Always a fan of the marvelous: The hidden history of Anna Adolph
Who was the woman who wrote the utopian novel Arqtiq?
This article is a continuation of my survey of 19th century utopian novels by women, but can be read on its own.
Arqtiq (1899), credited to “Mrs. Anna Adolph”, concerns a narrator, also named Anna, who builds an airship to fly her family and friends to the North Pole. They discover that the earth is hollow and glows with the light of a holy aurora, then encounter a race of friendly telepathic giants known as the Arc, go scuba-diving with mermaids, and interrogate a wizard about God. The climactic scene is a long hallucinatory flight through the earth’s core to meet tiny moon people, a reanimated Abraham Lincoln, and an omnipotent deity of both genders.
Many early utopian novels are pretty out-there, but it’s the writing rather than the plot that makes Arqtiq so singularly odd. The style is almost modernist—staccato, ungrammatical, weirdly punctuated, but with a hypnotic rhythm that lends the whole work a kind of dreamlike intelligibility:
I wander around by myself to soon get lost in the tangle of halls, which labyrinth every way. Just here are niches in the walls with statues of people and animals like life. Here is a family group. The host is deep in Arc news ball (writing rolled up) his wife is crossing the floor toward the grandma, asleep in her arm chair, a kitten rolled up beside it.
Adolph’s dialog is especially striking in that she often dispenses with verbs but retains adverbs and reactions. The efficiency of it kind of grew on me:
“You will be the Mascot, Mae Searles. But I do not think you will go very far,” dubiously.
“You will change your mind, mamma, when I bring you home a little bear,” makes us laugh.
The self-published final product is so filled with typos and sentence fragments that it’s hard to distinguish stylistic affectation from printing error. Quite a few people who’ve read it have wondered whether the author was a native speaker. At times it reads like the output of a neural net—it resembles the contours of human prose, but is thoroughly alien.
Who was Anna?
I began to wonder why this obscure self-published novel is known, and what kind of person would compose it. Scholars typically mention Arqtiq only in passing, as just one of many kooky hollow earth books notable mostly for being written by a woman. Not a single one gave any biographical detail about Mrs. Anna Adolph at all.
I did not know her age, her full name, where she lived, when she died, or even if her name was just a pseudonym. So I started digging—through my local library, Google Books, the Internet Archive, newspaper archives, census records, eBay, the Library of Congress, and gravesite archives. I would come upon a lead—a variant spelling! a new address! — and start all over again, one search cascading into dozens or hundreds.
What started out as a casual way to pad out a Medium post on some interesting old books turned into weeks of obsessive genealogical research. As far as I know, this is the only history of this author to have been written.
Mrs. Anna Adolph was born Ann Elizabeth Eddy in Wayne County, New York, not far from Rochester, in 1841. The Eddys were old New England Pilgrims, having arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts (though not on the Mayflower) from Cornwall in 1620.
Anna lived at home with her parents and two brothers into her early teens, when the California Gold Rush began in earnest. Her father Alden departed first, traveling from New York City via a new postal route through Panama, then up through the Pacific on the steamship S.S. Oregon in the summer of 1850.
Alden and his two sons worked at French Corral, a mining town outside of Sacramento. The Eddys oversaw the operation of massive high-pressure water hoses to blast apart gold-rich cliffs, a process so environmentally devastating it was banned in 1884.
In his census form, Alden Eddy listed his occupation as “California miner,” but that was disingenuous. Eddy and his brother, William Matson Eddy, were part owners of the Nevada Water Company, a New York corporation with a number of California shareholders who lived in and around the mining towns. The local shareholders exhibited freewheeling pioneer spirit by using the corporation as a kind of private piggy bank. Alden Eddy personally took $20,000 of company money (over $660K today) to buy his own mining claims and pocket their earnings; shareholders in New York saw only 5% of the company profits return to them. A flurry of lawsuits ensued but the conspirators largely got away with it. Alden Eddy sold his company shares to his brother; William was by then established in San Francisco as the first city surveyor.
