LAKE McDONALD LODGE

Glacier National Park is sliced in two by the Continental Divide. The eastern side is quiet and genteel, the west can sometimes feel like Coney Island on a busy day. Hill maintained iron-handed control of what little development was permitted in the east, but no such master hand exhibited much control of the west, which grew like Topsy, with little indication of any master hand.

Most likely the Lodge would have been treated even worse had it not been for its early-on isolation. In 1895, George Snyder constructed the Snyder Hotel here, but given that there were as yet no roads to it, all access was by boat.

In 1904 – 05, John Lewis gained control of the hotel. In the years that followed, he watched with great interest the construction of Glacier Park Hotel Lodge, and sighed because he lacked the wherewithal to construct its equal on the western side. Nevertheless, he had a vision for his brainchild, implemented by architect Kirtland Cutter of Spokane. Lewis had the original Snyder Hotel moved so he could construct a new one in its place.

Cutter had gained valuable experience with Swiss-style architecture in co-designing the Idaho Building for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Lake McDonald Lodge

Construction of this alpine chalet began in 1913 and was completed in 1914. Three and a half stories high, it is a combination of stucco and clapboarding, painted brown like the Great Northern hotels. All supplies had to be hauled in by boat; or, during the bitterly cold winter, skidded across on ice. The exterior was Swiss-appearing, but inside, it was Wild West. Especially dramatic was the three-story lobby dominated by a huge fireplace, so large that five-foot-long logs were routinely burned in it. A log-trussed ceiling and cedar balconies on three sides added to the warm ambiance. Great western cedar logs helped anchor the room. Lewis decorated the lobby with his own hunting trophies (elk, moose, mountain sheep, goat, eagle, etc.); animal skins and Navajo rugs were draped from the balconies. The walls were enlivened by Fred Kiser photographs and Frank Stick and H. Bartlett oil paintings. Famed Montana artist Charlie Russell was a frequent guest here; he it was who is said to have created the fireplace designs.

Beautiful Lake McDonald

The 65-room hotel opened in June of 1914; it had cost $48,000, less than one-tenth of its eastern competition. Early guests, after disembarking from trains, boarded a steamship to take them across Glacier’s largest lake. Their initial view of the alpine lodge framed against glass-smooth water, verdant forests, and snow-capped mountains made coming here and staying here a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

Not until 1921 was a road to the lodge completed. A road that proved to be a mixed blessing, for it brought with it more and more automobile traffic and noise. Now that the lodge received guests from both directions, there was no longer a focal center. The resultant remodeling altered the symmetry of the lodge. Successive owners accelerated the deterioration and blurring of focus. A flood didn’t help much either.

Finally, just in the nick of time, in 1988-9, a $1.2 million renovation took place. The object being to, as much as possible, restore the lodge to what it had once been in 1914. Fortunately, 60% of the original furniture was still intact. The Great Lobby was lovingly restored, and the dining room was rescued from its near-hopeless state. Once again, the fireplace rules supreme. The ambiance is back.

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Red Jammers

Several times we’ve ridden in Jammers over the Divide and down to the Lodge, and had lunch in the dining area. We have not yet stayed here over night. Consequently, I cannot accurately describe what it’s like at night.

Nevertheless, there is one reality that cannot help but dilute the overall experience. In the little village that clusters around the lodge are 38 cabins, two two-story motel units, support buildings, a store, and the resultant traffic that all this generates.

A pity.

SOURCES CONSULTED Invaluable for the history of the hotel is Christine Barnes’ splendid Great Lodges of the West 1 (Bend, Oregon: W. W. W. West, Inc, 1997). Also helpful is David and Kay W. Scott’s The Complete Guide to National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).

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GLACIER PARK LODGE

Glacier National Park is perceived by many as being one of the most remote national parks in the lower 48, for it is a destination rather than being a way-station on a route to somewhere.  Comparatively few Americans have ever been here, which is a pity for it is a magical place of great beauty.

That the park exists at all we owe no small thanks to railroad tycoon, Louis Hill, son of James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern empire of trains and ships.  Indeed, such a passion did Louis Hill have for the park and its development that he temporarily stepped down from the presidency of Great Northern so that he could devote all his time to Glacier.  His dream was to create a park on the European model, complete with great hotels, chalets, roads, trails, telephone and boat service—something never before accomplished in America.

