Calcite Springs, Yellowstone National ParkAs I mentioned recently, my scam antennae are quite sensitive. They’re sensitive to Internet scams, to financial fiddling, and to urban legends. A cousin has quit speaking to me because every time she emailed me, I would point her at (or maybe she’s just stopped sending me emails that say “Forward this email to everyone in your address book or the world will end and we’re all going to dieee!” — which amounts to the same thing).

But once in a while the antennae are too sensitive and I’m not quick enough to keep my mouth shut, because some urban legends deserve to persist.

In Yellowstone National Park, one of the places you have to visit is Old Faithful Inn. Its interior braces are made of lodgepole pine with twists and bends in it, the result of a tree virus. The guide told us that crews of loggers went through the forest looking for the bendy trees to cut for the building.

Some of the braces have old graffiti on them. (Naturally the park service would take it amiss if anyone tried to add to the graffiti now.) Names and dates, carved into the wood, smoothed by time.

One curve of wood sports the phrase:

AE 1906

“Albert Einstein carved that,” our guide said.

“No he didn’t,” I said, without thinking.

Everybody in the group looked at me.

“Er um well I could be wrong,” I said, though I wasn’t. “But if I remember right,” which I did, “Albert Einstein was still working in the Swiss Patent Office in 1906. He didn’t come to the United States till 1933.” (I was wrong there. He emigrated to the US in 1933; he visited the US earlier — 1921 — but he wasn’t anywhere near this side of the Atlantic in 1906.)

The guide gave me a rather baleful stare.

And I wish I hadn’t said anything.

Some myths deserve to be left alone.

Because it would have been really keen if Albert Einstein had carved his initials into a lodgepole pine, in Yellowstone National Park, in 1906.

— Vonda

You can find The Moon and the Sun at Book View Cafe, where a new chapter is featured each Sunday. For print copies of The Moon and the Sun and my other SF novels, visit my website’s Basement Full of Books.



Myths — 4 Comments

  1. Good for you, Vonda. No reason to keep your mouth shut when guides are simply *wrong*! So many errors get perpetuated in just such incidents as yours. It’s up to alert people to straighten them out. I even think it’s part of protecting that incomparable place, Yellowstone Park, to try to keep information accurate.

    Janet Chapple, author & publisher
    “Yellowstone Treasures: The Traveler’s Companion to the National Park”

  2. But a falsity that is so easily punctured — any google search on Einstein would pop up his time line — that surely it deserves to be pricked?

  3. I dunno. I’ve read a lot of time travel fiction which ended in someone unexpected meeting Einstein at some key point in the past. Maybe it’s more truth than fiction. Maybe he did really travel to yellowstone in 1906.

  4. I dunno. I was talking to some wolf guys at Yellowstone, and asked them what they thought of Never Cry Wolf. They said they liked it. Even though it was (they said) almost completely bogus. Because it was the first book ever not to depict wolves as Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s murderer, or as packs of ravening beasts chasing your sleigh through the woods and gobbling up anybody “thrown to the wolves.”

    Too bad there are so many time-travel stories about Einstein (how can one resist?); it would be fun to have young Albert Einstein visiting the American west back when it was still relatively wild and wooly. Maybe he could go on a tour with Mark Twain.