Alaska Life

Some ghostly notes for this Halloween

In honor of the holiday, we draw your attention to a recent book by Jonathan Faulkner, "The Ghost of Fannie Guthry-Baehm" (Van Gilder, Inc.).

The novel is a murder mystery set in Seward, with the twist involving the spirit of said Fannie, killed by her husband in room 202 of the Van Gilder Hotel in 1950, who some say still haunts the old lodging house. One passage in the book provides this "eyewitness" report:

"At about 12:30, just after midnight early in the morning of the 13th of July, the room was beginning to get dark, as it was summer in Alaska. As I rolled over, out of the corner of my eye, I saw what I perceived as a woman in a dressing gown with long light colored hair. I could not tell if it was blond or gray, but my sense was the woman was not old and gray. She appeared tired as she moved from the corner of the bed 'through' the dresser and to the door. She paused and went 'through' the door and out of the room."

Anchorage-born Faulkner, whose avocations include literature and restoration of historic Alaska buildings, owns the Van Gilder in Seward. If you're looking for a particularly edgy way to spend the evening, he can set you up in the very room where the very real murder actually took place.

Merry macabre

If you prefer your apparitions with a sense of wry humor, catch Noel Coward's classic "Blithe Spirit," now being presented at the Machetanz Theatre in Wasilla by Valley Performing Arts.

The enduring and brilliant comedy involves a man haunted by his persistent deceased wife, with all of Coward's famed wordplay and abrupt twists.


Show times are 2 p.m. Sundays and 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 7. VPA is collecting non-perishable food items at each performance to help The Food Pantry of Wasilla stock its shelves for the holiday season.

Closer to home, TBA Theatre presents "The Death of Edgar Allan Poe," an appropriately eerie weaving of Poe's work and memories seen through the dark glass of his descent into madness and death.

Wayne Mitchell is featured in brother Shane's script with music by Justin Birchell. There are three showings today of this creepy but literary theater piece, 3, 7 and 10 p.m., in Alaska Pacific University's Grant Hall Auditorium. Tickets are $5 for children, $8 for students, seniors and military, and $10 for the rest of us.

Original cast member in Fairbanks 'Brundibar'

Opera Fairbanks will present the children's opera "Brundibar" in a performance event that features a member of the original cast Friday-Sunday.

What makes that an astonishing sentence to write in the year 2010 is the fact that "Brundibar" (Czech for "bumblebee") was originally performed during World War II in a Nazi concentration camp.

Czech composer Hans Krasa was among those incarcerated in the Terezin camp, Theresienstadt, in Germany. The internment "village" was a bizarre showcase for Hitler's propaganda, displayed to foreign visitors as an example of humane incarceration -- if there can be such a thing. Krasa's little tale of children who outwit a surly, greedy organ-grinder with the help of animal friends was staged for the Nazis and their guests by the children of the camp, most of whom perished (as did Krasa) during the Holocaust after they were relocated to less attractive facilities.

But one of those children, at least, survived: Ela Stein Weissberger, who sang the part of the Cat in the Terezin performances. She later wrote a book about it, "The Cat with the Yellow Star: Coming of Age in Terezin." Whether she will be on stage during the show is not clear from the press release, but she will give a short talk as part of the evening.

After the war, "Brundibar" became a minor footnote in history until the 1990s. It finally received its U.S. premiere in Anchorage (of all places) in 1994, with the Alaska Children's Chorus using an English translation by Los Angeles teacher and musicologist Judith Berman.

More recently, a new translation by playwright Tony Kushner has received several productions around the country. Weissberger has been present for many of those performances.

As "Brundibar" runs less than half an hour, the event will also feature a performance of "The Bremen Town Musicians," by University of Alaska Fairbanks professor James Bicigo, a retelling of the Grimm fairy tale by four children and brass instruments.

Performances will take place at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 p.m. Nov. 7, at the West Valley Performing Arts Center. Tickets can be purchased online at

Alternate celebration

"Brundibar" is now performed more for its historical poignancy than its music or plot. But if nothing else, it reminds us that real life can be scarier than fiction.

And the story of Terezin and the other death camps may call to mind those who have gone before -- all of which has something to do with the festivities of today through Tuesday -- All Soul's Day, aka Day of the Dead or, in Spanish, Dia de Muertos.

An exhibit of contemporary Day of the Dead altars, traditionally set up for deceased relatives, by local artists is on display through Nov. 15 at Out North, 3800 DeBarr Road. There will be a celebration on Tuesday, starting at 5:30 p.m., with food and performances and the chance to add something to a "community altar" set up for the festivity.

Admission is free. There will also be a First Friday reception for the show on Friday -- a day traditionally celebrated by the living as the end of the workweek.


Find Mike Dunham online at or call 257-4332.


Mike Dunham

Mike Dunham was a longtime ADN reporter, mainly writing about culture, arts and Alaska history. He worked in radio for 20 years before switching to print. He retired from the ADN in 2017.