“The whole is more than the sum of its parts.”
One hundred years ago, the 1919 Spanish Influenza outbreak struck Bristol Bay, devastating Native communities, and killing nearly 200 people living along the Naknek River in just a few days. After two children from New Savonoski were found aboard a drifting boat—the only survivors of the crew hoping to escape the sickness—NN Superintendent J.F. Heinbockel, Dr. Frederick B. Spencer, and chief nurse, Albert Parcel, took decisive action to care for those afflicted with the disease.
NN Cannery Hospital became the center point for relief efforts for cannery workers and the Native villages Naknek, Ugashik, and Savanoski where the adult population faced extinction. In response to the crisis, the NN cannery transformed into a makeshift orphanage to care for all of the children who lost their families to the flu. Artist Andrew Abyo has been commissioned to build a model of the NN Cannery Hospital, one of the buildings at NN which we are nominating to the National Register of Historic Places for its association with the Spanish Flu pandemic.
The 1918-1919 Spanish Influenza Pandemic is considered today a global event and one of the single greatest human catastrophes of the 20th century. It killed more Alaskans per capita than anywhere else in the world. The story is historically significant and moves the NN Cannery’s history beyond canning salmon. 2018-2019 marks the pandemic’s centennial. The NN Cannery History Project recognizes that this global event transformed local history and its repercussions warrant continued research, as well as public remembrance for those whose lives were changed forever. The exhibit is currently scheduled to launch on Friday May 26—a date that marks the catastrophe to the day and, thus, providing an appropriate moment for remembrance.
The NN Cannery History Project Team including Katie Ringsmuth and Tim Troll of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, are curating an exhibition. The exhibition, based on the historic accounts recorded by the Alaska Packers Association, will highlight the story of the Spanish Flu, its impact on region, and the role that the canneries played in providing healthcare, and ultimately saving many of the children, orphaned by the tragedy. Later in the summer Tim Troll and Katie Johnson Ringsmuth will deliver a local presentation on the horrific Spanish Influenza pandemic.
At this event, Katie Ringsmuth will offer a history of the NN Cannery hospital as the first Bristol Bay property to be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places for its association with this global event. Tim Troll will discuss the outbreak of the influenza pandemic and its effects on the broader Bristol Bay region.
Katherine Ringsmuth, who was raised in Bristol Bay, received her PhD from Washington State University, teaches history at UAA. Author of numerous books for the National Park Service, she is sole proprietor of Tundra Vision, a public history consulting business.
Tim R. Troll is Executive Director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving the wildlife habitat, culture and history of the Bristol Bay region. In 1978, he came to Alaska as a VISTA volunteer lawyer in Bethel. Over the years, he has held a variety of positions advocating for Alaska Native communities, corporations, and organizations.