Alaska Day is celebrated every 18 October in recognition of the day that the state became part of the United States of America.
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One need only look back in time to see why Alaskans have cause to celebrate this important day. It marks an important moment in history, the day that Alaska was officially transferred from Russian ownership to become a territory of the United States. This monumental occasion occurred on 18 October 1867.
While the purchase of Alaska took place on 30 March 1867 for the small sum of $7.2 million, it was not considered official until the following October when Commissioners arrived at Fort Sitka to carry out the formalities involved in the transfer. A contingent of US soldiers, including 250 troops, marched to Castle Hill, the location of the Governor’s home. The Russian flag was lowered at that moment, exchanged for the US flag, proving Alaska belonged to the stars and stripes.
The purchased was cynically referred to as “Seward’s Icebox” and “Seward’s Folly.” But those names quickly evaporated when gold was discovered in the Klondike in the 1890’s. Since then, oil, fish, minerals, and other natural resources have continued to show how rich a land Alaska is.
In 1917, the state legislature declared 18 October an official holiday. Sitka is the focal point of celebrations as students are released early in order to join in the festivities. Many business shut their doors early in order to allow employees to participate in a variety of events. A costume ball, dance, musical concert, a parade, tea-time at “Pioneer House,” and other events span three straight days of festivities.
A parade is typical and residents will often reenact the historic flag raising that took place one hundred fifty years ago. It’s a day when Alaskans share in the pride they hold for their state and want to remember the moment they officially became US soil. Once considered William Seward’s greatest folly, the nation is grateful to call Alaska their own.