He began by using his Great Northern clout to secure a special Act of Congress in 1912 to purchase 160 acres of land that was part of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation that bordered the just created [in 1910] Glacier National Park.  Here he would position his flagship hotel, and he would lay transcontinental railway track right to his front door (one of the very few national parks where this was done).  Even El Tovar’s rail connection would be a spur rather than being part of a transcontinental route.

Glacier Park Lodge

Hill lay awake nights dreaming of ways to make his first Glacier hotel into one of the nation’s greatest.  The linchpin had come to him earlier, in 1905, while attending the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon.  Unquestionably, the hit of the exposition was the great Oregon Forestry Building, constructed in the rectangular colonnaded basilica style pioneered by Roman architects—only, rather than built of brick, stone, and masonry, this one was anchored by massive Oregon Douglas fir, four feet thick and 48 feet high, each weighing 30,000 – 36,000 pounds.  Now Hill determined to make those same great columns the WOW factor at Glacier.

So it came to pass that Hill constructed (with the able assistance of architects S. L. Bartlett and Thomas McMahon) a great forest basilica at East Glacier.  When the Blackfeet Indians saw those 60 massive logs hauled in by train, they were in awe, for they’d never seen trees that big!  They promptly dubbed the new building “Oom-Coo-Mush-Taw” (Big Tree Lodge”).  Hill did not miss a trick: to ensure that the bark wouldn’t fall off later, he had the logs cut before the sap began to run in the spring.  The Great Hall with its 200 by 100 foot lobby, soaring 60 feet high with three atriums, flanked by galleries on each side, is indeed—as Hill planned it to be—akin to a great European cathedral, only created out of trees.

Great Lobby of Glacier Park Lodge

Inside, Hill orchestrated a most eclectic mix: Indian pictographs; animal horns and skins; buffalo skulls; Indian teepees; Blackfeet crafts, rugs, blankets, baskets; two great fireplaces [the open one has since been removed]; Japanese lanterns hung from rafters, and tea served by women in kimonos; Blackfeet Indians in full regalia and porters in Bavarian uniforms.

When the hotel was completed in 1913, its upperscale rooms featured private baths, fireplaces, and porches.  So successful was it that Hill added 111 additional rooms to the original 61.  Altogether, it cost more than $500,000 to build.

But here we are, almost a hundred years later, and it remains one of America’s great hotels.

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Connie and I have not only seen the lodge from the windows of an Amtrak train, we have stayed there three times, most recently when the Zane Grey’s West Society held its annual convention there.  Bob and Lucy Earp were also in attendance with us.  My brother, concert pianist Romayne Wheeler, feted our Society and hotel guests with a concert in the Grand Hall.

Red jammers at Glacier Park Lodge

Each of Hill’s three great Glacier hotels has a unique feel all its own.  Glacier Park Lodge feels more like a jumping-off place rather than a park hotel.  Vintage red jammers ferry people all over the park, departing and returning to the hotel.  It is part of a small railroad town so it has its own infrastructure, and it borders the large Blackfeet reservation.

Yet, with all this, it remains a serene place to stay.  Separating the railway terminal from the hotel is a thousand-foot-long garden.  In the great lobby and long vista’d verandas, guests play board games, write letters, visit with friends, and regenerate from the hectic life they left behind.  No one misses the television sets ubiquitous in cookie-cutter lodgings elsewhere.  To experience the Great Hall alone is worth the trip.  Especially at night when you stare into the flickering flames in the fireplace.

And once you’ve stayed here one time, you’ll yearn to return.

SOURCES CONSULTED

Invaluable for the history of the hotel is Christine Barnes’ splendid Great Lodges of the West 1 (Bend, Oregon: W. W. W. West, Inc, 1997).  Also helpful is David and Kay W. Scott’s The Complete Guide to National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK TITANS

Give a month to this precious reserve [Glacier National Park].  The time will not be taken from the sum of your life.  Instead of shortening, it will infinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.

                                                                        –John Muir (Olin, 31)

GEORGE BIRD GRINELL

George Bird Grinnell was one of the most influential men our nation has ever known.  Founder of the Audubon Society and colleague of John Muir, Grinnell sold his father’s investment business in order to speak out on conservation issues in his Forest and Stream magazine.  But of all the at-risk beauty spots in the nation, Glacier held center stage in his heart.  He labeled it “The Crown of the Continent…one of the most beautiful mountain regions in the world.”

As to what this region had come to mean to him, he wrote “How often, in dreams of the night or days, have I revisited these scenes during the years that have passed. . . .  How often, in fancy, have I seated myself on some rock…and gazed over the beautiful scene.

