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 week readers submit questions, and I try and answer them as best I can. These are some of the more interesting submissions.
Is there any truth to the story that the 4th Avenue Theatre was showing Disney’s “Sword in the Stone” when the 1964 quake hit, and that the quake hit right as Arthur was pulling the sword from the stone?
The “Sword in the Stone” is an animated adaptation of the future King Arthur’s youth, and the titular sword could only be pulled from the stone by the “rightful King of England.” Yes, the Disney movie was indeed playing at the soon to be demolished 4th Avenue Theatre when the Good Friday Earthquake struck Alaska on March 27, 1964.
However, the relevant showing of the “Sword in the Stone” began at 5 p.m. Arthur pulls the sword from the stone about an hour and fourteen minutes into the movie. The earthquake hit at 5:36 p.m. Regardless of any shorts that may have shown before the feature, Arthur was not triumphantly holding the sword when the earthquake began.
While the “Sword in the Stone” is sometimes mentioned with the Good Friday Earthquake, the 4th Avenue Theatre was not the only theater in town. When the earthquake hit, the Denali Theatre, also on Fourth Avenue, was showing “Irma la Douce,” a Billy Wilder comedy starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. In the same way, many people know that “Fireball XL5″ was on television at the same time. The science-fiction puppet show played on KENI. Over on KTVA, a much less mentioned episode of something called “Buckaroos” was playing.
The Denali Theatre did not survive the earthquake. The building dropped several feet, enough of a distance that its marquee rested on the sidewalk.
I just watched the “Green Book” movie. What did the Green Books say about Alaska?
The “Green Book” movie is a 2018 historical drama starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. The film was selected as that year’s Best Picture at the 2019 Academy Awards, with Ali also taking home the Best Supporting Actor award. Though it takes some liberties with the details, the movie depicts a real-life research trip for an issue of the Negro Motorist Green Book. Often just called Green Books, these were annual guides for Black travelers. Published from 1936 to 1966, during the height of Jim Crow discrimination, Green Books listed hotels, restaurants, automotive mechanics, and other services across the country willing to serve Black customers.
Alaska is first mentioned in the 1948 edition of the Green Book, not coincidentally the same year that the Alcan Highway opened to the public. Despite the passage of the Alaska Anti-Discrimination Act in 1945, many Alaskan proprietors continued to discriminate against Alaska Natives, Blacks and other minorities. The only Alaska business listed as friendly to Black customers in that 1948 edition was the Savoy Hotel in Fairbanks. The Savoy remained the only Alaska establishment listed in the guide until 1962, when it was joined by the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, the Ingersoll Hotel in Ketchikan, the Travelers Inn in Fairbanks, and the Westward Hotel in Anchorage.
Research trips and informants provided the details for the “Green Book” listings, but the accuracy of the Alaska listings is uncertain. The guides do not mention the Black-owned Rendezvous Hotel in Anchorage, the first stop for many new Black arrivals in town. The guides cite the Travelers Inn in Fairbanks but not the one in Anchorage.
To be clear, many Alaska hotels during the lifespan of the Green Books would have denied service to Black patrons. In 1951, Bruce Kendall, proprietor of Anchorage’s Parsons Hotel, refused to let a room to a Black man with a reservation. In a rare case of Anti-Discrimination Act enforcement, Kendall pleaded no contest and paid the maximum allowed fine, $250.
What did women use before infant formula?
This question came in a couple of forms. Like the submitters, I have seen the shortage of formula in stores and worry about the next months.
Historically speaking, there are many reasons why a mother might be unable to breastfeed their infant. Physical, social, or psychological trauma may cause a woman’s milk to fail, and across the vast timeline of history, new mothers have experienced plenty of physical, social and psychological traumas. There are also many reasons why an infant might be incapable of breastfeeding, including premature birth or a disability that prevents latching. In more extreme instances, the mother might be dead or prevented from breastfeeding, as in some cases involving slavery.
The earliest solution was wet nurses, to have another woman breastfeed the child. References to wet nurses date back thousands of years, including in ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, and the Bible. Among several biblical references, the pharaoh’s daughter hires a wet nurse to feed baby Moses. Through a somewhat convoluted series of events, the chosen wet nurse is Moses’s birth mother.
