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Anchorage Centennial: How well do you know Alaska's largest city?

  • Author: Nan Elliot
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published August 9, 2015

Twenty-five years ago, in honor of Anchorage's 75th birthday, a team that included an artist, architect, engineers and a writer (me), along with a score of historical advisers, was asked to research, write, illustrate, design and build a walking tour of "historic Anchorage." Tony Knowles was mayor then. It would, we hoped, be a fun glimpse into our beginnings as a city, framed in a bit of Alaska culture and history.

You will see the blue, three-sided kiosks all over downtown Anchorage, from Elderberry Park to the Alaska Railroad Station along First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth avenues. There are 34 panels full of stories and old photos, with a map on each one to guide you. Start at the old log cabin on Fourth Avenue and F Street.

Here are a few snippets that may entice you — or your summer visitors — downtown for a journey back in time as Alaska's largest city looks back on its humble beginnings a century ago.

Short quiz to test your knowledge of early Anchorage

1. Where was the Tent City?

2. Who were the Gandy dancers?

3. Where is Bootlegger Cove and how did it get its name? (Clue: This is close to, but not quite as bad as, “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?”)

4. Who was Creampuff Bill and what did he do? (Clue: One of his pals was The Pale-Faced Kid.)

5. Which “beloved rascal” drove the fastest taxi in town in 1915? (Clue: He is the same fellow who inspired a colorful part of town, where one longtime business establishment’s motto is: “We cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you.”)

6. In 1915, what was the town’s favorite sport?

7. Where was the first golf course in town?

8. Who was Anchorage’s first pilot? (Clue: His name graces one of the busiest small airports in America.)

9. Who was riding on “The Presidential Special” train in 1923?

10. Dreams, magic and make-believe — this was the movie industry in its heyday. Who was Anchorage’s “movie mogul” and what is his legacy on Fourth Avenue? (He also produced a movie in which half the town served as extras. For extra credit, what was the movie’s name?)

11. From many vantage points in downtown Anchorage, you can see the tallest peak in North America, Mount McKinley. What is the name of the Athabascan lad who was first to climb it in 1913? Who was the first woman on the summit in 1947?

12. In 1973, the internationally famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race began that today dominates downtown Anchorage on the first Saturday of March. In 1986, a T-shirt came out with this inscription: “Alaska: Where Men Are Men and Women Win the Iditarod.” Name those women.

Read on to find the answers. (Better yet, walk the historical tour and find much, much more.)

A city is born

Many people sailed and bushwhacked their way into the wilderness of Alaska over the years in pursuit of furs, fish, whales, gold, copper and, later, oil.

But the folks who hastily set up their tents on the muddy banks of Ship Creek in the spring of 1915 had come to build a railroad — one that would stretch from the ice-free port of Seward along Resurrection Bay to the Interior gold rush town of Fairbanks. That's 478 miles of steel.

They came from every state in the Union and from such countries as Hungary, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Yugoslavia, Greece, Russia, Austria and Bulgaria.

That first spring, more than 2,000 set up in the tent city. They slogged through ankle-deep mud, swallowed dust and mosquitoes, and waited for work on the railroad. Sanitary conditions were deplorable. Garbage was thrown into the creek in the morning and washed back up in the afternoon tide. The railroad doctor was alarmed. So, by presidential decree, the town was ordered to move.

Within three months, a townsite had been laid out on the bluff south of Ship Creek, where Anchorage is today. The bluff north of Ship Creek was for railroad and government use, including a "wireless" (or telegraph) office. It's still called Government Hill.

They chopped down a forest of birch trees. Orders were given to evacuate the tent city. Lots on the bluff were sold. Optimism was high. Businesses sprang up. The new frontier town, known as Ship Creek Anchorage, became headquarters for the Alaska Railroad.

Unlike railroads in the rest of the country, this railroad was owned and financed by the U.S. government. Why? Sparse population, rugged country and rich resources. Without transportation, those resources were worthless. In an age of steam, the lure of coal was almost as magic as gold, and extensive coal fields lay along the proposed railroad route.

Coal, gold, and the railroad. These three ingredients set the stage for a rich drama.

Gandy dancers

Gandy dancer was the name for a railroad worker. It came from the tool known as a "gandy" made by Gandy Manufacturing Co. of Chicago — a long iron bar with a pedal used by workers to straighten rails and smooth gravel. The work was often done in rhythmic, dancelike movements, accompanied by singing.

