Tuesday, October 26, 2010

So, this is a big day, anniversary-wise. Two big fat ones occur today, having to do with two of my favorite books: The Amazing Impossible Erie Canal http://www.amazon.com/Amazing-Impossible-Canal-Aladdin-Picture/dp/0689825846/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1288136307&sr=1-1

Together, to my mind, these two were a pair, TAIEC representing the first phase of the USA's unstoppable taking over the continent, 1820s & 30s, when the Ohio Country was the Wild West. The USA was a young exuberant nation along the Atlantic seaboard, busting to penetrate the wilds beyond the Appalachian Range. Americans set their sites on the wealth of land, a bounty of raw materials waiting on the other side (to be marketed to the rest o' the world) - on the Native Americans' whose ancestral home were there - not so much. Another obstacle to be vanquished, I'm afraid. Our history is not a tame lion.
It took 8 years of back-busting work from July 4, 1817 to the fall of 1825 to complete the waterway between Lake Erie & the Hudson River, flowing > NYC>the Great World). Just think of it: 363 miles, 4 feet deep, 40 feet wide. AND - oh baybee - I'd get to paint a glossy ribbon of manmade waterway in some of the most beauteous landscape in North America. I know because my old dad (God rest him) & I drove the distance and got on one another's nerves terribly as we're related. As for 1820s fashions - shut up! - high waisted gowns, glorious bonnets for de ladies & for de gents, high collars & cravats, waistcoats, top hats [too bad for you, beavers. kiss your pelts goodbye.] Anyway, the whole shebang opened for business on this day in history: October 26, 1825. One of my favorite paintings ever is TAIEC's opening spread, showing a glorious flotilla setting 'sail' east out of Buffalo.
Now, if TAIEC represented Phase One, what better way to represent Phase Two (the pressing westward, from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean) than those wiry riders & their 4-leggers, carrying the U.S. Mail? Here's how Mark Twain [I did a book about him as well, and the "Queens of the Mississippi" Steamships, fyi. Another tale for another day.] wrote about the Pony Express in his terrific "Roughing It" [by golly, I need to read that again.] :
"The pony-rider was usually a little bit of a man, brimful of spirit and endurance. No matter what time of the day or night his watch came on, and no matter whether it was winter or summer, raining, snowing, hailing, or sleeting, or whether his "beat" was a level straight road or a crazy trail over mountain cragsand precipices, or whether it led through peaceful regions or regions that swarmed with hostile Indians, he must bealways ready to leap into the saddle and be off like the wind! There was no idling-time for a pony-rider on duty. He rode fifty miles without stopping, by daylight, moonlight, starlight, or through the blackness of darkness--just as it happened. He rode a splendid horse that was born for a racer and fed and lodged like a gentleman; kept him at his utmost speed for ten miles, and then, as he came crashing up to the station where stood two men holding fast a fresh, impatient steed, the transfer of rider and mail-bag was made in the twinkling of an eye, and away flew the eager pair and were out of sight before the spectator could get hardly the ghost of a look."
Thank heavens, you don't have to be a genius like Mr. Twain to write about this chapter in our history, this connecting up of the U.S. [about to be @ war] & the golden west. I took my best whack at it and adored doing the paintings, though I so wish I could redo the jacket art. Ah well. You probably know that the PonyEx only lasted a year & a half, until the telegraphic wires were strung & hoisted pole to pole, messages sent by electricity, somewhat faster than any old pony. It ended on this day, October 26, 1861.

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