Few people know these wonderful mountains, yet no one who goes there but comes away with enthusiasm for their wild and singular beauty” (Duncan and Burns, 116).

In 1897, Grinnell pulled every known string at his command to get the Glacier area set aside as the Lewis and Clark Forest Preserve.  Then he immediately set about moving the debate to the next level: national park status.  But the opposition from special interests was determined to continue mining around the scenic lakes, hunting in the mountains, and denuding the forest of its trees.

Thirteen more years would pass, with Grinnell refusing to admit defeat and fiercely battling on, before, at long last, in 1910, President Taft, with a stroke of his pen, preserved for all time the million-acre wonderland the world knows as Glacier National Park.

Years later, Grinnell reflected on the significance of it all: “If we had not succeeded in getting those regions set apart as National Parks, by this time they would have been . . . cut bare of timber, dotted with irrigation reservoirs, the game would have been all killed off, the country would have been burned over” (Duncan and Burns, 119).

LOUIS HILL

But Grinnell was anything but alone in his efforts to save Glacier for posterity.  Louis Hill, the Great Northern Railway tycoon, was tireless in promoting the park.  To attract tourists conditioned to vacation in Europe, he enthusiastically preached the gospel of “See America First!”  He labeled Glacier National Park as “America’s Switzerland,” and employed Blackfoot Indians to dress in full regalia as they met incoming trains.  Disembarking, tourists could rent tepees so as to immerse themselves immediately into the Wild West.  Hill even paid for a group of Blackfoot Indians to tour the East.  And got Mary Roberts Rinehart to write about the park.

Legendary park visionary, Stephen Tyng Mather, viewed Hill—not as an opponent but as a valued and trusted ally.

But Louis Hill’s legacy is far bigger than just smart advertising: he was an inspired lodge-builder and innkeeper.  More on that during the next few weeks.

SOURCES CONSULTED 

Duncan Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009).

Olin, Susan, Insider’s Guide® to Glacier National Park (Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 2003). 

White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: The National Geographic Society, 2009).

CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART® MEANDERS

“Meander” is the most apt verb I can think of to describe the journey of the last nineteen years. Nothing about it can remotely be classified as being predictable (perhaps the most exciting and frustrating aspect of turning over the navigational role of one’s life to God).

If I ever doubted the confusion generated by this meandering, the reactions of those who stop to look at the blur of Christmas-related titles and publishers at book-signing tables would set me straight. Goodness, sometimes I get confused myself just trying to explain all the twists and turns. But let’s try anyhow.

Christmas in My Heart

First of all: what I’ve come to call the “core series.” Fortunately, Review and Herald Publishing’s commitment to the series was unwavering (for a decade and a half); this provided the stability the series needed in its formative years. Unbeknownst to me, that very first year, I was locked in to what became the series’ defining template: old-timey Currier and Ives covers (horizontal rather than vertical format), old-timey woodcut illustrations inside, and old-timey (even when stories are new ones) stories that touch the heart. As time passed, and more and more Christmasaholics bought into completion (keeping their own series complete by buying the new collection every Christmas season), the template became so iconic I couldn’t have altered it even had I wanted to do so.

Focus on the Family’s involvement began early, and has continued with unbroken commitment ever since. Indeed, well over half the time, the Focus Christmas story of the year has been taken from the pages of Christmas in My Heart®. Most years, the books have been offered as premiums to ministry supporters, as part of seasonal mailouts reaching millions every Christmas.

Because of Focus on the Family’s involvement and because the first four books were a GOLD MEDALLION Finalist in 1995, the series rapidly expanded into Evangelical Christianity.

Which led to the seven-year partnership with Doubleday/Random House, beginning in 1996. Their books were re-scrambles (some stories taken at random from each of the first four collections), with old-timey (but not Currier and Ives) covers, woodcut illustrations (but different from those in the core series), vertical format rather than horizontal, and hardback with dust jacket rather than trade paper. With the entry of Doubleday, the series was marketed in chain stores everywhere, thus becoming a staple in the broader secular market.

Concerned that someone else might try to steal the title, Doubleday insisted that we Trademark it (which we did, after considerable legal choreography, effort and money). We renewed that Trademark at the end of five years, and again after ten years. Fortuitously, it turns out, for during the last 24 months, someone (a major player in today’s marketplace) moved in on the title. Only the Trademark saved us.

Christmas in My Soul

Doubleday/Random House published four Christmas in My Heart® Treasuries (1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999); at the end of that period, they moved on to a new series title, Christmas in My Soul for their gift books over the next three years (2000, 2001, and 2002), each book a re-scramble of stories taken from the first six books in the core series.

