- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

SITKA, Alaska (AP) - Sitka Historical Society says the 150th anniversary of the 1867 Russian claims transfer will be here before we know it - and Sitka had better be prepared.

The Historical Society is keeping the ball moving forward for the 2017 sesquicentennial, with a steering committee to help organize it, a grant from the state of Alaska, and a newly-hired staffer, Linda Williams, to be the liaison for the various organizations taking part in the observance.

This week, the Historical Society unveiled the logo that the steering committee commissioned to capture the spirit of the event.

Designed by local artist Norm Campbell, Alaska Day Committee member Steve Dalquist and Tina Miller from Harry’s Custom Services, the logo shows a Russian flag and an American flag (both from 1867), and a totem pole.

“It represents people who were participating in it, and were influenced by it,” said Hal Spackman, executive director of the Sitka Historical Society. “The important thing is this is a commemoration. It’s different from a celebration, it’s a commemoration of an event and we want to represent different perspectives that people may have on this important historical event - in which Sitka was the center.”

On Oct. 18, 1867, Russia transferred its Alaska claims to the United States in a ceremony atop Castle Hill.

Spackman said with Sitka at the center of this piece of national and international history, the town has a role to play by informing the public, hosting events and attracting visitors to Sitka.

Many world events since 1867 can be traced back to the transfer, he said.

“When you look at the significant role Alaska has played on the world scene - in mining, gold, oil, polar exploration - the transfer of Alaska from Russia has continued to play a significant role in the world - not just in the nation - and it started right here,” he said.

Sitka Historical Society hopes its early groundwork will lead to a successful planning effort, culminating in the Alaska Day week that is now two years away, and on the anniversary day, Oct. 18, 2017.

Funding to hire Williams was provided by a $15,000 grant from the state Office of History and Archaeology, a $10,000 match from the city, and a $5,000 contribution by the Historical Society.

The steering committee has a cross-section of the Sitka community, including members from Sitka Tribe of Alaska, to provide ideas and help with preparations.

Williams said she’s looking forward to getting started, and serving as a main point of contact for the event locally and statewide.

“I think I’m perfect for the job,” she said this week, taking a break from her job as tour bus driver. “I love history and tourism. History has always been a part of my life. I want to facilitate a very important event in our U.S. history. I know a lot of people, and I can be a good contact.”

The logo by Campbell, Miller and Dalquist is another major milestone that will help publicize the sesquicentennial and highlight the impact of the transfer on all cultures in Sitka, Spackman said.

“It represents all aspects of our community, and it brought us together as a (district),” Williams added.

Spackman, Williams and the steering committee hope that the commemoration will be recognized outside Alaska and outside the United States as well.

To that end, the U.S. President and Secretary of State and the leaders of Russia will be invited to come to Sitka.

Although most of the focus will be on the 150th anniversary of the Oct. 18, 1867, Castle Hill ceremony, the 2017 commemoration will start with the March 30 anniversary of the signing of the Alaska Treaty of Cessation in 1867.

Spackman said he’s looking forward to various educational, tribal and historical institutions getting involved in discussion, debate and learning during the event. The sesquicentennial will also provide possibilities for economic development, he said.

“We want to promote the idea of cultural tourism and how it can have an impact on Sitka’s economy, culture and history,” he said. “This doesn’t come around very often.”

Sitka will have a prime chance to show itself off in high style, he added, with the completion of the refurbished and expanded Centennial Hall.

“We’re hoping Sitka becomes the center of the commemoration,” Spackman said.

“And that people will want to come here again,” Williams added. “We want to raise awareness that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so everyone can be a part of that.”

Spackman and Williams said Sitka National Historical Park and some museums around Alaska are already planning exhibits about the transfer, and that number should build as awareness of the historic event spreads.

“This is an opportunity to educate the public about how different people have their own perspectives of this event, the transfer,” Spackman said.

Williams said one of her roles will be to contact schools and educators, and encourage them to plan curricula around the anniversary. But she and Spackman said they are in the early stages of picturing what the commemoration will look like in its final form.

They invited anyone who wishes to be involved in the planning or offer ideas to call Williams at 738-3011 or Spackman at 747-6455.


Information from: Daily Sitka (Alaska) Sentinel, https://www.sitkasentinel.com/

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