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Across Knik Arm, a city that never was

  • Author: adn_jomalley
  • Updated: April 28, 2016
  • Published February 3, 2010

[img_assist|nid=147534|title=LOST CITY|desc=A search on Google Maps shows John Fitzgerald Kennedy City, Alaska, next to Goose Bay Airport, upper center. (GOOGLE MAPS)|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=407]

See a photo of JFK City residents and learn more

If you Google a map of Anchorage and zoom out a little, you'll notice an unfamiliar city across Knik Arm, just to the north. A marker points to a spot off the end of Knik-Goose Bay Road, south of the old Nike missile site. Its name: "John Fitzgerald Kennedy City."

A co-worker noticed it first. It had to be a mistake, we thought, clicking the "satellite view" option. All that showed was woods, some trails and not a single building. But you wouldn't know that from searching the Internet.

JFK City, Alaska, has a Web presence as if it is a real place, kind like of a virtual ghost town. "Hometownlocator.com," for example, offers a JFK City "populated place profile" with elevation, coordinates and nearby cities. "Dryday.com" gives a long-range weather forecast. "Yourcityoffice.com" has a list of available office space supposedly in the city, with pictures. A dachshund breeding site, "txdachshund.com," boasts " We can and have delivered puppies to John Fitzgerald Kennedy City, Alaska."

I wrote Google. Google wrote back. It was probably a mistake and I could write in to correct it, they said.

But then I started to wonder: What if it wasn't a mistake?

I called Matanuska-Susitna Borough and reached the platting office. A clerk there determined the spot marked on the map was likely state-owned land, though it wasn't a city she had heard of. She suggested that if I wanted to know about the spot, I should track down Dave Crusey. He homesteaded out there with his wife, (who is named Carolyn Kennedy, but is no relation) way back when.

I found a number for the Cruseys in Arizona and left a message on what sounded like a very old answering machine. Then I called George Plumley, a planner for the state who knows the geography and history of just about every place. He rustled through a couple of things and came across "John Fitzgerald Kennedy City" in a 30-year-old book of Alaska place names:

"John Fitzgerald Kennedy City: village, pop 35, on NW shore of Knik Arm Cook Inlet. 13 mi. N of Anchorage." It gave the coordinates, then it said, "Named on December 20, 1963, by members of the Bay City council, for JFK, 35th president of the U.S." That was all he had.

I searched every database I could think of. I called the Loussac Library and asked a reference librarian. Someone suggested I call a Valley historian by the name of Leroi Heaven.

"Is that the one they wanted to put under the dome?" I heard Heaven holler to his wife in another room, his hand over the mouthpiece.

"Someone wanted a dome city across from Anchorage in that general area," he told me.

Outside of that, it didn't ring any bells, he said.

The only thing left was to visit the old Anchorage Times archives in a dark corner of the Daily News building. For decades pre-Google, thousands of archive files were maintained by clerks more scrupulous than the FBI. You find the files through a warehouse filled with rows of newsprint rolls, up a flight of stairs and behind a locked door.

On the last page of a dusty binder, I came across a clipping the size of a matchbox: "Alaska Town is Re-Named JFK City." It was date-stamped December, 26, 1963. The town had previously been called Bay City.

"In a proclamation on the name change, Mayor George Mor stated: 'John Fitzgerald Kennedy City is a new and frontier city which will rise as a great city ..." the article said.

The population was 30.

I looked up Bay City and found a few more clippings. The city was incorporated in 1961, with 27 residents, including a number of children. Mor was the mayor. The main concern seemed to be getting a road built through the marsh. Mor was also campaigning for "a causeway across the Arm linking the area directly to Anchorage." There was picture of a car driving a muddy road.

When I got back to my desk, I called every George Mor I could find with no luck. Then I noticed I had a message -- it was the Cruseys. I dialed their number. Dave picked up. I explained myself. He informed me that he is 91 years old.

"It takes a while to resuscitate the memory," he said, and then he spit out a name. "George Mor. M-O-R. I think he was a civil engineer."

Mor homesteaded out there where the city had been, he said. Had family. Ran a small bar on the flats.

"It wasn't an imposing building," he said. "It was a shack."

Later I talked with Carolyn Crusey. Mor had been a well-liked neighbor, she said. The city incorporation was a way to help get a road built to his business. The bar was located in a swamp so mucky it swallowed airplanes whole, she said. Mor had to travel by an old military half-track just to keep from getting sucked in. The "city" designation was kind of a lark.

"Everybody in the country laughed about it," she said. "There was no city out there."

Who voted Mor the mayor? No one, she said.

"That was just purely for something to put in the paper," she said.

How did it change from Bay City to JFK City?

It was shortly after the assassination, she recalled. Across the country, people were renaming all kinds of things after the late president. Plus there was another guy out there at the time named Kennedy, (no relation to her or JFK) who came up with the idea, she said.

I wondered out loud if they'd hatched the plan while drinking at the bar. It wouldn't be the first piece of Alaska legislation born that way. Maybe that was how Mor was "elected." Maybe they dreamed up the dome city, too.

"We never did find out what happened," she said

Mor eventually moved to Anchorage and started spelling his name with a second "o" and an "e," she said. She couldn't remember why.

The last newspaper clipping to mention the city was a 1973 story about Alaska ghost towns. It called Bay City "an alleged village" with a population of 0 in the 1970 census, that might have been renamed to "The City of Kennedy" after the late president.

"But," the article said, "there's nobody left to verify it."

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