Elizabeth Peratrovich Day

Elizabeth Peratrovich

From the Alaska State Library Historical Collections, a portrait of Elizabeth Peratrovich

Each year on February 16, Alaska honors activist and civil rights pioneer Elizabeth Peratrovich. Peratrovich is responsible for the Alaska Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945,  a statute that guaranteed equal accommodations throughout the state. It is the very first anti-discrimination law in the United States.

Since the arrival of Russian fur traders and the influx of white gold miners from the Lower 48, instances of racial discrimination on behalf of non-whites occurred with alarming frequency. Places of business openly discriminated against Alaska Natives and frequently placed “No Natives Allowed” signs in shop windows, or requested “White Help Only”.

Front Street 1908

Image credit: From the Winter and Pond Photographs Collection circa 1908 as part of Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

In 1944, a high school-aged girl named Alberta Schenck worked at the Alaska Dream Theater in Nome as an usher. Her job was to help uphold the status quo by making sure nonwhite patrons did not sit in segregated seats reserved for white theater-goers. When she complained to the theater manager about the racial inequality, she was fired.  In response, Ms. Schenck wrote an editorial in the Nome Nugget.

Nome Nugget, Friday, March 3, 1944 Communications, Page 3 TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: This is a long story, but will have to make it brief as possible. It concerns race between natives, breeds, and whites. I believe we Americans and also our Allies are fighting for the purpose of freedom. Many of our early ancestors fought for the very same purpose, so their children, and children's children, etc., would be free. I myself am part Eskimo and part Irish and so are many others. I only truthfully know that I am one of God's children regardless of race, color, or creed. You and I or anyone else is not to blame what we are. But we are all proud to be what God has made us. Why was it that Thomas Jefferson and his men signed the Declaration of Independence? You or I know for certain that they did not fight and had thousands injured and killed for nothing. It has been known and said through centuries that all American citizens have the right to go, do, and say what they please. What has hurt us constantly is that we are not able to go to a public theater and sit where we wish, but yet we pay the SAME as anyone else and our money is GLADLY received. We are not allowed even to go to public doings, only when money is concerned for the benefit of so-called society people of our city. These human beings who think they are in a higher standard than others admit that they are citizens of America, but the majority are not loyal to what is written in the Constitution. Every so often the Red Cross donations are contributed by all the people regardless who they are, for the aid of foreign countries surrounding America. We gladly offer and give help to those in need but when Red Cross social entertainments are given, we are entirely left out. It looks as though we are not good enough to be invited. Before war was declared there were supposingly American people here in our city that were not even citizens of America. They evidently were the ones keeping us from attending social entertainments and complaining to where we should sit in a theatre, because of being natives and part natives. In other parts of Alaska all people are treated equally. Seemingly Nome is the only town in Alaska treating natives, and breeds as outcasts. These people trying to be so-called society people, are only following the steps of Hitlerism. Alberta Schenck

Image credit: from the March 3, 1944 issue of the Nome Nugget.

Ms. Schenck later returned to the theater with a white date and sat in the whites-only section, only to be asked to leave her seat. She refused, and was arrested. The local Inupiat community staged a protest outside the jail where she was released the next day.

The treatment of Alberta Schenck was a rallying cry toward a bill of rights that guaranteed equal treatment of Alaska Native individuals under the law.

The following article describes the events of February 5, 1945 with a debate on the floor of the Alaska Territorial Senate regarding the “Equal rights” bill, House bill 14. Roy and Elizabeth Peratrovich testify about conditions in Alaska, along with statements from several Senators.

