Playing with memes

Alaskans in winter meme

Click on it to see it bigger!

And since we’d be bad archivists if we didn’t cite our own stuff… Clockwise from the upper left:

1. Captains Glenn & Culp, near Portage Bay, 1898. Photographer: Walter C. Mendenhall. Edwin F. Glenn papers.

2. Fur Rendezvous Queen, 1958. Photographer: Donald Arthur Post. Donald Arthur Post slides.

3. Katherine & Jack Claypool, in either Circle City of Tanana, date unknown. Charles E. Claypool photographs.

4. Dr. Fraser & Irene Lindsay in the Lindsay Hotel, Porcupine, Alaska, circa 1899-1907. Sally Irene Lindsay photographs. Photograph made available by the family of Winella and James A. Vibbert.

5. Unknown man pushing sled of supplies near Homer, Alaska, date unknown. Ann & Robert Mounteer papers.

6. “Jack the Barber” at Independence Mine, 1939. Russ Dow papers.

All of the above images (and more besides!) are available through the Alaska’s Digital Archives.

Archives Loves Memes!

The Hatcher Pass Ski Resort That Never Was

Just before the new year, I was working with some additions to our collection of records from the Alaska Pacific Consolidated Mining Company, the company that ran Independence Mine at Hatcher Pass.  Tucked into an oversize folder at the end of the collection, I found this gem:

Proposal for Hatcher Pass Ski Resort, from the Alaska Pacific Consolidated Mining Company records (UAA-hmc-0023-pt4-1)

This photo is a proposal for the development of “Hatcher Pass Ski Area,” an alpine ski resort that would have been built at Hatcher Pass just south of Independence Mine.  (Click the image for a larger version of the photo.)  The document is not dated but likely was made sometime in the 1970s, since you can see Hatcher Pass Lodge — the A-frame building built by Hap Wurlitzer in the late 1960s that he still runs today — where the photo is labeled “Hotel Main Lodge” on the right side of the image.   The proposal calls for a 6,300-foot Riblet ski lift to be built from the road up the southern slope of the Hatcher Creek drainage to the top of Hatcher Pass itself (see the black line running diagonally up the mountain slope in the center of the photo).  According to the proposal, the lift would have brought skiers to the top terminal at a rate of 990 skiers per hour and would have eventually connected with a chair lift or gondola from the Willow side of the pass.  A base parking lot would have been built at the site of a former airstrip (where a parking lot does exist today), and a day lodge at the base area would have contained restaurant facilities, as well as apartments and dormitories for ski resort employees.

If you’ve been up to Hatcher Pass today, you know that this proposal never came to fruition, nor has any alpine ski area been built in that location.  It is unclear who wrote this proposition or why it was never built.  Perhaps the cost of maintaining and repairing the road to the lodge, a concern voiced by the proposal, were too much for the state.  Perhaps the avalanche danger of the drainage was too high.  Or, perhaps, the real costs of the project were just too steep; the estimate, printed on the top of the photo, is a mere $650,000, a number that seems absurdly low for the project’s scope.

Skiers at Fishhook in 1939, taken by Russ Dow (UAA-hmc-0396-14f-548)

Whatever the reason, this photo reminded me that Hatcher Pass does have a rich skiing history that often gets overshadowed by the region’s mining history.  According to the wonderful website, “Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project,” the earliest ski area at Hatcher Pass was a rope-tow built by Jim Turner that operated in the 1930s and 1940s on the slope behind Fishhook Inn at Mile 12 on the Hatcher Pass Road at Fishhook Creek.  (See photo at left.)  Shortly thereafter, Victor and Jim Cottini built another rope-tow at their Little Susitna Roadhouse (now the Mother Lode Lodge), which was likely operated until the 1960s.  But the most popular place for alpine skiing at Hatcher Pass was at Independence Mine.  Mine employees skied the surrounding mountains both for recreation and travel, as it provided a convenient way to reach Palmer when the road was impassable.  When mine operations ceased during World War II, the area became an increasingly popular destination for skiers from Anchorage, who could take a 3-hour bus ride from the city to the pass and stay overnight in the  mine buildings.  Skiing largely took place there on the slope from the main mine complex up to Gold Cord Mine, where a 500 vertical-foot rope-tow and T-bar lift were built in the 1960s and a private contractor ran the mine bunkhouse for lodging and meals.  The U.S. Army Biathlon team was also based at Independence Mine during the 1960s, and in the 1970s, the Manager’s House at Independence Mine was converted into a bar and lodge for skiers and snow machiners.

