Part of a continuing weekly series on local history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.
Every grave in the downtown Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery hints at a story that could be told. Cracks and dates and inscriptions are but the first clues, the opening notes to a longer song. The cemetery has its fair share of cultural and political heavyweights, including artists, actors, historians and governors. Yet rather than retell stories about Wally Hickel or Sydney Laurence, this article focuses on some of the cemetery’s less well-known residents.
One of the more distinctive headstones in the cemetery is of pink concrete and features the inscription, “Here Lies Lucky and Always Will Lie.” Though no one would have considered him among the city elite, William “Lucky” Baldwin (1864-1942 according to documentation, despite the dates noted on his gravestone) was one of Anchorage’s most famous residents. Everyone knew the irascible, partially paralyzed grocery store operator. At the least, they knew him by sight, given the three-wheeled motorized wheelchair Baldwin used to travel around town.
He was born in Quebec and lived in Canada for roughly the first half of his life. During the Klondike Gold Rush, he moved to Dawson. His obituary stated that he served in the Canadian North-West Mounted Police, but there is no evidence to this claim. In 1904, he immigrated to the United States, and by 1905, he was in Alaska. Over the next 25 years, he was frequently on the move, from Fairbanks to Seward to Cordova to Juneau to Seward to Anchorage and back to Seward again. Finally, he settled in Anchorage for good in 1929, opening a downtown grocery store.
Lucky’s Self-Serve Grocery was a local innovation. It was the first area grocery store that allowed customers to browse the stock. At previous markets, customers stood at the counter and gave a clerk their order. Lucky’s was also cheaper than the competition, thanks to Baldwin shipping his stock by water rather than via the Alaska Railroad. But shopping at Lucky’s also had its drawbacks. Insults and “verbal thrashings” were part of the experience.
Given enough time, people can become nostalgic over anything. By the time Baldwin died, grocery stores had evolved again, with designed displays, refrigerated units, and general emphasis on friendliness. In 1948, the Anchorage Daily Times quoted a longtime resident: “It’s not like the old days when Lucky sat in his wheelchair near the stove and bawled out his customers.”
Baldwin carried his discharge papers from Morningside Hospital, a mental health institution, with him at all times and liked to claim that he alone amongst the Anchorage population could prove that he was sane. When Providence Hospital opened, at its original Ninth Avenue and L Street location, he chose to move in, thus becoming their first patient. He claimed it was better than staying at hotels.
Even his gravestone has a story. He bought it well in advance of his death, probably for a great deal, and had it moved with him wherever he went. So, for the longest time, the stone spent its days under his bed in the back of the grocery store. And every night, one of Baldwin’s employees had to slide it out so that he didn’t sleep directly over it.
Some graves offer mysteries with answers unlikely to be discovered. The burial place for the grandly named Demosthenes Rempelos (circa 1887-1952) is surrounded by those for fellow veterans nearer the cemetery’s northeastern corner. As we all know, Demosthenes (384-322 BCE) was one of ancient Athens’ most famous orators and a staunch opponent of Macedonian imperialism. Rempelos was indeed born in Greece and immigrated to America in 1908. In 1918, he was working for the Alaska Railroad around Anchorage when drafted into the United States Army.
For the brief remainder of World War I, he served in the 166th Depot Brigade at Camp Lewis, south of Tacoma, Washington. He was back in Anchorage by 1922 and ran a bar during the 1930s. In 1952, he died of natural causes while an inmate at the Anchorage city jail.
Depending on the source, Rempelos was born in either 1887, 1888 or 1889. Confusion over birth years was more common in those days, in an era of far less extensive documentation compared to today. But the true mystery regarding Rempelos is his other name. His gravestone is one of the very few military headstones to offer an alias. Per the marker, he was also known as Jim Belles. Around Anchorage, people called him Jim Belles. When he applied for citizenship in 1922, he did so as Jim Belles.
Why did he prefer Belles over Rempelos? And why “Jim Belles” of all possible names? Barring the discovery of gossip-prone diaries or letters, we will likely never know. Unfortunately, history is full of such irritants, large and small questions that frustratingly evade certainty.
