Laurel Baird was interviewed on October 10, 2014 by Jan Yaeger at the Seldovia Conference Center in Seldovia, Alaska. In this interview, Laurel talks about her family background and growing up in Seldovia. She shares memories of playing as a child, what the community was like and activities they did, and particular people she remembers. She also mentions changes after the 1964 Alaska Earthquake.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Seldovia Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Oct 10, 2014
Narrator(s): Laurel Baird
Interviewer(s): Jan Yaeger
Transcriber: Sue Beck
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Childhood memories of Seldovia
Moving to Kodiak and life of a fisherman
Mom and Alice Nutbeem preparing good meals
Riding bicycles on the boardwalk
Collecting mail at the post office, and berry picking as a child
Summer activities as a child
Flowers and gardens of Seldovia, and friendships formed
Laurel's parents, Lawrence and Nellie Lena Anderson Olssen
Collecting wild plants and berries
Walking the boardwalk
Special activities and holiday celebrations
Buoys and boats
House that father grew up in in Seldovia, and location of other houses
1964 Alaska Earthquake
Effect of Urban Renewal
Returning to Seldovia
Hardship of losing boat to fire
Canneries of Seldovia
Stores in Seldovia
Sister born in the hospital
Kids activities, games, and fun times
Grandmother, Florence Hammelbacher, and delivering babies
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
JAN YAEGER: Okay, so this is Friday, October 10, 2014, and I’m Jan Yaeger from Seldovia Village Tribe. And we are speaking with Laurel Baird who grew up in Seldovia, and we are speaking at the Seldovia Conference Center.
And Laurel, you’ve got great stories about Seldovia. Can you talk about what you remember being a kid here?
LAUREL BAIRD: It was -- I -- I remember it being great growing up on the boardwalk, and the tides coming in every day. And just -- just the rhythm of it, I think, was -- was beautiful. And all the people working.
We could see the boat floats, and the beautiful water and mountains. We were always very close to it.
But one of my best memories is when I would go to sleep at night, the tide would come in under the house, and if there was a log under the house it would hit the piling and -- and it would just rhythmically put me to sleep. It was wonderful -- a wonderful way to go to sleep at night.
And in the morning, my mom would often rake the beach when the tide went out ‘cause she liked keeping it really clean in the morning. And so she’d rake the beach down past the boardwalk.
And then also sweep our porch. Every single morning, she swept the long porch out to the boardwalk and --
And then on the other side of the boardwalk we had a scow. And it had a house on top of it, and so the only way to get to the end of it was to walk a narrow plank that had a rail to hang on to. And we’d walk to the end of the scow and we’d fish there all day long.
That was one of my fondest memories, is fishing. We caught a lot of yellowbellies and really tried hard to catch the trout. Our parents wouldn’t let us snag them, so we -- we’d use a hook and bait.
And we’d catch fish and cut our own bait. We’d catch flounders, and we fished from the boat floats. I remember playing with the jellyfish when the jellyfish would come in.
And I loved the -- the traffic on the boardwalk. There was all -- it was always bustling. People going up and down.
They would go in the morning to their jobs, to their boats. We would hear the cannery workers going in the morning.
But there was just a constant flow of traffic, and oftentimes they would stop at the house. And the coffeepot was always on very early, and we had really early morning people visit.
And there was always something sweet and good to eat. And it was a warm and fuzzy kitchen to come into.
Later, before school, the kids would often come and stop at the house, and my nephews and nieces would stop by and they’d sit by the stove and my dad loved to tell stories, so he would tell stories.
He was a fisherman here in town and for many years parked the boat at the boat harbor.
And then in 1959, we moved to Kodiak for a couple years, following the fish. My dad built a bigger boat and we -- we followed the fish and moved there. And then came back within a couple years.
I remember the tides coming and going on the boardwalk and playing in the surf for hours and hours. It was wonderful.
In the spring of the year, the fishermen would all spread their nets on the sand in front of our house, just on the other side of the boardwalk, and they’d hang their nets and mend all the holes and get them ready for the season.
But for a long ways, that’s all you would see is nets and the fishermen getting them ready.
And then there was a ways on the side of our scow, and people would bring their boats and put on the gridiron there, and copper paint their boats. Or often times boats would just beach themselves on the beach and -- and they would prepare the bottoms of the boat, or propellers, whatever they needed.
When the tide would come in in the afternoon, there was always a warm -- warm, warm breeze and the sun would be shining, and I knew then it was about humpy season. And somebody -- one of the gentlemen in town would often bring my mom a humpy and she would cook it.
