Anchorage's nearly 300,000 residents got a glimpse of the city's famous star on Mount Gordon Lyon in the Chugach Mountains on Sept. 11, in recognition of those who lost their lives during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Though dark now, the star will return Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving, and continue to glow all winter, until the final musher in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race crosses the Nome finish line in late March.
The star is more than a half-century old. It was the brainchild of U.S. Army Capt. Douglas Evert, commander for B Battery, 4th Missile Battalion, 43rd Artillery, who had his men construct a 15-foot star that first shone on May 5, 1959. It rested atop the gatehouse of Site Summit, the location of a Nike Hercules missile battery until 1979.
City dwellers could barely make out such a small star, so a larger one was built in 1960 with 400 bulbs, 50 watts apiece, placed every four feet. All together, it measured 117 feet across. The redesigned star was relocated to the side of the mountain at an elevation of about 4,000 feet.
Lighting the star each year involves more than flicking a switch. There's maintenance, too. Each summer, work crews from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson replace each light bulb and make needed repairs. Portions of the star have been demolished by avalanches occasionally during its 53-year history, leading to periods of darkness. Maintenance is not easy. The star is positioned on steep, precarious terrain. Drop something, and it may roll downhill a long way.
Age hasn't diminished the star's popularity a bit. "I love this star," Todd Solomon wrote this week on Alaska Dispatch's Facebook page. "Every time I see it it's like the first." And David S. Witt wrote, "That was the first thing I saw when I arrived here with the Army in January 1981. Fond memory that sight."