I sometimes think that planning a trip is as much fun as going on one, and the most enjoyable part of it all is choosing the right hotel. Guidebooks come in handy here, of course, and word of mouth, but so does history. Whether you spend the night in a manor built to the baronial specifications of an Oregon lumber magnate or in what was once the millionaires’ clubhouse on a Georgia coastal island, these are places with distinct and individual pasts. Their lure is as deep and wide as their paneled and glass-roofed entrance halls, as mysterious as their multiplicity of winding corridors, and as dramatic as the marble stairways that frame your grand entrance. Sweep down these steps “entirely aware and seeming oblivious,” suggests J. M. Fenster, the author of this issue’s lead article on splendid—and old—hotels. Doubtless for every hotel Fenster visits you will furnish another dozen candidates. It is a wonder of our tear-it-down age, especially where prime city real estate is concerned, that there are so many gilded and Deco-ed hotels to select from; I’m sorry we couldn’t fit in all your favorites, and I’m eager to discover what they are.
Once you’ve pinned down a room for the night, it’s time to explore the neighborhood. With Andrew Ward we investigate Seattle, a city that seems, according to media rapture at least, to go from strength to strength. Keeping boosterism at wary arm’s length, Ward takes us from his recently adopted city’s raffish start, through its horrific 1889 fire, and into “the singular civility of today’s metropolis.” Heading back east, we stop in Trinidad, Colorado, which attracted our author, Peter Tuttle, precisely because it wasn’t on anybody’s tourist map. Nevertheless, Tuttle uncovered a mother lode of photographs of the old mining town, and he met up with an octogenarian named Glenn Aultman, himself a photographer, who still presides over his father’s Victorian-era studio.
In this issue, too, we learn what goes into the training of a Gettysburg guide—now and for the past 130 years—and we find a scarcely touched riverscape where we least expect it, within seventy miles of New York City. As Anthony Brandt slices through the waters of the upper Delaware, his young son at the bow of their canoe, he muses on the paradoxical appeal of unrecovered history that has left no mark, and he surrenders to the secrets of a wilderness “unexpectedly restored to us so close to home.”
For the most part our travel issues are aimed at unearthing the history that is at least half visible along the road, but from Brandt’s vantage the past speaks most profoundly when it is least seen.