Glacier Centennial: Mary Roberts Rinehart

“If you are normal and philosophical; if you love your country; if you like bacon, or will eat it anyhow; if you are willing to learn how little you count in the eternal scheme of things; if you are prepared, for the first day or two, to be able to locate every muscle in your body and a few extra ones that seem to have crept in and are crowding, go ride in the Rocky Mountains and save your soul.” — Mary Roberts Rinehart, in “Through Glacier Park,” 1916

Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1958), a popular mystery novelist of the day, wrote about Glacier National Park under the sponsorship of the Great Northern Railway. The railroad built and owned the primary hotels in the park and conducted an extensive “See America First” publicity campaign to promote its playground. Rinehart wrote “Through Glacier National Park” and followed that up with “Tenting Tonight” two years later.

Rinehart, whose novels and “Saturday Evening Post” short stories were popular with the public was perfect for the GN’s publicity department because she had readers ready to follow her exploits in the wilderness, and then to take a Great Northern train to view the “care-killing” scenery she described. Rinehart also wrote the introduction to the railroad’s 48-page “The Call of the Mountains” brochure in 1925.

In his book “Man in Glacier,” C. W. Buchholtz writes that Mary Roberts Rinehart’s, books, “while contributing a female point of view, gave substantial credit to railroad investments. In ‘Through Glacier Park,’ published in 1916, Rinehart gave a dutiful, twenty-page chapter describing the various hotels, chalets, and camps.”

The railroads pushed hard on the “See America First” campaign. Great Northern–a predecessor of today’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe–had sixty miles of track along the southern border of Glacier National Park that set the tone for its brochures, dining car menus, advertisements, and even many of his passenger car names and decorations. An idealized version of the mountain goat, “Rocky,” was a Great Northern logo for years.

As C. W. Guthrie notes in her book “All Aboard! for Glacier,” “If there was one attraction American had that Europe did not, it was the Wild West. The world’s image of the frontier landscape, peopled by the likes of mountain man Jim Bridger, scout Kit Carson, hard-riding, fast-shooting cowboys, and proud, fearless, sometimes savage Indians was born of fact, nurtured by myth and is distinctly and proudly American.”

Rinehart’s tour of the park–complete with river boats, multiple guides and packers, and two photographers–was by no means typical of those experienced by most tourists who arrived at East Glacier or West Glacier (Belton) via the railroad’s 1,816-mile mainline between St. Paul and Seattle. But her words resonated with those who wanted a taste of the adventures she described at hotels owned by a railroad that would operate as Glacier’s primary concessionaire until 1960.

“Now and then the United States Government does a very wicked thing,” she wrote. “Its treatment of the Indians, for instance, and especially of the Blackfeet, in Montana. But that’s another story. The point is that, to offset these lapses, there are occasional Government idealisms. Our National Parks are the expression of such an ideal.”

You can read Rinehart’s “Through Glacier Park” online here. You can see beautiful examples of railroad promotional brochures here. For additional detail, C. W. Buchholtz’s park history “Man in Glacier” can also be found online.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of “The Sun Singer,” a novel set in Glacier National Park. My article about the park’s Swiftcurrent Valley appears in “Nature’s Gifts,” an anthology of fiction, nonfiction and poetry celebrating nature to be released by Vanilla Heart Publishing in March.

7 thoughts on “Glacier Centennial: Mary Roberts Rinehart

  1. I have lovingly collected and tried to preserve my mother’s collection of Mary Roberts Rinehart mysteries. I hold them as a standard of the best of the genre, having grown up on them. I’m pretty sure that “the butler did it” was an original idea in her novel, The Door. I never knew that she wrote anything else. Thanks for the informative post, Malcolm!

    • I read her books when I was in high school, but I have no idea where they ended up. I may have checked them out of the library. Now, the only one I have is “Through Glacier Park.” We still think the butler did it, don’t we.

      Thanks for the visit, Dianne.

    • The colorful GN publicity always caught my attention, Montucky. So then I started noticing how they did their entire campaign. It worked especially well during the 1920s, but once we came out of WWII and more and more people had cars, train travel sagged badly. The hotels themselves were, for the railroad, an expensive white elephant by the time they sold them.

      Thanks for stopping by.


  2. When I was a kid, the Wild West was the one bit of America that appealed to me. I loved watching Western series on TV and could never quite believe the scenery was real. I had so much to learn.

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