‘Demon rum’ flowed

Uncle Sam laid down the law in 1915. No liquor. No gambling. No bootlegging. No prostitution. There was to be none of that mischief within the new townsite of Anchorage.

Whom was he kidding?

Some thought the Wild West had had its final fling. But Alaska was a new frontier.

"The only thing more prevalent than the fine dust which clogs the air is the raw whiskey with which they wash it down," observed one disgusted federal bureaucrat, thoroughly unimpressed by the new railroad town and the moral fiber of its inhabitants.

Laws prohibiting such behavior may have been on the books, but enforcement was a different matter. And sometimes the law was in cahoots with the lawless.

Gambling flourished in the smoky back rooms of the pool halls and cigar stores lining Fourth Avenue. As Alaska historian Claus Naske noted, "Characters with nicknames such as Dago Jim, Creampuff Bill and The Pale-Faced Kid brought a certain professionalism to the games." They strolled Anchorage's dirt streets and disappeared behind swinging doors where, day and night, the click of billiards mingled with the clink of chips. Meanwhile, southeast of town in tents and cabins erected quickly on a blind alley, Montana Bessie, Little Annie and 40 other women practicing the world's oldest profession were entertaining a steady stream of customers.

Although liquor was outlawed in Anchorage in 1915, it would be two years before Prohibition was in full swing throughout the rest of the Territory of Alaska. By 1919, the ban on liquor was nationwide. At long last, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, with its battle cry of "Down with Demon Rum!," had triumphed. The Dry Era lasted until 1933. Those years would bring new meaning to the words "Joe sent me," an oft-whispered password into the illegal dens of drinking known as "speakeasies."

This is not to say the authorities stood by idly. There were arrests, but not always convictions. A man could be fined $1,000 and thrown in jail for a year if caught with a small flask of spirits in his hip pocket. Yet, it was a rare jury who would convict a gambler. After all, gambling was the best entertainment in town. A series of kiosk photos shows U.S. deputy marshals taking axes to barrels of moonshine confiscated in a raid on June 30, 1917, somewhere along the coast between Ship Creek and Bootlegger Cove. (Note the line of dejected-looking men hanging over the railing watching the disheartening scene.)

While prostitution was not allowed in the new townsite, government administrators, wise as they were to the weaknesses of men, established a red light district south of Ninth Avenue between B and C streets, just outside the townsite boundaries. Into the 1970s, C Street was considered "the end of the respectable part of town." Several of the early madams did so well they had The Wall Street Journal flown in and sold at Hewitt's Drug Store on the corner of Fourth and E to help them better manage their investments.

Citizen No. 18?

Oscar Anderson was the town butcher and by his own calculations was the 18th person to arrive on the banks of Ship Creek to help build a new city. Constructed in 1915, Anderson's home is one of the oldest in Anchorage. Today, it stands as a museum, a simple and elegant toast to those early pioneers. Oscar would surely be pleased. He loved the house and the view so much, they say his ghost still lives there.

Creampuff Bill

Some newcomers to Anchorage (and Alaska) in those early days were known by colorful monikers. The nicknames usually described someone's physical stature, where they came from, personality, profession or some defining event — like Moosemeat John, Big Red, Russian Mike, Happy Jack Smith and Walking Swayze. In a few cases, there might be a humorous wink — like Wise Robert. ("Was he really wise?" I asked "Fast Eddie" Fortier, an old-timer and an early editor of Alaska Magazine. "He thought he was," came the answer.)

Shortly after the kiosks on Anchorage's history went up around downtown 25 years ago, I got a phone call from Creampuff Bill's sister. She was well up in age. She'd seen the kiosks and she did not want us to get any wrong ideas.

"I want you to know," she told me. "He wasn't a sissy!" ("Cream puff" was an old expression for a sissy.) "He was the baker on the railroad," she said. "His cream puffs were legendary."

By the 1970s, monikers such as these were a thing of the past for the most part, but the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race kept them alive for a few more decades: Remember Eep and Babe Anderson of McGrath, "The Flying Anderson Brothers"; Emmitt Peters, "The Yukon Fox"; and Herbie Nayokpuk, the "Shishmaref Cannonball"?

Not your common Joe

"If you want

what you want

when you want it,

get the City Express!"

So promised the advertisement in 1916 of the self-proclaimed fastest taxi on wheels. The proprietor? That beloved rascal Joe Spenard. He seemed to delight in scribbling lamentable poesy to promote business. His slogan?

"Time and Tide Will Not Wait,

But City Express is Never Late."

