Friday, February 5, 2010

Yosemite firefall

I saw the unattributed photograph above (2nd image) on a weird news site last night. Intrigued, I went in search of more - and found an interesting tradition that was begun in 1872 by James McCauley (d. 1903), suspended during World War II, and ended in 1968 shortly before the Glacier Point Mountain House (3rd image) that he operated burned down in 1969. McCauley also ran a 4-mile toll trail from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point (the 1st image shows 2 San Francisco dancers on Glacier Point's "diving board" in 1900). Many nights McCauley and his twin sons would build a large campfire for their guests, afterward kicking the coals off the 3,000' cliff. Campers and valley-dwellers began requesting this firefall and were disappointed when they missed it, so the McCauleys devised several signals to alert them. Later the time of the firefall was set at 9pm, except on the night in 1962 that it was witnessed by a visiting John F. Kennedy: the president was on the phone, so the firefall was delayed until 9:30pm. The spectacle of the firefall was an unnatural event and generated a considerable amount of traffic, so the National Park Service insisted that it be discontinued. The firefall lives on in memory, a scene in the 1954 film The Caine Mutiny, and the name of a band formed in 1974.

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