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Articles written by Laurel Downing Bill

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This is your 100th birthday, Anchorage!

Technically speaking, Anchorage was born in November 1920. According to information gleaned by the League of Women Voters many years ago, it was eligible to become a first-class city because it had a...

 

Sourdough governor understands Alaskans

Alaska's governor from 1933 to 1939 believed that more people and more roads would help the territory achieve statehood. And John Weir Troy, who came to Alaska during the gold rush in 1897, thought a...

 

Alaska targets criminals running amok

Criminals dabbling in everything from prostitution to bootlegging to gambling flourished in the Alaska territory during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Believing that gold miners and other citizens...

 

Newspapers spread the word of Yukon gold

Glowing reports, like the following excerpt from the Aug. 8, 1897, edition of the New York World newspaper, helped fuel the stampede for gold along the Yukon River. "Mr. J. O. Hestwod, one of the...

 

Territorial days bring liquor smugglers

When the U. S. Army took over responsibility for administering Alaska in 1867, law enforcement found it had its hands full trying to stem the flow of liquor into the territory. Up until alcohol...

 

Japanese invade Aleutian Islands in June, 1942

The remote islands of the Aleutian Chain, home to the Unangan people for more than 8,000 years, endured the first invasion on American soil since the War of 1812. On June 6, 1942, at around 10:30...

 

The last dog sled mail service

The establishment of airplane competition didn't stop Chester Noongwook of St. Lawrence Island from continuing his dog sled mail service run until 1963. His was the last mail delivery of its kind in...

 

Alaska produces its first homegrown movie

Movies about Alaska, mostly based on books by Jack London and Rex Beach, thrilled audiences during the early 1900s. But all motion pictures were filmed outside of Alaska. So when a group of Oregon...

 

Anchorage booming into a 'Baghdad on the Tundra'

By the early 1950s, the tent city at the mouth of Ship Creek had turned into a bustling, modern city. Clifford Cernick wrote that Anchorage was much like Baghdad in an article that appeared in the...

 

Chickaloon coal drive helps to establish Anchorage

In the early 1900s, coal was being shipped from as far away as Cardiff, Wales, to the U.S. Navy's coal station at Sitka. Some thought that the coal deposits at Chickaloon in the Matanuska Valley...

 

Alaska establishes the "borough" unit

More than 60 years ago, the framers of Alaska's Constitution found one of their most difficult problems to be the intermediate government between municipalities and the state. Their solution was the...

 

Dancehall girls mine prospectors

During the Klondike Gold Rush, Dawson's dancehall girls offered prospectors a welcome diversion from their grueling, lonely days of digging in the sub-arctic tundra. "The sourdoughs lay on their...

 

First Alaska Territorial Legislature convenes in 1913

Americans have been casting ballots on the first Tuesday in November since the mid-1840s. Why November and why Tuesdays? The answer goes back to our founding fathers when agriculture was prominent. Co...

 

Myth surrounds Alaska purchase

One hundred and fifty-two years ago, a ceremony held in Sitka transferred Alaska from Russia to the United States. The agreed-upon purchase price of $7.2 million had been paid earlier in the year. It...

 

Captain Healy rules Alaska waves

A "floating court" of sorts evolved when justice was meted out from the decks of revenue cutters beginning in the late 1880s. And a commander in the U.S. Revenue Marine, precursor to the U.S. Coast...

 

The discovery day that started the Klondike Gold Rush

Three men found a large deposit of nuggets on Aug. 17, 1896, which started the famed Klondike Gold Rush. George Washington Carmack, who came north in 1885, James Mason, better known as Skookum Jim,...

 

Black Wolf Squadron lands in Nome

The U.S. Army Service's famed "Black Wolf Squadron" planted its mark on Alaska history in 1920, when four biplanes flew across our northern skies in an attempt to prove the feasibility of long-distanc...

 

Nome town boy makes good

Seventy-seven years ago this month Japanese Zeros bombed Dutch Harbor and then occupied Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands. Why? Because they thought that two months earlier James "Jimmy"...

 

Scandal surrounds Alaska's first governor

After Alaska became part of the United States in 1867, the U.S. military ruled America's newest possession for about 17 years. Then on July 4, 1884, U.S. President Chester A. Arthur appointed...

 

Klondike Mike and the piano

Klondike Mike Mahoney's return trip to Dawson in 1898 included a hike up the Chilkoot Trail with an unusual item strapped to his back: a piano. It all started when Mahoney hopped aboard the City of Se...

 

Secretary of State Seward visits Alaska, 1869

In July 1869, the steamer Active arrived in Sitka with former Secretary of State William H. Seward and his entourage on board. He had negotiated the purchase of Alaska from the Russians for a mere...

 

Uncovering Alaska's first serial killer

Between 1912 and 1915, a number of single, unattached men mysteriously disappeared in Southeast Alaska. The few law enforcement officials in the territory were baffled, but a suspect finally emerged...

 

Willoughby and the Silent City hoax

One man who arrived in Southeast Alaska's new gold-rush settlement of Harrisburg, later named Juneau, in 1880 created a sensation by claiming he had seen a city appear above a glacier. But people who...

 

Gold brings prospectors to Cook Inlet

Russians knew there were gold deposits in Alaska, as they had sent a mining engineer to search the land after the gold discovery in the late 1840s in California. The engineer found colors all around...

 

Ice road emerges in Alaska wilderness

President Richard Nixon signed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act on Nov. 16, 1973, but many people had been working for years to lay the foundation for building that line long before it was...

 

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