Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Murder, 126 Years Old

It may be the season for spookiness, but regardless of the season, visitors to the museum frequently ask if there is a resident ghost. And while I cannot tell you definitively if a spirit dwells in this old log building, I can tell you that there is plenty of cause for a haunting. And if this ghost were to appear, the date is fast approaching. For it was 126 years ago, on November 1, 1886, that magazin-resident Benjamin McIntyre was killed at his dining room table.

As gruesome as it is, this story also happens to be one of my favorite to tell, not only because it is gripping, but because the murder itself provides an incisive glimpse into the characters and livelihoods in Kodiak, less than 20 years after it became part of the U.S. Plus, during my recent research trip to the Alaska and Polar Regions Collection at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, I was able to track down a few “new” trails of evidence. Yes, that’s me, a Kodiak history detective.
Benjamin McIntyre, General Agenct of the
Kodiak District of the Alaska Commercial
Company, P-683.

To begin, let me introduce the cast of characters.

Benjamin McIntyre was the General Agent for the Alaska Commercial Company’s Kodiak District. Hailing from Vermont, McIntyre was responsible for the operations of the wide-reaching trading enterprise. The AC Co. (as it was known), in many ways filled the shoes of the business enterprises of the Russian-American Company. The business funded sea otter hunting expeditions, traded and sold furs, operated general stores, functioned as a credit agency and bank, delivered the mail, and in general was the main American entity in what was still very much a Alutiiq/Russian town.  McIntyre lived in the magazin, had a wife and three children.

Peter Anderson was a trapper, hunter and fisherman from the River Don region of Russia. He owned a sloop. Anderson was the suspected murderer and described by Ivan Petroff (see below) as having “a red, course face almost hidden in beard and unkempt shock of black hair, joined almost without neck to an herculean body with immense breadth of shoulders.”   

Benjamin Woche was the Alaska Commercial Company storekeeper in Kaguyak (abandoned following the 1964 earthquake and tsunami). Mr. Woche first came to Kodiak in 1867 with the US Army, which established Fort Kodiak. By 1870, the Army had left Kodiak, but Woche stayed and married a local woman.   

Heywood Seton-Karr was a British mountaineer, explorer, and writer. He was in Kodiak at the time of the murder, awaiting the schooner Kodiak’s return voyage to San Francisco.

H.P. Cope was the storekeeper at Kodiak’s AC Co. general store. This Englishman became Kodiak’s first postmaster, took the 1910 census for the island, and has a street named after him today.

The Kodiak's Custom House in
the late 1800s. Kodiak Historical
Society, P 399-1.
Ivan Petroff was the assistant Collector of Customs in Kodiak. Petroff was responsible for undertaking the first census of Alaska in 1880 and also worked on the 1890 census. He was Russian, a journalist, and a counterfeiter of historic documents. He gathered and translated materials used by historian H.H. Bancroft in the early and foundational History of Alaska and was caught falsifying translations that were used in an international tribunal. To most historians of Alaska, Petroff is a source of utter frustration.

W.E. Roscoe was one of the earliest Baptist missionaries in the region. He and his family laid much of the groundwork for the creation of the Woody Island Baptist Mission. Roscoe was not present for the murder, but performed McIntyre’s last rights immediately following the shooting.

Efka Pestrikoff worked as a servant for the McIntyre family in the magazin. He was a local Alutiiq man. His daughter, Natalia, worked as a cook and housekeeper for the Erskine family within the same building several decades after the murder.

Recounting the Gruesome Deed

“He scowled at me and as he scowled I began to feel sick and faint,” McIntyre told Petroff about his first encounter with Peter Anderson, his assassin. After their first meeting, McIntyre reported feeling “out of sorts ever since.” Did McIntyre sense he had met his murderer? Or later, as Petroff wrote the account, was Petroff merely trying to make a good story better?

The Alaska Commercial Company store and wharf,
where the Tustumena docks today. Kodiak Historical
Society, P. 399-4.
Soon after arriving in Kodiak, Anderson asked McIntyre to outfit him for a sea otter hunting trip. This was not an uncommon request. The AC Co would supply sea otter hunters with necessary goods, including food and arms, on credit for their trapping and hunting expeditions. Often, the company would send Alutiiq sea otter hunters with the white vessel owners to hunt, as well. The hunters were expected to sell the captured pelts to the AC Co, thus paying off their debts and coming out at the end of the transaction with more goods or cash.  As he would with any sea otter hunter, McIntyre outfitted Anderson, who then departed.

However, Anderson returned empty handed. It wasn’t unheard of for trappers and hunters to return without pelts- in fact, I found several instances in Alaska Commercial Company ledgers from the 1870s and 1880s that some hunters ended the season in debt to the company.

Anderson went to McIntyre again, asking for traps, munitions, and other supplies so that he could spend the winter trapping. Giving Anderson the benefit of the doubt, McIntyre instructed the store to provide the requested materials. However, according to one account, Anderson “set the traps but failed to look after them and didn’t even go to take them up when the trapping season was over. He used up all the supplies but didn’t go hunting either.” Again, Anderson returned to Kodiak without a pelt to put down to pay off his debts to the company. Multiple accounts verify the fact that Anderson was either too lazy or negligent to hunt. Spiridon Stepanoff, Alutiiq Creole from Eagle Harbor recounted in an oral history recorded in 1969 that “he wouldn’t do nothing!”

Accounts vary if McIntyre outfitted Anderson for another voyage after the second failed attempt. He did return on his last hunting trip outfitted by the Alaska Commercial Company without a fur in sight, and his vessel had gained an eerie appearance. Two accounts provide this sinister image - one claimed Anderson’s sloop was rigged with black sails, another that his sails were made from blue drill cloth. Whatever the material, his dark-sailed vessel presented an unsettling image in St. Paul’s harbor.   Anderson demanded to be outfitted again, but this time McIntyre refused.

Anderson’s sloop was not alone in the harbor. The Alaska Commercial Company owned schooner Kodiak was making preparations to sail to San Francisco on November 2. It appears that McIntyre was planning on departing for the winter on the vessel. He was to join Heywood Seton-Karr on the journey, an English explorer who had recently attempted an ascent of Mount St. Elias. According to the daily cash record kept at the AC Co. store, on October 28, Seton-Karr purchased a “colosh basket and mats,” examples of Tlingit basketry. (This same cash record informs us that McIntyre was a smoker of pipe tobacco.)

