Imagine, a ship full of passengers bound for the Klondike Gold Rush catches fire. In the ensuing chaos a young girl is separated from her mother. She is taken in by two prospectors, who end up striking gold and becoming rich. A decade later, the now grown woman is reunited with her mother. If it sounds dramatic, well, that’s because it was supposed to be; it’s the plot of the first movie ever filmed in Alaska.
In the early 1920s, Alaskan entrepreneur Austin Lathrop teamed up with George Edward Lewis to fund the first movie shot in Alaska, which they figured guaranteed its commercial success. Up to that point, films set in Alaska were filmed in northern California. The Chechahcos was filmed over several months of 1923 in Denali, Anchorage, Cordova, and Girdwood, according to Chris Beheim, who did extensive research into the film’s history. After sold-out screenings in Anchorage, the film was bought by a distribution company and premiered in New York. According to Beheim, the film never received its predicted commercial success and faded into obscurity until archivists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks restored the film in 2000. The Library of Congress added the film to the list of preserved films in the National Film Archive in 2003.
The film originally included the more common “cheechakos” spelling, but for unknown reasons the distributors changed it to The Chechahcos.
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