THE DAILY ALASKA EMPIRE Tuesday, February 6, 1945 SUPERIOR RACE THEORY HIT IN HEARING Native Sisterhood President Hits at Rights Bill Opposition Opposition that had appeared to speak with a strong voice was forced to a defensive whisper at the close of yesterday's Senate hearing on the "Equal Rights" issue. Mrs. Roy Peratrovich, Grand President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, the last speaker to testify, climaxed the hearing by wringing volleying applause from the galleries and Senate floor alike, with a biting condemnation of the "super race" attitude. Reciting instances of discrimination suffered by herself and friends, she cried out against a condition that forces the finest of her race to associate with "white trash." Answering the oft-voiced question, "will this law eliminate discrimination," Mrs. Peratrovich admitted that it would not; but, she queried in rebuttal, "do your laws against larceny and even murder eliminate those crimes?" No law will eliminate crimes but, at least, you as legislators, can assert to the world that you recognize the evil of the present situation and speak your intent to help us overcome discrimination, she said. Opposition Declaring their opposition to the law, unless it is amended, senators Scott, Whaley, Collins and Shattuck spoke their feelings on the issue during the two hours of discussion; while Senators Walker and Cochran held forth in favor of the law. Senator Joe Green was chairman for the Committee of the Whole hearing. Senator Allen Shattuck opened the discussion by repeating a statement he declared he had already made to Roy Peratrovich, Grand President of the Alaska Native Brotherhood. "This bill will aggravate, rather than allay the little feeling that now exists," he stated. "Our native cultures have 10 centuries of white civilization to encompass in a few decades. I believe that considerable progress has been made; particularly in the last 50 years," Senator Shattuck declared. ANB President Talks Peratrovich was then asked to the stand by Senator N.R. Walker and following questions that established his education, background, and right to speak for the Indians, Peratrovich was invited to express his views on the question before the Senate. He pointed out that Gov. Ernest Gruening, in his report to the Secretary of the Interior, as well as in his message to the Legislature, had recognized the existence of discrimination. He quoted the plank adopted by the Democratic Party as its Fairbanks convention, which favored action on the natives' behalf. Reading the names of the members of the committee that helped frame that plank, he pointed out that among than were members of the present Senate body. "Only an Indian can know how it feels to be discriminated against," Peratrovich said. "Either you are for discrimination or you are against it," accordingly as you vote on this bill, he added. Has Amendment Declaring that he had an amendment to propose to the measure, Senator Frank Whaley read a lengthy prepared address to the assembly; in which he labeled the measure a "lawyer's dream" and a "natural in creating hard feeling between whites and natives." He stated his flying experience in many parts of Alaska as authority behind his the opinion he had reached. Declaring himself "personally assailed" by Senator Whaley in his remarks, Senator O.D. Cochran raised his voice for the bill, offering instances of discrimination which came, he declared, from a list of similar occurrences in his own knowledge that would occupy the full afternoon to relate. As in his speech on the matter before the House, Senator Cochran made use of a theater in Nome as a prime example of an establishment where discrimination is practiced. Senator Walker supported Senator Cochran's views, declaring that he knew no instance where a native had died of a broken heart, but added that he did know of situations where discrimination had forced Indian women into living lives "worse that death." Scott Talks Senator Tolbert Scott, in one of his rare participations in debate, spoke from the heart his feeling that the bill, as it stood, would not accomplish the purpose intended. "Mixed-breeds," he declared, are the source of the trouble. It is only they who wish to associate with the whites. "It would have been far better had the Eskimos put up signs 'No Whites Allowed'," he said. He stated his belief that the issue was being raised to create political capital for some legislators, and concluded that "white women have done their part" in keeping the races distinct; if white men had done as well, there would be no racial feeling in Alaska. Liquor Problem Speaking from his long experience, among Eskimo peoples in particular, Senator Grenold Collins furnished a sincere and authoritative voice in opposition to the bill. He supported Senator Scott's contention regarding mixed breeds by citing the well-being of the Eskimos of St. Lawrence Island, where white men have not worked their evil. "Eskimos are not an inferior race," he stated, "but they are an individual race." The pure Eskimos are proud of their origin and are aware that harm comes to them from mixing with whites. It is the mixed breed who is not accepted by either race who causes the trouble. Declaring, "I believe in racial pride" and do not think this bill will do other than arouse bitterness, Senator Collins lashed out at the sale of liquor to natives, as the root of trouble. A motion to report progress, offered by Senator Walker, was approved, following the testimony of Mrs. Peratrovich, which terminated the discussion.

Image description: From the Alaska State Library Historical Collections, article from the February 6, 1945 issue of the Daily Alaska Empire.

Roy Peratrovich, Elizabeth’s husband, stated that “only an Indian can know how it feels to be discriminated against. Either you are for discrimination or you are against it” with regards to a vote on the bill.

Gruening signs anti-discrimination act

Image credit: From the Alaska State Library Historical Collections, Governor Gruening (seated) signs the anti-discrimination act of 1945. Witnessing are (left to right) O. D. Cochran, Elizabeth Peratrovich, Edward Anderson, Norman Walker, and Roy Peratrovich.

While Alaska’s Anti-discrimination act preceded any American civil rights legislation by a good 20 years, acts of racial discrimination continued, as it continues to this day. Yet Elizabeth Peratrovich’s efforts are to be applauded for paving the way for the Civil Rights Movement in the Lower 48, for speaking out against racial discrimination, and standing up for basic human decency. In response to an earlier comment by a territorial senator who asked, “Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites, with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us” she famously stated:

“I would not have expected,” she said “that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights.”

