Summer 2009 Edition Features

FRONT PAGE STORY • 49TH STATE EXTRA

Welcome to Skagway, Alaska
‘1,000 Miles North of Worry’

PIONEER GOLD RUSH TOWN CELEBRATES STATEHOOD

All Hail President Eisenhower, Congress, Alaska Delegate Bob Bartlett

As We Approach the 1960s, Opportunities Abound in Skagway for Visitors, Investors and Anyone Who Wants to Call the 49th State Home.

From the Skagway Chamber of Commerce Brochure (circa 1958):
Situated in a narrow valley lying north and south, the flat townsite is completely surrounded by rugged mountains, rising from the very sea as high as 7,000 feet. These are snow capped most of the year and have several glaciers in view of Skagway. The alpine scenery is considered by many travellers to be the most beautiful in the world. For a sea-level town, rainfall is remarkably light. Nightless summer days produce fine flowers, vegetable and berry gardens. The air is delightful, and Skagway is a quiet, restful place to live – or just vacation. The name is derived from the Indian “Skagua” meaning “Home of the North Wind.”
Skagway’s business district is located mainly on “Broadway”, a street running through the center of town. There is one bakery, drug store, photo shop, modern theater, beauty parlor, barber shop, two restaurants, soda fountain, bank, U.S. Post Office, liquor stores and cocktail bars decorated with murals, hand laundry and dry cleaning, two jewelry and curio stores, record shop, railroad and steamship offices, two transfer companies, three taxi companies, three general merchandise stores, hardware store, electrical supply store, airlines office, novelty shop, driftwood shop, two real estate offices. There are openings for other businesses as well.
Skagway has an excellent public school, including a fully accredited high school, with a modern fireproof building soon to be enlarged. There is also Pius X Mission, a parochial school for Native children housed in a modern brick building.
Skagway has an airport suitable for even larger planes that those now landing there. The community maintains an excellent public library. The Federal Government maintains a court house and jail with a U.S. Deputy Marshal and U.S. Commissioner.
Skagway has always been a transportation center. During gold rush days it was an outfitting point for those on their way to the gold fields. It is the gateway to the vast Yukon and the interior of Alaska, with which it is connected by the famous White Pass & Yukon narrow gauge railroad. Work has been started on what is hoped will be a connecting link with the Alaska Highway at Carcross, Y.T., a distance of 65 miles, 20 of which lies in the U.S.
Many opportunities exist for those who wish to visit, invest, or make their homes in Skagway Power development engineers have discovered opportunities of great hydroelectric power resources which may be developed soon. We need capital, skilled craftsmen and citizens who want to live in the “Last Frontier.”
Do you want to be a citizen of the 49th State?
The Skagway Chamber of Commerce will furnish any detailed information possible upon request.

Historical Feature

STATE OF CELEBRATION

PHOTOS: Left, members of the Skagway Emblem Club carry a casket for the Territory of Alaska in the 1958 Fourth of July parade. Right, Skagway held its own Statehood Celebration Day on August 30, 1958. During a ceremony in front of the old Coliseum Theater on Broadway (now Echoes of Alaska), Mayor Cy Coyne holds up a sign proclaiming Congress Way as the new name of the road to the boat harbor in honor of the legislative body’s vote for Alaska statehood. Coyne also proclaimed Eisenhower Park (Yakutatnia Point) for the President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s signing of the statehood bill on July 7 of that year, and the new boat harbor for Bob Bartlett, Alaska’s then non-voting Territorial Delegate to Congress. Bartlett (far left) was guest speaker that day. After statehood was officially proclaimed on January 3, 1959, Bartlett was elected to the U.S. Senate and served until his death in 1968. CE Mulvihill

