Hunting Guestbooks in the High Alps

They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care;
They pursued it with forks and hope;
They threatened its life with a railway share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.

Lewis Carroll, “The Hunting of the Snark”

 

Like all archival research, finding guestbooks at times feels like hunting the Snark. Prospective locations first need to be identified and their owners tracked down before the much-anticipated field visit can be organized. It takes hundreds of e-mails and phone calls, as well as a fair amount of luck. The result is not always, if ever what was expected.  Once the books have been brought out and the camera set up, however, the thrill of discovery takes over.

Entry on 25 August 1880, Niesen Hotel Guestbook 1872-1880 (photo courtesy of the Niesenbahn)

Since our last post, Jérémie Magnin has managed to identify and photograph an impressive number of new books. In June, he and Patrick Vincent drove to the Bernese Oberland to visit two hotel archives. The first one belongs to the Berggasthaus on the outskirts of Trachsellauenen. This small hotel is tucked away high above the end of the Lauterbrunnen valley and has guestbooks going back to 1860. The second is the hotel at the top of the Niesen, a much-visited mountain south of the Thuner See. The hotel belongs to the same company that owns the Niesenbahn, the funicular that has been running from the town of Mülenen to the top of the Niesen since 1910. The archives are kept in the building by the station in Mülenen and the guestbooks start in 1872.

The Trachsellauenen Berggasthaus

In October, Jérémie added more books to the collection of the Swiss Guestbook Project, visiting the archives of the hotel Les Trois Rois in Basel, one of Switzerland’s oldest and most prestigious hotels, and going on a two-day trip to the Valais. In Basel, the guestbook dates back to 1844 and is a unique signature book, comprised of many guests of royal origin. In the Valais, time was spent in Finhaut, where a few guestbooks are kept at the communal archives. Among them are three registers from the 1890s, from the hotels Mont-Blanc, Beau-Séjour and Grand Hotel that all opened in Finhaut in the last decade of the nineteenth century. He also visited the Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac, where a register exists from 1896. Finally, Jérémie went to the Centre régional d’études des populations alpines (CREPA), an institution for regional cultural archives and studies in Sembrancher, where he was able to photograph a register from the Hotel Carron in Fionnay starting in 1896 and the guestbooks from the Hotel du Mauvoisin (formerly named Hotel du Glacier du Giétroz) which go back to 1868.

Jérémie Magnin photographing a guestbook

These books have given us more material to work on, including images, as well as new insights into guestbook culture in Switzerland. But we still need to find more of them, in different regions and accommodation types. So the hunt continues…

Entry on 25 July 1913, Niesen Hotel Guestbook 1911-1922 (photo courtesy of the Niesenbahn)