CHAPTER 4-19: ART, LITERATURE, SCIENCE, CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS, AND RECREATION
Alaskan art falls into categories
During the American, period, artists depicted Alaska in several ways. One form of art was documentary art. This work documented Alaska's people and places and included the work of early photographers. Another form of art was market art. Natives wove baskets and carved ivory, wood, and stone to sell. Non-Natives also carved ivory, wood, and stone. In general, market art had an Alaskan theme. A third form of art was landscape art. This form of art was popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It included oil paintings and watercolors. Little modern art was done in Alaska until after World War II when colleges established art departments and state-funded programs to encourage artists began.
Travelers record their observations
Not long after 1867, photographers began to visit Alaska and record what they saw. Many of them worked for various government agencies. By 1880, professional photographers were traveling to Alaska for commercial reasons. They could sell their Alaska photographs to trading companies. Or, they could publish collections of their Alaska photographs.
Considered the first to take photographs of American Alaska, San Francisco landscape photographer Eadweard Muybridge traveled to Alaska in the summer of 1868. Muybridge accompanied Major-General Henry W. Halleck, then in command of the Military Division of the Pacific. His assignment was to photograph Alaska's military posts and harbors. For Muybridge, just moving his equipment was a challenge. His camera was bulky. Images were recorded on glass plates instead of plastic negatives. Despite the difficulties, a number of other professional photographers followed Muybridge. Among them were Edward de Groff and Reuben Albertstone who took photographs at Sitka and elsewhere in Southeastern Alaska during the 1880s. Although they engaged in photography on a part-time basis, they were professional photographers.
In 1893, Lloyd V. Winter and Edwin Percy Pond established their photography studio at Juneau. For over a half a century the two men recorded events in Juneau and the northern portion of Southeast Alaska. Among the subjects they witnessed and photographed were the Klondike gold rush, the growth of the salmon and mining industries in the area, and, after 1906, activities in Alaska's capital city. The partners also photographed the Tlingit people and non-Native residents of Juneau at work and play.
The Klondike gold rush lured a number of photographers to the north. Some stayed; some just passed through. After taking photographs along the Chilkoot Trail, E. A. Hegg opened studios in Cordova and Anchorage. During construction of the Alaska Railroad, he was the official photographer. For this project, he took over 1,500 photographs.
Alaska Natives find markets for their work
Many of the early visitors to Alaska were fascinated with the baskets, blankets, and ivory carvings of the Native people. They were interested in purchasing such items. The Native people began to weave and carve pieces for sale. The Tlingits marketed baskets, moccasins, small totem pieces, Chilkat and button blankets. The Eskimos carved ivory, jade, and bone. Later, they sewed skins, and still later Eskimo women made dolls. The Aleuts wove intricate baskets. The Athabaskans decorated gloves with elaborate beadwork.
Alaska Native art became more popular as more people visited Alaska during the 1920s and 1930s. To assist the Native people with marketing, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs created the Alaska Native Arts and Crafts cooperative. The cooperative opened stores in Seattle, Juneau, and Anchorage. This achieved wider distribution of the art pieces and increased sales. The interest in Alaska Native art continued into the 1980s.
Artists paint the Alaskan landscape
Most artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were schooled in painting landscapes. Such art depicted people and places realistically and grandly. Sydney Laurence, Ted Lambert, Rusty Hurlein, and Eustace Paul Ziegler are among the better known artists who painted Alaskan landscapes.
An artist by training, Sydney M. Laurence arrived at Juneau in 1903 and found work as a photographer. He was 38 years old. The next year he left Juneau for Valdez where he prospected for gold during the summers and worked at odd jobs during the winters. In 1912, he produced his first Alaskan painting, "Seldovia, Alaska." Laurence continued to work as a photographer at Valdez and Anchorage and to paint until 1925. Then he began to spend the winters in Los Angeles, painting Alaskan subjects sketched the previous summer, and in the 1930s he lived and painted in Seattle. His paintings realistically expressed the awesomeness of nature. Many were panoramic landscapes with Alaskan subjects such as trappers. Laurence particularly enjoyed painting views of Mount McKinley.
