Jun 132024
 

In the mid-1890s, New Orleans poet Mary Ashley Townsend, born in 1832, and her husband, Gideon, became, almost certainly, the first American couple to own property in the town of Chapala—and they didn’t even have to pay for it, because it was a gift from their eldest daughter, Cora.

Mary Ashley and Gideon lived in New Orleans, where she had established a reputation as a novelist and poet. She published under several pen names, including Xariffa (or Zariffa) for her serious poetry, and two “humorously masculine names”—Crab Crossbones and Michael O’Quillo—for satirical pieces. As “Poet Laureate of New Orleans,” she was commissioned to compose and recite a special poem for the opening of the New Orleans exposition in 1884.

Mary Ashley Townsend (American Women, 1897)

Mary Ashley Townsend (American Women, 1897)

Mary Ashley was widely traveled and first visited Mexico in 1875. During her extended visits in various parts of Mexico, Mary Ashley published regular columns in papers such as the New Orleans Picayune with astute and informative observations of natural history, architecture, people at work and play, fashion, society, food, etc. She was working on a book based on these columns at the time of her death. The book was only rediscovered and published many decades later, as Here and There in Mexico: The Travel Writings of Mary Ashley Townsend.

Mary Ashley’s daughter Cora Alice Townsend de Rascón (born in 1855) was the widow of wealthy hacienda owner and diplomat José Martín Rascón, the first Mexican minister to Japan, and a confidante of President Díaz. Rascón died unexpectedly in 1893 in San Francisco on his way home to Mexico. After his death, Cora inherited and administered his substantial estate, including several haciendas in San Luis Potosí.

In 1895, Cora bought the Villa Montecarlo from English eccentric Septimus Crowe and gave it to her parents as a Christmas present. A few weeks previously, Cora and her mother had both attended the 11th Congreso Internacional de Americanistas in Mexico City, as had British consul Lionel Carden, who had already started building Villa Tlalocan, his own well-appointed home in Chapala, designed by English architect George Edward King.

Cora’s parents loved Chapala and spent several months each winter there. Gideon Townsend, a financier, liked it for the sake of his health and planted dozens of coffee trees. The Townsend house—at that time the “furthest west of all the cottages”— was a prominent local landmark. According to The Mexican Herald in 1897, “On the highest peak one sees a bright red and white house with a tower which looks as if it came from the old baronial castles of the middle ages.”

Mary Ashley Townsend wrote several poems in Chapala, at least two of which are about the lake. The first, titled “On Lake Chapala” is typical of her lyrical style and offers a halcyon view of her winter home.

“On Lake Chapala”

Oh Nature! soother of the heart that bleeds
Thou, with the boundless beauty of thy skies.
And mountain shapes which improbably rise,
Dost preach thine own among a thousand creeds.

Amid conflicting ways, of words and deeds,
Bewildered man his tangled pathway plies
To clutch at truth where truth his grasp denies,
While thou, the unfailing trinity his soul unheeds!

‘Tis writ oh, Nature! on the veiled winds,
On voiceless planets that our planet nears,
In limpid brooks, in the unfathomed sea—
Writ on the pebble that the lone shore finds,
Writ on the foreheads of the flying years,
Thine was, thine is, thine man shall ever be.

+ + +

The second poem, titled simply “Lake Chapala,” is, in my opinion, far more interesting.

“Lake Chapala”

A sunken city in thy depths tis said,
Fair Lake Chapala, lieth hidden deep,
And water weeds across its casements creep,
Or bar the doors on its unburied dead.

Upon its domes and towers are never shed
The sun’s bright beams, its ancient gateways keep
Grim wardens sleeping an eternal sleep
While through its streets the marching ages tread.

But, in the night time when the moon is low,
The murmuring waves which touch thy tropic shore
The songs of Aztec maidens with them bring
And stronger voices of warriors in their woe
And lovers’ tender accents come once more
Up from the sunken city wandering.

+ + +

This poem relates directly to an idea then circling in the U.S. that an early town or city at Lake Chapala had been submerged and now lay under water. Distinguished American anthropologist Frederick Starr (1858-1933) spent the winter of 1895-1896 at Lake Chapala investigating the rumors of this submerged city, rumors based mainly on the large number of pottery fragments recovered from the lake bed whenever the water level fell. After collecting and studying 261 individual specimens of pottery, Starr concluded that they were likely to be “offerings made to the lake itself or some spirit resident there-in,” and not utilitarian household items. Starr also recognized that changes in lake level might explain why the pieces were now found at some distance from the current shoreline.

Townsend-book-coverIn “Lake Chapala,” Mary Ashley Townsend, looking across the waters of the lake from her stately residence, Villa Montecarlo, indulged her imagination and poetic talents.

Unfortunately, tragedy would soon befall her family. Her eldest daughter, Cora, married Bannister Smith Monro, a New Yorker living in Europe, in 1896, and moved to Paris. The Monros’ daughter (Cora Monro) was born the following year, and their son a year later. Tragically, on 28 March 1898, Cora died within days of giving birth to their son, who died only a few weeks later. As if this wasn’t enough ill-luck, Bannister died on 15 August 1899. Young Cora Monro, orphaned before she was three years old, inherited the massive land holdings in Mexico, and was taken in by her maternal aunt, Mrs George Lee, in Galveston, Texas. Mary Ashley’s husband, Gideon, also died in 1899, meaning that Mary Ashley had lost her eldest child, as well as a grandson, a son-in-law and her own husband within two years. The run of bad luck did not end there. Mary Ashley was severely injured in a train crash in Texas, and suffered months of ill health prior to her own death on 7 June 1901.

The Montecarlo property was eventually acquired—the conflicting versions of how this occurred are impossible to reconcile and leave several unanswered questions—by Aurelio González Hermosillo (1862–1927), a wealthy lawyer and financier who owned the Hacienda Santa Cruz del Valle near Guadalajara.

Note that American historian John Mason Hart’s account of Cora’s life in Empire and Revolution: The Americans in Mexico Since the Civil War, is error-strewn. His claim, for example, that Rascón died in 1896 and that Cora Townsend then continued to run the hacienda, very successfully, for another decade, until her own death in 1906, is clearly wrong since Rascón died in 1893 and Cora in 1898.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Chapter 28 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants (translated into Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran) includes more discussion of the Townsends’ ownership of Villa Montecarlo.

Acknowledgment

  • My sincere thanks to Michael Olivas for investigating the Stanton-Townsend Papers in the Special Collections Division of the Howard-Tilton Library at Tulane University, New Orleans.

Sources

  • James Mason Hart. 2002. Empire and Revolution: The Americans in Mexico Since the Civil War. University of California Press, page 398.
  • Mary Ashley Townsend. Undated, unpublished manuscripts, Box 3, Folder 17, Stanton-Townsend Papers, Special Collections Division, Howard-Tilton Library, Tulane University, New Orleans.
  • Mary Ashley Townsend. 2001. Here and There in Mexico: The Travel Writings of Mary Ashley Townsend. (edited by Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr.) University of Alabama Press.
  • The Salt Lake Herald: 16 November 1895.
  • Starr, Frederick. 1897. “The Little Pottery Objects of Lake Chapala, Mexico.” Department of Anthropology Bulletin II. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via comments or email.

Jun 062024
 

Before the advent of trains and motor vehicles, the only way to get to Lake Chapala was to walk, ride or take a stagecoach (diligencia). The first regular Guadalajara–Chapala stagecoach service began in 1866. While the trip could be done in ten hours, it usually took twelve or more, and the mix of excitement, speed, fright, danger and uncertainty described by early travelers was certainly not for the faint-hearted.

After the completion of the Irapuato-Ocotlán-Atequiza-Guadalajara branch line of the Mexican Central Railway in 1888, demand for a Guadalajara–Chapala stagecoach service declined. Travelers from the city had a choice: they could take a train to Atequiza, followed by a relatively short stagecoach ride to Chapala, or they could take the train to Ocotlán, and then catch a steamboat to Chapala, avoiding having to ride the stagecoach at all.

I know of about ten early photos of stagecoaches taken in the town of Chapala. Some were used as book or magazine illustrations, and several were mass-produced as commercial picture postcards in the first decade of the twentieth century.

The images reproduced here are presented in approximate chronological order, based on evidence of publication dates and on details of buildings in the respective photos.

Postcard by Juan Kaiser

Fig 1. c 1900. Winfield Scott. Postcard by Juan Kaiser. The turreted building behind the stagecoach is Villa Ana Victoria. On the extreme right, a water carrier is walking towards the camera.

This photo (Fig 1) of a stagecoach on the eastern side of Calle del Muelle was uncredited when it was first published in 1900 to illustrate an article about Chapala by the Hon. Maud Pauncefote in Harper’s Bazar. The photo was also published in about 1901 on a triple-view postcard by Juan Kaiser, then based in San Luis Potosí. The other two photos on that postcard can be positively identified as the work of Winfield Scott, so there is little doubt that Scott also took this stagecoach photo.

A slightly cropped version of Fig 1 was included in Vitold de Szyszlo’s book, Dix mil kilometres a traverse le Mexique, 1909-1910, published in 1913, where the photo is credited to Charles B. Waite. This attribution is not as surprising as it sounds, given that Waite had purchased all Scott’s negatives and photo rights in April 1908.

Winfield Scott. Published in El Mundo, 2 June 1901.

Fig 2. c. 1900. Winfield Scott. Published in El Mundo Ilustrado, 2 June 1901.

Winfield Scott also took this photograph (Fig 2) of a stagecoach on the other side of Calle del Muelle, waiting outside the Hotel Arzapalo (which first opened in 1898). This image appeared in El Mundo Ilustrado in 1901, and in Four Track News in 1905.

Postcard by Juan Kaiser

Fig 3. c 1904. Photo by José María Lupercio (?). Postcard by Juan Kaiser.

Fig 3 is a somewhat similar image, which I believe was taken a year or two later, probably by Guadalajara-based photographer José María Lupercio. It was reproduced in about 1904 on postcards published both by Ruhland & Ahlschier and by Juan Kaiser, who by then had moved his publishing sideline from San Luis Potosí to Guadalajara. By that time, the Hotel Arzapalo owned two stagecoaches for daily service to and from Atequiza railroad station, as well as several carriages (guayines) for special trips.

Traveling by stagecoach was both uncomfortable and unreliable. Stagecoach service was often impossible during the rainy season, owing to the poor state of the wagon roads. In July 1904, Chapala hotel owners Victor Huber and Ignacio Arzapalo joined forces to finance repairs and reopen the road before October. At that time the stagecoach between Chapala and Atequiza cost one peso (US$0.50) each way.

Summer Matheson. 1907.

Fig 4. 1907. Photo by Summer W Matteson. (Courtesy Milwaukee Public Museum, Wisconsin.)

We can date this photograph (Fig 4) of another stagecoach outside the Hotel Arzapalo to 1907 with certainty, because it was taken by American photographer Sumner Matteson during his first trip to Mexico.

Postcard published by Schwidernoch, Austria.

Fig 5. c 1907. Photograph by José María Lupercio (?) Postcard published by T Schwidernoch, Austria.

This photo (Fig 5) must date from about the same time, and is believed to be another photograph taken by José María Lupercio. It was used by several postcard publishers, including Juan Kaiser (post-1906), Manuel Hernández (1907), and T. Schwidernoch of Vienna, Austria.

The postal service was efficient in those days. One of these cards, mailed in 1908 by guests at the Hotel Ribera Castellanos near Ocotlán, took only five days to reach Virginia! The card explained why the senders had chosen to stay near Ocotlán in preference to Chapala: “Would you like a souvenir of Mex? This is the coach they use to go from the R.R. [railroad] to the hotel on Lake Chapala fourteen miles. We are staying at a place on the same lake but only three miles from the R.R.”

Unknown photographer and publisher

Fig 6. c 1908. Unknown photographer. Believed to have been published by Juan Kaiser. (Courtesy of Ing. Manuel González García.)

In Fig 4 and Fig 5 there is no building abutting the Hotel Arzapalo, which proves they were taken prior to the second half of 1907, when construction began of the Guillermo de Alba-designed Hotel Palmera, completed in 1908. The Hotel Palmera does appear on the left side of this photo (Fig 6), a rare early image of a stagecoach in motion. The building on the right is the competing Gran Hotel Victor Huber (later Gran Hotel Chapala).

Unknown photographer

Fig 7. c 1908. Photographer and publisher unknown.

The Gran Hotel Victor Huber (later Gran Hotel Chapala) is shown in all its glory in Fig 7, which must date from about the same time.

By 1908, the days of stagecoaches were numbered, and the automobile was taking over. In 1906 prominent American dentist Dr. John W. Purnell drove his Reo from Guadalajara to Chapala in 3 hours 49 minutes, and made the return trip (including an 11-minute stop in Tlaquepaque) in 3 hours 39 minutes. The following year, Alfonso Fernández Somellera took just 63 minutes out to the lake and 65 minutes back to complete his round trip from the big city to Chapala (about 130 kilometers in total) in his 30-horsepower Packard.

Stagecoaches were unable to compete, in speed or comfort, and rapidly became a thing of the past.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via comments or email.

May 162024
 

Many artists and authors have visited Lake Chapala in search of, or in homage to, their literary or artistic idols. But what about those who have also spent time collecting ancient stone and pottery idols and artifacts? There are far more members of this latter group than I first thought.

The first academic report of such artifacts in the international press was anthropologist Frederick Starr‘s short, illustrated booklet titled The Little Pottery Objects of Lake Chapala, Mexico, published in 1897. Starr, who visited Chapala over the winter of 1895-96, credited Francisco Fredenhagen with having introduced him to archaeological pieces from the western end of the lake, and suggested a simple typology for the different kinds of objects he had examined. Starr’s collection of ‘miniature pottery’ now resides in Harvard University’s Peabody Museum. Professor Starr’s handwriting may explain why several items are recorded as having been collected in “San Juan Coyala,” instead of San Juan Cosalá!

Fig 52 of Starr (1897)

Fig 52 of Starr (1897)

(Note that, while collecting ancient artifacts as souvenirs and removing them from Mexico was a common practice at the time, it can now result in severe legal consequences.)

Coincidentally, Starr’s visit to Chapala came only a few weeks after a major international conference of ‘Americanistas’ in Mexico City. Several of the attendees had close links to Lake Chapala, including:

  • Lionel Carden, the British consul to Mexico Lionel Carden, who was building a house (Villa Tlalocan) in Chapala.
  • New Orleans poet Mary Ashley Townsend and her daughter, Mrs Cora Townsend de Rascón: Cora bought Villa Montecarlo in Chapala for her mother that year (1895) as a Christmas gift.
  • Ethnographer Jeremiah Curtin, who left us an unforgettable description of meeting Septimus Crowe, the eccentric Englishman and pioneer foreign settler in Chapala, on the train home from the conference.
  • San Diego language teacher Eduardo H Coffey, who broke the first news in English of a giant whirlpool that struck the western end of Lake Chapala in January 1896.
  • Historian Luis Pérez Verdía, who (in 1904) began building the iconic Victorian-style house close to the church now commonly known as Casa Braniff.

The female English artist and amateur archaeologist Adela Breton, an intrepid traveler who presented papers at later Americanistas’ conferences, also visited Chapala in 1896 and collected a few pottery items. She is best remembered today for having recorded ancient Mayan murals and friezes; in some cases the originals no longer exist, and her magnificent drawings and watercolors are the best record we have of these artistic and cultural treasures.

Also visiting Lake Chapala in the 1890s was Norwegian anthropologist Carl Lumholtz, though his findings were not published until 1902. He recorded excavations near Chapala, and the finding of two ‘ceremonial hatchets.’ As we shall see shortly, Lumholtz also apparently bought several ancient artifacts, some or all of which may have been fake.

American journalist George W Baylor described in a 1902 article about Chapala how tourists staying at the Hotel Arzapalo would walk along the beach each morning,

examining the water’s edge closely for ollitas and various kinds of toys which are washed up every night from the lake. Some represent bake ovens, chairs, ducks or geese, volcanoes, and after a storm they are quite plentiful, and an early rise and race is made to get them. They can be bought quite cheap but most every visitor wants to say, ‘I found this on the beach at Lake Chapala.’ One [explanation] is that there was at one time an island in front of Chapala on which there was quite a populous city, and say that this is more than likely, as innumerable pieces of porous burnt rock keep washing ashore.

Another probable explanation is that those three million people that have lived on the borders of the lake since the year 1, threw those toys into the water to propitiate their god of water and rain, Tlaloc, and from the quantities that are carried off by tourists and others annually, each of the three millions of ancients must have put in a bushel apiece. They are made of yellow and blue clay, and burned, and occasionally of stone.

Horrible figures of idols come from the foothills, where in ages past were probably pueblos swarming with Indians. Others are dug from the banks of arroyos in a white cement. Others well, they are manufactured up to date and are sold to innocent parties as contemporaneous with Adam and Eve – nothing later than Montezuma.”

American artists Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser lived for several years in Chapala in the mid-1920s. Jackson amassed his own collection of figurines from Chapala, and published an analysis of them in 1941. In his 1987 memoir It’s a Long Road to Comondú, Jackson also explains how he taught a local boy, Isidoro Pulido (about whom more later), how to make reproductions of figurines! On a return visit to Chapala in 1950, Jackson was delighted to find that,

Isidoro had become a maker of candy and a dealer in pre-Columbian art in the patio of his house on Los Niños Héroes Street. I did not teach him to make candy, but when he was just a boy I had shown him how he could reproduce those figurines he and Eileen [Jackson’s wife] used to dig up back of Chapala. Now he not only made them well, but he would also take them out into the fields and gullies, bury them, and then dig them up in the company of American tourists, who were beginning to come to Chapala in increasing numbers. Isidoro did not feel guilty when the tourists bought his works; he believed his creations were just as good as the pre-Columbian ones.”

Whether or not the locals really needed Jackson’s help to produce ‘fake’ antiquities is debatable, given Baylor’s testimony that even at the very start of the twentieth century some people were already  making—and selling—genuine-looking artifacts to unsuspecting foreign visitors.

German-born artist Trude Neuhaus also first visited Chapala in the mid-1920s, as part of her preparations for a show in New York in 1925. The New York Times reported that the exhibition, previously shown at the National Art Gallery in Mexico City, included “paintings, water colors and drawings of Mexican types and scenery,” as well as “Aztec figurines and pottery recently excavated by the artist in Chapala, Mexico.”

Poet and novelist Idella Purnell, born in Guadalajara, had studied under American poet Witter Bynner at the University of California, and played a key role in the decision of English novelist D. H. Lawrence to visit Chapala in 1923. Purnell later penned a delightful, and moving, story, “The Idols Of San Juan Cosala,” for the American Junior Red Cross News.

Five years after American anthropologist Elsie Crews Parsons visited Chapala in 1932, she wrote a short paper entitled “Some Mexican Idolos in Folklore.” She cast doubt on the authenticity of the stone ídolos (idols) collected by some previous anthropologists and ethnographers, writing that, ever since the 1890s there has been,

at this little Lakeside resort a traffic in the ídolos which have been washed up from the lake or dug up in the hills back of town, in ancient Indian cemeteries, or faked by the townspeople. An English lady who visited Chapala thirty-nine years ago quotes Mr. Crow[e] as saying that the ídolos sold Lumholtz were faked, information that the somewhat malicious Mr. Crow[e] did not impart to the ethnologist.”

The identity of the ‘English lady’ referred to by Parsons is unclear. The most likely candidates are either the Honorable Selina Maud Pauncefote, daughter of the British Ambassador in Washington, or Adela Breton, both of whom visited in 1896.

While Parsons doubted the authenticity of Lumholtz’s collection, she was convinced that the items collected at about the same time by Frederick Starr were definitely genuine.

Californian prison doctor Leo Stanley visited Lake Chapala in 1937. He was sufficiently intrigued by the ancient artifacts he saw to seek out a local to help him find and excavate likely locations. In one of those coincidences that are seemingly inevitable in real life, the local was ‘Ysidoro’, the young man befriended years earlier by Everett Gee Jackson! Stanley’s account of the effort involved in hunting for idols with Isidoro Pulido—and of their eventual ‘success’—is well worth the read.

Leo Stanley. 1937. "Digging for Treasure." By kind permission of California Historical Society.

Leo Stanley. 1937. “Digging for Treasure.” By kind permission of California Historical Society.

English author Barbara Compton visited Lake Chapala in 1946. One of the main characters in her semi-autobiographical novel To The Isthmus is an idol hunter and fellow guest at Casa Heuer who regularly left Ajijic for a few days at a time to explore new sites. In real life, she later married the man who had given her the inspiration for this character.

In 1948, author Neill James, an avid treasure hunter, explained to a visiting reporter how:

When the water in Lake Chapala is low, you can sit in it waist deep, dig in the sand and bring up miniature idols, medallions, vases, kitchen utensils and other things that the Indians threw into the lake in their worship of the rain god hundreds of years ago.”

Journalist Kenneth McCaleb recalled in a Texas newspaper in 1965 how he had known a very good faker of antiquities in Chapala, who “specialized in the familiar pre-Columbian ‘primitive’ ceramic figurines of ancient Mexico.” McCaleb reported that the aging process was a secret, but that the maker would guide customers to “places where, after some healthful exercise, he dug up his own archaeological objects.” And the name of this faker? None other than our old friend Isidoro!

Unlike the collecting of ancient idols, with their often dubious provenance, there is—I am glad to report—no obvious drawback to my fixation on collecting and profiling the famous authors and artists associated with Lake Chapala!

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources

  • George Wythe Baylor. 1902. “Lovely Lake Chapala.” El Paso Herald, 1 November 1902, 10.
  • Adele C. Breton. 1903. “Some Mexican portrait clay figures,” Man, vol 3, 130-133.
  • Barbara Compton. 1964. To The Isthmus. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Mary Hirscheld. 1948. “Author in Mexico.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, 10 April 1948, 8.
  • Everett Gee Jackson. 1941. “The Pre-Columbian Ceramic Figurines from Western Mexico.” Parnassus, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Jan., 1941), 17-20.
  • Everett Gee Jackson. 1987. It’s a Long Road to Comondú. Texas A&M University Press.
  • Carl Lumholtz. 1902. Unknown Mexico (2 vols). 1973 reprint: Rio Grande Press.
  • Kenneth McCaleb. 1968. “Conversation Piece.” Corpus Christi Times, 27 January 1965, 14.
  • Elsie Clews Parsons. 1937. “Some Mexican Idolos in Folklore”, The Scientific Monthly, May 1937.
  • Idella Purnell. 1936. “The Idols Of San Juan Cosala.” American Junior Red Cross News, December 1936.
  • Leo L. Stanley. 1937. “Mixing in Mexico.”(2 vols). Leo L. Stanley Papers, MS 2061, California Historical Society. Volume 2.
  • Frederick Starr. 1897. The Little Pottery Objects of Lake Chapala, Mexico, Bulletin II, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

May 092024
 

American photographer Sumner W Matteson has not received the attention he deserves for the thousands of outstanding images of landscapes and people in the US, Cuba and Mexico he took at the start of the twentieth century.

