Yosemite Firefall

A History and A Memory

The Stentor

David and Jennie Curry moved to Yosemite Valley in 1899 and established a family campground at the base of Glacier Point, called Camp Curry. The camp opened for business on June 1, 1899 and provided accommodations in as many as seven canvas tents, beneath the towering cliff, at a nightly rate of $2. Many, including Yosemite pioneer Galen Clark, predicted that the enterprise wouldn't succeed, since the site was so cold and isolated. Most visitors still preferred the more comfortable accommodations that could be had at the Sentinel Hotel for $4 a night. That summer 4,500 people visited Yosemite Valley and only 290 of them stayed at Camp Curry.

But David Curry had a few ideas to make his camp more attractive to visitors, and one of them was the reintroduction of the Firefall. The attraction was seen only rarely after McCauley's departure from Glacier Point, but Curry intended to make it a nightly tradition. He saw a clear commercial potential in the Firefall, reasoning that crowds would gather each night for the event, and end up patronizing his dining and camping concessions. And it certainly worked! One of the great advantages of staying at Camp Curry, was the very fact that it was isolated in its corner of the valley. Many campers preferred the seclusion of the camp, but most importantly, from the camp one had a perfect view of the Firefall each night.

David CurryDavid Curry was well known for his booming voice. He would greet visitors to his camp with a resounding "WELCOME!" which could be heard from a great distance, and would similarly see his guests off by yelling "FAREWELL!" as their wagons pulled away from the main gate. Curry's nickname was "The Stentor", a reference to his loud voice, as illustrated by this little bit he would recite each night at the campfire program as an introduction to the Firefall:

"The original Stentor was a captain in the Greek army in the days of Homer and the Iliad. It was said of him that he could command 10,000 troops by the use of a megaphone. But the modern Stentor lives at Camp Curry in Yosemite Valley, and his voice is heard at Glacier Point, eleven miles distant by the long trail."
He would then throw his head back, cup his mouth with his hands, and shout to the fire tender on Glacier Point, "Is the fire ready?" The faint answer could then be heard, "The fire is ready!" followed by Curry's roaring command "Let 'er go Gallagher!" And the glowing embers would begin their plunge off the edge of the cliff to their resting place on a ledge 1,700 feet below. Presumably Gallagher was the regular fire tender at that time. The call was changed to "Let the Fire Fall!" in later years.

The Firefall was cancelled for a 4 year period between 1913 and 1916 due to a disagreement between David Curry and the Assistant Secretary of the Interior at the time, Adolph C. Miller. Curry had been attempting to convince the Department to sign off on his plans for expanding Camp Curry. But his plans ran counter to the Department of Interior's wishes to halt further expansion in the valley, and to take a more active role in supervising the National Parks. It was not uncommon for Curry to openly complain about the Department and Secretary of the Interior during his nightly campfire programs, and this got back to Miller. The Secretary reportedly took away the Firefall as a way of retaliating against Curry for his belligerence, saying:

"We are not going to do anything for you. I'm not going to give you anything you ask for. Furthermore, I'm going to take something away from you... I'm going to take the Firefall away. There will be no Firefall."
The Firefall was reinstituted in the summer of 1917, however David Curry never got a chance to see the spectacle again, as he died of blood poisoning in April of that year.

Next:   The Curry Legacy