A Magnificent Bedlam

10562553_584776921642920_7132391536759108877_oThis article, A Magnificent Bedlam of Hollywood and Alaska: The Creation of Alaska Nellie, by historian Doug Capra, appears as a chapter in his new book, The Spaces Between: Stories from the Kenai Mountains to the Kenai Fjords, published by the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area.

In the article, Doug Capra explains the title, “In the early 1950’s, shortly before Alaska Nellie died, a woman visiting her lodge on Kenai Lake described Nellie’s eclectic collection of Alaskana as “…a magnificent bedlam of Hollywood and Alaska.” She probably didn’t realize how close to the truth she came in understanding the legend of Alaska Nellie.”

“Alaska Nellie (Lawing) wearing a parka and mukluks and holding a gun, as she sits among her animal hunting trophies.” [Alaska State Library Fred Henton Collection AMRC-b65-18-741]

“Alaska Nellie (Lawing) wearing a parka and mukluks and holding a gun, as she sits among her animal hunting trophies.” [Alaska State Library Fred Henton Collection AMRC-b65-18-741]

Capra continues: “Souvenirs from all over the world – scarfs, handkerchiefs, knick-knacks and curios – lay scattered on every shelf and in every corner. Moose, goat, and sheep racks competed for space with pelts of every variety. A bison head sent to her, she said, by Buffalo Bill, hung beside the skin of Bozo, an African lion that had died of old age in the Portland Zoo. Propped up astride Bozo, as if riding him, were Nellie’s parka and mukluks. Framed in the parka hood was a life-size lithograph of General Douglas MacArthur’s face. Nearby stood the infamous piano she claimed to have bought from a Dawson City dance hall with thirty bullet holes in its back from a gun fight. When she moved this collection to Lawing (23 miles north of Seward) from her Dead Horse Hill roadhouse back in 1923, it had filled two railroad freight cars.”

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