Aviatrices in Alaska!

Marvel Crosson, although perhaps Alaska’s most famous, was not the only female pilot to get her license or fly in Alaska in the early years of aviation history. In fact, women pilots in Alaska were more plentiful than history books let on. Those exposed to aviation were longing to fly, and women especially were inspired by Amelia Earhart’s 1932 solo transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland, and her speeches and articles, such as, “Should You Let Your Daughter Fly?” (2005. Fratzke, Jenifer. Alaska’s Women Pilots). Mary Worthylake, an Anchorage pilot, and Irene Irvine-Ryan were such pilots in Alaska in 1932 (1991. Bruder, Gerry. Heroes of the Horizon).

MarvelCrossonWithBrotherJoeIn1927Marvel Crosson with her brother Joe in 1927. She died in Arizona in 1929 in a race.


Identities of other women pilots are a mystery.


WomanPilotsBeforeAirRaceWoman pilots before air race.


For example, who was Mrs. E. Silkwood, purported to be the first woman pilot licensed in Alaska?


ChiefKetchGarkhEscortsAPartyOutToTakuGlacierThe Alaska Daily Empire, June 10, 1918.


Alaskan Historic News Titles Arriving Soon

This month the Alaska National Digital Newspaper Project will be digitizing microfilm newsreels from multiple early 20th century Ketchikan news sources. In addition, the early and middle years of the 20th century Nome Daily Nugget will be brought to text-searchable format for the first time, as well.

Among the recurring themes represented in the first two decades of the 20th century of the Nome and Ketchikan titles being digitized this month are local news stories, including ones reporting on social developments in and around Alaskan towns; the Alaskan trade, mining, and fishing industries; ongoing chronicles of developing geopolitical relations between European, Russian, Middle Eastern, and East Asian nations; the events set in motion by, and pertaining to, U.S. presidents; and more.

The pages go live on the Chronicling America website early next year, but in the meantime come visit our reading room at the Alaska State Library, Archives, and Museum, and browse the microfilm and print collections. Continue to look for updates to our blog and Instagram pages, as well, featuring digital snippets from each month’s additions, like the one pictured below.


An April 28, 1937 front page article from the Nome Daily Nugget (Nome, Alaska)


Tales of Search and Rescue from Ketchikan

The Ketchikan Daily News (1947–Present), not to be confused with the Ketchikan Daily News (1922–1923), is a Ketchikan-based publication and continuation of the earlier Ketchikan-based Alaska Fishing News (1934–1945) and the Ketchikan Daily Alaska Fishing News (1945–1947). Note that the Alaska Fishing News (1934–1945) of Ketchikan is distinct from the similarly-titled Alaska Fisherman (1923-1932), the latter title being launched from Juneau in February of its first year of publication before relocating to Ketchikan in May of the same year.

With that explanation, this week’s AKDNP blog entry takes a closer look at one microfilm reel of the Ketchikan Daily News (1947–Present), selected from the year 1962. It is important to keep in mind that while newspapers published by 1923 are part of the public domain, as a general rule, those titles published between 1924 and 1963, and from 1964 to 1977, fall under a special category that merits further research to determine the copyright status.

According to the Library of Congress, more recent registrations or renewals of a pre-1924 copyright term create a special protection for a newspaper. When in doubt, consult the U.S. Copyright Office website records; however, be aware that the information posted on this blog is not comprehensive, nor does it constitute official legal advice—for professional counsel, confer with an attorney at law. With that said, the following table provides some basic guidelines from which to pursue an investigation into the public domain status of a newspaper:


A general understanding of copyright law is now achieved. However, before we proceed to the specific reel under examination today from the Ketchikan Daily News, it is worth noting that several Ketchikan papers are coming to online format later this season as part of the Alaska Digital Newspaper Project, including the Alaska Fisherman (1923-1932) and the Ketchikan Miner (1907-1915); however, this is a rare early opportunity to read excerpts from the Ketchikan Daily News in online format, as the newspaper has not been officially selected for digitization yet. The following is a sampling of articles from the first two months of the September–December 1962 Ketchikan Daily News reel.

An initial browse of the first few title headings reveals a significant pattern—of numerous search and rescue stories—which became the central theme for today’s reel-wide browse. In the first half of the reel, 48 articles with a search and rescue theme were uncovered. Of these 48 articles, 8 stories were deemed especially relevant; among these eight, a few were chosen as the finalists.