And Alice Nutbeem, who lived up on the hill and had a nice garden that we used to help her plant in the spring, she would bring new, little potatoes from her garden, and fresh peas, and my mom would cook them up with a cream sauce.
And so we’d have the boiled humpy and the new peas and new potatoes and the cream sauce, and then I’d hop on my bike and ride down to the store in the middle of town that had ice cream, and I’d buy a brick of Neapolitan ice cream.
So we’d have this wonderful meal and Alice Nutbeem always -- often ate with us, and so that was wonderful. And we’d have Neapolitan ice cream and that was fun.
Riding your bikes on the boardwalk was -- was great. There -- it was about ten feet wide and the planks were laid vertical, so there was wide spaces between ‘em.
And I had one of the first Schwinn bikes. There were -- Morris’ store got in two bikes in the summertime and they were Schwinns, and they were the new -- what we called narrow tires at the time.
So if I got my bike goin’ really fast down the boardwalk, I could hit one of those wider spaces and that was an abrupt stop. Wasn’t always nice.
But we had the greatest time ridin’ our bikes up and down the boardwalk.
And then the mail plane would fly over. We could hear it coming in, so then we’d know it was time -- how much time it would take you to get to -- down to the post office, which was at the other end of town.
And -- and we would wait for the postmistress to sort the mail. And I can still remember the smell. Yeah, when you walk into the post office, that wonderful smell of old books and letters, like her newsstand smelled the same way. It was just a wonderful smell.
And we'd pick up the mail and I’d ride my bike fast back home again. It was always nice to get letters -- oftentimes letters from -- I have a sister in Seattle, so she would write back and forth.
And we would get letters from our family in Chignik and Kodiak and so that was really fun.
I’m sure my mom would’ve loved a leisurely walk down the boardwalk to get the mail, too, but us kids always took over on that.
Another way we spent, in the summer, was picking berries on Cap's Hill, the big hill in the middle of town. There was great raspberries that were wild.
Somebody may have planted them there, but they were wild and we could pick buckets of raspberries and then wild strawberries.
So we -- we always had wonderful jams. And then we’d go up the slough farther and pick blueberries.
I can remember losing my sister when she -- my sister is four years younger. Loretta, we call her Kukla. She would get lost in the tall grasses when we were picking berries, and start crying, and we’d have to find her.
But as kids we just picked lots and lots of berries and ate lots and lots. We love salmonberries and had a lot of great things. My mother made salmonberry jam, and we had -- we didn’t have anything like a salmonberry pie, but we ate a lot of salmonberries with cream on them.
Down at Morris’ store they had a product called Avocet. And it was -- you could whip it like whipping cream. I’m not sure what it was made out of, but it came in a little jar. It was always nice treat.
My mom was a great cook, and we always had great things to eat. And we always had company. That was a wonderful part. There always somebody extra at our table, and we loved that.
In the spring, I would -- my friends would go to their fish sites. So the kids that lived along the boardwalk mostly went to a fish site. And kids that I knew in school.
So I -- I -- I grew up with -- I don’t know if you need names, but Ann Anderson was my best friend growing up, and Joyce Elvsaas. And I grew up with another fam -- the Phillips. Carol was same age as I am and we just had a wonderful time together.
But in the summer when they went to the fish site it was rather lonely. And I would, in the morning, pack myself a lunch -- and this is like eight years old.
Pack myself a lunch and walk up the slough and across the beach to the old schooner, up that hill there, and walk towards -- walking up the bay, through the woods, and there was one spot after the old schooner in the woods that was just beautiful forest.
And close -- not far from the ocean, but it was in the woods and there was a small stream going through and thick moss, so spongy.
And a big downed tree that had thick spongy moss on it, and -- and just fields of bluebells. Not bluebells. I’m sorry, violets. These purple violets and that chartreuse green! It was just fabulous. And I would lay on that log and the sun would be shining through the forest. It was absolutely beautiful, and I just have that sweet memory.
And farther beyond that was Minnie and Jimmy Carlough lived, and then a family called the Brewsters who came later -- they lived up farther than that. So it was always fun -- fun to walk up there. And I’d be gone all day long.
And sometimes I’d try to take a shortcut home and go out around the rocks and the tide would start coming in, and I was just very fortunate that I never got caught out there.
I was by myself and I did that for many years, just enjoying the beach and the woods and the berries and flowers.
