There is an eerie mythology associated with the massive ice caves that once haunted the shoulders of our mountain. Probably the most told native legend about Mount Tahoma, was a cautious parable about a miser who’s greed lured him to an ice chamber at the summit where he stole away with immense wealth only to be chased down by giant totem creatures, supernatural storms and the magic of time and sudden aging. In a way, the story was a warning about the luminous allure of the ice caves and their unworldly blue light but it didn’t stop later adventurers, mountaineers and particularly photographers from venturing into the frozen caverns beginning in the 1870’s.
When the name of the Mountain became a major matter of contention between Tacoma and Seattle a little over 100 years ago, the local advocates thought they had the matter settled by lining up John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt and then no less that god himself on the side of naming the Mountain Tacoma. In 1911 author John Williams wrote and Putnam & Sons published several editions, (one in butter soft leather with gold embossing and edging) of a rather weird but strangely beautiful illustrated volume titled “The Mountain That Was God”. In it Williams told the story of the Miser, subtly suggesting that Seattle campaign for keeping the name Rainier was something less than altruistic. But he also rambled through a curious, slightly nutty assortment of historical tidbits, folklore, travelogue and poetry connected to the mountain. The little book was an extravagant eccentricity from the late Victorian era when ill fated expeditions were being sent to the frozen poles and last unmapped jungles of the world. Today the book is collected mostly for its wonderful graphics and photographs. The most copied and reproduced photo is an almost psychedelic hand tinted image taken from inside the most massive Paradise glacier ice cave. Miles long, carved by centuries of glacial rivers, the USGS formally recorded the ice caves as vanished in 1981.