Sumner Warren Matteson Jr was born on 15 September 1867 in Decorah, Iowa, and died in Mexico City on 27 Oct 1920. Following his death, the American Consulate in Mexico City curtly reported: “ASSETS: Miscellaneous articles of clothing of no intrinsic value. Given away and destroyed. Suitcase.” Matteson had only just celebrated his 53rd birthday.

German-Mexican photographer Hugo Brehme (1882-1954), based in Mexico City, had seen some of Matteson’s work and bought some of Matteson’s Mexican negatives from his estate. Brehme later printed some of them under his own copyright, sometimes with a note that the negatives were the work of Matteson.

Sumner W Matheson. 1907. Native craft near outlet of Lake Chapala and water hyacinth drifting with the wind. Reproduced courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum, Wisconsin.

Sumner W Matteson. 1907. “Native craft near outlet of Lake Chapala and water hyacinth drifting with the wind.” Reproduced courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum, Wisconsin.

The photos in this post are reproduced by kind permission of the Milwaukee Public Museum in Wisconsin, which purchased them from the Matteson estate in 1922. Other Matteson negatives and prints can be found in the collections of the Science Museum of Minnesota in Saint Paul, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Matteson graduated with a B.S. degree from the University of Minnesota in 1888, and worked for a few years as a banking clerk before becoming an agent for a bicycle manufacturer, the Overman Wheel Company. By the end of the century, Matteson was calling himself an “amateur photographer” and a “traveling correspondent.”

In 1902 an album of his Hopi Indian photos was presented to the Smithsonian Institute, and Matteson documented several other indigenous groups in New Mexico and Arizona, as well as spending many months in Cuba.

The photos shown in this profile were all taken in 1907, during Matteson’s first trip to Mexico.

Sumner W Matheson. 1907. Tramp musicians who carry copper coins in sombrero and silver coins in their ears (note 25 cent in ear nearest tree) taken near Hotel Ribera, Lake Chapala. Reproduced courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum, Wisconsin.

Sumner W Matteson. 1907. “Tramp musicians who carry copper coins in sombrero and silver coins in their ears (note 25 cent in ear nearest tree) taken near Hotel Ribera, Lake Chapala.” Reproduced courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum, Wisconsin.

During this first visit to Mexico in 1907, Matteson spent 10 months climbing mountains and traveling around the Republic. A Mexico City daily described him as “the expert photographer who has traveled over a great portion of the world as the representative of a number of American newspapers, periodicals and magazines and whose work has evoked high commendation wherever it is known.”

Using Mexico City as his base, he climbed Popocatapetl and Orizaba volcanoes before succeeding in a 5-day ascent of “the most interesting and picturesque of them all”—Volcán de Fuego and Nevado de Colima, the twin volcanoes in Colima. Matteson succeeded in getting photos from inside the Nevado’s crater. From atop the Nevado, Matteson, and his small group—which included Samuel E Rogers of Ocotlán—could see from the Pacific Ocean to Lake Chapala.

On their way up the Volcán de Fuego, the climbing party happened across a “primitive ice plant,” where layers of hailstones were “gathered up in piles and placed in a layer—then with grass thrown on in, another layer is put on, and stamped down, and then wound in cloth and cut up in blocks of forty pounds each.”

Sumner W Matheson. 1907. Stagecoach from Lake Chapala. Reproduced courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum, Wisconsin.

Sumner W Matteson. 1907. “Stage coach from Lake Chapala.” Reproduced courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum, Wisconsin.

Matteson’s second trip to Mexico was in 1920. After another successful ascent of Mt. Popocatepetl with some American friends, he stayed too long at the high altitude near the summit and developed pulmonary edema. He barely made it back to his hotel in Mexico City before he collapsed and died.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources

  • Anja Müller, Gudrun Schumacher, Gregor Wolff. 2015. “Adventurer with Bike and Camera: Sumner W. Matteson (1867-1920),” pp 136-145 in Gregor Wolff (ed). 2015. Explorers and Entrepreneurs behind the Camera…. Berlin: Ibero-Amerikanisches Insitut.
  • Louis B. Casagrande and Phillips Bourns. 1983. Side Trips: The Photography of Sumner W. Matteson, 1898-1908. Milwaukee Public Museum.
  • The Mexican Herald: 23 June 1907, 12; 27 August 1907, 5.
  • Great Falls Tribune: 24 October 1902.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

May 022024
 

The text of “A Brief History of Ajijic,” by June Nay Summers (1916-2001), comes directly from her own 1993 booklet Lake Chapala Villages in the Sun. The full text of the article is on the web, and parts of it were paraphrased during a recent Open Circle presentation in Ajijic. But how accurate is her account of Ajijic’s history?

A Brief History of Ajijic (Ojo del Lago, December 2012)

A Brief History of Ajijic (Ojo del Lago, December 2012)

My critique of the article follows, with quotes from the original in red:

“Ajijic was settled by people who came from the north, and their origin is explained by a legend. There was a place far to the north called ‘Whiteness’, and, from its seven caves, seven tribes set out towards the south.”

Ajijic did not exist until 1531, when it was founded by Franciscan friar Martín de Jesús (or de la Coruña), who suggested to an indigenous group led by Xitomatl (later baptized Andrés Carlos) that they move their existing community to begin a new settlement, where water was more readily available, named Axixic [Ajijic].

Summers’ account echoes a local legend that these groups were descendants or offshoots of the Mexica people (forerunners of the Aztecs) who may have settled temporarily on the shores of Lake Chapala while en route from their ancestral homeland (Aztlan in the north) to found a new city, Tenochtitlan (where Mexico City stands today). The meaning of Aztlan is unknown, with ‘place of whiteness’ being only one of several possible alternative derivations. According to the legend, before living in Atzlan, the Mexica were one of the seven tribes occupying seven caves in a mythical place named Chicomoztoc.

Ethnoarchaeologist Dr Carolyn Baus Czitrom found that all the indigenous people living on the northern shore of Lake Chapala at the time of the conquest belonged to the Coca indigenous group, except for those living in San Juan Cosalá, Ajijic, San Antonio Tlayacapan and Chapala, who were Caxcan. The origin of both groups, and their kinship (if any) with the Mexica, is unknown.

“These primitives lived on Chapala’s vast shores with no thought of founding permanent pueblos. Nor were they curious about their own origins, their forefathers or their names. Their vision of the world was simple. They were completely absorbed with the rendering of tribute to their gods. It was through, they thought, the pleasing of these deities that the sun shone and the rains fell on their land. Obtaining their daily sustenance was their primary reason for being.”

This culturally insensitive claim is conjectural and overly simplistic. There is no evidence, to the best of my knowledge, that these early settlers (whether Coca or Caxcan) “established complex barricades on the shores of this immense lake.” According to Czitrom’s research, the Coca did have multiple deities, but they also had a social structure and settlements, comprised of homes built using adobe, stones and wood. The Coca also crafted several kinds of rafts and boats.

“In 1522, the Olid Expedition reached the eastern shores of Lake Chapala. When they arrived, Captain Avalos met with little resistance. A royal grant gave joint ownership of the area to Avalos and the Spanish Crown.”

This is another immense simplification. The Olid Expedition, which reached the southern shores of Lake Chapala in about 1522, involved Fernando (sometimes Hernando) de Saavedra, the older brother of Alonso de Ávalos. Alonso de Ávalos did not arrive in New Spain until 1523. The two brothers were cousins of Hernán Cortés, who granted them (and a third relative who died shortly afterwards) the encomienda (the right to collect tributes and labor from indigenous inhabitants) for a large area, which included the southern shore of Lake Chapala, and later also the northern shore. After their partner’s death, the two brothers shared tribute payments from the encomienda. After Fernando died in 1535, his half-share reverted to the Spanish Crown. The encomienda system did not, strictly speaking, constitute either solo or joint ownership. The tributes supplied by Ajijic every 80 days consisted of blankets and items of clothing, cotton, fish and provisions.

“Close in Avalos’ (a cousin of Cortez) wake came other relatives of Cortez. One, by the name of Saenz, acquired almost all of the property that is now Ajijic…. By 1530, the Saenz property was one big hacienda. The principal crop was mezcal for making tequila. The hillsides were covered with mezcal plants and their soft blue-green blanketed hill and dale.”

Summers’ timeline is wildly inaccurate. No haciendas had been established in this area by 1530; Spanish settlement had barely got underway. Construction of the first Franciscan friary in Ajijic began in 1531, and the earliest haciendas in the surrounding region date from about a century later. There is no record of anyone named ‘Saenz’ ever owning any hacienda near Ajijic, though a Sebastian Sainz (note spelling) acquired the Hacienda El Cuije (which included land in and around Ajijic) in about 1900, following the murder of its former owner, Hans (‘Juan’) Jaacks. Sainz had no known familial connection to Hernán Cortés. Both Sebastian Sainz Peña (ca 1851-1927) and his wife, María Dolores Stephenson Zambrano (1869-1958) were born in Spain. They arrived in Mexico in the 1890s and quickly amassed an extensive property portfolio in Ajijic and Chapala.

According to most historians, tequila was not produced commercially until the 1700s, and the first exports of tequila (from anywhere in Mexico) were not until the 1870s. Agaves (mezcal plants) are not mentioned in distinguished naturalist Henri Galeotti’s comprehensive description of Lake Chapala’s geology, flora and fauna after his visit in 1837, or in Mariano Bárcena’s meticulous statistical account of Ajijic in 1888. [English translations of excerpts from Galeotti and Bárcena can be found in Lake Chapala Through The Ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales.]

If either Jaacks and/or Sainz pioneered the commercial cultivation of agaves in the Ajijic area, it was probably in the 1890s, though contemporaneous descriptions of Jaack’s production at the time of his death in 1896 mention cattle, oranges, bananas and coffee, but not agaves. There is no evidence that agave was ever their principal crop, or that “the hillsides were covered with mezcal plants.”

“Later, Franciscan missionaries visited the village and gave it a patron saint, San Andres (Saint Andrew). Royal land grants included the Indians who lived there. Franciscan Fray Sebastian de Parrago introduced the first oranges to Ajijic in 1562. Henceforth, the village was called ‘San Andres de Axixic.’ Its cobblestone streets-laid down during the days of Spanish rule-are still used today.”

Chronologically, this paragraph belongs centuries before any talk of haciendas or tequila. It also contains two significant inaccuracies. First, Franciscan accounts show that friar Sebastian de Parrago introduced the first oranges to the area in 1562, but to Chapala, not Ajijic. Secondly, there is zero evidence that Ajijic had any cobblestone streets prior to the very end of the nineteenth century or early years of the twentieth century.

“After the border wars (1910-29), the Saenz hacienda was split into many small holdings and all Mezcal cultivation ceased, as each Mezcal plant needs seven years to mature and only large estates can devote such acreage solely to growing plants.”

Hacienda El Cuije was owned by Sebastian Sainz for only a relatively short time, and there was never any large-scale tequila production in the Ajijic area, even when Sainz was the hacendado. Summers contradicts her own account in a later paragraph when she claims that “In the early 1920s, Mr. Ramirez, Mayor of Chapala, purchased the Saenz Hacienda.”

“During the Porfirian Era (1875-1910), Ajijic was isolated from Chapala by land. Their commerce with the resort town of Chapala, which was five miles away, was confined to an occasional cargo canoe touching down at the Saenz Hacienda for a load of tequila or coffee beans.”

This emphasis on tequila and coffee completely ignores the important mining activity that was already occurring in Ajijic by the end of the nineteenth century. Overland transport prior to 1910 was poor, and principally by horseback, but Ajijic was not “isolated from Chapala by land.”

“In the early 1920s, Mr. Ramirez, Mayor of Chapala, purchased the Saenz Hacienda. He re-named it Hacienda Tlacuache (The Opossum). The property is still owned by the Ramirez family and has, over the years, been sublet to various people.”

The building referred to by Summers was never an hacienda. It was a taberna—a small, subsidiary building which was part of Hacienda El Cuije. El Cuije’s main residence and buildings (of which nothing now remains) were situated a short distance northwest of Chapala (between a building currently numbered as Prolongación Lázaro Cárdenas #145 and the Chapala libramiento). The taberna was bought by Casimiro Ramirez (who was never Mayor of Chapala) and renamed ‘Hacienda El Tlacuache,’ but this was an honorific title, which did not imply any functional or economic status. In the 1930s it became an inn named Posada Ajijic; the building still belongs to members of the Ramirez Family.

Postcard (published by E Esteban) of Posada Ajijic, mailed in 1974.

Postcard (published by E Esteban) of Posada Ajijic, mailed in 1974.

“In 1925, Ajijic was discovered by European intellectuals and became a refuge for those fleeing political persecution after World War I. Louisa Heuer, a writer, and her brother Paul, were German refugees. They owned Casa Particular—a small inn overlooking the lake. Zara Alexeyewa, the great-granddaughter of Gideon Wells, Secretary of the Navy under President Abraham Lincoln—first came to Guadalajara in 1925 to dance at the Teatro Degollado. She was accompanied by her mother and adopted brother, Holger Mehner.”

This is a mix of fact and fantasy. The Heuers’ arrival had nothing to do with World War I, and there is no evidence that they were refugees or in Ajijic prior to 1933. On the other hand, Austrian count Alex von Mauch did purchase a lakefront property in Ajijic in 1928 (and other non-Mexicans are known to have purchased property in the village even earlier). Zara Alexeyewa (aka ‘La Rusa’) had no familial connection of any kind to Gideon Wells. Her dance partner’s surname was Mehnen, not Mehner. Zara and Holger first arrived in Guadalajara in 1924, and first performed in the city in 1925. They did not live in Ajijic until 1940.

“The trio had just finished a tour of Europe and South America where Zara and Holger had introduced ballet to that continent.”

Zara’s mother did not accompany the dance duo on their impromptu tour of South America. And there had been many many ballet performances of note in South America long before Zara and Holger ever set foot on the continent. For example, European ballets had first performed in Buenos Aires in the 1860s.

Summers later turns her attention to what she terms the Ajijic gold rush, paraphrasing a passage in the penultimate chapter of Neill James’ Dust on my Heart, where James reports (without stating any clear time frame) what she had been told by Paul (‘Pablo’) Heuer:

“In the mid-30s, three engineers, their curiosity aroused as to why a certain red hill (variously called Bald Mountain, Gold Mountain, or simply Quarry) was without growth when all others in the area were wooded, discovered gold in the hill.
Almost overnight the gold rush was on. Corn mills were transformed into gold mines. The women of the village reverted to hand-operated metates to pulverize corn for family tortillas. Farmers left their fields, fishermen dropped their nets, and trouble beset Ajijic as food became scarce. Neighbors quarreled. Murders and mayhem were rife.
Leaders in the gold rush were the ballet dancers, Zara and Holger, for they owned the best mine. Zara found life as a dancer tame, compared with gold mining. Armed with her “treasure finder,” Zara looked for gold, but found only trouble. One associate after another cheated her. The dream of gold began to fade.
There was gold in the hills, but not in sufficient quantity. The gold fever cooled. Men returned to their tiendas. Gold mills went back to grinding corn. Fishermen spread their nets again, and farmers re-plowed their land. The Ajijic gold rush had ended.”

As I explain in Foreign Footprints in Ajijic, gold mining in the hills behind Ajijic began much earlier than the “mid-30s,” and by 1885 there were already thirty silver and gold mines in Ajijic. Production peaked in the first decade of the twentieth century, with occasional short-lived revivals thereafter. Zara’s first investment in a mine in Ajijic was in 1925. The story about the three engineers may well be true, but with the very significant caveat that the reason why “a certain red hill (variously called Bald Mountain, Gold Mountain, or simply Quarry) was without growth when all others in the area were wooded,” was probably because it was the precise site, many years earlier, of a cyanide processing plant, installed by the largest mining company, which had poisoned the soil.

The remainder of Summers’ account is far less contentious, though I’ve never found evidence that the “Dane Chandos” book Village in the Sun ever won an award, and the lengthy excerpt from Sybille Bedford’s book The Sudden View (which Bedford openly admitted was fictional, not factual) has minimal relevance to the history of Ajijic.

Conclusion? “A Brief History of Ajijic” may be short and easy to read, but—in terms of history—it is hopelessly inaccurate.

The time has come for someone to write a more realistic short history of Ajijic.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offers more details about the twentieth-century history of Ajijic.

References

  • Carolyn Baus de Czitrom. 1982. Tecuexes y Cocas. Dos grupos de la región de Jalisco en el siglo XVI. Mexico City: INAH.
  • Henri G Galeotti. 1839. “Coup d’oeil sur la Laguna de Chapala au Mexique, avec notes géognostiques.” Acad. Roy. Soc. Bruxelles, Bull., 6, pt 1: 14-19.
  • Mariano Bárcena. 1888. Ensayo estadístico del Estado de Jalisco. Gobierno de Jalisco.
  • June Nay Summers. “A Brief History of Ajijic.” El Ojo del Lago, December 2012.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Apr 112024
 

Juan Aráuz Lomeli (ca 1887-1970) is known to have taken photos of Chapala from the 1920s onward. The somewhat unusual surname Aráuz or Arauz—the accent is optional—is of Basque origin. Though not a full-time professional photographer, Juan Aráuz Lomeli stamped “ARAUZ – FOT.” and an address in Guadalajara on the reverse of the photos he published as postcards, and sometimes added a small white circle containing a stylized JA (or JAL) alongside the caption.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli’s son, Juan Victor Aráuz Gutiérrez (1914-2000), was also a photographer who lived and worked in Guadalajara. Because they sometimes photographed the same subject at the same time, this has led to some uncertainty in the case of some images as to the true identity of the photographer. In addition, more than one edition of some images is known, distinguished by distinct styles of lettering for the captions.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli is known to have photographed and published more than a dozen different postcard views of Chapala.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli. Chapala. ca 1926.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli. “Chapala.” ca 1926.

This particular card (above), number 156, is entitled “Chapala – Jal” and has a handwritten notation dating it to 4 October 1926, leaving no doubt that it is the work of Juan Aráuz Lomeli rather than his son. The reverse of the card has a rectangular hand-stamped box reading (on three lines) “ARAUZ- FOT. / HGO 19, NUM 881, / GUADALAJARA, MEX.”

It shows (left to right), the Villas Elena, Niza and Josefina. (See If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants for the history of these interesting buildings.)

Some captions were probably added in haste, and occasionally are inaccurate. For example, this second card (below), which has an identical hand-written date, is mistakenly captioned “Villa Josefina;” the building in this photo is not Villa Josefina but the larger historic estate known as Villa Montecarlo.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli. Villa Josefina, Chapala. ca 1926.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli. Villa Montecarlo (despite the caption), Chapala. ca 1926.

Juan Aráuz Lomeli was born to Juan Aráuz and his wife, Austreberta Lomeli, in Guanajuato in about 1887 or 1888. He died in Guadalajara on 30 November 1970. Curiously, his death certificate mistakenly names his wife (who had died many years earlier) as Victoria Rodriguez in place of Victoria Gutiérrez. According to a contemporary newspaper, Victoria Gutiérrez de Arauz Lomeli had died on 15 July 1942, at the age of 52, though this age does not match the census data from 1930!

The household listed in 1930 comprised Juan Arauz Lomeli (aged 42), who gave his profession as photographer, his wife Victoria J de Arauz (36) and their four sons: Jorge (17), Juan Victor (15), Fernando (12) and Alfonzo (10). The name Fernando appears to have been an enumerator’s error for Francisco, since records show that Francisco Aráuz Gutiérrez (born ca 1918, and definitely the son of Juan Aráuz Lomeli and Victoria Gutiérrez) married twice in relatively quick succession in the 1940s, first in 1942, at the age of 25, and then in 1947.

Alberto Gómez Barbosa, in his multi-part series on photography in Jalisco for El Informador in 2004, recalled that Juan Aráuz Lomeli’s interest in photography began when he worked for the Compañia Eléctrica de Chapala, where one of the managers was Luis Gonzaga Castañeda. Gonzaga was a particularly keen photographer and inspired several colleagues, including Aráuz, to take up the hobby. Aráuz and Gonzaga both contributed photographs to illustrate Guadalajara Colonial, a book by José Cornejo Franco, as did a third photographer, Ignacio Gómez Gallardo.

Aráuz knew and was an admirer of José María Lupercio, another of the famous photographers of Guadalajara, whose timeless images of the city and of Lake Chapala have in many ways never been surpassed. Aráuz particularly admired the fact that Lupercio was a true artist, who eschewed timers and measuring scales in favor of mixing all his solutions for developing photographs by eye.

According to Gómez Barbosa, Aráuz became a good friend of José Clemente Orozco and took several singularly-striking portraits of the artist, including some reproduced in later biographies of the world-renowned muralist. As we saw in a previous post, Arauz’s son, Juan Victor Aráuz, also knew Orozco and later documented the progress of Orozco’s work on several murals in Guadalajara, including preliminary sketches that were later altered or never executed.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 9 August 2019.

Sources

  • Alberto Gómez Barbosa. 2004. “La fotografía en Jalisco.” El Informador, 1 August 2004, 14.
  • El Informador: 16 July 1942, 11.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Mar 212024
 

One curiosity in the permanent collection of Guadalajara’s Instituto Cultural Cabañas is this pretty painting by Ignacio Ramírez titled “Vista de Chapala.” The painting is dated 1986, even though the view it depicts is clearly from many decades earlier, as evidenced, for example, by the absence of Casa Braniff (completed in 1905) and of several other significant early landmarks along the lake’s shoreline.

Ignacio Ramírez. 1986. Vista de Chapala. Credit: Instituto Cultural Cabañas.

Ignacio Ramírez. 1986. Vista de Chapala. Credit: Instituto Cultural Cabañas.

