On this day in 1919 President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill establishing Grand Canyon National Park. Back in 1893, music critic and Nation staffer Henry T. Finck wrote about his trip to the Canyon (“The Most Sublime of Earthly Spectacles,” September 14, 1893), and, in other installments, his travels across the West. Some of his language is outdated, but what he says about the Canyon will ring true for anyone who has seen it.

Ten hours and a half after leaving Flagstaff, we reached the Grand Cañon Station, which at present consists of a log-cabin (stored with bacon, hams, canned goods, and antidotes to thirst), besides a number of tents—a large one for kitchen and dining-room, and smaller ones for visitors, each tent having a board floor and a comfortable bed. The tents cost a dollar a day, and the same sum is charged for a meal, which will be found as good as can be expected under the circumstances…. The forest grows up to the canyon’s very edge, and although the camp is only a hundred yards from the brink of the colossal abyss, one might live there a year without suspecting its presence. The superintendent of the camp told me a story of a Chinaman who was brought there as cook. He saw how people constantly came and went, staying half a week or longer, and as he could not see anything extraordinary about the tent village, he finally, at the end of his first week, asked the waiter what brought so many people to such an out-of-the-way place. The waiter promised to tell him after the dishes were washed; then he took him up the hill—only a minute’s walk from the tent. Arriving at the brink, the Chinaman threw up his hands in astonishment and awe; he could not fathom the mystery, and the exclamation, “What for?” burst from his lips. Thereafter he daily sat there for an hour. Yet no one needs to envy the Chinaman his sublime surprise: though you have read a dozen descriptions of the Cañon, and seen a hundred photographs, your astonishment—I had almost said consternation—will not be less than his. I have read somewhere of two Englishmen, one of whom, on reaching this point, exclaimed, “Well, I’ll be damned!” while the other sat down and wept like a child. Their emotion was the same; they merely had different ways of expressing it.

February 26, 1919

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