In Spiridon Stepanoff’s telling of the story, McIntyre ordered the slaughtering of a cow. “Won’t you give me a little piece for my supper?” asked Anderson, to which McIntyre responded, “Ah! You! You’re not my man. You’re not working man. You don’t do nothing! You don’t get nothing from me! You get home!”

The window likely obliterated by Anderson's buckshot.
At 6 PM, a group gathered for dinner in the McIntyre home, the magazin. Customs Collector Ivan Petroff, storekeeper H.P Cope, explorer Seton-Karr, and Kaguyak storekeeper Benjamin Woche (in town awaiting instructions for the winter), gathered around the table, as Efka Pestrikoff, servant in the McIntyre home, was busy with household matters.  “Suddenly there came a loud explosion, a crashing and jingling of glass and something whizzed by my nose creating quite a current of air…. The station agent was groaning under the table and when I turned to my left I saw M—still sitting in his chair, with a pleasant smile lighting up his open honest features. But from under his chin on one side, the bright red blood came oozing out,” wrote Petroff.

“But he shot. Buckshot. Back, shot him, bang, bang, two shots,” recounted Stepanoff.

It was “a fiend who fired through the window with a breech-loading double barreled shotgun,” wrote Wesley Roscoe. “Mr. McEntyre (sic) was killed so suddenly that he did not move…he was just taking something to his mouth--- and his head did not even fall to the table.” Mr. Roscoe  arrived immediately after the shooting and performed McIntyre’s last rights.

The spray of buckshot hit Woche, who “fell under the table, and then rushed out streaming with blood in torrents, for he was shot through the lower part of the head,” wrote Seton-Karr in his book, Shores and Alps of Alaska published in 1887.

In the chaos of the instant, no one saw the murderer, although there was an immediate suspect- Anderson. He had a violent reputation and terrified the townspeople. His boat was found ashore, untied, the next day, although he and his gun were missing. And everyone knew that McIntyre had refused to extend him further credit. The next day, Cope wrote to inform the San Francisco office of the murder. He wrote that they “were entirely at a loss to locate the” perpetrator, but it was generally thought to be “a man named Peter Anderson who arrived on a sloop of that name from Sitka last year. Today I think that our conclusion was a correct one, as the man has not been seen all day. A thorough search was made without success so far….The man was seen at the back of the dwelling house a few minutes before 6 pm but nothing was thought strange… The whole town is very much shocked and I think I can say that Mr. McIntyre has the respect of all who knew him both American and native.” A manhunt ensued, but Anderson was never seen again.

The next day, the injured Woche, the shaken Seton-Karr, and the corpse of McIntyre were loaded on the schooner Kodiak, which sailed for San Francisco. The surviving cash record shows that on board the Kodiak was food for the journey, purchased the day after the murder, including 168 pounds of fresh beef. This was quite possibly part of the same cow that McIntyre refused to surrender to Anderson the day before.  

But the story continues! In 1917, The Valdez Miner asserted “Bones of Kodiak Murderer Found.” The skeletal remains of a man with a shotgun were found near the town of Kodiak- the shot gun shells matched those that had been salvaged from the dining room following the murder. Many believed that the bones were all that were left of Peter Anderson.

Natalia Pestrikoff, the the left. P 368-1-2.
And McIntyre, what of his spirit? Natalia Pestrikoff, daughter of McIntyre’s servant Efka, worked for many years for the Erskine family. Her domain was the kitchen. She swore that the magazin was haunted, so much so that she refused to sleep within the Erskine’s home. For Natalia and other Kodiak residents, strange sounds within the magazin were certainly McIntyre’s ghost. One time, the errant sound was a moaning cow, but as Carolyn Erskine Andrews recounted, “Once more MacIntyre’s (sic) ghost was routed but he never remained peacefully away for long.”

While the lingering presence of McIntyre’s murdered spirit continues to be debated, there is a legacy that remains. Petroff wrote that “the window, which opened upon a narrow alley, was almost demolished, both frame and glass being shattered…” As carpenter Don Corwin restored the magazin’s historic windows, one was distinct from those around it- the one that Anderson’s buckshot had obliterated.

So is the magazin haunted? Just this weekend, someone left a note in a museum gallery, claiming they had seen a ghost as they left the bathroom. Was this a trick, the result of an overactive imagination, or McIntyre’s restless spirit? I can’t say for sure… but I must run, as I am the only one left in the magazin and the sun is dipping in the horizon…

Alaska Commercial Company Records, 1868-1913.  Rasmuson Library Alaska and Polar Regions Collection, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Andrews, Carolyn Erskine. Faraway Island: Childhood in Alaska. Great Bay Press, 2000.

Jeffrey, Susan M. A Legacy Built to Last: Kodiak's Russian American Magazin. Kodiak Historical
Society, 2008.

Karr, Heywood Seton. Shores & Alps of Alaska. London: Sapson Low, Marston. Searle & Rivington, 1887.

Partnow, Patricia. "Alutiiq Ethnicity." PhD diss. University of Alaska Fairbanks, 1993.

Roscoe, Fred. From Humboldt to Kodiak, 1886-1895. Kingston, Ontario: The Limestone Press, 1992.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Losing Light, Not Energy

Kodiak is indisputably brown these days, and we can no longer fool ourselves into thinking that the snow visible on top of Barometer is going to melt. The front porch is decorated with Halloween lanterns and cobwebs in anticipation for trick-or-treating festivities, and we are waiting for those errant bears to get their fill and go to sleep. In short, winter is coming.

While nature may be winding down, it seems that the Baranov Museum is in fact winding up, with October being a thrilling month. And now, to the synopsis...

Kodiak's Filipino Community Stories Exhibit Opening

Nita Nichols, Mary Guilas-Hawver, and Ben Achas at the
exhibit opening.
On Friday, October 5, we were so proud to open the first exhibit in Kodiak about our island's largest ethnic minority, the Filipino community, in honor of Filipino-American History Month. And what an event it was!