The Alaska Legislature under Governor Steve Cowper first recognized Elizabeth Peratrovich Day on February 16, 1988, and schools throughout the state of Alaska have taught students about this civil rights pioneer. It’s about time the rest of the country honors her, too.

Gunałchéesh, Elizabeth Peratrovich!

Photograph in color of Ed Thomas of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA), Dorothy McKinley of the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS), Roy Peratrovich, Governor Steve Cowper (seated, signing the bill), George Miyasato, and Richard Stitt of the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB). The Alaska state seal is on the wall behind them

Image credit: From the Alaska State Archives, Governor Steve Cowper signs the bill that created Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, Juneau, May 26, 1988. Left to right: Ed Thomas of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA), Dorothy McKinley of the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS), Roy Peratrovich, Governor Steve Cowper (seated), George Miyasato, and Richard Stitt of the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB).


Library Lovers’ Month

Everybody Wants a Free Public Library, Music and Art, and Can Have Easily a Fine Exhibit of Minerals and Curios; The Cordova Daily Times (Member of the Associated Press) Vol. 7 No. 91; Cordova, Alaska, Tuesday, March 21, 1922; Price Ten Cents

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 21 March 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1922-03-21/ed-1/seq-1/>

February marks Library Appreciation Month, an appropriate designation given that this project is based out of the Alaska State Library!

Although it’s easy to take public libraries for granted, several news items from the Cordova Daily Times point to the general public’s desire for not only books, but music and art and “a Fine Exhibit of Minerals and Curios” to establish a municipal art museum.

All Seem To Want Library: Proposal Evokes Many Ideas for Good of the Community. All Cordovans seem to want action immediately by the Literacy Club, which meets tomorrow night, toward establishing the nucleus of a free public library. One of the Club members said today the proposal would be given attention. If the Club backs the movement, as expected, donations of books will be in order, likewise paintings for decoration-- as a start for the city's museum of fine arts. A commodious room downtown can be obtained, it is said, well adapted to the purpose. No definite plans have been attempted, this being left for the Literary Club, but it has been suggested that the librarian at first be a volunteer, who would attend and give out books at certain hours, daily. After awhile a regular librarian could be employed and open house be kept continually. Another suggestion is that a phonograph be obtained, together with the best grand opera and other music records, so that musical entertainments could be given in the evenings, free to everybody. The idea is to announce the program of these entertainments in The Times. In this way everybody could have the pleasure of hearing the best music and at the same time look over the book supply. Several prominent citizens already have said they know of many persons who would be glad to donate books for such a purpose; others know where paintings and other works of art might be found, for the asking.

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 20 March 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1922-03-20/ed-1/seq-8/>

Even today with a steadfast Interlibrary Loan system to connect libraries within the state of Alaska, materials can take several weeks to arrive based on the sheer distance needed to travel. Imagine not even having an established collection of books to browse through on cold, dark, winter nights- or having any means of obtaining books.

For many citizens of Cordova, a library represented a cultural outlet missing from their town. A library also represented the comforts of home and a gathering place for friends. The Cordova public school library was the only library in town, and its borrowing privileges were reserved for school children only.

Notice: The Cordova public school library will be open Friday from 2 to 3 p.m. for the children of the school who wish to take out library books. Leona Churchill, Librarian.

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 13 June 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1918-06-13/ed-1/seq-8/>

This lack of a larger institution is laid bare in this article for an upcoming “tag sale” to benefit the Cordova public school library:

Tag Sale For Library Fund On Saturday: Next Saturday is the annual tag day for the Cordova public school library, when the public will be asked to play a game of tag with the children. In this particular kind of tag game it is proper for the participants to allow themselves to be tagged just as soon and as often as possible. It is to be hoped that everyone plays the game as well as it was played last year. This tag day sale is for the benefit of the school library, which needs to be built up to a higher point of efficiency, since it must serve in a double capacity, due to the fact that Cordova can boast of no public library at present. Some time, not too far away, let us hope, Cordova will have a public library, but until that time is it not wise to increase the scope and general usefulness of our school library, so that it may in a measure stone for the lack of a larger institution? "Have a heart" is in this case a genuine appeal for each to help by buying one of the heart-shaped tags-- no slang intended. Tag! You're it!

