Untimely Demise

In Alaska’s early days, reports appeared in newspapers regarding the comings and goings of residents. When a former Fairbanksan died “Outside”, a notice was published in the local paper so the sourdough’s untimely passing could be properly mourned by his friends. This was especially important if the death was due to tragic circumstances.

Fairbanks Daily Times- December 31, 1914


From Kansas City, Missouri, word was received here yesterday that Ben Bigelow, until last summer a telegraph operator in Fairbanks, had been killed in a train wreck near Springfield Missouri. Just how the former signal corps man lost his life is not known, as the message telling of his death was very brief.

Bigelow left Fairbanks last summer, to take charge of the telegraph station at Nenana. On one of the last boats last fall he was sent to the States, and shortly afterward was discharged. He then went to Missouri and took up his former occupation as telegraph operator on the Frisco system.

A few months later, Private Bigelow sends the following letter to the Times:

Fairbanks Daily Times – May 14, 1915


Editor of the Times—Dear Sir:

While I appreciate the distinction of being one of the few live ones who have had the privilege of reading a notice of their own death, I am far from satisfied, and wish to deny the report. I am not at present, nor have I been, to the best of my knowledge, anything like dead. To use Mark Twain’s words, “The report is greatly exaggerated.”

At present I am very much alive and am a telegraph operator at the depot quartermaster’s office, 1086 North Point street, in San Francisco, and as I am permitted to live in Frisco, I request that you deny any and all reports of my being killed in any train wreck in Missouri.

Missouri is a fine state to raise mules in, but I don’t intend to be in any train wreck there. If I must be in any train wreck, I hope it will be near Fairbanks on the new government railroad.

Please deny the previous report of my death published in your paper sometime in January, as there is not telling how it might affect some of my old sourdough friends.

With best regards to all and wishing the Times the best of luck, I am,

Yours Respectfully,
Ben C. Bigelow,
Signal Corps, U. S. Army

Note: As far as we can tell, Private Bigelow never made it back to Alaska to fulfill his death wish on the Alaska Railroad, much to the relief of his many sourdough friends. This “train wreck” of a History Nugget has been proudly brought to you by Fairbanks Men’s Igloo No. 4 and Women’s Igloo No. 8 of the Pioneers of Alaska.

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