Museum of the North will use Bus 142 to tell Broader Story of Alaskan Lands

The Museum of the North in Fairbanks has received $500,000 to preserve the bus made famous in the book Into the Wild. The funding comes from the National Park Service and the Institute of Museum and Library Services and will help prepare the bus for public exhibit.

Angela Lin, senior collections manager at the museum, acknowledges that the bus can be polarizing in Alaska and says that the exhibit will address more than Into the Wild.

“We’re excited to tell a more complete story,” says Lin. 

Bus 142 is a 1946 International Harvester that served as a school bus, a Fairbanks transit bus, and eventually as remote housing for mine workers near the end of the Stampede Trail west of Healy. When its axle broke, the bus was abandoned on site. 

The bus gained global fame as the place where a young Christopher McCandless died in 1992. His story was recounted in Jon Krakauer’s 1996 book Into the Wild and a subsequent film directed by Sean Penn. It made the bus a destination for adventurers. 

But some underestimated the dangerous trek. Over the years, at least two people drowned, and others had to be rescued, leading to vandalism and calls for the bus’s removal. In 2020 the bus was airlifted out of the wild.

Lin says the exhibit will explain that today’s Stampede Trail has been home to Alaska Native people for millennia. It will also explore the stories of settlers, miners, the military, and modern tourism, including the area’s draw for adventures.

“It will also be a site of memory,” says Lin. Not only for McCandless but for all the people who have gone missing in Alaska. Lin says that includes a disproportionate number of Alaska Native people.

The bus will be preserved in its current condition, bullet holes and all, but will be made safe for visitors. It will sit in boreal forest at the end of a short trail and be paired with an indoor exhibit. Online visitors can watch its preservation via a webcam.


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