Historically, Alaskans are big on celebrating the 4th of July. Even before we became a state, territorial residents made a point of partying on Independence Day. In my research, I’ve seen photos of parades in Skagway in 1898 and Nome in 1900, and a huge crowd celebrating in Fairbanks in 1904. (The photo here is from Nome in 1916.) And those are just the settings I researched for my books–I’m sure there are many more photos in archives and collections.
Alaskans are pretty independent themselves, but proud of their heritage, so this holiday really struck a chord with them. Independence Day celebrations in Alaska usually featured a parade, speeches, and some kind of games. I’ve read about baseball games, canoe races, rock-drilling contests, and eating contests. Workers at the Treadwell Mine in Douglas, near Juneau, held fire department hose races; you had to carry the hose a certain distance, connect to the hydrant, and start the water running.
Today the tradition continues, with many Alaskan towns holding 4th of July celebrations. Anchorage, Seward, Valdez, Sitka, Juneau, Wasilla, Fairbanks, Whittier, Kenai, Tok, Seldovia–all have events that pop up with a quick online search, and I’m sure other communities have plans too. Most have parades and family activities. Anchorage always hosts a double-header game followed by fireworks, but to be honest, the fireworks aren’t very impressive when it’s still light out. Many Alaskans’ favorite Independence Day celebration is Seward’s Mount Marathon Race, which started as a bar bet in 1915 and involves running up and down the mountain. Only the brave and sturdy need apply, but everyone can watch the runners from downtown. I’ve never attended, because I’m not big on crowds. But I hear it’s amazing!
What will I be doing? I’ll give thanks for our democracy and its traditions. Then I’ll attend the local parade, and head to Birchwood for the Alaska 49ers (my shooting club) territorial championship, Shootout Under the Midnight Sun. For three days, we’ll dress up like cowboys and cowgirls, shoot old style guns at steel targets, and tell stories with our compadres. I hope to shoot well, but mostly I’ll spend time with my dad and enjoy the company of my posse. (For more on the Alaska 49ers and cowboy action shooting, see our website at http://www.alaska49ers.pistolshooting.com.)
Wishing you a good Independence Day, wherever you are! How does your community celebrate the 4th?