Seldovia had the most beautiful, beautiful flowers. The lupines, and when you walk down the boardwalk, the sides of the cliffs of Cap’s Hill and further down were all covered in columbine, something like a harebell or a little bluebell that just would -- the bluebells would cover a whole side of the hill just beautifully.
And -- and the wild roses. Wild roses and then Sitka rose or Nootka rose.
One of my favorite gardens -- I lived at one end of the boardwalk and then before Morris’ store, the Morrises had a beautiful, beautiful garden with lots of flowers.
And when you walked up the hill by their house they had a honeysuckle bush that was so big that it was like a tree. And you could smell that fragrance and it was wonderful. And a huge strawberry patch. A lotta people had wonderful strawberry patches.
My mom had really wonderful friends here, some on the boardwalk and some from up the slough. But they all loved gardening, too. They grew all kinds of vegetables and pansies. Lots of pretty things.
And those ladies would get together in the house at night. They’d come in the dark, so I don’t know what time of day it was, and they’d always have coffee or tea out of the china cups. And they would visit, and they’d tell stories about Unalaska or Unga, Chignik, Kodiak. All wonderful, wonderful stories.
And I -- as a young girl I’d always listen. And I’m glad I did now, but they used to give me a lot of flak for listening. But that’s one --
Katherine Kashevarof came to the house one day. The ladies came to visit and they were having coffee. And my sister in Seattle sent me a wig in the '60s that you could comb like hair. And so they all had to try it on, and that was one of ‘em. And we had a good laugh.
But I really remember that visiting in the evenings, and they would crochet and -- or do their handiwork. And lots of -- make lots of beautiful things.
And that friendship stayed all their lives until they were in their nineties. And they -- they always corresponded with one another. I thought that was a wonderful relationship that they built here in Seldovia.
JAN YAEGER: What were your parents’ names?
LAUREL BAIRD: My mother was Nellie Lena Anderson Olssen, and my father was Lawrence Olssen. And he -- he came to Seldovia in 1912 on the Coast Guard cutter "Manning."
After Mount Katmai blew they were evacuating people, and they took some to Perryville and some came to Seldovia. And so a lot of the Bowens and the Olssens came.
And the Bowen family was in Seldovia for many years. My Uncle Dick -- Richard Olssen -- was born on the Coast Guard cutter "Manning" on that trip, coming over here.
So my great uncle, Rufus Bowen, built a cabin kind of where Seldovia Village Tribe is today, just off to the side. And he had cattle there on -- in Kodiak they lived on Wood Island and they raised cattle and big gardens, too.
So they made Seldovia their home and they -- my father’s father was Swedish and my grandma came from the Afognak area. And she was Russian and Alutiiq/Sugpiaq.
My mom is from Chignik. And the Andersons are from Chignik. And her first husband was an arranged marriage, and she married a gentleman, and he was a Suydam, and she had five children by him, and some of them were in Seldovia, too.
So we were lucky to have more brothers and sisters, and they were older than we were.
I have one sister, like I said, Loretta, and she lives in Seattle. So Nellie and Lawrence lived here until we moved to Kodiak in 1959. And my father had a stroke in a couple years, and so we moved back to Seldovia. We’re lucky we always had our home on the boardwalk.
And -- and then my father didn’t work while he was -- he had to learn to walk again and to use his arm. But he got a phone call asking him to run a tugboat that would bring the rock from the Outside Beach into town to build the breakwater.
So he and -- he worked with Harry Yuth on the "Limpiar," and they hauled by barge all the rock in to build the breakwater.
Before that we didn’t have a breakwater, and I remember the water freezing way out in the bay, way over.
And our father told us stories about it freezing all the way across. I don’t know that that ever happened. But anyway, that was one of the stories. But I do remember it freezing solid up the slough, where the -- and the ducks would get stuck in the -- in the ice.
Really cold winters. We often had snow way up high on the eaves of our house, down on the boardwalk even.
My father was married to Grace Olssen first, and she was -- she was a Munson. She was from this area.
And -- and her -- my father and Grace were very much a part of the Seldovia community before they divorced. And -- and then we knew a lotta people in Seldovia. And the Kenai Peninsula, lotta people came from -- or moved to -- were living in Seldovia and then moved to the Kenai Peninsula.
JAN YAEGER: You mentioned your godmother was Alice Nutbeem. Can you talk about her a little bit?
LAUREL BAIRD: Oh, she was wonderful. She was this little lady that -- she just adored her husband Ted, and they have a wonderful story, too.
She’s from Unga. Ted was in the Jessie Lee home, and then they got married. And then he got very ill with cancer and passed away and is buried here in the Seldovia cemetery.
