The Fact of the Matter Is. . .
From the Files of Gustavus Historical Archives & Antiquities (GHAA)
www.GustavusHistory.org - by Lee & Linda Parker
This month is GHAA’s part II report of Nell Parker’s long lost, but recently discovered 1937-1942 diary.
Had you been there for the discovery, what would you have seen? Answer: An attic hole smaller than the claustrophobic person who climbed and stuffed herself up there—me. You would have heard creaking overhead as knees broke trail across dimly lit rafters—a virtual nightmare of a cobweb coffin. But then….Marguerite, Nell’s daughter and partner in crime (catching objects down below) would second the won-the-lottery, spiders-be-damned cheer. You may have heard it too! There it was at last—in a tiny box with a stack of old letters, including one from Joe and Muz Ibach that has put us hot on yet another mystery trail. This history stuff could wear one out if it didn’t succeed in killing you first!
Turning the pages we were fascinated by how raw and different the old days of Strawberry Point were—yet how familiar. Nell documented the days she “saw the swans”. Storms raged and winds howled. “The moonlight was beautiful” and “the northern lights put on a show”. July 4th was celebrated with swimming and lunch at Lake Independence (Bartlett Lake) and “singing our way home”. Hunting trips to Pleasant Island with the Matsons produced no venison because there were “too many other hunters”. Everyone who had a boat (and almost all the homesteaders built theirs) spent half their lives working on them. They even hiked Falls Creek.
Yet, it was a different day and age. Prospecting for gold percolated in the hearts of our settlers. When Nell, Glen, and Charlie Parker hiked Falls Creek in 1940, they were staking claims. And on July 4th, 1938 Nell notes that “Leslie (Parker) discovered new claim in Glacier Bay”. It was the rich Leroy claim in Johns Hopkins Inlet, and by late August with exciting assay results, a Gustavus stampede was born. “Just about all moved up here and now installed in tents…everyone prospecting”. Nell, a new bride, exclaimed “My, how we are enjoying our honeymoon”. In their prospector tents, Nell learned to play an accordion, read magazines sent over from Muz, and cooked for everyone—making bread, apple jelly and pie. She took baths at Ptarmigan Creek “in Parker hole”. Occasionally, for some reason, she slept overnight in a skiff. And surrounded by mountains in Glacier Bay, she wrote,“Heard London on radio tonight”.
Back home at Strawberry Point, Nell’s “favorite walk” took her to Peterson’s homestead (above Eldon & Rita Wilson’s), then rowing back to Charlie Parker’s place south of the Salmon River Bridge. She made almost all of Muz Ibach’s new clothes. “Glen planted white lupine,” she writes, and he got a new blue suit from Juneau…”He sure looks swell, my honey bunch”. 12 quarts of strawberries were sold to Excursion Inlet. They were keeping an eye on the Porpoise fish traps. The rare plane that flew over was noted in the diary by nightfall.
Then came the war. December 7, 1941 notes with alarm “Japans declared war on us”. There were imposed blackouts and “a hush fell over everyone” as it began to sink in. In January 1942 while in Juneau for supplies, “a boat the Dupont blew up early this a.m. and everyone thought it was a bombing”. Sailors came ashore on our Gustavus beach “three to nine at a time and enjoyed games and ice cream”. In August of 1943 Gustavus was startled and concerned when….”A convoy went out. Heard big guns. Wondering if a battle was taking place under our noses”. Scary times, but life went on mostly as usual.
The funniest entry? “Glen lost his teeth overboard in Glacier Bay today”. Months later he “had new impressions taken in Juneau”.
Who’d have thunked it category? Really, an accordion taken prospecting to a tent in Glacier Bay?!
A paradox? Nell writes, “Can’t wait to get to town (Juneau) so I can have someone to talk to”. Followed by….”Well, I’m in noisy Juneau….”.
Mystery? Yes! June 16,1940….”3 boys—fish pirates came for dinner”.
Best quote? Nell looked at life in Gustavus as an adventure. “Explored new territory today” was a common entry. But her summation of Glacier Bay while prospecting on October 12, 1938 is simply beautiful. “Glacier Bay is like a large theater which changes acts around once a week and when it lifts its curtain the mountains are more austere and majestic than ever with snow farther down their steep sides each time.”
Dear Nell….Reading your diary about life at Strawberry Point was like a large theater which changed acts every single day. And when the curtain was lifted, we understood more than ever the heart and soul and beauty of this unique and wonderful place. Though you didn’t write it for us to read, we thank you.