Category Archives: history

The Palm Sunday Avalanche

3 April 1898:
The Chilkoot Trail, Alaska Territory


Front page of the Dyea Press, 4 April 1898

The conditions were perfect: Late season snow, followed by days of unusually warm temperatures, which were followed by another snowstorm. Experienced packers refused to head up the trail, due to the conditions, but many stampeders didn’t listen and carried their own supplies up the trail towards Canada.

The avalanches started on 2 April. A small camp of 20 men was buried, but all were dug out alive. The snow really started to fall on Sunday, the third, which happened to be Palm Sunday. Mini avalanches rumbled from the mountain pass, so The Scales on the Chilkoot Trail were abandoned for the day. Roughly 150 men headed down the mountain pass towards Sheep Camp.

Then the main avalanche hit.


Stampeders looking for fellow buried miners after avalanche. Courtesy of Yukon Archives

The avalanche swept down from above The Scales and headed towards Sheep Camp. When it came to a halt, it covered an area of 10 acres under 30-50 feet of snow. Stampeders raced up from Sheep Camp digging frantically for survivors. At least 65 men were killed by the avalanche, but that number is an estimate, considering the mad rush that was taking place on the Chilkoot to get to the Klondike gold fields.

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The Slide Cemetery
Dyea, Alaska


The Slide Cemetery in Dyea, Alaska – Camera: Kodak Folding Cartridge; Film: Kodak Verichrome 120

I hiked the Chilkoot Trail several years ago, and have written about that trek on here before. When I did that hike, one of the cameras I carried was an old Kodak No.2 Folding Cartridge. I thought it would be cool to carry a camera that was at least close to the era of the Klondike Stampede, even though this particular Kodak was manufactured around 20 years, or so, after the famed gold rush.

There is very little left of the town of Dyea from its heyday. A few store fronts are propped up in the woods, and the old dock piers are still visible going out into the bay. Dyea is also the location of the Slide Cemetery. All of the bodies that were found under the Palm Sunday Avalanche are buried here. I ventured out there with my cameras before I started on the hike. It’s an eerie place, which is only compounded by seeing the same date etched onto every grave marker: April 3, 1898. The air hung heavy, and the only sound that broke the silence was the click of my camera’s shutter.


E.T. Hutton Camera: Kodak Folding Cartridge; Film Kodak Verichrome 120

I was out there for quite some time, but I had the cemetery to myself; not one other person came by. The cemetery is not layed out in neat rows; the grave markers are haphazardly scattered about, which makes complete sense considering its origins. Today, the forest is reclaiming much of the cemetery.

I had taken several pictures from different angles, when a strong breeze blew in; I could follow the gust as it moved its way through the trees towards the cemetery. It blew overhead, and I looked up in time to see large broken limb fall from the trees above. I easily jumped out of the way, and the shaggy treetop landed right where I was standing. I thought for a moment, then said out loud: “I can take a hint. Just one more picture, and I will leave you in peace.”

I took the silence for an answer, clicked my final photograph, then left Dyea. Looking back at the print, I think the old Kodak did a great job of capturing the eerie feel of the cemetery that day.


A Kodak No.2 Folding Cartridge Camera


Normandy

This drone footage was taken in 2014 during the commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. It’s some phenomenal footage, and I thought today would be an appropriate day to share it.

This came to C-to-C via Milwaukee


Battle of Olustee

Battle of Olustee
Lithograph by Kurz and Allison

The Battle of Olustee, was fought on 20 February 1864. It was the only major battle of the Civil War, fought in the state of Florida. Union troops, 5500 strong, led by General Truman Seymour, landed in Jacksonville, and moved towards Tallahassee, in order to disrupt Confederate supply lines, mainly the rail lines.
There were 5000 Confederate soldiers, led by General Alfred Colquitt, dug in near the town of Olustee.

The two armies crashed into each other at Ocean Pond, in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

Ocean Pond battle

The Federal army was funneled in between swampy areas, where the Confederates had built up sturdy earthworks. Still, the Federals looked like they could win the day, when several events turned the tide. Fighting was fierce on both sides. At the end of the day, the Confederate soldiers held their ground, but suffered 946 killed and wounded, and 6 captured or missing. The Union force suffered 1861 killed or wounded, with 506 captured or missing.

Olustee Battlefield Park

While in Florida, I visited Olustee Battlefield. I had stopped by the Olustee Depot for details on the battle, and the National Forest that surrounds the area. Ocean Pond now has a popular campground. There is a small museum on the main road into the battlefield, and an interpretive trail that follows some of the troop movement.

Swamp near Olustee

It was a sketchy day to be hiking about, but I did the battlefield trail anyway. There was a line of thunderstorms across the Florida panhandle and Georgia. When I left the Depot, I knew that we were already in a tornado watch area, and that there were tornadoes sighted just north of the Park. Still, I figured I had until 4pm, when things would get nasty. The rain was spotty, but when it came down, it came at me sideways. The wind howled, and thunder rolled all around me. Out in the middle of the swamp, was a lone bell or chime, clanking endlessly in the wind. It was an eerie addition to the old battlefield.

Olustee cover

If the cover today was anything like it was in 1864, there would be little to hide behind if you were a Union soldier marching in on the entrenched Confederate force. Ferns, and a lot of tall pines.