And she was just loyal, keeping his grave always clean, and she just adored him. Before that they had a restaurant called Ted’s Café here? And I guess he was a wonderful cook and so she learned all about that business.
And so she was always in the food area. She worked in the cannery in the summertime. She worked at Libby -- Libby’s Cannery up in Kenai, and we always missed her when she’d leave in the spring to go up there, and she worked in the cookhouse.
And then after Libby’s closed she came here and worked in the cookhouse at the AYR cannery. But she would come to the house every morning and have coffee with my family, and then she’d come in the afternoon whenever Mom needed somebody to watch us kids, she -- she watched us for long periods of time.
And because Mom had a lot of kids and she was busy, Alice really taught us so many -- many, many skills, like, she was there on our first day when we went off to school.
She taught us how to stitch, and she was very particular about her stitching. So she made us do beautiful handwork.
And then she’s our godmother, because she insisted that we be baptized in the Methodist church, so we were baptized when we were older.
And Alice was -- knew both my mom and dad from -- from the Chignik area, from being on the -- whether it was the steamer "Dora" they talked about, or the "Old Star," they all had gone the same pathways and -- with the fishing industry and the mining industry in -- out in Unga.
So she had a lot of great stories to tell. And she was a wonderful, loving person and a very dear friend of my mom’s.
Alice lived up the slough, and she had -- her -- the original house that her and Ted built was a tent. So it was one of those white canvas tents.
And then they just added wood around it, and so it really wasn’t insulated, because when the wind blows, it would -- inside, you could see the tent moving. But it was warm and cozy in there. There was a great little enamel stove.
And it didn’t have a bathroom, and then it had one little area that was like the bedroom. And we loved being able to stay over there because she had --
When she was sixteen years old, she got this featherbed that was made out of feathers from Unga, and she would fluff that featherbed up and then she’d let us come and spend the night. And we got to sleep in the featherbed and always loved that.
And then she had this little table by the one window in her house, and it looked out over the slough. And it had -- we still today -- my sister and I talk about it. We liked just the little table with a window like that and a little old-fashioned radio with a dial on it. We both know exactly what that radio looked like and the alarm clock next to it.
And we’d sit there and have coffee at her house with her and just loved bein’ up there. And to this day, Loretta and I always talk about goin’ to Alice’s and being able to spend time there.
Eventually, she got a bathroom in her home. That was nice -- nice for her. But she loved to garden, and she’d just bring in soil because she didn’t have the best soil up there. So she’d bring it in, and she’d work it, and put fertilizer in it.
There was a dairy farm up the slough, and so she would bring manure and stuff and enrich the garden.
And she grew wonderful things. She had big bunches of petrushkies in her garden -- we put on our fish. For seasoning it was wonderful.
And she’d always bring us goosetongues in the spring, when the goosetongues first came out. And she -- we would go to the beach and get bidarkis, and we got goosetongues out by the beach, too.
And several different things that we picked that we’d eat that were -- grew close to the beach. Dandelions -- when the dandelions first came out in the spring, we’d get that.
We’d get seaweed when it was bright and brand new -- the new stuff. And I don’t remember having that later.
It was great in the spring, but I don’t remember us picking it later in the year. ‘Cause we were really focused on berries and that sort of thing.
We went to church, usually wherever there was a missionary. And I really think that the missionaries and the teachers in Seldovia played a huge role in my life. I’m just really grateful for them, and grateful that we had that.
But when the music would start playing on Sunday mornings at the church at the end of town, we would walk down the boardwalk. She would come down from her place, and just lots of people. You’d just see ‘em on Sunday morning, goin’ down the boardwalk to go to church.
And the Methodist church was here, but we didn’t always have a pastor in it, so --
Esther Int-Hout, who’s still here, was my Sunday school teacher for years. And then when the Methodist church wasn’t there anymore, then Tania was -- Tania Wilson.
And Ann and I were friends. Very best friends. We’d walk the boardwalk to school, and my nephews --
My sister talks about Lowell Suydam when -- she said he was the bestest kid ever. She said he would pick us up at the house. He’d always come down and visit with my mom and dad in the morning, and then he and Steven and Wesley and -- they’d visit and then we’d walk to school. And he would keep us from any bullying along the way. But more so when she was younger.
But we would walk the boardwalk to school and -- and there was stores along the way, so there was Morris’ store, and then later -- later it was called Inglima’s, and then there was H. S. Young, or Raby’s store we called it.
