One hundred twenty-five years ago this week — Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne and empire, came to town. He arrived in Colorado Springs on Sept. 30, 1893, spent the day in Manitou Springs on Oct. 1, 1893, and his visit provides a look into what the Pikes Peak region was like then and how far it has come since.
Ferdinand, of course, is history’s most famous victim of terrorism. On June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, Bosnia, a Serbian nationalist fired two bullets, killing the Archduke and his wife, Duchess Sophie. Not long after, a chain of countries declared war on each other and the fighting killed tens of millions during World War I.
But before his date with death, Ferdinand toured the world (his journal is available online at franzferdinandsworld.com). For an entourage, he brought three military officers, a doctor, a photographer, a huntsman, four servants, and two cooks. Ferdinand and his dozen departed Vienna, Austria, in late 1892, and visited India, Singapore, Australia, several Pacific islands, Hong Kong, Japan, Vancouver, and then the Canadian Rockies, before heading south to Salt Lake City.
On leaving Salt Lake City, he boarded William Jackson Palmer’s Denver and Rio Grande Railroad westbound for Colorado Springs on Sept. 30. (Palmer famously founded Colorado Springs and built rail lines from Colorado Springs west to Salt Lake City, north to Denver, and south to Mexico City.)
Ferdinand was a beautiful writer, even at a relatively youthful age 29: “When we reached some sort of high plateau after having passed Eagle Canyon, we were received by light rays of the sun emerging from dense snow clouds. The rays illuminated multiple green fields, an unexpected sight. Grazing cattle and horses brought life into the landscape.”
On arrival, Ferdinand described Colorado Springs as “a spa town popular due to its healthy climate.” Also, as it was 1893, and silver prices had fallen so fast that year, Ferdinand remarked on the “great misery” caused by the price drop. He also observed that “insufficient [public] support” for the workers and miners impacted by the economic crisis had left the poor with the “liberty to die of hunger if necessary.” Despite this apparent disappointment, he did acknowledge that “the United States still exerts a great attraction to emigrants.”
The next day, Oct. 1, Ferdinand took the short rail trip into Manitou Springs, intending to climb Pikes Peak. He marveled at the Manitou and Pike’s Peak Railway, which had just started running two years prior. Unfortunately, his trip to the top was thwarted due to weather that rolled in — interestingly, the weather cleared not long after — affirming that the local expression ‘if you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes and you’ll get something different’ was in effect well over a century ago.
Ferdinand pointed out Manitou’s casino and artesian water and referred to the town as an “often visited health resort where much is done for the visitor’s comfort and well-being.” He stayed in the Cliff House Hotel, which still stands today. He was enthralled by the Garden of the Gods, but also by Williams Canyon, which he described as “a quite narrow rocky gorge whose blood red rocks rising high on both sides of the road and are made up of sandstone rich in iron.” His last journal entry in Manitou before boarding the train to Chicago was being “amply fleeced by a merchant in his Curio shop.”
Ferdinand went on to meet his beloved wife a few months later. They would happily spend the next 20 years together before that dark day in Sarajevo in 1914.
What can we take from a day spent in the Pikes Peak region by this historic figure? Especially at the intersection of two anniversaries: the 125th since Ferdinand’s visit, and the rapidly approaching 100th anniversary of the end of World War I (the fighting stopped on Nov. 11, 1918, which we mark every year on Veterans Day)?
It ought to remind us to look back and see who we were then to better know who we are now. As with parking a car, sometimes progress is best gained by a careful look in the rearview mirror.
This isn’t a “spa town” anymore—indeed, the mayor recently said that “Colorado Springs has taken its place among the great cities of America.” Ferdinand helps us to see that growth.
Lt. Col. ML Cavanaugh, PhD, is a nonresident fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point. This essay is an unofficial expression of opinion; the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Point, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the U.S. government.