Curious JuneauIn Juneau, quirky people, untold stories and little mysteries are as abundant as the rain. For the things about Juneau you can't Google, why not work with a KTOO reporter to satisfy your curiosity?Introducing a new KTOO news feature: Curious Juneau. Starring you and your questions.Curious Juneau is a recurring news feature driven by questions and reporting from our audience.
In Juneau, quirky people, untold stories and little mysteries are as abundant as the rain. For the things about Juneau you can't Google, why not work with a KTOO reporter to satisfy your curiosity?Introducing a new KTOO news feature: Curious Juneau. Starring you and your questions.Curious Juneau is a recurring news feature driven by questions and reporting from our audience.
https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/ktoo/2019/05/28GOLDDREDGE-CJ-NPR1.mp3 It's after work, and the summer sun and the tide are out at John Wright's go-to fishing spot in Juneau: the wide, sandy beach where Sheep Creek meets Gastineau Channel. "I've been fly fishing in Alaska — Juneau specifically — for seven years. I've been fly fishing for 20 years. I'm 32, so that's a good chunk of my life. ... This is probably one of the first places I fished when I moved here, and the first place I broke a rod, here as well." He caught something too big. "Yeah, the chum salmon. FEROCIOUS." A few years back, he says he started noticing someone showing up on the beach with a different hobby. "If I recall correctly, my first years here, there were no dredgers here. And then one day, there was maybe one? And it just seems like, within a couple years there were many. And you know, I've just always been curious." They're dredging — for gold. On this day, we count seven different rafts on the beach with motors, pumps, hoses, ropes, wheeled sluice boxes and plastic tubs. It's weekend warriors' gear for recreational gold dredging. Nathan Brooks tidies up his raft at the beach near Sheep Creek in Juneau on May 15, 2019. He and other recreational gold dredgers leave their gear out there. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO) The rafts themselves are made of pallets, wood and big foam blocks lashed together, about the size of a big mattress. The combination of improvised, DIY stuff and special gold-sifting gear probably ordered off the internet looks real janky, like something out of "Mad Max" or "Waterworld." The beach itself is pockmarked with unnatural pits about as deep as a bathtub. "They've been pretty busy," Wright says. The rafts are tied up to old pilings and big rocks that'll be underwater when the tide comes in. They're unattended, except for one. We head over so Wright can ask one of these DIY dredgers about what they're doing. "What if they don't want to share their secrets?" Wright wonders aloud. A pitbull named King is keeping watch around a fresh pit in the sand. His owner is in hip waders, spraying seawater from a hose into the pit. His name is Nathan Brooks, and he's game to answer Wright's questions over King's protest. Nathan Brooks sprays seawater into the sand at the beach near Sheep Creek in Juneau on May 15, 2019, while his pitbull King watches. The slurry gets pumped to the top of his sluice box. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO) "How much time do you think you spend out here, and is there a season?" Wright asks. "Depends on the tides, really," Brooks says. "The season is more when it's warm, not so much the frozen ground. Other than that, it's when the tides let us. You know, the best times is when the tide's going out." Brooks' raft is about 50 feet away in the water. One hose is running seawater up the beach to the pit. Another hose in the pit is sucking the slurry out and up to the top of his sluice box. He's got it propped up on a float and some buckets. We can't see through the slurry, but the bottom of the box is lined with special mats with a bunch of little ridges. They're supposed to trap tiny bits of gold and let the less-dense sand and pebbles run off. Brooks has been out here all afternoon. He won't know if he's had a good day until the end. Nathan Brooks sprays seawater into sand on the beach near Sheep Creek in Juneau on May 15, 2019. It's part of his recreational gold dredging operation. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO) "On a good shift, we can run an ounce a day, you know, if we catch both tides. We can pull an ounce out of the ground," Brooks says. "I've pulled over 40 ounces out of here." Spot gold prices have spiked above $1,300 an ounce a few times this year. When the math catches up with our brains, all that comes out of our mouths is "Whoa!" and "Wow!" and some goofy chuckles. "When I see this, I just see this big, kind fan of sand," Wright says, looking across the beach. "What do you see when you look at this landscape?" Nathan Brooks tidies up his gold-dredging gear at the beach near Sheep Creek on May 15, 2019. He and other recreational gold dredgers leave their gear out there on makeshift rafts. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO) "I see money! That's what I see when I look around," Brooks says. "There is a payout, but it's nice just being able to let my dog run out on the beach, and hang out here and just kind of do my own thing." He got into this hobby with his dad three or four years ago. King helps out too, pulling gear up the beach. "He really does, actually. I hook him up to the end of it, he helps me pull the heavy thing back up, in and out." There are a lot of different rules around recreational mining. Some kinds require state permits, some don't. Brooks says this spot is special, because if you follow the rules, you don't need a permit, and unlike other spots, you're not jumping on anyone else's claim. The sand is special, too: It's the pulverized tailings of a nearby mine that closed long ago, so there's leftover gold. Nathan Brooks checks his sluice box after shutting down his gold-dredging operation for the day on the beach near Sheep Creek in Juneau on May 15, 2019. He spent all afternoon out there. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO) Eventually, Brooks shuts off his pumps and wraps up for the day. He points out some sand spotted with yellow flecks in his mats. "Not too bad," he says. "There's some of it. It's in that real fine area, you can see it up in that corner." Recreational gold dredger Nathan Brooks says there's gold and pyrite in his sluice box at the end of his day on May 15, 2019, at the beach near Sheep Creek in Juneau. The ridges in these mats are designed to trap gold. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO) It isn't very shiny. "Nope, that's a mistake," Brooks says. "People always think it's real shiny, and that's that pyrite. Which, there is pyrite in there, also." John Wright had a good day, too. He caught two Dolly Varden trout. But he doesn't think he'll be switching hobbies. "No," Wright says. "I think I'll just stick with mine. Mine's much more peaceful." For a profile of an especially colorful gold dredger, check out filmmaker Beau Sylte's short film about Ray Rusaw from a few years ago. Have your own Curious Juneau question? Submit it here. You can also subscribe to the Curious Juneau podcast and catch up on past curiosities at ktoo.org/curious.