There is no formal alpine ski resort at Hatcher Pass today, though it is still a popular back-country ski area.  However, in the intervening decades since the ski hills at Hatcher closed, there have been many people who have returned to the idea that someday the area might be more developed for alpine skiing.  In 1985, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources commissioned a study  to assess potential sites for an alpine ski area in Hatcher Pass.  The study came up with six locations: Hatcher Pass West (off the Willow Creek Road just west of the pass), Grubstake Gulch, Sidney Creek, Lone Tree Gulch, Tree Gulch, and Government Peak. Notably, the  Hatcher Creek drainage area targeted by the above proposal in our collection was not among the sites studied.  Of those that were, Government Peak, which rises west of the Hatcher Pass Road where the Matanuska-Susitna Valley begins to ascend into the mountains, was determined to be the best site.  Accordingly, proposals for a ski resort in that area began in 1988, when Mitsui Corporation’s proposed a$221 million resort with a golf course, dude ranch, airport, and ski area at Government Peak.  The venture was eventually dropped in 1990, after Anchorage lost several bids to host the Winter Olympics and economic assessments indicated that the resort would not be financially viable.  Similar proposals have  followed in 1992, 2002, and, most recently, 2007, but no ski resort has been built to date at Government Peak or anywhere else at Hatcher Pass.

how much do you trust records?

We’ve had students in an anthropology class working in the Archives this semester on a variety of projects having to do with the Independence Mine (Alaska Pacific Consolidated Mining Company records, to be more precise.) They’ve been a really fun crew to have around.

We had a request from one of the students today for some copies of oral history transcripts from the collection. Now, when I (Arlene) make copies, I don’t really read the documents I’m copying, but things still occasionally jump off the page at me. And a paragraph from one of the Joe Sertich transcripts really jumped off the page at me.

I want to switch thoughts for a second. When we teach about primary sources and how to identify and use them, one of the things we’re really careful to discuss is how researchers need to think about bias. What perspectives might have influenced the creation of the document? Is there “spin?” It’s really important to assess these sorts of things when using primary source material–well, secondary too, for that matter–because it may affect the conclusions you’re able to draw from information you’re seeing. So that’s all well and good, until you see something like the paragraph I just tripped across. I’ll copy it out for you. Mr. Sertich was talking about the various people he’d worked with at the mine.

(Quick note: the following quote includes some mild profanity.)

I got to tell you about another deal that was instituted up there at the Independence Mine. Of course, things were going along in great shape and this started, now, oh, it was probably about the middle of, maybe late in the year of 1938, and I don’t know how this was ever instigated, who had started this, but a fellow came up there from Seattle. He was an older guy and he was supposed to be the efficiency expert. Well, that’s all the miners needed was an efficiency expert, and especially, when they put that handle on them. Well, he was a nice enough old guy, but he didn’t fit in with our miner’s thinking at all. So they came up with these little forms. Every miner had to fill it out at the end of the shift, his name, the date, the stope or drift or raise you were working in, and how many caps you used, blasting caps, how many sticks at so many percent dynamite, how many feet of lagging, and how many feet of timber, and how many cars of ore or muck were mucked out or rock, or whatever it happened to be.

Of course, all of us pretty much resented it. I don’t know that we resented it, it just seemed to us that we didn’t need an efficiency expert there after the mine was pretty well established and on a paying basis, and boy we used to screw up those forms deliberately. Heck, and I don’t know what he ever did with them. I found some of those forms laying around years after. I think when I was up there in ’76 there was a bunch of those forms laying all over. I think he was just there to have a job, and I don’t think he was doing anything to make that mine any more efficient. I don’t know how much he knew about mining, but he was kind of a pariah around there, nobody ever, hardly ever talked to him. I don’t know, we just figured he was way-to-hell over left field where he belonged and nobody was going to have anything to do with him. And there were times when the guys would, hell they’d have more darn dynamite that they blasted up in one day, or timber that they used, say 20 feet of timber, they’d probably put 40 or 50. And, here they were using more material up in the mine than ever came up the hill. Drove him kind of crazy. I guess he used to add and subtract these things, and I don’t know what he ever did with them.

