These days, Handkerchief Pool doesn’t crop up as a must-see Yellowstone attraction, but it was once as famous as Old Faithful Geyser.
Yellowstone’s thermal features have always elicited curiosity, but right around its inception, there was a particular curiosity regarding how you could use these springs, whether for boiling food or doing laundry. In the Upper Geyser Basin, you can still find Chinese Spring, which was named (unfortunately) for the stereotype regarding launderers.
To a modern visitor, there is something incongruous to the picture above. A Yellowstone ranger dipping something into a thermal feature? It seems almost like sacrilege in today’s Yellowstone National Park—it is sacrilege, for the record—but what could be the purpose of it?
That ranger was demonstrating the supposed marvel of Handkerchief Pool: when the cloth was placed on top of the pool, it would float a while before being sucked down, into the blue depths, for an indeterminate amount of time. Then, miraculously, it would resurface; once it was fished out with a stick, visitors could inspect the handkerchief and marvel at this instance of thermal laundry.
Everything about the old Handkerchief Pool screamed spectacle. You can see it in the picture above. Instead of the wooden boardwalks we’re so familiar with these days, visitors tread on a paved path up to the pool, where it was enclosed in a white circle.
It was not to last, of course. Over time, as more and more visitors used it not only to clean their handkerchiefs but also as a dump for coins, bottles, pins, and rocks, Handkerchief Pool became too plugged up to “function.” By 1928, the old Handkerchief Pool was no more. The 1953 Haynes Guide rendered this verdict on the visitors who abused the pool:
Handkerchief Pool … used to delight those who saw handkerchiefs sink deep in the water and then rise to the surface. Its tube once became filled with surface material and man-made trash—a fascinating natural feature at the mercy of sightseers had become history.
At the mercy indeed. These days, there’s no getting up close and personal with Yellowstone’s thermal features. To tamper with Yellowstone’s thermal features is, in fact, egregious. To do so is to risk damaging these features to the detriment of future generations.
Handkerchief Pool is still around. You can visit it in Black Sand Basin. Just don’t bring your laundry along.