Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Illustrating the Mountains, IV

It overlooks a country of peaks and projections, of frightful precipices, often of naked rock, but generally fringed with delicate foliage; a country dotted with fertile clearings set down in the midst of forests; of valleys inaccessible save by narrow passes; of curious caves and tangled trails; of buttes and knobs, reached only by dangerous passes, where one finds the bluff's base thousands of feet down in some nook, and as he looks up sees the wall towering far above him.
-Edward King, 1875

I opened up the Heart of the Alleghenies and saw this mountain with the curious name, "UNAKA-KANOOS."

The authors (Zeigler and Grosscup) of the 1883 book on Western North Carolina explained:

… we came out before the massive front of a peculiar mountain. Whiteside, or in literal translation of the Cherokee title, Unaka-kanoos, White-mountain, is the largest exposure of perpendicular, bare rock east of the Rockies. It is connected, without deeply-marked intervening gaps, with its neighboring peaks of the Blue Ridge; but from some points of observation it appears isolated—a majestic, solitary, dome-shaped monument, differing from all other mountains of the Alleghanies in its aspect and form.

I don't know much about the artists who created these illustrations of Whiteside Mountain. James Wells Champney did much of the art for The Great South (1875), where the pictures of Devil’s Courthouse and the edge of the abyss appeared. The page with two views of the mountain was from the Harper’s article, By-paths in the Mountains, by Rebecca Harding Davis (1880).

In The Great South, Edward King shares a story told while he was atop Whiteside Mountain:

"One day," said the Surveyor, seating himself with admirable carelessness on the dreadful slope of a rock overhanging the awful depths, "I was taking some levels below, and at last thought I would climb Whiteside. While I was coming up a storm passed over the mountains, and when I reached the top everything was hidden in such a dense mist, fog, or cloud, that one could hardly see his hand before his face. I strolled on until I reached a spot which I thought I recognized, and sat down, stretching my feet carelessly.

"Luckily enough, I didn't move; I was mighty still, for I was tired, and the fog was solemn-like; but pretty soon it blew away right smart, and dog my skin if I wasn't perched on the very outer edge of this line of rock, and about two inches between me and twelve hundred feet of sheer fall.

"I saw the trees in Cashier's valley, and the clearings, and then the sky, for I didn't look twice at the fall below me; but I flattened myself against the rock, and turned over; and I never want to come up here in a fog again."

Imagine a waterfall 2,000 feet high suddenly turned to stone, and you have the general effect of the Whiteside precipice as seen in the single, terrified, reluctant glance which you give from the top. There is the curve and the grand, dizzy bend downward; were it not for occasional clumps of foliage down the sides, the resemblance would be absolute.

The mountain itself lies rooted in the western slope of the Blue Ridge. [Silas] McDowell has compared it to the carcass of some great monster, upon whose head you climb, and along whose mammoth spine you wander, giddy with terror each time you gaze over the skeleton sides.

Edward King imagined the future of the Cashiers Valley and Whiteside Mountain:

The wealthy citizens of South Carolina have long known of the charms of this section, and many of them annually visit it. In a few years its wildness will be tamed; a summer hotel will doubtless stand on the site of "Wright's" farm-house, and the lovely forests will be penetrated by carriage roads; steps will be cut along the ribs of Whiteside; and a shelter will be erected on the very summit. A storm on the vast rock, with the lightning playing hide and seek in the crevices of the precipice, is an experience which gives one an enlarged idea of the powers of Heaven.

For good measure I’ve included a few postcards showing how the portrayal of the Unaka-kanoos has changed over time. The first color postcard of Whiteside (with the river in the foreground) was published before 1908.

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