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On the rock wall of a mine in the Hatcher Pass area in southcentral Alaska is a five-foot by two-foot scrawl of the word “Seattle.” It appears as if it was almost misspelled, like the person who created it nearly forgot the second “t” and had to squeeze it in. The inscription was made using a carbide headlamp, which burned acetylene gas and produced a considerable amount of soot. In addition to using the headlamps as a source of light, miners would use the soot from the flame to write on the tunnel walls.

Palmer resident Adam Christiansen became fascinated with the carbide drawings after he first learned about them. “They’re a little bit of a connection to the people who lived and worked up there. Things they created from their heads and hands and left on the walls in the mines for other people to see,” he says. With the proper permission, Christiansen explored the mining tunnels of Hatcher Pass and recorded the carbide drawings. Then he compiled his footage into a 15-minute documentary that he hopes will help people connect with the workers who toiled in the Willow Creek Mining District. 

Christiansen said he found most of the drawings in places where miners would spend a lot of time waiting, like at the top or bottom of an ore shoot. The inscription of “Seattle” stands out in his memory. Seattle was a city many miners traveled through on their way north to work. It was also a place miners would travel during their time off to spend their earnings having fun. Fare to Seattle was expensive and often cost-prohibitive for miners, but Christiansen said “going to Seattle” was a refrain miners would use in reference to any leave time they got to spend away from work. 

Learn more about the project at akcarbide.com.

Author

Alexander Deedy is the assistant editor and digital content manager for Alaska magazine.

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