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 19 Feb. 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1920-02-19/ed-1/seq-8/>

By 1920, however, the Cordova public school library opened its doors to the general public:

Notice to the Public: As Cordova has no public library, it has been decided to open the school library for general use. Hereafter anyone who cares to take out books will be welcome to do so on Wednesdays from 3 to 4 p.m. Books must be returned the following Wednesday or the borrower will be subject to a fine of 5 cents a day until they are returned. To cover possible loss or damage, a deposit of $1 will be required from those having no connection with the school, the same to be returned at the close of the school year. Our library has grown from 264 volumes to over a thousand in number, and while many of our books are juvenile, there are also many that will interest adults. Alice Daggett will have charge of this branch of the loan work, and borrowers will see her when wishing to borrow or return books.

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 31 Jan. 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1920-01-31/ed-1/seq-6/>

Newspapers all throughout Alaska picked up on the public outcry for a library in Cordova and spread the word to readers near and far.

Cordova Wants Museum of Fine Arts and Also a Good Public Library: There is a lively local sentiment in favor of the establishment of a public library in Cordova this year-- at least the beginning of one Rev. Eustance P. Ziegler, in reply to an inquiry, said he believed the people were earnestly desirous of having not only a good public library, together with all the leading magazines, but also a museum of fine arts to which he would be pleased to contribute. It is also believed that Sydney Laurence and other artists would be glad to contribute. Some constructive action along this line many be expected soon. Mr. Ziegler said these questions which probably would be taken up by the Literary Club, through the initiative of one of its live-wire members. A little further inquiry elicited the apparent consensus of opinion that the Alaska Pioneer Spirit, which is very active here, would not favor obtaining a library by endowment, or Carnegie fund, nor by charitable donation of any kind. To the contrary, it was said, the modest beginning could be made this year and additions be provided as fast as means allow. The idea seems to be to keep the city independent in this respect, free from debt and self-reliant.--Cordova Times.

Image credit: The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 08 April 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.<https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014189/1922-04-08/ed-1/seq-4/>

In June of 1925, women’s guild of St. George’s Episcopal Church opened the reading room of the Red Dragon, a historical building, as the very first location of the Cordova Public Library. Books donated by Episcopalian churches throughout the Lower 48 formed the collection- which formed an eclectic mix of titles!

Library in Red Dragon to be Thrown Open to Public: Launching a movement to eventually secure an adequate library for Cordova, The Women's Guild of St. George's Episcopal Church has arranged to throw open to the public the book collection now housed in the Red Dragon. Beginning Saturday the club building will be open from 1 to 7 p.m. and people may call there to read or borrow books. It will continue open between these hours each Wednesday and Saturday. Under the supervision of Mrs. F. A. Hansen and Miss Elsie Waltz, the books have been arranged in alphabetical order and can be readily located on the shelves. About 700 volumes are now in the building, as well as a number which have been borrowed from the Red Dragon in the past. It has been requested that all persons having books from there return them as soon as possible, so that the shelves may not be too rapidly depleted. The books now on hand have been sent here from Episcopalian churches all over the United States. The range of materials is large, for the contributors seem to be in doubt as to just what the taste of Alaskans runs to. In the same book case you may find treaties on "Success with Small fruits," "Intestinal Ills" and "Manhood Wrecked and Rescued." Fiction is relatively scarce, although there are several set including works of George Eliot, Bret Harte and the like. There are recent volumes by Kathleen Norris, Rex Besch, Harold Bell Wright, Booth Tarkington, E. Phillips Oppenheim, Jeffrey Faruol, Ralph Connor, William Allen White, Somerset Maugham and many others. Even the old-time paper-backed novel is there and you may take your choice of "The Fatal Marriage," "'Twas Love's Fault" or "Vivian, the Beauty," the first chapter of which opens with the line: "'He loves me,' murmured Jeanne." Another enticing and much thumbed book is entitled "The Romance of a Poor Young Man." If you have some books you don't know what to do with, the library can find a use for them. An appeal is to be sent out to those in the States who have hitherto contributed, telling how much entertaining books of fiction and on modern progress mean when people live so far from book stores and municipal libraries. A reading table will be arranged with late issues of current magazines. A number of sets of these best magazines, covering twelve month periods are also to be found there. Another book case is devoted to a quantity of juvenile books.