And so we could get candy bars at both of those places, and a lot of us kids did.
And then at the post office we would turn up the hill and walk up by the tanks and go to school. We’d all walk -- wait on the steps outside of the school until the bell rang and we could go in. That was fun.
We had a lot of fun activities at -- it seems like special times. We’d have box socials, and at Christmas there was always plays, and -- and we celebrated the Russian Orthodox holidays, too, so we were lucky we celebrated both holidays.
And Easter was wonderful. Sometimes there was snow. Sometimes there wasn’t as much snow. But you’d still get all dressed up and walk down the boardwalk and go to church.
And -- and early on, when the Russian church was still active, we had kuli -- my mom always made kulich, and that’s a Russian Easter bread. And then the priest would come and bless it. He would -- and he’d visit us.
And then Russian New Year, or they would bring the star by the house. I remember that. There was always a big dance on New Year’s in Seldovia.
Fourth of July was wonderful. Just lots of activities. Jack English would oversee it. Oversee all the best-looking baby contest, and the sack races, and sawdust pile. Much like it is today.
In fact, last year I just thought how much -- how similar it was.
I loved playing on the boat floats. I could play for hours. In my house I have pictures of the boat floats. And I -- I just think of all the good times I had down there.
Our dad would make us a swing from the mast and boom -- or mast and boom -- and he'd put a crab buoy on that swing, and we’d swing out over the water. We loved being on the boat.
And -- and the -- my father fished several different kinds of things, so one season it’d be halibut. And the top of the boat changes. What they have on there.
And so he’d get all his hooks ready and lines, and my mom always knit him wool fingerless gloves for that time of year.
And then they’d get ready for the season when they had gill nets and the season when they had seines.
And it was always fun when the skiffs came out, because the skiffs were wood, and they -- it seemed like they took on water in the spring. And then -- so they’d bring ‘em out and put ‘em in the water for a while, and they swell up and so they don’t leak anymore.
And I had a little skiff that I could row out in the bay. And I -- I spent a lot of time in my skiff.
And I had a hymnal. We didn’t have a lot of books in our house. We had a hymnal and Mother Goose rhymes and a Bible, and so there just weren’t a lot of books, and we didn’t have magazines or newspapers. We had catalogs.
So I’d take that old ragged hymnal out in my skiff, and just sing my little heart out on the bay. I loved that. I loved to row and I still love to row.
Sometimes the current would get a little feisty. And I -- I really couldn’t go too far when I look at it today, or I didn’t try to go too far in that little wooden skiff, but it was perfect for rowing. I just loved it.
JAN YAEGER: And could you swim, or did you just trust that you wouldn’t fall in?
LAUREL BAIRD: No. I didn’t learn to swim until I was forty-five years old and my daughter was swimming. I -- I didn’t try.
I think I’d go to the swimming hole where the kids would swim, and I didn’t know a lotta kids in the summertime, so I was alone a lot then when swimming was -- they were actually swimming.
The kids that were here were a little bit older. Shirley Boone was here, but she lived up the slough, and so I didn’t see her as much.
And the kids -- there were kids that lived up the slough, but it seems like we spent a lotta time on the boardwalk. I didn’t know how to swim, so I’m just very fortunate I didn’t fall in.
JAN YAEGER: The swimming hole, is that the one that’s behind Outside Beach, that now is kinda tidal?
LAUREL BAIRD: Yes. It wasn’t tidal before. It was freshwater and there were a lotta leeches, and I think that that’s what deterred me from going in.
And the other thing is, I have a real fear of lily pads. And there was one section that had lily pads, and I just -- I don’t know if it’s when my brothers were young, they talked about getting stuck in the lily pads or what, but they -- they were cautious of them, I know.
I was a scaredy-cat somehow -- I don’t know what from.
My father was a great storyteller about old Seldovia and he lived at the end -- the other end of town from where we lived. We lived in a house that Svedlund built, and he lived in Homer, too, and built homes over there.
But it was -- looking back, I think it was a nice house, you know. It was certainly well built, like in the howling storms and stuff. It was well built, and it had two stories.
But one end of it was a log cabin and so the -- after the earthquake they couldn’t raise that part, and they raised our house and then built on another part but couldn’t take the log -- the log part up.
But at the other end of town is where my father was raised, and where the ways come down. It’s close to where the church is.
There was ways where they dropped the boats in the fall of the year. The cannery owned a lotta boats that people used, and then they’d house ‘em -- house them down there.
