It’s Alaska Day!

Baranoff Castle on Castle Hill, where the Russian flag was lowered  for the last time in 1867. Image-UAA
Baranof Castle on Castle Hill, where the Russian flag was lowered for the last time in 1867. Image-UAA

One hundred and fifty-five years ago, Alaska was formally transferred from Russia to the United States after it was purchased from Russia for the sum of $7.2 million on March 30th, 1867.

It took several months for commissioners to arrive in the territory of Alaska to formally transfer ownership. And so, on October 18th, 1867, as officials gathered in Sitka, 250 U.S. troops, in uniform, marched to “Castle Hill,” and raised the U.S. flag as the Russian flag was lowered in Alaska for the last time. The ceremony did not come without a hitch though. As the Russian flag was being lowered, it tangled, and a bosun’s chair had to be raised to cut the flag down, when it was cut down, it fluttered down and landed on the bayonet of a soldier below. When that happened, a Russian princess in attendance, fainted dead away at the sight.

Many in attendance, were not eager participants. the 250 U.S. soldiers at the ceremony were less than pleased, as they had spent the previous ten days cooped up on their gunships awaiting the day of the ceremonies.

The Tlingits from the nearby community, were not allowed to attend the ceremony.

It was 3:30 pm, when the mountainsides reverberated with cannon fire from the Ossipee, as the flag was lowered. Then, Captain Pestchouroff stepped up to General Lovell Rousseau and said, “General Rousseau, by authority from his Majesty the Emperor of Russia, I transfer to the United States the Territory of Alaska.”

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With that, the official transfer ceremony came to an end.

Although the deal was made in March to buy the territory of Alaska, October would come and go, and it would be several more months after that before Congress finally paid Russia for the Last Frontier.

It wasn’t until 1917, that the Alaska Territorial Legislature would declare Alaska Day as an Alaskan holiday.While the occasion is an Alaskan holiday, and state-wide, state workers a given a paid day off, it is celebrated mainly in the community of Sitka, where the ceremony originally took place. On this day, many of the businesses close their doors for the day and students are released from school early. An annual parade takes place and a re-enactment of the flag raising is also held. The three-day festivities include a proclamation by the city’s mayor, a costume ball, dance performances, Coast Guard rescue demonstrations, open house on Coast Guard or Naval vessels, and tea at the Pioneer’s Home.