When I arrived in Montreal, my main challenge was to decide on a site to study for my Fulbright project. I was looking for a place that had been somehow abandoned but that remained alive in peoples’ memory. A many-layered place, perhaps one that had experienced radical physical and social changes from pre-colonial times to the present.
In my wanderings, I visited a local history museum, the Centre d’Histoire de Montréal. There I encountered the Quartiers Disparus exhibition on Montreal neighborhoods lost to urban renewal projects between 1950 and 1975. These included the Red Light, Faubourg à m’Lasse, and Goose Village. The exhibition featured interviews with former residents as well as urban planners, weaving together different perspectives on the communities to explore what happened to them and why. Continue reading
A view from the ferry during my final ride out of Tenakee.
Today I write not from Alaska but from Montreal, where my summer of chaos draws to a close. To recap: I finished my masters degree in American history, got married, then moved to Tenakee Springs, Alaska for a two-month museum job. Once back in Philly, my husband and I had a few days to vacate our apartment and drive a jam-packed rental car up to Quebec. We will reside here in Montreal this academic year as I work on my Fulbright project.
At this point I’m ready for life to settle into a routine involving local history and top-shelf fromage. But before I begin blogging about Montreal, I must conclude the story of Tenakee Springs — a place I started missing the moment I boarded the ferry out. Continue reading
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… Continue reading
A structure I pass on my way to work.
To get from my cabin to my museum collection workspace, I take a 15-minute stroll along the only road in Tenakee Springs: a gravel trail that runs right through the heart of town along the inlet. Though I’ve now walked the trail many times, I still find something new to appreciate about it every day.
So now: imagine a soundscape of crows cawing, rumbling handcarts, and waves lapping against the shore… and we will begin your virtual tour of Tenakee, as experienced on my walks to and from work! Continue reading
Recently I inventoried a collection of objects and papers that belonged to a Tenakee old-timer named Gladys Seeds. For me the process of cataloging her collection raised all kinds of questions about the possibilities and limitations of archives.
Gladys in Tenakee on July 4, 1961.
Gladys was born in 1906 (or 1904, the records don’t all agree) and raised in the Seattle area. After high school she led an adventurous life, working in drug stores to finance summer prospecting trips in Alaska. She wrote poetry, painted landscapes, married a bush pilot, and moved between Alaskan towns before settling in Tenakee. She passed away in 2004.
When I first opened the boxes of Gladys’ things, the contents were more or less a heap of undifferentiated clutter. I cataloged, cleaned, and rehoused most of these objects, transforming the stuff of her life into artifacts that will be preserved. As I did so, I was hyper-aware of the fact that I was shaping the evidence available to other historians and researchers: filtering the material itself, organizing it according to themes I perceived, and writing biographical information. All of these actions may influence how Gladys’ life is understood in the future, and I felt a heavy responsibility as I went about the work. Continue reading
Tenakee in autumn. Photo by Flickr user sandrasalaskaphotographs, used under Creative Commons license.
I write today from my new residence: a log cabin. The rain is pouring, the heat stove is on, and I have a view of misty mountains and the waters where my neighbors trap crab.
Yes, I made it to Tenakee Springs, Alaska! As mentioned previously, I have a summer job here helping to establish a new local history museum.
Since I have lived almost my entire life in cities of the East Coast, Tenakee represents quite a change for me. It is a tiny community, off the road system, on an island where bears outnumber people. My “commute” is a 15-minute walk down a gravel path, the only street. There is no police force and no garbage collection. Most households seem to be more or less off-the-grid. (The cabin where I am staying, for example, gets water from a well and power from a fuel tank out back.) People here bathe communally in the natural hot springs at the center of town.
Home sweet home!
I will write more about Tenakee and its history over the course of the summer. (I’ve been here for less than a week, so I’m still in the process of absorbing it all!)
As for my job, here’s what it is: Continue reading
As my MA program in American History and Museum Studies winds down, I’m pleased to say I have a fairly excellent summer job lined up. In late June I’ll be heading across the continent to help to set up a local history museum in Tenakee Springs, Alaska!
Tenakee Springs is a remote town off the road system, accessible only by sea plane or a six-hour ferry ride from Juneau. Approximately 100 people live there year-round, though in summer visitors are drawn by the natural hot springs, whale-watching possibilities, and scenic location.
Regarding the town’s history, here’s a quote from its web site:
At one point Tenakee was known as “Robbers Roost” stemming from bank robbers and other outlaw types reportedly hiding out here. The most notorious of these were members of the Soapy Smith gang who were said to have settled here after Smith’s death in 1899. Gambling and prostitution were part of the rowdy frontier town. There was no reliable law and order here in until 1917 when Deputy U.S. Marshall and a U.S. Commissioner began making regular visits.
My two-month position is funded by Alaska State Museums. I’ll be helping to transition the volunteer-run Tenakee Historical Collection into a small museum by cataloguing objects and documents, preparing for exhibits, and pitching in with anything else that needs to be done.
This will be my home in Tenakee — a cabin in the woods!
I’ll be blogging through the summer, so stay tuned!