Before Alaska became a mining bonanza, it was a scenic bonanza,
a place larger in the American imagination than in its actual
borders. Prior to the great Klondike Gold Rush of 1897, thousands
of scenic adventurers journeyed along the Inside Passage, the
nearly thousand-mile sea-lane that snakes up the Pacific coast from
Puget Sound to Icy Strait. Both the famous-including wilderness
advocate John Muir, landscape painter Albert Bierstadt, and
photographers Eadweard Muybridge and Edward Curtis-and the long
forgotten-a gay ex-sailor, a former society reporter, an African
explorer, and a neurasthenic Methodist minister-returned with
fascinating accounts of their Alaskan journeys, becoming advance
men and women for an expanding United States.
In Darkest Alaska explores the popular images conjured by
these travelers' tales, as well as their influence on the broader
society. Drawing on lively firsthand accounts, archival
photographs, maps, and other ephemera of the day, historian Robert
Campbell chronicles how Gilded Age sightseers were inspired by
Alaska's bounty of evolutionary treasures, tribal artifacts,
geological riches, and novel thrills to produce a wealth of highly
imaginative reportage about the territory. By portraying the
territory as a "Last West" ripe for American conquest, tourists
helped pave the way for settlement and exploitation.
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