Mary Guilas- Hawver, exhibit advisor and President of project partner the Filipino-American Association of Kodiak, started the evening with a ribbon cutting. Dozens of community members were in attendance, including mayor Pat Branson, Superintendent Stuart McDonald and Assistant Superintendent Marilyn Davidson. Our guests of honor were the students who directed the films that are currently on exhibit in the museum and available online.

Above, Fil-Am Kodiak brought tasty Filipino refreshments.
Below, participants and supporters of the history and film
intensive gather to watch student-directed films.
There were so many special moments that evening. It was wonderful to see individuals highlighted in the exhibit in attendance, many of them watching the films that they were in for the first time. One of my favorite memories of the night was watching a traditional Filipino dance troupe perform in front of the bust of Alexander I, which was brought to Kodiak in 1805. To me, Filipino dancing alongside a potent symbol of Russian America seems to capture a bit of the soul of Kodiak.

The exhibit will be open through the month of January, so please come by and check it out. Special thanks to our project partners, Media Action, KIBSD, and Fil-Am Kodiak, as well as our sponsors, the Alaska Humanities Forum and the Inlandboatmen's Union.

Alaska Historical Society/ Museums Alaska Conference

Sarah Short, our new Curator of Education, and I (Anjuli Grantham, Curator of Collections) traveled to Sitka a few days after the exhibit opening for the annual joint conference of the Alaska Historical Society and Museums Alaska. It was both of our first visits to the second capital of Russian America (remember Kodiak was the first), and we were both charmed and impressed by the historic architecture, tiny islands, and friendly community. The conference itself was a whirlwind of meetings, sessions, and speakers, during which we both learned so much about the history of our state and innovations within the museum field.

I had the honor of presenting in the session, "Documenting Alaska's Filipino Heritage." While I provided an overview of the history of Filipinos in Kodiak, Marie Acemah, the museum's former Curator of Education and the current Executive Director of Media Action, spoke about the history and film intensive and inspired audience members to capture local history through youth training and empowerment. The session ended with the touching and incredible story of Denis Rodill, presented by his daughter, Diane Rodill. Diane is tracking the footsteps of her "rascal" father, who left the Philippines alone as a teenager and embarked on a lifelong, worldwide journey, which included working at the Alaska Packers Association cannery at Larsen Bay in 1915. Our fingers are crossed that Diane turns her research into a book. In the meantime, for a snapshot of Denis's story, you can watch the film directed by Olivia Bennett, Denis's Story.

"In with the Old" Auction

Finally, the Kodiak Historical Society board of directors is busy putting together what will be an incredible dinner auction. "In with the Old" is a 1940s themed event, with a silent and live auction featuring antiques and collectibles. Just the live jazz music, catering by Chef Joel, and plenty of 1940s decor and photos of Kodiak will make this event one to remember. Throw in the dazzling array of auction items, and you have an event that will be just over the top.

For a sampling of some of the auction items, please check out our album.

Mark your calendars for Saturday, November 10, and swing by the museum or Mill Bay Coffee to pick up your tickets, which are $50 each and going fast.

Friday, September 14, 2012

What is Special About Kodiak's History?

What is your favorite story to tell about Kodiak’s history? What object or group of objects in the museum do you find the most interesting? What do you wish to see more of in the museum?

What is your vision for the museum?

These questions are not at all rhetorical. We want to know what you think! Thanks to grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services Museums for America program and the Alaska State Museum, the museum is at the very beginning of a multi-year effort to renovate our exhibits so that we can better tell the history of Kodiak. This year, we will be consumed with planning and research. Unfortunately, the words “planning” and “research” are boring, when in reality they entail work that is quite thrilling. Now is the time for pairing imagination, creativity, and vision with the tangible objects in our collection, the incredible history imprinted within the Russian-American Magazin, and the inspiring and tragic aspects of Kodiak’s long history. Now is the time for dreaming!

We are working with exhibit designer Sarah Asper-Smith, owner of Juneau-based company ExhibitAK. Over the course of the year, Sarah will transform our visions into architectural drawings of exhibit cabinets, floor plans, and graphic representations of the look and feel of the re-imagined spaces. Essentially, we are responsible for content, and Sarah will translate that content into blueprints and schematics. The next step will be securing funding for implementing the plans, constructing cabinets, and installing the new exhibits. The whole process will likely be completed over the course of a few years.

With the renovated exhibits, we only have a few constraints. Namely, we will not be making any permanent changes to the structure itself. In fact, we firmly believe that the National Historic Landmark in which the museum is housed is our finest asset, and we are excited to consider ways that we can better interpret the oldest building in Alaska. Additionally, we want to focus on telling stories that can be supported by the objects, photographs, and manuscripts within our collection.

We are a community museum, and we feel it is very important that we reflect the values and needs of Kodiak. That is where you come in. Please take the time to fill out our online survey. Doing so enters you in a drawing for a $100 gift certificate to the museum store. Please spread the word. Also, you can leave a comment below, e-mail me directly (anjuli@baranovmuseum.org), call the museum (486-5920) or stop by and let us know your thoughts.

Over the next year, we will be holding community meetings and coming up with ways that individuals can participate and contribute to the process. Please stay tuned. More importantly, please spend a few minutes thinking about Kodiak’s history and culture, and let the museum know what you think makes our community special.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sally Troxell Art Show

"Reeds" art quilt by Sally Troxell was recently purchased by
the museum thanks to the Rasmuson Foundation's Art
Acquisition Fund. Kodiak Hsitorical Society Collections.
This Friday, we are thrilled to be hosting an art show and sale of Sally Troxell's work as part of the Art and Culture Walk. Sally is an accomplished artist who creates bold and colorful art quilts that often incorporate maritime and natural motifs. Her inventive sewing style makes her art easily recognizable within the community of Kodiak. She will have many recent works hanging within the enclosed glass porch of the museum, which will be available for purchase. In addition, we are pleased to have several of Sally’s smaller works for sale in the museum store.

"Sockeye" is embellished with
beads and buttons to mimic
seaweed. Kodiak Historical
Society Collections.
Moreover, we are pleased to announce that the museum has received a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation’s Art Acquisition Fund to purchase four of Sally’s quilt for the museum’s permanent collection. The Art Acquisition Fund exists to support both contemporary Alaskan artists and Alaskan museums and cultural centers by making money available for museums and cultural centers to purchase recently created works of art. “Sockeye,” “Streamside,” “The Reeds,” and “The River” are bold, colorful pieces that depict the journey of migrating salmon. These newest additions to the museum’s art collection will be on display Friday, and beginning in October they will be on temporary exhibit within the museum. We thank the Rasmuson Foundation and Sally for these pieces.

