Mt Washington Christmas in 1870

2020-12-24 05:11:39.000 – Peter Crane, Curator, Gladys Brooks Memorial Library


The following pair of extracts reflect what Christmas was like on Mt Washington way back in 1870. The entries are from the journal of the Huntington-Hitchcock Expedition, and are as they appeared in “Mount Washington in Winter,” published after the winter of 1870-1871. The chapter containing these extracts was prepared by Solomon Nelson, one of the members of the expedition, who hailed from Georgetown, Massachusetts.
December 24. Yesterday afternoon and late at night, a “snow-bank” lay along the south; this forenoon snow was falling with a temperature of -13 degrees. At times during the day the wind was as high as seventy miles an hour, consequently we were confined to the house. Mr. S. (Sgt. Theodore Smith, weather observer and telegrapher of the U.S. Army Signal Service, specially assigned to the Expedition) has much to do, many messages being sent to and from the “lower regions.” He sends his first regular report to Washington to-night. So it seems that the government consider this station of importance, if the public do not. In working this line, Mr. S. has had many obstacles to overcome; but he seems to be determined to have it work all right ere long. Canned beef, tomato sauce, coffee, and pilot bread constituted our dinner. Find no vegetables but onions – bad for us. It is cold to-night (now, nine P.M., -15 degrees), and only 42 degrees in the room, although we have two fires. Mr. K. (Howard Kimball, photographer, of Concord, New Hampshire) received a telegram from home to-night. We sent a press dispatch of “A merry Christmas to all the world below.” Christmas! And what a contrast to some former ones! – in situation at least. But I would not exchange places with the most favored of fortune this night, nor do I esteem any preceding Christmas Eve above this one. A jolly party we are, but for the telegraph shut out from all intercourse with mankind. The wire attached to the sounder on the little table across the room is the connecting link between the “outside barbarians” and ourselves. They are doomed to read (curiosity if not interest will lead them ) the reports from Mount Washington. We have a saying that whatever is done is all for the “Benefit of Commerce.”
(Note: The Signal Service office responsible for weather observation was titled the “Bureau of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce,” and “For the Benefit of Commerce” became a catch-phrase for the members of the Expedition. Perhaps it was a bit ironic that the federal responsibility for weather observations, after being assigned first to the War Department, and later to the Department of Agriculture, was eventually assigned to the Department of Commerce.)
December 25. There were no clouds above or around the summit. Below, and but a little lower than this peak, the clouds were dense and covered an extensive tract of country. Through the less dense portion of the lighter clouds, the sun’s rays gave a peculiar rose-tint extremely beautiful in effect. This was my first cloud view, and it was a treat beyond expectation. About ten A.M., Mr. K. (Howard Kimball, photographer) and myself went out for an observation. We had the pleasure of witnessing the formation of several coronae, sometimes single but oftener three, even on one occasion four distinct circles, appearing and disappearing so rapidly that it was impossible to more than catch a glimpse of form and color. It was a phenomenon of rare beauty. Mr. K. devoted himself to the task of getting up a dinner worthy of the day. His efforts were entirely successful, and as the highest compliment we could pay him, we did full justice to the repast “our Blot” had prepared. The bill of fare embraced roast lamb, onions, canned peaches, corn-starch pudding, and sauces. It was not a bad dinner to sit down to on Mount Washington on Christmas day. Mr. S. (Sgt. Theodore Smith, weather observer and telegrapher) and I did the smoking for the whole party; all for the “Benefit of Commerce.” S. (Sgt. Theodore Smith) , K. (Howard Kimball), and N. (Solomon Nelson) made a call at the Tip-Top House, but did not stay long, the wind was too severe. Mr. S. takes our four-footed friends, the sable and mice, under his especial care, and sees that they get all the waste food. They are our companions, though we see them but seldom.
(Note: The significance of “Our Blot” as a nickname for Howard Kimball is not known, but perhaps was some sort of reference to his role as photographer.)
To learn more about the Huntington-Hitchcock Expedition, please tune-in to our online webinar, Science in the Mountains, on February 9 and hear from me, Dr. Peter Crane, as I present “Breaking the Ice: The First Scientific Expedition to Mount Washington.”
Summits of the northern Presidential Range in December 2020The northern summits of the Presidential Range; taken 23 Dec 2020


Peter Crane, Curator, Gladys Brooks Memorial Library

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