Moment in Kodiak: Myrtle Olsen

C.A. band with local ladies, possibly in the ski chalet in the early 1940s. Myrtle Olsen second from far left. (Photo from the Baranov Museum collection)

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Kodiak’s rich history is recorded in historical documents, firsthand accounts, and photographs. They contain more than just facts and dates.

They’re also evidence of everyday life: the restaurants people went to, the entertainment that filled their days, and the people they spent their time with.

In this three-part series, we look at historic photos on the island and sit down with the people captured in those moments in time.

In this second installment, KMXT talks with a young lady who attended a dance in the Anton Larsen ski chalet back in the early 1940s.

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The black and white photo shows the interior of large room. On one side, a group hangs out in chairs and sofas.

Only one person looks toward the camera, a uniformed private lounging in his seat with a bottle in hand. Next to him, a sergeant leans over a woman wiping her eye. And people sit around them, one couple caught in a moment of laughter.

On the other side of the room, a girl in white ankle socks and a dark skirt sits next to a man – the only one in the photo not wearing a uniform. She looks at something out of the frame.

Mrytle Olsen thinks she may recall the man sitting next to her.

“I don’t remember his name. I don’t know if I ever knew it, but I think he was in the 251st Infantry. I married a man from the 251st Infantry.”

There were many such occasions to meet servicemen. Olsen remembers live music and mingling.

“We had chaperone ladies that took us to the dance, and we went there in a command car or they picked us up. They sent us invitations to attend their dances when they held dances here in Kodiak.”

She says she got a lot of practice even outside those events.

“My sister and I, we used to dance alone at home a lot. My younger sister and I. That’s how come I know all these songs. We’d wind a phonograph all the time, change the needles.”

Olsen, whose mother was a local and father was from Norway, has warm memories of her childhood in Kodiak.

“It was the nicest little place to grow up. Us girls had our play houses, and we had chickens. We’d take the eggs, and we’d put them in our mud pies.”

She says they’d wander around town and along the beaches.

“We walked to the cannery where there was forget-me-nots and wildflowers and berries to picks.”

As a teenager, she also worked at the local photo shop after school.

“We learned to print and to dry ‘em and roll ‘em, and you’d take the orders downstairs where they had their store and sold curials and Alaska stuff, and then in the back was the photo place, so that’s where a lot of us Kodiak girls learned our photography.”

She says she met her first husband in town, and she moved with him when he transferred off island, but they eventually returned.

She and some members of her family are still in Kodiak.

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