"Ida Pfeiffer," photographer, date unknown. Larger.
During the Gold Rush
, life in California could seem a trifle uncouth, but once in awhile there emerged a glimmer of magic to inspire even the most jaded observor.
native and veteran travel writer Ida Pfeiffer was occasionally surprised and appalled by what she saw in California, she was nevertheless impressed by its fairy-tale quality, which here emerges in a description of river boats.
I made three excursions from San Francisco to the interior of California; the first to Sacramento, Marysville, and the gold-mines of the Yuba River.
The American steamers are the finest imaginable, and certainly deserve the title often given them of water-palaces. They look indeed more like houses than ships. The river steamers especially are several stories high, with large doors, windows, and galleries; and the convenience and splendor of the internal fittings and furniture fully correspond with the impression made by the outside view. When you meet one of them at night on the water, they look like enchanted castles, for all their windows are illuminated, and their chimneys vomit fire like volcanoes.
Ida Pfeiffer's A Lady's Second Journey Round the World
was originally published in Vienna in 1856 under the title Meine zweite Weltreise
"A performing bear at Woodward's Gardens in San Francisco, where the Monarch Bear lived between 1889, and 1894," photographer, date unknown. Larger.
Travel writers who visited California during and after the Gold Rush
did much to embellish the reputation of the state. But not every writer was charmed by the place.
native Ida Pfeiffer was a model low-budget traveler, who turned her experiences into books that were avidly read. In San Francisco
, she faced typically Californian inconveniences.
Sometimes the inconveniences are more serious. One morning as I was walking in the street, a passenger who met me suddenly called out, "A bear! a bear!" I could not think what he meant; for that it should be really a bear in the streets of a populous town seemed quite incredible. I looked round in all directions, however, and, on looking back, beheld actually a bear running toward me. He was, indeed, fastened to a rope, and the rope to a caravan; but they had allowed him so very long a tether, that he was quite at liberty to introduce himself among the passengers on both sides of the way. The owner was not even troubling himself to warn them, and I had barely time to make my escape.
Ida Pfeiffer was less enthralled with San Francisco than its citizens. In her 1855 travelogue A Lady's Second Journey Round the World
, she wrote that the "City of Wonders" was only made possible by "gold and despotism."