Monday, September 28, 2015

The ghosts of Candle's Fairhaven

Fairhaven Hospital in Candle, Alaska. Copyright ©Joe May
I'm trying something new for this blog, a guest post. I have known Joe May for 35 years. I first met him when I was working on my first book, The Last Great Race, and his candor with me was a big part of what made that book much better than it might have been. That was during the 1979 race and the next year he won. Later on he officiated in several races. Most of us who have followed the sled dog race trails and spent time in one of the historic buildings along the way have felt something like this. What follows here is Joe's experience during the All-Alaska Sweepstakes, the 100th anniversary of the Nome-to-Candle race in 2008. – Tim

By Joe May

I worked as Race Judge at Candle on the 2008 centennial running of the All Alaska Sweepstakes ...  the most enjoyable race I've ever been involved with. Rummaging through old notebooks tonight I came upon a photo and caption that I wrote but never used. Belated as it is, it seemed too good not to share.

Candle, Alaska, 2008
Built at the beginning of the 20th century, it stands resolute, square, and unadorned–like the miners who built it. Constructed of salvaged barge timbers, it stands apart from a gaggle of crumbling cabins on a hillside above the Kiwalik River – as if in quarantine. The linoleum in the pantry is stamped 1902 – as would be the cornerstone of any important building in New York, Paris, or London.

Much of the history in its walls is as lost to time as is the gold from the nearby creeks and the men who dug it. Left behind is an aura, a vacuum, that susceptible minds easily fill with ghosts and shades from Candle's past – the moilers and mushers of Jack London and Robert Service.

Race officials, vets, checkers, timekeepers, and a cook used the old hospital as a bunkhouse and HQ for the half-way checkpoint of the 2008 All Alaska Sweepstakes centennial race. The Fagerstrom and Sherman families, owners of the property and seasonal residents of Candle, had volunteered to help with the race. Peggy Fagerstrom and Mike Sherman, siblings and Alaska Natives with roots in Candle, had been born in nearby Kiwalik and wove the past into the present. Dorothy Sherman cooked caribou ribs and moose stew for the crew. Mike did “water, wood, and turned frozen sheefish into sushi." Peggy Fagerstrom was "house mother" and her husband, Chuck, a man of infinite calm, was keeper of the official time sheet and general custodian of the bubble of time that engulfed us all.

Of an evening, supper done, stories told, sleeping bags unrolled, a single lantern hissed and wrestled shadows in the far corners of the lower room. An unseen presence stirred and claimed the attic spaces for its own in spite of murmurs from downstairs watch-keepers. Rafters shifted, floorboards creaked, and vagrant williwaws whispered a cryptic refrain in the eaves, “time to go ... time to go ... time to go."

A plaintive dog wail from the river – or perhaps an errant echo returned from the hills, a hundred years lost, seemed to say, “we're ready – get your ass down here."

It was no stretch to imagine John “Iron Man” Johnson, Scotty Allen and Leonhard Seppala padding about an upper room in stockinged feet – careful not to wake the competition – gathering up dried harness, parka and mitts, in preparation for another go at the trail – with always a notion to steal a march .... it was a game of “winner take all. "

Listening intently, one could easily imagine a footfall in the dark stairwell – the muted squeak of a rusty hinge–as the outer door closed – ever so softly – and the receding crunch of mukluks on the midnight snow – hurrying away, down the hill – down the hill to the waiting dogs ...

Wavery windows, weathered doors
Papered walls and slanted floors.
Ugruk soles upon the stair,
Sepp's a-stealin
light as air.
John and Scotty—

Entire article and photograph copyright © Joe May, 2015


  1. Joe . . . the images and story bring the place, people and the rich tapestry fabric of the story to life in such a way I am wrapped in the word picture to the point I can taste and feels the "realness," as if I'm there too . . . along with Curt. Thanks for sharing this – Patty Friend

  2. My parents lived in the Fairhaven Hospital building during the winter of 1933-34 when the building was used as a radio station by the Army Signal Corps. Dad, Larry Burrow, was transferred there from the Nome radio station in August, 1933 and soon after telegraphed his marriage proposal to Mom, Aileen Spaeth, who was teaching school in Nome. She flew up to Candle on Sep 3,1933 and they were married that evening by the US Commissioner/Postmaster and lived in the hospital/radio station for the following year. The station was closed down in September 1934. I have photos from their time there and letters which Mom wrote to her mother every week.

    I met Peggy and Chuck Fagerstrom during a visit to Nome in 2012 but have not had a chance to visit Candle.