Image credit: From the June 11, 1925 issue of the Cordova Daily Times, Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

More Books Given to Red Dragon Library: With the increasing interest being shown in the library recently opened at the Red Dragon by the Women's Guild of St. George's Church, several books have just been donated by local residents. The gifts are from Mrs. Brady Howard, Mrs. Lew Smith, Mrs. C. P. Mickelson and Mrs. D. F. Cook. Persons who have had volumes from the Red Dragon in their homes for a long time are urgently requested to return them, as the demand for the books is growing constantly and it is also desired that the stray property of the library be cataloged. Among the new fiction recently placed on the shelves are the following: "Scaramouche," by Rafael Sabatini. "The Desert of Wheat," by Zane Grey. "Cap'n Dan's Daughter," by Joseph C. Lincoln. "Back Home," by Irvin S. Cobb. "Galusha the Magnificent," by Joseph C. Lincoln. The library will be open again on Saturday from 1 to 7 p.m.

Image credit: From the June 25, 1925 issue of the Cordova Daily Times, Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Today, the Cordova Public Library has found a permanent home at the Cordova Center, after having its collection housed in the Adams Building and the Windsor Hotel. We are fortunate to have had this journey toward a free public library documented in the Cordova Daily Times.

For more information, see http://www.cordovalibrary.org/ and https://reddragoncordova.org/ 




Groundhog Day

February 2 marks Groundhog Day. While a relatively small population of groundhogs or woodchucks live in the Interior of Alaska, their relative the marmot is a more common resident. Alaska marmots (Marmota broweri), hoary marmots (Marmota caligata), and woodchucks/groundhogs (Marmota monax) all belong to the squirrel family. Alaska sees its fair share of hoary marmots like the one below, and are the largest members of the squirrel family (Sciuridae) in North America.

Photograph of hoary marmot on a rock surrounded by other rocks.

Image taken by author.

Map of Alaska with the population of Hoary Marmots superimposed over the Southeast, Interior, and South Central regions of the state.

Image credit: Alaska Department of Fish and Game: https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=hoarymarmot.rangemap

While its more famous cousins hog the limelight on February 2nd, marmots appear in Alaska’s historical newspapers, more often than not for their fur coats.

There is one, for instance, an outfit made of a white homespun woolen material with the roughest sort of surface. Then the trimming is done with bands of marmot fur, making a delicious contrast and a most effective spotting of decoration. Image: illustration of a woman wearing a hat and a skirt and a coat trimmed with marmot fur with a walking stick. Caption: White Suit of Homespun, Marmot Trimming on Collar and Cuffs.

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 31 Aug. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1922-08-31/ed-1/seq-3/>

Men's Fur Lined Coats: Lined with dark muskrat, with extra fine quality imported broadcloth shell and large marmot mink collar. Worth nearly double the price. On sale now at...$65.00

Image credit: The Alaska citizen. (Fairbanks, Alaska), 04 Dec. 1911. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn96060002/1911-12-04/ed-1/seq-8/>

It is unfortunate that the marmot receives such scant attention, especially given its prominence in Alaska. But for those interested in the happenings of large ground rodents, Groundhog Day is a bonanza. Whether or not you believe in the superstition, there is no shortage of news items that cover the groundhog’s winter weather prognostications. A small sample is included below:

"Old Man" Groundhog Billed to Peer Around Tomorrow: Tomorrow is the day that Mr. Groundhog is billed to make his annual debut on the hills back of Juneau to cast his weather eye about and decide whether or not there is to be a late or early spring. If he sees his shadow on that day it is said that he crawls back into his hole in the ground and stays there for six weeks. If he sees no shadow he sticks around as an indication that the weather is soon to break and spring will be early. With the brand of weather that is on tap right now and has been on tap for several days it is predicted that there will be no shadows for Mr. Groundhog to shy at tomorrow. Some one was mean enough to remark that it was an awful lucky thing than old man Groundhog did not attempt to amble about any yesterday while the high wind was blowing or he might have been blown back into his hole with a broken leg, head, or back.

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 01 Feb. 1921. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1921-02-01/ed-1/seq-8/>

Sunshine Much Feared: Douglas, Feb. 1.--There is one day of each year when sunshine is not welcomed in any part of the country and tomorrow is that day. Tomorrow is "Groundhog" day, the day when, regardless of wind or weather, the little animal ventures to emerge from his den in the ground or under rocks to size up conditions. After hibernating several weeks, the groundhog is naturally timid and is easily frightened. There fore, if it sees its own shadow when it comes forth into the light, it becomes frustrated and naturally hikes back under the ground where it remains another six weeks, during which period Old Bory holds high carnival, Taku winds howl and winter lingers. However, in the event there is no sun to create a shadow, the groundhog soon acquires confidence and remains out in the open, in which event winter sneaks away into the offing, spring advances and all nature stands on her head and dangles her heels in the air in glee. All good people--people imbued with the spirit that seeks to advance the public welfare-- will hope, and even pray, that the sun may not shine tomorrow, but that clouds, dark, thick, and dense, may hover over this section of Alaska just like they do on picnic days in summer. The sun is shining brightly here today which fast is causing considerable uneasiness.