In his bright yellow Model T Ford, embellished on both sides with lost-and-found notices, tide tables and snippets of his own personal philosophy, Spenard was one of the most flamboyant characters of the new frontier town. He loved packing the old Model T with kids, cranking up the motor, and hooting up and down Fourth Avenue, dust billowing from beneath his tires as the Ford sputtered to its top speed of 30 mph.

Spenard was sometimes dressed in a long, garish yellow duster with top hat and smoking a black cigar.

Some accounts say he homesteaded around Lake Spenard (from which the present-day Spenard neighborhood gets its name). But a closer look at the record shows that jovial Joe, always with an eye out for profit, merely claimed the terrain as his own. It was actually a forest reserve. But he cheerfully chopped down trees and motored around town selling the wood.

Out at the lake, Spenard built a dance pavilion, clubhouse and bathing resort and held the grand opening in August of 1916 with what was called the First Children's Picnic. Outings to the lake became immensely popular, winter and summer. When it was warm, there were picnics, swimming and boating, and when winter came, there were sleigh rides and twirling on the dance floor. Spenard's tenure was short-lived. He moved to California in 1917, and shortly afterward, his whole establishment burned to the ground.

Joe Spenard's legacy in Anchorage, namely the suburb of Spenard, seems fitting. It too has seen flamboyant and racy days. Homegrown humorists have long delighted in spoofing it. Look at the names of past and present establishments and their mottos.

Chilkoot Charlie's: "We cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you."

Spenardo Da Vinci's: A Renaissance reincarnation.

The Fly-By-Night Club: "Going out of business regularly in the same location for over 30 years."

The neighborhood is also the origin of certain flavorful expressions such as "Spenard divorce." (Don't know what it means? Ask an old-timer.)

'Gold is on the floor; booze is in the safe …'

So wrote one traveler about the far-flung trading posts of Alaska during the Gold Rush days. On a river, by the shore, wherever there was a little business, these lonely outposts were a lifeline to miners and prospectors.

The Kimball Building, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and E Street, was built by one of Alaska's original Arctic traders. The ground was still hot from the fires set to clear the new townsite of forest debris in the summer of 1915 when Irving Kimball selected the lot for his general merchandise store. It is the oldest building in town, still on its original foundations.

A dignified, highly educated man, Kimball was well on his way to becoming a medical doctor in Oregon when he got gold fever. With calico, knives, beads, foodstuffs in the hold and an "Ivers and Pond" piano lashed to the deck of his newly acquired trading vessel, Kimball and his partner sailed north into Arctic seas in the fall of 1898.

The following summer, they traded on the beaches of Cape Nome, where the black sands were laced with gold and about to touch off another gold rush north. Sailing on to Barrow, the ship met disaster, crushed in the Arctic Sea ice. Stranded, Kimball and his partner rescued their goods, engaged Eskimo kayaks, and traded along the coast back to Nome. It took them two years.

Hopping the first boat south, the Arctic trader returned to Oregon to marry his sweetheart and brought her north to Seward, where their first cabin was at the foot of Mount Marathon. In 1907, Kimball moved his family — now with two daughters — to Latouche Island in Prince William Sound, and 2 miles down the beach from the copper mines, he built a new trading post. A disastrous fire destroyed most of his business in 1915.

With news of the new government railroad, Kimball packed his livestock and family on board a ship and headed for Anchorage. Although originally smitten by gold fever, Kimball maintained, "The money's in the trading, not in the digging."

Where’s J Street?

On July 10, 1915, Andrew Christensen stood on the auctioneer's block and sold lots in the new town of Anchorage. As the superintendent of sales from the Department of Interior in Washington, D.C., he had come to Alaska a few months earlier to lay out the new railroad townsite.

It was a standard grid. No fancy curves. The streets were all straight. The east-west ones were marked with numbers and the north-south streets had letters for names.

But … one letter is missing. Between "I" and "K" there is no "J." Why?

It is something of a mystery. But here are a few theories: Some say Christensen's assistant was a Swede and in Swedish "J" has no real sound by itself, so the aide skipped it. Since the commission overseeing railroad construction was essentially a military organization, there is another theory that stems from military lore. General George Armstrong Custer's "J" Company was wiped out in Custer's Last Stand at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Therefore, "J" was omitted from the military alphabet in the mid-19th century either as a sign of bad luck or a sign of weakness. However, another story maintains that when the Army started identifying its companies with letters in 1816, all orders were handwritten. The script letter for "J" was so similar to the script letter for "I" that "J" was eventually dropped.

