Tricks and Treats, Pranks and Parties: Alaska Historical Newspapers Celebrate Halloween

Happy Halloween, everyone!

On this Halloween, like many other holidays, it’s fun to ask: what did people do to celebrate one hundred (or so) years ago? I’d like to share a few findings from Alaska Historic Newspapers that demonstrate differences and similarities.

Notable in news coverage is the association between specific vandalism involving the theft of wheels and taking the hinges off gates:

This Eve is One of Mirth: This eve is Hallowe'en. Upon this night mirth and revelry among the younger people is supposed to prevail. In the past it has been the custom of those more mischievously inclined to remove gates, wagons or anything movable, to distant parts from their original location, leaving the owner the pleasant task of finding and restoring them to their proper places.

Image credit: The daily Alaska citizen. (Fairbanks, Alaska), 31 Oct. 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

To Celebrate Halloween: As usual the people of Skagway will tonight "haud their Halloween." The imps will be out, of course, playing their pranks and causing those who have front gates, or back ones, signs, etc., to have feelings of apprehension. There will be fairies, also, probably, to reveal the future and indulge in match making and other pleasing things, but they will certainly not be so ubiquitous as their uncanny and unholy cousins of the unknown.

Image credit: The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 31 Oct. 1906. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

As Smithsonian Magazine points out, children pulled Halloween pranks due to the mischievous nature of the night, the one day out of the year when ghosts and goblins haunted the streets freely:

“Witches, Goblins, Fairies and Imps Tonight: Tonight will be Halloween, the one night of the year when the supernatural beings that occupy the invisible world about us are permitted to materialize themselves and to play their pranks upon the credulity of mortals, with impunity.”

Image credit: The daily morning Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 31 Oct. 1902. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

These pranks, which still manifest in the form of plastering houses with eggs and throwing toilet paper rolls up on tree branches, co-mingled with tamer activities.

Many papers report masquerade balls and parties held, not unlike the current custom of dressing in costume and attending themed festivities:

Great Crowd Enjoys Halloween Dance: There was a very large attendance at the Halloween dance given by the Ladies of the Maccabees last night, which was one of the choicest affairs of the year. The hall was elaborately and appropriately decorated. Chinese lanterns, the colors of the order, and black cats, bars and other symbols of the mysterious darkness of the night were everywhere present. The first dance was in sheets and pillow cases, and a fortune teller gave her patrons glimpses into the future. At midnight the guests were presented with the pictures of their future husbands and wives. Delicious refreshments were served at midnight.

Image credit: The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 01 Nov. 1906. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

The managers of the Hallow-een Masquerade Ball have decided not to furnish any lunch at their ball as they will be crowded for room, and have reduced the prices of admission to $1.00 for gents and 50 cents for ladies. Supper will be prepared by the various cafes.

Image credit: The Alaska prospector. (Valdez, Alaska), 30 Oct. 1902. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Honoring Mrs. W. G. Powell who left last night on her way to Vancouver, B. C., Mrs. W. L. Landsborough entertained at bridge on Friday afternoon last. This was a Halloween party and a very beautiful little function. All the decorations were in Halloween colors and the favors, cards and tally sheets were in the color plan. The dining table where a delicious repast was served was appropriately decked and the afternoon was one of pleasant memories for honor guest, hostess and those other guests who were fortunate enough to be invited. The hostess was assisted by her sister, Miss Evangeline Cook. Mrs. W.G. Gable took first honors and was suitably rewarded. Mrs. Powell was given a "guest" prize as a souvenir of this delightful occasion. The guests were Mrs. Hugh G. Weir, Mrs. Hermann Miller, Mrs. E. J. Shaw, Mrs. W. G. Gable, Mrs. N. E. Black, Mrs. P. H. Ganty, Mrs. W. C. Blanchard, Mrs. Hazel C. Kirmse, Mrs. A. C. Blanchard, Mrs. L. H. Johnston, Mrs. F. J. Van de Wall, Mrs. P. H. McClelland and the compliment guest, Mrs. W. G. Powell. Mrs. S. Hill Barrington of Dawson was the out of town guest.

Image credit: The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 03 Nov. 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

However you choose to celebrate Halloween night, whether with a costume, a party, trick or treats- or all of these, please do so safely.

Happy haunting!


Princess Sophia Shipwreck: 100 Years Later

On this day one century ago, amidst the Spanish Influenza and the final days of the First World War, a luxury steam ship called the S.S. Princess Sophia struck Vanderbilt Reef in the Lynn Canal off the coast of Juneau and sank, killing all 350 passengers aboard.

Remembered today as the “Titanic of the North”, the Princess Sophia shipwreck remains the worst disaster at sea on the Pacific Coast.

As recently as October 6, the Alaska State Museum partnered with the Maritime Museum of British Columbia and hosted the traveling exhibit dedicated to the Princess Sophia, which gave visitors a thorough glimpse into life on board the ship, personal artifacts recovered from the wreckage, and newspaper coverage of the tragedy- including an original copy of the Nome Tri-Weekly Nugget from a bound volume.

