The North Words Writers Symposium is held in Skagway every year, and my friend Lizzie Newell has been several times. I kept hearing her recommend it, and finally signed up for it this year. I have friends in town, and I wanted to do some history sleuthing for my current work in progress. So Lizzie and I came down a few days early to hang out, sightsee a bit (and for me to research), and then go to the Symposium.
It has been a great trip so far. People have been generous, and visiting with my friends was great fun. And of course Skagway is beautiful, nestled between two mountain ridges and facing Taiya Inlet. Everywhere you look, there’s a gorgeous view.
Over two days, I visited the Skagway Museum, the National Park Service’s Visitor Center, and talked with a couple local experts about Skagway in World War II. Plus, a resident who was here during the war graciously took me around town and told me some of his memories. I have learned a lot about Skagway in 1942: it was a major shipping hub for getting equipment and supplies to Whitehorse for the troops building the Alcan Highway and the Canol pipeline for the war effort. The town grew from about 500 people to 3,500 when the troops started pouring in. Suddenly all these GIs outnumbered the young ladies in town–possibilities for romance, don’t you think? Dances and other activities were fun ways for the young folks to meet and have fun. But there was a darker side to town life as people knew the Japanese had invaded the Pacific, then Dutch Harbor; the possibility of an invasion was on everyone’s mind. Families were encouraged to have evacuation kits ready and have a place staked out in the hills just in case. (And with many of the men off to war or working 18 to 20 hour days, the wives often had to take responsibility for these kinds of things.) That must have been nerve-wracking for some living in Skagway. These are just a few things I’ve been exploring while researching in town this week, made even more poignant by the fact that we had Memorial Day and my thoughts were on our servicemen and women making the ultimate sacrifice for our country. During World War II, many people made sacrifices big and small for the war effort. My thanks to the Greatest Generation for what they did for us.
On a happier note, the Skaguay News Depot & Books store (in photo) bought copies of Fools Gold and hosted a booksigning for me on Tuesday. I had a delightful afternoon visiting with locals and cruise ship passengers as they stopped by the shop. It was great to interact with people and talk about books and Alaska.
The Symposium started Wednesday. Faculty from Alaska and Canada will give sessions on topics such as “Reality Basted: Writing Readable History that Sticks to the Facts” and “My Dog Spot: Making the Ordinary Compelling.” So far, my experience has been very positive, and the people are great. I am sure I’ll learn a lot and feel inspired by the time I head home. This whole trip has been like finding gold, rich in so many ways.