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For A-67, Nuggets of the Past

The National Observer
by Ed Fortier
December 12, 1966

TAKING SHAPE AT FAIRBANKS, ALASKA, is the Centennial Exposition
site. Is in center of picture. The geodesic dome at left will house Federal
exhibits. A narrow-gauge railroad will run along the embankment in the
foreground. At upper right is the old sternwheeler Nenana.

 


Whalebone from Barrow, walrus hide from Nome, a 227-foot Yukon River sternwheeler, and a valley complete with gold nuggets and equipment to mine them plus a rejuvenated old gold camp. They are just a few of the ingredients Fairbanks is using to create the Alaska 67 Centennial Exposition.

Opening May 27, 1967, and continuing through September 30, the Fairbanks project or A-67 as it is called, is the official celebration of the 100th anniversary of the U.S. purchase of Alaska from Russia.

Some Federal Funds
Congress appropriated $4,600,000 for the nation's share of the Far North celebration, and more than a score of Alaska communities are matching the Federal grant in cash, labor, and services. As the key celebration city, Fairbanks is getting nearly $2,000,00 in Federal assistance for its exposition. The city, borough, and state government contributions a long with those of individuals and rims will put the cost of A-67 at nearly $5,000,000.

A nonprofit organization of Fairbanks civic and government lenders that is running A-67 here needs 300,000 paying visitors (admission: $2.50 for adults, $1.25 for children) to stay in the black: the problem is how to attract that number of visitors to this remote city (population 19,000).

The solution may lie in A-67's tightly packed 40-acre exposition site. Even Anchorage observers, who are inclined to look down on their smaller sister city in the interior, are impressed with the way the Fairbanks show is shaping up, even though they know that it can't hope to compete with Montreal's Expo 67, which will celebrate Canada's 100th anniversary, or outdo Seattle's Century 21 Exposition of 1962.

Emphasis on Local Color
The tourist is more likely to be attracted by those Alaskan sights and activities that give the Far North its special image that by the government and industrial exhibits, so A-67 is concentrating on this phase of the exposition.

Work is nearly complete on an Eskimo and Indian community showing how Alaska's first settlers lived 100 years ago. Already built are an Eskimo walrus-hide house and a "Kashim" or club house for men only. Huge whalebones were shipped from Barrow to make the structure authentic. The native village will include food and equipment caches, tools and even a model cemetery. The Eskimo Olympics will feature Arctic experts competing in such rare sports as seal skinning, hook throwing, and high kicking.

Now a modern sub-Arctic city at the north end of the Alaska Highway, Fairbanks was born as a lusty gold camp and A-67 is saluting its past by establishing a "gold rush town" on the exposition site.

Saved by the Exposition
Twenty-six buildings that were part of Fairbanks' golden era were marked for razing before A-67 came to the rescue by moving them to the site, where they have been completely restored. Included in the gold-rush town are the First Presbyterian church built in 1904, as well as an old-time saloon and the former business establishment of a "lady of the Arctic night." Only new building in the model old town is a Pioneer Hall. It honors the Pioneers of Alaska, an organization of old-timers that will take over the entire site and manage it as Pioneer Memorial Park when the exposition ends.

A-67 has construction a mining valley, complete with machinery, showing surface and underground recover of gold. For a fee, the cheechako (newly arrived) prospector can try his luck panning in a man-made stream salted with gold dust and an occasional nugget.

A panoramic view of the exposition will be provided by a narrow-gauge railroad that skirts the site for more than half a mile. A six-ton engine will pull four cars with an 80-passenger capacity.

Floating in a Pond
Now obsolete on Alaska's rivers is the old sternwheeler Nenana, which last plied the Yukon in 1954. Resting in dry dock on the exposition site, the 227-foot sternwheeler will sit in a flooded pond next summer, her giant paddles slowly turning. The old vessel will be home for a transportation exhibit, restaurant, and club.

Now obsolete on Alaska's rivers is the old sternwheeler Nenana, which last plied the Yukon in 1954. Resting in dry dock on the exposition site, the 227-foot sternwheeler will sit in a flooded pond next summer, her giant paddles slowly turning. The old vessel will be home for a transportation exhibit, restaurant, and club.

Alaska animals ranging in size from moose, caribou, bison, wolves, and bears to lemmings and marmots will roam in what A-67 describes as "Zoo Valley." If A-67 is to meet its goal of attracting 300,000 visitors the city must accommodate an average 2,400 visitors a day. For several months the Chamber of Commerce has employed a small staff to chart and locate every available sleeping space as well as camper lot in the city and no difficulty is anticipated. As one observer says, "It may not be the biggest show in the country, but it's the largest man-made effort thus far in Alaska."

 

 
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