Olustee Memorial

Every year, near the battle’s anniversary, a reenactment takes place on the site of the Civil War battle. It is suppose to be one of the most vivid one’s out there. So much so, that movie producers have filmed the reenactment for their Civil War movies. One film that contains footage shot of the reenactment is “Glory”.

Olustee Reenactment


Ybor City Museum

Ybor City Museum

The museum is located in the historic Ferlita Bakery building, circa 1896. The original bakery burned down, leaving only the brick oven standing, but was rebuilt larger and with a second oven.

Brick oven
Now this is a bread baking oven. The thing is huge, and there are two side by side

I joined the tour which took us through one of the homes provided to the cigar workers.

Cigar workers' homes
A row of cigar-workers’ homes

Very neat structures, that quickly gained my interest. Single story, with an attic, I figured that each one was just under 800 sq ft.

Front room

The rooms had 12′ ceilings, which no doubt help in the heat of summer. I was fascinated by what was the smallest boxwood stove I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them. Luckily, it doesn’t get too cold here, and there is the wood cookstove in the kitchen.

Hallway cigar house

With the “parlor” taking up the front of the house, and the kitchen taking up the rear of the house, this hallway connects the two rooms and runs along an outside wall. In between the kitchen and parlor are two bedrooms.

There were many people on the tour who had seen many of the kitchen items used in their youth, I’m willing to bet that I was the only one there who has seen them used in the past year. One thing about living in Interior Alaska, the past is only a door step away. From oil lamps, to wood fired cookstoves, cast iron skillets, granite ware, coffee boilers, the list went on. The ice box was an exception: I’ve never actually seen one of those in use.


75 Years Ago

Hickam Field
Hickam Field, Pearl Harbor Hawaii

The attack on Pearl Harbor took place 75 years ago on this date.

attack-on-pearl-harbor


The “Oil Can Highway”

Army Jeep on the AlCan

The Alaska Highway was completed on 20 November 1942. Construction was spurred on by the bombing of Pearl Harbor and really shifted into gear when the Japanese occupied Kiska and Attu Islands in the Aleutian Chain.

Caterpillar working the AlCan in 1942

Dubbed the Oil Can Highway, by the men building it, due to the enormous number of discarded 55 gallon oil drums long its route. The AlCan crossed over 200 streams and contained over 8000 culverts. 16,000 men built the 1700 mile road through the wilderness, at a cost of $138,000,000 in 8 months and 11 days.

Photos courtesy of the United States Library of Congress; Statistics come courtesy of The Thousand Mile War by Brian Garfield


USS Indianapolis

USS Indianapolis
The USS Indianapolis leaving San Francisco Bay

On the 30 July 1945, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-58. The sinking of the Portland-class cruiser was the greatest single loss of life, at sea, in the history of the U.S. Navy.

Launched on November 7, 1931, and commissioned a year later, the Indianapolis was engaged in a training exercise at Johnston Atoll on the morning of December 7, 1941. After the New Guinea campaign, the Indianapolis would head to the Aleutian Islands, to take part in the shelling of the Japanese held island of Kiska.

After delivering some components, including the enriched uranium, for the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima, the Indianapolis departed Guam for Leyte in the Philippines. She would not make it to Leyte. Two Japanese torpedoes intercepted the cruiser, and approximately 300 men went down with the ship. The sinking happened so quickly, that the desperate crew did not have time to get off a distress signal.

It is estimated that roughly 880 men went into the water, with a lucky few getting into life rafts. Even though the Indianapolis was expected in Leyte, no word was given that she did not arrive. By the time the Navy learned of the sinking, the sailors and Marines had been in the water for over three days. A PV-1 Ventura, flying an enemy sub patrol, spotted the oil slick, and then the men bobbing in the water. This was August 2, and by then over half of the men who entered the water had died. They had no food or water, unless they were lucky enough to find something floating among the debris. Hypothermia started to set in, flesh was rotting from the immersion in the water, some men suffered delirium and hallucinations, other drank the salt water. And there were the sharks. Most sharks fed on men that had already died, or that had floated away solo, but there is no doubt, that many men died from the shark attacks directly.

Lt. Adrian Marks commanded a PBY Catalina seaplane to the location. Upon seeing all of the sharks among the floating men, he set the plane onto the water, and taxied around picking up survivors. Marks later said that he made “…heart-breaking decisions”, as the crew singled out survivors that were floating alone or away from groups. “I decided that the men in groups stood the best chance of survival. They could look after one another, could splash and scare away the sharks and could lend one another moral support and encouragement.” In all, Marks and his crew would somehow manage to pull 56 men from the water, even strapping some to the plane’s wings.

The USS Indianapolis had a crew of 1196. 880 survived the torpedoes, of those only 321 came out of the water alive, with four later dying from their injuries after being rescued.

The Captain of the Indianapolis, Charles McVay, would face a court-martial. He was found guilty of “hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag”. The Japanese commander of I-58 testified that zigzagging would not have saved the ship. In fact, the Navy’s orders to McVay, were to “zigzag at his discretion, weather permitting”. Charles McVay would retire from the U.S. Navy in 1949 as a rear admiral. He took his own life in 1968 with his Navy service revolver.

The USS Indianapolis had been awarded 10 Battle Stars for its actions during WWII.

USS_Indianapolis-survivors_on_Guam
Survivors of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, in Guam – August 1945

Photo credit: United States Navy