As with modern breastfeeding substitutions, wet nursing has historically been used both by necessity and choice. Since ancient Greece, it was frequently fashionable for upper-class women to cede breastfeeding duties to servants. Wet nurses were sometimes well compensated for their services, but other times, their abilities only made them a target. In the antebellum American South, enslaved wet nurses were a significant portion of the slave market, including specialized auctions and newspaper advertisements. In a haunting manner, many of those same advertisements describe the women as “without encumbrance,” meaning they had been separated from their children.
History also abounds with examples of breast milk substitutes. Versions of feeding bottles date back to the beginning of recorded history, often made of clay with spouts shaped like nipples. Hollowed, perforated cow horns were prevalent throughout the Middle Ages, but infant feeding vessels have been made of everything from wood to lead. The earliest modern nipple substitutes were made of cork, and rubber nipples were introduced in the mid-19th century.
The earliest breast milk alternative was, understandably, animal milk, though there are more exotic anecdotes. In the Homeric Hymns, the infant Greek god Apollo is fed not breast milk but a combination of honey and ambrosia. This suggests that Greek infants were occasionally fed honey, perhaps with the juice of figs.
When faced with situations where human and animal milk were not available, cultures across the world often made substitutes from some combination of broth, bread, cornmeal, vegetables, nuts, syrup, honey and water. Though they would not have thought about it in these terms, mothers strived for substitutes with carbohydrates, protein and water.
Pap and panada were common supplements or substitutes to milk in early modern Europe. The former consisted of bread in milk or water, while the latter consisted of bread or other mixture of cereals in broth. In both cases, the typically stale bread was soaked or boiled until soft, then poured down an infant’s throat.
In 1724, women of the Algonquin-speaking Abenaki people from the northeastern United States and Canada advised a mother needing a breast milk substitute “to take the Kernals of Walnuts, and clean them, and beat them with a little water.” They added corn meal to the mix and boiled it, which produced something that “look’d like milk.”
Manufactured alternatives began appearing in the 19th century. Evaporated milk was patented in 1835. Thirty years later, German chemist Justus von Liebig produced the first powdered infant formula, made of dried cow milk, wheat and malt flour, and potassium bicarbonate. The product was sold as Liebig’s Soluble Food for Babies, a rather uninspiring name. Within two decades of Liebig’s breakthrough, more than two dozen competitors were in the market. Around 1900, condensed milk, often diluted with water, became popular as a breast milk alternative.
Of course, when times got rough, mothers throughout history used whatever they had available. An early 18th-century English colonist in New England wrote of using “Broth of the Beaver, or other Guts” to feed her baby. When that failed, she poured cold water on her chest so that the infant could suck “what it could get from the Breast.”
The first synthetic, non-dairy infant formula, and thus its first modern iteration, hit markets in 1929. By the 1950s, many mothers increasingly rejected breastfeeding in favor of formula. While formula was already popular in America, the true breakthrough in this country came with the Infant Formula Act of 1980, which set nutritional and quality standards enforced by the Food and Drug Administration.
Before modern infant formula, many babies died directly because of breast milk substitutes, due to unhygienic feeding vessels or insufficient nutrition. Many of the surviving examples of ancient clay feeding vessels were ominously discovered in the graves of infants. However tasty stale bread soaked in milk sounds, it lacks the complete suite of nutrients growing infants require. Similarly, condensed had little to recommend its use beyond availability. In 1909, a British authority declared, “a veritable holocaust of infants has been due to condensed milk, either directly or indirectly.”
The modern commercial infant formula industry is certainly not without its many flaws. However, history definitively shows that more babies survive today than they would have in the past, thanks to the option of nutritionally complete formula.
Cevasco, Carla. “‘Look’d Like Milk’: Breastmilk Substitutes in New England’s Borderlands.” Hypotheses, February 4, 2015.
“Court Fines Hotelman $250.” Anchorage Daily Times, November 8, 1951, 8.
Davenport-Hines, Richard and Judy Slinn. Glaxo: A History to 1962. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Fulminante, Francesca. “Infant Feeding Practices in Europe and the Mediterranean from Prehistory to the Middle Ages: A Comparison Between the Historical Sources and Bioarcheaology.” Childhood in the Past 8, no. 1 (2015): 24-47.
Jones-Rogers, Stephanie. “[S]he Could . . . Spare One Ample Breast for the Profit of her Owner’: White Mothers and Enslaved Wet Nurses’ Invisible Labor in American Slave Markets.” Slavery & Abolition 38, no. 2 (2017): 337-355.
Stevens, Emily E., Thelma E. Patrick, and Rita Pickler. “A History of Infant Feeding.” Journal of Perinatal Education 18, no. 2 (2009): 32-39.