2. Factual Biography
The Real Stephen Tyng Mather
Was Stephen Mather an ethical businessman? No.
Mather remained as an employee of Pacific Coast Borax while covertly acting as President of the company started by his friend, Thorkildsen-Mather Borax Company, later the Sterling Borax Company. The two men made the equivalent of $500,000,000 through this underhanded enterprise. According to an article, "'Borax King' Cleaned Up, but Died Washed Up," published in the Los Angeles Times, March 12,2000, written by Cecilia Rasmussen, Thorkildsen engaged in criminal business practices, from which Mather, as his partner, immediately profited. Below is a quote from the article.
"But before he (Thorkildsen) could set up his company mining town, another businessman staked out several claims along the vein and then proposed a partnership. Incensed, Thorkildsen drew a pistol, forced his prospective competitor to pull his stakes out of the ground and warned him never to return."
Thomas Thorkildsen, who remained an associate and close friend of Mather after they sold to Smith in 1911, lived a life so profligate he managed to die impoverished. The article goes on to outline this in some detail on the second and third pages. Both men profited from behavior which violates the law and acceptable business practices.
Was Mather's behavior ethical while he was Director of the National Park Service? No.
Mather demonstrates immediately upon being named as head of the National Parks his ethics had not changed. In 1915, he granted J.Desmond an exclusive monopoly for accommodations in Yosemite. By so doing, he would be stripping the present concessionaires of their hard earned interest in their self-funded ventures, but this was not an issue for Mather. This was a time when the possession of wealth was recommendation enough. How it was earned was not at issue.
The subject of Mather's dislike was David Curry, who with his wife, Mary, started Camp Curry in 1899. The Currys had been forced to struggle with the fact they could not put capital into their business because they were issued only annual licenses for operation, as was true of all of the concessionaires. But this was precisely the justification Mather presented to justify taking over the Curry business and turning it over to Desmond.
The arrogant attitude of Mather and Albright is was still alive when Albright wrote "The Missing Years," In Chapter 13, Troubling Times, 1916," he included this at the beginning of the chapter, "His old enemy David Curry had slammed his foot in the door of a car and, because of diabetes, had contracted gangrene and died in April 1916. He had a bad apple of a son, and soon Mather and Foster Curry were locking horns. The whole mess was simply too much for Mather, so he tossed the Curry problem to me."
It is nauseating to any decent person to imagine the callousness which underlies Albright's view of what was going forward. David Curry had built a business, risked the loss of his investment, and enriched the Park though the hefty fees he paid annually. Faced with the loss, he asked Arthur C. Pillsbury to make him a film of Yosemite which would show the world its wonders and build understanding of what he, with the other concessionaires, was facing. The film is now up on line and you can view it HERE. Scroll down the page to the link.
David Curry was working, speaking, writing continuously to save his family's business. Mather and Albright, vested with the power according them, without accountability, vilified him for attempting to save what he had justly earned. When he died they were glad. The only sympathy Albright expresses is for the stress caused to Mather when his attempts to silence Curry failed.
David Curry's struggle was heroic. His death was tragic and directly caused by both Mather and Albright, who, with the rest of their crimes, were protected by their positions as members of an elite, anointed as such by the partnership of government and corporate power.
As you read, Albright enumerates the connections with other elites which put them into an unassailable position.
At this point, Mather was invested in Desmond Park Service Company. He had persuaded a number of his friends to do the same in the belief they could steal the sweat and labor and good will built by the Currys. Mather admitted his self-dealing to Horace Albright at the time. Albright admits this Albright, an attorney, covered for him, only reporting on behavior he knew to be criminal at the end of his own life. The admission was published by Albright in, "Creating the National Park Service - The Missing Years," published in 1999, 12 years after his death. He had his reasons for wanting the delay.
Abusing the power entrusted to him as Director, Mather undertakes to rid Yosemite of any competition for Desmond by destroying existing businesses. This includes the popular and thriving enterprise of Camp Curry. Mather expresses open dislike for Curry, expressing glee when he dies in 1916.