What struck me when I first came across this painting is that is almost identical to (perhaps based on?) a much earlier painting by Paul (‘Pablo’) Fischer, which dates back to about 1900. Born in Germany, Fischer (1864-1932) trained as a doctor before moving to Mexico to administer an inheritance, where he worked in Durango for a few years before marrying a Mexican girl in 1895. Spending extended vacations dedicated to his art, Fischer traveled with his family widely across Mexico, painting as he went, and is known to have completed several paintings of Chapala.

Paul Fischer. c 1900. View of Chapala.

Paul Fischer. c 1900. View of Chapala.

I don’t know where the original Paul Fischer painting now is, but it was reproduced, with the artist’s permission, as a postcard—including Fischer’s near-invisible monogram embossed into its design—at the start of the twentieth century by Juan Kaiser, a Guadalajara-based publisher.

Did Ignacio Ramírez base his 1986 painting on Fischer’s original work or a Kaiser postcard of the painting? Or did he have some other source for his inspiration? If Ramírez’s work is derivative of Fischer’s much earlier painting, how does this affect its merit for inclusion in a museum’s permanent collection?

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Mar 072024
 

A striking series of color-tinted postcards was published by S. Altamirano in the mid-1920s. The application of color on these cards was far more sophisticated than that used earlier by (among others) Alba y Fernández.

The reverse side of these cards carries the imprint, “Editor S. Altamirano, Av. Colon 165, Guadalajara.” The front of the cards includes a series number and caption, in black lettering as a single line, using both upper and lower case. The font used for the number is smaller than the font used for the caption.

Most Altamirano cards depict buildings in Guadalajara. But at least five cards in the series are related to Lake Chapala. They include (below) this carefully-composed view, from the lake, of Chapala’s majestic railroad station (now the Centro Cultural González Gallo). Carriages are visible behind a throng of excited passengers. Given that the railroad station was only in service from 1920 to 1926, this photograph must date from that period.

Romero / S. Altamirano. c 1925. Chapala Railroad Station.

Romero / S. Altamirano. c 1925. Chapala Railroad Station.

Another Altamirano card shows the Hotel Arzapalo, as viewed from the main pier. A third, taken from almost the same vantage point, focuses on the San Francisco church and Casa Braniff; it has a line of cargo boats in the foreground.

Romero ? / S. Altamirano. c 1925. San Francisco Church and Casa Braniff.

Romero ? / S. Altamirano. c 1925. San Francisco Church and Casa Braniff.

The fourth card in the series is an unusual view from the beach looking up to the castle-like Villa Montecarlo. The only other Altamirano card I have seen that relates to Chapala is a view of the famous trio of villas—Niza, Elena and Josefina—that caught the eye of so many different photographers over the years.

At least two of the photographs—the railroad station and the trio of villas— are definitely the work of a Guadalajara-based photographer named Romero. Romero took black and white photos and usually added “Romero Fot” and “Es propiedad” on them as a means of protecting his authorship. Presumably Altamirano and Romero had a commercial relationship, and it is more than possible that the other images published by Altamirano as color-tinted postcards were also originally by Romero.

One possible candidate for “S. Altamirano” is Guadalajara-born Salvador Altamirano Jiménez (1883-1939). He was a civil and electrical engineer, married first (in 1909) to Cecilia Martínez Cairo and then (1926) to Dolores Elizondo. Prior to the Mexican Revolution, he was an engineer in the Mexican armed forces. He also liked fast cars and was a member of the the Mexican Section of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

Each image on Altamirano postcards has a unique 5-digit number in tiny print at the bottom, sometimes in white, sometimes in black, depending on the tones in the photograph. These numbers are identical in style to the 5-digit numbers used by publisher Felix Martín of Mexico City. Martín’s postcards include one of the historic Villa Virginia in Chapala, and it seems likely that the two publishers had some kind of commercial connection.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 7 August 2023.

Sources

  • La Iberia: diario de la mañana, 23 Jan 1910, 2.
  • The Mexican Herald: 8 Nov 1912, 8; 6 December 1912.
  • El Diario: 13 April 1914, 1.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Feb 292024
 

Some years ago, I stumbled across an early, unattributed short story which mentioned Lake Chapala and made several references to the town of La Barca, and to José Velarde (“The Golden Ass”). The story, titled “The Sorceress” and published in 1894, was about the impacts of superstition, religion and sacrifice.

One version of "The Sorceress," Cincinnati Enquirer, 1894.

Warner’s “The Sorceress,” as printed in Cincinnati Enquirer, 1894.

Recently, while researching a short story by Gwendolen Overton, titled “The White Rebozo,” it occurred to me that she may also have written “The Sorceress.” However, after diving down several more rabbit holes, I now know that “The Sorceress” was the work of civil engineer Edwin Hall Warner (1858-1927), and that its original subtitle in The Argonaut was “How an American Engineer was Sacrificed to the Aztec Gods.”

Edwin Hall Warner, born in New York on 21 February 1858, studied civil engineering at the Polytechnic Engineering Department of the University of the City of New York. From about 1884 to 1888, he worked for the Mexican Central Railway (which includes the Mexico City-Irapuato-Ocotlán-Guadalajara line) and the Union Pacific Railway, before taking a position as an engineer of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway.

On 21 August 1890, Warner married Frances Beatrice Genevieve Ferguson in Seattle, Washington. Her family lived in Seattle, though she had been born on 10 August 1868 in Tepic, then in Jalisco, now in Nayarit. The couple had no children.

Shortly after marrying, Warner resigned from his position with the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway, and announced plans to open an office with his brother, Joseph L Warner, for consultancy work in civil and mining engineering. The brothers were co-founders and shareholders of the Culver Gold Mining Company.

In May 1892, Warner initially declined an offer to be the Seattle city engineer, but he did briefly hold that position a couple of years later, before political infighting resulted in his removal.

Possibly soured by his experiences in Seattle, Warner began to publish short stories. Among those published in The Argonaut and similar high quality publications were “The Painted Statue” (1894); “Love in Mexico: An American Engineer’s Ride for Life that Followed a Fiesta” (1895); “The Torture of Doubt” (1895), about a poor Mexican flower-seller’s jealousy of a wealthy American lady; and “In a Mexican Plaza” (1895), which begins, “The state of Jalisco is the Andalusia of Mexico. Nearly in the centre lies Guadalajara, the garden city of….” In addition to his prose pieces, Warner published several poems in the Los Angeles Times, including “Only a Volunteer” (1917) and “The Spy” (1918).

In 1896, Warner gave specialist testimony, as a “civil engineer in Seattle” at the inquest into the Point Ellice Bridge disaster in Victoria, BC.

Alongside writing and private consultancy work, Warner worked several years at the turn of the century for the Republic Mining Company; his map of the City of Republic (c. 1899) is a collector’s item. Warner also worked as the principal assistant engineer for the Columbia Improvement Company at Electron, Washington.

Warner and his wife then moved to Venice, California, where he supervised engineering projects related to water, before being appointed chief engineer of the Tri-State Land Company in 1905.

In 1906, Warner returned to Mexico for a year as assistant chief engineer of the Necaxa Dam in Puebla for the Mexican Light and Power Company.

On his return to California, Warner settled in Los Angeles to design irrigation projects and piers, including the Santa Monica pier, “the first all-concrete self-supporting pleasure pier in the world.” He also undertook work for the Southern California Edison Company, and on early concrete dams, such as the Kerckhoff Dam and the Snow Mountain Dam.

In later life, Warner and his wife moved to Burlingame, California. Following his death on 17 June 1927, his obituary described him as “an Alaska pioneer” who had done “extensive work in Panama and Mexico.”

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Lake Chapala: A Postcard History (2022) uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala first became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources

  • Willi H. Hager. 2015. Hydraulicians in the USA 1800-2000: A biographical dictionary of leaders in hydraulic engineering and fluid mechanics, Vol 2, 2687. CRC Press.
  • Juneau Empire: 18 Jun 1927, 1.
  • Los Angeles Herald, Volume XLI, Number 258, 28 August 1915.
  • The Seattle Post-Intelligencer: 22 Aug 1890, 6; 30 Nov 1890, 3; 27 Sep 1891, 5; 23 Jan 1894, 8;
  • The Victoria Daily Times: 9 Jun 1921, 4.
  • Edwin Hall Warner. 1894. “The Sorceress : How an American Engineer was Sacrificed to the Aztec Gods.The Argonaut (San Francisco), Vol. XXXV. No. 2 (July, 1894), 4.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Feb 272024
 

“The Sorceress: How an American Engineer was Sacrificed to the Aztec Gods.”

by Edwin Hall Warner. 1894.

The calzada principal in La Barca runs a meandering course easterly through the town to the garita. The houses on each side are of the usual Mexican type, the more pretentious of stone, others of adobe, with barred windows and heavily doored zaguan, where the idle porter sits lazily, incessantly rolling and smoking his cigarillo, arousing himself sufficiently at times to salute a passer-by or to answer a question, and relapsing at once into his former dreamy condition. Children imperfectly clothed play solemnly in the gutter; their dark-brown bodies, shining dully through the incrusting dirt, are proof against the darkening effect of the sun’s rays; a solitary lagartija clings lizard-like to the curb and feebly resists a boy’s effort to goad him into action. The sereno leans sleepily against a corner in the shade, loosely holding his carbine, and muses on the unhappy lot of a policeman forced to keep up a semblance of watchfulness.

Suddenly, as a woman’s figure appears on the street, there is a chorus of shrieks from the group in the gutter and a skittering of childish feet as they disappear, panting with fright, in a dozen different directions. The porters, stirred into action, hurriedly close the doors and piously whisper an ave, the sereno draws himself erect, furtively crosses himself, and murmurs “La bruja! Dios me guarde!” as the woman passes. She moves quickly down the street, looking neither to the right nor to the left, passing the garita where the solitary customs official likewise crosses himself and asks divine protection from the wiles of the sorceress; nevertheless, he follows the sinuous, graceful movement of the young woman and notes the perfection of face and figure, which appeals to him in spite of his persuasion that her beauty is of origin diabolic and lent by Lucifer himself to snare men’s souls. She wore a piece of dark-green stuff”, folded around the hips and falling to the ankle; a jacket of red gauze clothed the upper part of her person, veiling her bosom, upon which lay a chain of gold in the form of a serpent. Her black hair, parted at the forehead and drawn back in two splendid tresses, intensified the pure white of her brow.; her eyes, shaded by long lashes, were the greenish-black of obsidian. Continuing her walk to a small adobe house some hundred yards beyond the gate, she disappeared within the doorway. The customs official gave a sigh of relief and returned to his desk.

Once within the house, she lost her firmness of bearing, tottered to the center of the room, and sank in a heap on a rush-mat. Her form suddenly grew rigid, her face took on the gray pallor of death; the eyes became set and stared fixedly at the wall opposite; the golden serpent on her bosom seemed in the half-light of the dying fire to writhe and twist, instinct with life.

– –

At the fire sat a little, shriveled-up old man, brown and wrinkled, stirring with skinny claw the contents of an olla. Of her entrance he had taken no notice, continuing his employment as if waiting for her to speak. At length he looked around and sprang to his feet; a pallor almost as deep as her own overspread his face. “Maria!” he whispered; “Maria!” Meeting with no response, he hastily moved to the door, barred it, and, returning to his place by the fire, crouched down and shrouded his face in his arms.

Soon the woman’s body lost its rigidity, her eyes turned toward the doubled-up figure of the old man and shone with such a basilisk glare that he moved uneasily; the eyelids drooped, and she sank back upon the floor, apparently asleep; her respiration, at first harsh and labored, became quiet and regular.

The old man now raised his head for the first time, and fixed his bright, beady eyes on the woman’s face.

“A prophecy,” he said — “a prophecy! Let the high priest of the gods know their will!”

As if in response, the woman began an inarticulate murmur. Soon her voice rose to distinctness :

“The darkness of earth is in the temple; the altar of the lire-god is black with ashes, the serpent lies dead before Quetzalcoatl; the grinning skulls at the feet of Xipe-totec mock the power that is gone forever; the snake-skin drum is beat in vain; the victim is slain; the sound of thunder fills the temple, the priests fall dead, and the foot of the white man desecrates the house of the gods.”

Her voice fell, and, with a fluttering sigh, she awoke. The light of expectancy which had illuminated the old man’s face gradually died out as the woman’s words fell on his ear, and, at their conclusion, he seemed shrunken to half his size.

“‘Tis false!” he said — “false! The power of the gods can never fail. For seven years have we awaited the sign, and to-morrow Xipe-totec, gladdened once more by the sight of blood on the sacrificial stone, will make answer to his children’s prayers. Saw you the white stranger again today, Maria?” he asked.

“Yes; I have but now left him.”

“And he will be in the barranquilla to-morrow at sunset?”

The woman’s voice faltered as she answered: “Yes; if—”

“If!” hastily returned the old man; “if? What does this mean?”

“He will come if I send him word, but — but I cannot — oh, papa mío, don’t ask it. Forego the sacrifice to Xipe-totec, and content the people with the sacred mask-dances.”

He looked at her with astonishment: “Seven years have we waited, and the daughter of El Viejito, the high priest, asks that the sacrifice be omitted! What woman’s whim is this?” he said, fiercely. “Why should the god, upon whose awful power we must depend, be denied his due?”

“He loves me, father.”

“Loves you! And if he did not, could he ever be lured within the reach of the Nagual priesthood? Suppose he does, he will pay the penalty of his folly.”

The woman rose to her feet. “He shall not,” she said, firmly: “for I love him, and no priestly knife shall ever harm him. At first, I believed all you had taught me; believed that my duty to the gods made all things good, no matter how cruel and horrible they otherwise seem. But now I know better. The ancient religion shall die out and the worshipers perish from off the face of the earth ere harm shall come to him I love.”

The fierce glitter in the old man’s eyes gave way to a look of crafty cunning. “Well, well! so be it,” he said; “the sacred dances must answer.”

– –

When the “Golden Ass” — as his La Barca neighbors unpleasantly called him — developed a taste for mural decoration, his case was a serious one; the casa pintada was the result, and a most marvelous one it is. His zeal in the cause of art was intense, but not discriminating : primary colors alone seemed to fill the requirements; minor details of perspective, truth to nature, and the like, were absorbed in a wild hunger for color, and plenty of it. Impossible
landscapes and oddly constructed animals ran riot on the walls.

He is long since dead; but his house remains, and made very comfortable engineering head- quarters. In one of the least violent rooms, overlooking the miniature fountain in the patio, the engineer in charge, Vincent Colby, had his office. He was a good type of the American engineer : tall and well built, he gave the impression of staying qualities rather than of muscular power. The warmth of a tropical sun had but slightly deepened a naturally fair complexion; his dark hair and good eyes, with a softness of intonation and engaging manner, stamped him at once with the Mexicans as muy simpático, and revealed to them the possibility that all Americans might not be barbaros, an impression unfortunately yet not unnaturally prevalent.

Just now Vincent was in an unpleasant frame of mind, and his musings ran somewhat as follows: “I may be an idiot, but I can’t help it. Idiocy may be congenital or acquired — mine must be acquired, for, up to date, I’ve been reasonably conventional. The mater will rave, I know, when I take home a native wife; the sisters will make matters unpleasant for a day or two; and the governor will probably cut up rather rough. But if I’m suited, they will have to be; if a man can’t make his own choice when it comes to marrying, when can he? I’ve made mine — if she’ll have me, that is. There’s the rub. She says she’ll give me an answer on the seventh — why not the sixth or eighth, I don’t know. I’ve asked her a dozen times in the last ten days, but it is always the same : she neither says yes nor no. It can’t be coquetry, for she smiles sadly, yet with a wistful look which can mean but one thing.”

Here a rattle of hoofs in the patio interrupted him, and he looked out to see the company’s doctor dismount.

“Hello, doc,” he called out, “come in here; I want to talk to you. There’s not a soul about the place, and I’m too lazy or nervous to work. Throw your saddle-bags over there on the table and have a drop of toddy. No? You don’t usually let a good thing go by. What’s up? Patients dying or getting well, or have you been rowing it again with the padre at Penjamo, because you differ as to the use of water? You’re all wrong. Be satisfied to cure the poor beggars without lecturing them on the advantages of an occasional bath. To clean them is so radical a measure that you’ll be run out of the country as a pernicious foreigner attempting to demolish a most cherished idea.”

The doctor made no reply.

“Well, out with it, doc. You needn’t look at me like that.”

“Vince, we’ve known each other as boys and men for a good many years ”

“All right, doc; you always begin with gentle boyhood days when you’ve anything particularly damned unpleasant to say. But I suppose I must submit. I don’t know what’s up, but if it’s as serious as you look, old man, it’s pretty bad.”

“It’s serious or not, as you choose to make it,” answered the doctor. “An ambition to acquire the Mixe language may be a laudable one; folk-lore, ancient religion, and all that sort of rubbish learned on the spot are a kind of relief in this hot, dusty hole, though I don’t care for it myself.
Even Nagualism and other high-class sorcery may be amusing to you, if not to me. But when you get spoony on the sorceress herself, it’s time for some one to open your eyes.”

“Sorceress! ” responded the other. “What rot you are talking. That sort of thing is played out in these days.”

“I tell you it isn’t played out,” rejoined the doctor; “the natives keep it dark and say there’s nothing in it, but half the Indians in this town hold to the old faith, and every time a child is baptized, they set up a little incantation business on the sly and do the trick over again in their own way, with an extra curse or two on the white man and his god. I scared the story out of old Sebastiano, and got the whole programme. The Eleusinian mysteries aren’t in it with this accursed Nagualism, which includes human sacrifices and other pleasant little ceremonies which, though no doubt highly gratifying to the worshipers, must be somewhat unpleasant to the victim, I fancy. El Viejito is the high priest, and Maria Candelaria is his daughter. They are a dangerous, fanatical lot, and if you’ll take my advice, you’ll leave them alone. They bitterly hate the whole white race, and an offering from it is not only an act distinctly pleasant in itself, but it is a religious duty as well. The government has only been partly successful in keeping it down, for, as an organization, Tammany Hall is chaos compared with it. They practice their devilish rites once in so often, and some one disappears.”

To hear one’s best beloved spoken of as a sorceress, and as one to whom wading in human gore was a usual and agreeable employment, was, to say the least, irritating; but the doctor’s earnestness and evident belief in what he had said roused in Vincent a strong desire to laugh.

“You’ve been imposed upon, old man,” he said. “Haven’t you learned yet that the one delight of the native is to impose on the credulous with creepy stories? Moreover, you have allowed yourself to listen to gossip about the
woman whom I intend to marry.”

“Marry! My God!”

“Yes, marry — if she’ll have me. I intended speaking of it, when you commenced with your infernal nonsense. It’s my affair anyhow, and if I’m satisfied, you can’t complain.”

To be told, even indirectly, to mind one’s own business is particularly hard, when one has tried to do a friend a kindness, so the doctor left the room, offended at the manner in which his efforts had been received.

The sun was low in the west on the following afternoon when the doctor rode into the patio of the casa pintada. His progress through the town had been delayed. First the alcalde had stopped him, and the usual salutation had extended into a conversation in which the alcalde was set aright in a problem which had occupied his mind for some time. He gave the Americans credit for exceeding ingenuity, but was as yet unadvised as to how even they could dig holes and set telegraph-poles in the bottom of the sea, upon which to string the submarine cable. The sea, he was aware, was, in places, much deeper than Lake Chapala. The simplicity of the method increased largely his admiration for the race whose resources of mind enabled them to cut loose alike from precedent and telegraph-poles. The padre next invited his attention to the beauty of a pair of kittens playing in a doorway, and was anxious in his inquiry as to whether a benignant Providence had vouchsafed to the land beyond the Rio Grande the blessing of cats. Having gently assured him that impartiality had been shown in the matter, although there were points about Mexican cats which other nations might envy, the doctor was free to make his way to head-quarters.

A nameless fear had oppressed him and could not be shaken off. He went hastily to Vincent’s room, but found it vacant. He was about to call a servant and inquire as to the whereabouts of his friend, when he saw a small scrap of paper on the floor. Idly picking it up, he read what aroused again his fears of the previous evening. In green ink, on paper none too clean, with vs and bs used interchangeably and double l doing service for y, was written: “Meet me in the Barranquilla de Homos at sunset. Maria.”

Hastily calling for Julio, he was told Vincent had left at five. Julio had been ordered to unsaddle his own horse, as his services would not be required. Returning to his room, the doctor consoled himself with the idea that, although a tryst ten miles away was unusual, danger was not necessarily impending; the roads were fairly free from bad characters, and a lonesome ride was probably the worst to be expected.

He had brought himself to this state of mind when a woman staggered into the room.

“Save him! Save him, doctor/” she cried. “Save him! ”

Her hair fell in a tangled mass about her face, her clothing was torn and disarranged, and her wrists cut and bleeding. He recognized Maria, but her presence made the meaning of what he had read unintelligible.

“I refused to send for him,” she continued, hastily, “so they bound me in the casita and sent him a message in my name. They left me powerless, as they supposed, but I escaped.”

“They? Who are they? ”

“The priests of the Nagual; they who cling to the old faith, and who, even now, would sacrifice on their altar the man I love. Ah! doctor, make haste or we shall be too late; an hour at most is all we have.”

Ordering Julio to follow him with the horses, the doctor made his way to the barracks.

Don Juan Gomez, Captain in the Fourth, was a model cavalry officer and a warm friend of. the engineer’s. The doctor had scarcely commenced his story, when Don Juan gave a brief order to his orderly at the door. A bugle call rang out, a clatter of hoofs on the pavement and the rattle of sabre and carbine in answer, gave proof of the discipline of the troop. A sergeant entered and saluted.

“Listo, señor! A caballo, doctor!”

With Maria as guide, they dashed out into the night. In the service of a friend, Juan Gomez spared neither man nor beast. The breath of the horses came hard and fast, and spur was freely used before Maria said : ” The entrance is between the two bowlders to the right of the stunted pine.”

Sunset found Vincent in the barranquilla. He had given no thought to the strangeness of such a place of meeting; he was to see again the woman he loved, and that was sufficient. No idea of danger had presented itself. Strong and well armed, he was confident of his ability to take care of himself. The place was dark and dismal, and he was too absorbed in his own fancies to note even casually his surroundings.

The trail had narrowed to barely a sufficient width for his horse, when he saw three men approaching on foot. They stood aside as he came up, and, as he attempted to pass, one seized him by the foot and threw him out of the saddle. Before he recovered from the shock, he was pinioned, blind-folded, and helpless. He felt himself lifted up, carried some little distance, and placed on the ground again.

