Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Canyons of Madness -- The Grand Canyon Hoax of 1909

Well known to my readers is H. P. Lovecraft’s story, The Mountains of Madness (pub 1931) which features an expedition and a huge ancient city in an inaccessible mountain range at the bottom of the world, but lesser known is the story about another expedition and a gigantic city, but this time underground, beneath the Grand Canyon dating from 1909. 

Years ago, I had read a reference to a “lost city” in the Grand Canyon in a magazine, but in those pre-internet days some 40 years ago, doing follow-up research was difficult.  Recently, I ran across references to the Grand Canyon Hoax online and could finally follow it up.  The information was so interesting, I had to share it with those of you who hadn’t already found this interesting hoax previously.  Of course, I did a bit of digging and a ended up with a little bit of interesting digression in this post.

The main body of the hoax was published in a local newspaper, the Arizona Gazette, on 5 April 1909.  A preceding hoax article was published on 12 March 1909 as a setup for The Big One.  Fortunately, I have managed to glean scans of the original articles as well as have clearer text of the articles as the scans are not very clear.  I’ll take these two articles out of order and run straight into the body of the hoax itself and then return back to the shorter and earlier article at the end of the post along with some observations.

Much like H. P. Lovecraft’s fictional work of horror, The Mountains of Madness, this hoax featured an entirely fictional protagonists, G. E. Kincaid and Prof S. A. Jordan, but linked to a very real and well known organization, the Smithsonian Institute of Washington DC.  I did a lot of searching and couldn’t find any reference to these fictional characters, even though there are some interesting biographical tips present in the article (see the 5 April article text, but alas, these worthies doesn’t exist outside of the body of the hoax. 

Of course, the best way to create believability is to embed the fantastic into verifiable facts and then give the hoax “facts” as having a plausible explanation as to why they can’t be verified.  See also H. P. Lovecraft’s essay, Notes on Writing Weird Fiction. [1]  This newspaper hoax is excellent fodder for writing scenarios and background for role playing games.
Now without further ado, here is a scan of the actual article.  As it’s hard to read, the text copy is available below from page one and the second half.
   From the Arizona Gazette, April 5, 1909
- Mysteries of Immense Rich Cavern Being Brought to Light
- Jordan is enthused
- Remarkable Finds Indicate Ancient People Migrated From Orient

The latest news of the progress of the explorations of what is now regarded by scientists as not only the oldest archeological discovery in the United States, but one of the most valuable in the world, which was mentioned some time ago in the Gazette, was brought to the city yesterday by G.E. Kinkaid, the explorer who found the great underground citadel of the Grand Canyon during a trip from Green River, Wyoming, down the Colorado, in a wooden boat, to Yuma, several months ago.
According to the story related to the Gazette by Mr. Kinkaid, the archeologists of the Smithsonian Institute, which is financing the expeditions, have made discoveries which almost conclusively prove that the race which inhabited this mysterious cavern, hewn in solid rock by human hands, was of oriental origin, possibly from Egypt, tracing back to Ramses. If their theories are borne out by the translation of the tablets engraved with hieroglyphics, the mystery of the prehistoric peoples of North America, their ancient arts, who they were and whence they came, will be solved. Egypt and the Nile, and Arizona and the Colorado will be linked by a historical chain running back to ages which staggers the wildest fancy of the fictionist.

 A Thorough Examination
Under the direction of Prof. S. A. Jordan, the Smithsonian Institute is now prosecuting the most thorough explorations, which will be continued until the last link in the chain is forged. Nearly a mile underground, about 1480 feet below the surface, the long main passage has been delved into, to find another mammoth chamber from which radiates scores of passageways, like the spokes of a wheel.

Several hundred rooms have been discovered, reached by passageways running from the main passage, one of them having been explored for 854 feet and another 634 feet. The recent finds include articles which have never been known as native to this country, and doubtless they had their origin in the orient. War weapons, copper instruments, sharp-edged and hard as steel, indicate the high state of civilization reached by these strange people. So interested have the scientists become that preparations are being made to equip the camp for extensive studies, and the force will be increased to thirty or forty persons.

 Mr. Kinkaid's Report
Mr. Kinkaid was the first white child born in Idaho and has been an explorer and hunter all his life, thirty years having been in the service of the Smithsonian Institute. Even briefly recounted, his history sounds fabulous, almost grotesque.