In 1998, Tyndale House co-published with Review and Herald the core edition of Christmas in my Heart® 7 (both publishing house imprints on the title page). In 1999 Tyndale House joined forces with Focus on the Family to publish a vertical trade paper edition of the core series (with different cover and introduction, but otherwise remaining the same content and illustration-wise).

But when Doubleday switched series titles in 2000, Focus on the Family and Tyndale House pounced on the hardback rights to the core series. Those vertical hardbacks with dust jackets were also beautiful works of art, just as Doubleday’s were, with old-timey non-Currier and Ives covers; but otherwise, inside, the same stories and illustrations as those used by Review and Herald in the core series. These editions continued to be published through 2006 (Christmas in My Heart® 9 – 15).

The 12 Stories of Christmas

In 2001, RiverOak/David C. Cook published The Twelve Stories of Christmas (the first twelve Christmas stories I wrote personally); for the only time, I also told the story behind the story—how I happened to write each one.

In 2006, storms assailed Christmas in My Heart®. Review and Herald wavered in its commitment to continuing the series, thus opening up the possibility of Focus on the Family/Tyndale House taking over all markets for the core series. Needless to say, Focus on the Family and Tyndale were delighted. But, at the last minute, Review and Herald decided to publish Christmas in My Heart® 16 after all. Result: Tyndale House and Focus on the Family ceased publishing their hardbacks of the core series. But then, even though they were still selling the same number of books as before, Review and Herald decided that Christmas in My Heart® 16 would be a nice number to conclude the series with. Not sharing this perception that the series had reached its terminus, I asked Pacific Press Publishing if they were interested in picking up the series with Christmas in My Heart® 17. The answer, in only hours, was a resounding, “In a heartbeat!” Same format, same Currier and Ives covers, same woodcut illustrations as before—all agreed upon. Thus the series has continued; this year with Christmas in My Heart® 19. The manuscript for Christmas in My Heart® 20 has already been sent in.

In 2007 and 2008, Howard/Simon & Schuster published three beautiful retrospective collections (rescramblings from Christmas in My Heart® 1 – 16): The Best of Christmas in My Heart® 1, Christmas in My Heart® 2, and Candle in the Forest and Other Christmas Stories Children Love.

Christmas in My Heart® 1 was published in Spanish and the first six books were published (rescrambles) in Norwegian.

St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas

Besides this, I edited Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol and Abby Farwell Brown’s Christmas Angel for Focus on the Family/Tyndale House in 1997 and 1999. I partnered with Canon James Rosenthal for our book St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas for Thomas Nelson in 2005; just off the press is another St. Nicholas book, my Saint Nicholas, part of Thomas Nelson’s Christian Encounters biography series.

This incredible story would have been much more difficult without the steadfast support and innovative placement of our collections by my cherished agent and friend, Greg Johnson, president of WordServe Literary Group, Ltd.

A special note: because of editorial differences of opinion (as to specific story-inclusion) in Review and Herald and Focus on the Family/Tyndale House, those who wish to acquire the complete core series of stories—so far—would need to secure the following:

Review and Herald Christmas in My Heart® 1 – 16.

Focus on the Family/Tyndale House Christmas in My Heart® 13 and Christmas in My Heart® 15.

Pacific Press Christmas in My Heart® 17, 18, 19.

* * * * *

So this blog brings all these meanderings up to date. Connie and I have no idea as to how long the series may last—we leave all that up to the good Lord. We take no credit for the first nineteen years of its story: we’ve only been taking orders from our Commander in Chief. When it is His will that the last Christmas in My Heart® book rolls off the press, then it will be time to write “Finis” to its story.

But not until then.

I’ll conclude this blog with a line from one of James Dobson’s many personal letters to me, “You’re right, Joe: Neither of our ministries belongs to us—but isn’t it a great ride?”

That it has been—and continues to be.

ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS: THE NEXT STEP

Again and again in life, I’ve seen it happen: God never does anything by halves! And I was about to experience the second half of a plan I knew nothing about. I took my creative writing class on a field trip to Maryland’s largest publishing house, Review and Herald Publishing Association, in Hagerstown. Once the guide had my students safely in tow, I escaped. As I wandered around, I chanced to peer into the doorway of then Acquisitions Editor Penny Estes Wheeler (I figured that with a last name of Wheeler she couldn’t be all bad).

We small-talked for some time. Turned out she was already familiar with my writing in magazines and liked what she’d read. After a time she said, “Well, what have you been writing lately?”