Does Juneau really have the smallest Costco in the world?
Even in the middle of the workday on Tuesday, there's steady traffic at Costco in Juneau. The city assessor's records put its total square footage at 76,696. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO) https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/ktoo/2019/03/28COSTCO-CJ.mp3 The other day, Phil Fleming was loading up a car in the parking lot of the Costco in Juneau. He said a salty version of something you may have heard before. "Just now on the phone, actually, a woman was saying, 'Yeah, that's the smallest damn Costco I've ever seen,'" he said. "She's comparing it to the Seattle and Anchorage ones. ... It's one of the smallest, from what I've heard." But is it the smallest Costco in the world? "As far as I can tell, that is true, yes," said Costco Wholesale Assistant Vice President Kevin Green. He oversees the warehouse club chain's northwest regional operations. He said that's out of 770 Costco locations on four continents. There was some wiggle room in his initial answer, so I pressed him. "Are there other ones that are close that leave you some doubt?" I asked. "No. Absolutely not," Green said. Green said the Juneau Costco, built in 1993, was a prototype, one of only a few that small. There was also one in Sequim, Washington. A full-sized Costco eventually replaced that one. "And yeah, at the time, it was a test to see if that kind of smaller-market format would work. We've since decided that it probably doesn't," Green said. "But it does work in Juneau." Juneau's Costco is about half the size of a typical store, which is around 160,000 square feet. Like the one that opened in Fairbanks in November. And it's only a third the size of the world's biggest in Salt Lake City, Utah, which was also a test build, Green said. It opened in 2015. Size comparison by area of the largest and smallest Costco stores in Salt Lake City and Juneau. (Graphic by David Purdy/KTOO) In Juneau, Green said the geography limits growth and makes shipping challenging. But it is a profitable store, with 2-to-3 percent growth per year and 100-plus employees. Back in the parking lot, customer Steve Houlihan ventured a guess about why Juneau's store can cut it. "I think, 'cause of the villages and all the stuff that comes remotely here, this seems like this gets a lot of use," Houlihan said. "But it doesn't seem like the parking lots are as full as down south. You can't get in and out of them down south." ToshCo is a hardware and grocery store in Gustavus, pictured here on June 2, 2018. Many of its products come directly from Costco in Juneau. (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO) There is one patron, about 70 miles away by boat, who's about as transparent as can be about his dependence on Costco: Toshua Parker, founder of ToshCo. He said the hardware and grocery store in Gustavus is about eight years old now. When he started it, it was named Icy Strait Wholesale. But the community promptly rebranded it. "Everyone calls it ToshCo," Parker said. "Before the doors opened, people started calling it that because my name's Tosh and most of the products in the beginning all came from Costco in Juneau." Parker said Costco's store-brand products are pretty ubiquitous in Gustavus, which has a year-round population of about 450. But Caroline Malseed in Juneau thinks she's missing out. "We would like it to be bigger," she said. "More stuff." Juneau's not actually missing out on that much. Green said there are about 3,200 products in Juneau's warehouse. A typical Costco warehouse has about 3,800 products at a time. That's a small fraction of the selection at a typical big-box everything store — and part of Costco's strategy for controlling costs. The company did explore a 12,000-square-foot expansion in 2006, though it never happened. Green said it's still a possibility, but there are no current plans. Fleming is OK with that. "I can't say — maybe if I saw a bigger one, then I'd be, 'Oh yeah! We gotta have a bigger one!' Right now I'm pretty, pretty gruntled with it," Fleming said. I asked Green to weigh in on one more Costco controversy: Within the store, do you shop clockwise, or counterclockwise? "Um, I always go counterclockwise, yeah," Green said. "Although, there's some — like where we work in Issaquah, if you go into that building, you do go clockwise, because that's the way it's laid out. So there are some. Yeah." Have your own Curious Juneau question? Submit it, subscribe to the Curious Juneau podcast, and catch up on past curiosities at ktoo.org/curious.
Does Juneau really have the smallest Costco in the world?