Sophia clippings 1

Sophia Nome Nugget

Today, Chronicling America hosts three papers that feature the shipwreck on their front pages, including the Alaska Daily Empire, the Cordova Daily Times, and the Seattle Star:

100 Years Ago Today: 10/26/1918 (115 issues): The Alaska Daily Empire (8pp), Juneau Alaska. Headline reads: "Princess Sophia Sinks and 350 Souls Probably Perish"; The Cordova Daily Times (8pp), Cordova, Alaska. Headline reads: "343 Lives Lost on Str. Princess Sophia"; The Seattle Star (10pp.), Seattle, Washington. Text reads: "Alaska Vessel Lost with 200 on Board".

Screenshot from

To commemorate the occasion, Emerson Eads and David Hunsaker created an original opera through the Orpheus Project titled The Princess Sophia, which held its world premiere last night at Juneau-Douglas High School, and will run through October 28.

The Princess Sophia shipwreck remains a vivid tragedy for many Alaskans who lost relatives on board. Given that many people in the Lower 48 have never before heard of the S.S. Princess Sophia, newspaper coverage is an essential primary resource, now available and text-searchable online.

For additional resources on the Princess Sophia, visit the Alaska State Library’s online portal here.



Alaska Day

The Two Best Investments Ever Made by the United States--Alaska's Purchase and Government Built Railroad; 1867-1915; The Alaska Citizen; Fairbanks, Alaska, Monday Morning, October 18, 1915

How does one acknowledge Alaska Day, a federal holiday to commemorate the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States?

The holiday traditionally celebrated the westward expansion of the United States as an extension of Manifest Destiny. For many, it is a day fraught with the unexplored legacy of colonialism, of sacred land loss, and of the intentional erasure of Alaska natives from the history of their land.

Historic Alaska newspapers celebrated the holiday as a reminder of the United States as a world power, particularly in the context of events during the First World War. Articles from this time period emphasized the patriotic obligation Alaska residents in schools owe the then-territory:

Observance of Alaska Day by Schools Urged: Broad Significance Attached to Observance of Anniversary of Transfer. Alaska Day, which is October 18, should have a broad and deep significance to every Alaskan, declares the Alaska School Bulletin for October. "The observance of the day should inspire its every man and woman, every boy and girl, a love and loyalty to this great Northland and to the nation of which we are a part," it declares. The Bulletin is issued monthly from the office of the Territorial Commissioner of Education and goes to every school in Alaska. Commenting on Alaska Day, it says: Alaska Day, October 18th., marks the fifty-fourth anniversary of the transfer of what is now the Territory of Alaska from Russia to the United States. This vast Empire containing approximately 600,000 square miles of territory was purchased for $7,200,000, representing less than two cents per acre. The total mineral production of Alaska from the date of purchase to the year 1920 was more than sixty times the purchase price. The fisheries during the last decade alone have yielded more than forty times the amount of the purchase price. There is every reason to believe that neither of those great industries has reached the peak of production. The coal and oil fields are practically unexplored. Those who know state that the coal fields of the Matanuska and Nenana River valleys are more than equal in extant to the original coal fields of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Timber for use in the paper and pulp industry is being utilized for the first time in the history of the Territory. Billions of cords of such wood are situated at points which are readily accessible to present or possible mill sites. William H. Seward certainly caused Uncle Sam to sow seed which was destined to bring forth many an hundred fold when he urged and consummated the purchase of Alaska.

From the October 12, 1921 issue of the Alaska daily empire.

“The observance of the day should inspire in every man and woman, every boy and girl, a love and loyalty to this great Northland and to the nation of which we are a part”

Patriotic sentiment aside, these articles also point to the economic output of the Alaskan territory, to imply that the raw materials of timber, gold, and seafood help boost the United State’s gross domestic product. The sheer bounty of resources “discovered” and turned a profit by white settlers to the territory.

In a statement from the above article that would prove fortuitous:

“The coal and oil fields are practically unexplored. Those who know state that the coal fields of the Matanuska and Nenana River valleys are more than equal in extant to the original coal fields of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.”

(Crude oil reserves from Prudhoe Bay that would not be tapped until 1968, and the profits from oil drilling would remain front and center of the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) in 1980).

Alaska Day is to be Celebrated on Thursday, the 18th: The Seward public school will celebrate Alaska Day, October 18, which is next Thursday. Miss Wallace, principal, announced today that she had received telegraphic instructions from Commissioner of Education L. D. Henderson, who requested that all school superintendents, principals and teachers pay special attention this year to Alaska Day. Commissioner of Education Henderson suggested that the teachers secure speakers to outline, the full meaning, in the light of history, of the transferring of Alaska from Russia to the United States, what it means to the residents of the Territory to be a part of the United States, what America's mission is in the world and what part each of us must take in a super-union democracy. On next Thursday afternoon at 2:30 o'clock the pupils of the high and grammar school will assemble in the high school rooms. Judge W. H. Whittlesey will make the address of the afternoon and patriotic songs will be given by the students. The actual transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States took place at Sitka on October 18, 1867. At that time the flag of the Czar of Russia was lowered and the American flag was raised. The United States was represented by General Rousseau of the regular army at the ceremony.