He remained thus for an hour or more, when the bandage was removed from his eyes. He had felt no especial fear at his treatment, believing it to be a question of a small ransom and liberty as soon as he could communicate with his friends. He opened his eyes, and with the first glance around, all idea of liberty by purchase departed at once. As his eyes became accustomed to the semi-darkness, he saw he was in a cave-temple. On his right was a wooden idol, standing on a low stool. It was black and shining, as if charred and polished; its look was grim, and it had a wrinkled forehead and broad, staring eyes. He had read of the Black King, and now saw himself face to face with him. On the left was a coiled serpent, with head erect, shining eyes of jet, and fancifully painted scales, which he knew represented Quetzalcoatl. Immediately before him stood Xipe-totec, “the flayer of men,” the representative of all that was vile and horrible in the hidous cult whose victim he was. In front of the idol stood the sacrificial stone, humped in the centre, the better to present to the knife the chest of the victim.

His heart sank within him as he read his awful position in the signs around him. The wealth of the world would not save his life from the fanatical faithful of the Nagual sect. But last night he had declared the practice of their rites obsolete; now he had full proof of his error, and was about to pay the penalty.

By this time the cavern had filled with people. Half-naked priests began a low chant in a minor key, circling in front of the idols and swinging terra-cotta censers, from which were emitted the pungent fumes of copal.

The movement became faster, their voices rose in their excitement, while, in their frenzy, they gashed themselves with knives until the blood flowed freely. Seizing Vincent, they placed him, face upward, on the sacrificial stone.

The high priest stepped forward to the side of the victim. Raising his knife of green obsidian above his head, he began : “Xipe-totec, the all powerful.”

A woman’s shriek rang out, a flying form reached the altar as the knife descended, and a roar of musketry reverberated through the cavern.

A woman lay dead at the side of the sacrificial stone, on which rested the body of a man, an obsidian knife driven home in his heart.

Edwin Hall Warner.
San Francisco, July, 1894.

First published in The Argonaut (San Francisco), 9 July 1894.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Lake Chapala: A Postcard History (2022) uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala first became an international tourist and retirement center.

Source

  • Edwin Hall Warner. 1894. “The Sorceress : How an American Engineer was Sacrificed to the Aztec Gods.” The Argonaut (San Francisco), Vol. XXXV. No. 2 (July, 1894), 4.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Feb 222024
 

Two young US artists—Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser—who had first met at art school in Chicago, arrived in Chapala in 1923. Apart from short trips elsewhere they spent the next three and a half years at Lake Chapala—living first in Chapala, then in Ajijic, and then returning once again to Chapala—before continuing their highly successful art careers elsewhere. They are two of the earliest US painters to spend any significant amount of time sketching and painting at Lake Chapala.

Painted about one hundred years ago, this painting by Everett Gee Jackson was one of several early paintings included in a major retrospective of his work held at the San Diego Art Museum in 2007. According to the catalog of that exhibition, the painting (in a private collection) is titled “Church in Chapala.”

Everett Gee Jackson. c 1924. Church in Chapala. Credit: "Everett Gee Jackson/San Diego Modern, 1920-1955.

Everett Gee Jackson. c 1924. Church in Chapala. Credit: “Everett Gee Jackson/San Diego Modern, 1920-1955.”

But is this title accurate? The only church in Chapala in the 1920s was the parish church of San Francisco (La Parroquía de San Francisco), which has distinctive twin towers. My first thought was that this painting does not appear to match that church. Nor does it look like the churches in neighboring San Antonio Tlayacapan or Ajijic. So, is it really one of the churches at Lake Chapala, or does it depict a church elsewhere, perhaps in Guanajuato?

Dale Palfrey. View of San Francisco Church, Chapala, April 2024.

Dale Palfrey. View of San Francisco Church, Chapala, April 2024.

Asking this question online attracted a variety of responses, some supporting Chapala and others Guanajuato. Now, my good friend Dale Palfrey has kindly sent me photos taken from the presumed vantage point of the artist in Chapala, which establish beyond doubt that the painting does indeed depict the east end of San Francisco church in Chapala.

The foreground building in the photograph is modern, and obscures the original beautiful view enjoyed by D. H. Lawrence, Witter Bynner, Everett Gee Jackson and all the other famous visitors to Chapala in the 1920s.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the artistic community in Ajijic. For the history of numerous buildings in Chapala, including the main church, see If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants, translated into Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran: Edificios históricos de Chapala y sus antiguos ocupantes.

Source

    • D. Scott Atkinson. 2007. Everett Gee Jackson: San Diego Modern, 1920-1955. San Diego Museum of Art.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Feb 212024
 

Photographer and hotelier Winfield Scott was born in Galesburg, Michigan, on 15 July 1863 and died in Los Angeles, California, on 19 January 1942.

Scott spent six months in Mexico in 1888, and then lived in the country, with occasional breaks in California, from 1895 to 1924.

Scott-Chapala-Sonora-News-Co
From 1890 to 1894, he was working in Oakland, California. In 1894, he spent a weekend in jail when an aggrieved ex-colleague, unhappy about the terms of a business deal, denounced Scott for taking and possessing “indecent” photographs. A contemporary news report described them as “obscene photographs of semi-naked young Chinese girls” between 10 and 14 years of age. Scott was freed and exonerated because it proved impossible to find any such photos in his possession.

This may well have been the stimulus, if any was needed, that prompted Scott to move to Mexico in 1895 and settle in Silao, Guanajuato, where he undertook photographic commissions for the Mexican Central Railway (Ferrocarril Central Mexicano) and, from January 1897, for the National Railways (Ferrocarriles Nacionales). He is known to have photographed the famous Guanajuato mummies. He also sold some photos in 1896 to the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago.

His railway-related images include photos of canyons, stations, rural landscapes, and everyday life of the people living close to the tracks. By 1897, an advert in Modern Mexico (January 1897) claimed that he had amassed “the largest and most complete collection of scenes of Mexico and Mexican life”. In that same year, Wilson’s photographic magazine called him a pictorialist photographer and publicized his hundreds of images of Mexico and the U.S., with 5×8 prints on sale by mail order for $3 a dozen.

On 21 October 1898, now 35 years of age, Scott married 18-year-old Edna Browning Cody in the city of León, Guanajuato. Edna was from Lakeview, Michigan, but lived with her parents in the mining camp of Mineral de Cardones in Guanajuato.

By 1900, he and his wife (now known as Edna Cody Scott) lived in Ocotlán, Jalisco, on Lake Chapala, where he advertised the sale of “true portraits of the life and landscape of this country of unparalleled picturesqueness.”

Several of his photos, including a panoramic view of Chapala, were used to illustrate A tour in Mexico, written by Mrs James Edwin Morris (The Abbey Press, 1902).

A 1903 list of Scott’s Views of Mexico (published in Ocotlán, Jalisco) has 2486 numbered titles for Scott’s Mexican photographs, together with a testimonial attesting to their quality from Reau Campbell, of the American Tourist Association, author of Campbell’s New Revised Complete Guide and Descriptive Book of Mexico (1899).

scott-winfield-water-carrier-lake-chapala-1909-2

Scott: A Water Carrier (Lake Chapala) , 1909

In 1904, two of his photographs related to Lake Chapala—an Indian woman spinning and an Indian woman weaving—were published in National Geographic to illustrate an article by E. W. Nelson whose own photograph of a square-sailed boat on Lake Chapala was also included. These three images were the earliest photos of Lake Chapala to find their way into the pages of that august magazine.

Scott’s photographs were also used on numerous postcards, including several published by the Sonora News Company in Mexico City. In addition, three small photographs of Chapala, all by Scott, were used on one of the earliest postcards published by Juan Kaiser (with the imprint “Al Libro Mayor, S. Luis Potosí”) in about 1901.

scott-lake-chapala-ca-1908-

Scott: Lake Chapala, ca 1908

Scott’s specialty was the portrayal of women and children, as well as landscapes, and Mexico’s national photographic archive holds no fewer than 223 female portraits taken by Scott. Many of his portraits are exceptional in composition. Scott was one of the first of Mexico’s commercial photographers to pay as much attention to the context and surroundings as to the subject. His success in this regard is partly attributable to his rapid adoption of smaller and lighter cameras.

In 1908 Scott’s photographs were used to illustrate an account in Modern Mexico about the Colima-Manzanillo railway, then under construction but due to be completed in time for Mexico’s centenary celebrations in 1910.

During his time in Mexico, Scott collaborated with fellow American photographer Charles B. Waite. The two photographers offered, in the words of photographic historian Rosa Casanova, images specially chosen to appeal to an English-speaking audience: “a ‘costumbrista’ vision of the landscape, monuments, and people of the country, producing an imagery that was also adopted in Mexico, thanks to their widespread circulation in the form of postcards produced first by the Sonora News Company and later on by La Rochester.”

Scott. c 1900. Calle del Muelle, Chapala.

Winfield Scott. c 1900. Calle del Muelle, Chapala.

In April 1908, Charles B. Waite announced in the Jalisco Times that he had bought all of Scott’s negatives, and that any orders for Scott’s “Types and Views of Mexico” should now be addressed to him. Waite proudly proclaimed that he had “the largest assortment of views of any one country in the world.” Waite registered all the rights to the photographs with the relevant federal authorities. When republishing Scott’s work, Waite usually whited out (on the negatives) Scott’s numbers, captions and credit. This purchase and subsequent (re)registration has caused considerable uncertainty in some quarters (including Mexico’s National Fototeca) as to which photos should really be attributed to Scott, and which to Waite. Even one relatively recent INAH publication erroneously credited Waite for several photographs that are definitely the work of Scott.

After Winfield Scott separated, in about 1905, from his wife, Edna (who died in San Francisco in 1957), he began a relationship with Ramona Rodriguez. Their daughter, Margaret (Margarita), was born in Mexico in 1906. According to poet Witter Bynner and others, Ramona was Mexican and died (definitely before 1920) while Margaret was still young, leaving Scott to bring her up on his own.

When the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910, Scott moved to California, but returned in 1912, and then divided his time between California and Mexico until 1924. When applying in 1921 (in the U.S.) for a new passport so that he can return to Ocotlán, he described himself as 5′ 5″ tall, with light blue eyes and brown hair.

scott-winfield-hotel-arzapalo-chapala-2

Scott: The Hotel Arzapalo, early 1900s.

From 1919 to about 1922, Scott was managing the Hotel Ribera near Ocotlán, the source of stories Scott shared with D. H. Lawrence, his wife Frieda, Witter Bynner and others in 1923.

By 1923, Scott was managing the Hotel Arzapalo in Chapala, living there with his daughter Margaret in rooms on the west wing facing the lake. D. H. Lawrence used Scott as the basis for the hotel owner Bell in his novel The Plumed Serpent. Lawrence’s traveling companions Witter Bynner and Willard “Spud” Johnson stayed at the hotel, which was conveniently close to the house that Lawrence and his wife Frieda had rented.

In his memoir Journey with Genius (1951), Witter Bynner devotes chapter 16 to the Hotel Arzapalo and chapter 22 to Mr. Winfield Scott. He includes a detailed account of Scott telling them about how, while managing an hotel in Ocotlán, he and his guests narrowly escaped a run-in with gun-toting bandits. (Bynner, pp 110-114)

Elsewhere, Idella Purnell, a Guadalajara poet who spent time with Lawrence, has written about how she and Margarita Scott accompanied the Lawrences by boat to the railway station in mid-July 1923, when Lawrence and his wife Frieda left Chapala to return to Guadalajara and then New York.

Later that year, when Lawrence and Kai Gøtzsche visited Guadalajara in October 1923, they chose to stay at the Hotel García because Winfield Scott had now moved from Chapala and was managing that hotel. Scott did not remain at the Hotel García for long. By the end of the following year, he had moved back to California, where he lived until his death in 1942.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources:

  • Witter Bynner. 1951. Journey with Genius. New York: John Day.
  • Chapala (3 postcard shots) DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.
  • Benigno Casas, “Charles B. Waite y Winfield Scott: lo documental y lo estético en su obra fotográfica”, in Dimensión Antropológica, vol. 48, 2010, pp. 221-244.
  • E. W. Nelson. 1904. “A Winter Expedition into Southwestern Mexico.” National Geographic, vol XV, #9 (September 1904), 341-357.
  • Jalisco Times, 10 April 1908, 24 April 1908.

Note: This is an expanded and updated version of a post first published in 2015.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards, including several by Scott, to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Feb 152024
 

In a departure from our normal style, this post looks at a 1925 editorial in the long-running Guadalajara daily El Informador titled “La Villa Veraniega de Chapala” (The Summer Resort of Chapala). Quotes used throughout this post are informal translations of the original Spanish. The most likely candidate for the editorial’s authorship is the newspaper’s then Editor-in-Chief, Agustín Santoscoy. The editorial compared Chapala to holiday resorts and spa towns in South America.

It opened by claiming that illustrated magazines from Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina showed that their coastal resort towns had a level of elegance—in their “palaces, hotels, theaters, casinos and private residences”— equivalent to the best holiday locations in Europe. The author attributed this ‘success’ to their function as ports, with good links to Europe, and the nature of the adjoining coast:

The coast in those places is not unhealthy, there are no Indians, and the bulk of the civilized population lives on the coast; and, finally, a long period of peace and prosperity allows these towns to have the luxury of wonderful spas.”

The writer then drew a sharp (and nowadays politically incorrect) contrast with Mexico:

In Mexico, the opposite is true: the coasts are wild, sick, full of pests, almost uninhabited and very inaccessible due to a lack of communication routes. On these coasts, the indigenous population, very dark in color, lives indolently in the orchards or in the small towns, and stamps them with its style, offering tourists the shade of palm and petate, thatched lean-tos and shingle-roofed huts on the burning sands of the beach.”

El Informador, 10 April 1925

After dismissing Cuyutlán—“the only beach in the Pacific that can be reached by train after a frightful journey full of discomforts”—and Veracruz—where the nortes [strong storms] scare people and blow away awnings, latticework, pergolas, branches and roofs every year—the writer asks where “the rich, the elegant people of the capital, top officials and diplomats” spend their summers in Mexico?

And his answer? Chapala—which is where “you can go without fear and in relative comfort” to find enchanting water and scenery, without having to experience “the hell of the coast.”

The author then described what Chapala was like ‘today’ and suggested steps that the federal government might take to improve the town for the benefit of all visitors, famous and otherwise.

J. E. Sánchez (phot). Postcard mailed 1924

J. E. Sánchez (photographer). Postcard mailed 1924.

Chapala in 1925

Apart from the natural beauty of the place, with its lovely views of the lake and surrounding mountains, and the picturesque stretch of beach suitable for a magnificent resort, Chapala is a very poor and very ugly indigenous village, without any attraction or comforts for travelers. A modern spa cannot be formed there…. There is a lack of walks, squares, space, amusements, bathing facilities, gardens, parks and kiosks for visitors, and nowhere to stay to escape the sun…. while the elegant crowd jostles to crowd together in two small hotels and to occupy a limited part of the beach or in a few chalets that will later be abandoned for most of the year.
The village is made up of shacks, adobe walls, and yards where, during the season, natives swarm to sell fruits, vegetables, and other horribly expensive provisions to earn a year’s income in a week, causing middle-class visitors to leave quickly and never return.”

In order to improve Chapala, the author of the editorial proposed that the federal government should take over certain works, and also stimulate companies and individuals to make improvements. Among the potential improvements suggested were “a direct rail service to Chapala,” “a magnificent paved road for automobiles”, and a “new and modern settlement on the lakeshore” with government-built docks, boardwalks, and bathing areas, along with a “large and sumptuous presidential residence,” all of which would bring advantages that would benefit the town and the general public. These steps were urgent, “since Chapala is frequented by foreign diplomats and tourists,” and because the government should keep “the promises made so many times by officials who, during their stay, have realized the misery and inconveniences of the town.”

Question for readers who have made it this far:

  • 99 years on, how much progress has really been made?
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the artistic community in Ajijic.

Lake Chapala: A Postcard History (2022) uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to unravel the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Source

  • El Informador: 10 April 1925, 3.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Feb 082024
 

Several popular curio shops in downtown Mexico City at the start of the twentieth century stocked all manner of wares to sell to tourists and travelers, and some even published their own postcards of Mexico.

An 1898 list in The Mexican Herald of stores selling “Opals and Mexican Curiosities” included Granat & Horwitz (in the San Carlos Hotel); La Joyita (owned by F. Pardal & Co., and located very close to the Iturbide Hotel); La Compaciente; Sonora News Company; and The Art & Curio Co. Stores founded slightly later include the Iturbide Curio Store (in the basement of the Hotel Iturbide), Jacob Granat; Casa Miret; W. G. Walz Co; and American Stamps Works.

La Joyita started life in about 1898 at 1a de San Francisco #16 before moving to larger premises along the street at 1ra de San Francisco #13-14. In addition to postcards, it sold opals, drawn work, silver filigree, plus “ancient French and Spanish fans and silk shawls.”

La Joyita published at least two series of postcards. The earlier series, dating from around 1904-1905, is comprised of more than 50 black and white cards. The second series, believed to include around 230 cards, is in color and thought to date from around 1906. The relatively poor quality of both series suggests that they were printed locally.

Of local interest, in addition to at least half a dozen cards of Guadalajara, is this interesting card showing the Ocotlán Railroad Station in about 1905.

Ocotlán Railroad Station, c. 1905. Published by La Joyita.

Photographer unknown (Scott?). Ocotlán Railroad Station, c. 1905. Published by La Joyita.

Ocotlán was one of the main stations on the Mexican Central Railway’s branch line from Irapuato to Guadalajara. This branch line, completed in 1888, reduced the travel time between Mexico City and Guadalajara to under a day, and passengers could finally travel between Mexico’s two largest cities in relative comfort. On this new line, Ocotlán was the nearest station to Lake Chapala; visitors could disembark in Ocotlán and then take the steamboat that made regular trips to several ports on the lake, including Chapala. Many tourists preferred this way of reaching Chapala, since it obviated the need for any bumpy, rickety and sometimes dangerous stagecoach ride. Ocotlán Station became a major transit point for visitors to Lake Chapala’s new hotels.

Ocotlán Station is an important part of the region’s cultural heritage; sadly, part of the historic station was severely damaged by fire in early February 2024.

La Joyita published photographs taken by some of the most distinguished photographers of the time, including Charles Betts Waite, Winfield Scott, La Rochester, Guillermo Kahlo and R J Carmichael. While we can’t be 100% sure of who took the picture of the Ocotlán Railroad Station, it may have well have been American photographer Winfield Scott, who lived close to Ocotlán at the time, and often undertook commissions for the Mexican Central Railway.

His first visit to Ocotlán station left a vivid and lasting impression on Mexican author José Ruben Romero. In 1897, when he was about seven years of age, his family crossed the lake by steamer from La Palma to catch the train in Ocotlán for Mexico City. Romero later wrote about his experience:

The train that I thought was a precious toy turned out to be something heavy and ugly, full of smoke, with an intolerable odor…. I had no alternative but to entertain myself with the movement about the station: well-dressed travelers from Guadalajara who strolled in the sun; others buying jugs of plum wine, fresh cheeses, or fruits. Groups of farmers arrived, the men with valises of striped chintz on their shoulders and full baskets in their hands; the women dressed in brightly colored percales, with squeaky new shoes that caused them to walk as if on thorns.”

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 11 August 2023.

Sources

  • The Mexican Herald: 5 Oct 1898, 3; 13 Nov 1898, 11.
  • L. Eaton Smith. 1903. The Massey-Gilbert blue book of Mexico for 1903. Mexico City, Mexico : Massey-Gilbert Co.
  • Ricardo Pelz Marín and Karla Pelz Serrano. 2013. “Las joyas de ‘La Joyita.'” Presentation at 6th. Mexican Congress on Postcards, Museo Francisco Cossío, San Luis Potosí, August 2013.
  • José Rubén Romero. 1932. Apuntes de un lugareño, 148. Translated by John Mitchell and Ruth Mitchell de Aguilar as Notes of a Villager: A Mexican Poet’s Youth and Revolution 1988 Kaneohe, Hawaii: Plover Press. Translation quoted by kind permission of Ms. Margo C. Mitchell of Plover Press.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Feb 012024
 

In 1901, José de Olivares—author, poet and US diplomat—wrote a newspaper column about his adventures when visiting Lake Chapala. The column has several geographical inconsistencies which suggest that the author may have slightly embellished his real life experiences for dramatic effect. And an unfortunate editing typo resulted in the title of the piece being printed as “Mexico’s Beautiful Island Sea,” instead of “Mexico’s Beautiful Inland Sea,” the sentiment expressed in its final sentence.

Jose-de-Olivares-Title

Olivares opens his column by explaining how he first saw Lake Chapala after a week riding in the mountains south of Guadalajara hunting for wild goats, assisted by an invaluable but thieving mozo to look after their pack animals. Uncertain of their location, late one afternoon, as the sun was setting, they gained the crest of a high ridge and spotted “a vast sheet of water which stretched away from the range of hills… like a placid, billowless sea.”

Olivares is pleasantly surprised: “I had heard of this lake before… [but] my most generous ideas had pictured it as little more than a duck pond, and now it was revealed to me as a majestic inland sea.”

The two men rode down to the shore and bivouaced for the night near where the River Lerma empties into the lake. Olivares learns from his mozo that “at Chapala… some 60 miles to the westward, I could secure marine transportation facilities in any form from a canoe to a modern steamboat.” The following morning, Olivares set off at a gallop for the village of Chapala, leaving the mozo to follow at a more leisurely pace. He finally reached Chapala, after an enjoyable and scenic ride through beautiful agricultural country:

Just at dusk the picturesque little pueblo of Chapala came into view, the tall, white spires of its ancient cathedral silhouetted against the green foothills in the background. This quaint hamlet contains but a few hundred inhabitants, yet its magnificent sanctuary would be a credit to a city many times its size. There is no public inn at the place, and I availed myself for the night of the hospitality proffered me by one of the native residents.”

As a Navy man, Olivares very much wanted to hire a boat to explore the lake, but discovered that all the local boats were on the other side of the lake in Tizapan el Alto, which was celebrating a fiesta. Walking along the shore, he discovered:

“a dilapidated old shallop, long since consigned to “rotton row,” as naval parlance goes, but which I immediately set about to make sea-worthy. I calked her many seams as best I could, stepped a mast forward in her bow, and fashioned a rude pair of oars and broad sweep aft, in lieu of the regulation steering-gear.”

As soon as the mozo and cargo arrived and the boat was loaded, they set sail for Tizapan, where they spent the night. The following morning they set out for Jiquilpan. (Following the embankment and draining of the easternmost third of the lake in the first decade of the twentieth century, Jiquilpan is now far removed from the lakeshore.)

