Sitka, the capital of Alaska during
Russias occupation of the territory, is rich in native history and
That flavor is
most strongly illustrated at St. Michaels Cathedral, dominating the
center of town with its octagonal tower, classic spire and onion
displays of gold and silver icons and chalices are accompanied by
descriptive literature. On cruise ship days, interpreters give
verbal accounts of the early settlers history and religious
recounted the fire that leveled the structure in 1966. When it was
evident the cathedral couldnt be saved, townspeople removed its
priceless relics for safekeeping until the cathedral was
shoreline, Bishop Innocents House was the seat of ecclesiastical
power for the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska during the mid- to
A bedroom in the
upstairs living quarters displayed the largest bed pillow Id ever
seen. It covered half the bed.
The National Park
Service guide explained that back then, people commonly believed it
was healthier to sleep in a semi-sitting position.
centered on the windows. From the street, they appeared numerous,
but from inside, I counted just a few openings.
It seems that windows were a
status symbol in this remote colony. The more you showed to the
outside world -- real or fake -- the more prosperous you
entertainment side, Sitkas New Archangel Dancers perform daily
during cruise season. Colorful costumes, robust music and lively
steps are authentic, but none of the dancers is Russian, and all
Outside of town,
Sheldon Jackson College sits among the Sitka pines, the tallest fir
trees this side of Australia. Looking more like a resort lodge, the
college runs an elderhostel program and houses the oldest museum
(1897) of Indian artifacts in Alaska.
My ultimate goal
was the National Historical Parks Governors Walk, a totem pole
trail in the woods along Sitka Sound.
Armed with my
Carved History booklet, purchased in the gift shop, I walked the
mile or so on a pleasant path cushioned by soft pine
Each pole stood
almost as tall as the trees, separate from its neighbor. My book
detailed these ceremonial emblems in order of their
Designs carved by
the Haida and Tlingit peoples left distinctive tribal stamps. Some
had openings in the back where a deceased members ashes were stored
to make him one with the spirits.
popular, and several poles ended with one or two heads of watchmen
in top hats -- hard to reconcile in the Alaskan
the states thriving salmon business, my hostess at a traditional
salmon bake typified Alaskan resilience.
She claimed that
locals are often denied the most popular export items, so as a
teenager, she was sent to the streams during spawning season to
catch salmon eggs with a branch as they flowed past, supplying her
family with caviar.
souvenir shops are found along Lincoln Street, where visitors buy
locally made soaps, clothing, artwork and chocolate.
One of the
shopkeepers shared with me her ancestry and told me how to
differentiate the Haidas from the Tlingits.
were the first inhabitants and still thrive here, she said.
Inupiats live above the Arctic Circle, while Athabascans settled
around Fairbanks. But, please, she added, none of us wants to be
information, contact the Sitka Convention & Visitors Bureau at
(907) 747-5940 or www.sitka.org.
the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].