Con man, magician or scientist: Hatfield was called to make rain in the Klondike

Though he often referred to himself as a "moisture accelerator," Charles Mallory Hatfield is better known as a rainmaker.

Though he often referred to himself as a “moisture accelerator,” Charles Mallory Hatfield is better known as a rainmaker.

In 1905, when prospectors in the Klondike region required more water to fuel their hydraulic gold mining operations they called in the rainmaker to open the skies.

Hatfield was born in Kansas in 1875, and moved to San Diego, California at age 10.

He quit school in Grade 9 to become a salesman and began reading books on meteorology.

In the early 1904, Hatfield claimed to have called one inch of rain from the skies the Los Angeles area, and the newspapers heralded his accomplishment by dubbing him the “wizard of the clouds.”

Some called him a con man and some called him a magician, but Hatfield maintained that his rainmaking methods were based on science.

“Many people think that we pretend to make the rain,” Hatfield is quoted as saying in the Dawson Daily News. “We do not. There is always a certain amount of rain material in the air and all we do is to bring it together by artificial means, with the result that it falls on account of its weight.

“We puncture the clouds, that’s all, and there is no guesswork about it. It is a physical phenomenon as natural as the telephone or telegraph.”

Hatfield’s rain towers consisted of four beams that were each about 7.6 metres high. The beams supported trays containing chemicals and a machine which sends an electric current into the air.

“We set up our apparatus on a high knoll about thirty miles from Dawson on the watershed from which flow Sulphur Creek, Dominion Creek, Hunker Creek, Gold Bottom and Gold Run,” Hatfield is quoted as saying in the Dawson Daily News on August 18, 1906.

The “high knoll” that Hatfield referred to in his quote was King Solomon’s Dome.

If Hatfield had been able to bring rainfall to the Klondike miners, he would have been paid a princely sum of $10,000 – $5,000 of which would have come from the mine owners and the other half donated by the territorial government.

After Hatfield’s conjuring, the Yukon did not see an increase in rain over previous years and so he was paid only enough to cover his expenses, $1153.05.

A few months later, the Dawson Daily News published a story questioning Hatfield’s abilities.

“The particular state in which Hatfield is supposed to have operated successfully – he certainly was paid – is California. The entire state is suffering from a terrible drought less than nine months after the alleged successful experiment,” reported the Dawson Daily News in November 1905.

“We should suggest to Mr. Lithgow that if Hatfield is genuine, he should not be hiding during a dry spell. A real rainmaker’s opportunity would be just such a time as the present in California.”

Despite his failure in the Yukon, Hatfield spent the next few years travelling through parched towns in the United States and Canada having varying degrees of success in controlling the skies.

A few years later in 1916, Hatfield was employed to make it rain in San Diego, which was experiencing a terrible drought at the time.

In that case, he was so successful in calling water from the sky that the city experienced the worst flood in its history. A few dozen people died and the city sustained millions of dollars in damages in the disaster. Hatfield was not paid for his services because the city council decided that he had made it rain too much.

Over the years a play, a novel, a musical and a major motion picture, The Rainmaker, were all based on Hatfield’s life.

This column is provided by the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Each week it will explore a different morsel of Yukon’s modern history. For more information, or to comment on anything in this column e-mail lchalykoff@macbridemuseum.com.

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