04 November 2010

Ch 11, Pt 1: "Mary Storms into Alaska"

Chapter 11: "Mary Storms 
 into Alaska"
, pt 1

click on picture for
larger image: these pictures include the ones which appear in the book for
this chapter.

S.S. Mariposa
The SS
Mariposa, 3.158 tons, built 1883, purchased by Alaska Steamship
in 1911, and wrecked in 1917.
  --UAF, B.Bragaw
Collection, 85-108-116
Mary realized she was going to be sick. Really
sick. The trip to Seattle had been pleasant enough. The S.S. Mariposa
made it all the way to Juneau on relatively calm seas. It rocked gently
but not violently. Then the Alaska Steamship passenger liner entered the
open waters of the Gulf of Alaska. The seas become so turbulent that
Mary could hear the whirring sound of single propeller as it momentarily
left the water before the see-sawing of the ship pulled the bow high
into the air, submerging the stern. The ship also began rocking sideways
much more than she would ever have imagined possible.


We may all die here.
Forget the others. I may die on this cursed thing. Who cares?
Anything’s better than this. I’m sick, sick, sick, and I want
off of this tub . .

What began as an exciting honeymoon excursion culminating in a trip on
the Alaska  Steamship vessel and a train ride into the Copper River
valley was looking increasing like just another one of Stephen’s
business trips. He had taken it upon himself to make all the
arrangements without consulting her. At the time, it all seemed
acceptable to Mary. She was used to her father making all the important
decisions in her life. It was he who had first introduced her to

She first met the man at an extravagant ball in New York City on an
excursion paid for by her father Rufus. Mary was completely taken in by
his quiet charm. She wanted a sophisticated, but well-heeled gentleman.
It would be even more ideal if the suitor was from New York City or
Boston or some other city of culture. After all, she was a debutante of
high social upbringing. Her father, Rufus Rand, headed Minneapolis Gas
Light Company, which placed her high in the elite social circles. She
wanted a man of considerable physical attraction who had the right
background and stature. That wasn’t too much to ask.

Stephen had no blue-blood. He was not a Rothschild or an Astor. Although
Birch’s best man was a Havemeyer and one of his ushers was a
Rockefeller, Stephen’s parents were of humble origins. But relative
unknown though he was, he nevertheless headed that large copper company
and therefore he had power. With the power came wealth and status. He
was tall and attractive. He was from the wrong family, but two out of
three would have to do.

Stephen Birch, Kennecott Copper Corporation

Stephen only recently made his name by virtues of his wild successes in
the copper mining business of Alaska. His fortune originated from some
very far distant and ice-encrusted place suitable only for the very
hardy or foolish. Or, worse yet, the very crude. Mary was not crude. She
was refined and sophisticated. She went to great lengths to let everyone
know that.


How could I have ever let
Stephen talk me into this trip. Why not New York, or Miami. Or
Paris? But Alaska? Eskimos and igloos. Dirty crude prospectors.
No fine exotic food. Dumpy frontier hotels. No culture. No
class. Yeck! If I live through this, Stephen will pay, I swear.

They left New York City in a specially outfitted Pullman private car
built to Stephen’s specifications. The car was comfortable but not
ornate by east coast standards. Stephen liked some of the trappings of
power, but he shied away from the ostentatious. On the contrary, he
showed all the modesty and humility which one would expect from a man
born of common people, much to Mary’s distress.

Someone in the company named the Pullman coach The Stephen Birch,
but Birch re-named the observation car The Kennecott. Birch was a
background player. He did not like to see his name stand out in public.
Mary wanted all the status she could gain through her new husband’s
position. She did not learn until later that the Kennecott had briefly
existed as The Stephen Birch. She was not pleased to learn of the change
of the name, which she through Dermot, one of her husband’s aides. The
change of name robbed her of a small measure of status which was, after
all, her entitlement as wife of the president of Kennecott.

At least the ride through Great Northern Railroad country had been
spectacular. All the accompanying wedding guests were stunned by the
sights along the mountainous part of the route. Mary was more concerned
with what opera would be playing at the theater in Seattle when they
reached that west coast port city. Seattle has been known as a center of
cultural activity since well before the turn of the century. Mary was at
best mildly impressed. No opera was playing when they arrived. Mary
found the Broadway theater production to be vulgar. On the other hand,
she found that the Olympic Hotel was up to the level of catering and
luxurious appointments she required. The entire wedding party remained
in Seattle several days while Alaska Steamship completed the outfitting
of the S.S. Mariposa for this elite wedding party. The steamship company
knocked down walls to convert five rooms into one elegant stateroom for
the new high-society couple. At the same time, arrangements for hauling
the last of the great Mikado Brooks engines were being completed. This
required considerable re-decking for the heavy, Cordova-bound load.