 My reaction to this is mixed. At the same time I find it really funny, I’m also kind of freaked out. I’m used to looking for bias, teaching how to look for bias, especially in personal records, but I think a lot of us tend to assume that corporate records are somehow cleaner. More accurate. In this collection, I’ve seen some of these forms that the miners filled out. And if I were assessing them for bias, I’d figure that miners might be exaggerating a little as to how much ore or such they’d pulled out of the mine to make their productivity look better. But it would never have occurred to me that they might be flat-out lying about the amounts of materials they consumed while working!

I’m not sure what the lesson here is. I’m not sure my take-away for students and researchers should be to assume the documents are totally and completely wrong, deliberately falsified. Maybe the lesson is (and it’s one I really, really like) is to remember the archivist’s secret weapon: context.  If you were to review other records that came from the mine that year–say, the purchasing records–it would become very clear very quickly that something was amiss, that it would be very difficult for the miners to be using double the dynamite that the mine was bringing in. Part of the reason I like this lesson is that for a long time I’ve thought it was dangerous for a researcher to rely on a single archival document and not read or assess the surrounding and related material when tracking down answers. It’s part of the reason I argue against item-level description for documents sometimes: we really shouldn’t be encouraging researchers–especially new ones–to ignore context and surrounding information that might provide a more realistic view of what was actually happening.

But that’s a different soapbox for a different day. At any rate, the next time somebody comes in to research in the miners’ logs, I hope they’ll understand that some of the documents might not be all that realistic. That if they’re looking at productivity, they’re going to need to use more than just these.

But really.  The part of my brain that found this amusing is the part of my brain that was cheering the miners on. Who hasn’t wanted to do this occasionally in the face of an efficiency expert when you think you’re doing your job just fine?

Footnote to Dean Rollins: I would never, ever do this on our departmental annual report. Ever. Really.

some of our favorite things, installment 3

The Microspatula, by Jason Sylvestre

There are a number of things that I find cringe-worthy as an archivist: legal sized documents, scotch tape, paperclips, rusty staples, and unruly masses of paper. Although my favorite archival tool can’t address all of these, it does handle my most hated enemy, rusty staples, with ease. The micro-spatula is my go-to item for removing staples from tissue paper, plying papers clips from the page and unsticking stuck items.  The micro-spatula is an 8” stainless steel tool with one rounded end and one tapered end. It is a versatile item to have on hand when dealing with delicate materials.

Removing rusty staples with a microspatula

In many cases a regular staple remover works just fine, but there are times when it’s just too blunt an instrument. Older staples don’t often come in the standard size we’re used to today. The staples I’m talking about are half the size of today’s and are a breeding ground for rust. Using a staple remover on them can take a big chunk of the very paper you are trying to preserve. It is a job that requires more finesse, the kind only a micro-spatula can provide. The tapered end of the spatula slides right under the hooked end of the staple and lifts it with ease. Repeat on the other hooked end and the staple slides right out leaving only its original holes in the paper. The micro-spatula is equally adept at separating paper clips stuck to the page without tearing the paper.

Although it can be a risky procedure, a micro-spatula can also be used to separate items stuck together. If the items don’t come apart easily, it’s best not to force them. If stuck items appear to need only a little help separating, the narrow ends of the micro-spatula are great for sliding in between and coaxing them apart.

The micro-spatula has many more uses in conservation, but for me, staple removal is its primary function.

Some of our favorite things, installment 2

The Pencil, by Mariecris Gatlabayan

When I was in elementary school, my friend and I would sit by the long jump sandpit and write and draw. We would write letters, notes, our thoughts, doodle, come up with secret codes for our diary, and, most importantly, write with pens of different colors: bright blue, purple, green, pink, mustard, maroon, etc. Sometimes the ink was sparkly or metallic. We never wrote in red ink because it was bad luck and black ink was too serious. We even experimented with the dreaded heart-dot over the lowercase “i.” It was a time before we had email or word processing programs like WordPerfect or Word, and in our minds the written word was a way to make a good impression and convey our personalities.

