There is no "typical" visitor that stops by the museum. Some already know a lot of local history, some know little, others... who knows--they don't speak much English. :) I've had visitors from the lower 48, Alaska, Argentina, Spain, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, France, Iceland, and Australia, just to name a few.
I open the museum at 10:00 am and see several visitors before noon. I take an hour for lunch (and try to sneak in a nap) and I'm back by 1:00 and stay til 7:00. My primary responsibilities include opening, closing, dusting and sweeping (quite the task here as the roads are VERY dusty--like fine chalk dust), and answering tourists' questions.
When a visitor comes in I usually give them a little background on how we came to acquire most of our items on display: "When the mine closed down in 1938, it was a bit of a shock. There was, and still is, quite a bit of ore at Kennecott and they closed for two years during the depression--no one expected the mines to close and stay that way. On Nov 11, 1938 the train pulled into McCarthy and the conductor said, 'this is the last train that will ever come in or out of here--and I'm pulling out in two hours.' So, the people in McCarthy and Kennecott had less than two hours to spread the word and gather up what they would take with them. That's why we have this beautiful cash register and sewing machines (I gesture to the large antiques); they were valuable but the residents couldn't transport them with such short notice. Their homes remained just as they left them, with the table set for dinner, for nearly twenty years. In the late 50's tourism started cropping up. Weekend visitors would come in and marvel at the homes that had been untouched for so long--and took home souvenirs. We sometimes get items in the mail from family members, of the old tourists, who want to 'return' stolen items."
For those who appear interested in our many photos, I call attention to the Captain Hubrick panoramic shots and say, "'Cap' owned a Kodak store in McCarthy in the teens; at that time, nobody around had ever heard of Kodak. He document changes in McCarthy and Kennecott over the years with his panoramics. He was one of the first people to experiment with panoramic photos and also with tinting photographs. Thus, here in our reading room, we have some of America's first tinted and panoramic pictures."
Others want to hear scandalous stories of the past. For them, I relate, "'McCarthy Rose', who was a prostitute in McCarthy, saved and saved her money. She would keep it in her boyfriend's safe. About the time she had socked away $20,000 she found herself a new boyfriend and decided to leave McCarthy with him and her wealth. Of course, her current boyfriend did not want to lose the money from his safe. When blood-soaked money began to circulate the town and Rose was discovered missing, the locals put two and two together. The man escaped on the train and made his way to Fairbanks. Once there, bloodstained money again began to circulate and the murderer was caught and put in jail. However, the clever sneak escaped! They never found him, but legend says that he escaped to Siberia over the ice bridge."
Other points of interest:
- Dora Keen, the first person (and a woman!) to summit Mount Blackburn, a 16,000 footer, in May of 1912.
- Margaret Harrais, the president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in McCarthy--a town whose lifeblood was connected to bootlegging during the time of prohibition.
- Kennicott had Alaska's first (and only, for a white) x-ray machine. They had wooden sidewalks with steam pipes underneath so shoveling snow was unnecessary.
- McCarthy's highest reported population was 1,600. At that time Anchorage had a mere 200 residents and was not large enough to merit representation on a map.
- Winter temperatures here, reported in historical documents, was frequently reported at less than -50 degrees!
- Miners at Kennicott received $5 for a 10-12 hour shift. In the lower 48, a similar job would pay $2. Many workers would save up their money and eventually plan to leave the mine with their earnings. However, McCarthy laid between Kennicott and freedom; they often made it down the four miles to McCarthy and before they could catch the next train out, they'd spent all their cash on booze, snoose, women, and gambling. The taxi would pick them up and take them back to Kennicott just in time for their next shift. The McCarthy money vacuum was also good for Kennicott as it was a quitting hurdle that yielded a good return of its employees.