Lowe Travels To Hopi Land 1895
Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff
note: If you have had the pleasure of researching Thaddeus Lowe
and his magnificent achievements through the years, you'll find
that the lines of text are few and far between, that carry information
of the woman behind, or should I say next to this great man. The
article that follows will give you just a brief look at Leontine,
her 57 years of marriage to Thaddeus Lowe, and her role in an
momentous trip to the southwest in 1895 with A. C. Vroman.
Gachon was born November 30, 1835 in Paris, France to Louise Flavie
Chazal and Leon Gachon. Her father was a palace guard for Louis
Philippe, known as the Citizen King. In 1848 the citizens of France
revolted forcing the Gachon family and Leontine, who was twelve
at the time, to escape out the back door while the Republicans
entered the front. The elder Gachon left Louis Philippe in London
and continued with his family on to New York.
The young Parisian beauty, Leontine
Gachon, that captured the heart of Thaddeus Lowe.
Photo Courtesy of the John Haug Family.
It was a
whirlwind Valentines romance that brought Thaddeus and Leontine
together in 1855. Her attendance at the Professor's science show
in New York with her parents on February 14 was just another chapter
in her continuing curiosity in the world of the sciences. It was
no coincidence either, that after seeing the handsome Professor,
Leontine would come to meet him. Within weeks the Professor and
the lovely Parisian would be wed at a justice of the peace, a
marriage that would last until death did part them.
the wedded life of Leontine Lowe. A whirlwind that never seemed
to stop, having one life changing adventure after another. Imagine
at the start, a riverboat cruise down the Mississippi on their
honeymoon in 1855, performing the Professors science shows, and
his bride assisting him as well as doing her own marionette theatre.
Then off to New York, and while Thad resumed his studies of aeronautics,
Leontine could be found sewing and cutting patterns with him in
their spare time, preparing their first aerostat, and a business
which soon flourished to where the couple supplied balloons to
others across the country.
In 1856 Leontine
gave birth to their first child Louise F. Lowe, the first of ten.
In 1858 the second child Ida, was born, and the family moved to
better quarters with a nurse, cook and a maid. In the years that
followed Leontine gave birth to Leon, Ava, Edna, Augustine, Blanche,
Thaddeus Jr., Zoe, and Sobieski who was born last in 1877.
twenty-year span of producing, raising, and educating her children,
Leontine and Thad continued their experiences though the Civil
War, Thaddeus's ballooning adventures, experimenting with refrigeration,
Thad's water gas inventions, and the eventual extreme success
that came with it all. During the latter part of this period the
family lived in Valley Forge and Norristown, Pennsylvania and
often traveled when time permitted. Along the life's travels Leontine
collected things with a passion. The first sightings of Leontine's
world-class shell collection can be seen in very early stereopticons
of the Norristown home site. Of course with the birth of six daughters
also comes the eventually marriages, five of which were held in
In 1887 TSC
Lowe came to California in part due to his gas business and in
part due to his health. Within a few years he brought Leontine
and the youngest children to join him. A Norristown paper states
that on November 20th 1890 the Lowe Mansion was up for public
sale. The price would be 16 to 20 thousand depending on the amount
of land one desired to go with it.
the family moved into a home on South Marengo, while Thad set
out to build a magnificent home consisting of 23,859 square feet
at 955 South Orange Grove in Pasadena. Included in the plans of
the home was a large basement in which Leontine would house her
So here the
couple was, in Pasadena, Thad at 58 and Leontine at 55 years.
They say life begins at 50 and for the Lowe's there may not have
been a truer saying said. Immediately the Lowe's became central
to the Pasadena social scene. Thad had his gas business, he and
Thad Jr. owned and operated the Pasadena Grand Opera House, and
soon came the couples next whirlwind, the building of the Mount
gala affairs, and grandchildren, seemed to take up the next few
years for Leontine, and in 1895 when a fellow Pasadenean named
A.C. Vroman invited her along to witness the Hopi Snake dance
in the Moqui county of Arizona, who can blame her for saying,
also an easterner, transplanted to Pasadena in 1892 because of
health reasons, opened his fine bookstore in November of that
year. He partnered with J.D. Glascock. The store prospered quite
well and in 1895 Vroman added to his life a 6 ½ x 8-½-inch
Carlton Plate Camera. During the early part of that year Vroman
could be seen around Pasadena at the Tournament of Roses, the
poppy fields of Altadena, in the mountains of the San Gabriel's,
at Mt. Wilson, in the canyons, and notably Rubio Canyon.
