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By Dan Rudy 

Museum presentation aims to identify WWII pictures


The Wrangell and Petersburg museums are teaming up in an attempt to identify several hundred individuals in a collection of photographs that dates back more than seven decades.

The Clausen Museum in Petersburg is hoping to put names to the faces of 1,474 individuals from the early 1940s as part of its ongoing World War Two project.

The museum possesses a collection of photographic negatives, originally used for wartime identification. Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, the United States entered the war already engulfing Europe, Africa and Asia. The U.S. Coast Guard was charged with patrolling coastal waters, and Petersburg’s was one of the Alaskan waterfronts designated a restricted zone. All persons needing access to the waterfront were required to have an identification card with a photograph, fingerprint and physical description.

It was from these cards that the museum’s negatives come, and they depict everything from fishermen and cannery workers to longshoremen, boat passengers and float pilots. Access to and from the island was limited, and individuals having their pictures taken included residents of other communities, in addition to Petersburg.

“There were a couple of men identified as living in Wrangell,” project director Kathy Pool explained. With the help of Terri Henson at the Wrangell Museum, Pool will deliver a presentation at the Nolan Center on Monday at 7 p.m. in the hope that some of the still-unidentified individuals may be named.

“This is the last piece, and it’s an important piece,” Pool said. “I hope we will have a good crowd, and we will make some identifications.”

Though it does not have a similar set of its own, Wrangell Museum will present some of its own unidentified photographs as well. The extent of Petersburg’s collection is unique, because the community had only one photographer at the time.

Pool has worked on the identification project since 2009. A grant from Museums Alaska made possible a digital preservation of the negatives, which had been rescued from Petersburg’s Cornelius Building before its demolition in 1970.

Around half of the 1,474 photos have been identified, with 354 of them named through slide shows held in Petersburg and Kake and with the help of social media.

There are 383 images yet to identify, and the museum’s presentation in Wrangell will be a first. Pool will also visit the Senior Center around lunchtime that day and the next, sharing the images on her laptop. Home visits can also be scheduled for those unable to attend the slideshow presentation.

Pool estimates that the majority of those in the photographs have since passed on, and some of the people photographed may never be identified. For the rest, the project allows relatives and friends to reconnect with a unique period of local history.

The Clausen Museum’s board decided to make digital copies of portraits available for free distribution.

“The photographs are available in a digital format to any family and friends of these people,” Pool said.


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