For over 20 years, Sally has dedicated herself to sewing and embellishing intricate quilts. She comes from a line of gifted seamstresses and quilters. She took up quilting regularly as a young adult, when she moved with her family to remote Anton Larsen Bay on Kodiak Island. Sally writes that “making quilts and knitting sweaters for my family fit into the DIY/ handmade lifestyle that we were living.”

"Streamside" by Sally Troxell will be on exhibit at the museum for the Art and Culture Walk and again beginning in October.
Kodiak Historical Society Collections.
In 2010, Sally took a relief printing workshop under Evon Zerbetz, which influenced her work profoundly. Prior to the course, she usually employed commercial fabrics, but since 2010, most of her art quilts incorporate the art of printmaking. She carves linocuts and creates block prints on fabric, which she then incorporates into her art quilts. Additionally, she now hand dyes fabric, so that most of her pieces now contain both commercial fabric and hand printed and hand dyed fabrics.

"The River" by Sally Troxell.
Kodiak Historical Society Collections
Sally Troxell’s art quilts have been exhibited at the Anchorage Museum’s 2008 exhibition, Earth, Fire and Fiber and at the Kodiak Bear Paw Quilt Guild Show. In addition, her work hangs in Representative Alan Austerman’s congressional office, at Kodiak College, at the A. Holmes Johnson Memorial Library in Kodiak, at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, among other locations. Now, her work has another permanent home with the Baranov Museum/ Kodiak Historical Society.

Please come to the museum on Friday, August 31 from 4-7 to see Sally’s newest work and pick up one of her art quilts for yourself.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fox and Boots

One of Bob Chamberlain's boots,
There is an old pair of leather work boots in one of the museum’s collections storage rooms, neatly packed in an archival box. They have black rubber bottoms, grommets for lacing up, and are a men’s size 9. In a room full of finely woven Aleutian baskets and stone artifacts, these boots are a bit of an anomaly. According to the records, they belonged to Bob Chamberlain, and former board member Deedee Pierson (nee Owen) gave them to the museum several decades ago.

But who was Bob Chamberlain? It was time for some historical sleuthing. I promptly called Deedee to get the scoop on Mr. Chamberlain, or, as I soon found out, “Old Bob.” After speaking with Deedee and her sister, Hazel Jones, a larger than life sourdough emerged from their stories. And their stories were actually Bob’s stories, tales he wove each evening for the Owen children as he smoked his pipe at the end of a day of fox farming on Marmot Island.

Bob Chamberlain, Alaskan sourdough
Hazel Jones collection, P 894-5.
It seems that Bob came to Alaska in 1898 as an Argonaut, aboard his sternwheeler. He and his partner steamed their boat up the Yukon, froze in for the winter, and continued upriver after the breakup of the ice, getting a head start on the other miners. Later, in Nome, he became an acquaintance of Wyatt Earp’s, and reportedly had to pay $1 for the luxury of using an outhouse on Nome’s infamous beach. He travelled to Rampart and from there to Fairbanks, where he struck it rich at Dome Creek. Once he’d made his poke, he opened a cigar and ice cream parlor in Fairbanks.

In the late 1930s, he was ready to move again. He came to Kodiak, with the intention of purchasing the Belmont Bar. Apparently, he found the open sewage running under the establishment not to his liking, and claimed that the bar was on the wrong side of town. He abandoned his plans and instead purchased the lease for fox farming on Marmot Island from Carl Pajoman of Afognak.  He brought red fox and snowshoe rabbits to the island and built a 2-story house on one side of the island and established trapping cabins in other locations on the island. Bob had 2 large gardens from which he grew strawberries, rhubarb, rutabaga, potatoes and the like. He canned throughout the summer and in the winter ate from his larder, only needing salt and sourdough to supplement his diet. He also kept a herd of dairy cattle.
One of Bob's cabins on Mamot Island,
with a fox in the foreground. Hazel Jones
Collection P 894-3.

Old Bob became friends with the Owen family, and Kodiak fisherman and politician Al Owen was swept up in fox farming craze that by now had gripped large swaths of Alaska. Al decided to try it out for himself, becoming Bob’s partner. As a result, the Owen family moved to Marmot Island in 1942. World War II was in full swing, and the family had to get special permission to leave town. Each night, the family would listen to Tokyo Rose on the radio, followed by Old Bob’s stories of sourdoughs and misfits.

Old Bob with his pipe.
 Hazel Jones collection, P 894-6.

Bob Chamberlain died around 1961. But in a way, his stories live on through those old work boots. Sure, he likely didn’t pan for gold in them, and perhaps he never pelted a fox while wearing them, but those shoes still can convey the journeys of Old Bob Chamberlain.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Christmas in July Sale! 20% off

The Baranov Musuem Store is having a Christmas in July Sale.  All Christmas items are 20% off now through July 31th.  This includes all Christmas-themed Matryoshka dolls, Santas and Christmas ornaments.

Our Christmas items are all made in Russia and hand-painted.  The Santas are all hand carved and painted and signed on the bottom by the artist.

Come in and stock up for Christmas or for a little year-round holiday cheer!

Hope to see you soon.  Merry Christmas in July!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Kodiak Filipino Community Stories Films- Posted!

We are excited to announce that the Kodiak Filipino Community Stories student directed films are now available for viewing online. All nine films are on the Baranov Museum's YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/BarMuse, or by clicking through to an individual film from the list below.

Special thanks to our partners on this project: the Filipino American Association of Kodiak, the Kodiak Island Borough School District, and Media Action. And thanks to the wonderful students, who demonstrated incredible energy, creativity, and sensitivity to their topics. This project was made possible through financial support from the Alaska Humanities Forum.

