From New York to San Francisco: Travel Sketches from the Year 1869

From New York to San Francisco: Travel Sketches from the Year 1869

From New York to San Francisco: Travel Sketches from the Year 1869

From New York to San Francisco: Travel Sketches from the Year 1869


Welcome to an America you've never seen. Where anyone can drop by the White House and visit the President between 10 a.m. and noon; where cowcatchers are bloodied daily on train tracks between New York and Boston; where spent bullets are strewn across Civil War battlefields, and Indians still roam Yosemite Valley; where pigs rut in the sand-and-clay streets of Washington, DC., and the weather-bleached skeletons of oxen and horses line the old mail roads across the West.

For three hot summer months in 1869, Ernst Mendelssohn-Barthody, the nephew of famed composer Felix Mendelssohn, traveled by train across the United States accompanied by his older cousin. His letters back home to Prussia offer fascinating glimpses of a young, rapidly growing America. Unceasingly annoyed at the Americans' tendency to spit all the time, the Prussian aristocrats seemingly visited everyone and everywhere: meeting President Grant and Brigham Young; touring Niagara Falls, Mammoth Cave, the Redwoods, and Yosemite; taking in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Omaha, San Francisco, and the still war-ravaged city of Richmond; and crossing the continent by rail just two months after the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads had been joined at Promontory, Utah.

Full of marvelous tales and insightful observations, Ernst Mendelssohn-Barthody's letters are a revealing window to a long-ago America.


Letters provide a rich and lively approach to cultural history; if the writing is sharply observant, they teach us a great deal about the time and place the writer is describing, no matter why the letters were written. Even as strangers, reading the letters long after they were written, we can let our imagination play among the cameos of the later-nineteenth-century United States that the present collection offers. the letters were composed in 1869, a time when the center of the country was moving westward after the end of the Civil War. in small settlements and large towns, people were building, for good and for ill, bringing with them elements of European civilization that ranged from newspapers to concerts of both European and American music, from city planning to the formation of communities based on faith. and for added divergence from what had been there, unalloyed for millennia, there was even a bit of authentic Chinese theater on the western shore.

The vast expanse ofland was beginning to think of itself as one country. Financiers and industrialists had devoted imagination and funds to the construction of a continent-spanning railroad whose two arms, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific, met and joined at Promontory, Utah, in May 1869. in many cities, black men and women were doing for pay what they had so recently done under duress. It was a time of ferment.

Into this bustling world came two privileged young Prussian men on holiday, Ernst Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and his older cousin Ernst . . .

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