By Dimitra Lavrakas
For Senior Voice 

Mr. Whitekeys' new act

Sailing into history

 

March 1, 2024 | View PDF

Photo courtesy Mr. Whitekeys

The entire expedition party, photographed on the dock in Seattle before sailing.

Perhaps you remember those nights in the Fly By Night Club watching Mr. Whitekeys' "Whale Fat Follies" or "Christmas in Spenard," and laughing so hard you snorted your drink through your nose.

He skewered politicians so deftly it was as if he stuck needles in a voodoo doll and they felt them. That cast parading around with a salmon around their waist or an Alaska Marine Highway ferry were portends of their problems still unsolved.

How the Anchorage comedy scene must miss him.

The show closed after a run in 2019, but Whitekeys has found another schtick: Alaska history, with the publication of "The Voyage of the Alaska Union: Adventure, Danger, Scurvy, Romance."

It's the story of 80 greenhorns from Chicago, the largest gold rush expedition, who set out to strike it rich in Alaska in 1898.  

"They had no idea what they were in for," Whitekeys wrote.

One of their members toted a 40-pound camera with him during the entire odyssey, and after 120 years, Mr. Whitekeys rediscovered the photos in a friend's basement.

A discovery in Hawaii

Alaskans who met by chance and called themselves the 'Saltwater Gang of Six' were hanging out one night in Hawaii not too long ago when Alaska history came up and Randy Jacobs made the comment, "Oh yeah. That was like when my Grandpa came to Alaska in the gold rush of 1898."

Whitekeys said he became very animated, fired off some unacceptable exclamations and asked where the photographs and papers were.

"In my cellar," Jacobs replied. Photographer Charles D. Harris was not Jacobs' biological grandfather but he was accepted as such.

Harris photographed the expedition with a 40-pound camera he toted everywhere and upon return to civilization went on the lecture circuit up until the 1950s.

But there in the cellar, Whitekeys found Harris' manuscript and 140 photographs in poor condition, cracked and faded. Being a resourceful man, he taught himself an application far simpler than Photoshop and restored them.

"There were pictures of everything he did," Whitekeys said. "I thought, 'This has gotta be preserved'. It's an important piece of Alaska history."

It was not an easy task.

Photo courtesy Mr. Whitekeys

Of the expedition, Whitekeys said, "It may be 70 below, you may have forgotten to pack your tent on a 100-mile trek, but if you had doughnuts, everything was just fine."

"I went painstakingly through everything, one by one, to figure out which slide Harris was talking about in the manuscript," Whitekeys said.

Alaska history always an interest

Whitekeys pointed out that his interest in Alaska history could be seen in Whale Fat Follies skits and the DVD "Alaska-The First 10,000 Years," available for a mere $15 and free shipping.

"I've always liked history-a lot of it is in the Whale Fat Follies and lots of research was needed," he said. "Like moose nugget jewelry: How many moose are in Alaska, or how many times a day does a moose poop. So I'm no stranger to research."

A downloadable ebook can be had for $9.95 at http://www.mrwhitekeys.com or a printed book for $39.95. Books are available in Anchorage at Title Wave Books and Cabin Fever.

Mr. Whitekeys often gives talks about the expedition and dates can be found on his website.

 
 

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