"The Many Filipino Organizations of Kodiak" by 9th grader Kyla Villaroya

"Remembering the Workers" by 7th grader Rey Jacob Roy

"Denis's Story" by 12th grader Olivia Bennett

"The J-1 Visa Controversy" by 7th grader Marina Cummiskey

"Filipinos in the Aleutian Homes" by 11th grader James Guilas

"Filipinos in the Canneries" by 10th grader Max Mutch

"USCG Filipinos" by 7th grader Hunter Blair

"Education - the Filipino Experience in Kodiak" by 10th grader Blake James

"Filipinos in Politics" by 10th grader Jonas Anderson

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Kodiak Kids, Making History

“How do you separate the audio from the video clip?”
RJ Roy and Hunter Blair film an interview at
the museum.

“When did Filipinos start living in the Aleutian Homes?”

“How has the fishing industry affected the Filipino population?”

“Will this work for b-roll?”

These are a sampling of the questions that have flown around the second floor of the Magazin over the last two weeks. The museum has been a hive of activity as the 7th-12th grade students enrolled in our Kodiak Filipino Community Stories history and film intensive conduct interviews, frantically do research, and intently edit their short films.  

This project, the brainchild of Curator of Education Marie Acemah, all started when Filipino Fulbright scholar Joefe Santarita came to the museum to research the history of Filipinos in Kodiak, only to find a small folder with a few pieces of paper inside. Considering that the population of Kodiak is around 30% Filipino and that the community has had a presence in Kodiak since around 1900, we saw our lack of information as a critical gap to be filled. Marie knew we needed to gather more information- and figured that it would be the perfect opportunity to engage students. As a result, the museum, Media Action, and the Filipino-American Association of Kodiak, partnered together to create this class, which was graciously funded by the Alaska Humanities Forum.

Dr. EJR David from UAA flew to Kodiak for the day to
lead a workshop on Filipino American identity during the class.
Nine students will receive one high school history credit for their work. In less than 2 weeks, the students have collected over 20 interviews with community members about the history and legacy of Filipinos in Kodiak. They have done research within the museum’s archive and at the Kodiak Daily Mirror office. They’ve Skyped with family members back in the Philippines and today will have a video teleconference with Senator Mark Begich to ask him about his position on the J-1 visa. And now they are working like mad to complete their films, which will be premiering at the Teen Center on Friday night and on exhibit at the museum, beginning in October.

You are all invited to a potluck and celebration at the Teen Center on Friday, June 15, from 6-9 PM to view the films for the first time. Beyond the films, a break dancing group and Visayan youth music group will perform. Please bring a dish to share! Come congratulate our Kodiak youth filmmakers and learn about the history of Filipinos in Kodiak.

Stay tuned for information on the opening of the Kodiak Filipino Community Stories exhibit in October! Please be in touch if you are interested in finding out about exhibit sponsorship opportunities, too. Thanks to everyone who has already supported this amazing project!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Out of the Ashes: 100 Years After Katmai

“Here it is dark and hell.”

The Baranov Museum building, after the eruption
So declared John Orloff, an Afognak Island dweller, in a letter to his wife on June 9, 1912. Indeed, the Novarupta-Katmai Eruption of 1912 seemed nothing short of apocalyptic to those in its path: the usual omnipresent summertime sunshine was swallowed up by darkness, thunder and lightning ravaged the sky, and ash fell like untimely (and malignant) snow. “Poor old Kodiak, once so beautiful, is now a barren desert and I fear nothing can live there,” W.J. Erskine wrote days after the eruption.

Kodiak residents seek refuge aboard the Manning.
Fortunately, Kodiak proved resilient, and now we find the one hundred year anniversary of the catastrophe just around the corner. The Katmai eruption is a notable part of Kodiak history not only because of the horrors it wrought upon the island and its citizens, but because it so vividly illustrates the fortitude and bravery of the Kodiak community in the face of adversity. “To stand face to face with what appears to be certain death, to feel the poisonous destroyer gradually coming upon you and to know that you are powerless to ward it off, is an experience one never wants repeated, but that was what we who were caught in the embrace of the clouds of smoke and ashes following the Alaskan eruption went through,” wrote Captain Perry, whose leadership aboard the revenue cutter Manning was highly - and justly - praised. “We of the Cutter have received words of commendation and praise from the department for our work. That is indeed most gratifying, but I want to say right here there are others, I mean the men and women stationed on the island of Kodiak, who are entitled to just as much praise as is anyone for their noble and self-sacrificing work.”

The commemoration kicked off last month on April 26th, when Research Geologist Dr. Judy Fierstein delivered her lecture The Novarupta-Katmai Eruption of 1912: A Centennial Perspective at the museum. The lecture packed the building, with more than fifty people in attendance. Dr. Fierstein, who works with the U.S. Geological Survey, spoke about the pivotal connection between history and geology, highlighting just how neatly the historical accounts of the eruption align with the geological evidence it left behind. For example, immediately following the eruption, Ouzinkie residents reported that the ash fall was minor compared to the inundation experienced in Kodiak. In the 1980s, Dr. Fierstein travelled the region and measured ash distribution, finding that there was significantly less ash on Spruce Island than around the town of Kodiak. Dr. Fierstein praised the historical accounts of the “citizen scientists of Kodiak,” emphasizing just how fundamentally history twines itself into the physical world around us.

The caption on the back of this photo reads 'Making ash pie.'
On June 6th, the centennial anniversary of the eruption, Kodiak kids can come to the museum and learn about our island’s volcanic history, even participating in a simulation of an eruption out on the lawn. The activity will be conducted by the newest member of the Baranov Museum team, Senior Gallery Associate and all-around delightful human being Sarah Kennedy. On the same day, the Russian Orthodox Church will be ringing its bells just as it did on June 6th, 1912, to give spectators some idea of what it was like to make one’s way through ash-ridden darkness with only the pealing of the church bells to guide them.

The museum is also partnering with KMXT to breathe new life into these century-old stories. KMXT will broadcast readings of various accounts about the eruption, ranging from personal letters to scientific reports. Several community members (including yours truly) have been recruited for the readings; among them, look forward to hearing Senator Gary Stevens deliver a proclamation from President Taft and employees from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge lament the ash-choked salmon streams and singed fox pelts.

“People are dazed, dirty, and despondent, but I guess we can make something out of it,” Nellie Erskine concluded on June 15, 1912.

And make something of it, they did.

Please join us throughout the month of June to celebrate and explore this remarkable chapter in Kodiak history.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Welcome to the Collection!