Anna’s uncle William was not known for his attention to detail. He produced the first official map of San Francisco and a semi-official map of California prior to its statehood; both were riddled with errors (the California map depicts the Colorado River running in the wrong cardinal direction). In his capacity as city surveyor, he was responsible for assigning names to the rapidly expanding metropolis and sold naming rights to local businessmen (not even to the highest bidder—lunch seemed to suffice). He did very little actual surveying, his subordinates more apt to find him drunk in his office. He died, at age 34, from complications due to alcoholism. There is an Eddy Street in San Francisco that runs from Market into the Tenderloin, but it was not named in memoriam; William named it after himself.
Meanwhile, Alden and his sons settled in nearby Nevada City, CA, a town that “swarmed with horse and gold thieves, traders and speculators, gamblers and rascals.” By the 1870s the era of easy mining had ended, and Alden used his mining earnings to purchase the National Exchange Hotel in 1874, turning it over to his elder son Stanley to operate.
Back in New York, Anna’s mother had died. With the family otherwise fully established in California, it made sense for the 34-year-old Anna to join them. Accompanied by her father, Anna arrived in San Francisco via railroad on October 18, 1875.
We now become aware that a train is approaching on the single track that is hanging over the grade on the canyon side. We have no choice but to unfurl our wings and rise in the air, as the engineer wildly blows his whistle. Brushing the pine tree tops, we cross over the peak and seek the track on the other side of it, selecting an opening in a thicket for that purpose.
Finding it occupied by miners digging away, we hallo, when they look every way but up, as we land in their midst as though dropped from the sky. Their consternation is depicted in set jaws, as we give military salute and roll off.
Raising me on his hand, [the giant] asks my name.
Charley, quite diverted, gives it, “Anna.”
Charles Adolph was born in 1844 in Wittenberg, Germany and emigrated to New York in the 1850s. In 1863 he enlisted in a voluntary Civil War unit and was discharged at the end of the war two years later. By 1879 he was in California, working at the Rough and Ready mining camp and living in a house with other European immigrants.
He was 30 when he married 40-year old Anna Eddy in 1881. They lived together in the tony neighborhood of Aristocracy Hill, renting one of the largest homes in town, which they shared with a young boarder named John Hussey.
I don’t know when Anna wrote her novel, but I like to believe it was inspired by the winter of 1890. Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Nevada City is prone to harsh winter weather, and that year the town was entirely snowed in for weeks, with travel possible only by snowshoe or sled and accumulation up to 15 feet.
The summer of that year was no better for the Adolphs. Nevada City, barely more than a collection of wooden shacks, was plagued by fire—her family’s hotel was brick and therefore one of the few buildings to withstand successive outbreaks. In June 1890, Anna and Charles’s house burned down, a total loss for the furnishings, the entire household “barely escaping with their lives.” Hussey, their housemate, recovered well enough to marry a local socialite, decamp for Harvard, and enjoy an apparently lucrative career in producing patented canned, desiccated eggs.
In bounds Saucy — that is what we nickname Mae. “Where is my dress?”
“Here.” She is soon in it, her flowing hair making her a canary. Bowing to me in mockery, she says: “We belong here now. Where is Charley,” looking around.
“Gone out,” I reply.
“I am going to catch him.”
“So am I.” She calls him Charley, because I do, and that he is not her uncle; nor am I her aunt, which she uses in lieu of Anna.
Mae Searles, the young girl who accompanies Anna’s family to the North Pole, would appear to be based on May Livinia Searls, born 1893, granddaughter of Judge Niles Searls, the first owner of the Aristocracy Hill house. “Saucy” May Searls graduated from high school in Berkeley with honors and published her grandfather’s diary, an account of early gold rush settlers (good reading for fans of cholera).