Volunteers get thumbs up on spruced-up peace sign redesign
The alder trees — and the peace sign among them — at the end of Commercial Boulevard in Juneau are about 10 years old, pictured here on Jan. 8, 2019. The Juneau Urban Forestry Partnership and local chapter of Veterans for Peace got an OK from a Juneau Assembly committee on Monday to prune the overgrowth and plant spruce seedlings in the peace sign's footprint. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO) https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/ktoo/2019/03/21PEACE-npr1.mp3 On Monday, a Juneau Assembly committee authorized the local chapter of Veterans for Peace and the Juneau Urban Forestry Partnership to do some new landscape work on the peace sign at the end of Commercial Boulevard. In January, KTOO told you the story behind the huge peace sign carved out of the foliage on the hill. That was the story with surveyor and guerrilla artist Garrith McLean explaining how he laid out the symbol back in 2008. "It wasn't anything political," McLean had said. "Art for art's sake, you could say." The new work will be on the up-and-up. The groups plan to enlist volunteers to prune some of encroaching vegetation, and to plant spruce seedlings in the footprint of the peace sign. Eventually, they expect the spruce will outgrow and contrast with the existing alders on the hillside. Gene Miller is a retired forester and member of both groups. Gene Miller, left, and Craig Wilson pose for a photo in downtown Juneau on Thursday. Miller is a retired forester and member of Juneau Veterans for Peace and the Juneau Urban Forestry Partnership. Wilson is president of Juneau Veterans for Peace. Miller is holding a photo of the peace sign lit by people with headlamps and flashlights taken on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2014. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO) "People will begin to notice, we think, greening up of the spruce trees in about 5 years, because spruce that are well cared for will grow about 18 inches a year," Miller said. "Most of us won't be around long enough to see the full outcome." He said spruce trees can live as long as 800 years. The timeline for the work isn't set, but they're aiming for this summer. "Our vision is that the peace sign will persist, and particularly the children in the community today that hear about it as adults maybe 50 years from now, some of them will be coming back to Juneau and say, 'Oh, I remember when —' that type of thing," Miller said. Have your own Curious Juneau question? Submit it, subscribe to the Curious Juneau podcast, and catch up on past curiosities at ktoo.org/curious.
Volunteers get thumbs up on spruced-up peace sign redesign
Curious Juneau: Why do Norah Jones tickets cost over $500?
Norah Jones performs on tour in 2010 promoting her album "The Fall." (Creative Commons photo cropped from original by youngrobv) Juneau mom Mara Jennings said she was over the moon when she found out Norah Jones was playing a concert in Juneau. Over the years, she's sung the nine-time Grammy Award winner's songs like lullabies to her kids at night. "Yeah, moms get emotional about the songs they sing to their babies growing up. ... I absolutely love her. I actually cried a bunch on Friday." That was Feb. 1, when the tickets went for sale online through Ticketfly. Jennings had an account ready and an alarm set to buy tickets. But they immediately appeared sold out. Face value tickets started at about $60. She found tickets on other websites — of ticket resellers, also commonly known as "scalpers" — with huge markups she can't afford. Up to $585 each. So why did the prices get so high? https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/ktoo/2019/02/14NORAH.mp3 Have your own Curious Juneau question? Submit it, subscribe to the Curious Juneau podcast and catch up on past curiosities on the Curious Juneau page. First off, Norah Jones' team, the concert promoter and the ticket vendor all declined or didn't respond to requests for comment. But I did find someone with years and years of experience with events and ticketing in Juneau: Nancy DeCherney, executive director of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council. She also oversees Centennial Hall, which Norah Jones booked for her upcoming concert in July. She can't think of another act that's come to Juneau that's topped the fervor around Norah Jones. "Well, people seem pretty upset that they didn't get tickets. Yeah, it's caused quite a stir," DeCherney said. "You know, it's a small venue for heaven's sakes." To be clear, the arts council wasn't responsible for the Norah Jones ticket sales, but as the manager of the concert venue, it was given access to an early, limited sale for its members. Similarly — full disclosure — Jones' team gave KTOO members access to the same early sale after buying promotional underwriting. DeCherney said professional ticket reselling is rare in Juneau. She can remember one notable case during one of her first years involved with Wearable Art. "A young man came in and bought more Wearable Art tickets than necessary and sold them on eBay," she said. She didn't know if it worked out for him. "I mean, it's a small town, and so we all knew who it was. You know what I mean?" she said, laughing. At its core, the high prices are an indication of a supply-and-demand imbalance. Too many buyers for too few tickets. Mara Jennings suspects pros may have inflated demand for Norah Jones' concert. "Well, my message to Ticketfly," Jennings said, "would be that I think it would be a step of good faith for them to research the ticket sales for this event and to see if someone has purchased an unusually large number of tickets." DeCherney said event organizers and ticket vendors like Vendini, which her organization uses, have a bunch of common ways to combat third-party sellers: Cap how many tickets each buyer can get. Make the tickets non-transferable. Reserve some tickets to sell at the door. Grumpy consumers probably don't have a legal recourse. A state Department of Law spokesperson said there's nothing on the books about reselling tickets. But many states have tried to legislate remedies. New York, for example, outlaws software-assisted mass buys and requires ticket resellers get licensed and bonded. Which is secondary market stuff. Before tickets get there, performers do have a supply-side lever of their own. Just this week, Norah Jones announced she was adding a third show in Anchorage due to demand as part of her tour. Due to demand, two new shows have been added this summer. Tickets on sale Thursday, 2/14 at 10am local time. 7/19 – Salt Lake City, UThttps://t.co/WUQbnp5VRH 8/4 – Anchorage, AKhttps://t.co/Yyej6G6vNn pic.twitter.com/0WWGahr7IB — Norah Jones (@NorahJones) February 13, 2019 And (hint hint, nudge nudge) Norah Jones' tour schedule has a few buffer days on either side of her show in Juneau. "I will be hopeful that I will be able to find a way to go enjoy her music live," Jennings said.
