Very Early Fiction

Before Photoshop (by about 135 years) there was still an irresistible urge to improve a bit on reality. Here’s an extremely rare photograph of the Northern Pacific docks from about 1878. This was the end of the transcontinental railroad, the mythic place where rails met sails just five years after Chinese contract laborers pushed the railroad to tidewater on the Pacific Ocean. Tacoma got picked as the terminal location for the transcontinental in July 1873 and in the six months that followed hardened laborers pushed the rails across the Nisqually delta and burnt prairies to reach saltwater in December. That final stretch was known from the beginning as the Prairie Line and this view shows its conclusion. Tailing off into the distance, the Prairie Line wound back into a hillside city that was just taking form. It was a dream city, almost designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, aspiring to greatness but mostly just the kind of place that looked best in the imagination of illustrators and engravers who never saw a Western Red Cedar stump in their life. Pre Photoshop illustrators who probably figured a dormant volcano this close to a city had to be fiction.

MtTacoma 1878

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