Anchorage’s earliest founders are gone, but certainly not forgotten. Those who turned out for the annual Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery walk were not only treated to a spectacular Solstice evening, they learned a bit about the little known histories of the city’s earliest settlers.
Picture this: a dairy in what is now midtown Anchorage. Once, there was a couple named Martin …that’s Asa and Alice Martin.. they came to a fledgling town in Alaska in 1915 and moved into a tent. Later on, they bought land, built a house and by 1930 they brought a couple of cows up from Alice’s native Wisconsin.
“That was when Asa and Alice purchased 30 acres of land across from what is now Merrill Field, And they leased another 240 acres for the dairy farm they’s always wanted. They started with only two cows, and from that built a respectable dairy, which they called Step And A Half Ranch, because it was only a step and a half from town. “
The Martin’s story is only one of the tales told by Audrey and Bruce Kelly, who have for nine years now led the Solstice Cemetery Walk. The Kelly’s drew quite a crowd this year.. about 150 people followed them through the monuments, one of them hauling along a battery operated speaker to amplify scratchy sound from a prickly wireless microphone “follow me ”
Audrey Kelly says this year, the program is focusing on some of the earliest settlers.
The tales are so varied. Some found success.. like Horace Nagley, an enterpreneur and businessman whose name still stands on the general store he owned in Talkeetna. Nagley met his wife, Jessamine, when she was a teacher in Susitna Station
“In 1918, they had their only child, Horace Willard Nagley the second. He was born at Railway Hospital in Anchorage, after Horace and Jessamine traveled by dog team from Talkeetna for the delivery.”
Bruce Kelly. He says some were not so fortunate as Nagley. He relates the cautionary tale of a young goldrush stampeder bent on adventure
“In the early winter of 1897, while working a claim, Johnny Johns, as he was know throughout the territory, heard the news of the rich Klondike strike, and immediately stampeded to Dawson. He arrived early enough to get a good claim, and it was reported he found a lot of gold. But when the word got out in 1900 of gold in Nome, he couldn’t resist.”
Johnny Johns chased gold all over Alaska, but died alone in a room over the diner he ended up working in. A sad tale, but on a summer night blazing with just opened lilacs, this cemetery given to the city by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915 seems like the most serene place in the world. Johns and the Nagleys rest here, as do Alice and Asa Martin and their son, Dr. Asa Martin, who grew up from dairy delivery boy, to establish Anchorage’s medical and surgical clinic. And who’s to say Johnny Johns did not find the riches in his simple life in Anchorage that eluded him on the goldfields.
There’s many more stories buried in the cemetery. So many in fact, that the Kellys are hosting a second cemetery walk in July, this one with live actors portraying the dearly departed.