Sunday, May 9, 2021

The Amazing True Story of Nathan Harrison

 From Archaeology:

Many of Harrison’s stories had the air of embellishment—he even told a few children he’d come to California in 1849 by boat, braving the treacherous waters around Cape Horn. Despite the improbability of his tales, or perhaps because of it, Harrison’s audience of white San Diegans exploring the wilderness just outside their city lapped it up. When they returned home, they told others of their encounters with Harrison, and before long, he was one of the highlights of a trip up Palomar Mountain. (See “The Birth of Western Tourism.”) “Visiting Harrison was like stepping into a time machine and going back to the Old South,” says Seth Mallios, an archaeologist at San Diego State University. “People were magically transported back fifty years and three thousand miles away.”

Harrison would often invite travelers to his cabin for further entertainment. Allan Kelly, who trekked up the mountain with his family in 1908 when he was seven years old, later recalled, “He had a lovely spot: a far distant view to the ocean…about an acre of good soil for a garden and a few apple and pear trees.” In exchange for Harrison’s hospitality, the visiting city folk came bearing gifts—typically tins of meat, bottles of alcohol, and clothing. Many also brought along early Kodak Brownie cameras to capture snapshots of their host. Although he lived in a relatively remote location, Harrison was likely the most frequently photographed person of his time in the San Diego area, suggests Mallios, who has extensively researched Harrison’s life and leads excavations of the site where his cabin once stood. “There was nothing convenient about taking his photograph,” says Mallios. “People were aware that he was someone they wanted to take a photo of, whether it was to show that they had made it to the top of this very perilous mountain, or to capture something that you just didn’t see anywhere else.” (Read more.)


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