Towns Named Albany

There are lots of towns named Albany in the world. I have been to 3 of them. They tend to be stand alone communities wherever they are. There are 12 of them in the US with significant populations that are usually listed in atlas population figures, and 7 more in the US including a big Albany in the Bay Area of California north of Oakland with 20,000 people living in it. Like other towns, people who use this name tend to add words to it. The Albany in Iowa, for example, has “New” in front of its name.

The largest Albany in the USA is a capital city. In fact, it’s the capital city of New York State with almost 100,000 living there. I have been to it and.the Albanys in Oregon and Australia. The Albany in Australia has an unforgettable attraction and a funny thing happened to me in a hotel there.

There’s even an Albany in Missouri, my home state. To my knowledge, I have not been there. It’s in the part of the state I am least familiar with, the northwest. It remains a fairly large town with a population just under 2,000 and it stands alone. It has not, in other words, been absorbed into a larger community. The reason why there are so many viable towns name Albany has to do with its derivation, not its constant use. Albany is a Gaelic word in Scotland, and there is a Duke of York and Albany in the royal family. No wonder its use has spread throughout the former empire!

There are 2 Albany’s in Canada. One is in Nova Scotia and the other is on Prince Edward Island. The Albany in Nova Scotia has a “new” in front of it too and is near the town of Albany Cross.

The Albany in Australia is a town of 34,000 and is known for its beach culture. It has a Mediterranean climate and a dog sculpture that is quite realistic and worth seeing. It began as an enormous rock. We checked into a motel there and had a mechanical problem in the room. I reported it to the staff, and an employee came to fix it. He began by asking me if I happened to have a needle nosed pliers in my suitcase. The answer was “no” since I am not in the habit of traveling that far with tools.

There is even an Albany in New Zealand. It’s a suburb of Auckland. This is a great city but not my favorite city in this country. It is, however, where Ruth visited a Maori school. I loved a town on the South Island that was later mostly destroyed by an earthquake. It was called Christchurch and has kept that name.


Totems Everywhere

There is an aspect of Northwest travel that I have completely avoided for no reason–totem poles. They are everywhere you go when you’re on your way to Alaska while cruising the Inside Passage. Emily Carr, the great Canadian painter, focused on deteriorating ones in her art. We met a doctor at the Bill Reid Gallery in Vancouver who had been to the former Queen Charlotte Islands, now a repository of native culture and a place to study totem poles by the score, and she talked about them being everywhere she went. She encourage Ruth & me to go and see them like she had. We saw hundreds of totem poles as we made our way to Alaska. What is more important than totem poles as a symbol of culture while one learns about the native people of Canada and the US? Nothing. So I had to write about them.

Totem poles, those ubiquitous examples of Northwest culture, are certainly misunderstood. We first focused on the many totem poles installed in Stanley Park before even getting on the ship to where they are everywhere. Most believe that they are worshipped religious items outside the homes of native tribes from Vancouver to Alaska and beyond. This would not be completely accurate. Experts differ on the use and importance of totem poles to the various tribes who installed them. Most claim there are 8 or 9 reasons for their use. Some were carved to honor important tribal members. Some claim that most totems record important events. Most agree that the history of totems speaks of the lineage of the people in the dwellings behind the poles. All totem poles seem to record particular animals important to tribal members and are carved cedar logs that stand 20 to 30 feet high outside homes. They are clearly works of art and critical to understanding the humans who erected them and then watched their colors fade. Almost all totem poles focus on an animal important to the social group inside the dwelling behind them like an eagle, a raven, or a wild sea creature often seen. Totem poles accurately tell about people, perhaps those who have died and\or events that the group considers critical to their existence. I began considering totems and hoped to show that they are different from each other, but they are actually quite similar and the symbolic nature of the icons on them is fairly universal.

Ketchikan was our first stop where there were many totems to see. They were basically in 3 spots around this town but perhaps the most important of these was the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. In Wrangell totems could be seen at the Kiksadi Totem Park and in its main museum that also has a tribute to Wyatt Earp who was once marshal there. In Sitka and Haines there were totems at both Sheldon Museums. It was not hard to find totem poles everywhere Ruth & I went.