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 01 Feb. 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1918-02-01/ed-1/seq-7/>

Groundhog Backs Up. The official groundhog came forth this morning, took a slant at the sun and slid back into his hole with his nose nipped. He is due to reappear in six weeks, which will be March 15. According to the statute in such case made and provided in the cornfed Middle West winter should end on that date, but the latitude and climate of Alaska are too stiff even for a groundhog, and when he comes out then he is likely to give the weather the once-over and retire for another six weeks. An Alaska groundhog ought to be given two guesses at spring.

Image credit: Valdez daily prospector. (Valdez, Alaska), 02 Feb. 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn98060264/1917-02-02/ed-1/seq-2/>

Bad Day for the Old Ground-Hog: If the alleged faith of the groundhog in the tradition of his kind is based on fact, we are in for some bad weather before the sun gets back on our side of the equator. Today is "Ground-hog Day," and if the ground hog came out he saw his shadow, for the sun was shining brightly hereabouts this morning. The New England tradition is that the ground-hog comes out of his hole on the second day of February and if he sees his shadow he hastens back to cover to remain for six weeks.

Image caption: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 02 Feb. 1915. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1915-02-02/ed-1/seq-1/>

Groundhog Day Was Phenomenal: it must have been a reluctant retreat made by the cautious old groundhog yesterday morning, after stepping out of doors and observing his dark shadow cast across show as bright and soft as if warmed by an April instead of an early-February sun. According to tradition, the ground hog went back into his hole to remain six weeks longer, and thereby escape the storms portended by the present fair weather. There are some people hereabout who profess to believe the groundhog has played a joke on himself this time. The winter having been fine beyond all precedent so far, they contend that it is rather more logical to conclude that it will continue so than it will vent its full fury in its closing days. However that may be, the groundhog was greeted by a radiant day.

Image credit: Iditarod pioneer. (Iditarod, Alaska), 03 Feb. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn95060032/1912-02-03/ed-1/seq-4/>

Whether the proverbial groundhog sees his shadow or not, it’s important to keep warm these next few weeks. And keep an eye out for the humble marmot!

Black, White, and Read All Over: News Wire Access in Alaska


WAMCATS telegraph tower at Fort Gibbon, Alaska.

One quirk of the Alaska Digital Newspaper Project is the prevalence of news coverage from all over the world. One would think that the remoteness of Alaska would make it difficult to receive news coverage from all over the state, much less the rest of the Lower 48. Instead, world news dominates the headlines of Alaska papers such as The Nome Nugget and The Cordova Daily Times with very little local news coverage; the Alaska Daily Empire is a member of the AP wire service.

This begs the question: How did Alaskans get wire news service?

The sheer remoteness of Alaska, especially during its days as a US territory, fueled demand for national news and world events. People from connected villages depended on dogsleds to deliver news and letters. The Klondike Gold Rush expedited this need for news with miners anxious to read about events in the Lower 48. In 1900, $450,000 Congress approved funding for the U.S. Army Signal Corps to construct cable and telegraph connections between outposts in Washington state and Alaska, called the Washington Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System: “WAMCATS” for short.



These signal outposts were vital in transmitting radio and wire service- not only from the Lower 48, but throughout the state as well. In 1902, The Alaskan from Skagway and The Record-Miner from Juneau became the first Alaska newspapers to use WAMCATS to receive news bulletins that were then printed in papers. Newsrooms first used a “telegraph typewriter” or “teletypewriter” in 1914 by Melville E. Stone, general manager of Associated Press. The introduction of a teleprinter, which transmitted directly to printers over telegraph wires (60 words per minute), further hastened the spread of information.

wamcats 2

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 26 Jan. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1922-01-26/ed-1/seq-4/>

On May 15, 1936 WAMCATS was renamed the U.S. Army Alaska Communications System, which remained under the control of the Army Signal Corps until 1962, when it was taken over by the U.S. Air Force.

The WAMCATS Army-built telegraph was the first major contribution to Alaskan infrastructure funded by the U.S. federal government. We owe the wide-ranging news items featured in Alaska’s historical newspapers to this massive effort- completed in a mere 5 years, no less. Today it’s easy to take worldwide connectivity through the Internet for granted. But this development through radio and newspapers meant giving Alaskans the ability to read about events outside the territory- and to feel more connected to the rest of the world.

wamcats 1

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 19 Nov. 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1917-11-19/ed-1/seq-4/>

wamcats float

Parade float commemorating 50 years of WAMCATS. Image credit: From the John Sigler Photograph Collection as part of Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Lights, Camera, Action! Moviemaking in Alaska Historical Newspapers

New Features In Motion Pictures Presented Yesterday

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 02 July 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1917-07-02/ed-1/seq-3/>

Greetings, all!