And that -- up by the ways where, when I was older Flemings lived in that house. That was my grandmother’s house. So my great aunt Barbara and my grandmother Florence Hammelbacher lived in that house.
But that’s where my father was raised, too, and it was across from the Russian Orthodox cemetery. So he had all kinds of -- he liked to scare us, too, and he would tell us stories.
But it really is true that people would pray on the graves in the evening, after somebody passed and they were buried. And then the snow would fall on ‘em and cover them with snow, and then he’d say in the morning when they raised up, they would be covered with snow and they’d scare the kids.
But he also talked about shamans and how they were afraid if somebody cut a piece of cloth off of their garments on the clothesline. And I don’t know if this really happened, but that -- that’s what he used to tell us a story about.
This is -- the barges -- that’s the same end of town. That’s where my grandma lived. And this was Willard Brun’s house.
But those are barges down at the end of town. So once all those boats came up, then the barges lined up and those are what they used for tenders for the salmon.
JAN YAEGER: So that would be down close to where the -- LAUREL BAIRD: The church. JAN YAEGER: -- where the Bible church is? Okay.
LAUREL BAIRD: Yeah. So this is Willard Brun’s house and right behind it was my Uncle Rufie’s cabin. So Rufus is my great uncle, who’s very involved in the -- in the Kodiak area. He was a seaman. And he lived in a log cabin behind Willard.
Some of those houses are still there today. The Fishing Adventure place is still -- Otto Miller built one of the places in the Giles’ area down there.
I love this point. We used to be able to walk out on it where the lighthouse is, and we’d sit on that point and just watch the mouth of the bay, and it’s wonderful -- wonderful to spend time there.
And one of my favorite places is the Inside Beach. In the third grade -- well, at the end of the school year, we got out early because the kids went to fish sites. So it was always, like, May.
And they would always have a picnic, so we’d go to, like, the Inside Beach, or up by the old schooner, and we’d have this wonderful picnic at the end of the school year and always enjoyed that.
JAN YAEGER: Can you talk a little bit about what it was like shortly before the earthquake hit and then your -- were you here during the earthquake?
LAUREL BAIRD: No, I wasn’t. My family lived here on the boardwalk and I lived in Kodiak. I was in the ninth grade, and I was going to high school in Kodiak.
And there, they -- we had the shaking and it was very bad and very long. And then we were very fortunate, because I have four brothers who are fishermen and they were all in town that weekend.
It was Good Friday. We walked downtown Kodiak, and we were excited for Easter to come. We were looking in the windows at all the Easter things.
We’d gone home to eat dinner, and my only communication with my family in Seldovia was letters. And then, because we didn’t -- we didn’t have a phone at our house in Seldovia, so there wasn’t any communication that way, so just letters.
And then the tide went out in the harbor in Kodiak and emptied the harbor. And we went down to watch that.
And then it came back in, and we thought we better go back home, pack the car, and then we headed up to Pillar Mountain.
And we stayed in an abandoned house. And -- and I was with my brother and then my two other brothers came with all of their children, and we stayed in that abandoned house.
In the middle of the night, we heard -- got word that Seldovia had been wiped out. It was false information, but -- but we heard it had -- Seldovia had been wiped out.
So I was scared and really upset and didn’t hear until the next day that they were okay. My parents -- my mother went to the school with everybody else and my sister, but my father wouldn’t leave the house.
And then, just this past year, and I’d never heard the story before, but my sister said, “And Daddy wouldn’t leave the house. He insisted on going down with the ship. So he got in a skiff next to our scow and he was out in the skiff.”
And then she said the policemen had to come and take him and make him go to the school, because he was just gonna go there. And that’s not the story I heard. I heard that he just stayed at the house.
I didn’t know that he’d gotten in a skiff and was gonna ride the wave out if the wave came. But the -- that’s just stories afterwards.
But most of all I just remember the extreme fear that my family wasn’t here. But also, the hope that maybe that wasn’t right -- even at that age, I did have that hope.
I was grateful for that, so we did hear the next day, and then in the spring I came home. And it was very strange to walk to my house. It’d already been raised six feet so the water wouldn’t come into it.
And Salvation Army and the Red Cross came in and raised the homes, and I’m really grateful for them.
So anyway, they raised our home and I -- I think I -- the taxi cab brought me to the house, and it -- on the boardwalk we had to walk up steps to go to our house instead of just walking on, and that was very unusual.
And then the water would come right up over the boardwalk when the tide would come in high. So I knew that changes that would have to be made.