Other mysteries are more mundane. Among many others, the markers for Grace Lundgren (1879-1948) and Walter Stevens lack birth years. Lundgren was only visiting her daughter Anchorage when she passed in 1948. Walter Stevens (1881-1935) was a carpenter, former Alaska Railroad employee, and longtime resident. Their grave markers are not original but instead date from the rehabilitation of the cemetery begun by Jim Bagoy in the 1980s. Thus, the missing years reflect the quality of the cemetery’s record keeping in years past.
And other headstones commemorate both the person and the human propensity toward errors. Multiple original monuments feature obvious misspellings. Willie Licy (1898-1957) certainly was not known as “Wellie,” no matter what some marker in the ground tries to tell you. The headstone for Stella Dahl (1881-1943) suggests she was known as “Setlla,” while the headstone for Johanna Taft (1871-1933) mistakes her for a “Johanne Toft.” Both Dahl’s and Taft’s graves also feature modern markers with corrected spellings. Imagine visiting the grave of a lost loved one only to find their name misspelled.
Charles Kefferstein, whose surname was sometimes spelled as “Kafferstein,” was never “Kaffenstein” as per his headstone. Also known as Sourdough Charlie, he was a German immigrant and briefly the tamale king of Anchorage. Likewise, “Hilmer Wikberg” was Johan Helmer Wickberg (1891-1918), an undertaker killed during the influenza pandemic.
George Ephriam’s grave possibly combines both date and spelling errors. On his marker, another modern addition like the Taft and Dahl corrections, his last name is spelled as “Ephrain.” Contemporary newspaper coverage suggests his name was spelled “Ephriam.” There is also no birth or death years, only an “unknown dates” text. The Tyonek resident died from influenza in November 1918. An Anchorage Daily Times article notes he was 28 years old at the time, meaning a circa 1890 birth.
Sarah Maud Peyser, née Keist (circa 1878-1925), made her way from the Midwest to Alaska in 1902. She operated a series of businesses in Douglas, Cordova and Anchorage, which she moved to in 1921. Here, her father and husband bought a building and ran a tailoring firm while she opened Anchorage’s first children’s clothing store. Though her grave marker says she was born in 1873, records from Illinois, where she was born, and Iowa, where she lived before moving to Alaska, claim she was born in 1878 or 1879.
John S. Dorwin (1888-1944) was born in Brewster, Washington, and moved to Alaska in 1911. He spent most of his time in Alaska working on a fox farm. He also was a World War I veteran and founding member — one of the last surviving founders — of Anchorage’s American Legion Jack Henry Post 1.
The headstone for Ben Boeke (1899-1972) includes the City of Anchorage seal, appropriate for the longtime civil servant. He was the Anchorage city clerk from 1947 to 1972, serving under 11 mayors and eight city managers. Anyone with any local government experience knows that clerks are the engines that make cities run.
Boeke retired in 1972 and died only three months later. After having given so much to Anchorage and public service, he didn’t have much left for himself. Though he never played a minute of hockey, city leaders chose to honor him with the naming of the Ben Boeke Ice Arena, which opened in 1975 with a single 700-seat rink.
The cemetery’s master burial list is available online via a convenient interactive map. Anyone can easily identify the location of all graves, including those discussed here. What stories will you discover?
“Ben Boeke Retires: A City Hall Fixture.” Anchorage Daily Times, September 13, 1972, 3.
“Death Calls Pioneer.” Anchorage Daily Times, August 20, 1921, 8.
“Former City Clerk Dies in His Home.” Anchorage Daily Times, December 15, 1972, 8.
“Jail Inmate Dies.” Anchorage Daily Times, March 28, 1952, 28.
“John S. Dorwin has Fatal Attack.” Anchorage Daily Times, March 8, 1944, 4.
“Move Into new Quarters Five Months After Fire.” Anchorage Daily Times, November 1, 1948, 3.
“Mrs. Peyser was Alaska Resident for Many Years.” Anchorage Daily Times, September 23, 1925, 7.
“Tyonic Native Dies at the Government Hospital.” Anchorage Daily Times, November 18, 1918, 1.
Van Horn, Walter, and Bruce Parham. “Baldwin, William A.C. ‘Lucky.’” Cook Inlet Historical Society, Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940, alaskahistory.org/biographies/baldwin-william-ac-lucky/.
“Willie Licy, 59, Dies in Hospital.” Anchorage Daily Times, November 8, 1957, 11.