University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame

America - Europe

A Transatlantic Diary 1961 - 1989

Klaus Lanzinger

Pasadena, August 2, 1961

Covered Wagons on the Overland Trail

It is quite possible to converse here with people who not only remember the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, but who can also relate the experience of their parents’ birth on a covered wagon on the overland trail. California has both: on the one hand an older civilization represented by her Missions, and on the other, a still vividly new frontier.

Because of the lower cost of freight and transportation of household goods and livestock, covered wagons crossed the plains even after the first railroads had been built.

The axles of the Conestoga wagon [named after Conestoga, Pennsylvania, where it was built] were extremely stout so that they could withstand rough roads. The Conestoga could haul virtually everything a household needed: the kitchen with its iron stove, beds and furniture, food supply, and useful tools. It made a long migratory existence possible. The largest display of Conestoga wagons and prairie schooners can be seen at Knott’s Berry Farm Ghost Town, south of Los Angeles.

Pasadena, August 5, 1961

Fundamentalism and a Marriage Chapel

Within an hour’s drive from Hollywood one can find a fundamentalist religious community that forbids the sale of alcoholic beverages and cigarettes.

The Marriage Chapel is an institution that takes care of everything: the ceremony of any religious affiliation, the meal and the entertainment.

Pasadena, August 10, 1961

The World Convention for the Space Age

The World Convention for the Space Age, Astrophysics and Astronomy, which is taking place here at this time, clearly illustrates the current actuality of questions about outer space. One has the feeling as if a trip to the moon was just around the corner.

[The World Convention for the Space Age took place at that time at the California Institute of Technology which lies across from the Huntington Library in Pasadena. The Convention was organized and carried out by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The JPL, founded in 1936, and since 1958 has been administered by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). From here, probes launched into space that may be on their way for years are controlled, course corrections carried out, and pictures sent back to earth from other planets processed. These pictures are then telecast on TV around the world.]

Pasadena, August 10, 1961

Striking Contrasts

It is still possible in this area for someone to “squat” on a tract of land for a period of time and then obtain a legal title to that land.

[The contrast between the highly developed space technology of the JPL and the customs of the frontier that one finds next to it is indeed striking.]


[To “squat” means in colloquial speech to crouch or settle down. A squatter is someone who settles down on a piece of free government land and later buys the lot. This widespread custom of the frontier goes mainly back to the Pre-emption Act of 1841 whereby settlers could stake out 160 acres of government land and later legally acquire it at a minimum price.]

Pasadena, August 11, 1961

[At the Huntington Library I got acquainted with Professor John A. Hawgood of the University of Birmingham. Hawgood was the leading British historian on the American West. He was working at that time on the book, The American West (London, 1967). As he was just examining the German correspondence of John August Sutter with his family in Switzerland, I was able to help out in explaining various expressions. On my part, I gained a great deal from Hawgood’s profound knowledge of California history. The acquaintance resulted in a fruitful collaboration that lasted until John Hawgood passed away in 1971.]

John August Sutter (1803-1880)

In 1841 the Mexican Governor of California Juan Bautista Alvarado granted Sutter over 48,000 acres of land in the Sacramento Valley. Sutter’s Fort provided a form of protected civilized life on the frontier. It was for the most part an adobe construction, i.e. mud and straw bricks dried in the sun, which were much used as building material in California. Sutter was very prudent in his treatment of the Indians. He dreamed of New Helvetia, a new empire he hoped to develop in Northern California.

[Sutter’s dream of New Helvetia was shattered when in 1848 gold was found on the American River. His land was simply overrun by thousands of gold diggers and squatters.]

Pasadena, August 14, 1961

The Berlin Wall

[As the Berlin Wall went up on August 13, 1961, the Berlin crisis dramatically came to a head. The fear which had always been present that the Third World War could break out suddenly surfaced again.]

I seriously considered flying home because of the Berlin crisis.

[With a railroad and a ship line ticket in my pocket, Innsbruck appeared to be intolerably far away.]

Pasadena, August 15, 1961

The Helplessness of Europe

The past week has again shown how helpless Europe is in confronting its own problems. Europe urgently needs a reorganization overcoming the nation states. There are no national solutions for Europe - German, French or British - , which would be meaningful and effective. Only if these strongest national forces work together instead against each other, the unity of Europe will make itself noticeably felt.

Pasadena, August 21, 1961

A Hot-bed of Sects and Cults

Southern California or the Southland, the area of Los Angeles with its host of surrounding townships, is a hot-bed of sects and cults, culturally immature and insecure of itself, a garden land and playground, turbulent with excessive extravagances. It is a place groping for a future that is still not clearly visible.

Pasadena, August 27, 1961

The Journey Home

On my journey home, I am crossing once again the full length of the so-called Free West, from its most-western to its most-eastern point.

[The journey home by railroad first led from Los Angeles to San Francisco, from there to Chicago and back to Philadelphia where part of my luggage was in storage.]

San Francisco, August 29, 1961

San Francisco is not large but it has the tempo and glamour of a world metropolis. When one sees San Francisco, one should be reminded that 120 years ago there were only four houses standing in the entire Bay.

Union Square in San Francisco is one of the most elegant metropolitan centers I have seen so far.

Berkeley, August 29, 1961

The Golden Gate Bridge is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful sights in the world.

Sacramento, August 29, 1961

[The Union Pacific Express left in the afternoon from Oakland and made its way through Sacramento up to the Donner Pass.]

The Sacramento River is reminiscent of John Sutter and the pioneer beginnings of Upper California.

Cheyenne, Wyoming, August 31, 1961

[During the night of August 29 to 30 the Union Pacific Express had crossed Nevada. Already at daybreak the desolate flats of the Great Salt Lake came up. After 24 hours the train reached Cheyenne. That was halfway to Chicago and also the right time for a stop to get some sleep.]

The Museum in the State Office Building here contains one of the most remarkable collections of Indian artifacts, especially good specimens of colorful beadwork and ceremonial decorations.

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