These facts are finally brought to light with the publication of "Creating the National Park Service, The Missing Years," after Albright had retired. To understand the enormity of the impact on the lives of Americans and the impact of the elite only now recognized, you should read the entire book.
What you will see is that the National Park Service was sold to the American people on the wish of Stephen Mather, whose behavior was calloused and criminal. Although other events during this period have continued America's divergence with the founding values of individual rights, respect for hard-work, innovation, and dealing justly with others, this is the pivot point because Americans still believe the National Parks are the One Good Thing, and they are wrong.
In Chapter 14, COLLAPSE, Albright writes, "For the first time, Mather told me in some detail about his financial involvement with the Desmond Company and the serious trouble it was in, especially since Desmond himself had disassociated himself from it. He confessed that he, along with a few others, was committed to bailing the company out. Of course, I had long known that the whole matter had been kept under wraps, but he seemed unaware that there were possible illegal elements involved.
Apparently innocent of the law, the participants had gone along with their plans and agreements until circumstances had forced them into a box.
Alarmed and apprehensive, I asked if he would fill me in on details. After all, I was an attorney and had spent some time investigating the legal angles of their problem. I honored this man, and in his present condition I was fearful that he could bring disgrace on himself, his partners, and the new National Park Service. The more I turned it over in my mind, the more worried I became, and the more questions I asked.
He suddenly clammed up. He instructed me to forget our meeting and everything that we had talked about. Instead, my concern for him made me press for details, offering any help I could give him. He became very nervous, his voice rising. Suddenly he refused to discuss the matter any further, and he switched to the question of who would run the new service."
"I was fearful that he (Mather) could bring disgrace on himself, his partners, and the new National Park Service."
Did Albright take any action to determine at this point if Mather had acted with knowledge he was breaking the law? No.
Did Albright know about further acts on the part of Mather which were criminal? Yes.
Albright knew what Mather had done was illegal. Albright cooperates in concealing these crimes from Franklin K. Lane, Secretary of the Interior. Albright reports on his own reaction to Mather's admission in, "Creating the National Park System - The Missing Years." These focus only on the incidents taking place after Mather presents himself as a successful businessman with patrician roots, implying wealth, respectably created, of long standing.
Albright was a licensed attorney and knew Mather was engaged in criminal behavior while acting under the color of law and on the authority of the United States government. To say ignorance of the law was no excuse badly understates the issue.
Albright states in his book, "Creating the National Park Service - The Missing Years," he colluded in this cover up, citing his loyalty to an agency instead of to the American People. Clearly, Albright feared public exposure. He showed no concern for his obligations as an public employee.
Did Albright benefit from his concealment? Yes.
Because he was at attorney and had suspected before Mather confessed the transgressions to him Albright stood in danger of losing his license to practice law, criminal charges, the automatic loss of his reputation, prestige, the attractions of a life style which promised a fast track to power and influence.
Although he finally revealed these acts he waited until 1999, twelve years after his death, to do so. The burden was passed on to his daughter, Marian Albright Schenck.
Albright violated every tenet for responsible behavior on the part of a public official.
Albright's justifications for his behavior:
Loyalty to the National Park Service.
Legally, and in every other way possible, Albright's loyalty should have been to the Constitution, the law and to the American people.
Friendship and respect for Stephen Mather.
Friendship is irrelevant when we are confronted with wrong doing on the part of those who are breaking the law and violating the rights of others for any reason. This is equally true for family members who conceal known murderers and for Horace Albright, as an attorney can be allowed no latitude on this point.
Concern for Conservation.
The uses to which Parks were being put should have been far more extensively debated. This, Mather evaded with the PR campaign put on by Robert Sterling Yard. The debate on Preservationism and Conservationism was relevant then and remains so today. Using this argument only underscores the intentional nature of Albright's cover-ups.
The form for regulation and control delivered enormous power to an infrastructure loyal first to their own management. It placed employees in positions of control over ordinary Americans. The proliferation of NPS operations undercut the initiative and better claim of local people to hold historic sites and lands in Trust and do so as a community of interest, keeping revenue and commerce local as well.
