On Location: Kennecott, Alaska

A couple weeks ago, I took a road trip with a friend to a part of Alaska I'd never before visited:  Kennecott, an abandoned copper mining camp that's now a National Historic Landmark. There's a lodge and several guiding companies that can take you ice climbing or hiking or rafting, and there's the Kennicott Glacier (the two different spellings come from a historical clerical error--and that's why it's important to proofread, folks), but maybe one of my favorite parts of the location was the old Kennecott Mill.

The Kennecott Copper Corporation Mill, surely haunted. (Photo by Brooke Taylor.)

The Kennecott Copper Corporation Mill, surely haunted. (Photo by Brooke Taylor.)

After prospectors discovered the richest concentration of copper ore, ever, near Kennicott Glacier in 1900, the mill and mines attracted men from all over the lower 48 with its high salaries. Men worked in this isolated town seven days a week, lived in bunkhouses, and got their dance on at the local recreation center built by the mill's owners. If you were a lady in Kennecott, your dance card was full, by the way, because there were only a handful of you; single women only were allowed to work as teachers at the small school, nurses for the one doctor in town, or secretaries--and if you got married, you got sent home, because that's where a woman's place is (according to Steven Birch, mining engineer, manager of the mine and mill, and obvious feminist).

Today, you can hike up around the mines, but you can't get inside the old mill building unless you have a guide. I took a guided tour of the mill, and I highly recommend the tour to anyone who visits Kennecott:  I'm not one to go crazy over architecture or mining, typically, but the mill is fascinating, and being inside the building really evokes what it might have been like to be one of the men working in Kennecott back in the day. Imagine working in a wooden building attached to the side of a mountain--one that's vibrating constantly, thanks to the mechanical separating apparatuses that sort the copper. (The building was so loud, our tour guide informed us, that people in nearby McCarthy could hear its noise.) Despite the availability of steam heat, the mill was kept fairly cold because Birch believed a cold environment was an impetus for working harder.

View from the top of the haunted mill.

View from the top of the haunted mill.

My favorite factoid from this visit was that, to save time and get quickly down the mountain from the mine, instead of walking the trails, some of the men would ride a bucket down. Remember, these buckets were filled with copper ore, so the men couldn't just hop into a bucket for a comfy, safe ride; instead, they would precariously cling to the side of a bucket for the steep, harrowing journey back to the mill.

Historical fiction isn't really my jam, but it's not lost on me that Kennecott could make an incredibly cool setting for a ghost story. This is one of my favorite things about Alaska:  The state is so big, there's always a new place to visit and a new history to learn. You can't get bored in the 49th state.