With the plummeting temperatures and snow showers here in southeast Alaska, it’s that time of year to stay indoors, get warm, and watch movies.

Millions of people around the world have only seen Alaska through movies. In its earliest days, silent films such as the groundbreaking 1922 documentary Nanook of the North and Charlie Chaplin’s landmark 1925 comedy The Gold Rush (of which the Alaska State Library Historical Collections has a 16 millimeter copy) were the only glimpses of Alaska. Fewer people know that filmmakers have worked on location in Alaska for nearly a century. This week we’ll be looking at the Alaska film industry from its earliest days.

Given the remote nature of Alaska, and the influx of miners arriving during the birth of motion pictures, historic newspapers contain a valuable chronicle of the extent to which the motion picture industry ventured up north to film on location, and to distribute their films. Two films in particular receive special attention: The Girl Alaska and The Cheechakos.

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Image credit: November 22, 1917 issue of the Seward Gateway

Billed at the time as “The First and Only Photoplay Ever Made on Alaskan Soil”, The Girl Alaska filmed on location for the first time to add a degree of authenticity to the picture- including an Alaskan cast (minus principal actors). The film premiered in Juneau at the Palace Theatre and screened for two days before the cast and crew returned to the Lower 48. Based on the following news items, The Girl Alaska resonated with audiences eager to see familiar locations on screen:


Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 07 Nov. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1919-11-07/ed-1/seq-3/

Palace Theatre; John T. Spickett, Manager; Juneau, Alaska; OPEN LETTER TO THE PEOPLE OF GASTINEAU CHANNEL: Mr. and Mrs. John T. Spickett request your presence at the opening performance of their "GIRL ALASKA" Sunday evening. This feature is distinctly Alaskan, having been filmed on Alaskan soil, and through our efforts and acquaintance with those who make the films, was secured for the first release in Alaska, to be shown at the Palace Theatre. Hoping to see you present, we remain, Yours very truly, Mr. and Mrs. John T. Spickett

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 08 Nov. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1919-11-08/ed-1/seq-3/>

"The Girl Alaska is Sunday Night Feature at the Palace. Among the August releases by World-Pictures is "The Girl Alaska", the first and only photoplay every made on Alaskan soil. Nothing quite the same as this, from several standpoints, has ever before been seen on the moving picture screen. This will be seen Sunday and Monday nights at the Palace. The girl's father has gone to the Yukon in the big gold rush and had never returned. The people with whom he had left his daughter have brought her up to be their servant. Early one morning, after having slept in a barrel all night, she picks up a dirty newspaper and in it reads of the wonderful opportunities awaiting ambitious young men in the Alaskan gold country. She appropriates a suit of boy's clothing and, shoving all her gorgeous blonde curls up under her cap, she saunters down to the dock where a passenger vessel is about to leave for the north country. When discovered she, always in her boy's clothes, is set to work cleaning up the decks. To her rescue comes a young chap who is also on his way to Alaska to seek his fortune among the snowy fastness of the land. In the north country, they buy their camping paraphernalia and engage a native guide to take them out to the gold region. One day, as they are passing down stream, along the foot of a monstrous glacier part of the face of the mountain of snow and ice crumbles, with a frightful roar, down upon them. The girl, her pal, and guide are overwhelmed by the sliding mass, and their boat is crushed as though is were made of paper. The guide is killed. After they have buried him, the two pals again travel toward the gold country, this time on foot, for they no longer have a boat. Day after day they climb mountains, descend into valleys, skirt around rivers, until at length the young chap is taken ill with fever and is unable to move forward. The girl is wild with anxiety and at a loss as to what to do. At last she falls on her knees and prays, and then as though in response to her prayer she sees a thin, just visible stream of white smoke coming up from amidst the tall trees in the valley at her feet. It is the cabin of an old miner and adventurer who has spent many years in this wild, alluring north country. He shelters the two pals and finally, after a terrific struggle of weeks and weeks, the old man and the girl manage to restore the young fellow to health. It is then arranged for the two of them to remain with the old man and work his claim. The last act of the old man's life is to leave his entire claim to the girl and her pal. The young man is dumbfounded to learn his pal is a girl, but she is such a charming and beautiful child that he cannot resist falling in love with her and then marrying her. The old man's claim is soon found to contain an immensely valuable gold mine, and soon everything ends happily for the young fellow and "The Girl Alaska."