Is it any
wonder that worldly educated Leontine Lowe would find her way
into Vroman's Book Store in Pasadena? Of course not, and it is
also no surprise, that this woman of already a normal persons
life time of experiences would accept an invitation to join Adam
Clark Vroman on a trip to Moqui country to witness the Hopi Snake
Horatio Rust, C.J. Crandall, and Leontine Lowe took the Atlantic
and Pacific Railroad to get to their first leg of their journey.
The railway was the last of the comforts they would see for some
time to come. The party was to be guests of Capt. Thomas Keam
who lived near the Hopi village of Walpi.
in her day had seen hardship before, but I think even she might
have shuddered a bit upon learning the party would be traveling
together in a single large lumber wagon drawn by two large draft
horses, to the mesas of the Hopi. The team driver Selledon Montoya,
stowed the gear for camping and day-to-day living, which took
considerable room, and then one had to consider the logistics
of the camera equipment with its heavy glass plates.
In their first
day of travel the party stopped at Biddahoochee, a small Navajo
settlement and saw their first Indian houses, or hogan's as they
are known. Vroman took a photograph of the group inside one of
these hogans. Along the way Vroman stopped to take scenic shots,
many of which are used later in the publications of the day.
A 260 pound Leontine Lowe on a litter
being carried by Indians to the top of First Mesa.
Photo by A.C. Vrooman. Courtesy John Haug Family.
end of their first day out, August 17, 1895, the intrepid group
reached the base of First Mesa. In the midst of rapidly failing
sunlight, the group, with the assistance of seven local Indians
put together a makeshift litter for the purpose of carrying the
260-pound Leontine Lowe up the narrow, rocky trails. Oh the things
one endures for the sake of adventure.
evening the exhausted travelers are taken to a house engaged by
Keams in Sichimovi Village.
There, Vroman thinking it would be a good idea to photograph them
selves first, and put the natives at ease, took his first photograph
in the Hopi village.
A group shot showing left to right,
Leontine Lowe, Mr. Crandall, Horatio Rust, A. C. Vrooman
photographer and Montoya the team driver.
Vrooman photograph, August 17, 1895 courtesy John Haug Family.
The next morning
he took another photograph, which shows a collapsed Leontine with
a fan sitting at the back of the room. Gathered
on the sides of the room are curious local natives that have stopped
by to visit.
Hopi Village engraving circa 1890's
showing First Mesa.
gained the confidence of the villagers by showing his camera to
men, women and babies. He would let them lookthough the lens,
while he jumped in front of the camera. The Indians were amused
to see Vroman standing on his head, as the camera
would see him. The Indians would see himupside
down, then quickly look out from under the drape to see him right
side up in real life. It was a scene that went for hours, but
finally allowed Vroman the freedom to move amongst the peoples,
and shoot the images that so moved him.
scene of men dressed in business suits and neckties, and Leontine
in a dress, walking the dusty paths between the adobe houses,
amidst the naked children, scavenging dogs, and mothers suckling
babies. It was as if they were in another country, not America.
The things they saw in Hopi country amazed these early tourists.
Later Vroman photographed the Hopi Snake Dance, capturing images
and writing descriptions of it in his journals, which would endure
a lifetime. It is felt that Vroman had a religious experience
there on the mesa that first trip. One that brought him back many
times to capture the Hopi lifestyle.
states that it was a 90-mile return visit to the rail station
at Holbrook, and again the lumber wagon served as the mode of
transportation, perhaps shorter on supplies, but certainly loaded
down with baskets, and pottery bought from the natives. At Holbrook
the group took a short rail trip to the new station at Admeda,
where Adam Hanna, a Scottish cattle rancher whose home was not
far from the station, met them.
was the unofficial greeter of visitors, and guide to what he called
Chalcedony Park. The next morning after an early breakfast, Hanna
would take our travelers yet another 50 miles in another wagon,
to another of Arizona's attractions, the Petrified Forest. Horatio
Rust states in an early writing that Adam's springboard wagon
was unavailable that day and the group set off again in a lumber
wagon. "Our team was slowed beyond measure and the road nearly
as smooth as no road at all."
at the site none of the party were terribly impressed by what
they saw. Logs of all sizes were strewn about, turned from wood
to rich colored agate and chalcedony. All were broken and from
a short distance, looked as if they were sawed off. They varied
in diameter from six inches to five feet, and the sections were
from two inches to thirty feet. It was only upon realizing the
amount of time it took to create such a place that true appreciation
100 feet on a sharp butte, a twenty-foot log, four feet in diameter
is placed in such a way as to resemble a cannon protecting the
area. The area was indeed in need of protection. The sight had
been known for forty years, and of late tourists were especially
taking an interest in the forest. Each would take a piece home
as large as they could carry. Eastern jewelry firms would hire
crews to blast apart the logs to find quartz and amethyst crystals.
