The Associated Press: Library of Congress shows off Alaska history

From an 1802 Alaska map made by the Russian Navy to a full-color poster for an 1897 Broadway show on the Klondike Gold Rush, Alaska's history comes alive at the Library of Congress.

The library showed off some of its extensive Alaska collection Friday in honor of the state's 50th anniversary. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Librarian of Congress James Billington marveled at the collection, which contains items dating back more than two centuries, when Alaska was still part of Russia.

The exhibit features dozens of items, ranging from a collection of antique maps to a 3-D view of the Alaskan gold rush to interactive interviews with Alaska veterans recalling World War II.

"Ketchikan, Alaska, where I was born," Murkowski said, as she and Billington studied a 1914 fire insurance map of the city. Murkowski pointed out a public school where her grandmother taught and streets where her aunts and uncles lived.

"This is an incredible resource," she told Billington, as cameras rolled for the taping of Murkowski's "Alaska Report" TV show. The show will be aired this fall.

The library displayed the Alaska collection at Murkowski's request, but officials stressed that nearly all the artifacts seen Friday are available to all visitors upon request. Nearly all the collection is or soon will be online at the library's Web site, http://www.loc.gov.

Murkowski, a Republican, called the display "a wonderful walk through Alaska's history" and said the library's Alaska collection was "an absolute treasure." Moving it online makes the collection even more valuable, she said.

Murkowski said she was grateful that Alaskans from Barrow to Juneau can now witness their own history without traveling to Washington. "It's free, it's there, it's ours," she said.

Billington, who has visited Alaska several times, said the state has "a great galaxy" of historical figures and events and called the items displayed Friday "a tip of the iceberg." The library has extensive holdings on the state's 1867 purchase from Russia, he said, as well as documentation of statehood in 1959 and the 1964 earthquake.

An 1867 map of Alaska was among those displayed Friday. Also featured was a full-color lithograph touting an 1897 Broadway show called "Heart of the Klondike." The poster shows a woman holding up a grapefruit-sized gold nugget in one hand, with a shovel in the other, as a male prospector looks on in envy. The headline says, "The First Big 'Find.' "

The exhibit also includes a stereograph photo of the Alaska gold rush, complete with a 3-D viewer that Murkowski demonstrated for viewers of her TV show. One of the 1898 pictures was later seen by Charlie Chaplin and was used as the basis for a scene in his 1923 film, "The Gold Rush," said Katherine Blood, the library's curator of prints and photographs.

Billington said the library hopes the exhibit will stimulate visitors of all ages to ask questions about history.

"We're here to share as much as we can and level the playing field of access to the nation's memory," he said.

By:  By Matthew Daly. Originally published by the Associated Press on September 11, 2009