From the October 13, 1917 issue of the Seward gateway.

Other articles used the abundance of territorial profit as a bargaining chip to help fund mail services among other amenities:

This is the Birthday of Territory of Alaska: Alaska, As Possession of the United States, is 48 Years Old Today-- Fairbanks Has More Than Paid For It and Its Entire Case and Yet Cannot Get a Mail Service

From the October 18, 1915 issue of the Alaska citizen.

Newspapers used the holiday to instill patriotism in its citizens (Alaska Natives would not be recognized as United States citizens until 1924) by celebrating Alaska’s economic contributions and its territorial shortcomings. Virtually none of the Alaska Day coverage in historic newspapers dealt with Alaska Natives, and deliberately so, based on their second-class status. While the annual Alaska Day Festival in Sitka celebrates October 18th in a traditional manner, with parades, costumes, dances, and pageantry, many groups are confronting this legacy in light of the holiday that, ostensibly, signifies stolen land transfer.

While the people of Alaska have a day off in honor of Alaska Day, it is important to reflect on the history of the holiday, of the generational pain and trauma caused by forceful removal from sacred land, and of the resiliency of Alaska Native tribes throughout the state.

Indigenous People’s Day

Greetings all,

Here in Alaska, today is recognized as Indigenous People’s Day. What most of the country refers to as “Columbus Day” is an affront to the cultures that have shaped North America for thousands of years.

One of the most difficult aspects of studying historical newspapers is the lack of representation these papers afforded, especially considering that Alaska is home to the largest indigenous population in the country based on total state population  With the exception of newspapers published by missionary schools, (with the focus on stripping indigenous children of their heritage) white writers of newspaper articles in Alaska treated Alaska Natives as inferior individuals and not worthy of “civilization”.


While Italian-Americans faced discrimination in the eighteenth century and the early years of the 20th century, a holiday celebrating a man responsible for the genocide and enslavement of native peoples is disingenuous. (As Marty Kelley points out, there are plenty of notable Italian-Americans worthy of celebration instead of Columbus).

Today is a day to reflect on the legacies, accomplishments, and visibility of native populations throughout the United States. In time, one hopes that Indigenous People’s Day will replace Columbus Day, as it has in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Vermont. (Here is a list of individual cities that celebrate Indigenous People’s Day).

On the Road Again: Highlights from the Annual Meeting of the National Digital Newspaper Program

Greetings, all! Fresh from our trip to the Alaska Historical Society conference in Nome, This past week, Anastasia Tarmann and I have visited Washington, D.C. this past week on behalf of the National Digital Newspaper Program annual meeting.

First stop was the National Endowment for the Humanities for the start of the conference, and to meet new NDNP staff. After communicating through email and listservs, it was great to be able to put faces to names!


At this conference, I learned a great deal from my colleagues about their day-to-day triumphs and challenges of the National Digital Newspaper Program. Insights included big data projects using Chronicling America, the creation of statewide newspaper repositories, social media endeavors, and many other developments. No matter the funding cycle, from the first-ever awardees to long-term NDNP veterans, everyone had valuable first-hand experiences and stories to share.

In addition to the presentations, roundtables, and talks given by my colleagues from all across the country, I made time to attend plenty of museums and cultural institutions. Most relevant to the NDNP were, of course, the Newseum and the Library of Congress. This incredible museum touches on the dangerous, important work that is journalism. Front pages of newspapers representing each state and territory flank the entrance out in front of the Newseum.

Outstanding exhibits included “Pulitzer at 100” with particular emphasis on prizes in photojournalism, and “1968: the Civil Rights Movement at 50”, and “Make Some Noise” which focused on student leaders of the civil rights movement. The 9/11 memorial, in which reporters and journalists covered the attack on the World Trade Center, and the memorial to all journalists killed in the line of duty were sobering reminders of the life-threatening work these brave individuals undertake as part of their jobs.

On a lighter (and local) note, the infamous “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” banner, which a group of students from Juneau-Douglas High School students created, “lives” permanently at the Newseum in their exhibit on the 5 freedoms (speech, assembly, press, petition, religion) as outlined in the Bill of Rights.

Newseum 3

On Thursday and Friday, the NDNP conference reconvened at the Madison building of the Library of Congress, just across the street from the Jefferson building with its striking interior:



Also worth noting during my trip: the National Museum of American History included a portion on how a free press helped shaped revolutionary sentiment in the American colonies. This display included an antique paper, the Virginia Gazette, along with a replica printing press:

American Hist Museum

American Hist Museum 1

American Hist Museum 2

The setting of the NDNP conference in our nation’s capital reaffirmed the importance of a non-contiguous state like Alaska’s inclusion in this project. Having heard from my colleagues, and having seen the world-class museums and institutions that Washington D.C. has to offer, I am thrilled to return to Juneau to continue the work that goes into the Alaska Digital Newspaper Project, and to be able to help make historic Alaska newspapers available on Chronicling America.