The first few hours of their trip towards Jiquilpan went smoothly, but in the early afternoon the wind suddenly changed direction, whipped up the waves, and threatened to blow them miles off course. “The mozo had completely lost his head and was upon his knees in the bow wildly crossing himself and calling upon his patron saint for deliverance,” when the boat capsized, throwing both men into the water. They managed to scramble onto the overturned keel of their vessel, but were well out of sight of any land.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, “a shrill whistle sounded close at hand” and they saw that a “small steamer was wallowing and diving toward us.” They were welcomed aboard and generously cared for by the captain, “who had sighted us by accident,” and a mere two hours later were safely back in Chapala, setting foot once again on terra firma.

The column is illustrated by three photographs, with the captions “On the river bank,” “Ancient Cathedral by the lakeside,” and “A country seat on Lake Chapala.” These photos are not known to have ever been published elsewhere, so they may well have been taken by Olivares himself.

"A country seat on Lake Chapala"

“A country seat on Lake Chapala”

José de Olivares

The writer and Spanish-American War veteran best known as José de Olivares was born as Jesse Scott Oliver in Oxford, Ohio, on 26 November 1867. Olivares himself, much later in life, claimed on a passport application to have been born as José de Olivares (with the same November birth date) on his father’s estate in southern California.

According to Prabook (an unreferenced online Wiki for biographies), Olivares’s education included classes at the Liceo de Varones (Boys’ High School) in Guadalajara, as well as in business college and at the Berlitz School of Modern Languages.

As Jesse Scott Oliver, he enlisted in the US Navy at Mare Island in California in 1886, at the age of 18, while still technically a minor, and without “the consent of his parents or guardians,” an enlistment was contested unsuccessfully in a legal action the following year. Oliver (Olivares) was a member of the California National Guard (1884-1886), the United States Navy (1886-1893, and in the Spanish-American War of 1898), and the California Naval Reserve (1894-1896).

In 1897, “Jesse Scott Oliver… Los Angeles, Cal. deputy sheriff” was indicted in New York for attempted assault on a 15-year-old girl whom he had met at Coney Island. His counsel argued that he had done so while intoxicated, had since lost his job (and according to one account attempted to take his own life), and asked the judge for clemency. Oliver got off lightly with a fine of $150.

This event may have been the impetus to change his name and make a fresh start. From about this time, he used the name José de Olivares, perhaps to suggest a more personal Latin American background for his writing than the truth.

Olivares married Bertha Lillian Owen in Los Angeles on 2 November 1895, with whom he had two children, both born in California: Leonore Constance de Olivares (born in 1897) and Caspar Louis de Olivares (1901). His wife died when Caspar was only 3 years old, a few weeks after returning to San Francisco from Panama in October 1906. The following January, Olivares (stationed in Panama at the time) gave his marital status as “widower” when he applied for a passport for himself and his children. The following month he married Nicaraguan-born Maria Teresa Ramírez y Jerez.

All of Olivares’ writing for US newspapers was either non-fiction or poetry. The subjects of his columns, some of them syndicated, included “California’s Curio Industry,” “Mescal. A Story of the Southwest,” Mexico’s War with the Yaqui Indians,” and “Daniel Boone’s Western “Palatinate.”

His best known work by far was Our Islands and Their People, published in two large format volumes by Thompson Publishing Company in 1899. This book, lavishly illustrated with hundreds of photographs and numerous color plates, gave readers detailed accounts of the lifestyles, customs and landscapes of the islands ‘acquired’ by the US following the war of 1898, including Cuba, Hawaii, and the Philippines.

Olivares was a correspondent for the 1900 Paris Exposition, and was made an official representative of the Saint Louis Exposition at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo (1901). He won medals for his work as Commissioner of the Saint Louis Exposition to Spain, Portugal and Latin-American countries (1902-1903) and as Commissioner to the Argentine Republic for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904).

In 1906, Olivares was appointed US consul at Managua, Nicaragua; he also served in consular positions at Madras, India (1911-1914), Hamilton, Ontario, Canada (1915-1924), Kingston, Jamaica (1924-1929), and Leghorn, Italy (1929-1932).

Olivares retired on 30 November 1932, and died a decade later in Santa Barbara, California, on 30 September 1942.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the artistic community in Ajijic.

Sources

  • José de Olivares. 1901. “California’s Curio Industry.” The San Francisco Call, 7 March 1901, 4.
  • José de Olivares. 1901. “Mexico’s Beautiful Island Sea” (Typo for Inland Sea). Atlanta Constitution, 2 June 1901, 9.
  • Los Angeles Herald: 17 April 1901, 11.
  • Nebraska Legal News: 2 September 1905.
  • Santa Barbara News Press: 1 October 1942, 1.
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle: 5 August 1897.
  • The San Francisco Call, 6 August 1897.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Jan 042024
 

Newspaper correspondent and intrepid traveler Fanny H. Ward (née Brigham) was born in Monroe, Michigan, on 27 January 1843 and died in Kent, Ohio, on 4 October 1913. Little is known about her early education and upbringing. She married in 1862 and moved to Washington DC about a decade later. The couple had three children, the youngest of which accompanied her on some of her later long-distance travels.

Ward had begun writing for newspapers, including the Cleveland Leader and the Portage County Republican-Democrat, in the 1870s and in 1884, now divorced, traveled for the first time to Mexico and Central America where she explored and wrote travel and lifestyle pieces for the next two and a half years. During that time, she climbed Mt Popocatepetl, the volcano overlooking Mexico City, contracted yellow fever and crossed the Andes on muleback.

A few years later Ward visited Guatemala and British Honduras (now Belize) before continuing south to Chile, Argentina, the Falkland Islands, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. In 1898, Ward visited Cuba on humanitarian missions with her good friend Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, and in the following year she spent time in Europe. By that time more than 40 newspapers were publishing her work. Ward’s writing career came to an abrupt end in 1905 after a stroke left her blind in one eye.

Among the articles written by Ward that relate to Mexico is a report of a three-day horse ride to Chapala, titled “Picnicking in Mexico: An Excursion to Lake Chapala,” published in April 1887.

Mrs Fannie Ward. 1887. Picnicking in Mexico.

Mrs Fannie Ward. 1887. Picnicking in Mexico.

Day 1 – Riding towards the lake

A Día de Campo (“day in the country”) as a Mexican picnic is called, is a favorite amusement here, especially in the vicinity of any body of water… We were invited to join an excursion to Lake Chapala, forty miles distant from Guadalajara—a “picnic” which occupied three days spent mostly on horseback.

Our party of eighteen started from Guadalajara in the twilight of an early morning, eating breakfast and lunch from well filled hampers al fresco by the wayside, and arriving in good time for six o’clock dinner at the hacienda of Señor Alzuyeta, ten miles this side of the lake.

I have failed to find any record of an influential family named Alzuyeta in Jalisco at the time, and it is unclear which hacienda is being referred to, though it may have been Atequiza. The hacienda is described as:

unique in its way, with little furniture (like all Mexican country houses) but what there is being very handsome, most of it having been brought from Spain nearly two centuries ago by a titled ancestor. The dining hall—a noble room, capable of seating thee hundred persons, opens into a garden which is kept in beautiful order, with fine trees, clear tanks, sparkling fountains and a profusion of roses of extraordinary beauty even in this land of flowers… the fountains tiled around in Moorish style, ornamented with Chinese figures and enormous China vases of great value.”

Day 2 – Visit to Lake Chapala

The next morning they left the hacienda early for Chapala, where they “spent a long day upon its peaceful waters and among its many islands.”

A small steamboat makes a daily tour of Lake Chapala, stopping at various points of interest; and everywhere along its shores Indian boatmen may be hired to paddle you about in canoes, dug-outs and rafts. Some of the latter have benches and awnings—much like those on the Vija canal, near the City of Mexico—and each barge, with three bare-legged boatmen to propel it, will easily carry a dozen people.
In the lake are many islands, upon one or two of which extensive ruins have been found. Some of the islands are absolutely unexplorable, on account of the innumerable number and variety of serpents that infest them, and appear to be entirely given over to these reptiles. No wonder those early Indians considered a skirt of woven snakes the most appropriate garment for the goddess of the earth!”

In attempting to explore some of the islands of Lake Chapala it seemed as if the earth literally wore ‘a skirt of serpents.’ The ground seemed alive with them, swaying and writhing from every bush, hissing and squirming on every fallen tree and rippling the water in all directions. It was a question as to which was most numerous, the birds above or snakes below. Among the islands are numerous shoals which barely project their pebbly heads above the water. These shoals are inhabited by millions of terns, gulls and other water fowl, and when approached the birds rise up in swarms, darkening the air, uttering deafening cries and darting about the intruder in a threatening manner…. the scene on the shoals, after the birds have deserted them, is most astonishing. Gulls and terns make no nests, and do not even take pains to hollow out a place in the gravel; but to every pebble there seems to be a dozen eggs.”

According to Ward, the annual spring hatching of birds’ eggs led to a frenzy of snakes below and hawks above.

The group returned to the hacienda in time for a late dinner, comprised of mole, boiled nopales, fried bananas, green chili in various sauces, frijoles, tortillas, cured goat’s milk cheese and guava jelly.

Both evenings at the hacienda we were sumptuously entertained by music, dancing and feasting, all the good people of the vicinage having been invited to meet us. The orange trees in the patio, beneath which the feast was spread, were hung with Chinese lanterns and the farther grounds illuminated with blazing torches of fir…. One evening we played at juegos de prendas—games with forfeits—which was made very amusing by the lively imagination of the ladies in inventing punishments for their caballeros.”

The following day, they rode back to Guadalajara.

Fannie Ward was just one of several pioneering female travelers who made important contributions to travel writing in the nineteenth century. Among the other early female travelers who wrote important accounts of Lake Chapala are Rose Georgina Kingsley; (Selina) Maud Pauncefote; Frances Christine Fisher (aka Christian Reid); and Mrs Alec Tweedie.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources

  • Roger J. Di Paolo. 2013. “Portage Pathways: Globe-trotting Fannie B. Ward came home to Ravenna.” Record-Courier, 6 Oct 2013.
  • El Informador: 3 Dec 1944, 11; 16 Dec 1944, 16; 24 Jan 1947, 6.
  • Fannie B Ward. 1886. ““The Scorpions of Mexico.” The Newnan Herald (Georgia), 19 October, 1.
  • Fannie B Ward. 1884. “Monterrey—the Metropolis of Northern Mexico.” Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, March 1884.
  • Fannie B Ward. 1887. “How the “Old, Old Story” Is Told in Mexico. Love-making and Marriage among the Aristocracy of Spanish-America.” The Cambridge Press, Volume XXI, Number 48, 19 February 1887.
  • Fannie B Ward. 1887. “In Southern Mexico. Picnicking at Lake Chapala.” The Sacramento Union, 30 April 1887, 4.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Dec 282023
 

Antonio Mólgora was an Italian businessman and hotelier who ran various hotels in Chapala from about 1907 to his death in 1927. Both he and one of his sons, also named Antonio, were accomplished amateur photographers and published a number of postcards, the son generally preferring pictures of boats and people to pictures of buildings. They were almost certainly the first local residents to produce real photographic postcards of Chapala.

At least three postcards must be the work of Antonio Mólgora Sr. (“El Muelle,” “La Plalla” [sic] and “La Reynera”) while many more can definitely be attributed to his son, Antonio Mólgora Jr. There is no evidence that either Mólgora ever tried to commercialize any photographs of other places; their Chapala postcards were presumably given or sold to visitors in the hotels owned or managed by Antonio Sr.

The numbering on some of the father’s postcards suggests there are likely to be many more photos of Chapala still waiting to be found and attributed to him!

Antonio Mólgora Sr. ca 1911. El Muelle.

Antonio Mólgora Sr. ca 1911. El Muelle.

Antonio Mólgora Sr.

Antonio Mólgora (Sr.) was born at Novara, Italy, in 1877. He was one of at least eight children born there to Clemente Mólgora Declerechi (1841-1900), a pork butcher, and his wife, Paulina de Ferrari (1852-1931). One of Antonio’s uncles, Enrique Mólgora (ca 1840-1900), had established himself and his family in Mexico in the 1870s, and Enrique’s brother—Antonio’s father—followed him to Mexico with his family in the 1890s.

In 1900, Antonio married 19-year-old María Espinosa Gómez in Chihuahua. The couple had two sons: Clemente Mólgora Espinosa (1901-1981) and Antonio Héctor Mólgora Espinosa (1903-1980). Clemente, who married a local Chapala girl in about 1927, is mentioned in Journey with Genius, the account by poet Witter Bynner of visiting Chapala in 1923 in the company of D. H. Lawrence. (Bynner later bought a house in the village and was a regular visitor for decades.)

It is unclear what Antonio Mólgora (father) did before becoming manager of the Gran Hotel Victor Huber in Chapala in about 1906. But, roughly three years later, he bought this hotel, originally named for its owner, and renamed it the Hotel Francés. Located immediately opposite the church, it was demolished at the end of the 1940s when the wide main boulevard (Avenida Francisco I. Madero) was created.

In 1919, Mólgora also took over the management of the Hotel Palmera. Part of this building, designed by Guillermo de Alba and completed in 1907, later became the Hotel Nido, and is now the Presidencia, housing Chapala municipal offices.

In March 1921 a vacationer wrote on a Mólgora postcard to friends in New Orleans that, besides having a good time, they had felt their first earthquake – “We all dressed and went down stairs. Thought the next shake would bring down the building.” a reference, presumably, to the 6.4 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Colima on 1 May 1921, an event fortunately without any casualties.

In about 1924, Mólgora bought and took over the running of the Hotel Arzapalo; it was promptly renamed the Hotel Mólgora. The Arzapalo had opened in 1898 as the town’s first major hotel, but had operated only intermittently during the Mexican Revolution before reopening in the 1920s.

Antonio Mólgora Sr., photographer, hotelier and ardent supporter of the Italian community in Guadalajara, died in his adopted home of Chapala on 9 October 1927.

Antonio Mólgora Jr.

Antonio Hector Mólgora (1903-1980) married in 1931 and had at least three children, including Jorge Enrique Mólgora Gil, an artist and architect who has designed or co-designed several projects in Chapala and Ajijic since the 1980s.

Antonio Hector Jr took numerous fine photographs of Chapala from about 1920 onward, at least 20 of which were published as postcards. His father promoted his hotels by offering special rates for excursion groups, and this photo of a passenger boat (below) may have been taken to document a special excursion group from Guadalajara.

Antonio Mólgora. Date unknown. Passenger boat, Lake Chapala.

Antonio Hector Mólgora. ca 1922? Passenger boat, Lake Chapala.

Antonio Mólgora Jr. also documented the huts used by fishermen at Chapala, including one on Isla de los Alacranes. It is unclear if this example (below) was taken on the island or somewhere closer to the town of Chapala:

Antonio Mólgora. Date unknown. Fisherman's hut, Lake Chapala.

Antonio Hector Mólgora. ca 1922? Fisherman’s hut, Lake Chapala.

This Mólgora postcard (with “MOLGORA” in block letters) of typical freight-carrying “sail canoes” or canoas (below) is evocative of the era in which D. H. Lawrence and his friends visited in 1923.

Antonio Mólgora. Date unknown. Boats on Lake Chapala.

Antonio Hector Mólgora (probably). Date unknown. Boats on Lake Chapala.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Jorge Enrique Mólgora Gil for helping clarify which photographs were the work of his father, Antonio Hector Mólgora Espinosa.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 3 August 2019.

Sources:

  • El Correo de Jalisco: 9 January 1907.
  • El Informador: 15 September 1918, 2; 30 November 1919; 7 March 1920, 10; 1 July 1921, 7; 12 March 1926.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Dec 212023
 

Carl Sophus Lumholtz (1851–1922), born in Lillehammer, Norway, was a scientist, traveler and anthropologist in the generalist Humboldtian tradition. After graduating from the Theology department of the University of Christianía in Oslo, Lumholtz went to Australia as a naturalist. While living with cannibalistic aborigines in northern Queensland, he became fascinated by the study of primitive peoples, and spent the rest of his life enthralled by the anthropology and ethnology of native tribes in many different parts of the world.

Lumholtz-CoverLumholtz made six separate trips to Mexico, with the express purpose of studying indigenous people and their beliefs and customs. This approach was in stark contrast to that adopted by previous travelers, who had tended to regard the contributions of native Indians to the overall picture of life and work in Mexico as relatively insignificant.

His visits were supported by generous, wealthy patrons, as well as by the American Geographical Society and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Helped by letters of introduction from politicians in Washington, Lumholtz was able to obtain logistical support from President Porfirio Díaz, who Lumholtz considered to be “not only a great man on this continent, but one of the great men of our time.” Díaz helped organize a translation of Lumholtz’s work into Spanish. This was published, in 1904, only two years after the original English edition.

Lumholtz first entered Mexico with a team of some thirty scientists, with specializations ranging from geography to physics and from botany to mineralogy, and 100 horses. By the fourth trip, he had abandoned the team approach in favor of traveling alone, since this allowed him to explore some of the remotest parts of north and west Mexico, and live for extended periods of time with isolated Indian tribes. His respectful, patient attitude allowed him to gain the confidence of his hosts, and be permitted to take some of the earliest known photographs of them and their activities.

He was particularly impressed by the Indians’ practical skills:

“In all kinds of handicraft, for instance, in carving on stone, wood, and so forth, the ancient people of Mexico have no equal today for accuracy of execution and beauty of outline.” His sense of priorities is perhaps summed up best by his statement that he felt he had to protect the “Indians from the Mexicans, the Mexicans from the Americans”.

To his eternal regret, Lumholtz’s work in Mexico was interrupted by the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, and he felt forced to turn his attentions to other parts of the world, including India, Borneo and south-east Asia.

A prolific author, with dozens of works to his credit, Lumholtz died in 1922 while planning a research trip to New Guinea.

Unknown Mexico is an account of Lumholtz’s first four trips to Mexico, representing a total of five years in the country between 1890 and 1900. Even today, it remains a classic of anthropological literature. Illustrated with dozens of drawings and photographs, it provides a wealth of detail about the lifestyles, customs, native remedies, music and beliefs of some of the indigenous tribes.

This illustration from Unknown Mexico shows the excavation of ancient jars near Atoyac (a short distance west of Lake Chapala):

Lumholtz. Unknown Mexico, vol 2, opposite page 318

Lumholtz. Unknown Mexico, vol 2, opposite page 318.

The book includes drawings of two ceremonial hatchets “used at sacred sites” and found in the “neighbourhood of Chapala”:

Lumholtz: Two ceremonial hatchets found near Chapala

Lumholtz: Two ceremonial hatchets found near Chapala

I made also an excursion to the beautiful lake of Chapala, the largest sheet of fresh water in Mexico, fifty miles long and from fifteen to eighteen broad. Its name is Nahuatl, which should really be Chapalal, in onomatopoetic imitation of the sound of the waves playing on the beach. The stage runs to a small village of the same name, lying on the shore, where some pretty country houses have been built.

In this lake, especially at its western end, are found great quantities of ancient, roughly made, diminutive jars, and a number of other objects. Near the village of Axixic (Nahuatl, “Where water [atl] pours forth”) the people make a business of diving for them, threading them on strings, and selling them to visitors to the village of Chapala. I gathered several hundreds of them, and the supply seemed inexhaustible. No one knows when or why they were thrown into the lake. Most likely they were votive offerings to the deity of this water, to secure luck and health and other material benefits.

Lumholtz. Unknown Mexico, Illustration from Vol 2, page 357

Lumholtz. Unknown Mexico. Illustration from Vol 2, page 357

Note: This is based on chapter 48 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages: An Anthology of Travelers’ Tales.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Sources

  • Carl Sophus Lumholtz. 1902. Unknown Mexico. 2 vols. 1973 reprint: New Mexico: Rio Grande Press.
  • Luis Romo Cedano. “Carl Lumholtz y el México desconocido.” Ch. 13 of Ferrer Muñoz, Manuel (coordinator) La Imagen del México Decimonónico de los Visitantes Extranjeros: ¿Un Estado nación o un Mosaico Plurinacional? Mexico: UNAM, Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas, Serie Doctrina Jurídica, Núm. 56.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Nov 302023
 

This is the second in a mini series identifying some examples of photo identification errors which pertain to the Lake Chapala area.

Estampas de Chapala by Manuel Galindo Gaitan is an outstanding two-volume collection of mainly vintage photographs of Chapala and other places around the lake. Some of the historical details in the text are outdated but the photographs are an absolute treasure. The volumes were published in 2003 and 2005 respectively. Long out-of-print, they occasionally show up for sale on mercadolibre and similar sites.

Included in volume 1 (page 89) is this image, captioned “Los jóvenes que gustaban de remar en canoas por el Lago de Chapala eran turistas que con suma frecuencia visitablan el lugar.” (“The young people who liked to row small boats on Lake Chapala were tourists who visited the place very frequently.”)

Estampas de Chaplaa page 89

I admit to doing a double-take when I first saw this image many years ago. The pitched roofs of some of the buildings are quite reminiscent of some of the early villas of Chapala, including Casa Albión (later Villa Josefina), built by Septimus Crowe at the end of the nineteenth century. But my eye was drawn more to the much taller, four or five story building further back, mainly because there were no buildings this tall anywhere at Lake Chapala until relatively recently.

A quick reverse image search with the help of Señor Google brought up this strikingly similar image from more recent times:

Waikiki postcard

Waikiki postcard

It is apparent that this is the same location. The difference in date between the two images is shown by the very different leisure attire, but does nothing to mask the fact that the major buildings are the same in both photos.

Chapala or Hawaii? You be the judge!

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Nov 232023
 

Bertha Kaiser was the third wife of Swiss printer and shopkeeper Juan Kaiser, who—in addition to selling accounting books and ledgers via his store “Al Libro de Caja” in Guadalajara—also published beautiful early postcards of Chapala and Guadalajara featuring the work of such distinguished photographers as José María Lupercio and Winfield Scott.

Front cover of "Mein Rind. Tagebuch der Mutter" (Bertha Kaiser's diary)

Bertha’s diary, written in German in the first quarter of the twentieth century, was unknown outside her immediate family until relatively recently. Excerpts of the diary were published in 2012 as Tagebuch Von Bertha Kaiser-Peter Fur Ihren sohn Hans Paul Kaiser.

The diary contains frequent references to the members of the small Swiss community in Guadalajara, most of whom had close friendships and ties to the much larger German community in the city.

