1885 One Hundred Years Ago

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Prior to 1885, Niagara Falls resembled a carnival. At every turn, landowners forced visitors to pay tolls, and hackmen, hawkers, and showmen besieged them with their importunate cries. That ended on July 15 of this year. The American portion of the falls, eighty thousand surrounding acres, and several islands were transferred from private, exploitative hands to the sovereignty of New York State. The area became the nation’s first state park.

“No longer shall the pilgrim to Niagara suffer for his devotion,” reported The New York Times shortly after. “Him no longer shall the wily occupier fleece. Henceforth he is free of the soil, without fear of toll or charge.” Another advantage was to befall the devotee on Niagara’s becoming a park, according to the Times : “All the abominable obstructions of the late occupiers are to be swept away. These include shanties, cottages, [and] mills, ingeniously placed so as to be visible from all points [and] glaringly hideous in general.”

The Irish poet Oscar Wilde, who visited the falls three years earlier, may have doubted such attempts at purification would improve the site. “Every American bride is taken there,” he said at the time, “and the sight of the stupendous waterfall must be one of the earliest, if not the keenest, disappointments in American married life.” And yet on closer inspection of the falls he relented this much, saying, “I thought of what Leonardo da Vinci said once, that the two most wonderful things in the world are a woman’s smile and the motion of mighty waters.”

June 5: When presented with the opportunity to become President, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman replies: “If nominated, I will not accept. If elected, I will not serve.”

June 19: The Statue of Liberty arrives in New York Harbor.

July 1 : The postal rates are lowered for second-class mailings, leading to a boom in magazine publishing.