Welcome to an America you’ve never seen. Where anyone can drop by the White House and visit the President between 10 a.m. and noon; where cowcatchers are bloodied daily on train tracks between New York and Boston; where spent bullets are strewn across Civil War battlefields, and Indians still roam Yosemite Valley; where pigs rut in the sand-and-clay streets of Washington, DC., and the weather-bleached skeletons of oxen and horses line the old mail roads across the West.
For three hot summer months in 1869, Ernst Mendelssohn-Barthody, the nephew of famed composer Felix Mendelssohn, traveled by train across the United States accompanied by his older cousin. His letters back home to Prussia offer fascinating glimpses of a young, rapidly growing America. Unceasingly annoyed at the Americans’ tendency to spit all the time, the Prussian aristocrats seemingly visited everyone and everywhere: meeting President Grant and Brigham Young; touring Niagara Falls, Mammoth Cave, the Redwoods, and Yosemite; taking in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Omaha, San Francisco, and the still war-ravaged city of Richmond; and crossing the continent by rail just two months after the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads had been joined at Promontory, Utah.
Full of marvelous tales and insightful observations, Ernst Mendelssohn-Barthody’s letters are a revealing window to a long-ago America.