PROFESSOR THADDEUS LOWE
Title: Love for Mt. Lowe
Date: July 14, 2003
It all began, as so many things do, by just putting one foot in front of the other.
A hike, to be exact -- a ramble up the old dirt bed of the long-gone Mt. Lowe Railway in the foothills of Pasadena. But on that trek a passion was born in Michael Patris that has spanned 15 years and inspired the collection of thousands of Mt. Lowe artifacts.
And so deep is Patris' interest in all things Lowe that he has become personal friends with many of the remaining descendents of Thaddeus Lowe.
See, Mt. Lowe Railway was the Disneyland of its time, and in its more than four decades of operation, from 1893 to 1936, millions of tourists came to Pasadena to ride the rails thousands of feet up and see the spectacular view.
At the top, for a quarter, you could have your picture taken and they would mail it anywhere in the world.
And as one of the premiere man-made wonders of America, it spawned a lot of souvenirs. You could get a china cup bearing an image of the railway, so that ever after, when you had your morning coffee in Albany or Minneapolis, you could relive your trip west. If you had the money, you could get a sterling silver pocket knife with a detailed likeness of the steep rail incline carved into its handle. You could buy a copy of the Mount Lowe Daily News customized with your name in print on the cover. Even back then, they didn't miss a trick.
Advertisements of the time called it "the grandest scenic trip on earth." It opened at a time when world expositions were displaying the latest in dazzling technology and providing excitement for the masses, so the outsized hyperbole was not so much an exaggeration as just keeping up with the times.
Lowe himself sank everything he had in the railway, but the promised local financial support never materialized, and within a few years he lost ownership of the railway and his fortune. In fact, in more than 40 years of operation, the attraction was only profitable for a few months time. But what a time. The very first Rose Parade had occurred only a few years before the railway opened. Before there were movies or even a Hollywood, there was Mt. Lowe Railway. A ride up gave visitors a "panorama of 2,000 square miles" and promised "the garden of Southern California to be seen from the summit."
A terrific display of some of Patris' Mt. Lowe collection may be viewed currently through Nov. 30 as part of the Pasadena Museum of History's exhibition, "Next Stop Pasadena -- From Red to Gold," which chronicles local rail history from the days of the Red Car up to the soon-to-open Gold Line.
It is a visual feast. There are even several large model trains, including replicas of the current Gold Line cars. Kids will love that, and children under 12 get free admission.
(If you have Mt. Lowe photos or artifacts, contact Mr. Patris at (626) 570-0560 or firstname.lastname@example.org .)
A recent find was one of the missing "teeth" from the giant gear at the top of the mountain, which pulled the funicular cars up. Acquired on a hike, it had been in someone's garage for 40 years. Visit the Mt. Lowe Preservation Society at www.mountlowe.org The Pasadena Museum of History is located at 470 W. Walnut St. in Pasadena. The phone number is (626) 577-1660. For exhibit information, visit www.pasadenahistory.org.
--- George Waters is a Pasadena-based free-lance writer.
(c) 2003 The Sun. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.
Author: George Waters
BEFORE THE WAR
CIVIL WAR YEARS
INVENTIONS AND INDUSTRY
NORRISTOWN PENNSYLVANIA YEARS
PASADENA CALIFORNIA YEARS
MOUNT LOWE RAILWAY
AFTER THE RAILWAY
BOOKS ABOUT LOWE
EVENTS AND REUNIONS
ARTIFACTS AND HISTORY
ACCLAMATIONS AND AWARDS
LINKS TO OTHER THADDEUS LOWE WEBSITES