a European City
was recently invited to write the prologue for a book on Mazatlán
history, with the condition that I relate Mazatlán to Europe.
As a Mazatleco who has been living in Switzerland since 1982, I
felt half-fit for the job. My suggestion was that the prologue should
relate Mazatlán to both Europe and the United States. The
author agreed. Here's an extract, focusing more on the U.S. since
that is the origin of most of this paper's readers).
Mazatlán to Europe is not new. Some years ago, Mexico's advertising
campaign in U.S. magazines read " Mexico, it's a lot like Europe,
only a lot closer" and showed a picture of Olas Altas -- the
ocean-front street of Old Mazatlán!
is true. Mazatlán doesn't follow the traditional Spanish
city layout, dominated by a central Plaza Mayor with a church and
city hall. Mazatlán had its first church built as late as
1842. Before that, Adolph Riensch in 1839 writes; "on Saturdays
we used to party until dawn at local houses with inner patios and
early on Sunday celebrate Mass at the same place."
architecture is a portrait of the substantial German, Spanish and
French merchant influx after Mexico's independence from Spain in
it is not only in our architecture where our history is written,
but on the travel diaries of our visitors.
the American travelers, Herman Melville, who visited us in March
of 1844, is one of the most illustrious. He had just joined the
U.S. Navy and wrote about his experiences, mentioning Mazatlán
in his classic " White Jacket."
members of the U.S. Pacific Squadron also painted watercolors and
wrote invaluable notes which now serve as important building blocks
for our early history . They include William Meyers, Henry Wise,
Bull Watson and Lt. Tunis A. Craven. The latter describes Mazatlán,
in 1848, as "the first civilized place we have visited since
leaving Lima . . . Mazatlán is a prettily situated and well
built town, with its well filled shops, its inviting restaurants,
its good market and its beautiful gardens . . . "
U.S. soldiers fell in love with Mazatlán, but none more than
Henry Wise, USN, who upon departing after spending half a year in
Mazatlán, wrote: "I regard the half-year passed as among
the most contented in my existence, and shall ever refer with many
a yearning to those pleasant days in Mazatlán. Farewell Mazatlán!
Adieu, ye black-eyed girls, who so detested the Yankees, and shed
such pearly tears at their departure! Adieu to fandangos, bailes
and tiny feet . . . in one sad sigh! Farewell."
not forget that the war with Mexico was the first U.S. military
action abroad and as such, the U.S. occupation of Mazatlán
was eclectic in nature. To cite an example, the commodore would
order the flagship's band ashore and hold dances to which the local
society was invited. No wonder Lt. Wise loved Mazatlán!
in 1862, the French invaded Mexico. Once the U.S. Civil War ended,
Lincoln's government assisted Mexico's strong resistence with weapons
shipments. Most of the guns that reached Mazatlán came from
San Francisco. An American called Frederick Fitsch and a German,
Theodor Lemmen Meyer ( both of whom founded families in Mazatlán)
were instrumental in introducing them.
the Monroe doctrine, Europeans would have intervened in Latin America
as they did in Africa and Asia. Despite that, Lord Palmerston, the
British foreign minister, couldn't help giving arms to the Mayas
in an attempt to procure their independence from Mexico and annexation
to Britain (as with the mosquito coast, in Nicaragua).
the Gold Rush, in 1849, many Argonauts eager to reach San Francisco's
gateway to the gold fields, were too impatient to sail all the way
to Panama or Nicaragua, and took the overland route, mainly from
Corpus Christi to Mazatlán, where they hoped to catch a ship
heading to California.
1848, the ship "California" made American maritime history,
since it was the first steamer to enter San Francisco, after a 144-day
cruise from New York. At Mazatlán, a port of call for the
"California" during that historic voyage, there was a
mutiny which was put down only with help of the local authorities,
since the ship refused passage to several hundred gold seekers who
had trecked across Mexico. Upon arriving in San Francisco, within
24 hours the ship was deserted by her crew, so strong was the pull
of the yellow metal.
"California" belonged to Aspinwall and Howland, founders
of The Pacific Mail Steamship Company. Joseph Conrad, in his novel
"Nostromo, the House of Holroyd" was inspired byAspinwall,
according to Conrad's biographer Jerry Allen.
is unknown if Joseph Conrad ever visited Mazatlán, but in
his memorable piece "To-morrow" he mentions Mazatlán.
one who got away is Longfellow who wrote his last piece dedicated
to San Blas, Nayarit. It was called "The Bells of San Blas"
and was inspired in an article published in Gleasons by a traveler
who also visited Mazatlán.