Curious Juneau: Why do Norah Jones tickets cost over $500?
How a mischievous Home Depot surveyor turned this hill into guerrilla art
The alder trees — and the peace sign among them — at the end of Commercial Boulevard in Juneau are about 10 years old, pictured here on Jan. 8, 2019. The slope was cut and stabilized as part of the construction of the Home Depot. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO) https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/ktoo/2019/01/11PEACE.mp3 Have your own Curious Juneau question? Submit it, subscribe to the Curious Juneau podcast and catch up on past curiosities on the Curious Juneau page. In Juneau, a lot of people like Wes Adkins have wondered aloud about this: "Ever since I moved to Juneau in 2012, I've been passing by this gigantic peace sign carved into the vegetation above Home Depot and Costco up in Lemon Creek," he said. "I'm sure aliens didn't do this. ... Who do I need to thank for this creative work of art for our city?" He's got surveyor Garrith McLean to thank. We met up the other day at the end of Commercial Boulevard, next to his handiwork. "Well, you know, my son and I worked on the Home Depot project, building this. And when we were done, we had this bare hill here, and it just seemed like it would be fun to have some artwork on it," McLean said. In 2008, he was working for the construction company that built the Home Depot. Now 63 years old, he's got long hair and a long beard that sits on his overcoat. It's mostly gray with ginger roots — think ZZ Top, but with a vibe more like The Dude from "The Big Lebowski." Garrith McLean catches his breath along the Lemon Creek Trail in Juneau on Jan. 8, 2019. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO) "Sure! I mean, I'm a giant fan, but I have not been to any of the fan clubs or the drinkathons," he said. (For the record, his look predates the 1998 Coen brothers movie.) We hiked up a switchback to the top of the peace sign. The slope was steep below us. It's getting overgrown with alders, but the vertical part of the peace sign is so precisely aligned with Commercial Boulevard that, visually, it still pops. McLean pointed to a spot a half-mile away where he surveyed the hillside that would be his canvas. Garrith McLean explains how he applied his expertise as a surveyor to lay out a peace sign on the hill at the end of Commercial Boulevard in Juneau on Jan. 8, 2019. The gap in the alders is the vertical part of the peace sign. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO) "I stood at the instrument, way down at the end of the road there —" "The instrument" is the thing on a heavy tripod that construction crews use that looks like a telescope or chunky camera. "Yeah, the theodolite. ... So what I did was I just calculated the angle, the vertical and horizontal angle for each of the 36 points, at 10 degrees around the circle," he said. So the circle is really a 36-sided polygon. Garrith McClean took these surveyor's notes in 2008 to help lay out the peace sign at the end of Commercial Boulevard in Juneau in 2008. (Photo courtesy Garrith McLean) "And so that was pretty easy. Just sine and cosine. ... Straight trig. " Hear that, high schoolers? Guerrilla art: a practical application for trigonometry. "The guys ran around on the hill, and they stuck the survey points in the ground all around the circle," McLean said. It's "guerrilla" art because the city owns the land. They didn't ask permission. "Well, you know, that was maybe an issue," McLean said with a guffaw. "So, maybe we should have gotten permission. We didn't really think or even consider the possibility of it being depicted as graffiti. But it may have been so, in fact." Initially, they marked the peace sign with dark topsoil. The hillside was basically bare then, with only a light-colored jute meshing on it for stabilization. He showed me a photo — it's like someone took a giant Sharpie to the hillside. The slope at the end of Commercial Boulevard in Juneau was cut, then stabilized with jute meshing, as part of the construction of the Home Depot in 2008. Surveyor Garrith McLean said the slope made for a good canvas; he laid out this peace sign with topsoil. (Photo courtesy Garrith McLean) He's not sure, but he thinks city workers used leaf blowers to clear away the topsoil after a few days. McLean didn't really maintain it after that. He thinks other volunteers over the years have used the markers still in the ground to clear the brush. The peace symbol itself was popularized during the Cold War. It's a representation of the letters "n" and "d" for "nuclear disarmament" in a visual code called semaphore. That really wasn't on McLean's mind. "It wasn't necessarily a patriotic or political statement of any kind. It was merely a continuation of my life as I lead it," he said. "My Volkswagen bus has peace symbols all over it, and it was just part of my heritage, I guess you could say. So it wasn't anything political." Or, as Jeff Bridges as The Dude might have said... McLean said it was art for art's sake. Cue Bob Dylan's "The Man in Me."
