When I was a little boy, my grandmother used to tell me about The Handkerchief Pool, which was one of the most popular geothermal features in Yellowstone Park when she went there in 1909. I was fascinated by the story, but Grandma explained that I would never see it because tourists threw so much junk into it that it didn’t work any more.

In 1903 Hester Henshall visited the park with her husband, angling writer and fish biologist Dr. James Henshall. In the Henshal’s tour group was Lillian Elhert, an intrepid young woman who was always thrusting herself into the middle of things. Here’s Hester’s description of Miss Lillian’s antics at the Handkerchief Pool.


The Handkerchief Pool reminded one of a great pot of boiling water, seething, roaring and bubbling, and issuing clouds of steam with a washday odor. Miss Lillian Ehlert must put her handkerchief in the pool, of course. We gathered round to watch it. It floated awhile, circling the pool, then suddenly disappeared down a sucking eddy, out of sight.

We watched and waited, some of us thinking it had gone forever, but at last it popped up in another part of the pool and floated once more to the surface. It was then taken out with a stick, to be gazed upon by all of the party with something akin to awe. We wondered where it had been when lost to sight—what it had seen underground, and what tale it could tell if gifted with speech.

Miss Ehlert simply said: “No checky no washee, but I got it all the same.”


— From the journal of Hester Ferguson Henshall, Trip Through Yellowstone National Park 1903. Montana Historical Society Archives.

— You might also enjoy Hester Henshall’s description of Miss Lilian’s antics in Cruising Lake Yellowstone.

— Frank J. Haynes postcard, Yellowstone Digital Slide File.