Note that what began as the search and rescue, or first response, focus, evolved over the course of the research, as the vast gray area of the classification became more apparent. For example, Scouts (of the Boy Scouts of America) are not infrequently portrayed in the news in a search and rescue capacity, thus an article on Scout training was not excluded from the designated search and rescue theme. Similar logic was applied in selecting the remaining stories you will find here, pulled from a host of first-responder tales of all kind. With that stated, on to the stories.

While it’s not improbable to find a downed flight rescue story in the Ketchikan Daily News of this early-1960s era, more rare yet is the mention of a downed flight transforming into a significant archaeological discovery. While this event did not occur in Alaska, nor was the story’s author a Ketchikan reporter, the event did occur in the related landscape and climate of the Arctic, to be republished in Ketchikan on September 15, 1962:


The next interesting find from the Ketchikan ’62 newsreel tells the origin story of the University of Alaska’s Southeast branch, published on October 19:


Third in the running of today’s features is one from the Scouts, mentioned earlier, which was originally published in the Ketchikan Daily News on September 10, 1962:


For these hidden treasures and more, look for the upcoming Ketchikan Mining News (1907), Ketchikan Miner (1907-1915), and the Daily Progressive Miner (1915-1919) on the Chronicling America website in text-searchable format, later this season. Also, visit the Alaska State Library today, where you can access dozens of historic newspaper titles on microfilm.

(Note: corrections have been made since an earlier publication of this blog entry, whereby an explanation of copyright law is now provided, with correct date ranges, along with an accurate list of Ketchikan titles to be digitized this season.)

Newspaper Project Director to Visit Kodiak This Week

National Digital Newspaper Project (NDNP) program director Anastasia Tarmann will be visiting Kodiak this week to give a presentation on the upcoming season of the NDNP project. Included among the 30 Alaskan newspaper titles to be digitized this year are two titles from Kodiak, the Kodiak Mirror and the Orphanage News Letter.

The Kodiak Mirror is a newspaper that began its publication in 1940, merging with Seward’s Mailboat Monitor in the mid-1950s before undergoing a name change in 1976, since when it has been published under the title Kodiak Daily Mirror. The Orphanage News Letter, also based in Kodiak, is a monthly newsletter published by the Kodiak Baptist Orphanage from 1899 to 1907. Anastasia will be speaking on the two papers and their significance as part of the Chronicling America project later this week.

In support of Anastasia’s visit, research has been conducted using the microfilm collection available to the public from the Alaska State Library physical collections. The following are highlights from research conducted using the Kodiak Mirror microfilm reel dated April 16, 1949 to June 10, 1950.

News articles from the Kodiak Mirror dated March 1950 through May 1950 offer a timeline of the process by which Alaska achieved statehood nearly a decade later. One March 4, 1950 report describes the successful passage of the statehood bill through the House of Representatives, on its way to the U.S. Senate for further review:HouseStatehoodBill1_March41950.jpgHouseStatehoodBill2_March41950.jpg































The next month, on April 11, 1950, Kodiak Mayor Lee C. Bettinger issued a statement calling for local support of the Senate hearings to pass the statehood bill:


A week later, on April 18, 1950, the Mirror published an announcement from the Associated Press foreshadowing the approaching Senate hearings in Washington:


A few days later, on April 22, 1950, students in Kodiak formed a debate group to discuss the essential issues involving the statehood question:



The final statehood development to be found in the April 16, 1949 to June 10, 1950 reel, in a May 27, 1950 article, goes on to describe the Senate statehood hearings from the perspective of Kodiak visitors in attendance at the Washington sessions:



Viewing the news articles by microfilm illustrates both the value of newspapers as primary source documents as well as the unique importance of text-searchability made possible by digitization. Patrons may appreciate the serendipity inherent in microfilm viewing compared with online text searching, as well; each has its upside.

As the NDNP project is advancing, a significant number of Alaska newspapers remain accessible by microfilm only, continually present in the Alaska State Library collections. These holdings are catalogued on the Alaska State Library website for the perusal of visiting library patrons.

By August 2020, the Alaska State Library will have contributed at least 210,000 pages of Alaskan historical newspapers from across the state, ranging from 1898 to 1963. Visit Chronicling America to access these pages and more from the online repository.

On Constitution Day

September 17 of each year is an opportunity to remind others and ourselves about the story of the signing of the US Constitution in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

A search on the Chronicling America website uncovered the following August 27, 1919 news article describing the origin of this federal observance for Alaskans, from page 8 of the Alaska Daily Empire:


A search for “Constitution Day” resulted in 134 items from Alaskan newspapers.

