Juneau Alaska

Who knew?  It was in Juneau, Alaska, in 1909, that the Birdman of Alcatraz committed the crime that landed him in a prison cell in Kansas. It was a crime of passion- local prostitute Kittie O’Brien claimed a bartender had struck her in the face. Love-struck Robert Stroud shot him, pleaded guilty to murder and was sent to a Washington state prison and on to Leavenworth. It was there he discovered the sparrow nest which led to his study of the birds and the Birdman nickname which followed him to Alcatraz. This is one tale recounted by the Southeast Alaska Tourism Council.

Juneau, a city accessible only by boat or plane, has been the capital of Alaska since 1906. There has been talk over the years of moving the seat of government away from Juneau, but so far that hasn’t happened. The city of just over 30,000 people is filled with charm, a combination of new modern buildings and old narrow streets. Visitors, and the cruise ship industry has brought many, marvel at the city, its location at the base of Mount Juneau and Mount Roberts, and the ease with which sites can be reached by walking. The Alaska State Capitol building was constructed in 1931, and since statehood was granted in 1959, the legislature and offices of both the governor and lieutenant-governor are housed there. The Alaska Governor’s Mansion was designed by James Knox Taylor and completed in 1912. The first open house at the mansion was held on New Year’s Day in 1913, and ten years later Warren G. Harding became the first U. S. president to visit Alaska. Just outside the city is the Mendenhall Glacier, 12 miles long and part of the Juneau ice-field.

It was back in 1880 that two gold prospectors, Joe Juneau and Richard Harris, discovered nuggets “as large as beans” at the mouth of the creek where Juneau now stands. This became part of the gold rush, an exciting and interesting time in Alaskan history. The two men planned a 160-acre town site where a mining camp quickly emerged. The town was the first established after the United States had bought Alaska from Russia for two cents an acre. It was called Harrisburg after one of the founders, but when he fell out of favor with the locals, the name changed to Rockwell and then to Juneau. Over the years, the capital’s economy has benefited from government (federal, state and municipal), fishing, mining and tourism. In 2010, Juneau was recognized as part of the Playful City USA initiative which honors cities that ensure children have adequate play facilities. In modern Juneau, there is a wide variety of fun activities. Both citizens and visitors have opportunities to check out local theatre (Theatre in the Rough, Perseverance Theatre), and music (folk festival, jazz and classics, symphony).

When you visit Juneau, keep an eye open for Patsy Ann.  This bull terrior who came to Juneau in 1929 is the town’s most famous dog and a statue was placed on the cruise ship dock to welcome the many visitors who arrive each year.  In her heyday, Patsy Ann was a media star in the area; her attendance at musical performances and visits tp various businesses were recorded in the Juneau press. After her death in 1942, artist Anna Burke used clippings from dogs worldwide to include in her bronze sculpture.

For more information, visit Juneau’s official website.