In January 1909, a 28-year old artist, Eustace Paul Ziegler who had been recruited by Peter Trimble Rowe, Episcopal Bishop of Alaska, arrived at Cordova. There he was to manage the Red Dragon, a club for railroad workers, and to serve as a missionary. In his spare time, Ziegler painted murals on the walls of the mission and the rotunda of the Lathrop Company theater in town. The Alaska Steamship Company and summer tourists purchased some of his paintings. His popularity grew. People felt he depicted early Alaska well. Ziegler's first show was held in the dining room of the Kennecott Mines. Later Ziegler worked for the Alaska Steamship Company. Today, many of his paintings are in museums.
The federal government sends a group of artists to Alaska
In 1937, a group of 12 men and two women (one of whom was an artist) arrived at Ketchikan. They were employed by the Works Progress Administration, a depression era agency created by the federal government. They divided into groups and spent the summer traveling around Alaska drawing and painting. They traveled along the Richardson Highway and the Alaska Railroad. Their work, except for several murals, was sent to Washington, D.C. One surviving mural is in the old federal building at Anchorage.
The military brings artists and photographers to Alaska during the 1940s
The military forces stationed in Alaska during World War II included artists, photographers, and film makers. Joe Hones and Henry Varnum Poor were two. Although their emphasis was on documentation and not necessarily on art, much art was produced.
Lieutenant William F. Draper was one of five combat artists the navy assigned to cover World War II. Draper arrived at Kodiak in 1942. During his eight-month stay he also went to Umnak and Dutch Harbor. He was at Dutch Harbor about a month and produced nine paintings of military facilities.
Artists find an encouraging environment in post-World War II Alaska
Following World War II, Alaska's population boomed. Artists found new markets for their work with the increased population. In addition to the University of Alaska, community colleges opened around Alaska. The schools created art departments and hired artists and photographers to teach.
In 1967, the Alaska legislature created the Alaska State Council on the Arts to promote development of the arts in the state. The program's goals included making grants to artists and art groups around Alaska. With an annual budget of almost six million dollars for the arts, Alaska ranked first in the country in terms of per capita state support for the arts.
Eight years later, in 1975, the legislature established the Percent for Art Program. This law required that a percentage of the construction cost of state buildings be spent to commission or purchase art works for the buildings. Between 1975 and 1984, over one million dollars was spent on almost 100 works of art for public buildings around the state.
Many people write about Alaska
Over the last 120 years, many books, magazines, and newspapers have been written and published about Alaska. The tradition, begun in the 1700s, of publishing the results of scientific expeditions continued through the nineteenth century. From the time of the 1867 transfer onward, publications on Alaska generated by institutions and government agencies in the United States, such as the army and Smithsonian Institution, came out in ever increasing numbers. Visitors to Alaska wrote about their travels, describing the landscape, communities, inhabitants, and the wildlife. Along with their observations they recounted their adventures. Others wrote fictional accounts set in Alaska. Events such as killing a whale or surviving frigid cold weather made good adventure stories. Others wrote books and articles to express political opinions. Still others conducted research or documented events in Alaska's past. One group of writers sought to record the traditional stories of Native peoples before they were forgotten.
Visitors depict Alaska
John Muir first visited Alaska in 1879. He made four more trips. His lasting contribution to Alaska was to write extensively about the country. The theme he repeated in all of his articles was that Alaska was a place of extraordinary beauty with a healthy, invigorating climate. Muir insisted that Alaska was a place any traveler would enjoy.
In 1890, seeking adventure stories, the publisher of a weekly magazine, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, sent an exploring party to Alaska. It was headed by E.H. Wells and included four other men. They left San Francisco in April, and traveled through the Inside Passage to the Chilkat River. They crossed the Chilkat Valley to the Yukon River where the party split up to cover more territory. Several went to Western Alaska and the others continued to explore the Fortymile area. Upon their return to New York, several of the members wrote accounts of their adventures that proved popular with many readers.
Novelists write stories of Alaskan adventures
Dime novels, also known as pulps, began to be published before the American Civil War. Shortly after the purchase, Alaska was the setting for title 158 of the Beadle publications dime novel series. The book, The Blue Anchor, or, The Lost Bridge, was written by Robert Starbuck (Augustus Comstock) who had been aboard a whaling ship that had been in Alaska waters. In the story, a whaling vessel ship-wrecked on the Aleutian Islands. The captain's wife and son, left on the Hawaiian Islands, were lost returning to New Bedford. Years later, the son was found living among the Tartars. The book was reprinted twice. Starbuck wrote two others about Alaska, The Ice Fiend; or, The Hunted Whaleman in 1871, and Old Tar Knuckle and His Boy Chums; or, The Monsters of the Esquimaux Board, A Tale of Adventure on Our Northwest Coast in 1884. A number of other dime novelists wrote of Alaska as well. During the Klondike gold rush more than 100 titles appeared in the popular, inexpensive format.