How a mischievous Home Depot surveyor turned this hill into guerrilla art
Have your own Curious Juneau question? Submit it, subscribe to Curious Juneau podcast and catch up on past curiosities on the Curious Juneau page. https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/ktoo/2018/10/30CJBELLS.mp3 As recently as 2009, clock bells marked a specific location in Juneau. That year, former KTOO reporter Casey Kelly began a story like this: "As the clock chimes 12 o'clock, Mike Anderson works a ratchet jack at the end of an old pier at NOAA's downtown port facility..." Hourly clock chimes. In downtown Juneau. Jeste Burton posts for a photo in her shop, Pie in the Sky, in downtown Juneau on Oct. 11, 2018. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO) In this Curious Juneau, local businesswoman Jeste Burton asks, "Where did the sound of the lovely chimes and bells go? When I first moved here there used to be these gorgeous bells that would ring all the time. They started at I believe at eight o'clock in the morning, finished at nine or 10 o'clock at night. During the holidays, at like, 4:30 in the afternoon, they would play like a whole big, lovely series of, like, sounds and musics and everything like that. ... Will you pretty please turn them back on? I mean, I feel like it was one of the most endearing qualities about living in Juneau. It was like, my hands-down favorite thing." The chimes or bells were actually from a carillon. That's an instrument with a whole bunch of tuned bells. Keys are laid out like on a piano, but they're connected to hammers that strike bells instead of strings. J. Allan MacKinnon is pretty sure he's the only person around who's played the carillon that rang across downtown Juneau for decades. He's also known for playing the Friday Kimball organ concerts in the atrium of the State Office Building, which is where I met with him. MacKinnon was in town when the carillon was installed in the bank at the corner of Second and Seward streets. It was the National Bank of Alaska at the time, but now it's a Wells Fargo (which bought out Bank of Alaska in 2000). He remembers the bank installing it in 1962, the year he graduated from high school. Verdin, the parent company of Schulmerich Carillons, has a record of a sale to the Juneau branch of the bank in 1967. MacKinnon kept a file of information on the carillon over the years, including a photo he snapped from the 1960s of a man in a suit at the keyboard. It looks like a piano but with three rows of keys. MacKinnon said he's got a filing cabinet full of historical stuff. J. Allan MacKinnon snapped this photo in the 1960s of an unidentified man who played the Schulmerich Americana carillon at the National Bank of Alaska in downtown Juneau, which later became a Wells Fargo. MacKinnon remembers the bank installing the carillon system in 1962, though the carillon company has records of a sale to the Juneau bank branch in 1967. (Photo courtesy J. Allan MacKinnon) MacKinnon's carillon file has old correspondence with the Juneau Assembly, Schulmerich Carillons (the company that manufactured Juneau's carillon), and the Juneau Downtown Merchants Association, a predecessor of the Downtown Business Association. This model is a Schulmerich Americana. This carillon didn't have any actual bells. It was electronic and designed to sound three kinds of bells: Flemish, harp and celesta. It was programmed to play the timekeeping chimes and a few songs for special occasions. MacKinnon studied music at the Westminster Choir College in New Jersey, with a focus on the organ. His studies were interrupted by several years in the Air Force during the Vietnam era. When he got back to the campus in the 1970s, he started dabbling with the carillon on campus. MacKinnon can't remember when, but at some point after finishing college in 1975 and moving back to Juneau, he started playing the downtown carillon live for holidays and special occasions. It went on hiatus after the Christmas season of 1982. Its last concert might have sounded something like this: The carillon had fallen into disrepair and was largely obsolete. The bank donated it to the Downtown Business Association. In 1985, businesses, the Juneau Assembly and private donors pooled together $28,000 to restore it. Sealaska headquarters became its new home and MacKinnon programmed the restored unit. So back to Jeste Burton's question: Why'd it stop? The 8 a.m. chime used to be her drop-dead cue to get to work. "So you didn't have to look at your phone all the time, and you could be like, 'I have to hustle my bustle,'" she said. "Because, on the half hour, it was, like, a single chime. And then on the hour, it would play a specific chime and then count out the hours like a grandfather clock would and it was – I loved it." After the 1985 restoration, records and memories get fuzzy. The city clerk and I searched the next 33 years of Juneau Assembly minutes and meeting documents for the word "carillon." There was one hit. It was in a 2014 memo noting it had been removed from the Sealaska building. Longtime city officials can't remember why it was removed, or what actually happened to the parts. There wasn't any fanfare around its decommissioning. Juneau Parks and Recreation Director Brent Fischer, who's retiring after 25 years with the city, said his best guess is that the carillon was surplussed or trashed. MacKinnon doesn't remember any problems with the carillon's condition. When I met with him, he didn't know it was gone. "But I'm interested in finding out, because something like that could get damaged or, you know, ignored," he said. Three different Sealaska building managers, past and present, weren't certain why it was removed, either. They each had conflicting memories and guesses. Regardless, Jeste Burton thinks the bells should come back. "Well, I feel like if we're willing to put a ton of money into the whale — and I am in no way disparaging the whale — I think we as a collective community would derive equal value out of the beautiful lyricism of the bells," she said. "And I would personally, with my very meager resources, be happy to kick in to that and I suspect there's any number of other people who would."