"First, I would impress that the cavern is nearly inaccessible. The entrance is 1,486 feet down the sheer canyon wall. It is located on government land and no visitor will be allowed there under penalty of trespass. The scientists wish to work unmolested, without fear of archeological discoveries being disturbed by curio or relic hunters. A trip there would be fruitless, and the visitor would be sent on his way. The story of how I found the cavern has been related, but in a paragraph: I was journeying down the Colorado river in a boat, alone, looking for mineral. Some forty-two miles up the river from the El Tovar Crystal canyon, I saw on the east wall, stains in the sedimentary formation about 2,000 feet above the river bed. There was no trail to this point, but I finally reached it with great difficulty. Above a shelf which hid it from view from the river, was the mouth of the cave. There are steps leading from this entrance some thirty yards to what was, at the time the cavern was inhabited, the level of the river. When I saw the chisel marks on the wall inside the entrance, I became interested, securing my gun and went in. During that trip I went back several hundred feet along the main passage till I came to the crypt in which I discovered the mummies. One of these I stood up and photographed by flashlight. I gathered a number of relics, which I carried down the Colorado to Yuma, from whence I shipped them to Washington with details of the discovery. Following this, the explorations were undertaken.

 The Passages
"The main passageway is about 12 feet wide, narrowing to nine feet toward the farther end. About 57 feet from the entrance, the first side-passages branch off to the right and left, along which, on both sides, are a number of rooms about the size of ordinary living rooms of today, though some are 30 by 40 feet square. These are entered by oval-shaped doors and are ventilated by round air spaces through the walls into the passages. The walls are about three feet six inches in thickness. The passages are chiseled or hewn as straight as could be laid out by an engineer. The ceilings of many of the rooms converge to a center. The side-passages near the entrance run at a sharp angle from the main hall, but toward the rear they gradually reach a right angle in direction.

 The Shrine
"Over a hundred feet from the entrance is the cross-hall, several hundred feet long, in which are found the idol, or image, of the people's god, sitting cross-legged, with a lotus flower or lily in each hand. The cast of the
 Explorations in Grand Canyon 
(from page one, following text)
face is oriental, and the carving this cavern. The idol almost resembles Buddha, though the scientists are not certain as to what religious worship it represents. Taking into consideration everything found thus far, it is possible that this worship most resembles the ancient people of Tibet. Surrounding this idol are smaller images, some very beautiful in form; others crooked-necked and distorted shapes, symbolical, probably, of good and evil. There are two large cactus with protruding arms, one on each side of the dais on which the god squats. All this is carved out of hard rock resembling marble. In the opposite corner of this cross-hall were found tools of all descriptions, made of copper. These people undoubtedly knew the lost art of hardening this metal, which has been sought by chemicals for centuries without result. On a bench running around the workroom was some charcoal and other material probably used in the process. There is also slag and stuff similar to matte, showing that these ancients smelted ores, but so far no trace of where or how this was done has been discovered, nor the origin of the ore.
"Among the other finds are vases or urns and cups of copper and gold, made very artistic in design. The pottery work includes enameled ware and glazed vessels. Another passageway leads to granaries such as are found in the oriental temples. They contain seeds of various kinds. One very large storehouse has not yet been entered, as it is twelve feet high and can be reached only from above. Two copper hooks extend on the edge, which indicates that some sort of ladder was attached. These granaries are rounded, as the materials of which they are constructed, I think, is a very hard cement. A gray metal is also found in this cavern, which puzzles the scientists, for its identity has not been established. It resembles platinum. Strewn promiscuously over the floor everywhere are what people call 'cats eyes,' a yellow stone of no great value. Each one is engraved with the head of the Malay type.

 The Hieroglyphics
"On all the urns, or walls over doorways , and tablets of stone which were found by the image are the mysterious hieroglyphics, the key to which the Smithsonian Institute hopes yet to discover. The engraving on the tables probably has something to do with the religion of the people. Similar hieroglyphics have been found in southern Arizona. Among the pictorial writings, only two animals are found. One is of prehistoric type.