A writer for pulp magazines as well as a novelist, Jack London, was among the many who participated in the Klondike gold rush. London crossed the Chilkoot Trail, wintered in the Klondike, and rafted down the Yukon River during 1897 and 1898. Back in California, London wrote several stories about the north. His stories, such as The Call of the Wild that was published in 1903, were very popular. London portrayed life in the north as a struggle for survival in a cruel world, but full of adventure. At the time he wrote his books, people in American cities craved information on the gold fields of Alaska and the frontier.
Another participant in the gold rush, Rex Beach, headed for the Klondike in 1897 via the ocean route to St. Michael. The steamboat he took up the Yukon River got no farther than Circle City. Instead of continuing to the Klondike, he went to Rampart. After an unsuccessful summer prospecting in the Rampart area, Beach returned to Chicago. A year later he was lured north to Nome. Again, he did not find gold. After he left Alaska the second time, however, he wrote popular books and short stories about the north. In 1906, his book on the mining claims scandal at Nome, The Spoilers, was published. It was followed by others including The Iron Trail about building a railroad in Southcentral Alaska, Vally of Thunder about the Matanuska Colony, and Winds of Chance about the Klondike. In addition, he published four collections of short stories, a book of hunting stories, and his memoirs about his Alaska years. In all of his writings, Beach encouraged development of Alaska's resources. By 1939, all of his novels and many of his short stories about Alaska had been made into films at least once.
Although the poems of Robert Service were set in Canada's Yukon, Alaskans adopted Service as the poet of their gold rushes. The Scottish bank clerk went to Whitehorse in 1904, then to Dawson in 1908 after the town's boom days. There, Service wrote a number of well known poems including "The Cremation of Sam McGee," "The Trail of '98," and "The Shooting of Dan McGrew." Service left the Yukon in 1912.
Writers describe their experiences and impressions of Alaska
Another who wrote about adventures in the north was Hudson Stuck, the Episcopal archdeacon of the Yukon from 1904 to 1920. His books were based on his personal experiences. During his years in the north, Stuck traveled thousands of miles. In 1917, he published Voyages on the Yukon and Its Tributaries, and in 1920 A Winter Circuit of the Arctic Coast. He is best known for his book, Ascent of Denali, about his 1913 expedition to climb Alaska's highest mountain. At a time when the prevailing attitude was to "Americanize" Native people, Stuck supported the Natives' traditional customs and lifestyles.
Earlier, in 1884, Frances (Mrs. Eugene S.) Willard's letters describing missionary life at Haines had been published. The Willards established a Presbyterian mission at Haines. The letters described the Natives' activities in depth. Willard was especially appalled by the burial customs of the Chilkat Tlingits. The letters also described the challenges of home-making on the frontier.
The tradition of writing about one's adventures and expressing one's personal opinions regarding Alaska began with several members of the 1967 Western Union Telegraph Expedition. One author was Frederick Whymper, an Englishman, who was an artist with the scientific team. His book was printed in 1869. He felt the purchase of Alaska was a bargain for the United States. Whymper described Native clothing and dancing, reported seeing gold in the Yukon, and commented on Alaska's many possibilities for development. The other book was by William Healey Dall. He detailed his activities, and repeated all of the then-known facts about Alaska.
Later, others wrote about the adventures of others in Alaska. C. L. Andrews was among those writers. Andrews' first visit to Alaska was in 1892. From then until his death in 1948 at age 85, Andrews traveled extensively in Alaska and wrote about the territory. He began writing a history of Alaska in 1915 and wrote numerous articles on Alaska life, culture, and history. Altogether, he wrote seven books on Alaska, two of which were never published. Two that were, The Story of Sitka and The Eskimo and His Reindeer, were reprinted several times.
The challenge of writing about one's adventures and observations or of someone else's experiences attracted many people throughout the twentieth century. During the 1970s, two individuals published accounts that became national best-sellers. John McPhee, who wrote Coming Into the Country, and Joe McGinnis, who wrote Going to Extremes, attempted to capture the essence of Alaska.
