Glacier Point dancers in Yosemite found the irresistible vantage point for the 1890s equivalent of daring photo ops. America’s national parks were a relatively new concept. People were exploring vast new landscapes made accessible by improved transportation. The idea of the American Wild West entered the zeitgeist as the subjects of these photos posed above the great unknown.
Wild Glacier Point Dancers Kicked Social Norms Off The Cliff
Perhaps the most famous of these photos shows two women in long skirts doing can-can kicks into the abyss. Soaring 3,200 feet above the valley floor, the vantage point was made famous by these Glacier Point Dancers. Overhanging rock is at the end of Glacier Point Road, about an hour’s drive from Yosemite Valley. Here you can gaze out across the Sierra Nevada high country, with the curved tooth of Half Dome prominently in the foreground.
At a time when women were expected to play a traditional role in the home, waitress Kitty Tatch and her friend Katherine Hazelston traveled another road. Both lived in Yosemite where they were maids and/or waitresses at the Sentinel Hotel in the late 1890s and early 1900s.
Native American women climbed in the area long before Western settlers arrived. But Tatch and Hazelston were among the first non-native women to climb the famous peaks. Like other women mountaineers of the time, they climbed in petticoats and long skirts.
According to the National Park Service, Kitty Tatch was a maid and waitress at the Sentinel Hotel in the late 1890s and early 1900s.
“Dressed in long wide skirts identifying her clearly as a woman, she danced and did high kicks at Overhanging Rock, 3,000 feet above the Valley, on Glacier Point with her friend Katherine Hazelston as George Fiske photographed them.”
Fiske Photographed the Glacier Point Dancers
George Fiske (1835-1918) was a professional photographer who lived in Yosemite from 1879 until his death. Fiske was the first photographer of Yosemite who was a year-round resident. A friend of Galen Clark who ran a photographic concession of landscape views and custom tourist portraits, Fiske ceaselessly photographed the many natural wonders of Yosemite.
According to Historic Camera the craze for collecting 8×10 albums created a demand for Fiske’s prints.
“He became somewhat of a tourist attraction himself, and was often seen by campers unloading his camera equipment from a wheelbarrow dubbed the “Cloud Chasing Chariot. In the wintertime, his portable studio became a sleigh pulled by a burro named ‘Honest John.’ For a time, life was very good.”
Fiske’s life was filled with tragic personal losses. In the late 1890s a fire destroyed his home and studio. He lost cameras, lenses and most of his negatives, plates, and prints.
Ansel Adams later discovered Fiske’s few remaining negatives stored in a sawmill near Yosemite National Park. Recognizing that was not a safe place to store such valuable negatives, he suggested they be moved to the Yosemite Museum.
“His pleas were ignored, and as a final bit of tragic irony, those negatives also perished in a fire. Ansel Adams later declared that he deemed George Fiske’s Yosemite works as superior to those of Watkins and Muybridge, explaining that Mr. Fiske, in his opinion, had the better eye.”
Fiske’s photos of the Glacier Point Dancers, Tatch and Hazelston were made into postcards. Tatch autographed and sold them for many years. This one was offered recently by Worthpoint.
Yosemite Became A National Park
Native Americans traveled Yosemite thousands of years before the discovery of gold in 1849. The Mariposa War (December 1850 – June 1851) occurred between Native Americans and miners in Mariposa, central California. According to the National Park Service:
“The first non-native group to enter Yosemite was the Mariposa Battalion, a Euro-American militia formed to drive the native Ahwahneechee people onto reservations. After the Mariposa Indian War came to a close, Yosemite was now open to settlement and speculation.”
Various expeditions included illustrators, authors, painters, and photographers to publicize the magnificent valley in the heart of the Sierra Nevada. Early pioneers built hotels and started stagecoach companies to bring the interested early tourists on the long journey to Yosemite.
“By 1864, the value of Yosemite was recognized by the federal government when Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, placing Yosemite under the protection of the state of California.”
In the 1987 Historical Resources Study sponsored by the National Parks Service and written by Linda Wedel Greene, September 1987.
“… between 1855 and 1864 the number of visitors to Yosemite Valley totaled 653. By 1874, with the completion of the first stage roads into the valley, travel had increased to more than 2,700 visitors annually.”
On June 30, 1864, Congress passed an act preserving the Yosemite Valley for public use and recreation for all time.
“The discovery of Yosemite Valley provided the first believable evidence that the United States had a valid claim to cultural recognition through scenic wonders. Yosemite became the object of scenic nationalism and was popularized as such in the press of the time.” p.51
Yellowstone was the world’s first national park on March 1, 1872. With Western Expansion, waves of tourists grabbed their cameras and headed for national parks. President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service on On August 25, 1916. The new federal bureau in the Department of the Interior is responsible for protecting 35 national parks. Kīlauea and Mauna Loa – were designated national parks in 1961.
Oliver Lippincott Drove To Glacier Point
Photographer Oliver Lippincott was not one of the Glacier point dancers. Nevertheless, he struck a famous pose on the popular site. Lippincott and his ‘mechanician’ Edward E. Russel drove his Locomobile, named for its steam-powered engine.
According to the Los Angeles Herald, December 1901, it was Lippincott’s best achievement:
“He entered the Yosemite, ran ninety-two miles and climbed 9400 feet in the actual running time of eight hours and fourteen minutes. The accompanying illustration shows Mr. I.ippincott with his machine on Glacier Point, at the brink of a precipice of 1400 feet.”
It was the first time a car was driven into Yosemite. Park officials banned automobiles immediately afterwards due to the possibility of accidents with both humans and horses.
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