 The Crypt
"The tomb or crypt in which the mummies were found is one of the largest of the chambers, the walls slanting back at an angle of about 35 degrees. On these are tiers of mummies, each one occupying a separate hewn shelf. At the head of each is a small bench, on which is found copper cups and pieces of broken swords. Some of the mummies are covered with clay, and all are wrapped in a bark fabric. The urns or cups on the lower tiers are crude, while as the higher shelves are reached, the urns are finer in design, showing a later stage of civilization. It is worthy of note that all the mummies examined so far have proved to be male, no children or females being buried here. This leads to the belief that this exterior section was the warriors' barracks.

"Among the discoveries no bones of animals have been found, no skins, no clothing, no bedding. Many of the rooms are bare but for water vessels. One room, about 40 by 700 feet, was probably the main dining hall, for cooking utensils are found here. What these people lived on is a problem, though it is presumed that they came south in the winter and farmed in the valleys, going back north in the summer. Upwards of 50,000 people could have lived in the caverns comfortably. One theory is that the present Indian tribes found in Arizona are descendants of the serfs or slaves of the people which inhabited the cave. Undoubtedly a good many thousands of years before the Christian era, a people lived here which reached a high stage of civilization. The chronology of human history is full of gaps. Professor Jordan is much enthused over the discoveries and believes that the find will prove of incalculable value in archeological work.

"One thing I have not spoken of, may be of interest. There is one chamber of the passageway to which is not ventilated, and when we approached it a deadly, snaky smell struck us. Our light would not penetrate the gloom, and until stronger ones are available we will not know what the chamber contains. Some say snakes, but others boo-hoo this idea and think it may contain a deadly gas or chemicals used by the ancients. No sounds are heard, but it smells snaky just the same. The whole underground installation gives one of shaky nerves the creeps. The gloom is like a weight on one's shoulders, and our flashlights and candles only make the darkness blacker. Imagination can revel in conjectures and ungodly daydreams back through the ages that have elapsed till the mind reels dizzily in space."

 An Indian Legend
In connection with this story, it is notable that among the Hopi Indians the tradition is told that their ancestors once lived in an underworld in the Grand Canyon till dissension arose between the good and the bad, the people of one heart and the people of two hearts. Machetto, who was their chief, counseled them to leave the underworld, but there was no way out. The chief then caused a tree to grow up and pierce the roof of the underworld, and then the people of one heart climbed out. They tarried by Paisisvai, which is the Colorado, and grew grain and corn.

They sent out a message to the Temple of the Sun, asking the blessing of peace, good will and rain for people of one heart. That messenger never returned, but today at the Hopi villages at sundown can be seen the old men of the tribe out on the housetops gazing toward the sun, looking for the messenger. When he returns, their lands and ancient dwelling place will be restored to them. That is the tradition.

Among the engravings of animals in the cave is seen the image of a heart over the spot where it is located. The legend was learned by W.E. Rollins, the artist, during a year spent with the Hopi Indians.

There are two theories of the origin of the Egyptians. One is that they came from Asia; another that the racial cradle was in the upper Nile region. Heeren, an Egyptologist, believed in the Indian origin of the Egyptians. The discoveries in the Grand Canyon may throw further light on human evolution and prehistoric ages.
Who is this Egyptologist, Heeren?  The closest I can find is an Arnold Heeren, a German historian who died in 1842 in obscurity and who could have had no connection with the 1909 article or even the Powell Expedition. In any case, he doesn't appear to have been an Egyptologist. 

Who is W. E. Rollins, the southwestern artist of Hopi fame?  I did find Warren Eliphalet. Rollins born in Carson City, Nevada in 1861, raised in Northern California and studied at the San Francisco School of Design.  Rollins indeed traveled throughout the southwest, living with a number of native tribes. He lived and painted in Pasadena, California and moved to Arizona around 1917, making Arizona his home. Later, was also central to the Santa Fe and Taos Art colonies and died in 1962. So he is actually contemporary and lived in the region.  I wonder how he felt about being named in the hoax article.
Interestingly, this particular lost city hoax sits broadly upon the back of an earlier famous hoax, the Mobertly Montana Lost City Hoax of 1885.  That earlier lost city hoax appears in the pages of the Evening Chronicle of St Louis Mo, on 8 April 1885.  On April 9, the Evening Chronicle had a follow up article.  Let’s also keep in mind that the whole Lost Civilization/Lost City modern literary genre was pretty much made up whole cloth by H. Ryder Haggard starting with his classic, King Solomon’s Mines [2], published in September 1885 with a huge publicity campaign prior to release.

