You don’t have to go far in Yellowstone National Park to find a romantic spot that would be the perfect setting for an epic love story. From sweeping overlooks to hot springs and waterfalls to historic hotels and cabins, the park is full of beautiful places that would inspire passion in even the coldest heart.
So it should come as no surprise that Yellowstone has been a popular place not only for marriage proposals and weddings, but also for many fictional romance tales, ranging from a contemporary series of popular stories to a florid yarn published more than a century ago.
In fact, there have been at least three or four series of Yellowstone romance novels published over the years, along with many standalone stories, said Jessica Gerdes, a librarian at the Yellowstone Research Library.
One of the earliest—though not the first—was William Popham’s 1911 book, “Yellowstone Park Romance,” which the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center is serializing online this week as Valentine’s Day approaches.
The relatively rare volume is out of print, and is not found in many collections, Gerdes said. A copy was donated to the Center in July, and librarians were dazzled by Popham’s grandiloquent writing style.
“It’s a unique item, and such a flowery book full of purple prose, we thought it would be a great one to share around Valentine’s,” said Gerdes, who is posting new chapters each day through Saturday on the Center’s blog.
Popham tells the story of Kendric RuDell, a “gentleman hobo” making his way through Yellowstone, funded through the kindness of his fellow tourists. RuDell courts the well-to-do and comely young Clara Denhart, who shares her impressions of her suitor and the park through letters home to a friend.
The story’s early sections move at a pace that might leave modern readers feeling stuck in low gear, with great suspense building over whether RuDell will get to kiss Denhart’s hand. (Spoiler alert: He does, prompting her to warn, “I cannot grant you this liberty again.”)
Popham’s novel also offers a fictional but historically accurate look at how wealthy visitors toured the park before the advent of the automobile. It serves as an intriguing travelogue showing the luxurious pace of a trip that lasted several days, complete with descriptions of surging geysers and wandering elk.
Gerdes said it was not clear whether Popham had actually visited Yellowstone, because much of his story could have been based on accounts from popular guide books. He describes boiling a fish at Fishing Cone, for instance, and feeding black bears by hand, common practices at the time.
“Yellowstone Park Romance” was one of a series of love stories by Popham set in exotic places like the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and even the Washington Monument, Gerdes said.
Reaction to the serialized love story has been good, Gerdes said, with followers on social media posting positive comments about the chance to read a Yellowstone romance just before Valentine’s Day.
But romance aside, Popham’s book also gives modern visitors accustomed to seeing Yellowstone through windshields and smartphones a chance to experience the park as part of a different era—a time when hashtags and text messages were not enough to capture the romance and splendor found on the trip of a lifetime.
“Its indefinable beauty and grandeur will ever live in the tourist’s memory,” Popham writes of Yellowstone. “For here are poems untold, pictures uncopied, and all the colors of the sea and the heavens spread out beyond the eye’s power of comprehension.”
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].