First in 1996 I brought my grandkids to visit Yosemite. Standing at the ampitheatre in Camp Curry,looking up to the top of Glacier Point. The towerinig 3000 foot of the granite wall forces heads to leaned all the way backwards. My grandkids asked:
“What’s that white strip? Was that a waterfall a long time ago or something?”
“No that was where the Firefall was”
“Firefall? What is a Firefall?”
“Well, it’s kinda hard to explain. It certainly was not a natural phenomenon.
It actually dates back to 1874 when a James McCauley built a Hotel up there.
Business was pretty sparce. He got this brillant idea of shooting off fireworks to get people’s attention, something to make them look up.
It worked. Then he began to make fires and push them over the cliff. Campers 3000 feet below were awe-struck at the display: “Do it again” the people clamered, “do it again”. Hence it grew into a tradition.
It stopped after he died but was brought back by Mr Curry in 1894.
“How did they do it?”
Well,every morning a Ranger would gather a pick-up truck load of redwood bark, pine cones, dead firewood. They they would back the truck to about 12 feet from the edge.
I was up there once when they did that and I am here to tell you that was the scarriest thing to watch. My stomach turned for fear they would back right off the cliff. But of course they never did.
Then they would shovel it off the truck making a mound about four feet tall and say 12ft. wide. They would light the fire at about 4pm allowing the entire huge pile of bark to burn down to glowing cinders. Then at 9pm every night some brave guy with a long wide steel rake would slowly begin to push these glowing ambers over the edge.
Okay, that’s the why and how of it.
But the magic it produced for those enchanting 15-20 minutes every night almost defies words. If I were to put it into a word, I would I have say it was the:
Because it was an unwritten law that everything and everyone in the valley STOPPED at 9pm. Mainly so you could hear the guy up from Glacier Point.
You see, there was one guy posted at the top of Glacier Point with a mega phone and one guy posted 3000 ft below at Camp Curry with a mega phone.
The guy below would yell up:
HELL-LO GLACIER POINT
The guy up top would slowly yell down:
HELL-LO CAMP CURR-Y
The guy in Camp Curry returns the call:
LET THE FIRE-ER FALL
Then the muffled voiced from Glacier Point could actually be heard if it were real quiet:
THE FIRE-ER IS-SSS FALLING
And every night the entire valley of campers was awe struck as these magificnet fire specks gracfully glided down the granite wall. Plunging down like a 1000 foot ribbon of fire specks. Then slowly they would disappear, falling on to the narrow ledge 1000feet below, burn out and fade away until the next night.
Doing that every night for years and years etched the surface of the granite to leave that 1000 ft white strip.
Sweet reminder of a time passed.
“Okay, so what does Elmer have to do with the Fire Falls?”
Well that story was old as the hills when I was a kid in the 50’s.
As I heard it:
It was maybe sometime in the 30’S or early 40’S that a kid named Elmer would drift off with his friends or something to their own place to watch the Firefall and every night after the Firefall his mother could have to call him back to camp:
EL-MER- EL-MER- EL-MER
And that my dears is the history of the Firefall and Elmer as I know it.”
As told to her Grandkids by Ann Peterson Bedard
I found this story on a Yosemite website and I can personally verify that this is exactly how it happened. I had the joy of experiencing this bit of magic myself growing up. I can still remember laying on a huge tree stump waiting with baited breath for the fire to fall….I also remember going out in the meadow at nightfall and hollering “ELLLMERRR.” And waiting for the answering call which was always returned. I recently found that the tradition is live and well in Yosemite to this day, see FB page here.
A bit of a departure from the usual subject matter, but thought I would share it with you as a wonderful memory from my childhood. May you sense God’s presence and peace today wherever you go….