To conduct your own search, visit the Chronicling America website. In addition, a copy of the US Constitution is available online from the National Archives.

In other news, staff at the Alaska State Library are currently working on a few new titles for public access on ChronAm. Keep on the lookout in the coming season for:

  • Alaska Fisherman
  • Kodiak Mirror (known as the Kodiak Daily Mirror since 1976)
  • Socialist Press

Finally, the staff at the State Library would like to welcome Sam, our new Project Coordinator with the National Digital Newspaper Program, who is humbled in his new role of resuming duties–to include reporting on the blog–from others who have laid the foundation work through their impressive creative talents.

Sam is from Central New York, holds a Masters degree in Library and Information Studies, and is enjoying Juneau and Alaska for the very first time. Welcome, Sam!


Nome Nugget Digitization- All Done!

Nome Nugget 1
Bound volume of the Nome Daily Nugget on BookEye Scanner. Image courtesy of author.

Exciting news, all!

For the past two years, our team at the Alaska State Library has been re-shooting bound volumes of the Nome Nugget to include on Chronicling America. The process has had its share of difficulties, but I’m pleased to announced that we have finished filming the Nome Nugget from 1911-1917 to replace current microfilm that is overexposed and nearly impossible to read.

It’s difficult to predict when these issues will be available on Chronicling America, but they are included in this first batch of the 2018-2020 cycle.

Special thanks to Gregory Philson and Amber Glen for all their hard work shooting the bound volumes on the BookEye scanner!

A Look at the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska’s Historic Newspapers

June 26th is Canoe Day, a time when many of us head to a lake or a beach and soak up the sun during the afterglow of the Summer solstice.

Recently, I paid a visit to one of my favorite places in Juneau, the iconic Mendenhall Glacier. This time, I kayaked across Lake Mendenhall to get to the Glacier. Docking from Skater’s Cabin, the ride across the lake over was still and peaceful- until I rowed closer to the glacier. The winds kicked up speed and I found myself rowing in circles.

Glacier Lake
Image courtesy of author.

It’s hard to believe there was a time when the Mendenhall Glacier covered what is now Mendenhall Lake. The glacier itself has receded sharply over the decades, hastened by climate change. Early photographs of the glacier render it nearly unrecognizable today.


Mendenhall Lake UAF
Photograph of the Mendenhall Glacier and Mendenhall Lake circa 1949 or 1950. Image credit courtesy of the George A. Morlander Photographs Collection as part of the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Identifier: UAF-1997-108-24

Visible evidence of shrinking glaciers as a result of climate change forces us to reflect on ways in which we can be more mindful of the resources we use every day and small changes we can all make.

However much the glacier has receded, it is a reminder of the vast ice field that still remains above Juneau. Historical Alaska newspapers have substantial coverage of tourism to the Mendenhall Glacier, billed as the only glacier navigable by automobile. Below are a collection of news items related to the Mendenhall Glacier:

Take a Trip to Mendenhall Glacier: [photo of Mendenhall Glacier] There are many people in Juneau who have never seen famous Mendenhall Glacier, one of Alaska's natural marvels that people have come a great distance to see, and perhaps the only glacier on the American continent that can be reached by automobile, in an hour's ride over good roads. The trip to Mendenhall over a splendid highway and past improved farms, dairies, and hay ranches, is one that will open your eyes to the scenery and resources at your back door. Spend Sunday At Glacier; Call up any of the drivers listed below and make reservations for the trip. The minimum charge is $10.00 for four persons and $2.50 for each additional person. The following drivers are approved by the Juneau Commercial Association, and fair treatment is assured.
Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 24 July 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1920-07-24/ed-1/seq-5/>
Mendenhall Glacier: "Only sixteen miles from Juneau a splendid auto road, known as the Glacier Highway, brings you to the face of Mendenhall Glacier, the only glacier in Alaska that can be reached by automobile, and permits the visitor the opportunity of actually climbing upon this vast mountain of ice.
Image credit: The Stroller’s weekly and Douglas Island news. (Juneau, Alaska), 16 July 1921. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn93049267/1921-07-16/ed-1/seq-1/>
Gastineau Hotel
Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 19 June 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1919-06-19/ed-1/seq-2/>
Juneau People All Spent Sunday On Pleasure Bent: All Juneau took advantage of the sunshine Sunday and hied itself to Mendenhall, Auk Lake, Salmon Creek or some such place a-picnicking. Berries ripe along the roads attracted many people afoot. Delivery car auto-trucks, roadsters and touring cars, made traffic heavy on the Mendenhall and Thane highways.l Motor boats carried parties to Marmion Island, Grindstone and bays near Juneau. The largest excursion party out yesterday was the one assembled by the Odd Fellows which went to Eagle river on the Alma.
Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 25 Aug. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1919-08-25/ed-1/seq-5/>
AK Daily empire 7 28 1919
Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 28 July 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1919-07-28/ed-1/seq-7/>
Mendenhall Wolves
Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 25 Jan. 1921. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1921-01-25/ed-1/seq-5/>
Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 18 March 1921. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1921-03-18/ed-1/seq-2/>
Berry's Auto
Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 02 June 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1920-06-02/ed-1/seq-3/>