Taking Yosemite as an example, it is a fact that the National Park Service, and government, take money out of Yosemite each year. The money raised to maintain it comes from organizations such as the Yosemite Conservancy, who carry out fundraising and do the work privately.
The Campaign for the National Park Service was predicated on the idea government was better able to manage Americans that they could do for themselves. Yet in every instance government has failed while in multiple instances private people, charities and corporations, have solved problems without confiscating our wealth and resources to do so. It was wrong then and it is wrong today. As with the Weinstein issue it is time to remember and learn from a past which continues to haunt us.
Mather recovered enough in 1919 to resume his position so he could go on to engage in further abuses which continued to build a system based on using public lands for the purposes of a few under the covering rhetoric of 'recreation.' The cover-up of his mental instability is yet another issue for which Albright is accountable.
Arthur C. Pillsbury
When my father asked me to solve the problem he faced of his father's disappearance from history, I honestly thought he was exaggerating. Surely, I thought, he was overstating the case. The reality came to me slowly as I saw Grandfather's name taken off photos, others credited with his inventions, his presence in Yosemite, erased, and his passion and work for human understanding of the environment ignored. As I continued my research it came to me that Grandfather exemplified the attitudes I most respected.
Mather insisted Grandfather close his other businesses to have a long term concession in Yosemite. Among all of the Concessionaires, Grandfather had multiple outlets outside of Yosemite. He sold his home, liquidated his savings and offered members of the family the chance to invest in the Studio he would build in the New Village in 1924.
Why did Mather insist Pillsbury be entirely dependent on an income from his Yosemite Studio? So Mather would have leverage. If Pillsbury became a problem he could destroy him financially. He had recognized Pillsbury as a potential threat although he desperately needed the publicity he provided through his lectures and films, then reaching across the country.
Mather was right. By 1926 he realized leverage would not be enough.
Grandfather wanted something very different from the Parks. He wanted them to become centers for understanding the natural world through all mediums, each of them empowered through the technologies provided by the multiple applications of photography. A scientist himself, he understood you need to see the reality and not be forced to speculate. Being able to see opens us to caring and respect as well. The inventions of Arthur C. Pillsbury could have made him wealthy but it was not wealth he wanted, it was the awakening of the human spirit to the best within each of us.
Mather wanted to augment his power and build himself an empire through the use of government for his own ends.
It is likely Mather did not realize the threat presented by Pillsbury until around 1925 when he build the first microscopic motion picture camera and showed the resulting film of cells dividing to scientists and academics at his alma mater, UC Berkeley. Certainly, after he was asked by Secretary of the Interior Herbert Work, to ask Pillsbury to give his lecture and show his films to President Calvin Coolidge, he realized Pillsbury was building his own base of support and respect. During the summer of 1926 Mather persuaded professors in several fields from Berkeley to lecture at Yosemite while forbidding Pillsbury to let the public know where the "Wildflower Man of Yosemite," could be heard.
It did not work. Mather's professors spoke to empty rooms. The public found what they wanted. Mather was enraged and found a way to end what he recognized as a threat. He found someone to set a fire to the negative repository in the Pillsbury Studio in November of 1927. The man he hired had learned photography from Pillsbury, taking his workshops in exchange for labor. He had been Pillsbury's dogsbody after my father went off to college at Stanford, accompanying Grandfather as he photographed Yosemite. At the time, he was still working at the Studio as the janitor.
His name was Ansel Adams. Adams also had missing years but he did not leave a book behind to correct the record as did Albright.
What Should Happen Now:
Because of the continued cover-up and the nature of the crimes, the entire matter from then to now should be examined in detail.
Multiple individuals in positions of public trust have cooperated with this ongoing fraud. These are crimes for which both men should have answered and since this has continued others must still answer. Read this article in the New York Times, titled, "The Moral Voice of Corporate America," by David Gelles. See Time Line. Sources are at the bottom of the Time Line Page. The entire book, Creating the National Park Service - The Missing Years, by Horace Albright, can be read HERE.