The famous gun as seen on Aug. 13, 2018 — more than a century after famous gunslinger Wyatt Earp is reputed to have left it behind on his way to Nome. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/CoastAlaska) Juneau's Red Dog Saloon claims it has a pistol that belonged to one of history's most notorious gunslingers. But does the bar's story check out? Wyatt Earp was among the most famous frontier lawmen. In 1881, he and his brother fought alongside Doc Holliday in a deadly confrontation with outlaws at the Shootout at the O.K. Coral in Tombstone, Arizona which has been dramatized countless times for film and television. Curious Juneau stars you and your questions. Every episode we help you find an answer. Catch up on past episodes, or ask your own question on the Curious Juneau page. https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/ktoo/2018/09/07CJ-EARP.mp3 Subscribe to the podcast: iTunesGoogle PlayStitcherRSS link A decade after his death, the 1939 film Frontier Marshal was one of the earliest in a long line of films about his brutish style of justice. By the turn of the century, he was already a celebrity of sorts. That about when Wyatt Earp and his wife Josephine traveled to Nome at the height of the gold rush to start a saloon. Legend has it he briefly passed through the gold mining town of Juneau. And left something valuable behind: a Smith & Wesson No. 3 revolver that to this day is a kitschy tourist attraction in a downtown bar. According to the legend, the revolver was confiscated by U.S. Marshals when Wyatt Earp was changing steamships in Juneau. Given the man's fearsome reputation as a gunfighter, federal marshals demanded, or so the story goes, that Wyatt Earp surrender his weapon while in town. His boat to Nome in the morning left earlier than the federal offices reopened. The gun went unclaimed in federal custody. You can take the story at face value. But I got to talking with Juneau newspaperman James Brooks. "How did Wyatt Earp's gun come to be on the wall of the Red Dog Saloon?" Brooks asked me on a recent afternoon. We agreed there's got to be more to the story. "So the story that I got... back in the early 1900s, early teens or '20s. The gun was part of what was then this Territorial Museum," explained saloon owner Eric Forst. The pistol's been a fixture behind the bar for decades, he said. The story is that a museum employee – or at least someone with access to its treasures – had a bit of a drinking habit, Forst said. "And he would periodically pay off his bar tabs with stuff out of the Territorial Museum," he continued, "and at one point he had a significant bar tab at the Red Dog Saloon and he paid that with that gun." At least that's what Forst was told when he bought the bar a decade ago. The Territorial Museum would later become the Alaska State Museum so that's where I headed next. "I can't rule anything out but I have been through the records pretty thoroughly over the last 30 years," said Steve Henrikson, curator of collections. "I've never seen it listed either as something that belonged to the museum or as a loan." There's something else that doesn't add up. "I don't believe that Wyatt and Josephine were in Juneau in June of 1900," said New York-based author Ann Kirschner who's written about Wyatt and Josephine Earp's time in Alaska and published the 2013 book Lady at the OK Corral. "I believe they sailed from Seattle and stopped in Unalaska and then continued on to Nome, that was the western water route and I don't believe that they would have necessarily stopped in Juneau." I enlisted the help of Zachary Jones at the Alaska State Archives for help to confirm that. "We have records that document him in Nome," Jones said. "But documenting a shot stop on his way to Nome is a little more difficult." The only written account of Wyatt Earp's time in Juneau comes second-hand. It's contained in the official history of the first 50 years of the Alaska State Troopers and references federal records discovered in the 1960s. "Those letters purportedly say that U.S. Marshals had a ... firm discussion with Wyatt Earp when he arrived in town," the archivist told me. "If that's true, it's really interesting. I still don't understand why a U.S. Marshal would want to accost and sort of run off a retired law officer." He's since written the national archives to see what might be on hand in Washington. In the meantime, not only is it questionable the pistol belonged to Wyatt Earp. There's doubt he was even ever in Juneau. It felt like a dead end, but journalist colleague James Brooks suggested I dig deeper in the state archives. There's a trove of old newspapers on microfilm in the archives. I thumbed through Juneau's Daily Alaska Dispatch. I had a date and the name of the steamship: the sign on the wall said he'd been disarmed on June 27, 1900. He supposedly sailed two days later on the S.S. Senator. Juneau's newspapers around that time are full of news about miners heading to Nome. (And ads for Rainier beer). But there's nothing about Wyatt Earp or that ship. That's because I was looking in the wrong place. Acting on Kirschner's tip, I located an item in the Nome Daily News reporting on Wyatt Earp's arrest in a drunken brawl. It's dated June 29, 1900 – the same day he supposedly left his gun in Juneau. So there's a hole in the bar legend right there. But just because the dates are wrong doesn't mean the whole story's bunk, though it probably is. From the start, bar owner Eric Forst told me he bought the saloon but not necessarily the legend around Wyatt Earp's pistol. "The reality as of how it got to the Red Dog Saloon may be lost to history," he said. "The story as I've been told, is what I told you, but I've never seen any documentation of how it ended up from one place to the other." I was hoping for a firmer resolution. But James Brooks takes the long view. "Maybe that's for the best, I mean this is someone whose life is shrouded in legend," Brooks suggested. "There's almost as many tall tales as there are facts. So maybe it's kind of appropriate that it's that way." Either way, it's a good story. And it brings tourists from all over the world who stop in at the Red Dog Saloon for a glimpse of the famous revolver.