The Hoaxter found?
Soon after the Grand Canyon story hit, the Coconino Sun published a headline on 16 April 1909, Vol 20, No 2, “Looks like a Mulhattan Story” which is pretty much the only acknowledgement of the story in the press.  It basically indicates that the Grand Canyon story was viewed as an hoax, because Joseph Mulhattan’s name [3]  was well associated with southwestern hoaxes in the late 19th century, whether he authored the story or not.. 

In support of his possible authorship, an article from The Ol’ Pioneer,Summer 2009, which is a publication of the Grand Canyon Historical Society, sheds some light on Mulhattan and his possible association to the story.  This article (available as PDF at the link above) links the Grand Canyon story to well-known late Victorian hoaxter Joe Mulhattan.  The infamous Mulhattan also appears in the pages of Hoaxipedia as Joseph Mulhattan, as well as in the book Hoaxes, by Curis D. MacDougall, pub by Macmillan NY, 1940 (although I don’t have copy of the latter).   Ultimately, though there is no absolute proof that Mulhattan had anything to do with this whopper, although it’s certainly in his league. 
A bio of Mulhattan is here http://www.experience-az.com/About/arizona/people/mulhattan.html

Now we come to the cream of the jest, which was actually presented first in the press.  It gives all the appropriate clues to the local, period readers that this was all a farce.  First the photocopy of the original article and then a text copy for clarity.

Arizona Gazette, March 12, 1909

G. E. Kincaid Reaches Yuma
G. E. Kincaid of Lewiston, Idaho, arrived in Yuma after a trip from Green River, Wyoming, down the entire course of the Colorado River. He is the second man to make this journey and came alone in a small skiff, stopping at his pleasure to investigate the surrounding country. He left Green River in October having a small covered boat with oars, and carrying a fine camera, with which he secured over 700 views of the river and canyons which were unsurpassed. Mr. Kincaid says one of the most interesting features of the trip was passing through the sluiceways at Laguna dam. He made this perilous passage with only the loss of an oar.

Some interesting archaeological discoveries were unearthed and altogether the trip was of such interest that he will repeat it next winter in the company of friends.

An amusing bio for the phantom explorer, Mr Kinkaid.is from the 5 April article and worth recounting:
“Mr. Kinkaid was the first white child born in Idaho and has been an explorer and hunter all his life, thirty years having been in the service of the Smithsonian Institute. Even briefly recounted, his history sounds fabulous, almost grotesque.”  The 12 March article claims he was the second person to make a solo descent of the Colorado river.  Who was the first?  Even John Wesley Powell didn’t try it solo in his 1869 or 1871 trips. 

Notice the nod to the one-armed Grand Canyon explorer, John Wesley Powell who had previously lost his right arm at the battle of Shiloh, who noted some interesting things in his notebook, later printed in his books about the Colorado.[4]  If you followed the footnote, you will see that Powell’s notes from his book are the jumping off point for this little hoax.

The spillway today
The other clue that this is just a big josh is the fact that Kinkaid made a great deal out of the descent through the Laguna Diversion Damspillway at the end of his solo adventure down the Colorado Rive.  That particular drop is an easily graded 10 foot slide, which would be well known to the reader of the newspaper especially since the dam and the spillway was very recently completed.  Note that this picture was made after a renovation much later.  Certainly claiming the spillway drop was somehow more treacherous that the whole of the Colorado River rapids, pretty much lets the knowledgeable in on the joke. I leave it to modern white water rafters to chuckle over that one.

In summary:
Lately the Grand Canyon hoax has been seized upon once again.  The proof?  That nobody at the Smithsonian ever heard of G. E. Kincaid.  Want more proof?  It was published in print!  I now have a most excellent bridge across the Hudson for sale if you wish to purchase …

I've tried to keep a good sense of humor while working on this article and I learned a few things, I didn't know before.  I hope that you have enjoyed the article and the links. Thanks for reading.


