Harriman 2001 visits Juneau

PBS film crew documents life on an academic expedition

Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2001

For a group of travelers retracing the 1899 Harriman Expedition to Alaska, daily life is paralleling 102-year-old history.

The 340-foot Clipper Odyssey and the 110 people on board are traveling through Southeast Alaska this week as they gradually make their way to Nome. About 20 people greeted the ship shortly after noon Wednesday as it pulled into Juneau's Coast Guard dock.

Under the leadership of railroad tycoon Edward Harriman, the country's leading scientists, artists and naturalists spent two months surveying Alaska's coast in 1899. The data they gathered is providing context for the modern-day trip.

Poet and Harriman scholar Sheila Nickerson, a longtime Juneau resident who now lives in Bellingham, Wash., has been sharing her poems during the voyage, reading "Hummingbird" during a stop in Wrangell this week.

"Each scholar gives talks or shares his or her expertise. We have lectures, slide shows and demonstrations at least a couple of times a day," she said. "We look at the past, we look at the future and think about how it might be 100 years from now."

In 1899, the writers on board included John Muir and John Burroughs. Nickerson is writing poems during the trip that will go into a book about the 2001 voyage. Each scholar is contributing a chapter, she said.

Find out more about the Harriman Expedition:


Smith College of Massachusetts organized this summer's voyage, and a PBS documentary film crew in collaboration with Juneau's KTOO-TV is following the expedition. The 2001 journey includes about 30 Harriman scholars, Alaska students and teachers, Smith College alumnae and guests, according to Expedition Director Tom Litwin of Smith College's Clark Science Center.

The most significant part of the journey so far has been the repatriation of totem poles and other Tlingit artifacts to the Saanya Kwaan people of Saxman, Litwin said. The items were taken from Cape Fox Village by the original expedition.

Harriman scholar and photographer Kim Heacox of Gustavus said the ship's passengers woke up to the beauty of Tracy Arm on Wednesday. Heacox is documenting the voyage through photos, some of which will end up in the book and in articles about the trip.

He took nearly 400 photographs during repatriation ceremonies in Ketchikan on Monday. The images will be scanned, digitized and archived, he said.

"I'm trying to photograph aspects of Alaska such as waterfronts, what daily life is like, what vehicles we drive," he said.

Heacox also is photographing the people on board the ship.

As workers loaded boxes of eggs and other provisions on to the ship Wednesday afternoon, the travelers walked to the Alaska State Museum. A reception with Gov. Tony Knowles and first lady Susan Knowles was scheduled for later in the day.

From Juneau, the Clipper Odyssey heads to Skagway and Sitka. In Glacier Bay, the participants will listen to a panel discussion about multiple use of resources with input from the park superintendent, Native groups, fishermen and local officials. A similar discussion will take place in Sitka, with a focus on how the town's economy has fared since its pulp mill closed, Litwin said.

Over the past 102 years, not everything has changed, he said.

"The people in Wrangell gave us a photograph of the village from the water in 1898 and a photo in 2001. It's remarkable, the general layout is still quite similar," he said.

But other parts of the voyage are thoroughly modern. The expedition sent an audio-video package from Juneau to Maryland on Wednesday that will be used to update the expedition's Web site, which can be found at www.juneauempire.com under Hot Links. The ship has 20 minutes of satellite time each day to send text files, Litwin said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.

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