Towns Named Fulton

This town name didn’t start off promising, but it got so interesting that I decided to include it anyway. There are supposedly 24 towns named Fulton in the United States. Robert Fulton did not invent the steamboat as reported. That was James Watt. Fulton, however, made travel by steamboat a reality. He was an engineer and inventor who made the first commercially successful steamboats. In 1800 he was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte to develop the world’s first submarine, which he did with a means of transport called The Nautilus, the world’s first submarine. Fulton died at the age of 49 and was buried in New York, not in Lancaster, PA, where he had been born and worked.

So are there 24 towns named Fulton out there? Yes, there are. However, most of them are tiny and have not thrived. However, there are 7 Fulton’s that are fairly large today and about 38,000 people live in a town named Fulton. The largest Fulton is in the state of Missouri. It is a town near the main campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia, which has quite a positive reputation. Winston Churchill’s famous Iron Curtain speech was delivered by him in Fulton, MO, at a college. Its name is Westminster. There is a better than average museum about Churchill in this town of about 13,000 people that Ruth and I have been to. Churchill developed into quite a painter, and this is the only place I have seen his works on display. I also saw some of his pipes there. Robert Fulton has been honored in books, sculptures, and on postage stamps. After he built the first submarine for Napoleon, he developed some torpedoes.

Winston Churchill portrait from British money – five pounds

Most but not all of the towns named Fulton were named for this inventor and developer of the steamboat, one of the most important inventions in human history. For example, there’s a town named Fultondale is Alabama. It was not named for Robert Fulton. It began as a mining town, and 2 places joined together to name it. They were Fulton Springs and Glendale. The Fulton in Illinois was named for Robert Fulton, but the Fulton in California was named for Tom and James , the town’s founders. The Fulton in Arkansas was named for a former Governor. There are 8 counties in the US named Fulton. Seven of them were named for Robert Fulton, but the lone exception is the county in Arkansas that was not named to honor him.

For the record, the 6 viable towns named Fulton that still exist and are doing well are in Mississippi, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, and Texas. Fulton, New York, is a town of about 12,000 people northwest of Syracuse and not near where he died. Fulton died in New York City. Fulton, Texas, is a small town northeast of Corpus Christi.

US postage stamp: Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) British Conservative politician.


Pronounced Soo Word, Not Seward, Alaska

William Seward was perhaps the most important Secretary of State in US History. The statue of him above is a landmark in Juneau. There is a town named after him in Alaska. Seward is a divided city of about 2,700 people 127 miles almost due south of Anchorage on a drivable highway. Ruth and I had not been to Seward until this cruise. I recently learned that Seward, like Lincoln, was assassinated. He was stabbed in the throat and later died as the result of his injuries.

When I say that the town of Seward is divided, I mean that it’s in 2 parts and both might be considered rather gritty. We spent all of our time there in the commercial section among Seward’s many parking lots after disembarking from our cruise ship, and we had a tour of the town as the result of bonding with a lady from Unalaska. She was spending the summer in Seward after leaving her Aleutian Island home. Maybe the fact that I had been there caused her to talk more about her island, her husband, and her children. She did not seem in especially good health, so I wondered if her summer on the mainland had something to do with her decision to leave Unalaska temporarily. She had learned Seward well, gave us a good tour of it, and dropped us where we could catch our bus to Anchorage. I’m sorry I did not get her name.

The town of Seward is adjacent to Kenai Fjords National Park. The part we were now in was mixed businesses and a boat harbor, not new developments. We did find a popular restaurant across the street with coffee, food, and a usable restroom while we waited for our bus to return. We had spent the previous day staring at the Harding Ice Field and Exit Glacier, which has unfortunately receded a lot due to global warming and other factors. This glacier is considered the #2 attraction here. #1 is the National Park. Other attractions that we could have gone to included the Kenai Fjords Visitor Center, the harbor that included a mix of available fishing boats, a library that doubles as a museum, the Van Gilder Hotel, and the renowned Alaska Sealife Center that was within walking distance. Sea Life’s proudest accomplishment is the rehabilitation of damaged sea life. This aquarium ‘s main attractions for both of us included octopi and puffins. Its octopus encounter is especially popular, but we had watched an octopus for hours at an aquarium while on our way to the Gulf Islands so were not especially interested now.