Niles Searls was cousin to Addison Niles and married Addison Niles’s sister Mary Niles, also his cousin. Niles Searls had a first son, Niles Searls Jr. (May’s father); a second son, Addison Niles Searls, who died at age one; and a third son, Fred Searls. There is also a Fred Searls Jr., a Fred Searls III, a Fred Searls IV, who is still alive, and a Searls Historical Library, which sent me the copy of Anna’s marriage license.
Fred’s son, Fred Jr., became an international mining magnate, expanding from gold into uranium, and in 1946 submitted testimony to the United Nations Atomic Commission on the urgency of dominating the nuclear arms race ahead of the Soviet Union. He personally witnessed the atomic tests on Bikini Atoll.
Arqtiq was published in 1899, “for the author,” by Carruth & Carruth, an Oakland-based printer (their motto: “Printing is Wherein We Excel”). Carruth produced local directories and recipe collections but also some longer works, including an anti-Catholic tract and the finely illustrated 1902 book, The False and the True: A Psychic Phantasmagoria of the Resurrection in Epic Verse.
Somehow Arqtiq made its way to the desk of the Sunday edition of the San Francisco Chronicle on January 27, 1901:
As Arqtiq was self-published, I can only imagine that it was Anna who mailed a copy to the Chronicle, pronunciation guide enclosed. The review isn’t wrong, but it is cruel; if she submitted the novel herself she probably read the response, and that makes me sad.
Anna’s father died in her home in November 1899, the year the book was published. She and Charles moved to join her brother Stanley in Hanford, California, deep in rural San Joachim Valley. Hanford had only recently been incorporated and was still reeling from a bloody if largely forgotten dispute between railroad agents and homesteaders.
Stanley raced horses and owned a large ranch east of the city — now the site of another Eddy Street. His son William became a local police officer (newspaper accounts record the time he was bitten on the nose). The Adolphs’ addresses in the 1900 and 1910 censuses no longer exist and are now empty farmland, occupied only by a walnut dehydration facility.
Arqtiq suggests some unconventional ideas, but it is clearly presented as fiction. When the narrator awakens at the end, the entire story having been a dream, she is teased by Charley: “will he never stop laughing?”
Fifteen years after the book was published, Anna, then in her mid-sixties, began to write strange letters to the San Francisco Call. Her 1905 “solution” to the mystery of sun spots suggests that Arqtiq was not so much fiction as “ha ha only serious”:
The earth is hollow, and a mild light spreads throughout the interior. Accumulations of winter ice are at the north pole, at which is an opening to the earth’s center, a necessary opening for keeping the light inside. These immense overflows of snow or ice fall down into or above said light. They melt and ascend in vapor, which being illumined below by the light gives us the aurora borealis.
She also wrote on the topics of women’s suffrage (for, I guess?) and on issuing more licenses for saloons (against, I think?). Like her novel, the letters are superficially erudite but hard to follow, as if a normal paragraph was shaken very hard and not all its words landed in exactly the right order.
There is no evidence that Anna and Charles had any children, which might be expected given the age at which she married. But I can only see into their lives at intervals, on the regular ten-year census, or the occasional newspaper clipping. I don’t know what happened in most of those gaps. I do know the novel, though, and it’s become more resonant — less weird and laughable — as I’ve delved into her life:
A child is playing on the floor. I touch its soft hair. It is cold. An idea enters my mind. Have not all these been once alive, and now ice embalmed? I intrude no farther. None look up to ask me to stay. A charm comes over me driving all uncanny sense away. How pleasant to have our dead welcome among us, as though not lost.
I remember too that Anna’s mother died fairly young, and that Anna moved across a continent to a remote and dangerous area with no other women to support her:
My father is brushing by my arm. I say: “Oh, what do you think, I saw my little children who are dead, in dear mother’s care. They have been growing by my side. I knew them plainly and realize I have oft consciously caressed them.”
Anna Elizabeth Eddy Adolph passed away at the age of 76. She is buried in Hanford Cemetery with Charles. He outlived her, being 10 years her junior, but died at the same age in a veteran’s hospital in Los Angeles County. The $7.30 he had on him was mailed to Dell Eddy, his niece.
