Excerpts from "Alaska's First Free Mail Delivery in 1900"
by Fred Lockley
By every mail the postmaster received letters from anxious mothers asking him to tell them of the whereabouts of their boys. Some of the letters were very pathetic. Another class of letters that he received were very much the opposite, they were letters from forlorn and anxious damsels enclosing their photographs and requesting the postmaster to kindly hand it to some rich miner who was contemplating matrimony.
At times there would be no opportunity of sending a remittance of surplus money order funds to Seattle, and the safe would contain fifty thousand dollars or more at a time. In view of this fact General Randall, at the request of the postmaster, stationed a guard at the rear door of the postoffice. Night and day one of Uncle Sam's "boys in blue" paced back and forth guarding the office.
It speaks well for the service that so little mail went astray or was lost. Great care was taken to prevent loss or delay. We received one lot of letters which had occupied several months in transit from the States. They were in a damaged condition, and were endorsed "delayed and damaged by accident at sea." Upon another occasion we received several pouches, the contents of which were water-soaked. The pouches of letters had been drenched by the surf in getting the mail ashore. The letters most damaged were laid by the stove to dry. The stamps slipped from most of the letters, and many of the envelopes were unsealed. Many of the addresses were dim and almost illegible. Those that were partially obliterated, or in danger of becoming so, were rewritten. Letters which were about to part company with their envelopes had rubber bands placed around them.
To give an idea of the amount of business transacted I will quote a few statements from the inspector's report for the month of July:
"Twenty-three clerks were employed. This number includes the day and night general delivery force at the postoffice proper, as well as at the paper tent. Also the register and money order department and the carrier force.
A trifle over $136,000 in money orders were issued during the month, the largest day's business being on July 23rd, when $9,252.65 represented the cash received from money orders.
Fifty-one pouches of letter mail, fourteen pouches of registered mail and three hundred and seventy-two sacks of papers were received during the month.
We dispatched forty-six pouches of ordinary and registered letter mail and eighteen sacks of papers.
1,230 registered letters were received and 1,290 registered letters dispatched.
$1,051.50 worth of stamps were sold and $1,293.91 represented the amount of cancellations during the month."
In addition to the unusual sights of Nome, the sound, also were very different from those of an ordinary city. Probably the most insistent sound was the pop, pop, pop of the gasoline launches and tugs, which were always in evidence on the water front. Then the ceaseless high-drawn wail of the Eskimo dogs was never lacking from the medley of sounds. Day and night one could hear the cry, "Cigars, gents, two for a quarter;" "Here's your fresh kay-ow's milk, only four bits a quart;" "Mince pies, hot mince pies;" "Here's your latest outside paper, the 'P.I.,' only a quarter."
One who wandered down the street with his eyes open would run across many famous people: Here Lucky Baldwin with his strong bronzed face; there Captain Jack Crawford, the poet scout, with his long gray locks and fringed buckskin. Across the street Stampede Kate, famous throughout Alaska, with her short skirt and high laced boots.
Though the daylight during June and July was continuous, noonday being little if any brighter than midnight, yet the sun was out of sight for a few hours, setting about 11 p.m. and rising at half-past 2 in the morning. I find this note in my journal for June 30th:
"At 1:30 a faint tinge of pink appeared in the North. Gradually the tinge deepens to salmon and rose. At 2:27 the North is suffused with a trembling play of colors, and the sun rises over the low-lying hills, lightening up the anvil on Anvil Mountain. Now it floods the whole scene with a prodigal profusion of nature's gold--sunshine. The Bering Sea responds to its caress, trembling and sparkling in its robe of sea green and molten silver. The stately ships nod and bow as they ride at anchor in the offing. Far out can be seen a plume of smoke made by a steamer bearing disappointed treasure-seekers whose motto, 'dust or bust,' has turned out to be the latter, and who are now as anxious to sight home as a few short weeks ago they were to sight Nome."