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A little Anchorage history, anyone?

  • Author: Mike Dunham
  • Updated: September 29, 2016
  • Published December 3, 2011

Parties interested in observing the 100th anniversary of the founding of Anchorage are asking the public to help them come up with appropriate ways to celebrate the centennial.

Mayor Dan Sullivan has issued a proclamation designating the Cook Inlet Historical Society as the repository for ideas and the society has duly formed working committees to attend to details. The first is to get you -- that is citizens, businesses and organizations -- to fill out the one page form with ideas and submit it. You can find that form at

The society's second chore will be to create a compilation of ideas to submit to the mayor in a report next month. Hizzoner will then select official Anchorage celebration events.

Cook Inlet Historical Society president Jim Barnett is the chair of the project and Frank Reed, who has been here since 1916, is the honorary chair.

The committee is also taking suggestions regarding just when the 100 year mark will fall. The "founding" could arguably be any key event between the determination to use Ship Creek as a railroad construction port in 1914 to the formal incorporation of the city on Nov. 23, 1920.

A November fling seems unlikely since there are reasons for timing the thing for tourist season. One reason for starting the process now is to give cruise lines and tour operators plenty of advance warning.

At least the centennial celebrations for the Municipality of Anchorage can be set in stone for 2075, the 100th anniversary of the merger of the city with the former Greater Anchorage Area Borough -- or, as our friends in Girdwood and Eagle River put it, "the usurpation." But they'll probably be there for the fireworks, which is a good reason why the perfect night for the party might be Nov. 23 after all.

'A promise made is a debt unpaid'

Keeping with history: The recent death of former Washington Gov. Albert Rosellini raised few ripples in Alaska this fall. But it deserves mention -- and not just because his death at the age of 101 years and 56 days made him the longest-lived American governor ever, beating Louisiana's Jimmie Davis by one day.

In 1958, as the battle for Alaska statehood raged, Rosellini came to Alaska for political stem-winding. The former Alaska steamship hand and fervent New Deal Democrat addressed the annual Third Division Democratic Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner on April 16 at the Aleutian Club in Anchorage. Before the partisan crowd he pledged to help the territory achieve statehood and to send a Democratic delegation to Congress.

He specifically brought up the Maritime Act, which prohibits direct shipping between Alaska and American ports in the Lower 48 on foreign-flagged vessels. (There is a notable exemption for other states, according to historians Claus-M. Naske and Herman Slotnick.) The measure was a huge bone of contention among Alaskans in 1958, seen as an obstacle to trade and development in the territory that added to expenses for every resident.

"I speak of the Jones Act," Rosellini said, using the name by which it is most commonly known. He called it "a discriminatory shipping law" and gleefully pointed out that it "bears the name of a former Republican senator from Washington state."

A Washington-Alaska alliance could overturn the hated law, he suggested. "As Democrats and neighbors, we are all for you. ... If there is anything we can do to help, we will be happy to do so."

Taking his comments as a promise, Alaskans greeted Rosellini with "thunderous ovations." Praise poured in. The press reported his several speeches. Photos of his smiling face went on the front page.

Rosellini's barnstorming in Alaska has been credited with helping to elect Gov. William Egan -- who didn't really need any help -- and Sen. Ernest Gruening -- who arguably did. He returned again, in both public and private trips, to strategize with and fundraise for Democratic candidates.

On Oct. 10 Rosellini died. But the "discriminatory" Jones Act remains in effect. It was recently invoked in a fine of $15 million levied against a company hoping to drill for gas in Cook Inlet.

Obituaries in the Seattle Times and The New York Times made no mention of it or of his remarks in Alaska. I have found no evidence in the Daily News archive to indicate that he did anything to push for its repeal, encouraged any of his political colleagues to do so or even mentioned it again.

In fairness, while the Jones Act may be said to cost every Alaskan a couple of thousand dollars every year, someone in Seattle is making money on it. Rosellini's own constituents may have persuaded him to forget what he said in Anchorage. And the governor, a product of the prohibition era, was often preoccupied with fending off scandals regarding mob connections well into his 90s.

Had the voters not spat him out in a 1964 landslide, he might have made good on his words; he seemed to hold a genuine affection for Alaskans and a calculated conviction that they would remain solid Democrats if only the national party gave them a fair shake.

A fitting tribute to his memory might be for the current Washington politicians who claim him as their mentor -- including Sen. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Gov. Chris Gregoire and former Gov. Gary Locke -- to take steps to keep the promise made in the Aleutian Club so long ago.


Bon mots by Albert Rosellini found in newspaper reports from the time of statehood.

• "Oil may be Alaska's ace in the hole."

• Regarding the economic impact of military installations in Washington and Alaska, "We'd (both) be in serious trouble if world peace broke out tomorrow."

• He avoided calling Dwight Eisenhower "President," preferring to use other titles such as "the general" and "part-time leader."

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.


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