"Barefoot Guy" Ezra Strong looks out on Dredge Lake during a hike. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO) Xtratufs, Bogs, Muck Boots — comfortable, waterproof footwear is pretty much a necessity here in Juneau. But not for the local some know as "the barefoot guy." Curious Juneau stars you and your questions. Every episode we help you find an answer. Catch up on past episodes, or ask your own question on the Curious Juneau page. https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/ktoo/2018/04/20barefoot.mp3 "Oh yeah, barefoot guy! What's the story?" said Juneau resident Michael Boyer. "Is he a hobbit? Is he into New Age spiritual stuff? Don't his feet get cold?" Boyer lives in the neighborhood above Juneau-Douglas High School. As he's out walking his dog or with his kids day to day, he's noticed a certain walker who also frequents the area. "Rain, shine, 10 degrees, 70 degrees, uh, never any shoes," Boyer said after submitting his question to Curious Juneau. He wanted to know more about the mysterious man whose bare footprints crisscross the neighborhood. One 30-degree day, I had my own sighting downtown near the State Office Building. The ground was slick with ice, and across the street, a bearded man in cargo shorts was walking — without shoes. I introduced myself and he laughed in a "not again" kind of way. I met Ezra Strong on a sunny day in late March for a hike along Dredge Lake Trail. Several inches of snow were on the ground. He wore shorts, a light pullover and, of course, no shoes. Strong grew up in Tenakee Springs, the youngest of six kids. He's 29 and works in IT for the Juneau School District, where he has to wear sandals. He's brought a book with him for the hike, just something he pulled off the shelf at home. He often reads while he walks. As we set off, I noticed pretty quickly that Strong seemed to fare better than me in a lot of the slushy spots. "Stuff like this, I'm probably better off than most people in shoes," he said. "Actual real ice? Not so much." He said he would love it if they made micro spikes for bare feet, but he makes do. Gravel sticking to his feet is probably the most annoying thing he deals with. Ezra Strong poses after a hike on Dredge Lake Trail. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO) Of course, the main question is why go barefoot at all? "My right foot is defective. I was born with a birth defect, apparently," he said. "I think it has something to do with the shape of the arch." One of his older brothers had the same issue. Doctors told their parents the solution was to break the foot and reset it. Doctors did that for the brother, but by the time Strong came along, his mom hesitated. "I guess she didn't want to have to put another kid through having his foot broken, so they just never did it to me," he said. "So, getting stuff that fit me was a pain." Strong's right foot is abnormally wide. And people with weirdly shaped feet just don't have a lot of options. As a kid growing up in a rural community, running around without shoes was no big deal. He moved to Fairbanks for college. Winters were colder and he didn't have a car. For the first time, his feet started drawing attention. A reporter for the student newspaper at the University of Alaska Fairbanks did a story on him. Then the questions really started up. "Facebook and that sort of thing were just becoming a thing," he said. "I started getting these weird emails from people on the East Coast who had read this." He doesn't understand the fascination with his feet. For him, it's always been about comfort. He experimented with different sizes, styles and brands, but nothing works. He owns a pair of 15-year-old running shoes — They're about two sizes too big, and the sides are almost worn away. "The shoes hurt pretty bad too, but it's better to have the shoe pain for 15 minutes to go jogging than it is to deal with having a shattered callus for the next three days," Strong said. He's experienced mild frostbite, cuts, infections and cracked heels. Ezra Strong hikes barefoot along the Dredge Lake Trail in Juneau. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO) He uses over-the-counter products like Flexitol, a cream with shea butter and aloe, to help heal. But it's not as easy as it used to be. "As I get older, my theory, again, is my body takes a little longer to recover and to repair," Strong said. "It's been getting worse." Not long ago, he reached out to a California startup company that 3-D prints shoes. Their custom-sizing model seemed promising. But they told him they're in the middle of a transition period and not accepting orders. Strong said he's hopeful technology will eventually catch up to his feet. In the meantime, it's not all bad. "I have to say, I love being a bad influence for children," he said, laughing. "The idea to these children that you don't have to wear shoes for your entire life seems to startle them and I have seen more than one child, when they see me pass, sit down on the sidewalk or the beach and start trying to pull off their own shoes."
Juneau's recorded wind speed blows away Coast Guard retiree
A cold weather phenomenon known as the Taku winds causes white caps and water to mist into the air Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, on the Gastineau Channel as seen from U.S. Coast Guard Station Juneau. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KTOO) John Hollis began serving in the Coast Guard in 1974. He transferred to Juneau three years later for a 13-month stint in public affairs. "I liked it up there. My main job was to answer press queries," Hollis said. "The biggest thing while I was there was the oil came down to Valdez, and worked that extensively." Hollis asks: What's the highest wind speed recorded in Juneau? The answer will blow away this Coast Guard retiree. Curious Juneau stars you and your questions. Every episode we help you find an answer. Catch up on past episodes, or ask your own question on the Curious Juneau page. https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/ktoo/2018/04/11CJWIND.mp3 Hollis, 70, grew up in Southern California, but he said the weather he remembers in Juneau was somewhat comparable. Except it gets a little windier here. "There's an area south and just inland from Juneau where the wind just tunnels through there, just outrageous amounts of wind. I just don't remember getting that kind of wind the one winter I was there in Juneau – not outrageous amounts of wind." So I called Sharon Sullivan, who's a meteorologist intern at the National Weather Service. She said records downtown are a little inconsistent because sensors are placed in different areas. And historically, there were just poor records. "We did find at least the Federal Building had 78 mph wind gust Jan. 7, 2017, and some of the other ones was listing 57, 60 mph," she said. "The airport we had — the highest recorded there was 92 mph at the airport on Nov. 1, 1969." She said in March this year, gusts of about 72 mph were recorded at the Juneau docks. Some Taku wind gusts in 2011 and 2015 reached as high as 85 mph. "I think the one in 2015, a 15,000-pound gangway in the Douglas Boat Harbor was actually moved as a result of these higher wind speeds," Sullivan said. "It takes a lot of force to move that." John Hollis retired from the Coast Guard in 1995, and later worked in publishing in Southern California. He and his wife now live in North Carolina to be closer to their grandchildren. His memory of the winds as he experienced was fuzzy. He guessed they topped out around 20 or 30 mph, "Enough to certainly catch your attention." When I tell him they topped 90 mph at the airport, this was his reaction. Hollis came back to Juneau about eight or nine years ago on a cruise ship. But he still remembers his commute from Douglas to the Coast Guard office in the Federal Building, all those years ago. "The worst thing when I would walk to work in the winter, crossing the bridge, I would get all the snow going right in my ear. That wasn't very fun. That doesn't sound fun at all.
