La Ventana Stories, an ongoing series of write-ups, started in December 2018, about the history and the happenings of La Ventana Bay and the surrounding region. Contributed by seasonally resident authors, look for a new story every few weeks during the windy season.
Fact checking has become a major industry. The focus is primarily political as legions of fact-checkers try to ascertain the “truthiness” of politicians’ pronouncements. But, other “facts” need checking, too.
In my recent article The Eiffel Chimney & Mining Museum of El Triunfo, I parroted the common wisdom that French engineer Gustave Eiffel—he of Eiffel Tower fame—designed El Triunfo’s iconic 10-story high chimney, built in 1890. But, despite numerous citations to that effect on-line, the reality is that Eiffel’s involvement in the design of the chimney is questionable.
Unfortunately, this is a “fact” that’s difficult to check for lack of original source material. One of the most persuasive citations in favor comes from a 2008 report to the Geographic Society of America outlining an archeological study conducted in El Triunfo:
“El Triunfo, like other mining communities, utilized some of the most advanced industrial technology of the 19th century, including La Ramona, 35-meter-high smokestack designed by Gustav Eiffel, renowned engineer and designer of the Eiffel Tower….”
But no primary source material was cited.
Two readers—both of whom have studied the history of the chimney—let me know they have been unable to find any support the claim. And a sign posted on a fence surrounding the base of the chimney—placed there as part of the recent restoration project—calls the Eiffel story a myth.
“Although we don’t know specifically who designed it, we do know that it was NOT Gustave Eiffel as a local myth has had it for years; there is no record of the structure in the Eiffel archives in France.”
If the story is not true, an interesting question remains: who created the myth and why?
In Part 1 (see Part 1 here), Cortés landed on Cerralvo, and named the island Santiago. Vizcaino tried to found a settlement here. Now, a century later, we meet Francisco de Ortega who visited our bay three times. Evidence suggests he landed here, befriended the Indians, and reported on their customs. An ingenious and politically astute person, he carried a new machine to aid in the search for pearls. Ortega and crew were marooned when their ship broke to pieces on the rocks north of Punta Gorda.
Part 2 — The Voyages of Francisco de Ortega to La Ventana Bay 1632-1636
Kcuhc and Ykceb left camp at dawn. They had work to do on a trail to Cerro del Puerto (Pericú sacred mountain west of El Sargento). They hiked up a narrow arroyo past red-billed colibrís (hummingbirds) feeding on the blossoms of a plant hanging from the arroyo’s south wall. On the opposite side, abejas (bees) worked on honeycomb inside a rock alcove.
At a mojón de roca (rock cairn), the trailblazers climbed to a ridge where a giant, old, gray-top cactus stood. Its multitude of tall columns towered high above their heads. They had used rebanadas (slices) cut from young gray-tops to treat stingray wounds. But the tribe was in awe of this old gray-top. It was one of several natural landmarks created by Niparaja throughout the Cunimniici (Pericú word for mountain range, the Cacachilas and others of Baja Sur) to guide them to water, shelters, and sacred sites. The ancestors had left other landmarks on the sides of giant boulders: images of animals, humans, hands, and geometric figures.
A century after Cortés’ voyage to the Baja peninsula, Martín de Lezama, an accountant in Mexico City, and son-in-law of Vizcaíno, wanted to try his suerte (luck) in California. After the Viceroy of New Spain, the 3rd Marquis of Cerralvo, approved his plans, Lezama hired carpenters and shipwrights, and took everyone to a place on the Pacific coast with good access to timber to build his ship. However, after the Crown ordered the Viceroy to halt further exploration of California until he could determine if colonization was advisable, Lezama found “the inhospitable land and the many mosquitoes,” not to his liking. He abandoned the project, and returned, leaving everyone else stranded.
Update: despite numerous citations to that effect on-line, the reality is that Eiffel’s involvement in the design of the chimney is questionable. Read here an updated “fact-check” of this article – Lorin.