I would think they’d have
been ready for us by the time we arrived at Seattle. What’s
wrong with these people that they don’t know how to properly
plan ahead? Surely they could have used another ship to carry
that huge engine. What were they thinking? Stephen needs to fire
someone for such incompetence and disregard for our comfort

The trip north through the Queen Charlotte Islands and Southeast Alaska
had been stunning. As is typical in this part of the Northwest, the
mid-summer seas were calm. Mary failed to appreciate the sunshine which
followed the honey-mooners as far as Juneau. Such good weather over the
West Coast for three days in a row is rare in this part of the world at
any time. The clear skies revealed a delightful area of prime old forest
land of intense rugged beauty. Even Mary was impressed. She found
viewing such forested fjords in the Alexander Archipelago from the
luxurious comfort of an Alaska Steamship liner to be thrilling. A unique
sense of luxury she never before experienced came with the passage
through the panhandle of Alaska while the snappy waiters did their best
to cater to her every demand. She had many demands.

Yet Mary’s relative good mood did not extend to the help who had to
serve her. The staff learned to dislike Mary intensely. She proved to be
excessively difficult to please while being only too quick to criticize.
Everyone from the captain on down was only too well aware that Stephen
Birch controlled the company which owned Alaska Steamship. The staff was
accustomed to serving middle-class people. This voyage was more like
entertaining royalty. The staff was barely up to the job of continually
anticipating and carrying out Mary’s many demands.

SS. Alaska in Wrangell Narrows

An Alaska Steamship liner, the S.S.
Alaska, works its way through the Wrangell Narrows, north of
  Ketchikan, S.E. Alaska. Alaska Steamship Company was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kennecott Copper Corporation. 

The cruise was not a charter, despite the considerable work done to
accommodate the wedding party. Other paying passengers were aboard. The
ship had a scheduled stop in Juneau. Stephen and the party of
upper-class men and company officials wanted to visit the Treadwell Mine
across the channel and the new Alaska-Juneau Mine This was of no
possible interest to Mary. She was left to her own devices at the
Baranof Hotel, where she was free to terrorize the hotel staff while
Birch and his mining cronies visited those enormous gold producing
operations. Stephen was beginning to appear to be more interested in
business than he was in their marriage. Mary’s predisposition against
Alaska was only strengthened by Stephen’s side trips to those mines.

When the ship left the archipelago and entered the Gulf of Alaska it
encountered a storm which mercilessly pounded the vessel. The 95-ton
locomotive on the reinforced front deck caused the ship to be
excessively top-heavy. It began to toss and roll dangerously. Mary was
sick and felt compelled to leave her stateroom for the outside rails.
She was not the only one, but no one else’s problems mattered to Mary.

Finally the Mariposa steamed itself out of the storm and quietly slipped
into the Cordova harbor, but Mary’s insides told her the ship was
rocking. It would be days before she felt well enough to continue.

Cordova Wharf
Cordova Wharf in 1920 
--Van Cleve Collection

“The trip was ghastly, Stephen. I thought I’d die out there. It looked
like the whole ship would come apart or tip over.”

“We were really worried about losing No. 74. We were afraid it’d break

“Number 74? Stephen, I, your brand-new wife nearly dies on our honeymoon
voyage and all you’re concerned about is an engine? All you care about
are your machines and your mines. Why’d I ever marry you? Some husband.”

“Mary, calm down. I know you didn’t mean that. I’m sorry about that
storm and how sick and scared you must have been.”

“I was frightened to death, Stephen. If I want that kind of experience,
tie me down to the big roller coaster at Coney Island. And sick, I’ll be
sick for days.”

“Maybe coming to Alaska for the honeymoon wasn’t the best idea I ever

“Stephen, I don’t know why I ever let you talk me into this trip. You
know how little I care for wilderness or mining--especially in this
ice-bound Alaskan wilderness of yours. I don’t feel like traveling in
anything now that I’m off that cursed ship of yours. That horrible,
heavy engine you had to bring along caused that ship to sway wildly all
over the place. I don’t care if I ever ride another train again.”

“Darling, Mary, what am I going to do with you? We’re here. We’ve
arrived in Cordova. I’m sorry that the storm was so violent. Didn’t feel
so well myself. Most of us got sick from it, but we still have that
train trip ahead of us. You’ll love it. It’s far better than the much
longer Great Northern run we just took.”

“I don’t want to go, Stephen. If you must go, then go without me.”

“Darling, Earl Stannard built us a special honeymoon cottage at
Kennecott. We have to go. It wouldn’t be right not to go now. You have
to come along. You can do it, Mary, you’ll be all right.”

“Stephen, I’m not going.”

“Mary, you are my wife, and you are going and that’s that. It’s time you
grew up. You are the wife of a man who heads an important American
corporation. Now act your part. You know I do everything I possibly can
to see to your every need and desire. Besides, Alaska is not ice-bound.
It’s not even that rugged anymore, either. Not like it used to be. We
built a modern railroad and transformed the Copper valley region into an
extension of our world-wide copper empire.”

From 1915 until the 1950s, the Kennecott corporate
offices were here in the Equitable Insurance Building, NYC

That must have been what
attracted me to this man. It’s his incredible arrogance.
Stephen, we might just be the ideal couple after all. I love
arrogance in a man if its backed up by power and status. That’s

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