While the diary is mostly about the family’s experiences in Guadalajara and an extended trip to the US (via train to Manzanillo and steamer to California), there are some significant Chapala links scattered through the diary.

The excerpts begin in mid-1912 when Bertha and Juan’s son, Hans-Paul, was born in Guadalajara. Following his baptism, a celebration for family and friends was held at the Hotel Cosmopolita, before the Kaisers returned to their home in Jardines Seattle.

The Hotel Cosmopolita had been owned until a few years previously by German-born Francisco Fredenhagen (1849-1932), a close friend of the Kaisers, who, in about 1900, built one of the earliest weekend ‘cottages’ in Chapala at (or very near) the property which now has the address of Avenida Hidalgo #260.

Fredenhagen was a partner in a Mexico City brewery (“La Compañia Cervecera Limitada”) when he bought the Hotel Cosmopolita in 1885 and moved to Guadalajara. One of Fredenhagen’s grandchildren later married into the Seimandi family, which included one of the early managers of Chapala’s emblematic hotel—the Hotel Arzapalo—which opened in 1898. This marriage was very much in the tradition of the time that influential families consolidated their status and wealth through intermarriage.

In the mid 1890s, Fredenhagen drew anthropologist Frederick Starr’s attention to the many little pottery objects found in and around Lake Chapala, about which Starr subsequently wrote a short monograph. Fredenhagen also informed Starr about a “dwarf race” living in the hills near Ajijic, which the anthropologist planned to investigate with the assistance of Archbishop Gillow. Gillow is a particularly interesting figure in Mexican history; his story is told in Mexican Kaleidoscope: myths, mysteries and mystique.

After Fredenhagen sold the Hotel Cosmopolita in 1909, he announced plans to move to Chapala where he and his wife owned a cottage, before retiring to Germany. Events in Europe apparently caused them to rethink that idea; Fredenhagen died in Guadalajara in 1932, and his wife died there eight years later.

Members of Kaiser family in Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of Verena Kaiser-Ernst.

Members of Kaiser family in Chapala. Reproduced by kind permission of Verena Kaiser-Ernst.

Bertha’s diary records a visit to stay with the Fredenhagens in Chapala in April 1915. Paraphrasing Bertha’s text, on February 17th the family celebrated Juan’s birthday quietly at home. Juan was not feeling well (he had a chronic illness), and they were invited to visit the Fredenhagens at Lake Chapala. They left Guadalajara on April 15th in a privately hired stagecoach (diligencia), pulled by “five lively mules” over the “sometimes very bumpy roads.” It took seven hours, but “the beautiful journey” was a “reminder of how people made long journeys in stagecoaches before the coming of the railroad.”

They spent a month with the Fredenhagen family. Bertha and Juan took a pleasant walk in the mountains every morning, before having a swim, a leisurely lunch and a siesta. They took a row boat out in the late afternoon. After dinner, they entertained themselves playing jazz.

Hans-Paul (“Juanito”) and his nanny also had a good time at Chapala. Juanito played every day on the sandy beach, bathed, and loved his time in Chapala, especially after one of his Guadalajara friends arrived with her parents.

Group at Casa Nigg, Chapala, August 1922. Reproduced by kind permission of Verena Kaiser-Ernst.

Group at Casa Nigg, Chapala, August 1922. Reproduced by kind permission of Verena Kaiser-Ernst.

Bertha recognized that Chapala was facing a difficult time. While the lake and its shores were as beautiful as ever, the unrest in the country had led to everything being neglected: “The beautiful private villas are mostly uninhabited, the hotels are poorly maintained. In former quiet times people flocked to Chapala from everywhere.” When the trip came to an end, they returned to Guadalajara by stagecoach, “taking the most beautiful memories home with us. Mr. & Mrs. Fredenhagen were such dear hosts.”

In the summer of 1915, the Kaisers undertook an arduous journey to California to combine having a family holiday with seeking specialist medical advice.

“It was a terrible journey to Colima…. It is one of the most dangerous routes in the world, wonderfully romantic in quiet times, but in revolutionary times the line was usually out of order, the trains in terrible condition, it was a horrible ride and ridiculed any description.”

Manzanillo was even worse: “The heat was unbearable, the mosquitoes plagued the children, particularly, day & night, bad food, nothing to drink.” About 40 people from Guadalajara were waiting in the port for the steamer “Peru” to San Francisco. After several days, the steamer finally arrived and the nine day journey to San Francisco was underway.

Bertha’s diary covers their California trip in considerable detail, including Juan’s chance meeting at a German music festival in Los Angeles with a fellow postcard publisher, “Mr Ruhland, an old friend whom he hadn’t seen in 12 years.” Emil Ruhland and his partner, Max Ahlschier, founded Ruhland & Ahlschier, the first company in Mexico permitted to publish and market illustrated postcards, in 1897. After selling the company in about 1903, Ruhland had moved to the US.

The Kaisers’ return home to Guadalajara is also described in great detail in Bertha’s diary. From Manzanillo, the “extra train” which arrived to take them to Guadalajara, “didn’t have passenger wagons but only freight wagons. Awful was the ride on this old railroad train that was fueled by wood… [with] the biggest rain of sparks, which was especially bad for the eyes when going fast.” To add insult to injury, Juan’s personal suitcase, containing clothes, cash and business notes, was stolen.

The dangerous stretch between Colima and Guadalajara lasted two days and a night. All too visible in the barranca below at one point were the wrecked locomotives and passenger cars from a train accident in which hundreds of people had died.

Unfortunately, Juan never recovered from his illness and died early the following year (1916). Given the uncertain future for the business, most employees resigned. Fortunately, with the assistance of a business administrator, Emil Keller, the company remained in operation while Bertha negotiated its sale to Juan’s brother, Arnoldo.

The following year, Keller asked Bertha to marry him. Bertha, greatly conflicted but wanting the best for her 5-year-old son, said ‘Yes” and the couple were married in a small civil ceremony at Bertha’s home on 24 October 1917. The newly weds left Juanito with his nanny, and drove to Chapala for a two week honeymoon.

After a week of wondering every day how Juanito was doing, “my husband decided to go back to Guadalajara and bring the little one to me as a surprise, which of course made me very happy… Now we could stay peacefully another week and enjoy the beautiful place.”

Bertha and her husband became accustomed to spending part of every summer in Chapala. Several photos in the diary provide glimpses into the social life of Bertha and her friends. In 1922, for example, Bertha was at the farewell party for the retiring Swiss consul, Juan Nigg. Nigg invited the entire Swiss community for a steamer ride on the lake and lunch at his lakeside home. (Nigg’s successor as consul was Dr Sutter, director of the Faculty of Medicine at the Autonomous University of Guadalajara, who also had a home in Chapala.)

Silver wedding of Sres Jochimsen, Chapala, November 1922. Photo by José Edmundo Sánchez. Reproduced by kind permission of Verena Kaiser-Ernst.

Silver wedding of Sres Jochimsen, Chapala, November 1922. Photo by José Edmundo Sánchez. Reproduced by kind permission of Verena Kaiser-Ernst.

In that same year, Bertha and Emil attended the silver wedding celebration in Chapala of Mr and Mrs Jochimsen. The group photo showing the invitees was taken by Chapala-born photographer José Edmundo Sánchez, whose postcards of Chapala are an invaluable source of social history.

The diary also includes this photo of the Lehmann family posing on the beach at Chapala.

The Lehmann family at Chapala. c 1925. Reproduced by kind permission of Verena Kaiser-Ernst.

The Lehmann family at Chapala. c 1925. Reproduced by kind permission of Verena Kaiser-Ernst.

Not long after the period described in the diary, Bertha and her family left Guadalajara to live in Switzerland.

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Hans-Martin Kaiser and Verena Kaiser-Ernst for bringing this valuable diary to my attention, and for graciously allowing me to reproduce the photos used in this post.

Help needed

Verena Kaiser-Ernst, editor of Bertha Kaiser’s diary, is interested in having the diary translated from German to Spanish for possible publication in Guadalajara. The book has approximately 20,500 words of text and about 40 photo captions. Please contact me if this is a project that appeals to you!

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards, including several published by Juan Kaiser,  to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Sources

  • Verena Kaiser-Ernst. 2012. Tagebuch Von Bertha Kaiser-Peter Fur Ihren sohn Hans Paul Kaiser. Stuttgart: T H Schetter.
  • La Tierra: 1 June 1901, 125.
  • The Mexican Herald: 28 June 1909, 11.
  • The Two Republics: 13 Jan 1885, 4.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Oct 192023
 

At least two postcards of Lake Chapala from the late 1920s bear the imprint on their reverse side of “F. Martín. Mexico, D.F.” and a stylized “FM” circular logo. According to researcher Arturo Guevara Escobar, the “F. Martín” name was registered as a trade name and used for about 50 years for several distinct series of postcards, which makes it likely that the estimated 1000+ postcards produced by the firm represented the work of more than one individual.

The main “F. Martín” series has bilingual captions in red numbered from 1 to at least 628. This series includes the two cards illustrated here. It is unknown whether these photographs, which date from the 1920s, were taken by Martín himself or were the bought-in work of other photographers.

Felix Martin. Date unknown. Lago de Chapala.

F. Martin. c 1928 (?). “Lago de Chapala.”

The card above (#158) shows a view of Chapala from the west towards the town and jetty of Chapala. The twin towers of the Church of San Francisco are especially prominent.

The card below (#154) is one the very few postcards showing Villa Virginia, one of the numerous elegant villas built along the lakeshore in the period 1890-1930. This particular villa, west of the jetty, and still standing, was built after 1905 by the Hunton family. The matriarch of the family was the basis for the title character of Arthur Davison Ficke’s 1939 novel “Mrs Morton of Mexico.” (See chapter 31 of If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants.)

Felix Martin. Date unknown. "Un challet a orillas del Lago de Chapala"

F. Martin. c 1928 (?). “Un challet a orillas del Lago de Chapala”

The images on both postcards have five-digit numbers—97899 and 97900 respectively—in tiny white font in the lower left corner. These numbers appear to be identical in style to the five-digit numbers found on cards published (at approximately the same time) by “S. Altamirano” of Guadalajara, so it is likely that the two publishers had a commercial relationship.

The mystery of F. Martín

Arturo Guevara Escobar decided that postcards marked “F. M.” or “F. Martín” were almost certainly the work of Félix Martín Espinoza, who lived in Mexico City, and was a member of the committee responsible for overseeing Mexican participation in the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair) in 1893. The address of this individual in the first decade of the 20th century was 1er Callejón de López #416.

Display adverts in the Mexico City press from 1901 to 1913 tie that address (and a series of others) to the “Yucatán Medicine Co.” a company selling patent medicines, including a vegetable oil for hair color restoration made by the doctor. At least one of the hair restorer ads gives the doctor’s full name as “Félix Martín Espinoza L.” This would mean that “Martín” was not the doctor’s paternal surname (as the name “F. Martín” would suggest) but was actually his second name, and that his paternal surname was Espinoza. It would have been very unusual at the start of the twentieth century to use two forenames as an advertising/company name, so I believe we need to find a stronger candidate for the “F. Martín” who published postcards.

A much more likely candidate, in my opinion, though no further biographical details are known, is the “Felix Martín” who lived at “5a Capuchinas 89, Mexico City,” and placed regular advertisements in The Mexican Herald from October 1913 to April 1914 claiming to be “The best place in the city to buy postal cards at wholesale prices.” A subsequent F. Martín campaign, in El Pueblo from 1915 to 1919, offered “postcards of every type and style.” The Capuchinas address was a commercial premises which had previously belonged to Bordenave & Coryn, “General Agents for Scotch Whisky Perfection, American Whiskey, Ceylon Tea, etc.”

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 30 July 2019.

Source

  • El Imparcial: diario ilustrado de la mañana,12 April 1913, 6.
  • El Pueblo: 12 Nov 1915, 5; 19 Jan 1919, 6.
  • El Siglo Diez y Nueve, 30 April 1884, 4.
  • Arturo Guevara Escobar. 2011. Letra: M. “Fotógrafos y prodcutores de postales.” Originally published 19 November 2011.
  • The Mexican Herald: 14 October 1913, 6; 7 April 1914, 6.
  • Semanario Literario Ilustrado, 1 July 1901.

Comments, corrections and additional material are welcome, whether via the comments feature or email.

Oct 122023
 

One of the earliest literary mentions of Lake Chapala comes in “Ixotle,” a story by Andrew Jackson Grayson published in 1870. Here is the full text of the original article:

IXOTLE

During a sojourn in Tepic of some six weeks, for the purpose of making collections of Ornithology, I went into the almost impenetrable mountains of San Juan Guaya, and came to the old Mission of San Luis.

The little village was ensconced among the mountains, with bold and magnificent scenery. Cultivation of maize and beans in small patches abounded everywhere. The village consisted of some adobe houses, and numerous jacals; the population, of half-civilized Indians. In the centre of the village was a very ancient, but small church, built of stone. The roof and its rough walls were overgrown with plants, giving it an air of age and decay. In the adjoining building I was shown the venerable Cura, whose form, that had been once tall, seemed to be as ancient as the dilapidated building that sheltered him. Though age told upon him, as his gray hairs and care-worn visage fully attested, he yet possessed that vigor of mind and keen memory we often find in the persons of those enthusiastic ecclesiastical recluses who have wandered into the very depth of the wilderness, to subdue the savage to Christianity and civilization.

The old man had dwelt in this spot for forty-eight years, endeavoring to tame these wild Indians, and induce them to adopt that partial civilization and Christianity to which most of the native Mexicans have been brought, but in vain; they still retained their ancient customs to a considerable degree, and were known as Sozado’s wild Indians, who scorned to associate with their neighbors of the lowlands. They venerated the old Cura, and many attended his church on Sundays; but they cared very little for Christianity, and nothing for civilization.

I found the Cura to be a very intelligent man, and a Spaniard by birth. He appeared to take much interest in my collections of Natural History, upon which subject I found him better informed than most people in that region. He told me of the different species I would find in those mountains: of birds of resplendent plumage —of birds that sang, and those without song —and he knew all their Indian names. At length he said: “You ought to visit the islands of the Tres Marias. There you will find the forest full of birds, and so tame as to be taken by the hand.” I replied that I had already been there, and what he said was true; for I had discovered some rare birds, and made a fine collection.

After some conversation upon these Islands, of which be had heard much, but had never seen, I at length asked him why so beautiful a spot should have never been populated, either by native aborigines or modern Mexicans? In reply he then told me the following tradition, which was related to him by an old Cacique of the tribe that once inhabited these mountains, but long since dead:

Señor,” said he, “these islands were held sacred by the ancient Mexicans of the west, or coast region, and dedicated as a place of worship to the God of the Storms of the Sea, Tlaxicoltetl: here he dwelt, and here he governed the whirlwind and the storm.

“One human victim—a virgin or youth —was offered as a sacrifice upon the rough-hewn coral altar annually, on St. John’s day, the 24th of June, which is about the commencement of the stormy, or rainy season. This offering was made to appease the wrath of Tlaxicoltetl and supplicate protection to the fishing canoes that supplied the vast interior with fish and pearls, camarones and oysters, of which the coast tribe held independent possession. The pearls obtained in various localities of the Gulf of California, together with other beautiful shells for ornaments, were carried even to the great Aztec city of the lakes, Mexico. This was long before the White Man was known. Many well-trodden foot-paths penetrated to the interior from the seashores in the vicinity of Tepic; and where San Blas now stands (then called Jualtelotepec)—where is a precipitous cliff, which now forms the background of San Blas, and where once stood the old Spanish town and fortifications—was the principal rendezvous of the fishermen. From this locality a large, well-beaten trail extended through Tepic on to where Guadalajara now stands, and where then stood a large city, which was called Chapala.

“The lake near Guadalajara is still known by that name; and the Indians found near its borders, who yet live in a semi-barbarous state, are called to this day Chapalo Indians, and are a very degraded, thieving race. But previous to the conquest, they were a numerous and industrious people—well skilled in the manufacture of articles of utility. Cotton cloths, both coarse and fine, were largely manufactured by them, as also various kinds of pottery; and their dressed deer-skins were of a superior quality. These kinds of goods were bartered with the Tepic Indians for fish, pearls, etc.

“Their principal town was where the beautiful city of Guadalajara now lifts its numerous church-spires proudly over the once heathen temples of human sacrifice. It was then a large city, and continues to be second only to the Capital.

“Just before the corning of the White Man, or conquistador, there lived in the city a beautiful young girl of sixteen. She was called Ixotle (‘the drooping flower’). She was remarkable for her intelligence, and the sad and melancholy expression of her face; and was chosen by the idolatrous priests as one of the sacred virgins of the many to assist at the disgusting fêtes of human sacrifice. But when the time came for her attendance, together with her sister virgins, upon one of these cruel displays of human depravity, she refused: no persuasions or threats could induce her to join the others in ceremonies over the torments and sufferings of her fellow-creatures. But she was forced by the priests to follow in their procession, and go through the performances around the altar allotted to them. She was looked upon as strange for refusing so high an honor; but she felt the disgrace, wrong, and dark religion of her people, whose ritual of polytheism and their revolting worship would sooner or later be avenged by the great and true God. On her part, she went through the performance with the other virgins, with a saddened heart and dejected mien, until the priest, with gory hands, had pronounced it finished.

“She then stepped forth from the platform near the bloody altar, and with her hand raised toward heaven, said, in a tender, but distinct voice, ‘Behold, 0 thou priest of this hated temple! The Great God and Father of all looks with anger upon these bloody sacrifices, and the worship of these ugly stones which ye call gods. 0, ye priests and worshipers! I warn ye: let this be the last of your bloody sacrifices; for toward the rising sun a people with white faces and long, red beards are coming — they are already on the march. They carry in their hands the lightning and the thunder, with which they will demolish your
great temples. They are sent by the true God. Not a stone will be left; and on their sites will be erected white temples—the pure temples of the true and only God. Beware, then, and let this be the last of human sacrifice!’

“It may be imagined,” said the Cura, “with what awe these wicked priests gazed upon that divine figure who dared make such prophecy even in presence of their stony gods. She was regarded as a false prophetess, or witch, and sold to the Tepic nation, to be sacrificed upon the burning altar of Tlaxicoltetl, the God of Storms.

“The day at length arrived for the voyage to the islands. It was the 20th of June: on the 24th of that month the sacrificial offering was to take place.

“Twenty large canoes, ornamented with pearls and other beautiful shells of the gulf, contained the priests and virgins: they were the sacred canoes, and in one of these sat the beautiful Ixotle, gorgeously dressed In native costume, and adorned with the brightest of pearls. A drooping flower indeed, but with the look of an angel amid her rough attendants! As the sun disappeared below the calm and glistening sea, these canoes departed in the direction where the sun had gone down, followed by a numerous assemblage of other canoes. At the expiration of two nights and one day they reached the place of the temple dedicated to their storm-god. It was in a secluded little cove upon the eastern portion of the most northerly island, now called Maria Madre.

“The temple, or altar, was of rude construction, pyramidical in form; upon which stood the idol, huge and uncouth, in the shape of a human being. It was hollowed out, in order that the flames kindled within might give a more hideous expression to the face, by lighting up the round holes for the eyes and open mouth.

“It was a gloomy-looking spot, overshadowed by the large trees that abound on these islands. Darkness had closed the day, and the silence of the hour was only broken by the dull moaning of the sea and distant murmuring of thunder.

“The time had come for the sacrifice. Torches were lit around the altar, and, as the dull light of the idol grew into flames of fire, the victim was led to the top of the altar, in front of the idol, where she was permitted to stand, that all might gaze for the last time upon her lovely form.

“While thus standing, she turned to the audience, and again related her prophecy of the coming of the White Man, and reiterated her belief in the true and only God of all. She deprecated the foul and disgusting worship of her people, and said the time was near at hand when the Great Creator would terminate this evil practice. When she had finished, there was a deep silence—nothing was heard but the roar of the sea and the approaching tornado. Suddenly, it burst upon the spot with a terrific crash of thunder and lightning, accompanied with furious rain, while the overpowering wind caused the great trees to bend and sway like reeds, the very earth to tremble, and the forest to howl.

“The lights were soon extinguished by the wind and rain, all save that within the hollow idol, which, shining through the eye-holes and distended mouth, gave to the scene an indescribably weird aspect. Ixotle, still standing upon the altar, turned her face up to the mountain, where she beheld a singular apparition of vapory light, amid which the lightnings played and the thunder deafened— and thought she saw the figures of pale-faced men with long beards. Turning to the people, at the same time pointing in that direction, she cried aloud, ‘Behold! there they are! they have already come!’ At that instant, a flash of lightning struck the tree near which stood the idol, shivering tree and idol into atoms. The girl bounded from the altar, and fled into the dark forest.

“The priests and panic-stricken worshipers took to their canoes, amid the raging storm and angry sea. After they had departed from the shore, they looked back upon the island. The mountain seemed to be lit up in ablaze of ghastly, unearthly light; those vapory clouds presenting to their affrighted minds a strange phantasmagoria as of men and beasts, among which they thought they saw the form of their victim, ‘the drooping flower.’

“The storm raged all night; but two of the canoes reached the main-land, the occupants having undergone for several days much suffering. After their rescue they related what had happened, and heard with amazement that the girl’s prophecy had already come to pass! The White Man had arrived in Mexico. From that time forth no more sacrificial offerings were attempted on the island: ‘the God of the Sea-Storm’ was destroyed. Henceforth, according to the tradition of the locality, these attractive shores bore the ominous appellation of ‘the Haunted Isles,’ and were ever after shunned by every Indian with superstitious dread.

“The vapory, or phosphorescent, light which so frightened the idolaters from their intended sacrificial offering of the unhappy virgin, still makes its appearance when the first storms after the long, dry season moisten the earth and exuberant, decaying vegetation, in which, according to Indian superstition, the spirit of Ixotle still dwells.”

Such was the strange legend, deeply dyed with romance, as told me by the aged Padre of the Mission of San Luis. It may have been much exaggerated through its long repetition, but at the same time there would appear to be some foundation for its truthfulness.