Seward has had an interesting history. It was the town closest to the epicenter of the largest earthquake in history, a 9.2 monster that was centered just 95 miles from it. It was supposed to be the start of the famous Iditarod Race that ends every year in Nome, which is far away from Seward but another city won that honor. It is the mural capital of Alaska.

While we waited for our bus to Anchorage, a city that now looks like any other, we were joined by a cruising couple from Memphis. They had nothing good to say about their city in Tennessee. We liked our bus trip to Alaska’s largest city, and it gave us the opportunity to reminisce about 2 attractions from the past, The Turnagain Arm and the Alyeska Ski Resort that is unfortunately 35 miles from Anchorage and a very cold place to ski. Seeing the mud flats gave the bus driver an opportunity to warn all passengers to avoid them when the tide is coming in.



I thought and thought about what I could possibly say about bears that was original to me. I didn’t want to write about what someone else learned about bears and publish it as my discovery after finding out about it, but I failed to learn something that only I knew about bears. So what follows came from Moon Alaska and was apparently learned by Lisa Maloney. Lisa lives in Anchorage and writes about Alaska for Moon and other publications. She has probably seen wild bears on many occasions.

I have had close bear encounters two times. Neither was personally threatening. What was threatening was a film I saw in Canada about bear attacks. It was so vivid that I hoped never to have a similar encounter while by myself. The film really frightened me. I have put myself in harm’s way repeatedly over the years but have been lucky not to have had an actual face to face with a bear. I have never met one in the wild even though I have been to Kodiak Island and other places in Alaska where they live. I have talked to people who have seen them accidentally and never want to be confronted with a bear. My 2 meetings with real bears were encounter enough to last a lifetime and not make me crave another.

Ruth and I accidentally saw a bear family crossing a road up on Mount Rainier once. It was an unforgettable experience but short-lived. Another time I watched for hours in the town of Aspen, CO while a trapped bear tried to decide whether or not to cause an incident at a weekly market. He decided not to cause a problem and leapt toward a honey display without actually scoring food. He climbed a tree near the booth and stayed for hours. The police tried to get the gathered crowd to leave the bear alone and go get lunch instead, but no one paid any attention to his request to leave. I was included among those who stayed to see what would happen. This was not among my proudest moments. I deserved to have a genuine bear encounter but did not.

What I learned from Lisa is that there are basically 3 types of bears in Alaska: black, brown, and grizzly. People associate bears with this state and actually hope for an encounter. It’s the one animal they hope to see there, but most don’t. Ruth and I have seen foxes and elk and other large animals in the wild but not bears. I am really glad to have avoided such an encounter and, after seeing the movie in Canada, am very glad to have avoided such. They can weigh up to 350 pounds and can be mean to humans they meet. Blacks are fine climbers so scurrying up a tree is no solution, and they can run up to 35 mph for short times. They are usually encountered by humans while they are foraging for berries or salmon and we spot them.

What Lisa told me is that black bears are not always black. They can even be white like polar bears. Relying on color is to cause trouble for yourself. There are upwards of 100,000 black bears in Alaska, so seeing one is not unreasonable. A more reliable guide to which type of bear you have met are face and body shape. Black bears have prominent ears and long, straight noses. They also lack a pronounced shoulder hump that can be seen always on a brown or a grizzly. Can you imagine checking out a bear for its type under any circumstance? Meeting a brown bear on Kodiak or near Nome is actually less likely than not. Browns and grizzlys are the same type of bear, and meeting any of these three is to be avoided whenever possible. More about bears coming up later.