And -- and then our life really did change after that because we -- Urban Renewal came in and we moved away to Anchorage. And then I finished high school and went off to college.
So that part was fortunate. I’m really grateful. But the earthquake definitely changed our lives.
JAN YAEGER: So because your house had already been elevated, did Urban Renewal affect your house because the neighborhood around that had to be taken down?
LAUREL BAIRD: Yes, yeah. So my house would be where Esther’s house is now, or right behind that.
JAN YAEGER: Esther Int-Hout?
LAUREL BAIRD: Esther Int-Hout, mm-hm. And there wasn’t any industry down there, but they had decided that that’s how far the waterfront was gonna be.
So it sat there for a while -- a long time after we left it. And then they were filling it in.
So then I never came back to Seldovia for many years. I think we came, 1980. So from -- I left in ’65, I hadn’t been back.
And Seldovia people just don’t forget. I walked -- I walked into the grocery store and a lot of old-timers that I worked with in the cannery remembered and said, “Hi, Laurel.”
And my husband came with me and he’d never been here, and he -- we were walking down the street and Tuggle -- Tuggle Int-Hout opened his door and he said, “Hi, Laurel,” just like he saw me yesterday.
And my husband was always impressed by that, that he could remember -- but be so nonchalant, just go on -- go on about his business.
But it was -- it was wonderful to come back then and see what had been done.
JAN YAEGER: What was that like, to see it for the first time, when it looks like a very different community probably, than the one that you remembered?
LAUREL BAIRD: I really missed it. I really miss Seldovia the way it was. And I know you can’t go back like that, but -- but what a wonderful life growing up -- whether it was -- all the seasons were wonderful.
And, you know, there were hard times, too, when -- if a season wasn’t good or in the spring of the year.
One -- one day my father was gonna go fishing and we had a boat called the "Laurel O," and he went down and gassed it up, and so the tank was full and he parked at the boardwalk, or at the boat float.
And the boat float, from where it is today, was farther towards that end of town. So the little boat float -- he parked it there, and in the middle of the night we looked out the window and it was totally engulfed in flame.
And so my -- my father lost -- we lost our boat. So that’s his livelihood. And he was able to tender, and so that summer he tendered and then got a small business loan to have a boat built.
And in the fall we went to Seattle and had the "Loretta O" built. "Loretta O" was a diesel boat, and it was built more for the Kodiak area. So my father went to fish the Kodiak area. And that’s why we moved over there for a couple years.
But that really was life-changing, having the "Laurel O" burn. And we -- it was a -- what they used to call a lucky boat, and so the boat had lots of good hauls of fish, often came in loaded with fish or crab.
I have pictures at home of it loaded with crab, king crab, from pulling the pots right out here in Kachemak Bay. And that was all gone.
And so my father was able to help build on the boat -- on his other boat. And so we had that until he had his stroke, and then he sold it. And we moved back here.
And my mom worked in the cannery and worked in the cookhouse. And -- and she didn’t have a profession, so that was what she did, and she supported our family.
JAN YAEGER: What were the canneries that were here then?
LAUREL BAIRD: We had AYR, Wakefield. There was a cannery at the end of town that did crab. And I worked there for a while.
Right before I was sixteen I worked in the fish cannery, or crab cannery, and I loved it. I just -- I loved the coffee time, the camaraderie. It was wonderful.
And -- and I worked with the Moonins and the -- well, Moonins and Anahonaks. A lot of people that we -- that are still here today. And that -- we still have those friendships today.
And then learned a lot. So that was my first job, working in the cannery, besides the babysitting and stuff that I did earlier. Yeah.
The -- the town had a whole different sound when the canneries were all going, and you have the crab cannery does one thing and the sound, and the salmon canneries -- it’s just this ka-chink, chink.
It’s just a lotta noise, and it -- it’s wonderful. The whole town comes alive. The smell is different, you know, sometimes not so good.
And the whistles going off, and -- and people -- we were happy.
We had a dance on Saturday nights, and there was a dance hall, and so you would go home and get cleaned up from the cannery and sometimes not even too cleaned up, and go down and go to the dance. That was wonderful.
JAN YAEGER: Was that at Joe Hill’s?
LAUREL BAIRD: No, Joe Hill’s burned before I was -- it must’ve been in the forties. And anyway, Joe Hill was a good friend of my dad’s, and so my dad really was fond of him and talks really well of him.
And that was -- Joe Hill’s was down where my house was. Just, you know, close by my house. And that would be where they -- just beyond Esther’s.