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 08 Nov. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1919-11-08/ed-1/seq-3/>

Palace: Last time tonight: "The Girl Alaska" The unique picture of the gold country: Ask those of the packed house who attended last night. We told you we had 640 seats, which were nearly filled two times. Don't miss this opportunity to see an All-Alaskan picture.

The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 10 Nov. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1919-11-10/ed-1/seq-3/>

While The Girl Alaska marketed itself heavily as an Alaska-filmed production, the first movie entirely filmed in Alaska used the working title The Great White Silence, which was later released as The Cheechakos (sometimes spelled The Cheechahcos) in 1923.  The digital archives at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks contain a collection of production stills that document filming locations and cast members. Additionally, Alaska newspapers chronicle the making of the film:

great white silence

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 12 Feb. 1923. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1923-02-12/ed-1/seq-5/>

great white silence a

The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 07 March 1923. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1923-03-07/ed-1/seq-8/>

Word spread quickly about the production cast and crew arriving in Anchorage. The film needed extras, and the Anchorage Daily Times published a call idea of appearing in a major motion picture thrilled a great many Anchorage residents, and a call for extras appeared in the Anchorage Daily Times:

Free Excursion, Thursday, 8:00 AM Stage Set for Typical Alaskan Picture Featuring Golden Days; All Aboard for Mile 52, the scene of the million-dollar picture which is destined to make Alaska famous. Watch The Times for definite date. Weather alone prevented the excursion last Sunday when everybody was primed to go. Weather reports today advise small flurries of snow and a falling barometer. The thirty members of the troupe, together with a small army of attendants are on the ground taking pictures between squalls. Advices from Mile 52 report some splendid pictures have been taken, but the big thing comes of when the 250 Anchorage people arrive on the scene to take part in the mad gold rush of '98. Captain A.E. Lathrop, in charge of local affairs, invites the public to take part in the scene that so aptly shows Alaska during the olden, golden days. This is a free-for-all, and everybody is welcome. Hot coffee will be served on the trail, but guests are asked to take their own lunches. This scene will appear prominently in the production of the "Great White Silence" being filmed by the Alaska Moving Pictures corporation, owned and managed by Alaskans. Captain Lathrop also asks the guests to dress in the manner of the typical stampeder. Wear old clothes, mackinaws, boots or mukluks or rubber pacs, flannel shirts of brilliant colors, fur caps and other clothing featuring the mad rush of the gold stampedes. These articles of clothing are not absolutely essential, but the idea is to wear old clothes and not white collars. It is up to Anchorage to assist in this pictures and at least 250 men and some women are needed to furnish the local color. Take a day off and make the trip and at least see how moving pictures are made. Women, of course, Captain Lathrop says, are more than welcome. But they too are asked to dress accordingly. According to present plans the free excursion train will leave Anchorage depot at 8 o'clock Thursday morning and return the same day. Definite announcements will be reported in Wednesday's Times. In the meantime, make preparations to participate in the moving picture; take a day's vacation and at the same time assist the management in producing a typical Alaska Picture.

Image credit: April 17, 1923 issue of the Anchorage Daily Times. Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Despite efforts on behalf of director Austin Lathrop, who even built a studio in downtown Anchorage, The Alaska Moving Pictures Corp only ended up producing The Cheechakos. The cost of shooting on location was simply too great, even though the film opened to positive reviews and widespread distribution. Fortunately for future audiences, the National Film Preservation Foundation selected The Cheechakos for preservation in 2000, according to John Combs, Alaska Railroad enthusiast.

alaska motion pictures corp

Cast and crew of The Cheechakos on location outside the entrance to Denali Park c. 1923. Courtesy of the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Many Hollywood productions used Alaska as a backdrop for stories of adventure, romance, and survival. Movies, then and now, provide visibility for Alaska and give filmgoers an opportunity to see the Great Land.

Special thanks to Damon Stuebner, Chris Beheim, University of Alaska, Anchorage Special Collections and Archives, and University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Archives.

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. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn96060003/1918-10-31/ed-1/seq-4/>

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. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014189/1906-10-31/ed-1/seq-1/>

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. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87062035/1902-10-31/ed-1/seq-2/>

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. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014189/1906-11-01/ed-1/seq-3/>

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. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84021905/1902-10-30/ed-1/seq-4/>

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. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014189/1917-11-03/ed-1/seq-4/>

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!