The Fact of the Matter Is . . .
From the Files of Gustavus Historical Archives & Antiquities (GHAA)
Q - Many celebrities have come through Gustavus, Alaska over the years on sightseeing tours of Glacier Bay. Who was the “biggest” and most well known?
A - Making a judgment call on THAT would be near impossible as a top celebrity to a ‘devotee’ could be a “don’t care” to everyone else. Perhaps in the end, ratings, box office numbers, etc. would have to tell that tale.
Rating and popularity debates aside, there have been a number of well-known names that have passed through at the peak of their prime in various decades. To name a few—Joan Lunden, Sarah Purcell, Henry Winkler (the “Fonz”), Kevin Costner, Steven Spielberg, Walter Cronkite (working on his memoirs) and Neil Young on his boat the “Harvest Moon”. In fact, it is reported that Mr. Young was in port at Bartlett Cove when he got word of his friend Eric Clapton’s 4 year old son’s tragic death falling from a high-rise window (from which the song No Tears in Heaven was born).
Martha Stewart and her entourage (with all the usual “diva” comments—fair or not) and Clint Eastwood (with boat, jet, and helicopter) along with pal Sondra Locke also visited Gustavus. Although GHAA attempts to steer clear of “gossip”, we understand that Sondra was having a little trouble being entirely civil to locals on the dock who were attempting to help her safely transport a cake from boat to waiting van. A bit “snippy” and insisting on doing it herself, she promptly dropped the cake getting into the vehicle. On the other hand, Clint was given a Gustavus cap by Sylvia Chase and was later seen in an episode on TV wearing it!
Over the years there have been high-placed government officials in Gustavus/Glacier Bay as well—all the way up to Presidents of the United States. But if we HAD to choose ONE name that was also an early part of Gustavus history and perhaps stood “head and shoulders” above the rest, it would have to be John Wayne.
For many years the FAA “rec hall” (today, the small rectangular building with the colorful painting northeast of the gym) sponsored Friday Night at the Movies for their employees with cartoon reels and movies available on loan. Archie Chase or a FAA designee would run the projector, and everyone from the community was welcomed. While we were told by an old-timer that every movie that was shown was their “favorite”, their most favorite of all (igniting the crowd in the little building to root for the good guy) were the cowboy movies starring John Wayne.
The week of September 7, 1969 John Wayne and his young son, John Ethan Wayne, arrived in Bartlett Cove on their yacht the “Wild Goose”. The “Wild Goose” was itself worthy of close-up inspection and talking points as it was a “mine sweeper” in its former life converted by custom order to Mr. Wayne’s specifications. Gustavus residents were unanimously impressed with the Waynes genuine friendliness and especially how John Sr. engaged his young son with the local children while visiting with them in the lodge.
John Wayne was generous beyond expectations leaving a $100 tip to Linda Milsap (Gloria White Milsap’s daughter) for cleaning his room on the boat. At the same time, for nothing at all, he fulfilled priceless dreams of a lifetime for Gene Chase (a huge fan and homesteader who “proved up” in 1962) and his entire family.
Bigger than life on the screen, John Wayne, in person, left no one disappointed and was a first class, down-to-earth gentleman of the highest order. Mr. Wayne promised the locals that if he ever came this way again he would most definitely “stop by”, and then cruised off into the Glacier Bay sunset where he and his son vacationed for several more days. Did he make good on that promise? Did he ever come back? Yes, and yes! He DID visit here several more times in person. And he returned countless other times in every movie re-run the locals could get their hands on!
GHAA Note: Does anyone have a photo of John Wayne in Gustavus? We would love to have one to add to our archive library for every one to enjoy. Thanks!