Update: Nov 2017   This hoax may have had its inspiration from an 1871 book that was very well known in the Victorian Era and continued to have influence decades afterward it was published.  It was about an ancient underground race that lived in a city at the bottom of a deep chasm and had very Egyptian architecture.  That book was Vril, the Power of the Coming Race, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.   It’s a serious contender for being good source material for the Grand Canyon Hoax https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vril .    The Wikipedia article pretty much testifies to the long interest in the power of Vril and worth a read. It might have given the hoaxers a good chuckle to use this found material to work their fun.

King Tut Saloon, far away from the Grand Canyon
[1] From his HPLs essay: Inconceivable events and conditions have a special handicap to overcome, and this can be accomplished only through the maintenance of a careful realism in every phase of the story except that touching on the one given marvel. This marvel must be treated very impressively and deliberately—with a careful emotional “build-up”—else it will seem flat and unconvincing. Being the principal thing in the story, its mere existence should overshadow the characters and events. But the characters and events must be consistent and natural except where they touch the single marvel.”

In building hoax legitimacy, the use of very specific measurements are used to legitimize but also to cordon off explorers so the hoax can’t be easily exploded.  Yeah, go looking 1,500 feet down a sheer cliff on some random wall of the Grand Canyon.  Consider this quote, “First, I would impress that the cavern is nearly inaccessible.  The entrance is 1,486 feet down the sheer canyon wall.  It is located on government land and no visitor will be allowed there under penalty of trespass.”

[2] See also charges of plagiarism by James Runciman, King Plagiarism and His Court, Pub in The Literary News, Vol 11 April 1890, but that’s another story https://books.google.com/books?id=JVQmAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA118&lpg=PA118&dq=%22king+plagiarism+and+his+court%22&hl=en#v=onepage&q=%22king%20plagiarism%20and%20his%20court%22&f=false

[3] Variant spellings of his name appear, including Mulhatten, Mulhatton, and Mulholland. Curtis MacDougall, author of the 1940 book Hoaxes, referred to him as "Mulholland." However, sources from the late nineteenth century most consistently wrote his last name as "Mulhattan."

[4] Quotes from Powell’s book, Canyons of the Colorado
August 11 -- We remain at this point to-day for the purpose of determining the latitude and longitude, measuring the height of the falls, drying our rations, and repairing our boats.

Captain Powell early in the morning takes a barometer and goes out to cimb a point between the two rivers. I walk down the gorge to the left at the foot of the cliff, climb to a bench, and discover a trail, deeply worn in the rock. Where it crosses the side gulches in some places steps have been cut. I can see no evidence of its having been traveled for a long time. It was doubtless a path used by the people who inhabited this country anterior to the present Indian races--the people who built the communal houses of which mention has been made.

I return to camp about three o'clock and find that some of the men have discovered ruins and many fragments of pottery; also etchings and hieroglyphics on the rocks.

It's easy to see how somebody who is either sloppy or ignorant might misread the above quotes.  The people previous to the present Indians were other Indians, going back some 10 to 30 thousand years, not Egyptians.  Also, the term "hieroglyphics" does not automatically mean Egyptian, it's just the most common known to the average person.  Other cultures have used logograms as well.

Some Additional Links of Interest
List of lost cities, some real and some are fantasies https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_city

Another reference to the Montana lost city   http://ahotcupofjoe.net/2015/05/the-underground-city-hoax/

Caribbean city hoax, but much more recent http://www.andrewcollins.com/page/articles/city.htm  

The city that was not so lost and no hoax, Tanis  http://coastconfan.blogspot.com/2014/09/ancient-tanis-forgotten-occasionally.html 

Hoaxipedia, the website of the Museum of Hoaxes.  http://hoaxes.org/Hoaxipedia/  see the entry

See book, Hoaxes, by Curis D. MacDougall, pub by Macmillan NY, 1940

See also Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology, by Keenneth L. Feder (PhD), October 2010, pub by Greenwood.  Some bio info on Feder http://web.ccsu.edu/anthropology/faculty/kFeder.asp

Download digital versions of King Solomon’s Mines  http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2166

Finally for your listening pleasure:  Walk Like the Egyptians and  King Tut 
G. E. Kinkaid -- ruler of the Grand Canyon