Hot baseball rivalry: Anchorage vs. Seward

In 1915, vigorous young men flocked to Ship Creek, seeking work on the new railroad. The employment officer would scan their applications, look them up and down, then squint his eyes and ask, "What position do you play?"

Baseball was the town's favorite sport.

That first summer of Anchorage's history in the tent city on the banks of Ship Creek saw the creation of a diamond, teams, uniforms and sporting rivalry. Crowds turned out at game time. There was even an all-women's team battling it out with the men. The handicap? All the men had to bat left-handed and run the wrong way around the diamond, left leg first.

It wasn't long before Anchorage and Seward were battling it out.

The Cook Inlet Pioneer was Anchorage's first newspaper, started on June 5, 1915 (later to change its name to The Anchorage Daily Times in 1924). The newspaper reported it was always a day of celebration, indeed, when "our base ball boys" won. Win or lose, baseball was hot copy.

Even though Anchorage and Seward lay 100 miles apart — with no connecting road or railroad — the baseball rivalry flourished. But it wasn't easy to travel back and forth in those early days.

Consider the game on a "miserable" August day in 1916 when the two rivals faced off in Seward. First, in order to get there, the Anchorage players and their fans had to sail to the headwaters of Turnagain Arm by boat, then pump themselves on hand-cars down the old tracks of the creaky Alaska Northern Railroad to Seward. Alas, they went down in ignominious defeat.

But even defeat didn't diminish the outpouring of emotion nor the time and space devoted to the game in Anchorage's only newspaper. The home team may have lost, but it didn't take long to fan the flames for "revenge, sweet revenge."

As the editor proclaimed, although "the team covered themselves with glory," Anchorage lost the game because "our boys had all the worse of the play." It was a "miserable trip" into "hostile territory." Furthermore, Seward had an "imported battery of professional ballplayers." Without these advantages, the editor warned, "the Seward Team is easy game."

The lead story began: "The base ball boys are home again. Beaten, but not disgraced; clean, clean as a whistle they returned. While the city brass band did not meet them at the dock nor did maids of the city strew flowers in their path, the entire city of Anchorage has nothing but praise … and they voiced the war cry of the team, 'Revenge, sweet revenge, on Labor Day!'"

A poem, too, appeared — a takeoff on "Casey at the Bat." It was titled, "What We'll Do To Seward Next Season." The last stanza warns:

"Don't come unless you're loaded.

Don't come unless you're right.

Don't come unless you're ready

To Kiss the Game Good-Night!"

Anchorage’s first airstrip

The Park Strip between Ninth and 10th avenues was once considered "the very edge of town." Originally, it was a firebreak. Then it became a combined landing airfield and golf course.

The clearing of that field was quite the event. On May 25, 1923, a local merchant, inspired by the vision that aviation was the promise of the future, marshaled workers to the firebreak to root out the old stumps and debris.

"Fred Parsons pulled over the first birch tree stump," the local paper reported, "and unearthed six bottles of homemade moonshine." It was the middle of Prohibition, so news spread like wildfire. As inspiration to the workers, someone had buried whiskey everywhere. By the end of the day, 16 acres had been cleared.

Anchorage had its first airfield and a four-hole golf course. (It is also possible half the town was happily snockered that night.)

But as air traffic increased, so did the hazards to golfers. Thus, in the 1930s, a new field on the east side of town was cleared for aviators. It was dedicated to the memory of Russ Merrill, Anchorage's first pilot, who disappeared in his plane in 1929 during a storm over Cook Inlet (www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIVxqTqKzPA). By 1944, Merrill Field had more flights a day than LaGuardia Field in New York City. Today it remains one of the busiest municipal airports in the nation, while the Delaney Park Strip is the domain of sporting enthusiasts.

Fearless aviation pioneer

"We cracked up a lot of planes in those days," remembered Ray Petersen, one of Alaska's pioneer aviators, before his death in 2008. "But the good pilots never scratched a hair. Until, for a few of them, their luck ran out."

One was Russ Merrill, the first pilot in frontier Anchorage. Merrill was a World War I Navy pilot and a graduate of Cornell University. His flying career in Alaska lasted only four years. But he made aviation history, pioneering air routes through formidable mountain ranges into Bristol Bay country and beyond. Merrill Pass in the Alaska Range directly across Cook Inlet is named for him.

Those were the days before instrument flying, when maps and charts were useless and a compass not always reliable. Pilots learned to read the land and sense the weather. They were literally, as the old saying goes, "flying by the seat of their pants."

