Tag Archives: Seward

Eight stars of gold on a field of blue


The Alaska state flag

In 1927, when Alaska was still a U.S. Territory, Territorial Governor George Parks persuaded the Alaska American Legion to hold a competition. The Governor thought it would help the statehood movement by having a state flag, so the Legion held a contest, open to all Alaskan children, to design Alaska’s new flag.

142 designs were sent to Juneau from all over the state. A thirteen year old living in Seward, John Ben “Benny” Benson won the contest with a simple, yet elegant design.


Benny Benson holding his design for the new Alaska flag

Benny Benson was born in the fishing village of Chignik. His father was a Swedish fisherman, his mother an Aleut-Russian. Benny’s mother died when he was just three, and the family home burned to the ground shortly afterwards. His father, John Ben Benson Sr, could not take care of his three children alone, so they were divided up. Benny and his brother were put into an orphanage in Unalaska; his sister Elsie was sent to a school in Oregon.

The Jesse Lee Home in Unalaska was home to hundreds of Aleut orphans. It eventually moved from Unalaska in the Aleutian Chain, to the town of Seward on the mainland. It was from here that Benny Benson sent his design for the Alaska flag, as a seventh grader.


The Jesse Lee Home for Children in Unalaska, circa 1901

Benson described his design to the judges this way: “The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska flower. The North Star is for the future of the state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union. The dipper is for the Great Bear – symbolizing strength.”

The Territorial Legislature approved the new flag in May of 1927, and Alaska officially flew its new flag for the first time on 9 July 1927. Benny Benson received a watch, with the flag design etched on it, as well as a $1000 educational scholarship, which he eventually used to become a diesel mechanic.

Benson Boulevard in Anchorage, which is a major east-west thoroughfare, is named after Benny.
A Benny Benson Memorial is located at milepost 1.4 of the Seward Highway in Seward.
The airport in Kodiak was renamed the Kodiak Benny Benson State Airport in 2013.
A school in Anchorage on Campbell Airstrip Road has been named the Benny Benson School.

Benny Benson died of a heart attack in 1972. He was 58.

The black & white photos courtesy of The Alaska State Library Archives


Exit Glacier: Video

I visited Exit Glacier this past summer, and did a post on it at that time. This is short video of that glacier. It has some beautiful footage of the Seward area. The glacier was receding by 150 feet a year; it is now losing 10-15 feet a day.

Film credit: Raphael Rogers, Paul Rennick. Film editor: Kristin Gerhart


Seward, Alaska

The official motto of Seward: Alaska Starts Here


Seward Marina

I was finally able to escape for a few days and get some fishing in, so some friends and I headed south to Seward to chase some cohos. The silver run was winding down, but we still hit some pockets, and had a great day out on the water.


Resurrection Bay

Seward’s population is just over 2500, but it swells during the summer with people coming to fish or just see the sights. As many as 40,000 come into the tiny port town for the July 4th festivities, which include the running of Mount Marathon.

In 1793, Alexander Baranov started a fur trading post at Resurrection Bay, where the city now stands. Seward is Mile 0 for the historic Iditarod Trail. In 1964, the city was virtually destroyed by the Good Friday Earthquake, which struck Alaska. Much of the damage was caused by the tsunami that hit immediately after the shaker.


The Catch

As recently as 2011, Seward was the ninth most profitable fishing port in the U.S. We did all right for a late run. Most of the salmon we caught were silvers, but we hooked into a few pinks as well. In an unfortunate turn, one member of the boat caught a puffin. The first time I had seen that happen. The puffin was deep, probably after some of the chum in the water, and I think everyone was surprised to see feathers break the surface of the water, and not scales, when the puffin was reeled in. We brought the bird on board, and I held the colorful diver, while the boat’s captain removed the hook from its wing. Once released, the puffin flew off with no signs of distress.

After a day of fishing, we hit Thorn’s Showcase Lounge. I apologize to Thorn’s: the first time I saw the building, I immediately thought it was a strip club, and not wholly due to the sign out front that reads: “Bucket of Butts”. Thorn’s does serve up the best halibut in Seward, and they have an extensive collection of old liquor bottles in all shapes and sizes.


Thorn’s: Where it’s 1968 all day, every day.


Exit Glacier

While in Seward, we made a trip out to Exit Glacier, which is in Kenai Fjords National Park. Exit, is one of over 30 glaciers that flow out from the Harding Icefield. Although, Exit Glacier is by far the most accessible. It’s a 4.1 mile hike from the visitor center to the edge of the Harding Icefield.


Harding Icefield, which is several thousand feet thick.

Kenai Fjords is a trip back in time. A series of signs show where the glacier was from 1815 onward. As one gets closer to the glacier, the woods become younger and younger.


Exit Glacier terminus map. Credit: NPS.Erin Erkun

The glacier was originally known as Resurrection Glacier, as the glacier’s melt flows into the Resurrection River and finally Resurrection Bay. The first documented trip across the Harding Icefield in 1968, saw the team “exit” the ice field from Resurrection Glacier, and the nickname “Exit” Glacier stuck.


Photo credit: ADN

Exit Glacier is retreating in winter now, as well as summer, and it has been since 2006. The sign post showing where the terminus was in 1917, is now approximately a mile from the current terminus. The summer of 2016 set a record for the glacier: Exit retreated 252 feet, the most of any summer since records have been kept. For that year, the glacier saw 293 feet disappear.


Map credit: ADN


Mount Marathon

Every Fourth of July since 1915, the small, sea town of Seward, Alaska holds a race from its downtown to the summit of Mount Marathon and back. It’s a grueling run up to the 3022 foot summit, which at times has the entrants using their hands as much as their feet to climb the steep slope. Downhill is another story: It’s a mad, free for all at insane speed down the rocky, mountain side. Most racers cross the finish line covered in mud & blood. The record time was set in 1981 by Bill Spencer in an amazing 43 mins 21 secs.
Alaskans truly love this race and it shows with the populace of Seward growing from 3000 to as many as 40000 for the July 4th celebrations.

This year, a 66 year old participant from Anchorage has vanished from the mountain. He was last seen by race volunteers 200 feet from the summit. There has been no trace of him since. Alaska State Troopers have called off their search, but the Seward Fire Department and other volunteers continue to search Mount Marathon.

Tragically, in another accident, an elite racing veteran lost his footing on descent near the base of the mountain and suffered a broken skull, broken leg and other injuries. “To bound downhill, just on the edge of out-of-control, is what elite racers shoot for. We make these decisions, to run as fast as we can. To choose that mountain race. To go fast on the downhill. Ninety-nine percent of the time, we’re rewarded for it.” — Alaska Mountain Runners president Brad Precosky

As of today, Michael LeMaitre is still missing and Matthew Kenney is still in a coma.