I have myself seen the phosphorescent vapors. On returning from my first visit to the Socorro Island, in the month of June, three years before, we passed between the two main islands, and during the night of the 24th were overtaken by a chubasco, or tornado, which threatened our destruction. We were drenched with the rain and spray, and the ocean was white with foam, the wind furious, and the lightning awfully vivid. We could not carry sail, yet we were driven before the wind like a feather—our little craft plunging madly through the surge. I was holding the light, and the compass on my lap, down In the little cabin, and calling out the course to the Captain, that be might know how to steer. He suddenly called to me, and said the island was in a blaze of light. I looked out, and saw the strange phenomenon. It appeared in many places as if enshrouded in a pale, ghastly light of mist, which, swayed and moved by the wind, produced curious and fantastic figures of unearthly appearance. The storm was of short duration. The sea became again quiet, and the clouds less lowering, but the vapors still hovered over the island.

– – –

Source

  • Andrew J. Grayson. 1870. “Ixotle.” Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, vol. V, #3, (Sept 1870), 258-261.
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the literary community in Ajijic.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Oct 122023
 

With the exception of Bernardo de Balbuena’s mention of Chapala in his epic poem “El Bernardo,” (written between 1592 and 1602 and published in Madrid in 1624), one of the earliest literary mentions of Lake Chapala is in a story by Andrew Grayson published in 1870. Grayson, an ornithologist, rarely wrote fictional pieces and is far better known for his non-fiction natural history articles, published in numerous US magazines and newspapers in the first half of the nineteenth century.

William Jewett. 1850. Portrait of Andrew and Frances Grayson, and their son, in California. (Terra Foundation for American Art).

In “Ixotle,” posthumously published, the author made good use of his knowledge of Western Mexico, and describes how he is making “collections of Ornithology” when he encounters an elderly local priest who turns out to have an extensive knowledge of the birds of Western Mexico. The priest recounts a local legend explaining why the Tres Marias islands, a birding hotspot, were never settled. The legend revolves around the God of the Storms of the Sea, Tlaxicoltetl, and a beautiful, intelligent 16-year-old girl, Ixotle (“blooming flower”), who has been chosen by her people to be sacrificed to their ancient gods. The girl refuses and prophesies that:

a people with white faces and long, red beards are coming — they are already on the march. They carry in their hands the lightning and the thunder, with which they will demolish your great temples. They are sent by the true God. Not a stone will be left; and on their sites will be erected white temples—the pure temples of the true and only God. Beware, then, and let this be the last of human sacrifice!”

One short section of the story relates directly to Lake Chapala:

From this locality [San Blas] a large, well-beaten trail extended through Tepic on to where Guadalajara now stands, and where then stood a large city, which was called Chapala.

The lake near Guadalajara is still known by that name; and the Indians found near its borders, who yet live in a semi-barbarous state, are called to this day Chapalo Indians, and are a very degraded, thieving race. But previous to the conquest, they were a numerous and industrious people—well skilled in the manufacture of articles of utility. Cotton cloths, both coarse and fine, were largely manufactured by them, as also various kinds of pottery; and their dressed deer-skins were of a superior quality. These kinds of goods were bartered with the Tepic Indians for fish, pearls, etc.

Their principal town was where the beautiful city of Guadalajara now lifts its numerous church-spires proudly over the once heathen temples of human sacrifice. It was then a large city, and continues to be second only to the Capital.”

Click here for the full text of “Ixotle.”

Andrew Grayson. Green Parakeet. (Image believed to be in public domain)

Andrew Grayson. Green Parakeet (a Mexican endemic). Image believed to be in public domain.

Andrew Jackson Grayson was born in Louisiana in 1819 and died in Mazatlan in 1869. A sickly child, he spent most of his childhood roaming the countryside, watching and drawing local birds and other wildlife. As an adult, after failing to run a store profitably in Louisiana, he married Frances Jane Timmons in 1842 and two years later the couple moved to St. Louis, in preparation for the overland trek west to California. They arrived in California in October 1846, where Grayson bought several lots in San Francisco and the surrounding area.

Seeing an exhibition of bird paintings by James John Audubon in San Francisco in 1853 reignited Grayson’s childhood passion for drawing birds. Grayson became a self-taught painter and taxidermist, working first in San Jose, then Tehuantepec, Mexico (1857), and the Napa Valley (1859) before moving to Mazatlán where he owned a general store and began working towards a book he envisaged titled “Birds of the Pacific Slope.”

Grayson spent the next decade submitting articles, mostly about natural history, to a number of newspapers and magazines in California and Mexico. He also supplied the Smithsonian Institution with birds and bird biographies. Despite making exhaustive efforts to find a sponsor for his book on Pacific Slope birds, the work remained unfinished when Grayson died of “coast fever” in Mazatlán in 1869. Shortly after, his wife returned to California, where she later remarried.

156 of Grayson’s stunning bird paintings were eventually published in a collectors’ edition by Arion Press in 1986, accompanied by a detailed biography of the ornithologist-artist.

An archive of Andrew Jackson Grayson papers and paintings is held by The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Sources

  • Andrew J. Grayson. 1870. “Ixotle.” Overland Monthly, vol. V, #3, (Sept 1870), 258-261.
  • Anon. Guide to the Andrew Jackson Grayson Papers, 1844-1901. The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
  • Robert J. Chandler. 2011.”Andrew Jackson Grayson: The Birdman was a traitor.” The California Territorial Quarterly. #88 (Winter 2011), 46-51.
  • Lois Chambers Stone. 1986. Andrew Jackson Grayson: Birds of the Pacific Slope: A Biography of the Artist and Naturalist, 1818-1869. Arion Press.
Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Several chapters of Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: Decades of Change in a Mexican Village offer more details about the history of the literary community in Ajijic.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Oct 052023
 

When cataloguing extensive photo archives, it is inevitable that errors are occasionally made. This mini series identifies some examples of photo identification errors which pertain to the Lake Chapala area.

Mexico’s National Photo Archive (Fototeca Nacional INAH) includes this image, titled “Multitud en la ribera del lago de Chapala” (Multitude on the shore of Lake Chapala). The image is credited to Winfield Scott, with a date of about 1920.

Winfield Scott-foto-allegedly of Chapala

“Multitud en la ribera del lago de Chapala” ?? (Winfield Scott, c 1920) Fototeca Nacional INAH.

I have no idea whether or not this photo was taken by photographer and hotelier Winfield Scott (1863-1942), whose close ties to Lake Chapala are explained in “Photographer and hotelier Winfield Scott (1863–1942).” Nor do I have any idea how accurate the date might be.

However, the photograph was certainly not taken at Lake Chapala. Indeed, I think it unlikely to have been taken anywhere in Mexico! The group of multistory buildings (right-hand side of the image) does not correspond in any way to the architecture of any town at Lake Chapala, whether at the end of the nineteenth century or at any point since.

Surely, this photo must show a place in the US? Perhaps an eagle-eyed reader can suggest a likely location? All suggestions welcomed!

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Sep 222023
 

Among the many early postcards of Lake Chapala that were published in Mexico City are several labeled with a caption and stylized “MF” logo. These cards were produced and distributed by México Fotográfico, a Mexico City firm founded by Demetrio Sánchez Ortega. Sánchez Ortega himself took many of the photographs used for the company’s early cards and may have taken this view of the shoreline in Chapala with its distinctive “chalets”. The three most prominent buildings nestled beneath Cerro San Miguel in this image are (from left to right) Villa Elena, Villa Niza and Villa Josefina.

México Fotográfico. Date unknown. Chapala chalets.

México Fotográfico. c 1930. (l to r) Villa Elena, Villa Niza and Villa Josefina.

Demetrio Sánchez Ortega was born in Huatusco, Veracruz, on 22 December 1898. He moved to Mexico City in search of work as a young man and took a job selling paper before finding work as a traveling agent for the Cervecería Moctezuma brewery. This position involved traveling to bars (cantinas) all over the country, where he would perform simple sleight-of-hand and magic tricks, using cards, bottles and simple props, all designed to boost the sales of the brewery’s XX beer brand.

During these trips he must have come across (and maybe relied on) existing illustrated tourist guides, just as he surely encountered postcards published earlier by the likes of Hugo Brehme, Alfred Briquet, William Henry Jackson and Charles B. Waite.

The knowledge, experience and connections that he built up during his travels served him well when he decided to become a photographer. Introduced to photography by a friend, and almost entirely self-taught, Sánchez Ortega founded México Fotográfico, located on Calzada de Guadalupe in Villa de Guadalupe in Mexico City, in 1925, a year after Plutarco Elías Calles became president. Some sources suggest he had government support. México Fotográfico, like several other postcard publishers, became an important pillar of Mexico’s promotion of tourism.

México Fotográfico. ca 1940s. Chapala plaza and ex-presidencia.

México Fotográfico. c 1945 (?). Former Chapala plaza and Presidencia Municipal.

The view of downtown Chapala (above) shows the plaza in its pre-1950s location and the former Presidencia Municipal.

México Fotográfico was very much a family business. Sánchez Ortega and his wife, Tomasita Pedrero, had five children—Alfredo, Eustolia, Teresa, Demetrio and Alfonso—all of whom worked at one time or another in the laboratory and printing side of the business.

Later, the sons became traveling photographers. The company employed a number of “traveling agents”, responsible for photographing the places they visited while promoting the company, taking orders and arranging the distribution of postcards.

México Fotográfico. Date unknown. Chapala lakeshore.

México Fotográfico. c 1950. Chapala lakeshore.

This card (above), showing the lakeshore, trees and fishing nets, and believed to date from the 1950s, was a popular choice as a memento of a trip to Lake Chapala.

Over the years, México Fotográfico amassed an extensive and culturally-rich collection of landscapes and towns large and small all over the country. The collection includes more than 25 cards related to Chapala, and an additional 10 cards of Ocotlán. Several of the cards were reissued in a colorized edition with crenulated edges, and the firm published at least one multi-view card of Chapala, with small reproductions of six photographs in the series.

México Fotográfico. c. 1935? Main beach, Chapala.

México Fotográfico. c. 1935? Main beach, Chapala.

The company’s longevity (it was still producing cards into the 1970s) meant that its corpus of work provides a valuable visual record of the changes in towns, people and customs across post-revolutionary Mexico.

The Mexico City daily, Excelsior, had introduced a weekly supplement—Jueves en Excelsior—in 1923. Photographs published by México Fotográfico were used occasionally as illustrations in 1926. In 1927, the two companies began a much closer relationship, with México Fotográfico supplying many of the photos used in the supplement, perhaps in exchange for small display ads. The earliest such ad, in May 1927, had a portrait of Sánchez Ortega and the text “Fundador gerente de la negociación México Fotográfico, establecida en Guadalupe Hidalgo, México, DF”.

México Fotográfico was active from the 1920s into the 1970s. Its founder, the beer-parlor magician Demetrio Sánchez Ortega, master of postcard illustration, gradually lost his sight and had become completely blind by the time of his death on 27 January 1979.

Acknowledgments

My thanks to Manuel Ramirez for responding to a query posted on Facebook asking which postcard publisher utilized the MF logo.

This profile is based almost entirely on the extensive research by Mayra N. Uribe Eguiluz for her 2011 thesis on the company for a Masters degree in Art History at the National University (UNAM) and her related article in Alquimia, referenced below.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 29 July 2019.

Sources

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Sep 142023
 

Pedro Magallanes López was a Guadalajara photographer, active from the mid-1880s until the start of the 1920s, whose studio was initially located in the city center at Santuario #1, and then at Pedro Loza 17. This latter location was advertised in 1922 as for sale or rent, suggesting that this may be when Magallanes retired.

Best known for his superb portrait work, Magallanes also took several very interesting photographs of Lake Chapala, colorized versions of which were published by the Guadalajara firm of Editores Alba y Fernández. (Among those credited for other postcards of the region in the Alba y Fernández series are J. de Obeso and Manuel Hernández.)

Pedro Magallanes. Undated. Fuerte de Ocotlán.

Pedro Magallanes. Undated. Fuerte de Ocotlán.

At the start of Magallanes’ career, the town of Ocotlán, on the main railroad line between Mexico City and Guadalajara, was still one of the major routes via which visitors reached the town of Chapala. Near Ocotlán, the resort known as Ribera Castellanos, built in the first decade of the twentieth century, attracted lots of tourists, especially those looking to hunt or fish.

Relatively little is known about the life of Pedro Magallanes López. He was born on 23 August 1863, the son of Pedro Magallanes and Petra López, and married Herminia del Castillo, then aged 20, in January 1887. The couple had four children. Sadly, his first wife died in December 1894.

Four years later, Magallanes took Clotilde Castellanos as his second wife. Clotilde, 30 years old at the time of their marriage in Guadalajara on 24 August 1898, gave birth to a daughter, also named Clotilde, on 4 March 1900, and to a son, José Manuel, on 1 April 1902.

Magallanes’ marriage to Clotilde, who had been present as a guest at his first marriage, clearly cemented his ties to the extensive and influential Castellanos clan, and Magallanes became the family’s official portraitist (see the article by Beatriz Bastarrica Mora). He took numerous formal portraits of family members and groups, as well as many unusually informal photos of the family vacationing at Lake Chapala. Some of these show the family’s domestic workers and several include local residents in the background.

Pedro Magallanes. Undated. View of Chapala from Villa Carmen.

Pedro Magallanes. c 1910. View of Chapala from Villa Carmen.

Magallanes’ studio in Guadalajara was only one of several photo studios that thrived in Guadalajara at the time. The reverse of his photos included an elaborately drawn logo of an arch, bright rays of light, flower pots and flowers emblazoned with the photographer’s name. Many prints also included a statement saying that the negatives were kept on file to allow for future repeat orders. As Alberto Gómez Barbosa has pointed out, this is indicative of the importance Magallanes attached to marketing and maintaining clients.

Magallanes died in Guadalajara on 6 September 1928. In 1930 his widow, Clotilde (aged 63), was living in the city with several unmarried relatives, including Clotilde Magallanes (30), Manuel Magallanes (28), M. Maria Magallanes (20) and Beatriz Magallanes (15).

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became such an important international center for tourism and retirement.

Note: This post was first published 4 July 2019.

Sources:

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Sep 072023
 

Librería Ruhland & Ahlschier, publisher of the earliest illustrated postcards of Mexico, was a bookstore in Mexico City owned by Emil Ruhland and Max Ahlschier. The store advertised as “Libreria Internacional de Ruhland & Ahlschier” and was located at Coliseo Viejo #16. The company published at least seven different postcards of Lake Chapala, including views of the shoreline, boats, church, plaza (jardín) and a stagecoach. Two of the photographs were also published, at about the same time, by Juan Kaiser in Guadalajara. Kaiser and Ruhland were apparently close friends.

Ruhland & Ahlschier were commissioned to provide the first ever series of illustrated postcards for the Mexican Post Office in 1897. All previous postcards (which at that time were postage paid and purchased in a post office) had one side for correspondence and the other side pre-stamped and reserved for the address. As illustrated cards became popular in Europe and then in the U.S., the Mexican government saw the advantages of issuing its own illustrated cards, which required the purchaser to purchase postage stamps separately and affix them to the card prior to mailing.

These beautifully-produced and inexpensive souvenir postcards soon spurred a new market for collectors; many of the art cards, especially, were far too pretty to entrust to the vagaries of being sent through the mail without an envelope to protect them. In consequence, relatively few postally-used examples exist of many of the more attractive cards.

Demand for illustrated postcards grew rapidly. When the postal service relaxed its regulations, several private firms entered the market, each producing their own illustrated cards and selling them through hotels and a wide variety of stores and other outlets.

Illustrated cards still reserved, prior to 1906, one entire side for the address and stamp, meaning that any message or correspondence had to be written on the same side as the image. The first postcards to have divided backs, allowing for both correspondence and address on the reverse, thereby leaving the entire front side of the card for the image, were released in the UK (1902), then mainland Europe and Mexico (1905), and the U.S. (1907); they were legal to mail in the U.S. from 1 March 1907.

The two men who owned Ruhland & Ahlschier are something of an enigma. Emil Ruhland and Max Ahlschier were both born in Germany. Ruhland, born in about 1847, left Germany in about 1869 and was certainly established in Mexico City by 1883 when he is named as the editor of Deutsche Zeitung von Mexiko, a newspaper for the German-speaking community in the city. In 1888 he partnered with Isidoro Epstein to found (and co-edit) another German newspaper, Germania. Ruhland’s name continued to be associated with Deutsche Zeitung von Mexiko until at least 1897, by which time Max Ahlschier was his co-editor.

In 1888, Ruhland edited and published the Directorio General de la Ciudad de México, a forerunner of the telephone directory and later commonly referred to simply as Directorio Ruhland. City directories were especially important following the introduction of the telephone to Mexico in the 1880s. By 1893 telephone services existed in 14 cities even though intercity lines would not become available until much later.

The first edition of Directorio General de la Ciudad de México in 1888 cost $1.60 (paper cover) or $2.00 (cloth cover). New editions of the directory appeared more or less annually thereafter for more than twenty years. The 500-page 1892 version, “more complete than ever,” and costing $3.00 had four parts: the names of residents and industries and their place of residence; a listing of professional men, merchants and manufacturers; contact details for all government offices and heads of departments; and listings for railroads, the press, societies and ecclesiastical figures. Ruhland published a similar volume for Guadalajara in 1894.

Ruhland’s directories proved to be extremely popular and a commercial success. At the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia, Ruhland won an award for his guides to the Mexican republic. The following year, the 1896-1897 edition of his directories went on sale in Mexico City at his own store (Avenida Cinco de Mayo #4) and at the bookstore of F. P. Hoeck (San Francisco #12) as well as in New York (E. Steiger & Co., 25, Park Place) and London (Dulan & Co, 37, Soho Square).

Emil Ruhland’s association with Max Ahlschier seems to have begun in 1897. We know little about Ahlschier beyond the fact that he was born in Germany in 1867 and married Anna Vogt, also from Germany, in Mexico City on 4 June 1903. The Lutheran service was held at the Casino Alemán.

The two men opened their joint bookstore, Librería Ruhland & Ahlschier, and also began to publish pictorial postcards. Publicity for their store in 1897 shows that it sold, among other items, American books, literature, American and German paper, pencils, pens, inks, maps of Mexico and illustrated postal cards with views of Mexico.

The earliest Ruhland & Ahlschier cards were black and white or sepia collotypes; later cards were produced by chromolithography. Though their postcards do not identify the photographer, their stable of photographers included some important names in Mexican photography, including German-born Guillermo Kahlo (the father of Frida Kahlo), Guadalajara-native José María Lupercio, and American photographers Winfield Scott and Charles B. Waite.

Guillermo Kahlo (born Carl Wilhelm Kahlo) (1872-1941), who first arrived in Mexico City in 1891, at the age of 19, learned his craft in Mexico and was mainly known as a commercial photographer; his photos were first turned into postcards by “Ruhland & Ahlschier” in about 1903.

Charles Betts Waite (1861-1927) set up shop as a photographer in Mexico City in 1896 and amassed a vast collection of thousands of images taken all over Mexico. In 1908 he bought all the “photographic view negatives” of Winfield Scott, and advertised that he now had “the largest assortment of views of any one country in the world.”

Charles B. Waite. Beach, Chapala.

Winfield Scott. c 1897 (published c 1902). Beach, Chapala.

Winfield Scott was responsible for the photograph on this Ruhland & Ahlschier postcard (above), a photograph now in the collection of Mexico’s National Photo Archive. The photo shows fishermen sitting on a boat in front of the beach, with the Casa Capetillo in the middle background. To the right, only the first story of the Hotel Arzapalo has been built, dating this particular image (though not the card) to 1896-1897. The two-story hotel opened in 1898, and Winfield Scott was its manager when D. H Lawrence visited Chapala in 1923.

Charles B. Waite. Carden's garden, Chapala.

José María Lupercio. c. 1900 (published c 1904). Carden’s garden, Chapala.

The National Photo Archive also has this Lupercio photo of the garden of Villa Tlalocan, the vacation home in Chapala of British consul Lionel Carden and his wife. The home was completed in 1896 and this postcard shows ornamental flower vases in the front garden, with the lake behind and Chapala’s San Francisco church in the distance.

Early cards published by Ruhland & Ahlschier have the imprint “Librería Ruhland y Ahlschier, México, Coliseo Viejo 16.” In about 1903, the two men sold their business, and later postcards (published from 1904 on) have a different imprint: “Ruhland & Ahlschier Sucr. Calle Espiritu Santo 1½, México.” This was the address of La Sociedad Müller y Cia, owners of a competing bookstore, Librería Internacional.

By 1909, Müller and Company had also acquired ownership of, and the rights to publish, Ruhland’s Directorio general de la ciudad de México. The 1909-1910 edition was published in two volumes, one for Mexico City and one for the rest of the country. Müller and Company continued to publish the directory until at least 1913.

What became of Emil Ruhland and Max Ahlschier, pioneers of the Mexican illustrated postcard?

Ruhland revisited Germany in 1899 after an absence of 30 years, before returning to Mexico. Four years later (1903) he appears to have moved to the U.S., at about the time the postcard publishing company was sold. He was a good friend of Juan Kaiser, and Kaiser’s wife, Bertha, records the two men meeting for the first time in twelve years in Los Angeles in 1915.

Ahlschier and his wife visited Europe in 1906. Two years later, he was elected secretary of the Sociedad Alemana de Beneficencia (German Benevolent Society) in Mexico City. In 1912 he lost a civil action brought by a Martin G Ribon and was ordered to pay $3371.08 plus costs.

It seems likely that he and his wife subsequently returned to live in Germany, given that a Max Ahlschier is listed in trade directories there as a publisher between 1928 and 1933. Support for the idea that he returned to Germany also comes from an unusual source. In the Library of Congress’s vast collection of German documents, captured by American military forces after World War II, is a record of one by Max Ahlschier entitled “German colonies in Mexico, 1890-1910.”

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 9 August 2019.

Sources

  • Atlanta Constitution, 22 Nov 1895, 1.
  • El Continental, 13 May 1894, 3.
  • El Diario del Hogar, 3 Feb 1912, 3.
  • Diario Oficial Estados Unidos Mexicanos, 19 Jan 1905; 13 June 1908; 16 July 1909; 17 Oct 1912.
  • El Imparcial, 7 June 1903, 2.
  • Jalisco Times, 10 Apr 1908.
  • Verena Kaiser-Ernst. 2012. Tagebuch Von Bertha Kaiser-Peter Fur Ihren sohn Hans Paul Kaiser. Stuttgart: T H Schetter, 45.
  • The Mexican Herald: 6 Sep 1896, 9; 6 July 1897, 8; 3 May 1899, 8.
  • El Mundo, 1 April 1897.
  • La Patria, 28 Aug 1883, 8.
  • El Partido Liberal, 7 June 1888, 2.
  • The Two Republics, 31 Oct 1888, 2; 20 Feb 1892, 1.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcome. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Aug 172023
 

Mexican photographer José María Lupercio (1870-1929) took numerous outstanding photos of Lake Chapala at the start of the twentieth century.

