Monday, October 11, 2010

Chasing Ghosts - Part I: Franklin

by Nancy DeWitt

A lot of my work as our museum's historian involves chasing ghosts: figuring out when and what types of cars first showed up in Alaska, if any still exist, and if anyone recalls anything about their long-gone owners. During the museum's planning stage, I read through numerous old newspapers and dug through countless photographs at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Archives. From the former, I learned that the first three cars in Fairbanks were a Pope-Toledo, Franklin and White Steamer, all arriving by sternwheeler in 1908. Eventually I met Fairbanks historian Candy Waugaman, and she was kind enough to give me access to her tremendous Alaska postcard and photo collections. I was quite excited when she showed me this photo:


The barrel-shaped hood indicated that the car was an air-cooled Franklin, and correspondence with the H.H. Franklin Club confirmed it. Could this be one of Fairbanks' first cars? Old newspapers had noted that Hosea Ross, the town's undertaker, purchased that first Franklin in 1908. As luck would have it I discovered Ross' autobiography at the Elmer Rasmuson Library at UAF. In it he wrote about buying the Franklin and being offered $50 to take a drunk lawyer to Dome Creek: "I said 'No.' He said 'I will give you $75.' I said, 'No.' He said, 'I will give you $100.' I said 'All right.'" As they say, everyone has their price.

Ross goes on to write that their trip was the first time an automobile had made it to Dome, a mining town just north of Fairbanks. No doubt the photo above, captioned "First Auto Dome," was taken during that journey. Ross next bought a Thomas Flyer and Pierce Great Arrow. I couldn't find another photo of the Franklin or any of the Thomas, but Candy had this one of Ross sitting at the wheel of a Great Arrow (pretty popular guy for an undertaker, eh?):


Through more detective work I tracked down some of Ross' relatives. None had any information about or photos of his early cars. Ross had written that he eventually  "...sold the old Franklin as a wreck." Chances are the car ended up in the river, town dump, or was dissected for parts. While we hold out hope that we may find its remains some day, we have this lovely 1907 Franklin Type D landaulette to help us educate visitors about Alaska's first days of the automobile.

Nest installment: What happened to the White Steamer?


*Note: Historical photos pictured here may not be reproduced without permission.

1 comment:

  1. Very cool Nancy. It's wonderful how you get to be part of such interesting history. I don't think they are paying you enough.

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