Seward’s Folly

The first Seward’s Day celebration in Fairbanks occurred during the last few days of March in 1917. The day was designated a holiday by the Territorial Legislature at the urging of the Grand Igloo of the Pioneers of Alaska. This was done in preparation for all Alaskan towns to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Alaska Purchase Treaty between the United States and Russia on March 30, 1867.

Fairbanks held a three-day celebration potlach to mark the occasion. The streets downtown were transformed into the “Streets of Cairo” as a theme featuring decorative lighting of the streets and the new Cushman Street Bridge. With a carnival atmosphere, there were banquets, dances, speeches, shows, and athletic events. The following newspaper story gives the details on the planning of the big parade on the final day of celebrations.

Fairbanks Daily News Miner – March 6, 1917


A hundred and fifty Pioneers of Alaska met last night in regular session, and they unanimously voted to join in the coming Potlach, hire the Juvenile Band to precede them and parade in force on March 29th the day Alaska was signed, sealed and delivered to the United States 50 years ago.

The Potlach idea and plans were presented to the lodge by W. F. Thompson, who asked the Pioneers to get into the game, explaining why he thought they should. Immediately one Pioneer moved that the invitation be accepted; another pioneer moved that the Fairbanks Juvenile Band be hired to head the Procession, and when the president asked “at what cost?” another Pioneers shouted: “At ANY cost!” and the thing was settled.

The outline of the procession is being worked out now and will be announced later. It is expected that the Pioneers will be followed by the Pioneer Women in autos, and they in turn by the Sons and Daughters of the Golden North, then other organizations following them. It has been suggested that floats be made a feature of the procession, and that will work out in due time. The principal thing is that the Pioneers of Alaska are “in” the Potlach, which insures its success.

Note: If you are a State of Alaska employee who is enjoying a paid day off in honor of Seward’s Day, remember to take a moment to give thanks to William H. Seward for swinging the deal of the century! And, you can also thank the Pioneers of Alaska. 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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