Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Memoir: A Ten-Year-Old's Summer of Love, Part 2

In 1967, residents of Fairbanks, Alaska were anticipating a rocking and rolling summer.

It was not just The Summer of Love. More importantly in Alaska it was the one hundredth anniversary of the United States' purchase of Alaska from Russia, and a season-long celebration was planned. The Alaska Purchase Centennial Exposition (A-67), held at a specially-constructed fairground on the banks of the Chena River, was underway. A modernistic, circular exhibit and performance hall had been constructed and the old Yukon stern wheel riverboat Nenana, one of the last of its kind, had been floated into a special pond on the grounds. Cabins and historic buildings from the old days of Fairbanks had been moved onto the site to re-create an early gold rush town. Numerous other exhibits were built, and the area was surrounded by a raised berm, on which a narrow-gauge railroad train circled, giving rides and offering a view of the entire site.

Stan Zielinski's balloon (photo by Brian Wallace)
Stan Zielinski, an art professor at the university, flew his bright-red balloon over the town in the evenings, and we rushed out to watch when we heard the roar of the gas-fired burners that provided the hot air to float the ship.

We attended many events at the exposition and wondered at the old stern wheeler, antique cars and planes, train,  costumed characters and many activities that filled the event calendar. Vehicles with out-of-state and foreign license plates jammed the parking lot. Fairbanks probably had not been so busy since construction of the Alaska Highway and the military population boom during World War II.

July 10 was to be a special day for young people. The Turtles, at the time a top-40 pop sensation, were scheduled to perform at A-67. I am not sure, but it probably was the first time that such a popular group had been to Fairbanks at the top of their fame.

Meanwhile, from the day school let out I continued my normal summer activities, playing with friends, exploring the nearby woods, riding my bike, and goofing off.

Then, a little after 9:00AM on June 21, my friend Van (as he later told the story) was standing on the front porch of my house and about to knock on the door. He heard a rush of wings as all of the barn swallows nesting in the eaves of the house left their nests in an instant. A second or so later, Van heard the rattling of the house windows, noticed nearby trees shaking and felt the earth tremble under his feet. Startled, he neglected to knock, and ran home as fast as he could.

Inside the house as Van climbed our steps, my brother, sister, mother and I were in the kitchen cleaning up after breakfast. At the first moment of shaking, I recall thinking that someone must have crashed a car into our house. But the rumbling and rattling didn't stop. The side-to-side and rolling motion intensified, and things began to fall and break around us. There was no time to go outside, and walking might have been difficult anyway. My mother shoved us under the kitchen table, scooted it against an outside wall, and came underneath with us.

As soon as the quake was over the phone rang: my dad calling from work checking to see if we were OK. When she hung up, my mother told us to quickly get dressed and put shoes on, as she picked up fallen objects and swept up broken glass in the kitchen.

Before we were dressed, another tremor hit. We ran downstairs from our bedrooms half-clothed and carrying our shoes. When the first shock had hit, we were too surprised to be frightened. This time, we howled and screamed in fright as we ran to Mom. She gathered up our coats and a large blanket, and took us outside to sit in the middle of the large grassy yard where we would be safe, away from the house, trees and power lines. We spent a good part of the morning there.

All told there were four quakes that morning between about 9:00 and 9:30, measuring between 4.3 and 6 on the Richter scale. There was minor damage all over the Fairbanks area, but no one was seriously hurt and the quakes did not cause major disruptions. We had known moments of terror, but the town had come through relatively unscathed.

The Turtles concert was still a couple of weeks away, but our rockin' and rollin' summer had gotten a jump start. Aftershocks rattled us daily. Despite this excitement, the high water mark of the summer was yet to come.

Soon on this blog: the third and final part of this story.

Text copyright 2017 by Marc Olson. Photo copyright 2017 by Brian Wallace.


  1. Was that the quake that caused so much death and destruction in Anchorage? I still remember watching the news reports about that.
    I am now in Mexico City again, and it is ironic that you write this the same day that I ventured to the Condesa area... a neighborhood that I know so well and which was hard hit by last month's quake.

    1. No, the Anchorage quake was in '64. As far as I know, there were no serious injuries caused by the one we experienced in '67. But with the memory of the earlier, deadly one fresh, and not knowing in the moment what would happen, it certainly was a frightening experience.

      I assume your apartment building there is one of the newer, quake-ready type.

    2. I am now renting an apartment in colonia Napoles. That area is built on bedrock and less prone to earthquake damage. However the apartment building where I used to stay in colonia Condesa had quite a bit of damage.

    3. Yes I read your post. Too bad. I guess you've got some good memories of the old place.

  2. Enjoying your stories, Marc, and look forward to each post!
    Neil in Olympia, WA

    1. Thanks Neil. The blog has been dormant for a good while so I am glad to receive comments such as yours. I am glad to know someone is reading. I am trying to get back into a rhythm of posting more regularly.

  3. Vivid, pleasant reading. Reminded me of Alaskaland where I loved to ride my bike to eat ice cream during the summer. Sometimes I get nostalgic for Alaska then I realize what I really want is to be back there in the exact same circumstances in which I was there before, young, dumb, and full of expectations.


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