Glacier Point in Yosemite, 1894. (Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The daredevils who posed at Yosemite’s cliff edges in days of yore

This month, a selfie video showing a man dangling his legs from an overhang at Yosemite’s Half Dome made the rounds on social media, with many viewers aghast at the apparent risk involved.

The danger is real.

According to Michael Ghiglieri, co-author of “Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite,” of about 1,200 deaths at Yosemite National Park since 1890, more than 300 were attributed to falls, whether intentionally or by accident. Since the popularization of smart phones, there’s been a troubling a series of news stories involving the pursuit of dramatic selfies, a stumble, and a mortal plunge.

“It is 3,000 feet to the bottom and no undertaker to meet you. Take no chances. There is a difference between bravery and just plain ordinary foolishness.”


But imprudent photo ops at Yosemite’s soaring cliffs is nothing new. Not long after photography was introduced to the valley, the photographer George Fiske, who moved to Yosemite in 1879, began taking pictures of travelers and notable people at the edge of Glacier Point, a perch more than half a vertical mile above the valley floor. Imitators followed, and some of the pictures ended up in postcards, including a group packed into a Studebaker roadster that had been hauled onto the ledge. Posted warnings, such as the admonishment quoted above, curbed the practice but never ended it entirely.

Below, see a selection of archival photos by Fiske and others.

Kitty Tatch, a waitress at the valley’s Sentinel Hotel, and her friend Katherine Hazelston, circa 1890s. (George Fiske/California Historical Society)
A group of daredevils with a Studebaker roadster, circa 1916. (Arthur C. Pillsbury/California State Library)
A woman appeared in a 1902 Postcard. (Underwood & Underwood/California State Library)
Galen Clark, the first “Guardian of Yosemite,” circa 1900. (George Fiske/California Historical Society)
A man with no fear between 1904 and 1918. (California State Library)
“Winky,” circa 1918-1930. (California State Library)

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