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Judge James A. Wickersham's legacy lives on

Posted: August 26, 2012 - 12:09am
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Mike Eberhardt, Southeast Alaska Parks Superintendent, left, talks and has a cup of coffee with John Venables as they sit at Judge James Wickersham's desk in the House of Wickersham on Friday. Venables played the part of the Judge, one of the most influential persons in Alaska in the early 20th Century, during a short parade and ceremony in honor of the Judge's birthday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Mike Eberhardt, Southeast Alaska Parks Superintendent, left, talks and has a cup of coffee with John Venables as they sit at Judge James Wickersham's desk in the House of Wickersham on Friday. Venables played the part of the Judge, one of the most influential persons in Alaska in the early 20th Century, during a short parade and ceremony in honor of the Judge's birthday.

Juneau celebrated Judge James Wickersham Day on Friday with a limousine parade up Franklin Street and birthday cake at the home where the pioneering judge lived out his golden years.

Assembly member Mary Becker read a proclamation on behalf of the mayor’s office, and historian John Venables, famous for dressing up as Alaskan historical figures, wore a black judicial robe throughout the celebration and answered questions from any inquiring visitors.

Bill Ragan is the current curator of the three-story white Victorian house at 213 Seventh Street in Juneau, where Wickersham lived with his second wife from 1928 to 1939. It’s aptly named “The House of Wickersham.”

According to Ragan and Venables, Wickersham was born Aug. 24, 1857, and became one of the most significant Alaskans from territorial days and helped lay the foundation for Alaska to become a state.

Originally from Illinois, Wickersham became a district judge for Alaska’s Third Judicial District, which stretched from the North Slope area to Nome. He was appointed to that post in 1900 by President William McKinley. He crisscrossed his circuit by snow-shoe, sled dog and steamer, and delivered justice to the largely lawless region.

After he resigned in 1908, he was elected as Alaska’s delegate to Congress for a total of seven terms. As a delegate, he won approval for an elected legislature, funding for the Alaska Railroad, and creation of the college that later became the University of Alaska.

Wickersham was also a known adventurer, journal keeper and author. He died Oct. 24, 1939.

The House of Wickersham is a state and national historic site.

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