Selection of the Month

Doris Mae Johnson's 1928 "Alaska Trip" Diary

Month: 
November, 2017
Location: 
Center for Pacific Northwest Studies

During the month of May in the 1920s, Bellingham hosted what Lottie Roeder Roth then called the town’s “most distinctive and beautiful community activity” – the annual Tulip Festival. The multi-day event included extravagant floral parades and the ever-popular Tulip Queen coronation in which a Queen and her Royal Attendant were chosen to reign over the festivities. In 1928, Gena Opstad was crowned Queen and twenty-five year old Fairhaven High School teacher Doris Mae Johnson was named Princess. In June of that year, both women were invited on a three-week cruise through the waters of Alaska, during which they visited “the principle Alaska cities on a tour of good will and pleasure.”

Doris Mae kept a journal chronicling her adventures in the North, recounting the day-to-day details of the trip and illustrating them with photographs and clippings. She describes embarking on the S.S. Admiral Watson at Seattle on June 6, 1928, along with Queen Gene and a host of other guests. Captained by Master Charles C. Graham, the ship was destined for several Alaskan ports of call including Ketchikan, Petersburg, Juneau, Yakutat, Cordova, Seward, Seldovia and Kodiak.

While at sea (and not battling bouts of seasickness), the passengers enjoyed gourmet meals, played bridge, sewed costumes and quilts, and attended musical concerts. Excursions in port included visiting the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, and touring seafood canneries where they saw “thousands of frozen fish” including “halibut at least ten feet long.” They also visited Russian Orthodox churches, went souvenir shopping, attended numerous social engagements with local residents, and fended off “terrible” mosquitoes.

Highlights of the trip included sailing past the Columbia Glacier, which Doris describes as “a marvelous sight… just a mass of clear blue ice… too beautiful describe.” She recounts seeing whales, sea lions, huskies, reindeer and even “the cutest bear cub” which was brought back on board to the delight of the passengers. “We had a lot of fun with it,” Doris recalls. On their last night at sea, Doris describes the sun setting in “red, red flame… for hours it reflected gold pink and purple in the skies.”

The Doris Mae Johnson diary is available for public viewing in the CPNWS Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, a unit of Western Libraries Heritage Resources.

Sources:

  • Doris May Johnson diary, 1928, CPNWS Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection, Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, Western Libraries Heritage Resources.
  • Lottie Roeder Roth, “History of Whatcom County,” Vol. I, pp. 782-783, Archives Building Reference Library.