Category Archives: people

The songbirds are singing…


Walter Harper Day

Looking down on Muldrow Glacier; Photo credit: Hudson Stuck, 1913

Today is Walter Harper Day in Alaska. Harper, at the age of 20, was the first person to stand on the summit of Denali on June 7, 1913.

It took the expedition three months to travel from Fairbanks to the summit of North America’s highest peak. The final four weeks of the trek were spent on The Mountain.

Walter Harper in 1916

Harper and his new bride were on the doomed final voyage of the steamer Princess Sophia, when it ran aground in Lynn Canal, and eventually sank when a storm came up. He was 25.


“Who do you love”

Ronnie Hawkins and The Band; The Last Waltz, 1976:

Ronnie Hawkins, the brash, “King of Rockabilly” died over the weekend. The Hawk was 87.


Delta Junction and Ukraine

Delta Junction is a town that lies approximately 90 miles east of Fairbanks. The northern end of the Alaska Highway is at Delta Junction.

Many would be surprised to hear that of all towns in the United States, Delta Junction has the highest percentage of Ukrainians. 16.4% of residents were born in Ukraine, and an even higher percentage have Ukrainian ancestry.

I have quite a few customers coming in from Delta Junction, and there have been a lot of very concerned people from Delta.

Farmland in Delta Junction, Alaska


Tom Sadowski

I received word over the the weekend, that photographer Tom Sadowski had passed away in his home in Maine this summer.

Anyone who has perused a gift store in Alaska has seen his postcards. Those postcards, were not in the Hallmark tradition, per se, but more of a quirky, sometimes zany, and always humorous visual, of life and travel in the 49th State.

Sadowski was a long time columnist for the Anchorage Free Press, writing some 500 weekly columns. He had gone into semi-retirement only last year.

Rest in peace Mr Sadowski.


Jacoby wins Gold

I worked late on Monday, but I arrived home just in time for this:

The 17 year old who had Alaska bouncing off the walls

Lydia Jacoby beat her own career best time, while swimming ahead of the current world record holder, and Olympic record holder, in order to take home the gold medal in the women’s 100 meter breaststroke.

In this case, home is Seward, Alaska.

Alaskans were pumped about Jacoby’s performance in the semifinal, which was 8 tenths of a second slower than her final swim.

Alaskans across the state watched the race, and several hundred fans met at the Seward train depot to catch it on the big screen. Jacoby grew up swimming with the Seward Tsunami Swim Club.

It was the first gold medal in swimming for an Alaskan.


Michael Collins

Michael Collins in the command module simulator prior to Apollo 11; Photo credit: NASA

Astronaut Michael Collins, the command module pilot for the Apollo 11 moon landing mission, passed away on Wednesday. Collins was 90.

“I am too old to fly to Mars, and I regret that. But I still think I have been very, very lucky. I was born in the days of biplanes and Buck Rogers, learned to fly in the early jets, and hit my peak when moon rockets came along. That’s hard to beat.” —Michael Collins


Ada Blackjack

“The Female Robinson Crusoe

Ada Blackjack and son Bennett

In 1921, Ada Blackjack had been abandoned by her husband outside of Nome, Alaska with a five year old son who suffered from tuberculosis. She needed money to care for her son, so she joined an Arctic Expedition to Wrangel Island, which was being put together by explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson. The expedition sought an Alaska Native seamstress who spoke english. Ada was hired on, and left for Wrangel Island in September 1921.

Ada Blackjack with the Wrangel Island expedition team

The expedition itself, was on thin ice from the very beginning. The goal was for the team to travel to Wrangel Island to claim it for the British Empire, even though the British government had shown little interest in the island previously. Stefansson, who organized the entire expedition, had no intention of going himself. Instead, four men: Allan Crawford, 20, Lorne Knight, 28, Fred Maurer, 28, and Milton Galle, 19, went with Blackjack, 23, and Vic the cat, age unknown, to claim the island.

The team had enough supplies to last six months, although Stefansson assured the expedition members that wild game would be easy to find.

Wrangel Island off of the Siberian Coast

The first year went relatively well, but by the end of autumn 1922, game had suddenly diminished from the island. By January 1923, the expedition was in trouble. Crawford, Maurer, and Galle left on foot across the sea ice to Siberia for help. Knight, who was suffering from scurvy, was left behind with Blackjack and Vic. The three men who went out on foot were never seen or heard from again. Ada cared for the ailing Knight for six months, until his death in June.

Allan Crawford and Victoria the Cat

For the next three months, Ada Blackjack was alone on the island. She trapped fox, shot birds, and patrolled for polar bear. She even used the expedition camera gear to take selfies outside of camp.

On August 20, 1923, almost two full years from first arriving on Wrangel Island, the schooner Donaldson arrived to rescue the last surviving member of the expedition. The crew found Blackjack doing quite well for herself, stating: she “mastered her environment so far that it seems likely she could have lived there another year, although the isolation would have been a dreadful experience.”

Blackjack took her money from the expedition, which was less than promised, retrieved her son, and avoided the spotlight. Stefansson profited greatly from the failed expedition, but none of that money went to Blackjack. She spent much of her adult life in poverty. She did remarry, and had a second son, Billy. Bennett died in 1972 at the age of 58 from a stroke. Ada Blackjack passed away on May, 29 1983 at the Pioneer Home in Palmer, Alaska. Blackjack is buried at the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery, next to her son Bennett.


Connery, Sean Connery

Truly, one of a kind. Rest in peace, Sir Sean Connery.

On this Dia de los Muertos, let’s pause to remember all of those who have passed before us. This year, there have been many to remember.

A sea of marigolds