In 1879 Jim McCauley lured his sweetheart onto Overhanging Rock at Glacier Point, California, and threatened to push her off if she didn’t marry him. This rather hardnosed method of popping the question worked, or so McCauley said. His German-born girl had spurned earlier marriage proposals, but this time she quickly promised “I vill, I vill, I vill.” That November the two were married, and together they operated for eighteen years the Mountain House, a two-story tourist stopover that McCauley built near the site. And ever since, that precarious perch—3,2,14 feet above Yosemite Valley—has been the scene of derring-do that would make any lady’s, or man’s, heart skip a beat.
McCauley was no stranger to Yosemite. As a guide he engineered the Four-Mile Trail from the valley floor up to the Point in 1871 and then concocted spectacular fireworks by pushing campfire embers off” the ledge at night, a bit of showmanship that was continued for nearly a century. The first visitors to his makeshift hotel—its rooms were partitioned by drop cloths—came by foot or on horse or mule. Either way the jaunt was for the most hardy outdoor types. The valley was first viewed in 1849 and explored two years later, but though its natural wonders were rapidly and widely publicized, only fifty-two rugged individualists hazarded the journey in 1855. It wasn’t until 1874, when a stagecoach line began operations, that any semblance of popular tourism was discernible. By 1885 more than twenty-five hundred persons visited the park annually, and after the first auto made it to the top of Glacier Point in 1900 (see opposite), the number picked up appreciably, to thirteen thousand in 1910, five hundred thousand in 1941, nearly a million in 1955, and now more than two million tourists each year. Among the visitors have been Presidents and former Presidents, kings and queens, writers and artists, and people as diverse as suffragette Susan B. Anthony and showman P. T. Barnum. Iron railings now guard amateur daredevils on Overhanging Rock, but as the photographs here—from the collection of Yosemite authority Shirley Sargent—indicate, the stunts of bygone tourists were an exciting finale to a long trip.