Nome celebrates Fourth of July with parade and street games
Early risers on the Fourth of July found Nome enveloped in a fog of surprising density. By the 8 o’clock start of the Anvil Mountain Run up the mountain and back the fog was still thick enough to be disorienting.
“Very, very unusual,” said Leo Rasmussen, founder of the race 42 years ago and still running the show. “I’d say about half the time the mountain at the top is occluded with fog. When I came over this morning the top of the mountain, the last six hundred feet, was just absolutely, immaculately beautiful. Sunshine, clear. You get down to about the six hundred foot level and the dense fog was there. I took some pictures of the runners leaving here. I had never seen fog this dense for 42 of these events.”
The race launched into the fog and when it finished two hours later, an hour before the start of the parade, the fog was beginning to lift.
The winner of the race through the fog was 20-year-old Caleb Allen, who also won the Gold Dust Run two weeks ago. Asked if he likes running in the fog he replied, “It’s a lot wetter, yeah.” There were no bugs and it was cool. He slipped on the wet stones coming down. “I got a little lost on the way down in the fog.” Allen runs at Fort Lewis College in Colorado and is working construction in Nome for the summer.
Newly graduated Nome-Beltz High athlete Aaron Rose, who is 18, was second, coming in five and a half minutes after Allen. “Coming back down the hill, holy cow, you couldn’t see anything,” said Rose. “I wanted to go down really fast but I couldn’t because I was afraid I’d go the wrong way. Fog was everywhere. I fell right when I started going down. There’s rocks.”
Third place went to Wilson Hoogendorn, 19. Arriving in eighth position as the first woman at the foggy finish was Kirsten Resser, a graduate student from Fairbanks spending the summer in Nome working on a project with capelin, a forage fish. “It was a little tough,” she said while trying to catch her breath. “There was a little section at the top where you could see. You couldn’t see Nome from up there but it was a beautiful view and then you got back down into the fog and you could only see a few feet in front of you.”
A visit to the school to try and find the runners passing by found the Nugget driving in second gear and even that was too fast for the fog.
Twenty runners finished the race, which according to Rasmussen is the second oldest footrace in the State of Alaska. Seward’s Mount Marathon race, also on the Fourth of July every year, is the oldest.
Front Street was dressed up with new hanging geraniums and sixty American flags flying from the utility poles. The made-in-USA flags were purchased by the Nome VFW and the hardware to mount the flags on the utility poles came from the Nome Chamber of Commerce. The poles that came with the flags were not sturdy enough so Shawn Pomrenke made ones that could last in the Nome outdoors.
“Who wants to see a parade?” shouted Mayor Richard Beneville, dressed up in a Lincolnesque top hat. “Happy Birthday, America!” With that the parade began its march down Front Street. When the first marchers arrived at City Hall there were still groups ready to start. Old timers called it the longest parade ever. The crowds were correspondingly big.
In front of City Hall it was wall-to-wall celebrators. The Nome St Lawrence Island Dancers started things off with a welcoming dance. Lew Tobin of the Rotary Club was next, presenting the Nome Citizen of the Year Award to three from the medical profession: Dr. David Head, Dr. Sai-Ling Liu, and Dr. Phil Hofstetter have put in long years looking after the people of Nome.
The Citizen of the Year is selected by the Rotary Club in a vote of its members. According to Tobin, it goes to a person who has made a contribution and is not always recognized for that. This year they selected the three medical professionals. “They spent half their lives working at Norton Sound and had come to be the people everybody knew was there,” said Tobin. Sarah Hofstetter accepted the on behalf of her husband, who was out of town.
The Girl Scouts led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, Jill Nederhood and Alyssa Heers sang the National Anthem, and the folkie trio of Sarah Hofstetter, David Coler and Ian McRae sang the Alaska Flag Song. There was a convocation followed by a fiery patriotic speech by Mayor Beneville.
The street games were about to begin and a few food vendors catered to fill pre-lunch cravings. Lisa Lynch, Miss Arctic Native Brotherhood, was serving Indian Tacos in front of the visitor’s center and they were good. Another vendor had an array of hot dogs and other tasty treats on sale.
A visitor from Bora Bora found the parade to be just what he was looking for. Richard Postma had travelled all the way from his home in French Polynesia. “This is kind of the opposite extreme from where I live,” said Postma. “Cold in French Polynesia is kind of an abstract concept.” He stopped in San Francisco to shop for clothing appropriate to the northern climate of Nome. “I don’t own any clothes like these in Tahiti,” he said. “My normal work uniform is a t-shirt and board shorts. So I had to buy pants and jackets and gloves and everything to come here.” The Tropic-dweller had never been as far north as this and was enjoying every moment. “I love the small town. It’s like the small island I live on. Everybody says hello, everybody waves. I like the hospitality here. In the stores people are friendly and I really like it here.”
The variety of the street games reflects a long Fourth of July tradition still found in rural America. The big cities might go in for glitzier, more passive entertainment but in bush Alaska it’s still the sack race, footraces, bike races, and the three-legged race. The one-foot high kick, the egg and spoon race, and the pie eating contest all would be familiar to Nomeites of one-hundred years ago.
As the street games wound up the crowd started to melt away. As is tradition, the Nome Volunteer Fire Department served ice cream for all at the Fire Hall. It was sunny and warm and the sun wasn’t going to set on Nome’s Fourth. People were off to family barbecues or to fish for pinks.
It was a wonderful day in Nome.