Mental Floss

25 Things You Should Know About Anchorage

Jeff Wells
iStock / iStock

Situated at the end of the Cook Inlet, where coastal lowland gradually rises up to the

Chugach Mountains, Anchorage is a city on the edge of civilization. And that’s exactly what locals and visitors love about it. Here are a few facts about this northern outpost.  1. Before Russia owned the territory and Seward had his folly, the original inhabitants of Anchorage were the Dena’ina, a matrilineal tribe of Athabascan Indians that had hunted and fished in the area for more than 1000 years.   2. Anchorage didn’t begin as a port or mining town but rather as a railroad hub. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson authorized construction of the 500-mile-long Alaska Railroad, stretching from coastal Seward up to gold-rich Fairbanks. By 1915 a tent city for rail workers had gone up in the muddy land around Ship Creek, where the railroad company’s headquarters were located.  [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"content_full_width","fid":"185400","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"784","title":"","width":"620"}}]] 

Ties awaiting rails, 1915, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain


In 1915, the federal government outlawed gambling, prostitution and the sale of alcohol in Anchorage. Which of course meant that all these things flourished in the frontier town. As one fed-up official noted, “The only thing more prevalent than the fine dust which clogs the air is the raw whiskey with which they wash it down.”     4. Early Anchorage was filled with gamblers, swindlers and assorted other opportunists. The most brazen of them all, though, was Joe Spenard, a cigar-chomping businessman who brought the first car to Anchorage—a bright yellow Model T—and turned it into the city’s one and only taxi service. He also cleared out 160 acres of forest preserve around Jeter Lake, which he renamed Lake Spenard, and built a popular dance hall. Federal officials were none too pleased by any of this, but before they could crack down, the dance hall went up in flames and Spenard skipped town. In all, Spenard spent just over a year in Anchorage, but his legacy lives on in the Spenard neighborhood of Anchorage.   5. The man credited with turning the Alaska Railroad into a successful enterprise was a hard-charging Swedish colonel with a penchant for green suits. Otto Ohlson spent decades managing railways throughout Europe and America before coming to Alaska in 1928. In addition to improving the railroad itself, Ohlson ran successful campaigns to draw farmers into Alaska’s interior, thereby increasing agricultural demand for the railroad. To monitor progress along the rail line, Ohlson had an automobile specially outfitted to drive on the tracks. In at least one instance, the car met with the business end of a locomotive.  6. Realizing Anchorage’s strategic location as a staging and refueling hub, the U.S. built two major military bases there in the early 1940s: Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson. Between 1940 and 1945, the city’s population jumped from 2,500 to 70,000. 7. At 5:36 p.m. on March 27, 1964, the strongest recorded earthquake in North American history (and the second most powerful ever recorded) struck Anchorage. Measured at magnitude 9.2, the quake buckled highways, collapsed roofs, and created landslides that claimed dozens of homes in the city’s Turnagain neighborhood. The Four Seasons apartment complex in downtown Anchorage was reduced to rubble. All told, the Good Friday Earthquake lasted nearly four minutes and claimed 115 lives.  [[{"fid":"185401","view_mode":"width-constrained-728","type":"media","fields":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""},"field_deltas":{"":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""}},"link_text":false,"attributes":{"alt":null,"class":"media-element file-width-constrained-728","data-delta":null}}]] 

Damage to Anchorage's Fourth Avenue, 1964, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain


Alaska’s early growing pains as a state caused many to call for the capital to relocate from Juneau to Anchorage. The publisher of the Anchorage Times, Robert Atwood, mounted campaigns that helped introduce ballot measures in 1960 and 1962. Both measures failed, but in 1974 voters approved relocation of the capital to Willow, just north of Anchorage. When the $1 billion funding proposal came in two years later, though, voters rejected it9. It’s a lot bigger than you think: Anchorage’s 1961 square miles place it squarely between Rhode Island and Delaware in terms of size.  10. If you’re driving through Anchorage, be on the lookout for moose. There are approximately 250 that live in the area during the summer, and more than 1000 that take up residence during the winter. Drivers kill more than 100 of them each year.   11. The city is also home to around 250 black bears and 60 grizzly bears. Sightings are a part of daily life for residents, though harmful encounters are rare. A few years ago, scientists tracked nine area bears using GPS collars, and the resulting data shows that Anchorage—just like the rest of Alaska—truly is bear country. [[{"fid":"185402","view_mode":"width-constrained-728","type":"media","fields":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""},"field_deltas":{"":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""}},"link_text":false,"attributes":{"alt":null,"class":"media-element file-width-constrained-728","data-delta":null}}]]



