to drive off the midgets and attract the attention of those below. The crowd soon saw the smoke, and the waving of handkerchiefs was repeated. I had stepped on a piece of rock to have a better view, and, as I turned to get down, I felt it move; with a sudden spring, I grasped a bush, and fell flat upon my breast, while the stone rolled over, and went thundering down the precipice. I wished to get down the cliff, it is true, but not in that hasty fashion, as I came near doing. Putting out the fire, a precaution the importance of which I would impress upon all who build fires in the woods, the neglect of it having caused many extensive conflagrations, I resumed my search for a way down. During this time, a pair of large owls flew up from the depths below, fluttered blindly about for a moment or two, and then dove down again. I am not superstitious, otherwise the appearance of these birds, considered of evil omen, at such a time and place, might have depressed my already heavy spirits. After a long search, I found I was in a tight place, and saw no other way out of it than to go down the opposite side of the cliff, and ascend Mount Lafayette.
Viewed from a distance, the deep, black ravine that scars the Mountain-side seemed easy of ascent; a complete deception, as will be seen. Once at the top of the ravine, I could easily gain the well-known bridle-path, and from that point the way was clear. I should also have another extensive view, and it was rare for one to get three different views, from points so far apart, on the same day. I was admonished to make haste, as the sun, considering the distance I had yet to go and the probable and possible difficulties of the way, was unpleasantly near setting.
I ran, jumped and slid as far as the bottom of the valley, where I stopped to quench my thirst in a clear, sparkling brook which ran there, built a fire to keep the midgets away, and sat down to rest a little, contemplating, meanwhile, the yawning blackness of the ravine, which was now directly in front of me, and looked gloomy enough, but its very gloom was sublime.
As soon as I got well rested, I commenced the ascent in earnest. I was frequently obliged to cross and re-cross the rushing brook; the sides were very steep, and trees and bushes were scattered here and there, but the ravine was mostly lined, as far as one could see, with large and small stones, from which the rains had washed away the earth, until many of them stood ready to roll down at a touch, or even at a heavy jar. The sun shone straight into the chasm, and the lofty sides kept the wind away; the heat was almost suffocating, and before long most of my clothing was saturated with perspiration. The ascent, comparatively easy at first, became more difficult every moment, and the heat more oppressive; to think of stopping was out of the question, as eight miles still lay between myself and the Profile House. Detention, by darkness, would very likely be death. I could not shorten the distance by climbing the side, for the underbrush was impenetrable without an axe. So I pushed along, painfully; I was much fatigued and excited; my feet were sore; the soles of my shoes, new the day before, being worn through. I began to fear I could not extricate myself from the ravine, and I prayed for deliverance as I had never prayed before; thoughts of my family, and of my past life, flashed through my mind.
It is remarkable how rapidly and clearly a man can think when in danger; in what a short space of time every act of his life, good or bad, passes in review before him. About this time, I stepped on a loose rock, which slid from under my feet, and rolled heavily downward, starting numerous other rocks in its course, and raising an immense cloud of dust. I soon discovered a new source of danger; the jar, and the reverberations of the rolling stones below me, had started those above, and they now rolled past in considerable numbers, some of them passing quite near me. The rock on which I now stood—to which I had sprung when the other gave way—was quite slippery, and I could not move out of the way should any of the stones come in my direction, lest I lose my footing and follow them to the bottom.
The ravine above and ahead of me was steep, and quite smooth. Looking up, to see how long the commotion was likely to last, I saw a huge rock far up the slope, coming directly down upon me at a fearful speed. I also noticed that a large rock cropped out ten or twelve feet above my head, and that the coming stone would hit it, and, in all probability, fetch both upon me, and hurl me to destruction. Mentally bidding farewell to the world, and commending my spirit to God, I kept my eyes fixed on the rock. It struck the projection—which proved to be a solid spur in the Mountain-side, and consequently did not move—bounded over my head, and went spinning to the bottom, where it flew into a thousand pieces.
A few more stones passed me, and then all became quiet again. I cannot describe my feelings at this deliverance; but I imagine I know how a man feels who has been reprieved at the foot of the gallows.
I now took courage, and resumed the ascent, picking my way up carefully. Farther on, I came to a broad, flat rock, steep, wet and slippery. Being unable to go around it on either side, I went down on hands and knees and crawled up its surface. Reaching what I thought a safe place, I attempted to stand upright. My feet slipped, and I fell on my face, bruising myself considerably. I slid on and down till my eye caught a little crack in the rock, into which I got the ends of my fingers, and thus stopped the descent, though it seemed only a postponement of the inevitable end; for of course I could not hold on forever. I could not move; the clouds of midgets which had followed me all along, now seemed to know that their opportunity had come, and settled in a mass on my neck, face and hands. The torment was terrible, but I was helpless.
Over the surface of the rock on which I was spread out, the water trickled from a spring above, and I was soon quite wet. If I was obliged to stay out all night, my only safety was in having a good fire. Since leaving the last place where I had made a fire, I had discovered that I laid my matches on the ground, while lighting it, and left them there; and that I had but one solitary match, which was in my vest pocket. My greatest fear now was, that this one match would get wet, and I be thus reduced to extremity.
Looking carefully around, I saw a crevice, not far from my feet, into which, if I could get my feet, I could resume my progress on hands and knees. The length of my legs, inconvenient at times, now did me good service, as they could just reach it. Cautiously letting go my hold with one hand, and finding it was safe, I indulged in a savage sweep at the midgets on my face, giving me a slight relief. A little exertion enabled me to get out of my dangerous situation, crawl away, continue my upward progress, and reach the strange-looking rock near the top of the Mountain, known as the “Altar,” where I dropped on the moss, utterly exhausted, but very thankful that the worst was over.
A little dirty water helped to revive me. The sun was near setting—it had set long ago to those in the valleys below—and the air, clearer than at any of my previous visits, afforded me a most magnificent view, the beauty of which chained me to my seat, till the light began to fade away. My one match proved to have fortunately remained unwet, and the descent of the Mountain, by the bridle-path, now began.
The sharp stones hurt my feet, and my progress was not rapid; when the woods below the cone of the Mountain were reached, the darkness rendered further progress dangerous without a light; the idea of a night in the woods was rejected; a pile of white birch-bark was collected, and a torch made; the one match, upon the ignition of which so much depended, was drawn, with a prayer for success; the torch blazed forth, and by its light the foot of the Mountain was reached at last. Then followed a long rest on the grass at the side of the road, rendered doubly sweet by a knowledge that the danger was passed, and only two miles of smooth travel now intervened.
The hotel was finally reached, and it is doubted if a more famished tatterdemalion was ever seen within its walls than entered them about ten o’clock that night, and sank helplessly on a chair.
My entrance cut short the speculations, and allayed the anxieties, of all concerned. Every attention was rendered; a bountiful supper was furnished, and, after doing it ample justice, I was glad to crawl off to bed. The next day, a full account of the adventure, on my part, and a liberal collection on that of the guests, ended the matter for the present. I was so lame that I had to sit down all day, and was unable to work.