Usually twice a year a volunteer group known as the Acquisitions Committee meets to decide which objects should be incorporated into the Kodiak Historical Society’s permanent collection. It’s a fun group of long time and lifelong Kodiak residents who are familiar with our community’s history and passionate about its preservation. 
Acquisitions Committee members, lifelong Kodiak residents,
and sisters Myrtle Olsen and Martha Randolph pose in front of the
objects recently added into the permanent collection.

This week we had a meeting and decided to welcome 18 objects into the museum’s collection. These newest additions to the collection are like a grab bag of Kodiak history. They range from the very new, like a wooden salmon roe box from Larsen Bay’s Icicle Seafoods cannery, to older objects, like the 1840 mint Russian coin that was likely in circulation in Kodiak during the Russian era.  They represent commerce, like the Bank of Kodiak money barrel and Kraft’s clipboard, and entertainment, such as the Tony’s Place bar glass from the 1940s. And, just in time for the upcoming Crab Festival, we got Crab Fest commemorative coins from 1974 and a pin from the silver jubilee celebration in 1982.

Kraft's operated in Kodiak for over 90 years. This
notebook with pre-printed shopping list is one
object that can tell the business's story long
after its closing. KHS, 2012-11-01.
Few of these objects are particularly glamorous, and someone may wonder what a museum would want them for in the first place. A notebook with a pre-printed shopping list from an old grocery store?  The value of many museum objects doesn’t necessarily rest in their beauty, or how much they cost, or their association with an important person, but in how they document and communicate everyday lives. These mundane objects are tied to specific places that existed in a specific moment in Kodiak’s past. While we can no longer go to Kraft’s to peruse their produce department, from the shopping list we can see that within the bins were onions, carrots, potatoes and, if you were lucky, asparagus.
This Tony's bar glass likely
dates to the early 1940s.
KHS, 2012-03-01.

During future Acquisitions Committee meetings, I ’m hoping to welcome more objects that relate to Kodiak’s businesses and industries. Please get in touch with the museum if you have a stash of local business memorabilia that you are interested in donating to the museum. Future generations will thank you!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Kayak Piece

The Baranov Museum Hosted a Historical Writing Workshop in the fall of 2010. This is a version of what I wrote as a teacher / participant in the class.

When we study kayaks of Alaska, we often see them through the eyes of early Russian explorers. Baidarka is the Russian name for kayak, and it is not only the Russian language that filters our insight into this miraculously living boat. We construct an image of the kayak through the written words of awe-inspired and baffled Russian sailors, Naval Officers, and Missionaries. The kayak was “so light that a seven year old child could easily carry” one, noted Veniaminov, or St. Innocent of Alaska, a missionary who learned several Alaska Native languages and travelled by dog sled and reindeer around the North he loved. Lisyansky, famous or infamous depending on who you’re speaking with for his defeat of key Tlingit clans during the battle of Sitka, addressed the kayak in more practical terms: “At first I disliked these leathern canoes, on account of their bending elasticity in the water, arising from their being slenderly built; but when accustomed to them, I thought it rather pleasant than otherwise.” We gain insight and even awe about the kayak from these observations, but we have to dig through them like a midden pile to find salvageable truth about these man-made sea creatures that could approach even 10 knots of speed. Today’s kayak can go 5 knots at the fastest.

Veniaminov noted the kayak’s elasticity in water, and attributed it to their slender size. If we allow ourselves to approach the kayak with that same elasticity of imagination spiced with the ancestral memories and stories of Alaska Native peoples, we find ourselves awash with the elegance of nature. The elasticity emerges from dozens of joints constructed from animal bones; driftwood collected patiently over a period of years, each grain lovingly noted; female sea lion and sea otter skins oiled until their transparency reflected the ocean waves; thorough sinew stitching completed with the meticulous prayers of survival. The kayak was never complete and like any living creature required grooming, new skins, new oil on old skins, and patched punctures. The delicate creature-in-becoming offered the privilege of stepping into another world, an animal world, that of seal or salmon or whale. One Alutiiq elder from Old Harbor described her grandfather’s story of sitting in his kayak, holding his paddle between his teeth as the other end vibrated in the water, responding to waves and sea creatures. That was his sonar, his livelihood.

The Alutiiq kayak features a unique bifurcated bow that one can explain in many practical ways; the “bulb” effect in which waves are broken by a protrusion, and hull flexibility, a theory that is not particularly backed by any scientific evidence. Local children in the Baranov Museum consistently catch another, deeper meaning when examining the Kayak on exhibit. That looks like a salmon! Or That is definitely a Humpy or That is like a breaching whale! I smile at the immediate wisdom of the young. A sailor named Sauer integrated the practical and animal explanation in 1802, stating that “the head of the boat is double to the lower part, sharp, and the upper part flat, resembling the open mouth of a fish, but contrived thus to keep the head from sinking too deep in the water.” An unknown and unnamed Russian noted that “the entire stempost represents the head of an otter with its mouth open.”

It is perhaps too easy for me to create a gaping gulf between Alaska Native boat-builders and early Russian explorers in my desire to understand the kayak of yesterday. One Alutiiq elder I encountered in a language class seamlessly resolved this tension with her simple statement we have many Russian words – that’s now a part of our language. The grace of her acceptance of another language and culture despite the devastating changes amongst her people reminded me of a kayak dancing with the waves.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Discovering Kodiak through the Census

Kodiak village in 1910. Kodiak Historical Society, P-4.
Last Monday, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) released the 1940 census to the public. This is cause enough for celebration for historians and genealogists, but when the website received millions of hits on the first day, we were given another reason to rejoice (“Look! Look! People are gobbling up history!”).

I used the 1940 release as an impetus to do Kodiak census research. Through SLED (Statewide Library Electronic Doorway), all Alaskan residents have free access to Heritage Quest, a genealogy database that contains Alaska census records. I’ve had a hard time accessing the records from 1930, but I spent the last few days cropping, saving and printing the Kodiak census returns from 1910 and 1920. This is the slog work of history, but the payoff is well worth it.
"Babushka" Parascovia Gregorioff of
Afognak Village. Kodiak Historical Society.