Individuals attempt to preserve traditional stories
Continuing a long fascination with cultures and people different from them, Americans became interested in knowing more about Alaska Natives during the 1800s. A number of anthropologists collected artifacts. Sore also recorded the traditional stories of the Native people. A Roman Catholic missionary on the Yukon River, Julius Jette, collected information during the 1890s. William Beynon recorded Tsimshian stories from the people at Metlakatla during the 1920s. Frederica de Laguna bean her work in Alaska during the 1930s. She collected information about the Native people in Alaska in Interior, Southcentral and Southeastern Alaska. She was one of the first to conduct archaeological excavations and to attempt to piece together the sequences of occupations of areas of land by different Native groups.
Some write about Alaska to impact public opinion
Over the years, a large number of people wrote and published articles and books to express their opinions about political issues concerning Alaska. Henry'. Elliott was among the first Americans to do so. After being assigned as treasury went to the Pribilof Islands during the 1870s, Elliott wrote a series of articles and a book, our Antic Province, Alaska and the Seal islands, calling for the need to protect the fur seals. His writings were important to negotiating the international fur seal treaty in 1911.
Others, such as Ernest Gruening, governor of Alaska from 1939 to 1953 and later a U.S. Senator from Alaska, wrote books and articles promoting statehood for Alaska. More recently, a number of individuals have analyzed Alaska's economy and environmental issues.
Magazines exclusively about Alaska are published
One result of the industrial revolution of the fate 1800s was the dramatic lowering of printing costs. The number of books, magazines, and newspapers published increased dramatically. The gold rush increased interest in Alaska. During the early 1900s at least one magazine, Alaska Yukon Magazine, was printed. Over the years there were others. The Alaska Sportsman, that subsequently became the Alaska Magazine, was first published in 1935. For a few years during the 1940s, a magazine titled Alaska Life was printed. The magazines described life in Alaska to people who did not live in the North. They promoted Alaska's scenery and economic potential. They also included notes about individuals who lived or had lived in Alaska.
A few newspapers are printed in Alaska before the gold rush
If a monthly publication can be termed a newspaper, the earliest newspaper published in Alaska was The Esquimaux. Edited by John J. Harrington, manager of the Western Union Telegraph Expedition, the first issue appeared in October 1866. He published 10 editions at Libbysville (today known as Teller) on the Seward Peninsula, two editions at Plover Bay in eastern Siberia, and the final edition in San Francisco.
The Sitka Times, published weekly beginning September 19, 1868, more justifiably was Alaska's first newspaper. It was handwritten. Thomas G. Murphy, an Irish tailor, edited the newspaper. The final issue appeared November 7, 1868. The following spring Murphy began to issue a weekly, The Alaska Times. It was printed. Publication ceased in 1869 when Murphy left Sitka. Another pre-Klondike gold rush newspaper was The Alaskan, published at Sitka from November 2, 1885 until December 1907. The editors of this paper frequently advocated territorial government for Alaska.
Many journalists come to Alaska during the gold rush
The Klondike gold rush that began in 1897 marked the real beginning of Alaskan journalism. A number of journalists moved typewriters or hand-fed printing presses over the trails to the gold fields. Along the trail and at the mining boom towns, a journalist might set up shop in a tent or cabin. Some moved from boom town to boom town as gold was found around Alaska. In mining towns that survived after the initial frenzied days, at least one newspaper usually survived as well.
In 1904, three boys, ages 9, 11, and 12 years old, started a weekly newspaper, the Chitina Herald. It was written up in several national magazines, including Time which said, "All praise for a newspaper far more honest, vivid, and entertaining than most." The boys suspended publication after two years explaining that they started it for fun, but when the circulation increased to 357 it ceased to be fun. At Teller, 13-year old Walter Marx published The Pioneer Scout from 1921 to 1925. At its peak it had 60 subscribers. It was discontinued because Marx, who was publisher, editor, composer, press operator, advertising manager, circulation manager, and reporter, left for Seattle to attend school.
Between 1867 and 1924, over 200 newspapers and magazines began publication in Alaska. Skagway had the first Dally newspaper, the Dally Alaskan, that began publication on February 1, 1898. Primarily through their editorials, newspaper editors influenced Alaskans and government leaders. Subjects such as representation in Congress, the need for a territorial legislature, a federally-built railroad, navigational aids, and statehood were some topics. Three of Alaska's governors, Alfred P. Swineford, John F.A. Strong, and John Troy, were newspaper editors in Alaska before their appointments.