Lupercio was born in Guadalajara on 29 December 1870 and was one of the most noteworthy Mexican photographers of his era. Lupercio was one of several fine photographers whose work reached a wide audience because it was used for many early picture postcards of Lake Chapala. While Lupercio was 100% Mexican, many of the other photographers whose images of Lake Chapala illustrated postcards in the early twentieth century—including Charles Betts Waite, Hugo Brehme and Winfield Scott—were foreign-born, as were most of the postcard publishers.

José María Lupercio began his artistic career by studying painting in the Guadalajara studio-workshop of the Brazilian artist Félix Bernardelli, where he was a classmate of such distinguished artists as Gerardo Murillo (Dr. Atl), Rafael Ponce de León and Jorge Enciso.

Bernadelli and friends, 1898

Bernadelli and friends, 1898

Lupercio developed his photography skills by working with the commercial photographer Octaviano de la Mora (1841-1921) who had his studio in Guadalajara. Despite his humble background, De la Mora, born in Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos, became one of the most renowned early commercial photographers in Mexico. The quality of his portraiture work was praised by contemporary critics and won him a major award in the third Paris World’s Fair in 1878.

Lupercio took over de la Mora’s Guadalajara studio, located in Portal Matamoros, in 1900 when de la Mora moved to Mexico City to work at the National Archaeology, History and Ethnology Museum. Some years later, Lupercio also moved to Mexico City, and again stepped into de la Mora’s shoes when he took over as the museum’s resident photographer after de la Mora retired.

During Lupercio’s time in Guadalajara he shifted the emphasis of the studio’s commercial work away from the formal portraits initially favored by his mentor towards landscapes and photographs of people posed in their natural, day-to-day surroundings. According to an editorial mention in a local English-language paper in 1904, “José Lupercio, the photographer in Portal Matamoros, offers some beautiful views of the city and republic. His portrait work is unrivalled.”

José María Lupercio. Chapala. c 1905.

José María Lupercio. Chapala. c 1905. Published by Juan Kaiser.

Lupercio’s talents brought him great success and he won numerous national and international awards for his work, including a diploma from the French Photographic Society (1898), a silver medal from the 1900 Paris Exposition, a silver medal from the 1901 Panamerican Exhibition in Buffalo, New York, and a gold medal in the 1904 Saint Louis Exposition in Missouri.

The latter achievement was the basis for the text of a 1906 ad for Lupercio’s studio: “Honor for Guadalajara! Native Types of Mexico Took First Premium at St. Louis Exposition. – Lupercio’s – The Finest Views of Guadalajara – Photographs of all Kinds. – José Lupercio, Portal Matamoros #9, Guad.”

Lupercio was a founder member of the Ateneo Libre de Controversias Literarias, Artísticas y Políticas founded by Dr. Atl in Guadalajara in 1916, along with José Othón de Aguinaga, Antonio Pérez Verdía, Ixca Farías and several other local artists and intellectuals.

Many examples of Lupercio’s photographs of Lake Chapala are preserved in the National Archives. More than a dozen of his Chapala photographs were published as postcards in the first decade of the twentieth century, mainly by either Juan Kaiser or Ruhland & Ashclier, though Lupercio also sold his work to several other publishers. Some of the finest images of Chapala taken by Lupercio were used by little-known local publisher Manuel Hernández for postcards printed in Austria, which are of  exceptional quality.

In the year 2000, one particular photograph of Chapala, taken by Lupercio in about 1906, was accorded the rare distinction of being included on a Mexican postage stamp to commemorate the importance of photography in Mexico during the twentieth century. Somewhat surprisingly, this 2000 issue was the first time Lake Chapala had been portrayed on a Mexican stamp.

Mexican postage stamp (2000) with Lupercio photograph of Lake Chapala, ca 1906.

Mexican postage stamp (2000) with Lupercio photograph of Lake Chapala, c 1906.

In 1916, Lupercio was appointed the official photographer at the National Museum in Mexico City. He subsequently took thousands of photographs of archaeological pieces and other items in the museum’s collections. He also photographed the artwork of his former classmate Dr. Atl in the Escuela de San Pedro y San Pablo, the paintings of Saturnino Herrán, the murals of Diego Rivera and took portraits of many of the celebrities of the time, including Rivera, Atl, Manuel Toussaint, José Vasconcelas and other prominent intellectuals.

Lupercio maintained a private studio in Mexico City at Avenida Madero 42 and began to produce postcards for sale in the National Museum. The postcard photographs portrayed ethnographic themes as well as ancient codices, archaeological sites and historic monuments. His production was prolific. For example in 1922, he produced no fewer than 2,564 different postcards! But this was not even his peak level of activity. Astoundingly, between July 1925 and July 1926, he produced 8,229 distinct postcards!

Ever an adventurous individual, Lupercio not only found time for his painting and photography but also worked on theater sets and participated in bullfighting, car racing and flying.

Examples of Lupercio’s superb photographs are preserved in many public and private collections, including those of the Instituto Cultural Cabañas in Guadalajara, the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City and the National Archives in Pachuca, Hidalgo.

Lupercio remained the official photographer at the National Museum until his death in Mexico City on 2 May 1929.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 2 July 2019.

Sources:

  • Raúl Aceves. 2005. “La tarjeta postal ilustrada en México durante la época clásica (1896-19015).” Boletín Filatélico Guadalajara, Año 8, No 17, 2005, 3-19.
  • Arturo Guevara Escobar. 2011.”Letra L. Fotógrafos y productores de postales” Blog Post, dated 10 November 2011.
  • Francisco Javier Ibarra. 2005. “José María Lupercio: espejo de la memoria IV.” El Informador, 24 July 2005, 13-B.
  • El Informador: 27 February 1966.
  • Jalisco Times: 14 May 1904; 5 January 1906.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jun 152023
 

Luis Gonzaga Urbina  (1864-1934) began composing “El poema del lago” (“The Lake Poem”) (1907) on the shores of Lake Chapala, before completing it in Mexico City. The poem consists of 18 sonnets, each with its own particular direction and strength.

luis-g-urbina

This is the full text of the poem, in Spanish:

El poema del lago

A Jesús E. Valenzuela
I

A UN ÁRBOL DEL CAMINO

¿Qué dice tu nervioso gesto de selva oscura
árbol vetusto y seco sin una verde rama?
Con cicatriz de hachazos y quemazón de llama,
como un espectro tiendes tu sombra en la llanura.

¿Qué dice, viejo inmóvil, tu fiera crispatura?
¡Tremendo y misterioso debe ser tu drama!
Parece que te encoges, y al cielo que te inflama
quieres lanzar tu grito de inmensa desventura.

Es trágico el profundo silencio de las cosas;
lo inanimado sufre dolencias pavorosas,
ignotos infortunios que no tienen consuelo;

porque la vida es toda crueldad, y es inconsciente,
porque es la tierra a todo dolor indiferente,
y es impasible y muda la inmensidad del cielo.

II

PAISAJE MATINAL

¡Qué soledad augusta! ¡Qué silencio tranquilo!
El lago, quieto, monorrítmicamente canta,
y sobre el sauce, cuyas frondas me dan asilo,
un pájaro su débil cancioncita levanta.

En las perladas linfas, como una red de hilo
de cristal blanco, tiende, la luz que se abrillanta
con las ondulaciones, su claridad. Y un filo
de sol, oculto en una nube que se adelanta,

rompe, sereno y frágil, las aguas a lo lejos.
En las violetas cumbres, tapices de reflejos
desgarran, al capricho, sus ocres bordaduras,

y una remota barca, despliega, puro y leve,
en el azul del aire, su triángulo de nieve,
que brilla bajo el hondo zafir de las alturas.

III

TARDE SERENA

Es un gran vidrio glauco, y es terso y transparente,
y copia, espejeante, la playa florecida,
con un matiz tan rico, tan claro, tan valiente,
que el agua da, a colores y a formas, nueva vida.

La sierra, al esfumino, se borra de allá enfrente,
como una nube incierta que al cielo va prendida,
y, voluptuosa y fresca, columpia la corriente
un haz de lirios muertos bajo la luz dormida.

El lago soñoliento no canta sotto voce;
no tiembla. Vive en una tranquilidad que asombra.
Presto vendrá el crepúsculo con su oriental derroche;

el lago, limpio y terso, como una verde alfombra,
espera a que lo agiten las alas de la noche,
o, en tempestad, lo encrespen las manos de la sombra.

IV

PRIMER INTERMEDIO ROMÁNTICO

A una amiga lejana

Es diáfano el crepúsculo. Parece
de joyante cristal. Abre en el cielo
su ágata luminosa, y es un velo
en que el azul del lago desfallece.

En ámbares cloróticos decrece
la luz del sol, y ya en el terciopelo
de la penumbra, como flor de hielo,
una pálida estrella se estremece.

Mientras las aves lentamente giran,
la sombra avanza que los oros merma,
y entre la cual las púrpuras expiran.

Yo dejo que mi espíritu se aduerma,
y me pongo a soñar en que me miran
tos ojos tristes de esmeralda enferma.

V

DÍA NUBLADO

El viento arruga y mueve pesadamente el lago
que se levanta en olas de oscura refulgencia.
El horizonte extiende su azul brumoso y vago,
lo mismo que las aguas su gris opalescencia.

Hay una nube inmóvil, con el perfil de un mago
medieval, en la cumbre de la montaña. Herencia
de la noche lluviosa, cual iracundo amago,
la nube mancha un cielo de suave transparencia.

Una mañana fría de opaco claroscuro.
El sol que las montañas pálidamente dora,
deja en el aire un tinte blanco, glacial y duro;

y un árbol viejo, en medio de la calma infinita,
al borde de la margen, sobre el agua sonora,
parece un triste anciano que en su dolor medita.

VI

MEDIODÍA

El agua está cual nunca de linda y de coqueta;
no hay rayo que no juegue, no hay ola que no salte;
de lejos, tiene rubios perfiles su silueta,
y azul es en la playa, con limpidez de esmalte.

Vestida está de fiesta: no hay joya que le falte;
las barcas, a su puesto, le dejan una inquieta
cinta de plata virgen, para que así resalte
la luz en el radioso brocado de violeta.

Cerca, en el promontorio de musgos y basaltos,
un gran plumón de nubes se tiende y busca asilo;
al fondo, van las cumbre, en los celajes altos,

rompiendo el horizonte con su cortante filo,
y en el confín que esplende, se funden los cobaltos
del cielo y las montañas, en un zafir tranquilo.

VII

EL BAÑO DEL CENTAURO

Chasquea el agua y salta el cristal hecho astillas,
y él se hunde; y sólo flotan, del potro encabritado
la escultural cabeza de crines amarillas
y el torso del jinete, moreno y musculado.

Remuévense las ondas mordiendo las orillas,
con estremecimiento convulso y agitado,
y el animal y el hombre comienzan un airado
combate, en actitudes heroicas y sencillas.

Una risueña ninfa de carne roja y dura,
cabello lacio y rostro primitivo, se baña;
las aguas, como un cíngulo, le ciñen la cintura;

y ella ve sin pudores… y le palpita el seno
con el afán de darse, voluptuosa y huraña,
a las rudas caricias del centauro moreno.

VIII

EL BUEY

Uncido a la carreta, va el buey grave y austero;
y su ojo reproduce no el campo verde, como
lo vio Carducci, sino la inmensidad de plomo
del lago que finge una gran lámina de acero.

La arena de la playa le sirve de sendero,
y el sol, que está en lo alto del infinito domo,
unta sus resplandores en el sedeño lomo
y clava su aureola sobre el testuz severo.

El animal camina con majestad estoica,
y ante la fuerza plástica de su figura heroica,
despiértase un recuerdo clásicamente ambiguo;

que, a las evocaciones, es el buey melancólico,
en la hoja de papirus hexámetro bucólico,
y en el frontón del templo bajorrelieve antiguo.

IX

SEGUNDO INTERMEDIO ROMÁNTICO

A una onda

Arrulla con tus líricas canciones,
onda terca que vienes de tan lejos
enjoyada de luces y reflejos,
arrulla mis postreras ilusiones.

La juventud se va; se van sus dones;
del placer quedan los amargos dejos,
de la pasión los desencantos viejos,
y del dolor las tristes emociones.

Queda la vida, que el instinto afianza,
queda el recuerdo del amor perdido,
y queda el ideal que no se alcanza.

Tú, que cantando sueños has venido,
onda lírica, dame la esperanza,
y si no puede ser… dame el olvido.

X

PAISAJE SIN FIGURAS

El saúz es audaz; dejó la orilla
y avanzó en la corriente que chispea
y en derredor del tronco cabrillea
bajo la luz del sol que tiembla y brilla.

Ligeramente impura y amarilla,
en el borde arenoso el agua ondea,
y en la remota extremidad clarea
con blancura de nieve sin mancilla.

El árbol, que se empapa en luces blondas,
deja caer, sensual y perezoso,
la móvil cabellera de sus frondas,

y en el augusto y plácido reposo,
sobre el trémulo raso de las ondas
vuelca su verde limpio y luminoso.

XI

LA HORA MÍSTICA

Se enciende el oleaje, como a la luz se enciende
la leche de los ópalos, en fuegos repentinos;
y la onda turbia lumbres metálicas desprende
si en su volar la rozan los pájaros marinos.

El sol, en desmayadas claridades desciende,
y empapa el horizonte de tonos ambarinos,
rompe con lanzas de oro los cúmulos y prende
rubíes, de las velas en los flotantes linos.

Es la hora letárgica de la melancolía;
todo está mudo y triste. Ya va a apagarse el día;
dilúyese en la sombra cuando en la tierra alumbra.

Sólo en la humilde iglesia, refugio de oraciones,
lucen, como dos puntos rojizos y temblones,
las llamas de dos cirios que pican la penumbra.

XII

NOCHE CLARA

Blanco de ensueño; blanco de los polares días,
blanco que fosforece, que las linfas estaña;
blanco en que se deshace la sobra en una extraña
niebla azul y profunda que borra lejanías.

La ondulación es lenta, rayada con estrías
de luz — maravillosa e inmensa telaraña,
cuyo tejido frágil se rompe cuando baña
al ramo, la corriente de mudas ondas frías.

Entonces ¡qué prodigio! ya el remo se mueve
sobre el lago salpica gotas de plata y nieve,
que marcan de los botes los caprichosos giros,

hasta que al fin se pierden con su movible estela
en la remota bruma —la azul y blanca tela
que es polvo de diamantes en humo de zafiros.

XIII

PUESTA DE SOL

Y fueron en la tarde las claras agonías:
el sol, un gran escudo de bronce repujado,
hundiéndose en los frisos del colosal nublado,
dio formas y relieves a raras fantasías.

Mas de improviso, el orto lanzó de sus umbrías
fuertes y cenicientas masas, un haz dorado;
y el cielo, en un instante vivo y diafanizado,
se abrió en un prodigioso florón de pedrerías.

Los lilas del ocaso se tornan oro mate;
pero aún conserva el agua su policroma veste:
sutiles gasas cremas en brocatel granate.

Hay una gran ternura recóndita y agreste;
y el lago, estremecido como una entraña, late
bajo el azul caricia del esplendor celeste.

XIV

TERCER INTERMEDIO ROMÁNTICO

Vidas inútiles

Salpicadas de aljófares las sensuales corolas,
se abren, urnas de seda, bajo el claro del día;
los lirios y nenúfares, son lotos y amapolas
que a flor de agua, en la margen, van sobre la onda fría.

Es un jardín flotante… ¡Ah! yo me inclinaría,
yo hundiera mis dos manos en las crujientes olas,
para cortar un cáliz… Pero es que vivo a solas,
no hay alma que me espere ni a quien le nombre mía.

Loto que yo arrancara, porque lleno de unciones
durmiera entre las hojas de un libro de oraciones,
púdrete a flor de agua… ¡Qué igual es nuestra suerte!

Yo floto en mi tristeza, que es honda y que no brilla,
en tanto que los vientos me arrancan de la orilla
con rumbo a las oscuras riberas de la muerte.

XV

LUCES Y CARNES

Rayos de sol en plenitud esmaltan
el gris del lago, en claridades blondas,
y son insectos de cristal que saltan
sobre la turbia seda de las ondas.

En las vecinas márgenes exaltan
el verdor enfermizo de las frondas,
y de la sierra en el confín, cobaltan
las lejanías. Junto a las redondas

redes que están al sol, desnudo juegan
y a sus retozos cándidos se entregan,
dos niños en la arena de la orilla,

y la luz, de doradas palideces,
en aquellas oscuras desnudeces,
con maternales complacencias, brilla.

XVI

EL TRIUNFO DEL AZUL

El rosicler ardiente de la mañana, pinta
el lago de una pálida sangre de rosas. Quietas
está las aguas, donde como una frágil cinta
la luz ondula y abre sus caprichosas grietas

de plata. Y, a lo lejos, en carmesí se entinta
el cielo en que las cumbres recortan sus siluetas;
las púrpuras se funden en vahos violetas
y queda al fin del rojo, la claridad extinta.

Triunfa el azul en gloria; triunfa el azul tramado
de argentos y de oros, y como imperial brocado;
es el azul profundo que baña de luz pura

el promontorio rígido y el lago que se enarca;
y sólo, en lo distante, la vela de una barca
pone su dulce nota de virginal blancura.

XVII

VOCES EN LA SOMBRA

En el silencio triste de la noche que empieza,
se oye una voz que viene de lejos, de una mancha
distinta en las penumbras solemnes de una lancha
que sobre el horizonte su mástil endereza.

Bronca es la voz, de un timbre de salvaje fiereza;
mas al cruzar del lago por la sonora plancha,
yo no sé en qué misterios musicales, ensancha
la canción, su doliente y adorable tristeza.

Solloza humanos duelos la popular y ruda
canción y los desgrana sobre la noche muda…
son del dolor perenne, los viejos estribillos.

Un alma primitiva cantando está un tormento;
y es una voz que lleva por acompañamiento
el diálogo estridente de los insomnes grillos.

XVIII

ENVÍOS

A ti, viejo poeta, con quien crucé yo un día,
gozoso e impaciente, los lagos del ensueño;
tú eras robusto y grande, yo débil y pequeño,
mas tu barca de oro dio asilo a mi alegría.

Tu juventud ilusa fue hermana de la mía;
tu empeño, noble y alto, fue amigo de mi empeño;
hoy que es fronda de otoño nuestro brote abrileño,
tu pena es camarada de mi melancolía.

A ti va mi poema, vivido frente a frente
del agua y de los cielos, en una hora clemente
pasada en el regazo de la naturaleza.

Va a despertar, si puede, dormidas añoranzas;
y reencender, si sabe, rescoldos de esperanzas,
y a divertir con sueños tu plácida tristeza.

Source

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcome. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

May 042023
 

This beautiful architectural sketch for a major railroad and hotel complex in Chapala offers intriguing insights into plans at the start of the twentieth century to transform Chapala into an international tourist destination.

The drawing is dated 1912. This is despite the fact that the company that eventually built the La Capilla-Chapala railroad was not formed until five years later. Construction of the railroad and station, begun 1917, was completed by 1920, when the inaugural passenger service was held on 8 April.

Arne Dehli. 1912. Sketch of Hotel Plaza, Chapala

Arne Dehli. 1912. Sketch of Hotel Plaza, Chapala.

The person who commissioned the drawing, and was the main promoter of the company that built the railroad, was Norwegian-born entrepreneur Christian Schejtnan. The author of the sketch was Norwegian-American architect Arne Dehli (1857-1942). The Norwegian link presumably explains why Schejtnan wanted Dehli to be involved in the project.

We can also safely assume that Schejtnan made good use of the drawing in his pitches to potential Norwegian investors. His sales pitches extolled the virtues of the railroad and how building a first class hotel would turn Chapala into Mexico’s largest tourist and health resort. Additional revenues would come from building private villas, a combined yacht and automotive club, and a casino. In short, Schejtnan’s master plan would create “an El Dorado for the country’s richest, a sought-after place for the country’s jeunesse dorée.” (Brøgger) Norwegians were sufficiently entranced with Schjetnan’s dreams for this remote lake on the other side of the world that they happily parted with tens of thousands of dollars. Sadly, most investors reportedly lost their shirts long before the railroad ever came into being.

The master plan was far too ambitious to achieve all at once, and, in any case, Schejtnan was always short of investors and working capital. For the railroad line itself- his top priority- Schejtnan imported a young Norwegian railroad engineer, Birger Winsnes, to oversee the work of laying the track; Wisnes worked in partnership with Guadalajara engineer Juan José Barragán, the brother of famed modernist architect Luis Barragán.

It is possible that Schejtnan always hoped to have Dehli design the railroad station, his second priority. But, with funds tight, he finally settled on asking a near neighbor in Chapala- engineer Guillermo de Alba- to draw up the plans for the station.

Dehli remained in the picture, though. And four months after the railroad opened, Guadalajara press reported that he had been chosen by Schejtnan to design the luxury Hotel Plaza, intended to be the centerpiece of an extensive residential development.

Arne Dehli, born in Ringsaker, Norway, trained in Germany before moving to New York to design churches, the nurses’ home for the Norwegian Hospital, various business structures, some private residences, and the zoological building in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.

Sadly, Schejnan’s and Dehli’s plans for the Hotel Plaza never progressed beyond the drawing board. A copy of Dehli’s plan is in Mexico’s National Water History Archive (Archivo Histórico del Agua) in Mexico City.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

For more about Christian Schetjnan, Guillermo de Alba, and the short-lived glory of the Chapala Railroad Station, see If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s Historic Buildings and Their Former Occupants (available in Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran: Edificios históricos de Chapala y sus antiguos ocupantes).

Sources

  • Kenneth Bjork. 1947. Saga in Steel and Concrete: Norwegian Engineers in America. Norwegian-American Historical Association.
  • Magnus Bjørndal. 1931. “Arne Dehli,” in Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 4, no. 1, p. 12 (April, 1931).
  • El Informador: 11 August 1920.
  • Brøgger, Kr. Fr. 1932. Gullfeber ‑ en advokats optegnelser fra siste jobbetid. (Gold Fever – A Lawyer’s Records from the last job.). Forlagt av H. Aschehoug & Co (W. Nygaard), 63-64. [translation by author]
  • Museo CJV (Claudio Jiménez Vizcarra). “Vista del lago. Hotel Plaza y Estación del Ferro Carril en Chapala Jalisco.”

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.