Made on the Mountain

T [Robert Tatum] is working on an American flag which he hopes to hoist on top of the instrument tent on the summit and I am carving a rude inscription on a tent pole, of which I hope to make a cross to set up on the summit.  I got half my carving done and T [Tatum] his flag cut out- two silk handkerchiefs and the lining of a padded noodle can.   — From the climbing journal of Hudson Stuck, dated Wednesday, June 4, 1913

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Guest Curator Angela Linn unpacks the first flag flown at the summit of Denali.

When Doug Tatum was grown with children of his own, he discovered an unlikely connection to Alaska. His great uncle, Robert Tatum, was one of the members of the first climbing party to reach the summit of Denali.

“I was in my 30s and I had never, nor did any of my siblings know, that my dad’s father’s brother was Robert Tatum and had summited Denali. We didn’t know that. Dad said he was a very modest, quiet spoken gentleman.”

Doug Tatum was shocked. He knew Robert was a humble person, but this was something noteworthy, something worth bragging about, at least to his generation. Doug Tatum soon found more tangible evidence of his great uncle’s accomplishments:  photos, letters from Hudson Stuck inviting Tatum to be a member of the climbing party, and a handmade flag Tatum had constructed from items along the climbing route.

“It wasn’t kept very well. I found it in a shoebox with some other items while going through some stuff with my parents. I hand carried it to the Chicago conservatory. They spent nine months cleaning it up. We got it just in the nick of time.”

Robert Tatum’s flag will be displayed in the museum’s special exhibit, along with several other artifacts and entries from the four climbing journals kept by the first men who made it to the top of North America’s tallest mountain.

I had made a flag and raised it. First of all after we all shook hands with congratulations, Arch deacon [Hudson Stuck] offered a prayer of thanks.  Then the instruments were read and I raised the flag and Arch d photographed it.

Then while I took some angles with the prismatic compass, W. [Walter Harper] & Mr. K [Harry Karstens] erected a cross.  And set it up. And we all gathered around it and said the “Te Deum” — From the climbing journal of Robert Tatum, dated Saturday, June 7, 1913, the first ascent of Denali

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Thanks to the family of Robert Tatum, his flag will be included in the museum’s special exhibit, Denali Legacy.

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About University of Alaska Museum of the North

Tour the North. Explore the Museum. The University of Alaska Museum of the North is a thriving visitor attraction, a vital component of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the only research and teaching museum in Alaska. The museum’s research collections – 1.4 million artifacts and specimens – represent millions of years of biological diversity and thousands of years of cultural traditions in the North. Museum members receive free admission to the exhibit galleries throughout the year. The Museum Store features items that relate to the museums collections, and all proceeds support the museum’s operations.
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