Lewis Griswold

Hanford memoir recalls epic hike to Panama-Pacific Expo 100 years ago

Robert Marcellus of Hanford examines the spyglass his father carried from Minneapolis to San Francisco 100 years ago.
Robert Marcellus of Hanford examines the spyglass his father carried from Minneapolis to San Francisco 100 years ago. lgriswold@fresnobee.com

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, which Robert Marcellus of Hanford grew up hearing about because his father walked from Minneapolis to attend the 1915 World’s Fair.

That’s right, he walked, except for a multi-day car ride from Salt Lake City to Reno.

His name was Fred Marcellus, he was 18, and he kept a notebook that he later used to hand-write a chronological account of the journey. (Hanford old-timers may remember Mr. Marcellus as the wood shop teacher at Hanford High.)

His daughter, Dorothy, who recently died, copied her father’s account in longhand and, about five years ago, it was typed into a computer.

Robert made it into an 8 1/2 -inch-by-11-inch booklet, including photos taken by the cross-country hikers.

The memoir has details about the Panama-Pacific International Exposition not found in Wikipedia.

“The Ford Company had an assembly exhibit and 25 Model T’s were assembled each day,” Fred wrote.

Also, expo visitors could not simply take photos willy-nilly.

“While at the fair, anyone with a camera had to get a dated camera license for twenty-five cents each day,” he wrote, noting that selling pictures was prohibited.

Fred grew up on a farm in North Dakota, but his father died suddenly from flu while visiting relatives in New York, so his mother sold the farm and moved the family – Fred, his older brother, Harry, and a sister – to Minneapolis.

Fred and Harry joined a Boy Scout troop and, on April 11, 1915, six Scouts and an adult leader set out for San Francisco, hauling a cart with a sign that read “Boy Scouts of America of St. Paul, Minnesota. Hiking from St. Paul to San Francisco. Distance of 2,800 miles.”

“He talked about it quite a bit,” Robert said of the trip. “It’s amazing they could do a walk like that.”

They endured rain, cold, a tornado and muddy roads, camping along the way or finding shelter, often in beautiful locations.

They hiked from Minneapolis to Kansas City, to Topeka, to Grand Junction, to Salt Lake City, stopping to watch horses being branded on the prairie, tour a mine in the Rockies and climb Pike’s Peak.

They had two cameras, a Brownie 2 and an Eastman Kodak 3 1/4 x 5 1/2 , and took photos that still exist. They had postcards made that they sold along the way to earn money to fund their trip.

They bought fruit from farms, and once paid a farmer the exorbitant price of 75 cents for a two-pound chicken.

The group split up in Salt Lake City. Fred caught a ride in an automobile that had a top speed of 35 mph. Much of the time was spent fixing flat tires, he wrote.

The Scouts reunited in Reno and started walking again with their cart, hooking it to the back of horse-drawn wagons and pushing from behind to get up the grade to Truckee.

They camped a few nights at Donner Lake.

While near Roseville, someone in a passing train waved at them vigorously but they didn’t know who it was. They learned later that it was a friend from Minneapolis also going to the Panama Pacific Exposition.

The hikers – now four Scouts and an adult leader – arrived in the city on Oct. 17, 1915, six months after leaving Minneapolis.

They visited the exposition several times. Memorabilia in the Marcellus family includes an admission ticket dated Nov. 2, 1915.

At the expedition’s end, Fred and his brother moved to Exeter, got jobs at a dairy earning $55 a month for both, including room and board, and graduated from high school.

Fred served in the Navy, graduated from both Fresno State and Santa Barbara College, and married Grace Henderson of Exeter. They settled in Hanford, where he lived until his death in 1989 at age 92.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold