Steven's Passage? It's all in a name

Posted: Friday, June 29, 2007

May I as an irascible old curmudgeon express a pet peeve.

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For a long time I have been irked when public buildings are named for living politicians in office.

There seems to be a pandering that upsets the normal flow of historical remembrance.

Much better that an illustrious figure be immortalized after he is dead and buried, if he or she so deserves.

Just lately, for example, among the many tributes is the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute at Lena Point. You can travel all over Alaska and not wet your feet without a reminder. Most glorious is the international airport at Anchorage. Is this not royalty?

It's wonderful to study the place names of Alaska history. A good source locally is Bob DeArmond's "Some Names Around Juneau," printed in Sitka in 1957, and the magisterial work by the United States Government Printing Office in Washington D.C., the 1967 "Dictionary of Alaskan Place Names."

At one time a mundane loving memory may have served as inspiration.

George Vancouver was captain of the Discovery and Chatham in the British expedition in the 1790s to chart the Alaskan coastline. In July of 1794 in the 3rd volume of his work published in London in 1798, on page 253, he writes:

"The weather was dark and gloomy, and as the day advanced the wind blew strong from the southward, attended with much rain. At breakfast time a point called by me Point St. Mary's was reached forming the north point of a bay, which I named Berner's Bay. The south point of the bay I named Point Bridget."

Berners was his mother's maiden name and Bridget her first name and St. Mary's Wiggenhall her birthplace.

In the "Tlingit Indians" by Aurel Krause published in Jena, Germany, in 1885, and translated in an English edition by Erna Gunther, on page 69, he wrote:

"The Takus have, just like the Auks, settled in large numbers near the prospector town of Juneau. Named after the swift river running through the valley there, the latter place is known to the Tlingit as Tsenta-ka-hini. We have the wonderful remembrance recreated in our time in our fine middle school.

Let me close with an affectionate memory of Sen. Ted Stevens, currently in a time perhaps of travail for him and his family. I served with him in 1965 and 1966 in the Alaska House of Representatives, where only a slim 10-member Republican minority was present. I often thought as he spoke so powerfully that he reminded me in character and stature of Daniel Webster, the great pre-civil war senator from Massachusetts.

• Lifelong Alaskan Elton Engstrom is a retired fish buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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