From the moment you step off a cruise ship in Juneau, Alaska you’ll be walking through places where real events have made fiction pale in comparison. Luckily, several of these true stories have been written down! Before your next Alaskan cruise, check out these books to plan your sightseeing and appreciate the history of this port city.
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Patsy Ann & the Docks
Patsy Ann of Alaska: The True Story of a Dog by Tricia Brown, Illustrated by Jim Fowler
Purchase via Amazon | Bookshop
Patsy Ann was a locally owned, deaf dog who somehow knew when steamships were coming up the Gastineau Channel. Between 1929 and 1942 she would run down to the dock to greet each boat as it arrived. Despite the attempts of her owners and dog catchers to corral her, she unfailingly sat at the gangplank of each ship and won over the hearts of the locals. In 1935 the Mayor of Juneau named her “The Official Boat Greeter of Juneau.” When Patsy Ann eventually passed away, all of Juneau arrived at the dock for a memorial and proper burial at sea. In 1992 the Friends of Patsy Ann installed a statue in her honor on the Juneau dock. Today her likeness greets each cruise ship.
The story of Patsy Ann has been recorded in a beautifully illustrated children’s book. Read this book before descending the gang plank at the Juneau port. You’ll find “Patsy Ann” waiting patiently for you at the dock. If you’re heading into Juneau’s downtown to do some shopping and find lunch, Patsy Ann’s platform is a good place to sit on a clear day to picnic with food from the nearby food trucks.
The Lost City of Treadwell
Treadwell Gold: An Alaska Saga of Riches and Ruin by Sheila Kelly | Purchase via Amazon | Bookshop
Across the bridge from Juneau is Douglas Island. Today it houses a small residential area with a library, fire hall, restaurants, post office and a pub. Between 1882 and 1917 Douglas Island was home to a much larger company-owned mining town called Treadwell. At its height, Treadwell Mine was the largest hard rock gold mine in the country and the miners and their families lived above the mine. In 1917, 16 days after the United States joined World War I, the mine caved in and almost overnight the place became a ghost town. People left for war jobs. Eventually a fire destroyed most of the abandoned city. Today the forest has reclaimed the area where Treadwell existed. Informational signs and a walking path through the forest allow you to see cement building foundations, metal cords, and rusted remains poking through the moss of the forest floor, all that’s left of the once bustling company town and hard rock mine. The Juneau City Museum has a printable walking trail map and historic guide on their website for a DIY tour.
While the informational signs will give you some understanding of the historic remains, Sheila Kelly’s book, Treadwell Gold: An Alaska Saga of Riches and Ruin, tells the story of her ancestors who worked for the mine and lived in the company town. You’ll enjoy your walk much more, knowing you’re walking through the same place the Kelly family called home.
Books Are Better Than Ice Cream Anyway
Kendlers’: The Story of a Pioneer Alaska Juneau by Mathilde Kendler | Purchase from Amazon
You won’t see much evidence today that Juneau used to have dairy farms. One silo stands outside a hardware store, and one downtown building gives no indication it was once a dairy. However, if you fly into Juneau you’ll be landing over land where cows once grazed. Today, a used bookstore near the airport, the Amazing Bookstore run by Friends of the Juneau Public Library, stands where the house of the Kendler family once stood. While Mrs. Kendler used to provide ice cream to visitors, today you’ll only come away with books. But that’s just as good, if not better, right?
Mathilde Kendler has put the family history of this now defunct Juneau industry down in a book, Kendlers’: The Story of a Pioneer Alaska Juneau. If you spend any time in the part of Juneau known as “The Valley”, you’ll appreciate this read and know what landmarks to look for that represent Juneau’s dairy history.
The Wolf at the Mendenhall Glacier
A Wolf Called Romeo by Nick Jans
Purchase via Amazon | Bookshop
If you visit the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, you’ll see a taxidermied black wolf above an emergency exit door and a display that will tell you about the existence of black wolves in Alaska. What the display won’t tell you is that the wolf who’s hide now sits above the door, had a particularly strange but true story.
Nick Jans’ book is a first hand account of the unlikely friendship of this lone black wolf and the Juneau community. He became so well known in the community that he was widely nicknamed Romeo. Romeo’s presence in town was a contentious subject. Some felt that as long as he did no harm, he should be left alone while others felt he should be relocated like any of the local bears that become too comfortable and troublesome around humans and pets. Jans book combines first-hand accounts of interactions with the wolf as well as well-researched sections about wolves and their behavior in the wild. So whether you come down on one side of the argument or the other, the book is worth the read. Just be warned, you’ll need tissues for the ending. And you may want to skip the children’s book inspired by Romeo, unless you want to have a discussion about death just before bed.
There are at least a couple of fictional books that have been written based in Juneau, however, the reviews I’ve heard from locals are not good. That’s not surprising when the true stories that happen in Juneau are better than anyone could ever make up. A local author once told me that he added a murder plot to his story because he was afraid nobody would be interested in reading it otherwise. I haven’t read it yet, but so far Alaska has impressed even without the embellishment of fiction.
Map of Juneau Locations Where These Books Take Place
Have you read a nonfiction story about a place that was better than any fictional account? Have you read any of these or other books that take place in Juneau? Have you visited Juneau or do you want to? Let’s discuss in the comments below!
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