Party like it's 1929

Posted: Friday, September 16, 2005

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

Often as I've read of the 1920s and '30s in Wrangell, Tenakee Springs and Juneau, I'm struck by how people enjoyed all-night partying.

I don't mean just sitting in a bar nursing a drink, but engaging in organized revelry.

My mother, Thelma, taught high school in Wrangell in 1928 when she wrote in her diary:

"Saturday, March 17. Bought a new dress, red crepe, bright and pretty from K Harvey for $18.75. There was a big dance in the evening, had a wonderful time, got in at 5 a.m."

On Halloween she wrote:

"Was at the print office (Wrangell Sentinel) till 11 p.m. Then Elton came down (my father and mother married in Juneau in 1929) and we went to the ANB dance. Had good dances and lots of fun. Home at 2 a.m., very tired. Boat came in, the Aleutian, watched it from end of the dock."

And on Friday, Nov. l8:

"Am so glad it is Friday. Am going skating with Elton at 7. Received an invitation to dinner at Mrs. Whaley's. Thanksgiving Day. Vide also going." (Vide was a fellow Wrangell school teacher who later married Bob Bartlett, Alaska's first U.S. senator.)

In the April 2005 issue of the Store Door, a history quarterly put out by the residents of Tenakee Springs, a column brings back a night from long ago originally reported in Tenakee's Home News:

"At a dance and party given by the Tenakee chapter of the Old Maid Guardians Against Eligible Bachelors held in Suzy Q's Studios over the Sucker's Beauty Saloon, at about 1:30, the dancing stopped and all those present hobbled over to the home of Dermott O'Toole, where they were served French cocktails and rice. Swedish biscuits were served to all Norwegians present." (This is an ethnic joke that people of Scandinavian heritage would appreciate.)

"After lunch, dancing was resumed to music furnished by Horo Scope's Star Dusters. The party broke up at 4 a.m., and everyone went home to eat breakfast."

Store Door is one of the best buys in historical reporting. I don't know of a finer historical publication in all of Southeast Alaska. Bob Pegues is one of Tenakee Spring's leading historians and has a featured column in Store Door called Yesterday's News.

Subscribers can get four issues a year by paying annual dues to the Tenakee Historical Collection, P.O. Box 633, Tenakee Springs, 99841. The dues are $5 for students and $15 for adults.

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

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