This post is the fifth and last in a series of reports on the 2009 Mushing History Conference, which took place Nov 6-8 in Anchorage and Wasilla, Alaska.
Jane HaighJane Haigh, an Assistant Professor of History at Kenai Peninsula College and an accomplished Alaskan author and historian, has written or co-written a number of books of popular Alaskan history, including Gold Rush Dogs, Children of the Gold Rush, Gold Rush Women, King Con: The Story of Soapy Smith, and The Search for Fannie Quigley: A Wilderness Life in the Shadow of Mount McKinley. In 2008 Jane was honored by the Alaska Historical Society with their annual “Historian of the Year” recognition.
For the 2009 Mushing History Conference Jane gave a presentation on Nome pioneer and Alaskan author Esther Birdsall Darling, the woman who was part owner of Scotty Allan’s kennel, and who helped to found the Nome Kennel Club. Esther Birdsall Darling was responsible for publicizing the All Alaska Sweepstakes races and writing the race programs, including the booklet and postcards titled The Great Dog Races of Nome Held under the Auspices of the Nome Kennel Club, Nome, Alaska: Official Souvenir History, printed in Nome, Alaska by the Nome Kennel Club, 1916.
Esther Birdsall Darling was the author of several books on Nome and the All Alaska Sweepstakes races, including the classic best-selling children’s book, Baldy of Nome, detailing the exploits of Scotty Allan’s famous leader. First published in 1913, the book was kept in print by popular demand through the next four decades, and Baldy’s descendants, including Boris and Navarre, were featured in additional books by Esther Birdsall Darling.
Jane Haigh’s slideshow and discussion of the famous Nome author and pioneer brought a wonderful Alaskan personality to light for the conference attendees.
Chas St. GeorgeChas St. George, Director of Public Relations for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, brought a film preview from the newest Iditarod video project, Purely Alaskan, the first in a series of videos highlighting the almost forty years of Iditarod race history. The 90-minute documentary, now available from the Iditarod website, tells the story of the race through archived photos and interviews with more than fifty people, including past champions and other mushers, race veterinarians, Iditarod Air Force pilots, volunteers and others.
Chas St. George had brought more than just the film clip; he also brought along a piece of mushing history in the form of a handwritten letter on the first Iditarod Trail Race stationery from Joe Redington, Sr. to Howard Farley of Nome, dated December, 1972, saying in part, “I thought you might be interested in this race. I need some help on that end…”In an article about the conference for Mushing magazine, Alaskan author June Price quoted St. George:
“‘Joe Redington Sr. put it on the line,’ he said. ‘He put his mortgage on the line. Journalists were following him around calling him a Don Quixote,’ he added, but Redington never wavered. ‘It wasn’t about who won,’ said St. George, ‘but about the journey,’ a sentiment shared by everyone there.
“Redington’s dreams were a huge part of the presentation made by Chas St. George, too. As a set of photos from the Iditarod’s past cycled before our eyes in an endless loop, St. George and others in the audience shared their appreciation of Redington Sr.’s ability to pull others into his dreams. Redington appreciated the history of mushing and lived the lifestyle, yet celebrated its adventure, too. Those gathered for the conference weren’t about just sharing ol’ stories about mushing; they were sharing it in a manner that put it in the words of those who’d lived the journey. St. George acknowledged this, so to speak, noting that the Iditarod’s effort to capture its own history isn’t about us telling the story ourselves, but an attempt to tell it through the words of those who’ve experienced this race.'”
More photos of the 2009 Mushing History Conference can be found at June Price’s weblog, Backstage Iditarod.