- Part 1: Deadpan commentary and astonishment (January 2015)
- Part 2: Sound advice against dangerous feats (February 2015)
- Part 3: Reverence and the inadequacy of language (March 2015)
- Part 4: Praise for John Hance and his tall tales (April 2015)
- Part 5: The pursuit of wealth and happiness (May 2015)
“There are few subjects too large for a Kansan to tackle”
Poetically inclined visitors expressed their awe with run-on superlatives, while others wrote of their inability to find proper words. Visitors also described the canyon in religious terms. The religious passages occasionally bend toward the eschatological, as with this testimony:
A vision of what God has prepared for us in the New Jerusalem.
—Marian Scott Franklin — August 31, 1895 (pg 90)
But other spiritual reflections dwell on less apocalyptic subject matter:
It is a chasm to afford a place wherein the soul may seek repose, and which may prompt the deepest emotions to great activity, and lift man above himself.
—Wm. Stowe Dervol, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona — August 12, 1896 (pg 97)
The Grand Cañon is an expression of God’s mightiest thought, and is not transferable into terms of human speech — one of the things “not possible to be uttered.”
—Frank C. Reid, undated (pg 126)
Beyond the grasp of human intellect to comprehend, and beyond the power of human language to accurately picture. No pen or pencil can portray its awful grandeur … It is a place where man must feel, if he never felt it before, the existence of a Creator, in whose presence he is as nothing, and whose ways are past understanding.
—Chas. P. Bond, Boston, Mass., and Waltham, Mass. — Friday, October 25th, 1895 (pg 94)
These quotes describe two different spiritual reactions to Grand Canyon. In the first passage, the canyon is a place of spiritual growth and the elevation of man. In the latter two passages, the canyon is seen as ineffable, beyond words, and therefore divine. The last comment reads like the religious equivalent of Mary Hart’s prescription for “big head”.
Tourists who invoke spiritual imagery, though, are not the only visitors to comment on the limits of human language:
I believe no artist has yet been born who can adequately portray it, nor any word-painter can do justice to so majestic a theme. It is, to my mind, a humbling sight, and the main lesson it teaches us is the littleness of man. What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
—James Pringle, Edinburgh, Scotland — May 5, 1897 (pg 101)
It is unfortunate that the words grand, sublime, and awful have been so overworked. These words, which otherwise might have been useful in expressing one’s thoughts of the Grand Cañon, John Hance, etc., have so lost their meaning that English fails to express my thoughts. All that I can do is to say that this, the Grand Cañon of the Colorado River, is the grandest sight on earth.
—James Smith, Flagstaff, Arizona — September 13, 1898 (pg 122)
Even Buffalo Bill — granted, no renowned wordsmith — opined on the bounds of language:
Universal comment is that it is too sublime for expression, too wonderful to behold, without awe, and beyond all power of mortal description.
—W. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) and others — Buffalo Bill Expedition to Grand Canon [sic] of Colorado
Another comment suggests to me that Hance’s penchant for storytelling was fueled by the difficulty of describing Grand Canyon:
There are few subjects too large for a Kansasan to tackle, but to express myself on this wonderful masterpiece is to me the exception that proves the rule. Am afraid I shall not be able to tell my friends anything about it, without endangering my standing for truthfulness.
—H. V. Scandrett, Spearville, Kan. — July 29, 1897 (pg 109)
On a lark, I did a Google search to learn more about the Niagara Falls couple who rendered this quote:
Language seems weak and inadequate to the task of describing the grandeur of the Grand Cañon of the Colorado River.
—Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Woolworth. Niagara Falls, N. Y. — May 1, 1897 (pg 101)
Mr. Woolworth’s praise was not limited to the Grand Canyon. He also contributed a testimonial to the author of a wonderfully titled volume on pig husbandry:
“Your Remedy did the work successfully. The sows that were stiff and lame are now healthy.”
—Grand Canyon tourist WH Woolworth, as quoted in Hogology: Practical Information Concerning Swine (pg. 83)