REVIEW of REVIEWS

No Laughter at Minnehaha

Water Has Ceased to Flow Over Cataract Made Famous by Longfellow

NEW YORK TIMES January 15 1926
REVIEW of REVIEWS

No Laughter at Minnehaha

Water Has Ceased to Flow Over Cataract Made Famous by Longfellow

NEW YORK TIMES January 15 1926

No Laughter at Minnehaha

NEW YORK TIMES

Water Has Ceased to Flow Over Cataract Made Famous by Longfellow

MINNEHAHA—“Laughing Waters” —laughs no more. The falls in the Minnesota wilderness that gave Longfellow inspiration lor his poem,

‘ Hiawatha,” has dried up. Disappearance of the forests on its watershed is possibly the cause, and engineers of the city of Minneapolis are working to devise some means to restore the falls to its lost beauty.

A writer for the Times (New York), commenting on the passing of this historic beauty spot, says:—

A singular circumstance about the relation between the poem, “Hiawatha,” and the falls that inspired that celebrated literary work is that the poet Longfellow never set eyes upon the falls or the surrounding country, although he made them part of the background of the tale, it seems almost impossible that the great poet could so penectly catch the spirit of the beautiful scene and immortalize it in verse unless he had been impressed by the actual sight of it. Yet Longfellow never even was near Minnesota.

During the ’80s, when a great deal of mystery still surrounded the conception of the poem “Hiawatha,” an itinerant daguerreotype photographer wrote to a St. Paul newspaper explaining how Longfellow came to have such a clear impression of the falls.

The photographer, Alex.JHesler, made his headquarters at Galena, 111., in the early fifties, working out lrom there and taking views of the surrounding country. In 1851 he went up as far as the falls and was greatly impressed with its beauty. In the following summer he returned with a companion, Joe Whitney, and they took several views of the falls and the surrounding region, which they carried back with them to Galena.

An extract from Hesler’s letter to the St. Paul newspaper of the time shows how the views finally came into the possession of Longfellow through a neighbor of his, George Sumner. Hesler wrote:—

A few days after getting back to Galena' Mr. George Sumner, brother of Charles Sumner, called on me and wished to see the views. 1 gave him several; among them was one of Minnehaha that he admired above all.

In January, 1856, I received a copy of “Hiawatha,” on the fly leaf of which was written:

“Mr. A. Hesler,

with compliments of the author, January, 1856.”

The book was published late in 1855. Shortly afterward George Sumner called at my studio, then in Chicago, and asked me if I had received a copy of “Hiawatha” from the author. I said I had, but could not see why he had sent it to me, as long as I had no acquaintance with Mr. Longfellow.

I remarked that the author must have seen t^e falls to describe it so perfectly. Mr. Sumner laughed and said, “Longfellow never was there and never saw the falls, po you remember the daguerreotype yo gave me at Galena?”

1 said,. “Yes, perfectly.”

“Wei1" when I got home,” said Mr. Sumner’’“being a neighbor, 1 showed him the pictu res you gave me, and he selected Minneh &ha> took it out in the woods with him and from it conceived the thought a,nd poem of ‘Hiawatha’—and this is w’hy he sent you the book—one of his first copies.”

Hoping the ab ove facts will set at rest the mystery of the inspiration of “Hiawatha,” I am, respectfully,

ALEX. HESLER.

Thus, app arently by an intricate chain of circumstances and by the hand of chance, Minnehah , with all its poetic beauty was brought to the attention of Longfellow, wrho had never seen the falls and might never have known of its existence.