Interesting quotations

· " “Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” — Ernest Hemingway

When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth. Kurt Vonnegut

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” Stephen King

The thing about ignornance is, you don't have to remain ignorant. — me again"

Never debate with someone who gets ink by the barrel" — George Hayes, former Alaska Attorney General who died recently

My dear Mr. Frost: two roads never diverge in a yellow wood. Three roads meet there. — @Shakespeareon Twitter

"The mark of a great shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling," Adm. Ernest King, USN

Me: Does the restaurant have cute waitresses?

My friend Gail: All waitresses are cute when you're hungry.

I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stared at walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. – Meg Chittenden

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

If the muse is late, start without her – Peter S. Beagle

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence -- Bertrand Russell

You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper.—Jackie Faber, “The Wake of the Lorelei Lee”

If you attack the arguer instead of the argument, you lose both

If an insurance company won’t pay for damages caused by an “act of God,” shouldn’t it then have to prove the existence of God? – I said that

I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial. – Eugene O’Neill

German General to Swiss General: “You have only 500,000 men in your army; what would you do if I invaded with 1 million men?”

Swiss General: “Well, I suppose every one of my soldiers would need to fire twice.”

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.—Gloria Steinem

Exceed your bandwidth—sign on the wall of the maintenance shop at the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

One thing I do know, if you keep at it, you usually wind up getting something done.—Patricia Monaghan

Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world.—Brett Arends

It is a very simple mind that only knows how to spell a word one way.—Andrew Jackson

3:30 is too late or too early to do anything—Rene Descartes

Everything is okay when it’s 50-below as long as everything is okay. – an Alaskan in Tom Walker’s “The Seventymile Kid”

You can have your own opinion but you can’t have your own science.—commenter arguing on a story about polar bears and global warming

He looks at three ex wives as a good start—TV police drama

Talkeetna: A friendly little drinking town with a climbing problem.—a handmade bumper sticker

“You’re either into the wall or into the show”—Marco Andretti on giving it all to qualify last at the 2011 Indy 500

Makeup is not for the faint of heart—the makeup guerrilla

“I’m going to relax in a very adult manner.”—Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti

“Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet.”—a roundtable participant on Fox of all places

As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her.—me again

Hunting is a “critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison.”—a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

I can’t belive I still have to protest this shit – a sign carriend by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration

Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

"He's got to have the lead if he's going to win this race."

"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

"NFL to put computer chips in balls." Oh, that's gotta hurt.

"Now that you're in the finals you have to run the race that's going to get you on the podium."

"It's very important for both sides that they stay on their feet."

This is why you get to hate sportscasters. Kansas beats Texas for the first time since 1938. So the pundits open their segment with the question "let's talk about what went wrong." Wrong? Kansas WON a football game! That's what went RIGHT!

"I brought out the thermostat to show you how cold it is here." Points to a thermometer reading zero in Minneapolis.

"It's tough to win on the road when you turn the ball over." Oh, really? Like you can do all right if you turn the ball over playing at home?

Cliches so imbedded in sportscasters' minds they can't help themselves: "Minnesota fell from the ranks of the undefeated today." What ranks? They were the only undefeated team left.

A good one: A 5'10" player went up and caught a pass off a defensive back over six feet tall. The quote? "He's got some hops."

Best homonym of the day so far: "It's all tied. Alabama 34, Kentucky 3." Oh, Tide.

"Steve Hooker commentates on his Olympic pole vault gold medal." When "comments" just won't do.

"He's certainly capable of the top ten, maybe even higher than that."

"Atlanta is capable of doing what they're doing."

"Biyombo, one of seven kids from the Republic of Congo." In the NBA? In America? In his whole country?

"You can't come out and be aggressive but you can't come out and be unaggressive."

"They're gonna be in every game they play!"

"First you have to get two strikes on the hitter before you get the strikeout."

"The game ended in the final seconds." You have to wonder when the others ended or are they still going on?

How is a team down by one touchdown before the half "totally demoralized?"

"If they score runs they will win."

"I think the matchup is what it is"

After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

"That was a playmaker making a play."

Best headlines ever

Sister hits moose on way to visit sister who hit moose.

Man loses his testicles after attempting to smoke weed through a SCUBA tank

Church Mutual Insurance won't cover Church's flood damage because it's 'an act of God'

Homicide victims rarely talk to police

Meerkat Expert Attacked Monkey Handler Over Love Affair With Llama Keeper

GOP congressman opposes gun control because gay marriage leads to bestiality

Owner of killer bear chokes to death on sex toy

Support for legalizing pot hits all-time high

Give me all your money or my penguin will explode

How zombie worms have sex in whale bones

Crocodile steals zoo worker's lawn mower

Woman shot by oven while trying to cook waffles

Nude beach blowjob jet ski fight leads to wife's death

Woman stabs husband with squirrel for not buying beer Christmas Eve