Today, exactly 140 years ago, we took possession of Alaska after purchasing it from Russia for less than two cents an acre. Not a bad deal, even in 1867. But not everyone saw it that way.
Many folks saw it as a stupid idea and just another example of government waste. Why, after all, would the U.S. want 586,412 square miles of some of the worlds’ roughest, coldest, practically uninhabited terrain?
They called Alaska "Andrew Johnson’s Polar Bear Garden."
They were wrong. And when gold was discovered in the Klondike River in 1896, they reconsidered the deal and decided that Andrew J. did the right thing.
I’ve been to Alaska and I’m really glad we bought it from the Russians. And I’ll make a guess that the Russians wish today that they hadn’t sold it to us. I mean, let alone the fact that it’s rich in natural resources including oil and natural gas and supplies over 50% of our seafood, it’s just a beautiful place to visit.
Sure it’s cold. Sure it’s harsh. Sure it’s far away from most of the lower 48. But those things are what make it special.
Alaska is God’s Country, no doubt. I went on a tour of Denali National Park and a huge grizzly came right up to our bus. I’ve never been that close to a bear and I’m glad I was in the bus. He/she had some big hands.
Denali is the setting for Sean Penn’s new movie "Into the Wild" about the tragic story of Christopher McCandless, a young D.C. lawyer who underestimated Alaska’s might and paid for it with his life. I can’t wait to see the movie.
If you get a chance, get up and experience it for yourself. I’m not a big fan of cruises, but an Alaska cruise is a great way to see some spectacular scenery that you can’t really see anywhere else (or any other way). It’s one thing to see big chunks of glaciers breaking off into the sea on television. It’s another thing to be in a boat just a few thousands yards from the glacier. So close you can feel the crash of the ice in the water.
Happy birthday Alaska. You’ve been one of the best investments our country has ever made. I hope to see you again someday.