Sunday, January 2, 2011

Our Final Frontier

Magnet # 432:  Map of Alaska

Material:  Wood, Laminated Paper

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Tomorrow, Alaska marks the anniversary of the day in 1959 when they became the nation's 49th state.  Given its proximity to Russia, it's almost amazing how long it took the Asian nation to discover its location.  But it wasn't until Czar Peter the Great, perhaps inspired by Columbus' discovery, wanted to find out if there was land connecting Asia and North America that Danish explorer Vitus Bering was sent to the area in 1725.  With his party, he crossed over 6,000 miles in Russia to make it to the Kamchatka Peninsula, where they built a ship for their voyage.  In 1728, they reached St. Lawrence Island and became the first Europeans to set foot on what would become Alaska.  But heavy fog prevented Bering from seeing the mainland.  Still, he brought back sea otter pelts when he returned to Russia, and they were soon considered to be the finest furs in all the world.  To obtain them, more Russian traders and hunters began making their way to the Aleutian Islands and eventually the Alaskan mainland.  The first permanent European settlement was established there in 1784 on Kodiak Island by Russian trader Gregory Shlikof, who wiped out hundreds of the natives in the process.  But Russia wasn't going to enjoy exclusive control over the area.  Explorers from Britain, France, and Spain, who had prior claims to the west coast of North America through the papal bull of 1493, were all soon coming to the territory.  Spain was particularly assertive, sending a number of explorers to assert their control of over the area.  But they eventually gave up on the area, transferring their claims to the United States in 1819.  Russia continued on there, prospering for a time with its trading firm, the Russian-American Company.  Still, they never managed to fully colonize the area  and over time, the company fell into decline, partially because so many fur-bearing animals had been killed off.  At last, Russia was eager to be rid of the territory and offered to sell it to the United States.  The Secretary of State William Seward was eager to take it off their hands and agreed to buy it, despite some opposition.  The country paid $7,200,000 to Russia and the exchange was made on October 18 of 1867.  Alaska was finally in the hands of the United States, where it remains to this day.  The area remained relatively abandoned until gold was found nearby and, later, within Alaska itself.  Prospectors and others in search of striking it rich flooded the area.  Alaska introduced its first statehood bill to Congress in 1916, but it didn't actually achieve that status for over forty years.

Alaska is one more state that I haven't been to, but it certainly seems like a visit there could be pretty exciting.  My parents went there last year, and they had a great time cruising the Inner Passage, traveling on the rails, and flying over a glacier.  It certainly sounds like a fun trip, and they managed to see some of Alaska's biggest cities - Juneau, Fairbanks, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Seward were all on the itinerary.  I've gotta admit, one place in Alaska I'm not particularly excited about seeing is their State House building.  Yes, I know, I've made a goal to tour all of the state capitols in the nation, but this is one many of the capitol collectors rank at the very bottom of their lists.  This building is perhaps the most unremarkable of all the capitol buildings, with no dome, no pediment, no statues at the top, not even a slanted roof.  It's basically a six-story office building with four columns stuck on at the front.  I guess it's a testament to the simplicity of the Alaskan people, but when the structure is compared to truly incredible state capitols, like those in Connecticut and Texas, it kinda seems like they're not even trying.  I've also heard during my travels that this one may be poorly staffed, and that it can be difficult to get a stamp for the collector passport there.  I guess this is one place I'm putting off going to, in the hopes that it may be improved upon in the future.  Apparently, there has been talk of replacing it and I think that's a good idea.  Come on, Alaska, you don't want people to call your state capitol the worst in the country, do you?  That aside, the Last Frontier is a great place to see all sorts of undeveloped nature and creatures of the wild.  It sounds like a pretty amazing place, and I hope to make the journey out there someday.

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