Downtown Flagpole Snaps During Storm, Reveals Time Capsule

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Whitt, communications director, the Office of the Mayor

A very special flagpole snapped during the big storm in downtown Anchorage Tuesday night. The 110-foot Sitka spruce log pole was sent up to the citizens of Anchorage from the city of Ketchikan in 1999, according to a plaque found at the veteran’s memorial on the Delaney park strip where it stood. The wind sheered the pole at the base.

Mike Pollitt works is a carpenter for the Municipality of Anchorage. He spent Wednesday morning cleaning up storm damage downtown. Most of his time was spent at the Veteran’s Memorial on the Delaney park strip near Minnesota.

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage

“A 110-foot pole and as you can see it went south, the wind was blowing southwest and pushed it over,” Pollitt said.

Pollitt says the pole went down Tuesday night as the storm was ramping up, around 10:00 p.m.

“Fortunately it didn’t damage the base or didn’t damage the soldier right there at the road there on Minnesota and it went the right way and fortunately nobody was hurt, that was a big plus, and we’re just gonna clean it up. And I’m sure veterans, either veterans and I’m not sure who it would be, will start the process of trying to get a new pole,” Pollitt said.

A plaque at the memorial says the first Sitka Spruce flagpole was given to the citizens of Anchorage in 1959. In 1987, it says, the original flagpole was trimmed and moved from city hall to the Delaney Park Strip. Then in 1999 a new pole was sent up to replace the old one. Atop the pole was a giant American flag, which blew away during the storm. The pole also held a time capsule in a globe that rested on top of it. Lindsey Whitt, the communications manager for Mayor Dan Sullivan’s office says the capsule was found by a copy editor at the Anchorage Daily News and delivered to city hall Wednesday afternoon.

“Unfortunately it was opened so we’re not sure that we have received all of the contents,” Whitt said.

Whitt says it contained a number of items from around the time the pole went up.

“An old Maxwell House can that looks like it has tar all over it and maybe old duct tape; a poster from May 7th 1961 with a list of firefighter’s names; and a section of the Anchorage Daily News, which cost 10 cents; a penny was also found from 1960 in the can; and a Union 76 gas card from Charles Gillick,” Whitt said.

The Mayor’s Office is looking into what all the stuff in the time capsule means, she says, and anyone with information about the items should call their office. For now, the Parks and Recreation Department has removed the flagpole from the park strip and is storing the pole until the municipality decides what to do with it.

Cal Kerr says he worked as a forester for the Division of Forestry in the 1970’s. Now he says he works in a building right across from the park strip near the flagpole at the Veteran’s memorial. He says he came to check out the pole when he heard it had gone down, and he noticed the signs of rot on the pole right away.

“What we’ve got is a cylinder of rot around the diameter, circumference of the tree. And when it blew over it shattered about half way. And it’s an indication of dry rot,” Kerr said.

Kerr says a Forest Service employee noticed it was rotting several decades ago and recommended it be replaced. Instead the rot was cut off and the shortened pole was set back up.  Kerr says he hopes a new pole can be found.

“It’s time to get a new Sitka Spruce,” Kerr said.

And perhaps it can be protected from rotting like its predecessors Kerr says.

Downtown Anchorage resident, Emery Cupples, says he came to Alaska from Idaho on a Steamboat with his family in the summer of 1940, and he’s seen a lot of change downtown.  He says he remembers when the flagpole originally went up.

“Well, I remember there was quite a bit of news and interest because it was the same time as the veteran’s memorial was put here,” Cupples said.

He also remembers the 1964 earthquake that happened a few years later. Cupples says he feels like the old wooden flagpole coming down is a metaphor for how things are changing in his city.

“Neighborliness has kind of disappeared. It’s lost that small town flavor, the pioneer flavor. People stand next to each other and text back and forth rather than talk to each other. That’s kind a sad,” Cupples said.

And he says hopes the relatively minor damage left in the wake of the big storm of 2012 will serve as a reminder to the people who live in Anchorage now, to get to know their neighbors and to be prepared for when a real disaster hits.

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Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.

Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage.

Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email.

Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.

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