The opportunity to kayak on Mendenhall Lake, with its breathtaking natural beauty, is one that I will always treasure, although it is hard to be confronted with the realities of our warming planet. I am often reminded of these dire environmental times while living in Alaska, and I can’t shake my guilt when I think about the fossil fuels burnt to drive to and from the glacier.

One can only hope that the Juneau Icefield will still replenish the glacier for generations to come.

The Mighty Musk Ox: A Celebration of Alaska’s Prehistoric Megafauna

Color photograph of musk ox seated on the grass at the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer, Alaska.
Image courtesy of author. Note the qiviut on the right side of its head, and lighter-colored strands under its dark hair.

Quick question: what Alaskan animal from the Pleistocene era has the softest hair? The answer may surprise you, but it’s none other than the humble musk ox. This iconic animal left over from the ice age provides qiviut, or a downy undercoat, that is knitted into warm weather clothing, without the itchiness of sheep’s wool.

Having paid a visit to the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer during my trip last week to Anchorage, I had the privilege of getting up close to these magnificent creatures and to learn more about their history in Alaska.

Red painted sign with text that reads Musk Ox Farm above an illustration of a musk ox superimposed over the state of Alaska
Image courtesy of author.

Around the turn of the 20th century, musk ox numbers were dwindling in Alaska, mostly due to over-hunting. A man named John Teal had a vision. He saw the reintroduction of musk ox as a way to not only revive a dying species, but to provide economic opportunities for local and native communities to harvest qiviut. This undertaking of a captive breeding program in Palmer, known as the Musk Ox Project, started in 1954, with the help from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF). UAF, in turn, hosts its Large Animal Research Station, or LARS, to study musk ox, which started in 1974 by Dr. Robert G. White in the model of Teal’s captive breeding program. The earliest effort began in the mid-1930s, during which time 34 musk oxen were transferred from Greenland, brought over to Fairbanks, before being settled in Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea, where their population grew to 750 musk oxen in 1968. Together these efforts, along with release points on the Seward Peninsula and Prudhoe Bay, have made for a successful reintroduction from the brink of extinction. Roughly 4,000 musk ox exist in the wild today, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Musk Ox Water
Image courtesy of author. Note the sanded-down tips of horn, to prevent injury to humans and other musk oxen.

In addition to qiviut, which helps keep musk ox warm in the punishing arctic winters, their horns provide a hardy tool for survival. Much like moose, deer, or elk, musk ox go into rut, during which time male musk ox compete annually for dominance over breeding by ramming their heads together. Unlike antlers, these horns have an outer layer, known as the boss, that does not shed. Instead, the boss is attached to the skull, and in this way, musk ox are more closely related to goats. Musk ox can protect themselves from predators thanks to their boss, which I was able to see and handle as a part of the skull of a musk ox. (It’s very heavy!)

Color photograph of author holding a musk ox skull
Image courtesy of author.

Of course, newspapers from a century ago regarded musk ox as sources of meat, which led to their near-extinction in the Territory. Despite their relative scarcity, however, many stories from Alaska’s historic newspapers chronicle hunting trips from visitors from the Lower 48. Several articles point to man named Vilhjalmur Stefansson, an arctic explorer, who advocated an all-meat diet well before the current popularity of high-protein nutritional intake. Stefansson advocated musk oxen in terms of more practical matters of meat for sustenance, yet without a practical plan for captive breeding, musk oxen remained in short supply.


Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 31 Jan. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1919-01-31/ed-1/seq-6/>
Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 04 Dec. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1919-12-04/ed-1/seq-5/>
By proclamation of the governor of the Yukon territory the killing of all musk ox, elk or wapita, moose, caribou, deer, mountain sheep or mountain goats, is expressly prohibited, except by miners, prospectors and Indians for their own use, until further notice.
Image credit: Douglas Island news. (Douglas City, Alaska), 08 April 1908. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84021930/1908-04-08/ed-1/seq-4/>

Thanks to the efforts of Teal and all those who helped reintroduce musk ox to Alaska, the population of musk ox today remains stable throughout Alaska. Threats due to climate change are impacting the number of wild musk ox in Nordic countries, which makes these captive breeding programs all the more essential. Just as a fledgling population in Alaska started from a herd of 34 musk ox from Greenland, the Musk Ox Farm may one day send a herd overseas.

Musk Ox Pair
Image courtesy of author. These two musk ox are among the oldest musk oxen, at 25 years old.

Special thanks to the Musk Ox Farm for this unique opportunity to learn more about these amazing animals!

Lone Musk Ox
Image courtesy of author.

Play Ball!

Play Ball AK Daily Empire 5-17-18
Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 17 May 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1918-05-17/ed-1/seq-8/>

Greetings from Anchorage, readers!

While baseball season is well underway in the Lower 48, with March 28 marking Major League Baseball’s Opening Day, June 6 marked opening day of the Alaska Baseball League.

The Alaska Baseball League has a rich history: 1906 saw the first annual Midnight Sun Baseball Game, held on the summer solstice beginning at 10:30 p.m. and lasted until well past midnight, the field illuminated solely by sunlight.

The Alaska Baseball League, an amateur collegiate summer baseball league, currently represents 5 teams: the Anchorage Bucs (formerly the Cook Inlet Bucs), the Anchorage Glacier Pilots, the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks, the Mat-Su Miners of Palmer, and the Peninsula Oilers of Kenai.

On opening day, the Anchorage Bucs faced off against the Peninsula Oilers at Mulcahy Stadium. The game started off rather rainy, but the Bucs beat the Oilers 11-1. A thrilling start of the Alaska baseball season!

Image courtesy of author.
Image courtesy of author.
Image courtesy of author.
Play Ball AK Daily Empire 5-16-18
Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 16 May 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1918-05-16/ed-1/seq-8/>


R.I.P “Dart Raven” (or, why the Migratory Bird Act still matters)

Dart Raven
Raven with blow dart through its head. Image credit: Jaqueline Androsko

Hello readers,

Over the past few months, downtown Juneau has hosted a peculiar specimen of animal cruelty: an adult raven with a blow dart in its head, still alive. Efforts to catch the raven and remove the dart have failed, as it has (understandably) avoided capture.

In the interest of the bird’s health, and to prevent predators from ingesting the dart, Animal Control officials finally caught the bird earlier this week and euthanized the raven. This story has been picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in several newspapers throughout the state, and in the Lower 48.

Having seen this bird firsthand, and having submitted a report to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game a few months ago, I was taken aback by this cruel act. Ravens, in addition to their importance to Alaska Natives, are protected birds under the 101-year-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Passed by Congress in 1918, this Treaty provided a progressive conservation measure to protect birds that were in danger of extinction due to the demand for ornate plumage in women’s hats.

Illustration from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper that depicts a hunter shooting at a bird and leaving behind baby birds in a nest, next to a taxidermist in his studio preparing the dead birds, and beneath that an illustration of a fashionable young woman wearing a hat with two dead birds, with a caption that reads: "The cruelties of fashion-- fine feathers make fine birds."
Hyde, John N., Artist. The cruelties of fashion – “fine feathers make fine birds” / Hyde. , 1883. New York: Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2014645364/.

Although ravens do not migrate, the Treaty was amended in 1972 to extend protections to corvids, which brought the total number of birds protected to 1,026—nearly every native bird species in the United States. This means that those who kill protected birds are subject to hefty fines. In 2016, authorities imposed a fine of $1,125 to one Fairbanks resident who pleaded guilty to killing multiple ravens simply because he saw them as a nuisance.

Migratory bird act
Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 20 May 1921. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1921-05-20/ed-1/seq-3/>

Unfortunately, bringing offenders to justice is difficult. One would hope that the widespread attention given to “dart raven” draws awareness to the protections surrounding these iconic birds.

15 Million Pages- And Counting!


15 Million

Hello All,

Great news! Chronicling America has just hit its 15 million page mark, which means even more pages of newspapers that have been fully digitized and text-searchable online.

