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Alaska’s Birthday Party

Alaska was purchased from Russia on March 30, 1867, but the transfer didn’t occur until October 18, 1867, to much pomp, circumstance and slight mishap. Today, Alaskans celebrate both the purchase (Seward’s Day in March) and the transfer of ownership (Alaska Day) in October.

Transcribed from the Interpretive Sign at Castle Hill by the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation:

ALASKA DAY

Alaska was purchased from Russia on March 30, 1867 for $7.2 million dollars (which would be $116 million in 2012 dollars) or about 2 cents per acre. This is the date that we celebrate as Seward’s Day. The transfer ceremony from Russia to the United States took place in Sitka on October 18th, 1867 which is the date we celebrate Alaska Day. The transfer ceremony took place in Sitka on October 18, 1867. Russian and American soldiers paraded in front of the governor’s house; the Russian flag was lowered and the American flag raised amid peals of artillery.

The Ceremony: A dual cannon salute was fired for each flag. The Russian flag stuck fast in the lanyards during its lowering. Several soldiers were unsuccessful in their attempts to climb the flagpole and free the flag. A sling was rigged and a Russian soldier raised to the flag, but he dropped it after freeing it. Gasps were heard as the flag dropped and was blown onto the Russian soldiers’ bayonets. The ceremony continued with the quick raising of the American flag. The Commissioners exchanged a few words and Alaska’s 586,412 square miles belonged to the United States.

From the Fairbanks Daily Times October 19, 1915:

ALASKA DAY IS CELEBRATED BY MANY PIONEERS

To take proper cognizance of Alaska Day, a very enjoyable social session of the Pioneers was held at Eagle Hall last night, at which there were about 175 in attendance. An impromptu program was rendered, consisting of addresses, stories, recitations and phonograph selections, and it was with a feeling of having spent a very pleasant evening that the members broke away at 11:30. The Vice-president of the Pioneers, A. R. Heilig, was in the chair, and he opened the meeting with one of his well-known appropriate short talks. He was followed by Cecil Clegg, the father of the Alaska Day celebrations in the territory, who spoke of the significance of the day. Delegate Wickersham then spoke of the future of Alaska, and Sam Kincaid told of some of the old pioneers. Other speakers were O. P. Gaustad and W. H. McPhee. Between the speeches, selections were rendered on one of the large phonographs from Calderheads, these all being of a patriotic nature. At the close of the program, all joined in singing of “America.” An enjoyable repast of refreshments, liquid and solid, punctuated with plenty of smokes, brought the meeting to a close.

Note: The observance of the day originated at Seward, July 4, 1906, when it was suggested by Cecil H. Clegg. Clegg later moved to Fairbanks and served our community as a United States District Court Judge. He was also a past president of Men’s Igloo No. 4 as well as the 1919 Grand Igloo President of the Pioneers of Alaska. In 1913, the First Territorial Legislature adopted Alaska Day as an official holiday. This 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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