Now that they are printed, these census records have already proved to be handy. Today a researcher was looking at our collection of travelling icons. One hung in the house of Afognak resident Pariscovia Gregorioff, grandmother of the museum’s first curator, Eunice (Von Scheele) Neseth. I browsed through the 1920 census return and found Mrs. Gregorioff. In 1920 Mrs. Gregorioff was a 68 year old widow who lived alone in a rented home and didn’t speak English. Unlike most of her Afognak neighbors, Mrs. Gregorioff was classified “IN” instead of “MXD”; either she or the enumerator identified her as Native rather than of mixed European/ Native descent. Her occupation was listed the same as that of all the women’s: none.  We know this isn’t true, as Mrs. Gregorioff was a midwife who assisted in birthing dozens of children over the course of her long life. This information, albeit incomplete and containing oversights, helps me as the curator of collections to better understand the significance, use, and value of the small bronze icon that once adorned Mrs. Gregorioff’s rented wall.

As a whole, these census records provide an unparalleled snapshot of Kodiak’s past. Unlike manuscripts, journals, and other printed materials which are usually individual accounts of the past, censuses are the record of the entire community, including those who didn’t leave behind other records. When looking at the records, line by line, patterns emerge that give one a good sense of the character of the archipelago in 1910 and 1920.
Englishman H.P. Cope doubled as the
first postmaster in Kodiak and the census
enumerator in 1910.
Kodiak Historical Society, P 284.

For example, I’ve often heard that Afognak was a more substantial village than Kodiak in the past. The 1920 census shows just this: Afognak definitely had a larger population than “Kodiak village,” but it also had a less diverse economy. In Afognak, a few people are listed as working in the general store (there were several stores in town), at the fish hatchery, “public school,” “ranch” and in mining (both copper mining and one occupation written as “gold”). But the vast majority of men are shown to be working for “sal. cannery.” While the preponderance for “fishing” and “sal. cannery” is also very high for Kodiak village during the same 1920 census, there are more places of employment and occupations listed. Kodiak contained salesmen, cooks, machinists, carpenters, a plumber, fox farmers, and servants, for example. As a result, even though Afognak had a larger population, Kodiak was still the economic hub of the archipelago.

However, as seen in the example of Mrs. Gregorioff’s occupation, census records can be deceiving. Most notably for Kodiak, the 1920 census is smaller than the 1910 census.  This goes against what one would think- that the population of the region would grow in that 10 year lapse. Going through the returns page by page provides several explanations. First, it seems that the 1910 enumerator and town postmaster, H.P.  Cope, took more care in counting. Miners Point at Uganik Bay, the few people living at Long Island, the handful of men on Tugidak Island- all were counted.

A Karluk beach seine gang, ca. 1910. The fishermen hailed
from Scandinavia and Italy, while the cannery workers were
Asian and Latin American. Kodiak Historical Society, P-60.
But, more importantly, the 1910 census was taken after the salmon season had started, while the 1920 census was taken before the cannery crews had been transported north. That is why the largest census return for the region in that year was…. Karluk. H.P. Cope travelled to the salmon canneries at Alitak, Karluk and Larsen Bay and enumerated the fishermen as well as the canning crews. The results show a veritable smorgasbord of ethnicities laboring on the Karluk Spit. Aside from the Alutiiq villagers, there are dozens of individuals from Italy, Norway, the Philippines, Mexico, Hawaii, China, a smattering from Germany, Holland, Korea and Chile, all enumerated (and separated) by bunk house.  While this is not news, what’s exciting are the individuals that emerge, like 27 year old Eulogiro Serinas from the Philippines, the Chilean Ivan Fernandez, and 58 year old Gee Yip from China.

Can you imagine finding your Italian great grandfather listed as living in Karluk in 1910? I’m sure that some family researchers have had that very surprise.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Kodiak's Whaling History

The recent spotting of the rare right whale in Uganik Bay, the recent return of a familiar orca pod, and the recent release of the Alaska-flimed, feel-good whale movie, “Big Miracle,” all point to whales receiving wide attention this winter. Add to this the highly rated reality t.v. show, “Whale Wars,” in which activists prowl the waters of the Antarctic for Japanese whaling vessels, risking their own lives in order to halt the hunt, and it’s clear that whales are on the mind, and the conservation of their species receives wide support.

But for centuries, humans did not view whales as sentient creatures worthy of conservation. Rather, whales were floating oil reserves, and the products that came from whales were essential to daily life. Rendered whale blubber and spermaceti from the head of the sperm whale illuminated American and European cities. Whale oil lubricated the gears of the Industrial Revolution (and later, our forays into space, where sperm whale oil continues to be used as a lubricant). Whale oil was used in soap, in cosmetics and cleaners. Ambergris, another sperm whale product, was essential in the making of perfume. Whale meat was turned into fertilizer. Baleen was used where we employ plastic today- not only in outmoded products like corsets, but also in umbrellas and other goods that required a durable and flexible material. In general, consider the wide array of goods made from petroleum now, and there is a good likelihood that if a similar product was around in the 1800s, whale was used instead of petroleum in its manufacture.

Telescope, Kodiak Historical Society, 81-4-1.
The waters of Kodiak were central to this whale oil boom. In 1835, Yankee whalers from Nantucket “discovered” the Kodiak Grounds, also known as the Northwest Coast Right Whaling Grounds. The Kodiak Grounds encompassed more or less the Gulf of Alaska, including the waters that fall north and west of Vancouver Island. Soon after the discovery, hundreds of Nantucket and New Bedford whaling vessels crowded the waters around Kodiak, inaugurating what historians now call the Golden Age of Whaling. During the height of whaling intensity on the Kodiak Grounds, it was our waters that provided 60% of the whale oil that pumped back to East coast home ports, making the towns of Nantucket and New Bedford very wealthy.