Juneau's recorded wind speed blows away Coast Guard retiree
Yes, there really is a doll museum in Juneau and it's filled with little treasures
A doll display at Aunt Claudia's Dolls museum in downtown Juneau. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KTOO) Kerri Tanner has lived in Juneau for six years — but there's one place she's never been, and she has lots of questions: Curious Juneau stars you and your questions. Every episode we help you find an answer. Catch up on past episodes, or ask your own question on the Curious Juneau page. https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/ktoo/2018/03/01MUSEUM.mp3 "What is the doll museum? How did it come to pass? How do you get in it? How does someone collect enough dolls to put in a museum? Are they old worn teddy bears? Are they antique dolls?" Tucked away on the second floor of the Triangle Building, there's a museum filled with snapshots of history – but in this museum, they're made out of wood, cloth and plastic. Aunt Claudia's Dolls, a Museum, displays a collection of handmade Alaska Native and antique dolls. The nonprofit museum's curator is a dollmaker herself. Mary Ellen Frank is the director and curator of Aunt Claudia's Dolls museum at 114 South Franklin, on the second floor of the Triangle Building. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KTOO) Plastic, wood and tools clatter around as Mary Ellen Frank searches some boxes. "I've sort of cleaned up now, because I've been ... working on the museum more," she says. "But this is a doll I've been working on." She picks up the torso and a head with long dark hair. She test fits the pieces together, along with a pelvis, and the doll begins to take shape. "I'm interested in trying to do a fully articulating wooden body so there'll be springs," she says. "So she'll be fully posable and movable. I've got her legs all ready to go. Here's some of her springs." Born in 1952, Frank's fascination with dolls began early. Some of the dolls that she had in her crib and as a young girl are nestled with care in a green shoe organizer hanging on her studio wall. There's giraffes, knitted dolls and even a pink bunny. Mary Ellen Frank shows off her studio and workspace at Aunt Claudia's Dolls museum in downtown Juneau. Frank creates custom dolls and owns an extensive collection of Alaskan Native doll art. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KTOO) Now she's the director and curator of Aunt Claudia's Dolls. Pictures of the museum's namesake, Claudia Kelsey, are featured throughout museum. A former state economist, Frank took a doll-making workshop in 1988, where she met Claudia. "At that time, some little old lady with a doll collection. I sort of trivialized it," Frank said. "But then I saw at Christmastime at times the state museum would put on shows of her dolls and they were so fascinating." Frank began visiting Claudia's house weekly. "She was mainly interested in antique dolls and dolls from around the world," she said. "She had probably 800 dolls. Her thing, she was so proud that she had never purchased a doll personally. They'd all been given to her by family to start with and then people that knew that she loved dolls started giving her dolls." Claudia died about 10 years ago, leaving her collection of dolls with a friend, who in turn asked Frank what to do with them. "I had a studio in this building so I said, 'Until we find another place for them, we can move them into an adjacent room to my studio and I'll store them there until we find another place.'" They moved Claudia's collection from the house to the studio, cabinet by cabinet and doll by doll. The two women first opened the studio for its first First Friday in 2008. Then they decided the downtown location was the perfect place for the collection. Claudia's antique and cultural dolls are just one part of the museum. The other is Frank's collection of Native American and Alaska Native dolls she's collected — and some she's made herself. A doll in the likeness of Tlingit elder Walter Soboleff is on display at Aunt Claudia's Dolls museum in downtown Juneau. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KTOO) She creates likenesses of Alaska Native leaders and elders, and favors Northwest Coast art and dolls. Frank took Northwest Coast carving classes and uses several of the tools in making her dolls. She even uses Alaska yellow cedar. "Dolls are so culturally interesting and you can see so much about a culture from looking at these dolls," Frank said. "And you kind of learn stuff by looking at the clothing that dolls provide. People don't wear a lot of this clothing anymore but you get a picture of where it came from." Aunt Claudia's Dolls is located at 114 S. Franklin St., Suite 105, with street access across from the Rockwell. Normally, it's only open during tourist season, but the rest of the year the museum opens for First Fridays and Saturdays. This weekend, it's open from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free. Our question asker Kerri Tanner plans to finally make it to the museum. "When I think of doll museum, I don't think of the Native dolls. I think of the typical baby doll or teddy bear," Tanner said. "So it's neat that she's got all of it." David Purdy contributed to this report.
Yes, there really is a doll museum in Juneau and it's filled with little treasures