Alaska News

Rick Sinnott: A plea to dub Anchorage the City of Moose

The largest city in Alaska, my hometown, is finally 100 years old. For much of its history, Anchorage has been a city in search of a slogan.

Its first slogan is virtually unknown. On a photograph of Anchorage snapped in 1915 by Alberta Pyatt, someone, probably Pyatt, scrawled "Anchorage, Alaska, The White City." The nascent settlement, clustered between wooded bluffs near the mouth of Ship Creek, amounted to more than 1,000 white canvas tents.

When the photo was taken, the remainder of what became the Municipality of Anchorage was covered with forests, bogs and willow thickets. In other words, it was moose country. A poet or copywriter might have dubbed it the City of Moose.

Although moose numbers have been declining for at least a decade, there are still more moose in Anchorage today than there were in 1915. As many as 700 moose consider the Anchorage Bowl home during some winters. It's far easier to see a moose in Anchorage than in Denali National Park and Preserve.

Wild about Anchorage

Most city slogans highlight a unique characteristic. In 1946 the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce talked the federal government into funding an international airport. Convinced that as much as 75 percent of all air traffic between the United States and Asia would pass through Anchorage, the Anchorage Times began calling the city "Air Crossroads of the World" before the airport was built.

Some people still call it that for old time's sake, and the slogan is prominently displayed on a signpost in front of the log cabin visitor information center on Fourth Avenue.

Although Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport remains one of the top international cargo airports in the world, most intercontinental passenger airlines stopped flying into Anchorage in the early 1990s. One analyst called the city's slogan and former claim to fame "a relic of a bygone era."


No problem. Anchorage was already heavily invested in another slogan: Wild About Anchorage. In the late 1970s the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau designed a catchy slogan that captured the essential idea that the city was located in Alaska. A CLIO award-winning television commercial featured wild animals in top hats singing and dancing to a tune that parodied Bob Fosse's musical "A Chorus Line."

"Out of all the campaigns we've had, it's the best remembered by locals," says Jack Bonney, a public relations manager with the convention and visitors bureau, now known as Visit Anchorage. He attributes its popularity to several factors. The commercial was aired far more in Anchorage than outside of Alaska. "It was a community awareness and local pride campaign," Bonney admitted.

Bob Kurtz, founder of Kurtz and Friends Animation, creators of the high-stepping chorus line, agreed: "It was all about making a city feel good about itself."

The Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau also conjured up Seymour of Anchorage, a dancing cartoon moose clad in tailcoat and bow tie. Seymour, "perhaps the most famous moose since Bullwinkle," according to the bureau, was enlisted in the early 1980s and has been its "moose mascot and tourism ambassador of goodwill" ever since.

Improving the look of cinderblock architecture

Some big-city boosters chafed at the thought of Alaska's biggest city being represented by a fashionably attired moose and a chorus line of wild animals. Shortly after Seymour took the city by storm in the early 1980s, the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce started promoting Anchorage as the "City of Lights." The program encouraged city residents to adorn their homes, fences and shrubbery with strings of tiny white lights.

According to Rick Mystrom, the concept didn't catch on until the former mayor lent his "initiative and clout" to the cause beginning in 1994. Mystrom, the former owner of an advertising agency, was enthusiastic about brightening up the long, dark days of winter. But tiny lights aren't as impressive during the long days of summer. Someone decided Anchorage also could be marketed as the "City of Flowers." One commentator opined that flowers would "improve the look of the city, dominated by '70s era cinderblock architecture."

Inevitably, the two slogans morphed into the "City of Lights and Flowers."

It wasn't long before Seymour's wild cousins, already reviled by some gardeners for munching flowers, were getting tangled in the ubiquitous strings of lights.

Some claim Anchorage is also the "Hanging Basket Capital of the World." The slogan has been a crossword puzzle clue and emblazoned on a keychain, so it must be true.

Anchorage is no City of Lights

None of these names, however, can pass the "red face test."

For example, Paris was hailed as the "City of Lights" back when Anchorage was still unadulterated moose habitat. Paris is also known as the "City of Love," and I'm not talking brotherly love, either … that would be Philadelphia. We can't compete with that.

If you Google "City of Lights" you'll find about 461 million hits. The list of cities claiming to be the "City of Lights" stretches from Paris to prosaic. Many of them have a better claim than Anchorage. For example, Aurora, Illinois, claims to be the first city in the United States to use electric lights to illuminate the entire community. Las Vegas is the brightest city on Earth, viewed from space.

The City of Lights festival in Wheeling, West Virginia, attracts more than a million visitors each year. Wheeling doesn't limit itself to strands of tiny white lights. The city shimmers with more than 80 "larger-than-life" Technicolor displays, recognized by the American Bus Association as one of the "Top 100 Events in North America." We can't compete with that.

My favorite City of Lights, hands down, is Mong La, the capital of Special Region Number Four in Burma. A magazine article once gushed that nighttime Mong La "looks like a space shuttle that descended upon earth."

Less than three decades ago, Mong La was an unknown village in a sparsely populated area. Since the "space shuttle" landed, the city attracts 700 to 1,000 visitors daily. The article admitted, rather too frankly, that some people call Mong La the Las Vegas of the East, while others call it the Anus of China. It's possible that something was lost in translation. The basket of toiletries provided by the reporter's hotel included a condom. We can't compete with any of that.