Newspapers serve to unite ethnic groups in Alaska
Trained as an artist not a journalist, Howard Rock started the Tundra Times in 1962. The newspaper was for Alaska Natives. Rock hoped to unite Alaska Natives and provide them with a forum to express their concerns. !t was a very effective voice for the Native people during the years preceding passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. Several other newspapers for Alaska Natives had been published for brief periods prior to the Tundra Times. The Eskimo, published at Nome by the government reindeer agent, Walter C. Shields, in 1916 and 1917 was one. Another was the Alaska Fisherman that William Paul, a Tlingit, began publishing at Ketchikan in 1923.
Other newspapers directed to specific groups were published. Besides the civilian press, a number of weekly newspapers were published at military posts in Alaska. A black newspaper editor, George Anderson, published The Alaska Spotlight at Anchorage from 1953 until his death in 1969. His purpose was to help give the black community an identity.
Scientists describe and analyze Alaska's physical environment
Just as artists portrayed Alaska graphically, scientists worked to document and analyze Alaska's physical environment. Although a majority of this work was done in earth sciences, such as geology and geography, it has included studies in astronomy, botany, and zoology.
George Davidson, an astronomer and surveyor employed by the U.S. Coast Survey, was one of the first American scientists to come to Alaska after 1867. The American government sent Davidson to Alaska in 1867 to gather what information he could about the newly-acquired land. He traveled widely in Alaska's coastal areas and compiled some 300 pages of data about Alaska. Two years later, in 1869, Davidson returned to Alaska to set up an astronomical post to observe the eclipse of the sun which occurred in that year.
A contemporary of Davidson, William Healey Dall, also worked for the U.S. Coast Survey. Dall had been a member of the Western Union Telegraph Expedition scientific corps. In 1871, he returned and for four years surveyed the coast from Sitka to Attu and to as far north as the Pribilof Islands. Dall returned to Alaska again in 1880 to cruise from Sitka to Unalaska and Barrow. Fifty coastal charts and plans as well as the 1883 book, Coast Pilot for Alaska, resulted. Fifteen years later, working for the U.S. National Museum, Dall returned to Alaska once again to study Alaska's coal and gold resources.
Alfred Hulse Brooks of the United States Geological Survey was another scientist who devoted much of his career to Alaska. Trained at Harvard as a geologist, Brooks wanted to come to Alaska after he graduated in 1894, but it was not until 1898 that he was offered employment in Alaska. After that, he made some 24 trips to Alaska. In 1903, Brooks took charge of all U.S. Geological Survey mineral investigations and mapping in Alaska. In 1906, the government published his monumental Geology and Geography of Alaska. Every year from 1904 to 1916 and from 1919 to 1923, Brooks wrote summaries of Alaska's mineral industries. The missed years, during World War I, were those that he spent in France as chief geologist for the American Expeditionary Force in France.
While Brooks was in charge of Alaska work for the geological survey, it published Ernest de Koven Leffingwell's report on six years of study on Alaska's arctic coast. A polar explorer and geologist, Leffingwell spent much time between 1901 and 1914 in the Arctic. He estimated that this included 30 months of travel for a total distance of about 4,500 miles. In the course of his investigations, Leffingwell mapped the Sadlerochit Mountains to Canning River region of what is now the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Alaska's arctic coast from Barter Island to Point Barrow. He also carried out the first detailed studies of permafrost.
In addition to earth scientists such as Davidson, Brooks, and Leffingwell, who established precedents for scientific work in their fields that were carried on in Alaska throughout the twentieth century, botanists and zoologists compiled much information about Alaska's plants and animals. Although botanists with the 1865 to 1867 Western Union Telegraph Expedition had studied Alaska's plants, scientists knew little more about them through the 1880s. This changed in 1899, when the 25 scientists on the privately-financed E.H. Harriman expedition to Alaska made the largest botanical collection ever gathered from Alaska. After 1900, agronomists, botanists, foresters, geologists, government officials, teachers, and tourists all contributed to knowledge of Alaska's flora. Among the professional botanists were A.S. Hitchcock, who visited Alaska in 1909 to study grasses, and Ynez Mexia, who collected over 6,000 specimens in Mount McKinley National Park in 1928. In the 1930s, Scottish botanist Isobel Wylie Hutchinson collected on the Alaska mainland and in the Aleutian Islands. By 1940, the main outlines of Alaska's botany were known, although 40 years later scientists were, for the first time, attempting to integrate traditional Native knowledge of Alaska's plants with the results of scientists' observations.