Taylor, author of "Eldorado," a classic in Western Americana,
written in the 1850s, describes Mazatlán as "decidedly
the gayest and liveliest little city on the continent." Taylor
includes a lovely painting of our city.
notable scientists who visited Mazatlán were Josiah Gregg
in 1849, and in 1894, David Starr Jordan, founding member of the
Sierra Club and the first president of Stanford University. Starr
Jordan was on a shell collecting trip with his students, a trip
that resulted in sending Mazatlán's shells to European universities
and museums. In the 1850s two collections of Mazatlán shells
were taken to Europe. The first was taken to Germany in 1851 by
one H. Melchers, and another went to London in 1857, when the British
Library published a "Catalogue of Mazatlán Shells."
Other visiting scientists included Father Kino, Buschmann and Lowestern.
special mention goes to the great ornithologist Andrew Greyson,
who lived a decade in Mazatlán, working on his "Birds
of the Pacific Slope." Lately he has been given proper recognition
in the U.S., and rightfully called "the Audubon of the West".
Greyson not only studied birds but was also a careful observer of
social, artistic and military life. He lost his only son in 1867
during one of his observation trips.
his lifetime Greyson was unsuccessful in trying to obtain support
from the Smithsonian Institute, then in its infancy. He was also
unable to obtain support from Maximilian, Kaiser from Mexico. When
he passed away, on August 17, 1869, and was buried in Mazatlán
(in the Protestant cemetery, of course), his wife remarried and
carried his work to the U.S., where it now is situated in the Bancroft
Library in Berkeley (like so much of the material mentioned in this
article). The Arion press has published a bibliophiles' edition
dedicated to Greyson. The price: $5000 dollars a copy.
Edwards, one of the founders of the Californian Theater (1869),
visited Mazatlán in 1875, in his book "A Mingled Yarn,"
he describes Mazatlán , especially the arts scene.
famous American photographer Edward Muybridge took some classic
photos here in 1875, as did the German Hugo Brehme. But it was the
American Edward Weston, who visited Mazatlán together with
Tina Modotti in 1923, who was impressed with what was his first
visit abroad. He wrote: "We found life both gay and sad, but
always life -- vital, intense, black and white but never gray."
Weston made a historic photo in Mazatlán, a classic called
" The great white cloud in Mazatlán", labeling
it one of his finest and most significant photographs, as it meant
an artistic departure from figurative into abstract art, or negatives
with intention as opposed to matter-of-fact records.
and Modotti enjoyed the Hotel Belmar where they cooled off in the
August heat with ice cold beer . Finally they write about Mazatlán's
architecture with the row of identical pastel-colored houses.
celebrity visiting us in 1951 was Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller's
lover. She loved Mexico and also was a regular at the Hotel Belmar.
John Barrymore, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Yul Bryner and Tyrone
Power were among the artists visiting Mazatlán. Locals loved
seeing the screen heroes in our city, and applauded them -- well,
with some exceptions. Tyrone Power was once invited by a theater
impresario to appear in person before a screening of his film, an
invitation which Power gladly accepted. Once in the Teatro Rubio,
which at that time was a movie house but now has reverted to its
original identity as an opera house called the Angela Peralta Theater,
the crowd applauded their hero. But when the Mazatlecos found out
that the film hadn't arrived, since the airline's cargo had no space
for the reels, the crowd exploded and booed both the impresario
writers like Vicky Baum, Richard Willis, Emma Lindsay, E. Howard
Hunt, and Lee Parker, among others have chosen Mazatlán as
either the title of their novels or the setting
list would be incomplete if we fail to mention American soldiers
of fortune who joined Mexico's Revolution, American miners, businessman,
filibusters, outright pirates, prostitutes, clergymen, spies, and
others who have colored our life and made Mazatlán the international
city it is.
we can see in this introduction to local history, Mazatlán
has long been linked to American history, especially on the west
coast. In another article we will spend more time with the early
Spaniards, the Jesuits and Franciscans who were instrumental in
colonizing California. No wonder so many Americans and Canadians
feel at home in Mazatlán.
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