In the late afternoon of Sept. 16, 1929, Merrill climbed into the open cockpit of his plane and flew west into overcast skies carrying gold mining equipment and U.S. mail. His destination: Akiak, a Yupik Eskimo village on the Kuskokwim River. By nighttime, a violent storm was raging over Cook Inlet. Merrill never reported in. The only trace ever found, after an intensive search, was a piece of fabric from the missing plane that washed up on shore.

In a tribute to the lost pilot, the Anchorage Daily Times wrote: "He gloried in finding new trails through the air, which was his home. He knew no fear; his ambition was to serve."

Women, a precious commodity

In the summer of 1920, a young bride stepped off the boat at Ship Creek. In the clear, cool evening, she heard a bell in the fire station begin to toll. It was the nightly curfew. A lone dog raised a mournful note. One by one, the dogs of all the other sled dog teams in town picked up that note until the town was filled with a "beautiful, haunting sound."

"Mosquitoes were so thick a person could hardly tell the color of the coat," wrote a young missionary's wife about those early summer days in Anchorage. "Women wrapped newspapers around their legs above their high button shoes and wore heavy leather gloves and nets over their head with rubber at the neck to keep from being bitten."

Whether confronting the mundane or the dangerous, the pioneer women of Alaska were inventive, feisty and adventurous. They joined the stampede for gold, climbed over the Chilkoot Pass, floated rivers, mushed dogs, chopped wood, built cabins, taught school, built schools, learned to fly, packed salmon, took the stage, entertained, hauled water, shot bears, owned their own businesses or worked with their men side by side. They brought laughter and love, brightening those dark melancholy days of winter and bringing a sense of fun to summer months.

Even in 1915, Anchorage was not an all-male town. But it did have a high percentage of single men, which led one male visitor to proclaim that it was one of the world's best matrimonial markets for women.

Ten years later, women were still a precious commodity. The Anchorage Chamber of Commerce in extolling the virtues of the city, hoping more settlers (preferably female) would flow north, wrote in 1925: "The old days of the 'Man's Town' have gone from Alaska, although women, children and the family life are not yet such a stale story in the north that they do not receive unusual consideration. The very first act of the Alaskan (territorial) legislature when established in 1912 granted absolute equality to women." The act gave Alaska women the right to vote by 1913. Women did not have that right many places in the United States until six years later, when Congress finally amended the U.S. Constitution.

First presidential visit

Late in the evening of July 13, 1923, the fire alarm sounded, announcing the arrival of an important guest. People rushed to the railroad station platform on Ship Creek. The Army band struck up "Hail to The Chief" and the Presidential Special rolled slowly into town from Seward.

It was a grand occasion for Alaska and the railroad. No United States president had ever visited the territory. President Warren G. Harding was in Alaska for the ceremonial completion of the Alaska Railroad. He spent three hours in Anchorage that night in a whirlwind of speeches, fanfare, pomp and ceremony. The train then rolled on to the Matanuska coal fields and up to Nenana. At the bridge crossing over the Tanana River, the president drove in "the golden spike" — joining rails of steel from the north and the south. The railroad from Seward to Fairbanks was complete.

Less than three weeks later, Harding died in San Francisco. Though there was no autopsy, most believe heart trouble or a cerebral hemorrhage killed him at age 57.

Bob Reeve, tough to frighten

Painted on the side of a hangar in Valdez in the 1930s was this sign: "ALWAYS USE REEVE AIRWAYS. SLOW, UNRELIABLE, UNFAIR, AND CROOKED. SCARED AND UNLICENSED … AND NUTS. REEVE AIRWAYS — THE BEST."

Alaskans called the famous bush pilot Bob Reeve "part bird." He made landings atop glaciers and pioneered air routes into the Aleutian Islands, where fog, wind, rain and snow meet to create miserable flying conditions.

Reeve was a fast talker, witty, and friendly. As a youngster, he ran away from home, fought in World War I, and studied law at the University of Wisconsin, where he "learned to make gin and not to bet into a one-card draw." He soon took to barnstorming, flew the mail over the Andes Mountains in South America, and, in 1932, stowed away on a steamer sailing north to Alaska.

When the largest earthquake in the history of North America struck Alaska on March 27, 1964, Reeve was celebrating his 60th birthday at the top of what is now the Anchorage Hilton hotel. With the tower swaying back and forth, dishes and glasses shattering, the party guests ran for the stairs. A reporter later asked Reeve if he had been scared. "Me? Scared? No." He grinned. "But I passed four or five young guys on the way down who sure were."