Scientists were also interested in Alaska's animals. Charles Sheldon, the most noted American big game hunter of his time, was one of these students of Alaska's zoology. Sheldon studied wildlife in the Mount McKinley area in 1906, 1907, and 1908. He observed 30 species of mammals and 62 species of birds, and is said to have conceived the idea for Mount McKinley National Park during this time.
Adolph and Olaus Murie were two other zoologists who did significant work in Alaska. In 1920, Olaus arrived in Western Alaska to study caribou and map their migratory routes. He subsequently made two summer expeditions the length of the Aleutian Islands to study nesting birds. His brother, Adolph, followed him to Alaska and studied wolves in the Mount McKinley area.
In addition to students of the biological and earth sciences, Alaska's unique environment has also attracted students of more exotic fields. One of the first of these was the 1932 Carpe expedition, organized at the University of Chicago to study cosmic rays from the advantage of Mount McKinley's altitude. Although the Carpe party set precedent by being the first group to be landed on Mount McKinley by airplane, it ended in tragedy. Landed in April, the party had disappeared by May when its abandoned camp was found.
More recently, the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska was founded in the 1950s to begin work in ionospheric and radiopropagation studies.
Libraries and museums continue in Alaska
Nineteenth century people curious about the world found Alaska an interesting place. America's new territory provided an area for study of previously unknown cultures as well as the raw new data of natural history. Early explorers had made extensive observations. The products of their work were, for the most part, preserved in the great museums of Europe or buried in archives in distant lands.
The fate of the museum and library established by the Russian-American Company at Sitka is unknown, but arrivals in Alaska after 1867 soon tried to create similar collections. Among the first was a U.S. Army captain, known only as "Captain F." Diarist Emil Teichmann encountered him at Sitka in 1868.
According to Teichmann, "Captain F." was German-born and trained in scholarly pursuits. Assigned to the mapping section of the army in Alaska, he had a great deal of leisure time and used it to collect Native and Russian artifacts found in the Sitka area. His room was crowded with historical objects. These included Tlingit weapons and armor including helmets of cedar. Other clothing included Native costumes of tanned leather. There were chests of household items such as drinking cups, knives, combs, woven bark mats, and ornaments. In addition to artifacts of Native cultures, the captain collected Russian items and had flint-lock guns and old Russian coins and leather tokens. Mineral specimens and fossils were included, too.
"Captain F." gathered his treasures himself, in some instances from Tlingit graves. He had at least one Tlingit assistant who came to his quarters every morning. There, in return for a ceremonial glass of whiskey and a small payment, perhaps 25 cents, the assistant would turn over some new object. The captain told Teichmann that his goal was to tour the United States with his "Alaska Museum" and then perhaps to sell it, but the fate of this 1868 collection is a mystery.
In 1874, employees of the Alaska Commercial Company explored burial caves in the Aleutian Islands. Discoveries made there were shipped to museums in San Francisco, to the California Academy of Sciences, and the Smithsonian Institution. Relics recovered included weapons, utensils, furs, beads, and canoe remnants.
After Teichmann, the next reference to an Alaska museum appears in 1885, when a tourist reported that a collection of Native curios in the marine barracks at Sitka was worth seeing. Two years later, the Alaska Society for Natural History and Ethnology came to life at Sitka. The society's activities led to what is now the Sheldon Jackson Museum.
In the early 1900s, although no additional historical societies or public museums were founded, some private museums began as tourist attractions. In Wrangell, the house of Chief Shakes was opened to visitors. In Skagway, Harriet Pullen operated a hotel and displayed gold rush relics as well as Russian things from Sitka there.
Although Sheldon Jackson Museum continued, the Alaska Society for Natural History and Ethnology apparently ended when the focus of activity in Alaska shifted from Sitka to Juneau. In 1900, the Alaska Historical Library and Museum was established. After that, Governor Brady began to collect books and museum objects. A museum Opened in September 1920. It featured an Eskimo exhibit prepared by a Dr. Neumann. In 1923, the Territorial Legislature purchased a building and the library and museum were moved there. In 1931, the library and museum moved to the second floor of the Federal and Territorial Building. During these years the library added to its rare book collection and acquired over 1,000 volumes of Alaskan newspapers, some dating from 1685. The museum collection expanded to include such items as a pioneer oxen yoke used on Lynn Canal, the propeller from the airplane Ben Eielson used on the first Fairbanks-McGrath air mail flight, and an aluminum fuel tank used on the airship Norge's 1926 trans-polar flight. By 1929, the Alaska Historical Library and Museum at Juneau attracted over 7,000 visitors each year.
Alaska's other public historical museum of long-standing also began in the 1920s. After the college at Fairbanks was established, a museum was established there. Founded as a research facility, what is nova the University of Alaska Museum sponsored archaeological excavations on St. Lawrence Island and at Point Hope in 1926. In 1936, the Rockefeller Foundation granted $17,000 to the university to collect and translate materials that could be used to write a history of Alaska. This added a great deal of historical documentation to the university library, which by 1941 had come to include 17,000 books, 15,000 booklets and pamphlets, and subscriptions to 130 newspapers and magazines. The best collection of Alaskan history materials was in the possession of Alaskan jurist and politician James Wickersham, but it was not open to the public.
Just prior to World War II an American Legion Museum is said to have opened at Valdez.
By the end of the 1940s, the Alaska Historical Library and Museum was still featuring the Neumann Eskimo exhibit. The library collection had grown to 15,000 volumes. The library had also acquired Wickersham's Alaskan collection. Visitation grew from 4,936 in 1944 to 5,339 in 1945 to 6,406 in 1946, but fell to 5,614 in 1947. At this time Alaska's larger communities had public libraries, but they contained mostly fiction, newspapers, and magazines. Outside the larger towns, libraries were almost nonexistent. The university museum collections had grown to include 75,000 items and the university library collections had grown to include 20,000 books and 20,000 bulletins and pamphlets.
An upsurge of interest in the past became apparent in the 1950s as historical societies and museums were founded at Homer, Kodiak, Anchorage, Juneau, and Sitka to study and preserve local history. From these examples, societies later organized at additional locations including Kenai, Seward, Naknek, Fairbanks, Hope and Sunrise, Unalaska, Ketchikan, Cordova, and Kasilof. Others followed, some sparked by the 1967 Alaska Purchase Centennial celebration. That celebration also gave rise to a revived Alaska Historical Society that became active in 1968.
These American descendants of the early Russian library and museum have created centers throughout the state where Alaskans can learn about their state's past. The centers are also serving as focal points for preservation of Native cultures through the practice of traditional arts and crafts, scholarly study, and storage of oral history tapes.
Recreation much the same as today
Americans in Alaska engaged in many of the same indoor and outdoor recreational activities enjoyed by the Russians. Their activities were also similar to those Americans in communities comparable in size with a four-season climate. Alaskans did develop several unique recreational pastimes, such as dog sled racing. Many of the activities Alaskans enjoyed in 1984 had been popular earlier in the century.
Early Americans in Alaska amused themselves indoors by playing billiards, cards, and board games. they also held concerts, danced, and performed in plays. Marietta Davis, wife of the first army administrator, described in letters several dinners she gave at Sitka in 1870. A visitor to Sitka that same year, Sophia Cracroft, described several balls, one a masquerade, during her month-long stay. Nome had a women's literary society in 1901. Indoor sporting events were also popular pastimes. Many Alaskan communities organized basketball teams and constructed a building for such activities.
Joining and participating in social clubs was popular. Eleven men founded the Arctic Brotherhood, a men's club, in 1898. To be a member, a man had to have hiked the Chilkoot Trail to lake Bennett. The organization had secret initiation rites, robes, and pins for its members. Dues had to be paid in gold nuggets. At Skagway, the chapter built an elaborate hall that still stands. Primarily it was a social organization, although it supported some community service projects. At least 10 chapters organized in communities around Alaska. The group disbanded in 1924.
A similar group, the Pioneers of Alaska, was founded at Nome in 1907. Any non-Native man who had been in Alaska prior to January 1,1901 could be a member. The group encouraged merchants and professional people interested in the development of Alaska to join. Each community chapter was an igloo. During the 1920s, the organization published a magazine, The Pathfinder, at Valdez. A number of women's auxiliaries were organized. Over the years, the group revised its membership requirements. To be eligible in 1984, a person had to have lived in Alaska 30 years.
