Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pioneers of Alaska Tour

Fraternal organizations like the Masons and Elks were popular in Alaska during the early mining days. Around 1903 a group of men in Nome formulated an idea for a strictly Alaskan order that would work for the benefit of the Territory and look after its sick and aged members, and in 1907 the Pioneers of Alaska organization was chartered. At right are some of Fairbanks' first Pioneers, including Alaska transportation legend Robert Sheldon (3rd from left). Any idea what kind of car is behind them?

Originally, one had to have resided in Alaska before January 1, 1901 to be eligible for Pioneer status, but now membership is open to those who have lived in Alaska over thirty years. Today there are 17 active chapters, or "Igloos," that work to gather and preserve relics and Alaska's early history. On April 6, members of Igloos #4 and #8 enjoyed a luncheon at the Fountainhead Museum, followed by a personalized tour led by Willy Vinton. There was a lot of interest in the artifacts, and Willy fielded numerous questions including "How do you know so much about cars?" and "What school did you go to?"

After lunch, Barbara Cerny, curator of the vintage fashion collection, pointed out the several historic Alaska outfits on display and provided a behind-the-scenes tour of the clothing storage and work room. The Women's Igloo #8 recently loaned the Fountainhead Museum a number of antique garments worn by Fairbanks pioneers, including the tan suit at right. This wool walking suit was purchased at Gordon's Department Store in Fairbanks around 1909. We are grateful to the Women's Igloo #8 for preserving these pieces of Alaska history and for loaning them to our museum.

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