Stamp mills were also erected to crush the fossilized rocks into
emery. Hoppers full were transported to Denver for the making
onto the mesa they came upon a great fossil tree that formed a
natural bridge, known as Agate Bridge. The log of agate has its
ends embedded into the sandstone banks. It was nearly five feet
in diameter and the largest of those found at forty-six feet.
The rains of time washed a gully out from under it nearly forty
feet deep. Here the group impressed at last, pondered the greatness
of it all.
Leontine Lowe pays a visit to Agate
Bridge in the Petrified Forst in Arizona.
A.C. Vrooman photograph courtesy of the John
was time to retrace their trail back to the railway. Along the
way they stopped in the rock forest and Rust states; "We
gathered great weights of the most beautiful specimens only to
throw them away as we found others more beautiful still."
also found Indian pictographs on the rocks and traced them in
their notebooks hoping someone could interpret them. Rust says;
"as we were about to copy one which was more distinctive
than the rest, our driver said, hold on there, lemme tell you,
when we was camped here, we was trying to figure out a new cattle
brand and I took a stone and picked them marks myself. It makes
a good brand." It surely makes you wonder.
Sitting around the campfire the last
night of the journey.
A.C. Vrooman photograph. 1895. Courtesy of
the John Haug family.
that night on the southern edge of the forest at a dry riverbed.
The driver's attempts to find water were fruitless but Adam Hanna
and Crandall dug a well two feet deep and got some muddy water
for coffee. They had a hearty meal and then Adam told stories
of old Arizona. At one point someone suggests a photograph so
friends at home will be able to see them just as they were around
the campfire. Vroman took a string about six feet long and soaked
it in bacon fat and laid one end in the flash powder. One of the
group lit the end and jumped into place, so all could be remembered
on this auspicious occasion. The next morning it was found that
the hobbled horses had pawed through the ground to come up with
enough water to drink and soon the group was again on its way.
the train and on the way home to Pasadena, the group relaxed,
laden with specimens of their travels and happy memories.
In 1906 the
forest was officially protected when it became, Petrified Forest
would go on to be one of the most important photographers of southwest
Indians. He returned seven times between 1987 and 1904 amassing
a collection of Indian artifacts, weavings, and katchina dolls
that eventually ended up in Los Angeles's Southwest Museum. The
Pasadena Library received most of his negatives after he died
This room filled to capacity with
Indian artifacts, was in the basement of the Lowe home on
Orange Grove Ave, Pasadena. This was just a part of Leontine's
Photo courtesy of the David Ferm family.
collections grew from shells and butterflies, to Indian baskets
and rugs, rock and minerals, and soon the basement of the Orange
Grove home was filled to capacity. The Smithsonian at the time
considered her collections to be the best of their kinds.
in San Francisco on May 16th 1912 at the age of seventy-seven
years. The next year Thaddeus followed her into the heavens. On
April 14, 1914, an auction was held in San Francisco for THE VALUABLE
LIBRARY of Professor and Mrs. T.S.C. Lowe. Looking through the
catalogue today one can only imagine the vastness of Leontine's
knowledge and experiences, for so little is written about her.
There are many more stories to be told about the Lowe family.
Stories that crisscross the Civil War, ballooning, the countries
gas business and other little gems like this piece about Leontine.
Anyone having information about Mt. Lowe, or the Lowe family,
no matter how insignificant, is urged to copy it and send it to
Land ~ Sea Discovery Group. It all fits in somewhere. I would
like to especially thank, the John Haug family for the use of
their Vroman photos used in this story, and Barbara Schultz for
photos of Leontine Lowe. For further reading on the Vroman - Leontine
trips read, Dwellers at the Source, Land of Sunshine Feb 1896,
and Arizona Highways. July 1986. This article first appeared in
the Winter 2000 Echo Mtn. Echoes publication.
Baskets, Now with a guide to values of Indian Baskets
written by Sarah Peabody Turnbaugh and William
A. Turnbaugh. Published by Schiffer Books, 1997. Softbound,
8x11, 256 pgs, with value guide, color and b/w photographs.
A delightful book introducing Native North American
Basketry and how to identify the various tribes
pieces. Methods of manufacture, forms used, decoration,
and materials are discussed. A value guide is also
in the Marketplace