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During the height of the summer solstice in June, Anchorage basks in up to 22 hours of daylight every day. To celebrate, businesses stay open late and festivities stretch into the wee hours. The Anchorage Zoo extends its hours until midnight, while the city’s minor league baseball team, the Anchorage Glacier Pilots, start their games at 10 p.m.      16. The flipside of that geo-celestial coin comes every winter when Anchorage copes with less than six hours of sunlight each day. But hey, at least it’s not far northern Barrow, Alaska, which has 67 days of complete darkness17. Keen on seeing the Northern Lights but not willing to stay up past your bedtime? Not to worry. Hotels in and around Anchorage, like the Hotel Alyeska, offer a special wake-up call should the winter sky light up. [[{"fid":"185408","view_mode":"width-constrained-728","type":"media","fields":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""},"field_deltas":{"":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""}},"link_text":false,"attributes":{"alt":null,"class":"media-element file-width-constrained-728","data-delta":null}}]] 

Visit Anchorage, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Anchorage is quite the caffeinated city. It has the second most coffee shops per capita of any city in the U.S. (only Seattle has more). Espresso stands are a dime a dozen, and local chains like Kaladi Brothers have taken off in the past few years. Since 2011, according to the state’s labor department, the number of jobs in the coffee industry has jumped 20 percent.   19. Like most of Alaska, Anchorage has no sales tax. And if locals have anything to say about it, there won’t be any in the near future. In 2001 and 2005, nearly three-fourths of voters rejected sales tax bills of 2 percent and 3 percent, respectively.  20. It’s a premier destination for skiing—cross-country skiing, that is. Anchorage has more than 100 miles of tracks and frequently hosts international competitions. Trails range from a few miles to nearly 40 miles long, with numerous outfitters offering rental equipment to visitors. Just be on the lookout for moose and bear. 21. The Iditarod, the legendary 1000-mile dogsled race that starts in Anchorage every March and ends in Nome, began as a supply trail to mining camps and remote villages. In 1925, teams of mushers used the trail to transport vital medical supplies to Nome during a diphtheria outbreak, making headlines across the globe. It took 40 years and the advocacy of a local historian, though, for the world-famous sled dog race to begin. [[{"fid":"185414","view_mode":"width-constrained-728","type":"media","fields":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""},"field_deltas":{"":{"format":"width-constrained-728","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][value]":"","field_image_subhed[und][0][format]":"","field_caption[und][0][value]":"","field_caption[und][0][format]":"","field_credits[und][0][value]":"","field_credits[und][0][format]":""}},"link_text":false,"attributes":{"alt":null,"class":"media-element file-width-constrained-728","data-delta":null}}]] 



Forget confusing names or acronyms. Anchorage’s public transit system’s official name is the “People Mover.” Started in 1974, it runs 14 routes throughout the city, with an average daily ridership of around 14,000.  23. In 1966, a local grocer named Jack Snyder won a catchphrase contest put on by the Crown Zellerbach paper company. The prize was $3,000 or a baby elephant, and to the surprise of many, Snyder chose the latter. After the elephant arrived, Snyder put her up at a local ranch that had a heated stall. Annabelle, as the elephant came to be known, was a popular draw for locals, so in 1968 the city incorporated land near the ranch as the city’s first zoo, with Annabelle as the star attraction.   24. Feeling hungry? Humpy’s Alehouse offers Alaska’s most formidable food challenge, the Kodiak Arrest. It includes 14 inches of reindeer sausage, three pounds of crab legs, crab nuggets and a host of side dishes. Take it down in less than an hour and you’ll get a free T-shirt (not to mention massive indigestion). 25. Anchorage has a very active competitive beard and moustache community. So naturally, the city played host to the World Beard and Moustache Championships in 2009. The event saw the American competitors win 12 out of 18 categories, shifting dominance away from the once-mighty German contingent. The event’s grand champion, David Traver, won the freestyle competition (yes, really) by fashioning his beard in the shape of a snowshoe.