I carried this mindset into graduate school and was very particular about my pens. They always had blue gel ink, preferably a happy blue, and were fine point (0.5). As I meticulously took notes during my first archives class, the professor mentioned that the pen was not allowed in the Archives. What was I going to do? It took me years to discover the brands of pen that had the qualities I required. I even had back-up brands, just in case. As for pencils, there was no happy color lead. Fine point pencils were the equivalent of medium point pens. And, they have yet to develop a gel pencil. At that point, I realized I had a serious problem: I have a weird hang-up about writing instruments. So I took a deep breath and decided to go with the flow.

My first archives internship involved transcribing descriptions about photographs onto acid free enclosures. My internship supervisor handed me a few pencils and off to work I went. The yellow number 2 pencil had to be sharpened every few envelopes, so I decided to stick with the mechanical pencil. But then I had to keep clicking the top of the pencil every few envelopes as well. It just didn’t seem efficient and I developed muscle fatigue. Plus the 0.7 point pencil translated my typically neat small print into a smudge across the envelope. To remedy the situation I went to the store and spent a significant amount of time in the pencil section. I left the store a proud owner of a mechanical pencil that used 0.5 lead, had a comfort grip, and a side-clicker (so I would not have to stop writing and click the top of my pencil to get more lead). It was brilliant!

As I developed my skills as an archivist, the pencil became more important. With my pencil and a pad of paper, post-it notes, or index cards, I could make sense of a collection. Whether I was in the vault, reading room, processing room, or a donor’s home, my pencil helped me record what was there. It helped me to literally connect the dots. So when it came to creating an accurate and concise collection description, my notes were there. Whenever I made a mistake, I could erase it. I could write “box 1,” on a box and change it to “box 15” with no problem. With my pencil I could neatly label folders so that researchers could better navigate the collection. If I needed to figure out the cubic footage of an oversized box, I could use my pencil to draw the picture of the box and figure it out visually. Not only did I use the pencil for working with collections, it was useful at the reference desk. It helped me keep track of which collections and what parts of the collections people requested. I even take notes when working with a researcher to better understand their research topic.

In many ways, my pencil helped me organize my own thoughts. Just like the real world, papers and records are never in perfect order. They are complicated. With a pencil, the complicated is more manageable. So the next time an archivist asks you to use a pencil instead of a pen, think of it as our way of sharing one of our most valuable tools: the pencil.

Some of our favorite things, installment 1

Inspired by a posting from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art earlier this month, we decided to share some of our favorite archives tools with you!  First up, Arlene.

 My Flip HD videocam, by Arlene

Arlene’s personalized Flip HD videocam

I know this may be surprising to include in a list of archival tools, but I love it.

Here’s the thing: I’d like to blame it on a period of sleep deprivation I had a few years ago, but I suspect it’s just age. My memory. It just isn’t what it used to be. So my Flip goes everywhere with me, especially when I go to visit donors and they show me their collections or if I need to review large quantities of records. I walk and talk with my Flip in hand and voila: instant recording with both video and audio so when that 500 cubic foot collection is brought in the door, I know how we packed it, what went where, all those things that took place at the donor’s home or place of business. Just brilliant. A few years ago when we had a long-distance processor working for us, I would film as I walked the collection stacks area and read the labels on the boxes so she knew what had been put where. And it’s what we used to film Mariecris’s great tutorial on building cheap and easy book enclosures (that’s part 1 of 5, there). And I keep promising myself that one of these days, we’ll film a guide to parking on campus for our researchers. Just as soon as I convince somebody else to star in it! Now that I’ve got the Flip, I can’t imagine how I functioned without it.

PS: I’m told that they’re stopping the production of the Flips soon.  Very sad, since the aforementioned memory problem means it now takes me a little longer to learn new pieces of equipment than it used to do. Good thing I own a few of them so I hopefully won’t have to swap out for a very long time.

PPS: In between taking the photograph of the Flip above and posting this, I managed to kill that one. Broke the lens. It still works, but in order to protect the optics when I use it, I’ve put it in its waterproof case and that kind of interferes with the audio quality. So I went out and bought a new one for general use. I haven’t yet made a pretty skin for it like I did for the one above, but one of these days I will.