In the coming weeks, expect to see these titles appear on Chronicling America:

Seward Gateway

Daily Gateway

Seward Daily Gateway

Seward Weekly Gateway

The Seward Gateway and the Alaska Evening Post

The Seward Gateway Daily Edition and the Alaska Weekly Post

The Seward Gateway (1920-1923)


Exploring Alaska’s Fossils

Mastodon Fossil
Image credit: From the Dr. Daniel S. Neuman Collection, ASL-P307-0030, at the Alaska State Library Historical Collections. Photo caption reads: “Mastadon Head Found in Alaska in 1904- Buried 42-Below the Surface”

Hello Readers,

To celebrate National Museums Day this Saturday, we’d like to bring special attention to  Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline, the Alaska State Museum’s summer exhibit as part of a traveling exhibit from the Anchorage Museum. Featuring illustrations by beloved Alaskan artist Ray Troll and bone fragments from long-extinct megafauna like woolly mammoths (Alaska’s official state fossil!) and dinosaurs, this exhibit highlights Alaska’s prehistoric past in a way that is fresh and engaging. 

Below are a few items from Alaska’s historic newspapers that mention Alaska’s pre-Ice Age climate based on its fossil finds:

fossil 3
Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 13 Feb. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1922-02-13/ed-1/seq-3/>
The Fossil Flora of Cape Lisburne, Alaska: Peculiar and absorbing interest attaches to the study of the fossil floras of the Arctic regions, for they indicate climatic conditions very unlike those now existing there. In place of the present snow and ice and the scant, almost perpetually frozen soil which supports but a handful of depauperate plants, the conditions from at least late Paleozoic to middle Cenozoic geologic time--many millions of years ago, before the development of mammals--made possible, at least during certain periods, an abundant and luxuriant vegetation, consisting of ferns and palmlike plants that could grow only in a mild and probably frostless climate. Although these lands are now so inhospitable, and hence but rarely visited, an astonishing amount of information concerning their fossil floras has been accumulated, and to this knowledge Alaska has contributed its full quota, says F. H. Knowlton, a paleontologist of the United States Geological Survey, in a short paper on the "Jurassic Flora of Cape Lisburne", just published as Part D of Professional Paper 85. The fossil plants described by Mr. Knowlton were collected by A. J. Collier, a geologist of the Survey, while engaged in the study of the coal resources of the Cape Lisburne region. The coal deposits are extensive and are the only mineral resources of the region known to be of commercial importance. A little mining has been done by vessels short of fuel, which occasionally lie off shore and load on a few sacks of coal. This, however, is a rather dangerous practice, as there is no harbor. Cape Lisburne is the bold headland which marks the northwestern extremity of a land mass projecting into the Arctic Ocean from the western coast of Alaska between latitudes 68 degrees and 69 degrees. It lies 160 miles north of the Arctic Circle, about 300 miles directly north of Nome, and is the only point in Alaska north of the Bering Strait where hills above 1,000 feet in height approach the sea. The Jurassic section to which the name Corwin formation has been given is said by Collier to consist of shales, sandstones, conglomerates, and coal beds. Fossil plants occur in the shale beds wherever they have been examined. This formation reaches the enormous thickness of over 15,000 feet and contains 40 to 50 coal beds which range in thickness from 1 to 2 to over 30 feet, ten of them being 4 feet thick and suitable for mining. The various beds aggregate at least 150 feet of coal. Mr. Knowlton correlates the Jurassic flora of Alaska with that of eastern Siberia and concludes that the land connection between North America and Asia at this early period of the world must have been practically continuous. In reviewing the character and geographic range of Jurassic floras, especially as developed in Arctic and Antarctic regions, he states that the wide areal distribution of of Middle and Upper Jurassic floras has long been one of the marvels of plant distribution. The living flora of today, of course, affords many individual examples of wide distribution, such as those found throughout the Tropics of both hemispheres, and others, chiefly weeds, that have, largely through human agencies, spread widely over temperate lands, but altogether these plants form but an insignificant part of of the whole flora, whereas in Jurassic time a large percentage of the whole flora was practically world wide in its range. Even Cape Lisburne is by no means the northern limit of this nearly tropical vegetation; it has been found, preserved for all time in the rocks, 180 miles northeast of Cape Lisburne.
Image credit: The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 23 Feb. 1914. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014189/1914-02-23/ed-1/seq-2/>
Fossil 2
Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 17 Oct. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1922-10-17/ed-1/seq-1/>

It’s certainly hard to imagine an Alaska without ice, isn’t it?

Be sure to check out Cruisin’ the Fossil Coast this summer at the Alaska State Library in Juneau!