Instant press for a night on the town

Cleanliness was next to godliness and all that, but when the miners and railroad workers came to town, they didn't want to waste time washing clothes. For respectability, they asked the cleaners to "just put a crease in" — in other words, iron the pants, dirt and all. Pressed and combed, they were ready for a good time.

Anchorage’s first ‘blue stockings’

Orah Dee Clark, teacher and principal at Anchorage's first school, the Pioneer School, in 1915 led the children's parade at the Fourth of July celebration. A tiny woman with a quick sense of humor, Clark was one of the first "blue stockings" (aka "a lady intellectual") to arrive in Anchorage. She was a graduate of Columbia University in New York City. "And that took talent in those days," said one of her many admirers. In her 80s, when Clark Junior High School was named in her honor, she quipped with the wit that made her beloved: "One can't help being pleased. I won't need my name on a tombstone now."

Anchorage’s movie tycoon

At the time of his death in 1950, Austin "Cap" Lathrop was rumored to be the wealthiest man in Alaska. In the spirit of the wild west, Cap was a schemer, adventurer, and "his own best PR man." The son of a Michigan farmer, Lathrop sailed north to Alaska in a small two-mast schooner. He got rich ferrying mail, gold miners and supplies. It was here that he won his enduring nickname of Cap, short for captain.

As his fortunes grew, Cap Lathrop went on to build a financial empire from Cordova to Fairbanks in transportation, radio and television broadcasting, banking and theaters. He dabbled in oil and even started a fish cannery. He bought the biggest newspaper in Fairbanks. He owned the largest coal company in Alaska. Yet, he may be most fondly remembered for his legacy of movie houses.

"Cap Lathrop could be the most cantankerous man on earth one minute and the next minute the most charming, gallant and courtly," remembers one of his employees. "He always looked like he had just come out of a burning building with his rusty black, shapeless suits. He wasn't exactly a fashion plate." A man of different moods, Cap would throw open his movie houses, free of charge to all children on holidays, but had to be begged into "popping for a case of beer" at his own company's Christmas party.

In glorious art deco style, the Fourth Avenue Theatre was the jewel of Lathrop's empire. When the doors finally opened on May 31, 1947, with the gala premiere of "The Jolson Story," it was, said Lathrop, "the happiest day of my life." Both inside and out, the Fourth Avenue Theatre was a designer's dreamland.

"The interior was astonishing!" remarked a visitor on opening night of the Fourth Avenue Theatre. The press reported a tour through the building was "like walking through a kaleidoscope" with colors of warm roses, light blues, and chartreuse. Huge murals, rich in Alaska history and gilded in silver and gold, still grace the walls, while a constellation of stars twinkle in the ceiling overhead.

In 1923, half the town of Anchorage donned their best costumes as extras for Cap Lathrop's silent movie feature, "The Cheechakos"— a box-office bust but perfect for the evening.

'Texans, bow your heads …'

On June 30, 1958, a news broadcaster in Nevada began his evening program with these words: "Texans, bow your heads. One hundred years of bragging have been pulled right out from under your feet. Today the U.S. Senate voted statehood for Alaska. Shed a tear, because the new state is more than twice as big as Texas."

("Not when you melt all the ice!" retorted one Texas cowboy in one of the cartoons of the day, which were flying furiously back and forth.)

Up north, when the news hit the streets, there were traffic jams, sirens, bonfires, firecrackers and gun salutes. There was so much commotion that a sensational murder trial in the old federal courtroom had to be postponed.

After all, Alaska had waited 90 years for a star on the flag and a place in the Union.

First to the top of North America

Walter Harper, a handsome fellow at 20 years old, half-Athabascan and half-Irish, was the first man in 1913 to set foot on the summit of the highest mountain in North America, Mount McKinley. Or, as the Athabascan Indians named it, Denali, "The Great One." In 1947, Barbara Washburn, wife of the famous mountaineer-explorer-scientist Bradford Washburn, was the first woman to climb McKinley. She reached the top of both the north and south peaks on the same day.

Winning women

In 1985, Libby Riddles was the first woman to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. In nearly consecutive years, Susan Butcher won the race four times in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990 to become one of the winningest mushers of all time.

Nan Elliot was author and photo researcher for the walking tour of historic Anchorage. Wanda Seamster was the artist and graphic designer, and TRA-FARR were the architects and engineers. The project won several urban design awards.

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