A River Of Gold

In 1959, Alaska became the 49th state. Fairbanks had a huge celebration with all the usual events expected for such an occasion, including one that was a bit unusual:

Fairbanks Daily News Miner articles from – June 27th-July 1st, 1958


The material which will turn the Chena River to gold is in the hands of the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce statehood celebration committee and it is sufficient to dye 75,000 square feet of surface a brilliant golden color, it was announced today. Art Sexauer, chairman of the special committee, said everything is in readiness here for a celebration which will be remembered all their lives by persons in Fairbanks when the final vote on statehood comes, as it probably will early next week. Don Pearson, in charge of the dyeing of the river, said the powdered dye will be handled by the Fire Department from the Wendell Avenue Bridge. Fish and Wildlife Service agents are testing the dye to make certain it will not harm fish in the river.

The huge golden star which will be carried aloft by balloon, to signify the “new star rising in the North” as Alaska gains statehood, will be launched from the top of the Polaris Building, it was announced today. The star, 15 feet across, has been completed by the Arctic Manufacturing and Development Co. Sounding of whistles, bells and civil defense sirens will herald passage of the bill. A city-wide holiday, proclaimed by Mayor Paul B. Haggland, will go into effect immediately, and all citizens are urged to come downtown and celebrate…Soon after the 49th star goes heavenward, the Chena River will run golden-for a short time- to the sea (via the Tanana and Yukon Rivers.) The gold dye is used in air rescue operations. The dye will be in 30 pouches strung across the stream on a rope and as it starts to flow downstream, sacks of vermiculite, a golden colored insulation material, will be added to the water to put spangles in it.

A couple of days later this report appeared in the News Miner regarding the testing of the dye:

Kill fish in the Chena River? That’s a laugh, said a sportsman who came by the paper the other day when he read that the Fish and Wildlife Service was testing the dye which was poured in the river to turn it to gold when statehood came. The Chena River is not the finest, purest stream in the country, not with all that sewage being dumped in it. The Fish and Wildlife Service, incidentally, reported back that the dye doesn’t kill the fish–doesn’t even make goldfish out of ’em.

Here is what happened that memorable day, as reported in the News Miner the day after the big celebration took place:

A half hour after the star went up, the crowd along the river grew as the fire department led an impromptu parade back and forth along First and Second avenues, then off up Cushman street. At the same time firemen put on a water display with fire hoses over the Chena. A few minutes later the spectators saw the first coloring coming down the river. The water, however, was a bright kelly green, not gold as expected. The dye put in the river did not “take” as predicted, though it is an orange dye. But the jubilant crowd took the switch in good humor. “Green gold is better than none” someone remarked.

Note: If you were at a public meeting today, you would not dare utter the possibility of altering the river in any way, for any reason. Times sure have changed! Mayor Haggland, who made the celebration a city wide holiday, was a proud member of Igloo No. 4 of the Pioneers of Alaska. This colorful history nugget has been proudly brought to you by Men’s Igloo No. 4 and Women’s Igloo No. 8 of the Pioneers of Alaska.

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