“A couple of Christmas stories.”

“What kind?”

“Oh, they’re Christ-centered rather than Santa Claus-centered.”

“What else?”

“You’ll laugh.”

“Try me.”

“Well, you can’t read them without crying.”

“Just what we need. But you’ve only written two?” She replied.

“Yes. But I’ve been collecting others all my life – in fact, I was raised on them,” was my response.

That’s all it took. Being very good at what she did, she leaned back and said, in just as deceptively casual a tone as Naomi had used a couple of years before, “You know, there’s a real vacuum for that kind of story today in the market today. Why don’t you just package up your favorite stories and send them to us? We’ll do the rest. Piece of cake.”

Although it sounded easy, I suspected I had a lot of work to do. Penny bulldogged me by mail and by phone until I assembled a big stack of Christmas stories and sent them to Hagerstown.  Then, happy to be done with my part, I all but forgot about it.

Several months later, I was jolted back to reality with a phone call. She said, “Joe, the committee has cried its way through your manuscript. We’d very much like to publish it.”

From there on, events moved quickly – but no thanks to me. From the title of the book to the Currier and Ives winter scene on the cover to the woodcut illustrations inside, my good editor pushed the book through.

The finished book was beautiful. People loved it.  But most of all they loved the deeply-moving stories inside. The collection was called Christmas in My Heart, and it was intended to be a stand-alone book

But gradually sales began to build. People realized that the collection was different from anything else available. When it went through two printings before Christmas, my editor got me on the phone and said, “Joe, can you put together another collection right away so we can rush it into print before next Christmas?”

“Sure, no problem,” I answered.

So it came to pass that our second collection bravely bore a “2” on its cover. It would not be a one-shot book after all; it would be a two-book series.

Right after Christmas in My Heart came out in 1992, I became convicted that I ought to send a copy to Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. I knew him to be as sentimental about deeply-moving stories as I was.  I inscribed a copy to Dobson and sent it off. He didn’t respond, but one of his vice presidents did – she loved it! When Number 2 came out, I sent him another. Dobson didn’t respond, but the same vice president did.

Late in ’93, I came to my personal Rubicon – on the phone was my remorseless editor: “Joe, Number Two is selling so well, we’re wondering if it’s possible for you to put together a third collection of Christmas stories?”

The ball was now in my court. I was out of stories as well as illustrations for the covers. If the series was to go to three, I would have to seriously dig in and find the stories that would grace it. Fortunately, by now readers had begun sending me their favorite stories, their way of letting me know they wanted another collection. So I was able to put together a third collection. As for the illustrations, I began buying old books illustrated with woodcuts (most of these books were at least a hundred years old).

So it was that I belatedly moved from a passive role into an active one. For the first time I began to realize that I was part of something big. That it was big enough to commandeer the rest of our lives, however, was mercifully withheld from us.

In the fall of ’94, Christmas in My Heart 3 came out, and I once again sent a copy to Dr. Dobson. In my naiveté I assumed that all you had to do was address a book to Dobson, mail it off, and he’d get it and read it. The reality was that Focus had thirteen hundred employees; that over eighty Christian publishers barraged the ministry with their books; and that it took almost six hundred employees to answer mail and phone calls from people like me. The chances of getting through to the great man himself were almost nil. Yet, in spite of those facts, now came the third life-changing day. The telephone rang and a voice I’d never heard before was on the line. The voice turned out to be my correspondence friend at Focus on the Family, Diane Passno.

My relationship with Focus on the Family ministry really began that day when they asked to use one of my stories called “The Tiny Foot” by Frederick Loomis. They called again later and asked if the story could also be used on the air. Again I agreed. But I still had no idea of what those two requests would really mean for me. I did remember that Diane Passno had warned me, “Joe, if Dr. Dobson ever really uses you, your life will never be the same again.”

Truer words were never spoken. By the time that story had gone out to about three million homes and it had been read on the air around the world, life as I had known it was over. The series was a Gold Medallion finalist the next year.

Twelve publishing houses, and 73 books after inception, here we are in December of 2010. Christmas in My Heart®, now the longest-running Christmas story series in America, has been made so by seven publishers: Review and Herald, Pacific Press, Focus on the Family, Tyndale House, Doubleday/RandomHouse, Howard/Simon and Schuster, and RiverOak/David C. Cook. I’ve never taken credit for any of it, for it is not a Joe Wheeler-thing, but rather a God-thing. What a joy to be given the privilege of co-partnering with the Divine.