Monday, March 5, 2012

Anchorage Fur Rondy Flashbacks 1979-2013

Me, Mary at the 1979 Anchorage Crystal Fanstasy Sculpture,
photo take by Arthur Joe Smith, my first Fur Rondy host.
Now with another Fur Rondy in full swing, I think back fondly to my first Fur Rondy experiences in February 1979. That year besides the multitude of community activities and exhibitions the highlight was an elaborate ice sculptured playground downtown for young and old alike. It was located where the current Sat/Sun Market is on Third Avenue between A-C cuplet across from the Hilton. The weather as usual this time of year wasn’t particularly inviting for outdoor activities. That winter the wind was blasting 70 mph at times creating disturbing chill factors. Nevertheless cabin fever drew one and all out knowing soon, within a couple of months, winter would dissolve into spring.

The special Ice Sculpture display was constructed as a joint effort between Anchorage sister city of Shitosi, Japan and the Municipality of Anchorage. It featured the expertise of a then well known Japanese sculpture artist Toshihiro Takenaka. Doing a google search I found only one entry regarding him in NY in 1989 doing something similar. In a 1980 a $2 Fur Rondy brochure the next year, the following was written about the 1979 event, “thousands of Alaskans passed through the tunnels of ice to enjoy the wonders enclosed within the sculpture walls“. Now when my husband and I search for newspaper articles about the sculpture in the Anchorage newspaper archives scarcely anything can be found about the structures and no in depth articles or photos. But having been there and remembering seeing and visiting it with my own eyes, I know how impressed I was after to live where we had the biggest winter carnival in existence and one that attracted such artists and creations. It made me proud to be an Anchorage Alaskan and still does, just like our never ending snow last year and breaking the record for the most snow recorded for the season.

"Crystal Fancy in Anchorage"   (always sounded like a stripper club)
Toshihiro Takenaka's name for his ice palace

The Ice Palace Boat Creation by Japanese Sculptor, Toshihiro Takenaka

Popular Rondy events that year and for many more before and after included the Miner’s and Trappers Ball which I didn’t attend until 2008, some 29 years later. My husband, Joe and I dressed up as illegal emigrants and went with our young Irish friend and Canadian transplanted husband. We didn’t win a prize but we finally made it to the grand occasion which in many ways had passed its hay day.

Eskimo blanket toss 1979
 Fur Rondy

In 1979 and my first trip to the Fur Rondy, I went to the Eskimo blanket toss downtown, probably even the fur auction put on by Hess and Sons, outdoor carnival rides and of course the customary sled dog races. That year it was won by George Attla as many other times, who currently seems to still be alive at the age of 79. One thing I missed out on back in the day and they no longer have was the Backgammon Tournament with prizes as lavish as a trip to Hawaii. How I wish they had it now and I've known about then.  Not that I would have gone to Hawaii, but to play backgammon as a competive sport for prizes is a dream come true.

A dog event, better than the sled dog races for me however was in 2003 when we had gave our dog Moonshine a shot at weight pulling. Moon was powerful and could have pulled a 1,000 lbs plus and almost did. Joe got confused and stopped her too soon to win that category, but that was ok because Moon was 6 and not a spring chicken anymore. She could have injured herself and that would have not been good. We needed Moon to keep us in line and travel with us in the years to come until 2010 when she passed to the other side.

Joe encouraging Moon to pull in the 2003 Fur Rondy Weight Pulling Event
1979 was my first and last visit to many of those events, but one event that I never miss since its inception in the mid 1980s is the snow sculptures. It is a freebie and anything free always works for me. I particularly enjoyed it when the snow sculptures were held in midtown at the current location of Walmart before Walmarts came to Alaska in the mid 1990s. Those days are gone, the snow sculptures were moved but the good news are they are still free. Of course there is always the parade, the Pioneer pancake feed the Native Musicale gospel sing and the firework display at Ship Creek. Last year we had a king‘s row seat in the upstairs pub at the Snow Goose. We got there at the last minute but lucked into sitting with a family of four whose friends left early.  This year we skipped because it was snowing and we were too old and lazy to go despite it all.

Joe and I also had our fair share of selling Alaskana items during the Rondy primarily Alaska/Polar related books starting with a Fur Rondy trade show at the Sullivan in 1996 and ending with the Sr. Center Swap and Shop at the Senior Center in 2008. Our days of selling books and memorablia are history as are many old favorite Fur Rondy events that will live on only in our memories.

"Joe & Mary at the Fur Rondy Trade Show, Sullivan Arena, February 1996 -
Alaskan Renaissance Books & Booksearch"

This year we are adding a new Fur Rondy activity.  We are taking my neice's "Flat Stanley" from Oklahoma City to see it all. And if you don't know who "Flat Stanley" is, you will have to google it to find out.


  1. Just found your blog and am really enjoying it.

    1. Well thank you very much for making my day. Love your name, "Gypsy Boho".
      Best Regards!