July 4th Bethel Style

by Peter Twitchell

When I was a boy in Bethel, Alaska back in the 50s right about now excitement was growing with the July 4th Celebration a few days away.

I thought about the Men’s Footrace coming up and thought, will Earl Polk or Manny Konig come in first this year? It seemed to me it was always between the two of them, who won.

As the men lined up in front of Swanson’s Marina there was a dozen men, among them Manny and Earl! The race was from the waterfront to the PHS Hospital and back. Boys and girls, Bethel and villagers cheered the racers on and it was a fun time for all! Earl beat Manny by inches.

I liked to watch Bethel boys try to scale the greased pole, hahahaha! There was my iluq Elia Michael at the bottom of the pole. He’d remove his tee shirt and make his best effort, but to try to get the $20 bill pinned to the top of the 10 foot pole was a real challenge. Maybe had he kept his tee shirt on his chances may have improved, but try as he may to put the bear hug on the greasy pole failed.

The next group was 3 boys who thought they could improve their chances to split that money if they climbed on each other’s shoulders but they came tumbling down.

Someone finally took the prize and the fire station crew from nearby climbed a ladder and pinned up a $50 bill!

The gunny sack races were fun to watch as kids stepped into burlap bags and hopped to the finish line. There was Tugs of War between villages as men and women tugged. The Village of Napaskiak were victors and in another, it was the Village of Akiak.

In present day it’s not as fun, the human element takes a back seat to vendors making as much money as they can muster. A lot of that money won’t circulate as it goes out of town, sometimes overseas.

You enjoy your July 4th as we enjoy each other’s company.

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