The Alaska Day Festival is in full swing in Sitka – with historical shindigs, costume balls and even a biathlon — all celebrating the 1867 transfer of Alaska from Russia to America. Among the celebrations was a Beard and Bonnet contest Tuesday to determine who had the finest whiskers and most handsome headdress.
“It used to be if you didn’t have a beard and dressed in period costume the Keystone Kops would find you. They had a little jail they would put you in and then somebody would have to bail you out.”
That’s Ted Allio, chairman of the Alaska Day Festival Committee. What you can’t hear is his beard. Or, rather, his “Best Beard with No Mustache,” according to the Sitka Emblem Club.
If not having a beard was a crime at past festivals, the jail would have been full on Tuesday night at the community variety show at the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi.
Since only three guys got up on stage, the club had to rope others into joining in — like one young man Henry Colt, who nabbed a prize for “thinnest beard.”
>Luckily, two members of the house celtic band had some fur on their faces. Steve Warren won “wildest beard” and Brian O’Callahan had the fullest. Deservingly, “most dapper” went to Kyle Shull, who had a Papa Hemingway vibe going on. He had been growing his finely manicured fuzz for three months.
“We had several really nice looking beards and one a cat could lick off,” said Betty Conklin, a member of the Emblem club and Alaska Day Festival Committee. “Normally we have a lot more beards to fondle, I mean judge. And sometimes we measure them and sometimes we don’t and we’ve had some real humdingers out there in the past. We’ve had the mustached, waxed handlebar jobs clear out to the sides and everything.”
Conklin was one of only two bonnets out in the crowd. She was crowned “most time period appropriate bonnet” during the contest for her handmade creation. Her colleague Helen Cunningham got prettiest for her cap she bought in Gettysburg.
Costumes are a big part of the Alaska Day celebrations in Sitka. And bonnets play a role in bringing the history to life.
“Typical of the era they had birds nest, birds, stuffed critters and whatnot on their hats and ladies didn’t normally go out uncovered. Every occasion had a type of hat,” she said. “It was a different time and place and it was in this place that the transfer occurred and we just like to roll people back to 1867 and say, ‘Hey, this is us,’ and celebrate what we have.”
The theme of the festival this year is “Meet Me At Centennial” honoring Harrigan Centennial Hall, which is currently undergoing renovations. The Hall is usually the hub of the festival but while it’s closed the committee had to find different venues. It’s a new challenge for Elaine Strelow, who has been on the festival committee for 49 years.
“It’s a little confusing sometimes for people to find the right location for a certain event,” Strelow said.
That’s one of the reasons Strelow attributes to the slim field of beards and bonnets.
“We very much miss it this time that it’s being partially demolished and will be reconstructed,” she said. “We look forward to when it will be back in operation.”
Harrigan is slated to open in 2017, ideally in time for the 150th anniversary of the transfer.