Many states have museums that boost their histories and resources. They are usually close to the state Capitol building. The ones in Maine and Wyoming are especially memorable. The Alaska State Museum is now in its capital Juneau but closer to its port than the capitol. It opened in 2016 and seems still new. It’s definitely worth a visit because it encompasses the entire state history and includes all of its native groups, which are many and varied. They range from the Tlingit culture of the Inside Passage to the unique lives of the Arctic natives to the very different people who inhabit the Aleutian Islands.
There are at least 30,000 items of interest on display at all times in this State Museum, and it can be exhausting if you try to view them all. I would suggest limiting your visit in time to 2 hours and choosing areas of interest rather than trying to see it all and failing. Pay special attention to the I Spy game created by Jeff Brown, the so-called Minister of Merriment, for visiting children. Displays seem to focus on the human history of the state, which struck me as wise. Its curators seems to have special interests in the baskets that are unique to each area, salmon fishing, Alaska’s varied animals, its specialized boats, and its totally unique history that still seems contemporary when compared to other states. It is, all in all, worth a visit.
There seems to be more local art on display in this vast new building than is usual for State Museums. There was a hat very similar to the one I was about to see in Haines Sheldon Museum that is both a Tlingit treasure and the star of its splendid collection. It had been recently appraised as being worth more than a million dollars.
The story of Alaska’s native population began more than 10,000 years ago and continues. This museum has wisely attempted to try to tell Alaska’s story, warts and all, from their beginnings when they crossed the Bering Strait and settled in this vast expanse of virgin territory. It goes on to develop and explain its later years when Russians followed the early natives to Alaska and developed a culture with their specific influences that lasted for a couple of hundred years and culminated in the purchase of Alaska from the US government during its Civil War. The story of William H. Seward’s purchase of Alaska is an especially vivid part of Alaska’s history and best told in Sitka at a state historic site I was lucky to visit. Seward was, perhaps, the most important Secretary of State in US history. Many in Washington were very opposed to his purchase of Alaska and vocal about it.
On this trip Ruth and I were lucky to spend time in the town of Seward. This was our first visit to this very Alaskan town, and I was not the least bit surprised to find a museum there devoted to the Good Friday earthquake that severely affected this fishing town. This earthquake was centered only 95 miles from it, and it was in the path of the tidal wave caused by this 9.2 magnitude tremor. The museum about it is in Seward’s library. The most interesting woman we met in Alaska was driving a bus in Seward. She was a long-term resident of Unalaska in The Aleutians and was only in Seward for this one summer. It was a treat to talk to her, and I’m sure she doesn’t often get the chance to talk to someone who has spent some time on her island.