Michael Carey: Alaska scrapbook was a special delivery

Michael Carey

In January, a FedEx driver left a box on a bench outside my door. I wasn't expecting a delivery and couldn't find a return address. Instead, I found myself mumbling "Where did this come from?" After examining the content for half an hour, I resumed mumbling.

The box contained a 10 by 12 maroon scrap book full of old newspaper clippings and full pages of newspapers, some carefully pasted on crumbling yellowing pages, others stuffed in loosely. Many were from Newark, N. J. papers, others were from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. The majority dealt with Alaska in the late 1950s. The scrapbook owner obviously was following Alaska's battle for statehood, then in its final stages.

Turning the pages, I eventually found a note from an old friend, Don Kaplan of New York, wishing me happy holidays. The scrap book was a late Christmas present.

By e-mail, Don said he purchased the scrap book at a book/ephemera auction in Boonton, N.J. He had no hint of its provenance.

The newspaper stories are interesting yet for the most part not unusual. Several Alaska libraries have them or similar wire-service descriptions of the territory and the struggle for statehood.

I say "for the most part" because one series of clippings is definitely exceptional. They contain a first-person account of the Klondike-Alaska gold rush by 89-year-old former stampeder Lute Pease, who was in Skagway, Dawson and Nome for five years. At one point, he managed the Hotel Del Norte in Nome.

Pease's reminiscences began running in the Newark Evening News July 4, 1958, three days before President Dwight Eisenhower signed the statehood bill. Four installments took readers through a stampeder's classic arc of experience: From intense excitement upon hearing of the Klondike discovery in '97 through the comradeship, hardship, privation, fruitless labor and frostbite that years later produced gold-rush wisdom -- the Big Strike is an intoxicating illusion. Pease called himself a member of the Almost-Struck-It-Rich Club.

Lucius "Lute" Pease was born in Winnemucca, Nev., in 1869 and orphaned as a child. He grew up in Vermont and as a young man returned west to become a journalist. Home immediately before and after the gold rush was Portland, where at the Portland Oregonian and Pacific Monthly magazine he built a reputation as a promising young reporter and editor.

In 1914, Pease and his wife, Nell, moved to Newark, where he became the cartoonist for the Evening News. He was with the News, which closed in 1972, 40 years, capping his career by winning the Pulitzer Prize for cartooning in 1949.

I am guessing the aging journalist himself put together the scrapbook. With his gold-rush experience, he had a strong motive to follow Alaska developments and as a writer, he would have saved his newspaper pieces.

Lute Pease died in August 1963 at 94. He probably was New Jersey's last sourdough, the last Garden State resident to walk the Dawson waterfront and Nome beach dreaming of gold more than a half century before Alaska became the 49th state.


Michael Carey is the former editorial page editor of the Anchorage Daily News. Email, mcarey@adn.com.



Michael Carey