City of Flowers doesn’t work either

Anchorage is also outgunned in the "City of Flowers" category.

Browsing the Internet turned up only 152 million hits. But check out the competition. Cities with this slogan can be found on every continent and quite a few tropical islands. Well, every continent except Antarctica, which should be disqualified, having neither flowers nor cities.


Haarlem, in The Netherlands, is one of many "City of Flowers" in Europe. Haarlem's annual flower parade is in late April. Do you know how difficult it is to find a flower in Anchorage in April? We can't compete with that.

Asia and the Near East fairly blossom with cities claiming to be the "City of Flowers": Lahore, Pakistan; Da Lat, Vietnam; and Zamboanga, Philippines, to name a few.

Like Anchorage, some cities have tried to jazz the slogan up a bit. Nanning, China, is the "City of Flowers and Fruit." Won't work here. Too many hungry moose.

Sukagawa, Japan, was once known simply as "The City of Flowers and Greenery." However, their slogan was changed to "The Airport City of Flowers and Greenery" to demonstrate the municipal desire to "construct an affluent city where human beings and nature co-exist including the airport as the core of the city." The way our Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport keeps expanding (in area as well as name), we may eventually have to reinsert "airport" into our city's slogan. Or, using much the same logic, we could rename the city "Ted Stevens Anchorage."

Several North America cities claim the title "City of Flowers." Seattle, for instance. Rochester, New York, calls itself "The Flower City." Encinitas, California, is the self-styled "Flower Capital of the World." With its local flower industry operating at only one-tenth of its historic peak, that's a lot like Anchorage claiming to be the "Air Crossroads of the World."

Not to be outdone, Forestville, California, is known as "The Poison Oak Capital of the World" and Beaver, Oklahoma, is "The Cow Chip Capital of the World." These might not be the official city slogans, but if so, I like it. Truth in advertising.

City of Moose

That's what I'm talking about. Anchorage needs a slogan that captures the real essence of living in an Alaska city. What is the first thing your friends and relatives ask to see when they visit Anchorage? A light? A flower? A hanging basket? No, a moose. Why can't we simply be the "City of Moose"?

No city has adopted the slogan, not even in Canada or Maine, both places almost as wacky about moose as Alaska. But we must not tarry. Lots of towns are named after moose: Moose Jaw, Moose Pass, Moose Lake, Moose River. They may not be cities yet, but if one starts calling itself the "City of Moose" before we do, we'll be copycats once again.


A strong contender for the title is the City of Moose, Wyoming. The appearance of this exact match for my Internet search term gave me quite a start. However, note the absence of quotation marks. This town happens to be named the City of Moose; it isn't their slogan. Yet. Our best hope is that "City of Moose: 'The City of Moose'" may strike them as redundant.

I never want to run for public office, but if I did I'd move to Moose, Wyoming. Mayor of Moose. How cool is that?

I'm not the only one thinking along these lines. In 2002, the Michigan state Legislature designated Newberry the "Moose Capital of Michigan." Newberry has snowmobile races, even dog mushing. They have a moose mascot named Moe. They're trying to be us.

They've got a long way to go. Their website acknowledges that "sightings are very rare" because moose are "elusive." Tell that to the Alaska bull moose who won't let you get to your car in the morning.

Much ado about Big Wild Life

These days, we're still living with the latest attempt to market Anchorage. In 2007 the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau, Anchorage Economic Development Corporation and the municipality spent $80,000 to hire a firm to create a new, exciting "brand" for our city. Big Wild Life was the answer. A media development company, Open Avenue, claimed the idea was "light-years ahead of the old 'Wild about Anchorage' brand."

That bravado seems a little hollow when you realize that Seymour, our aging ambassador of goodwill, has survived the transition to Big Wild Life. He has his own Facebook page and still makes public appearances.

The new slogan is supposed to conjure up "a perfect blend of urbanity and wilderness." I don't think so. Big Wild Life is a moose. Or maybe a bear.

The public-relations types admit that locals aren't supposed to get it. The brand is intended to attract the interest of visitors and the money they'd bring to town. But that's false advertising again. Tourists don't usually see bears in Anchorage; they see moose. So let's stop beating around the bush and call it what it is.

Eat the flowers, wear the lights

Unlike Seymour, the real moose of Anchorage are not dancing for joy. As the city expands -- as buildings, parking lots and roads obliterate natural areas -- moose are finding the city less hospitable. In a few decades, a lot fewer moose may share the city with us. And we'll be much poorer for the loss.

"Anchorage is not a frontier town," according to John McPhee, in his book "Coming Into the Country." "It is virtually unrelated to its environment."

But we still have moose. I can't think of anything more unique -- bigger or wilder -- about Anchorage than the moose that were here when we moved in next door.

Most people living in Anchorage seem to agree. Public surveys conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in 1997 and 2009 found that 87 percent of adults agreed that "While moose cause some problems, these problems make life in Anchorage seem more interesting and special."


Anchorage. City of Moose. Eat the flowers, wear the lights.

Rick Sinnott is a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist. The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News. Contact him at rickjsinnott(at)

Rick Sinnott

Rick Sinnott is a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist. Email him: