New Connections

When you take on the role of a guest curator, you never know what sort of new ideas you’ll discover. You make the pitch, about how your interpretation of a story is going to be “new” and “different,” and how you’ll bring to light information that no one either knew about, or put into the context that you’re developing. As the research rolls along, you often reveal things that have been hidden for decades. In the case of Denali Legacy, I started the research process by reading, very carefully, The Ascent of Denali by Hudson Stuck. Originally published in 1914, it had been scanned as part of Project Gutenberg, and as a result, was posted at Google Books. Our curation team was encouraged to read it in whatever format they could find.

My heavily-marked and worn copy of Stuck's official version of the climb.

My heavily-marked and worn copy of Stuck’s official version of the climb.

My copy is a 1977 reprint by The Mountaineers Books, in Seattle, which contains some amazing additional information. From photographs of the mountain made, and annotated by Bradford Washburn, to the transcript of the diary of Walter Harper, this book has become a symbol of this research process.

It was this copy of the book that made me realize that there was much more to the story of the climb than the “official” version published by Stuck. Despite being an engaging and exciting story (I highly encourage everyone interested in this ascent to read the book), it’s told in a formal way with little emotion or insights into the personalities of the men on the climb. It left me wanting so much more.

The research trail led me to the American Geographical Society in NYC, to the American Alpine Club library in Golden, CO, to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and finally, down the road from my office, 3/4 of a mile, to the UAF Rasmuson Library’s Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives. The diaries holding the stories of the four men who summited Denali on 7 June, 1913, recorded in their own words while experiencing the actual events, lay in their archival homes waiting to be heard.

I never could have found these without the help of Ken Karstens and the Karstens Library, great-grandson of Harry Karstens, and Tom Walker, Harry’s biographer. The research-driven connections made with them, and now, many other family members of the original expedition participants, has been invaluable. As we’ve each made our own discoveries, which we’ve shared with one another, a new family of sorts has been created.

The farthest-reaching connection has been with the Tatum family. Robert Tatum was the 21-year-old from Knoxville who signed on as the official cook, but reached the summit of the mountain himself. This fourth member of the summit team was the only member of the team without a Wikipedia entry… which intrigued me even more. I felt a sort of obligation to fill out his story and make the world more aware of his contributions.

Rev. Robert G. Tatum reads a 1961 Life magazine article about climbers on Denali.

Rev. Robert G. Tatum reads a 1961 Life magazine article about climbers on Denali. Courtesy Sewanee: The University of the South Jessie Ball duPont Library digital collections.

This has been aided by the efforts of a number of members of the Tatum family who still reside in Tennessee. From an initial connection on a blog post, to phone calls and emails, Robert’s story is beginning to fill out, including his final resting place at Old Gray Cemetery in Knoxville.

With only six weeks until the opening of our exhibition, we are still learning about these men, uncovering the enormous impact this three-month-period had on their lives. Their legacy, to their families, continues to be written.

-Angela Linn, Guest Curator

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The Things They Carried


Image of Harry Karstens on Denali published in the book The Seventymile Kid by Tom Walker.

Accumulating artifacts for an historical exhibit like Denali Legacy might include some obvious similarities with the event itself. For example, the planning, like that of the Denali expedition, began well over a year ago. And there’s always a bit of luck involved with coordinating the supplies and other logistics necessary for any successful endeavor.


The satchel carried by Harry Karstens on the1913 Denali expedition.

Although Hudson Stuck and Harry Karstens were dismayed when many items from the New York outfitter Abercrombie & Fitch didn’t arrive in time for their climb, they were able to take advantage of local resources to outfit the expedition.

A hundred years later, with the advantage of regular air mail and light speed communication, Guest Curator Angela Linn has had great success assembling items from the historical climb to use in the exhibit.


Guest Curator Angela Linn examines artifacts loaned to the museum by the Harr Karstens family for the exhibit Denali Legacy.

“We started this process thinking we would have one or two items from the climb, if that. But through the ‘magic’ of the internet and the ease of making connections, incredibly significant artifacts have shown up.”

Thanks to the foresight, and generosity, of the Karstens family, many of the items used by Harry Karstens will included in the exhibit, such as the climbing satchel he brought with him to the top of the mountain and his glacier goggles.


“Denali; 7, June 1913” tie pin commissioned by Hudson Stuck for the members of the expedition. Made by Tiffany & Co.

The family has also loaned the last remaining commemorative pin, commissioned by Hudson Stuck from Tiffany & Co for each of the climbers. The stickpin features a polished piece of granite from the mountain on the front and is inscribed on the reverse with the words “Denali, 7th June 1913.”

Linn said no amount of planning could have guaranteed success, but the exhibit will be much improved by the presence of these items. “The objects will help visitors make an immediate connection with the 1913 climb and turn the figures in the photos into real people.”

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Share the View

Share the View_Square2

It’s been a hundred years since the first ascent of Denali. In that time, thousands of people have tried to reach the summit. If you know what that view looks like and you’re willing to share, send us your photos so we can use them in our special exhibit, Denali Legacy: 100 Years on the Mountain.

Share them on Facebook (/alaskamuseum)
Upload them to Flickr and other social media sites (#DenaliView)
Email them to

Details on our website.

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Start for the Mountain


“Archdeacon Stuck, leaving Fairbanks for Mount Denali” alias McKinley; Rev. C.E. Betticher, C.H. Clegg, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper. Reverend Hope Henry Lumpkin Photographs, UAF-2010-101-26, Archives, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Thursday, March 13, 1913

We got away today at 130, having been held all the morning waiting for the tents.

The “Times” this morning had the whole “story”.  I could keep it from them no longer, but I did not have cause to go down town again.

The heavy snow of Monday and Tuesday is a drawback, but we made pretty good time notwithstanding reaching Chena about 4.  Then we went on to the 12 mile house, though we did not get in until 830.

I am very glad we are started.

— Hudson Stuck

The team leaves Fairbanks by dogsled on this day in 1913. They have been delayed by a 450-mile mercy run with food and medical supplies for the mission at Tanana Crossing. The past few days have been a blur of assembling supplies and firming up the final roster.

Over the next weeks and months, John Fredson, Walter Harper, Harry Karstens, Hudson Stuck, and Robert Tatum will be making the journey that will lead to the first ascent of Denali.

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Legacy Diaries

We’ll be displaying the journals of the four men who made it to the top of Denali together in June 1913. In the last few months, they’ve arrived from all over the country for the museum’s special exhibit, Denali Legacy: 100 Years on the Mountain.

Hudson Stuck’s journals arrived in December. These diaries had beenstuck3 archived by the American Geographical Society since 1922. It was the first time they returned to Alaska in 90 years. Ethnology & History Collection Manager Angela Linn (right) is especially excited about the small journal Stuck brought with him on the ascent. “I’ve been able to read the entries from the larger journal, but the smaller diary karstens_3was never scanned.”

Then at the beginning of January, the tiny diary kept by Harry Karstens (left) arrived from the American Alpine Club library. Karstens went on to become the first superintendent of Mount McKinley National Park (now known as Denali National Park).

Two more diaries arrived at the end of January. Walter Harper was a young Athabascan man who accompanied Stuck on his many travels. Robert Tatum was an Episcopal missionary from Tennessee who hoped to join the priesthood. They were both proteges of the charismatic Archdeacon Hudson Stuck.

Legacy_Tatum diary_1

“I was ahead all day and was the first ever to set foot on Mt. Denali.” — From the diary Walter Harper dated Saturday, June 7, 1913.


“Today stands a big red letter in my life as our party of four reached the summit of Mount McKinley.” – From the diary of Robert Tatum dated Saturday, June 7, 1913.

Walter Harper’s journal is housed at UAF’s Alaska and Polar Regions archives and Robert Tatum’s is archived at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

For the first time since they were written, the diaries are now reunited at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. You can see them in May when the exhibit opens.

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Sharing the Legacy

One of the aspects of my job that I really enjoy, is working on special exhibitions. Finding a topic that has broad appeal and developing a new way to present it to the public. A little over a year ago, our museum started to think about a possible exhibit to commemorate the centennial of the first ascent of Denali’s South Peak (20,327 feet). This 1913 group included Hudson Stuck, the charismatic Archdeacon of the Yukon; soon-to-be first superintendent of Mt. McKinley National Park, Harry P. Karstens; Walter Harper, the athletic, intelligent, and dedicated trail companion of Stuck; and Robert Tatum, postulant for holy orders at the St. Mark’s Mission in Nenana. Joining the group were two young men (each in their mid-teens), John Fredson and Esaias George, also studying at Nenana, who played essential parts in the ascent as well.

1913 crew, from left: Robert Tatum, Esaias George, Harry Karstens, John Fredson, Walter Harper.

It is the exciting story of their ordeal climbing “the great one” that we will tell, in partnership with the Denali National Park staff, during the summer of 2013 in the exhibition Legacy: 100 Years on The Mountain. Narratives taken from the journals of each climber will guide visitors through their journey from Fairbanks, to the peak of the mountain, and back down again. We will also learn about the men, as individuals, and how this event pulled them together as well as drove them apart.

Hudson Stuck with one of his dogs.

As we develop this story, we seek the assistance of our community in identifying potential artifacts associated with these people and their legacies. Anyone with information about items used on the 1913 ascent are asked to contact me or the museum.

I look forward to sharing the stories of these incredible men and the legacies they left behind. Join us this summer for the exciting celebration of this amazing event.

— Angela Linn, Guest Curator

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