The Dorces Society of Sitka, in 1894.
Collection Name: Alaska Historical Library, DeGroff Collection.
Identifier: PCA 91-50
In 1912, nine Tlingits and a Tsimshian from Sitka, Angoon, Wrangell, and Klawock met at Sitka and organized the Alaska Native Brotherhood. It was the first regional Native organization in Alaska. Three years later the Alaska Native Sisterhood was established. Chapters of these organizations, called camps, spread to most towns in Southeast Alaska. Members worked for citizenship rights and better education for Native people.
Young people, too, organized and participated in clubs. Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops were active. At Wales during the 1930s, there was an Eskimo Boy Scout troop with two patrols: the Reindeer Patrol and the Polar Bear Patrol. Each group had nine boys. The scouts met twice a month and discussed village problems, learned about first aid, and studied animals and plants to earn badges. With their leader, the school teacher, they went on camping trips. They held contests in archery, spear throwing, running, jumping, and wood crafts. Another national organization, the 4-H Club, had 592 boys and girls enrolled throughout the territory in 1942.
Although the club no longer exists, the unique building Arctic Brotherhood club members constructed at Skagway still stands.
Collection Name: Alaska Historical Library, Sincic Collection.
Identifier: PCA 75-132
Outdoor winter activities included skiing, sledding, and ice skating. Racing dog teams became popular. In 1907, a group of residents at Nome organized a Kennel Club. The next year they started the All-Alaska Sweepstakes Dog Race. Mushers raced 360 miles from Nome to Candle and back. One of the best-known mushers was Leonard Seppala who won the race in 1915, 1916, and 1917. The race was discontinued in 1917. Resuming the tradition, in March 1973, the 1,049 mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race from Anchorage to Nome was established. Since, around 50 mushers have annually attempted the grueling course.
Other outdoor activities of Alaskans included big game hunting and sport fishing. Camping and hiking were popular. Mountain climbing became another Alaskan sport. In the spring of 1910, four Alaskan miners--Tom Lloyd, Peter Anderson, Charley McGonagall, and Billy Taylor--set out to climb Mount McKinley, Alaska's highest mountain. Three of the men were over 40. At least two of them made it to the summit of the north peak, 19,470 feet, where they planted a flagpole with an American flag. Three years later, Episcopal missionary Hudson Stuck and his party successfully climbed the higher south peak of Mount McKinley. Others climbed different Alaska mountains before these two expeditions. The best known was the 1897 climb led by Luigi, the Duke of Abruzzi and Prince of Savoy, up Mount Saint Elias. At that time, the mountain was thought to be the highest mountain in North America. Others since have climbed many of Alaska's mountains.
In 1917, a group of surveyors for the Alaska Railroad bet on when the ice on the Nenana River would break. The pool that year totaled $800. It grew to become an annual event known as the Nenana Ice Classic. Residents of the city of Nenana took over organizing the event. For 1984, tickets were sold from June 1, 1983 through April 4, 1984. The purchaser selected the month, day, and minute the ice would move. A tripod was set out on the ice. The earliest breakup was April 20 at 3:27 p.m. in 1940. The latest breakup was May 20 at 11:41 p.m. The yearly pay-off increased to about $150,000.
Early Americans in Alaska enthusiastically celebrated the Fourth of July. It was one of the two days a year when the Treadwell Mines shut down. Miners traveled into towns for a midsummer break. Natives came from outlying villages to join the celebrations. Fireworks, parades, tug-of-war and other contests were part of the festivities.
Alaskan communities established other celebrations. During the 1930s, Fairbanks started a winter ice carnival and Anchorage started its fur rendezvous. Cordova had an ice worm festival and Valdez celebrated golden days. The annual events were celebrated with dog sled races, fur auctions, dances, and parades.
The men's 100-yard dash at the Fourth of July, 1908 celebration at Douglas.
Collection Name: Alaska Historical Library, Case and Draper Collection.
Identifier: PCA 39-799
Recently, Alaska Native groups have started to re-enact some of their traditional celebrations. Some groups hold annual potlatches. For the past seven years an annual Athabaskan old-time fiddling festival has been held each November at Fairbanks. Fiddlers from all along the Yukon River have participated.
View this page as an Adobe PDF file