Category Archives: history

Katmai, Alaska; circa 1912

Katmai after the Novarupta Eruption; Photo was taken 9 weeks after the eruption

The eruption of Novarupta on 6 June 1912 was the largest of the 20th Century. The village of Katmai was destroyed in the eruption, buried under as much as 18 inches of volcanic ash.


Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Late October, 1941

The Pupmobile

A dog team pulling a pupmobile on the Seward Peninsula; Library of Congress

Mostly used out of Nome on the Seward Peninsula, the pupmobile, was a small railroad car that was pulled by a team of dogs. It was common practice in the first 2-3 decades of the 1900’s, as most of the railroad tracks had been abandoned, and sled dogs were the main mode of transportation.


The opening of the Al-Can

The first truck through, November 1942

The anniversary of the first truck to travel the Alaska Highway was on Saturday, 20 November. The truck was the first to drive from Dawson to Whitehorse, and then from Whitehorse to Fairbanks. In 1942, that must have been one chilly ride.

The Alaska Highway Guide; 1948

In 1948, The Alaska Highway Guide was published, which listed the scant accommodations and services along the route. The Milepost, which today is the bible of Al-Can travel, would be published for the first time in 1949.


Big Fitz Memorial Beacon

Split Rock Lighthouse, Two Harbors, Minnesota

The annual Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Beacon Lighting will once again be a public event. Every year on 10 November, the lighthouse, fog signal building, and visitor center are open to the public to commemorate the lives lost in the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975. In 2020, the buildings were closed due to the pandemic.

A film on the Big Fitz will be shown throughout the day. At 4:30pm, the lighthouse will close for the reading of the names of the crew to the tolling of a ship’s bell. Afterwards, the lighthouse will reopen. This is the only day of the year that visitors are allowed to climb the tower, in the dark, to see the lit beacon.


On the Hunt for The Bear

The USRC Bear in the ice; Location and date unknown

For over two decades, NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard have been looking for the final resting place of the Revenue Cutter Bear. One of the most storied ships in USCG history, the Bear was launched in 1874, and would see service for the next nine decades.

The historic vessel entered Coast Guard service as a revenue cutter in 1885, spending much of its time working the 20,000 mile Alaska coastline. The Bear was a rescue ship and medical ship; served as transportation for governors, teachers, construction material, mail and reindeer; hunted for poachers, smugglers and illegal traders; and she served as census taker and floating courthouse during her time in Alaskan waters.

The Bear’s masthead

She assisted the 1906 relief efforts after the San Francisco earthquake, as well as assisting Robert Byrd on his Second and Third Antarctic Expeditions. In 1930, the Bear starred in the film version of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf. In 1939, she joined the US Navy on the United States Antarctic Service Expedition. When the United States entered WWII, the Bear returned to Arctic waters joining the Northeast Atlantic Greenland Patrol.

With her service in WWII, the Bear became the oldest Navy ship to be deployed outside the Continental United States. She was also one of the last ships originally equipped with sails to serve in a theater of war. The Bear was one of a select few Navy ships to have served in the Spanish-American War, as well as both World Wars.

The Bear’s final moments, with the Irving Birch looking on

In 1963, while being towed from Nova Scotia to Philadelphia, one of her masts collapsed in a storm, and the venerable Bear went down to the sea bottom.

In 2019, researchers from NOAA caught a break. Two targets were discovered, and one showed major promise. After two years of comparing photos of the wreck at the bottom of the ocean, and photos of the Bear in dry dock and at port, researchers have stated that they are “reasonably certain” that the wreckage is the Bear.

The wreck on the left, with the Bear in dry dock, circa 1924, on the right; Photo credit: NOAA


Frozen Load

October is American Archives Month:

October 1942

The building of the Alaska Highway. Even in October, the load of dirt has frozen to the bed of the dump truck.

Photo is from the National Archives


Oncorhynchus Rastrosus

The Sabertooth Salmon:

Oncorhynchus rastrosus

The sabertooth salmon, now extinct, inhabited the waters off the Pacific Coast of North America 5-12 million years ago. Oncorhynchus rastrosus received its nickname from a pair of canine-like fangs that protruded outward from its snout.

Size comparison of the sabertooth salmon to man and today’s sockeye

The sabertooth salmon was huge, the largest of any salmonid to ever exist. Adults reached a length of 7.5 feet, and a weight of up to 400 pounds. Try dip netting for that beast.

Like today’s salmon, the sabertooth was thought to be anadromous, meaning they went from salt water to fresh water to spawn. O. Rastrosus would have shared the ocean with some rather large predators: Namely the Megaledon shark and the Livyatan, a predatory whale.


The American Lion

Skull of an American Lion, discovered in Alaska

The American Lion went extinct approximately 11,000 years ago. A sister lineage to the European Cave Lion, the American Lion was 25% larger than today’s African Lion. In fact, they may well have been the largest feline to prowl the Earth’s surface, standing 3.9 feet at the shoulder. The saber-toothed cat was more stout and muscular, and the American Lion more lean. The two predators hunted in a very different style, with evidence showing the lion being built for speed.

Home range of the American Lion

The American Lion ranged from Alaska through much of what is now the western and central United States, Mexico and into South America.

Artist depiction of the American Lion

I’ve written on here before about the steppe bison at the Museum of the North that is on exhibit. The bison was quickly frozen after its death, and preserved in the permafrost. On its flanks, one can see the claw and bite marks from an American Lion.

There is some debate as to whether the species was actually a lion, or from the tiger or jaguar lineage, but most classify the species as being a sister line to the European Cave Lion, which was isolated after many thousands of years.

A complete skeleton of an American Lion

The above skeleton of an American Lion came from the La Brea Tar Pits, but there were relatively few found in the pits compared to the saber-toothed tiger. One theory is that the American Lion had one of the largest brain cavities of any feline, so it’s possible most of them were smart enough to avoid the tar.

No matter how you look at it, the American Lion was one, big cat. It must have been an impressive sight.


Traveling the Chatanika Spur

October is American Archives Month:

1920’s travel along the narrow gauge rail of what was originally the Tanana Valley Railroad. By 1920, the TVRR had been bought out and this section renamed the Chatanika Branch. In 1923 it all became part of the Alaska Railroad.