Arqtiq is not a good book, but this research has made it, for me, into a kind of story of Oz: a patchwork of fact and fiction and a long winding road to an uncertain conclusion. Unlike most other utopian stories, the protagonist brings an extended family with her on the trip into the unknown. The characters of Anna, Charley, Mae, and Father were all real people, whose lives were alternately eccentric, brave, mundane, or felonious.
Anna lived where the ground was in continual upheaval, with scars that endure for a century. The earth may not filled with auroral light or fairies, but if I knew that men and mules were tunneling beneath my feet, would a speculation, or even a belief, in a hollow earth be so absurd? If, for weeks on end, I were walled up behind a mass of snow as tall as a building, wouldn’t I dream of the North Pole?
I traced Anna’s family and friends backwards and forwards across a continent; from Plymouth Rock to the Sierra Nevadas, from water cannons to the atom bomb, and all their voices, all but one, are men’s. For all her faults, her “colossal ignorance” and her crackpot theories, she had a voice, one that she insisted be heard. Thanks to accidents of history and mass digitization, her voice has carried a hundred years forward.
I hoped to find a picture of her. I know there is a picture of her. I may have even seen her: in a group photo, a blurry face on a parade route, a portrait with no identification. I started to daydream about flying out to Nevada City (“I could take the train to Sacramento, rent a car”) and spend a week in the Searls library— no, two weeks, maybe a month. I would find her image because it is surely there and it’s only unknown because no one has looked for her.
I first read Arqtiq because I was doing research for an interactive short story. It’s about a woman who finds a strange utopian novel and follows a succession of archival documents to a place deep under the earth. I published it last year and thought this would be a quick writeup about those primary sources.
If this were a short story, I would go to California. I’d spend too much time indoors, stop returning calls and emails. I’d emerge from the library one day, blinking in the sun, and hike alone into the Sierra Nevadas, “where oft I have walked on trailed path.” I’d step off that path and find an old mine, drift past the warning signs, and descend into the darkness, for miles, until from a “deep cavity there—a constant glow.” I’d pass into the arc-light, into the hollow earth, and disappear.
The Anna of the book travels from California to the Arctic by journeying eastward, via Chicago and then New York, before hooking left and going north. This is an absurd itinerary on its face, and when I first read the novel I thought it was particularly inept. But it’s just a reversal of the real trip that young Anna Eddy took, and she wasn’t writing the book for me, or anyone else. She wanted to write about what she’d seen: the great length of America spread out around her as she sped into her uncertain future. Arqtiq is baffling, clumsy, outsider art, but also tender autobiography.
Anna Elizabeth Eddy Adolph took the memory of an arduous train trek, likely filled with recent grief, and re-cast it—into an effortless flight, a lark amongst loved ones, and an acknowledgment that an experience can never quite be captured in words.
Charley appreciates my feelings as he calls out, “Take a last look” […] Our glance down the mountain side falls upon a ranch, tiny in the depths; a maid of midget size throws invisible corn to mice-size chickens that flock around; Charley hurls deftly a cracker toward them that falls far short upon the mountain side.
My spirits rise. To be here sings a grateful paean in my breast. To write it is not half the story.
Primary source material would not have been discoverable without the existence of the Somerville Public Library, the Internet Archive, Google Books, the Searls Historical Library in Nevada City, the tremendous California Digital Newspaper Collection, the Library of Congress, and numerous genealogical sites including FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com.
I am also indebted to the following books, which provided necessary historical context:
- Nevada City, Gold Rush Towns of Nevada County, and It Happened at the National, by Mary Bower
- Gold Cities: Grass Valley and Nevada City, by Jim Morley and Doris Foley
- Mud, Blood, and Gold: San Francisco in 1849, by Rand Richards
- Utopian and Science Fiction by Women by Jane Donawerth and Carol Kolmerten
Utopian novels teach us about the hopes, fears, and prejudices of women before the modern era—and can still surprise usmedium.com