Some Neat Things in Our Tiny Alaskan Museum

Future museum: left side, bright red building in front of the bright blue building.

Last week a journalist from Sitka came and interviewed me about my summer job here in Tenakee.  I talked for a bit about my work preparing for the opening of the new history museum, showing her the attic of musty objects and papers.  I explained what “cataloging” and “rehousing” meant and described how organizing the collection would make it easier to work with and preserve.

After my spiel she offered a paraphrase: “So your job is to sort through boxes of old stuff?”

Yes.  Yes, that exactly!

As you might imagine, I’ve come across some pretty interesting local artifacts over the course of the summer.

Here are just a few of my favorites, starting with… 

…a water tank?

No!  It’s part of a real old-time moonshine still!

I wish we could refurbish it and sell History Hooch as a museum fundraiser.  Sadly, I’m sure John Law wouldn’t approve.

For more wholesome family entertainment, we have Golfer Ike.

I was on the fence about keeping Golfer Ike in the collection.  While the set could be used to illustrate how people in Tenakee have spent their leisure time, it’s not especially local, and some of the pieces are broken.

In the end I figured the concept of “puppet golf” needed to be preserved for future generations.

“Stand back, ladies — puppet golf with lifelike marionettes is a man’s game!”

We also have a good collection of historic photos.

I enjoy seeing the snappy outfits people used to wear in the Alaskan bush.  These days walking through Tenakee in stockings and pumps would raise eyebrows for sure.  Much wiser to don a pair of tall rubber boots.

Here’s a telephone with no dial — mysterious, no?

Tenakee residents owning these phones shared a party line back in the 1970′s.  Instead of dialing numbers, people would ring different patterns using the little lever on the side.  One short ring got you Dermott O’Toole, one of the town’s leading citizens.  Six long rings were the equivalent of 911, requiring a bit of patience of those dialing in emergency situations.  I’m told everyone eavesdropped on the party line, so you had to assume the whole town knew your affairs if you spoke over it.

Speaking of Dermott O’Toole, here’s a note signed by his son that I found:

Then there’s this cloth embroidered with a design of sea plane mail delivery.  I don’t know who created it, but the fact that someone decided to commemorate the mail this way gives one a sense of its importance in rural Alaska.

And finally, here’s an object that just came in today — a new donation!

The text reads:


We who live here are mostly fishermen and retirees and our income doesn’t permit garbage pick-up at this harbor.  So please don’t dump refuse!  The only ones in Tenakee who like the unsightly and unsanitary mess is our over-size brown bears!  Thank you, enjoy your stay. The City of Tenakee Springs.

This sign greeted visitors for years until replaced with a more usual welcome message.  The donor found the old sign in the woods along the side of the road, covered with moss.  She saved it, and now it will be preserved in the museum.  Hurrah!

Want to see more?  Come visit the museum when it opens next summer.  Tenakee is only a six-hour ferry ride from Juneau!

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Filed under Alaska Museum

3 responses to “Some Neat Things in Our Tiny Alaskan Museum

  1. Alaina Mabaso

    I, too, would’ve been hard pressed to toss the golf puppets.

  2. nate johnston

    Anyone know a Tenakee blog or chat room……..been gone long long time.

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