Here’s a trivia question that’s likely to stump all players: What do the most famous landmark in Paris, the Statue of Liberty and the 115-foot high smelting chimney looming over El Triunfo have in common? The answer—Gustav Eiffel, the famed 19th architect and civil engineer whose best-known creation is his tower in Paris. It’s not widely known, however, that Eiffel had a world-wide reputation and designed structures all over the globe.
Eiffel’s wrought-iron tower, completed in 1889, is the most visited attraction in the world with almost seven million tourists ascending to one of three levels on the 1,063 foot structure in 2015.
The Statue of Liberty was a joint effort between France and the United States intended to commemorate the friendship between the peoples of the two nations. The French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi created the statue itself out of sheets of hammered copper, while Eiffel designed the statue’s steel framework. It was dedicated in 1886 and remains one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks.
In contrast, the towering “La Ramona” chimney in El Triunfo is little known outside of Southern Baja. Continue reading “The Eiffel Chimney & Mining Museum of El Triunfo”
Part 1 — Early Visitors to La Ventana Bay
Time: 10,000 years BCE. Location: The bluffs above the shores of present day La Ventana and El Sargento. Sea Level: 300 feet lower than the present. At dawn’s first light, the men followed a well-worn path east through grasslands to fish and gather sea food from the shore. They arrived at sunrise, and two youths floated rafts a short distance to the island to hunt for seals and turtles. The women finished gathering the last of the acorns from the live oak woodland where they had camped for the past moon. While they crushed them between metate and mano, they discussed moving camp to the base of the mountains where pitahaya were ready to harvest.
A young girl approached the small band’s oldest and most respected member, and asked her a question: where did our people come from? The elderly woman repeated the story she had learned from her mother: Many winters ago to the west, just before dawn on the shortest day of the season, Niparaja descended from the sky on the three stepping stars that mark the hunter’s waist. He stood on Cerro Del Puerto, our sacred mountain, and created all that we need to survive. Pericú is the name he gave us. It means The People. [Niparaja = Pericu deity, Cerro Del Puerto = highest peak west of La Ventana (4134 ft.)]
Location: Pericú gathering place a day’s journey north of Punta Gorda. The Pericú women gathering seeds on a knoll above the shore stared in disbelief. A gigantic raft had just drifted into the bay. It made the balsas their men propelled with double-bladed paletas look like twigs floating in a tide pool. One woman sounded the alarm. [ balsas = rafts made by binding reeds or light tree trunks together, paletas = paddles ]
Fortún Ximénez, and his fellow mutineers dropped ancla and went a tierra in the mythical land of California, first imagined in a popular 16th century novel. They were the first Europeans to set foot on the Baja California peninsula. Some would be the first to die there. [ancla = anchor, a tierra = ashore]
The Spaniards came ashore to find water. When they saw the women, they knew they would find una fuente nearby. The sailors whistled and joked as they approached the group who watched the extraños with apprehension. [ fuente = source, extraños = strangers ]
This will be más fácil than slitting Becerra’s throat and commandeering the ship, Fortún thought to himself. Cortés had sent Becerra to look for an expedition that had vanished without a trace. Fortún was an exceptional pilot, but he didn’t like taking orders. He preferred looking for the island of pearls described in the popular novel. For many Spaniards in 1533, that was evidencia enough that it existed. [ más fácil = easier, evidencia = evidence ]
The Pericú men appeared without warning. What they saw angered them. Arrows were already nocked in their bowstrings. But it was the strings of pearls around their necks that distracted the sailors. They missed the signal the Pericú leader gave to kill the crude intruders. Before Fortún could react, una flecha pierced his heart, and twenty of the crew would soon be muerto. The survivors escaped to the ship. They sailed home with tales of pearls that spawned new expeditions, some that would never be heard from again. [ flecha = arrow, muerto = dead ]