Story by ANDREW CREMATA • Photos by CE MULVIHILL

It is difficult to imagine a trip to the post office, library, police station, or school without the familiar view of America’s flag waving in the substantial Skagway breeze. While the era of Alaska’s Territorial days are often romanticized, true independence for Alaska residents would only become a reality upon attaining statehood. For Skagwayites (as they were called then) who were a part of that momentous day when the Stars and Stripes made their first ascent of local flagpoles, it was a day of celebration.
Before becoming a Territory in 1912, Alaska was a judicial and civil district of the United States Government. Both designations left control of the state in the hands of the federal government. With little control over their own resources, Alaskans were forced to simply watch as outside forces exploited natural resources such as fish, game, and mining operations.
The push for statehood was a long road met with opposition from a number of sources, both federal and within the state. However, the appointment of Ernest Gruening as governor of Alaska by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 was the first step toward Alaska becoming the 49th state.
Edward Lewis “Bob” Bartlett served as a Territorial delegate to Congress from 1944 to 1958, and became a key ally of Gruening’s. Bartlett’s influence proved critical in 1958, when he was able to sway the opinion of a longtime opponent of statehood, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn.
The headline of the July, 1 1958 New York Times read, “Alaska to join union as the 49th state.”
Six days later, on July 7, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Alaska Statehood Act, paving the way for Alaska to become an official part of the Union.
News travelled fast to Alaska residents including Skagwegians who did what they always do best.
Celebrate.
“We were living behind the post office when it happened,” said Si Dennis Jr. who was 10-years-old at the time. “Dad was working, but they laid off everyone for the day. Sirens were blowing, the bars were all open. Everyone was up and down Broadway hooting and hollering. We thought there was a big accident.”
Stan Selmer, also 10 at the time, was en route to the recreation hall behind the Presbyterian Church with some friends for some roller skating. As they walked past the church they heard screaming across the street.
“Dorothy Self was on the balcony of the service station where the Pizza Station is now. And she is screaming at the top of her lungs, ‘We made it!’”
Selmer said they wondered what Self was talking about when she clarified, “We’re a state.”
Said Selmer, “It was an exciting moment for me too.”
Carl Mulvihill called the event an “impromptu celebration.”
With all the bars in town open including The Pack Train, Igloo, and Moe’s, revelers had no trouble finding a watering hole for merrymaking.
“Everyone wanted to drink champagne,” said Mulvihill. “The bars must have gone through cases of champagne.”
“Someone threw a firecracker on a table at The Pack Train and when it went off nobody even jumped.”
Mulvihill said fireworks were being set off all over town. One fellow with the nickname “Shorty” commandeered a fire truck and drove around town blowing the horn repeatedly. A group of concerned citizens chased him from behind in an effort to get him to stop.
Mulvihill said he may have been under the influence of “a joyful juice.”
Barb Kalen found a watering hole of her own, at the old boat harbor.
“We went swimming at ten at night that day. I remember it was a very hot day,” said Kalen.
Kalen, 34-years-old at the time, said, “Everybody was really happy. It was like a celebration… We were a state now. Oh boy! Oh boy!”
For those Skagwayites, life went on as usual after Alaska became a state. Kalen said not much changed locally. “Not mine anyhow,” she added.
“The weather sure didn’t change,” said Mulvihill.
Alaska would officially become the 49th state of the United States of America on January 3, 1959. Mulvihill said the event did give Alaska a voice in Washington D.C. and allowed for local control over resources.
“Before that fishermen used fish traps which destroyed fisheries,” he said.
Other subtle changes were also soon visible. At the time, the Skagway City Council decided to name Congress Way in honor of the momentous vote. The old harbor was named “Bob” Bartlett harbor, and it was suggested that Yakutania Point be named after Eisenhower.
“That never really took,” said Mulvihill.
Bartlett would soon become a U.S. Senator, serving from 1959 to 1968. Gruening served as a Senator from 1959 to 1969.
For 50 years Old Glory has sat atop Alaska’s star-studded flag and fluttered under that same Big Dipper etched between stars overhead.
It’s hard to imagine a Fourth of July without a parade boasting quirky floats and celebrants adorned in eccentric costumes meandering along Broadway. It’s hard to imagine not lining up to vote at City Hall every so often to select a presidential candidate, a senator, or a congressman.
It’s hard to imagine a Skagway without something to celebrate.

PHOTOS: Top, members of American Legon Post 7 salute the new 49-star American flag as it is raised at the post office for the first time on July 4, 1959. Bottom, Skagwayites love a good party, and the Statehood Dance at the Eagles Hall was a special occasion 50 years ago. CE Mulvihill

Andrew Cremata is a writer and photographer living in Skagway. He can still chronicle the local party scene, and writes an award-winning outdoors column for The Skagway News, "Fish This!"

C.E. "Carl" Mulvihill is the historian for the WP&YR and has been photographing Skagway events since he was a boy. See more of his Statehood Era photos in the print edition, which will be in circulation until spring 2010. For a postpaid copy, send $2 to The Skagway News, PO Box 498, Skagway, AK 99840.