However, these American whalers were hunting in Russian waters. Indeed, it was the partially due to the incredible number of American whalers throughout the waters of Russian America that the Russians began to see the sale of Alaska to the U.S. as a sure eventuality. In the meantime, the Russians belatedly tried to profit from commercial whaling, entering the industry in 1851 when the Russian-Finnish Whaling Company launched its first whaling vessel. Several Alutiit from Three Saints Bay even worked as crew on the Turku. However, by the 1850s it was harder and harder to hunt whales in the over-harvested Kodiak Grounds, and soon the Crimean War broke out, meaning that British vessels could seize Russian whalers at any point. The Russians never profited from whaling in the Kodiak Grounds.
This ceremonial bowl from Woody Island continues to ooze
what is likely a mixture of seal and whale oil.
Kodiak Historical Society, 70-167-9.
Whales were not a source of profit for the Russian American Company, but they certainly were a crucial resource in Kodiak. Boiled and pickled whale meat and oil were important food items for RAC employees as well as the Alutiiq, and whale oil provided light, lubricated the grist mill at Mill Bay, was used in making caulking, paint, and a wide variety of other goods.  Alutiiq whalers, or ar’ursulek, surrendered from 1/3-1/2 of a whale for colonial use. According to an 1833 report, the settlements that provided the most whales were Karluk, Afognak, Alitak, Old Harbor, Angiskoe (between Kodiak and Spruce Islands), St. Paul (modern day Kodiak) and Igak (possibly Ugak or Ugat). Alutiiq whalers at Kodiak killed between 150-300 whales a year during this time. At Three Saints Bay, several individuals were employed in butchering and processing whales that floated south from Afognak and St. Paul.

In the early 1830s, Russians hired an American whaler to try to modernize the whale hunt, only to find that the traditional methods were more effective. Alutiiq whale hunting methods were dangerous, secretive, and efficient. Rituals surrounded each aspect of the hunt, from preparation to processing. Whalers seemed to live separately from the rest of their community. Whaling was a hereditary occupation that involved such secretive rituals that even apprentices were not allowed to participate fully. Within caves, whalers kept totemic objects and talismans that helped to insure the success of a hunt. In these caves, whalers sequestered the bodies of recently dead, prominent community members in order to render the fat from the corpses. Sometimes the bodies were turned into mummies. In fact, a whaler reportedly told Aleksandr Baranov that he would try to steal Baranov’s corpse once he died.

Alutiiq whalers went out in single hatch kayaks and targeted smaller, humpback and fin whales. Slate whaling lances were smeared with monkshood, a local flower that contains the poison aconite, and human fat. The fat acted as a bonding agent. Aiming at the fins or tail, once the whaler had lodged the lance in the whale, it took several days for the poison to paralyze the targeted region. Around three days later, the whale died and washed ashore. In order to assure that a hunter would claim his whale, the whaler drew a line with human fat across the mouth of the bay in which the whale swam, creating a spiritual border through which the whale could not pass. He also marked his slate spears with personal, identifying marks. During the Russian period, slate lances were sometimes marked with Cyrillic initials, and sometimes contained both symbols as well as initials. Examples of such lances are on exhibit at the Baranov Museum.

Look closely and you will see the Cyrillic initials inscribed on this slate whaling lance. Kodiak Historical Society, 85-24-1.
Alutiiq whaling methods were so effective that the RAC dispatched Alutiiq whalers throughout the region in order to teach other Native groups. Rewards were offered to whalers who successfully apprenticed others. Although Alutiiq whaling persisted into the early 20th century, many of the sacred rituals were no longer practiced after the 1838 smallpox epidemic ravaged the archipelago. By the 1850s, Alutiiq whaling had seriously declined, a drop that can be attributed to the epidemic as well as the rapid shrinking of the whale population due to the incursion of Yankee whalers in the Kodiak Grounds.
Port Hobron shore whaling station, located on Sitkalidak Island in the Kodiak
archipelago, Kodiak Historical Society P 552-6.

In the 1920s there was resurgence of whaling in Kodiak. It was during this decade that the American Pacific Whaling Company constructed Port Hobron on Sitkalidak Island. From this shore whaling station, three catcher boats were dispatched to hunt the waters around Kodiak. Large, bomb-loaded harpoons were mounted to the bow of the vessels. Once a whale was killed, the catcher vessel would pump it full of air, mark it with a flag, and continue hunting for the rest of the day before tugging the day’s catch to Port Hobron. Once at port, large steam winches drug the carcasses onto flensing platforms, where several of the hundred or so employees went to work butchering the whales. Every part of the whale, including the bones, was rendered into oil that was separated into three grades. The whale oil was sold to Proctor & Gamble, the company that makes Ivory soap. Alaska Steamship Company vessels made weekly stops at Port Hobron to drop off supplies and pick up oil, and tourists and other passengers disembarked and got to witness shore whaling first hand. Port Hobron was even included in travel literature as a destination in the 1930s. After nearly a dozen years of operation, Port Hobron closed due to financial issues.

The Carolyn Frances is photographed whaling near what
appears to be Monashka Bay in the city of Kodiak.
Kodiak Historical Society, P 368-5-34
Also during the 1920s, the Carolyn Frances, the Erskine family charter vessel, whaled around Kodiak. Captained by Louis Lane, the Carolyn Frances was a modern incarnation of the off-shore whaling vessel of a century before. Alongside the boat, whales were butchered and on deck the blubber was rendered into oil. Whenever Captain Lane was in town, the Erskine family would join him on a whaling trip. Ever the photographer, local businessman W.J. Erskine brought along his camera to document the action. Within the Baranov Museum photograph collection are pictures of the vessel whaling off Spruce Cape, including photographs depicting each step in the hunt, from preparing the dories to flinging the blubber into the melting pots. After the Carolyn Frances was sold, Captain Lane returned on other vessels to whale around Kodiak, and even sold whales at $500 a pop to local fox farms, where the whales were converted into fox feed.

Whaling did not end in the waters around Kodiak after international agreements curtailed the practice, beginning in the 1930s. Soviet and Japanese whalers continued to hunt for whales just beyond 3 miles offshore, which were considered international waters. Kodiak fishermen recall watching large, industrial whaling ships as they hunted and processed whales right off Kodiak. In an ironic twist, now it was Russian whalers that were not welcome in American waters, while one hundred years earlier it was American whalers who angered the Russians for whaling the Kodiak Grounds. 

The Kodiak Grounds are no longer the domain of whalers, but whales continue as an important local resource. Rather than being a source of oil and food, they are a source of tourism and scientific dollars. Kodiak has a complex relationship with whales and whaling, a relationship which is explored in the new temporary exhibit at the Baranov Museum, Whaling the Kodiak Grounds. Please stop by to learn more about this fascinating story.