JAN YAEGER: So where were your dances? When you would have your dances, where did you go?
LAUREL BAIRD: We went to that -- the dance hall. Now, if I think about it, it would be where the fire hall is. So, right -- it’d be in front of that.
There was a long -- the old library. Library was in the one end and the hall was in the next. That hall was used for all kind of things.
But, you’d have wedding receptions and dances. That’s where the voting booth was, you know, and my mom always counted votes with Elaine Giles.
And there was a group of ‘em that always counted the votes. But those were the great dances. And Jack English would call, and we’d have a Snow Ball, and all kinds of wonderful things. It was fun.
JAN YAEGER: Who were some of the other people that you remember, or think about, when you think of Seldovia?
LAUREL BAIRD: Oh, definitely Dick and Luned Inglima, that owned the store. And they were -- and before that, the Morrises, who -- Luned’s parents were the Morrises.
And in the store, Katherine Kashevarof always worked there. She’s a dear friend of my mom’s. And Katherine would work in the cannery and then work there, too.
And then at our end of town, Mr. Sandvik lived by us, and he’d come and have coffee in the mornings. Bertha Kruth would come, and Dora Ursin -- all the Ursins -- the Foxes lived above us.
And that’s who wrote this. Mae Annette’s family. And they’re related to Kashevarofs and to us. And then the -- Susan and Jack English, Old time friends of my father and mom.
And a lot of cannery people. Gosh, there’s so many people. I don’t wanna leave anybody out. But the Yuths -- all of -- Hartley and Harry and the Bowens.
And I mentioned Ann Anderson was my best friend, and her mom Tania was really a nice lady. Of course, the Int-Houts. Frank -- Frank Selentie lived by us. His house is still standing there. Otto Miller was a good friend of the family’s.
JAN YAEGER: Now is it his house that is the -- it's a bed and breakfast, right now? LAUREL BAIRD: Uh-huh. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
LAUREL BAIRD: Well, the bed and breakfast is Bertha Kruth. A Rowing Club is Bertha Kruth.
JAN YAEGER: Okay, I was actually thinking of the one that the Stranik’s have.
LAUREL BAIRD: The one that Stranik has is Otto Miller’s house. And that was built the year my sister was born in 1953, I think.
And he also built, at the other end of town where the Fishing Adventure place is, there’s a house on piling, or it might be a warehouse. And he built that, too, ‘cause that’s where he lived.
But he could build a nice place on piling. The houses had a Scandinavian feel. A lot of ‘em through town, I think.
Nick and Nora lived at that end of town. I’m forgetting their last name right now. Lippincott -- Nick and Nora Lippincott.
And the Frenches. He did a lot of building and built his home and stuff down there, but he also built that addition onto our house after the earthquake.
The Rudolphs ran the oil dock, and the Hendrixes were at Wakefield’s. I remember the Kincaids, and Margaret went to school with me. Carl Marrs was in my class. Well, Carl Marrs, Nancy Brewster, Shirley Boone, Joyce Elvsaas, Ann, we were all in the same class together.
JAN YAEGER: You also mentioned the H. S. Young store and you said later they called it Raby’s. Was that Frank Raby?
LAUREL BAIRD: Frank Raby, uh-huh.
JAN YAEGER: So he purchased that store from the Youngs? LAUREL BAIRD: Yes. Uh-huh. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
LAUREL BAIRD: Yeah, that was a wonderful store, and I always wondered what happened to the inside of it, you know.
When you go in stores today, they’re not so finely done. But it had wonderful woodwork in at least the one part of it -- the part that was covered over.
When you walked inside of it, on each side -- it was long and narrow, went to the back, but there were these really nice mahogany shelves. And they had a mahogany ladder that had brass work on it and it would slide from one end to the other.
So all the canned goods were in those beautiful shelves, and then that -- if you asked for some -- you always gave your list to them, or said what you wanted -- and then they’d shove that ladder along and go up there and get it.
And then at the end, it had a dock that you could bring a boat to. But there was a -- the meat area back there.
And then, if you -- there was a little opening and they had a gift shop, so it had like teapots and china cups and stuff like that, and then beyond that was all clothing.
So if you needed your nice things, like hankies or hats for Easter, you know, fancy things and shoes, you’d go to that part. And -- so it went on and on. It’s big.
And then on the other -- it seems to me, on the other side when you walk in the front door, there was candy and, like, maybe toiletries and stuff like that -- like powder, face powder, and that kind --
And they had this great pop machine that had ice cold water running through it, and it had bottles of pop in it. And so you’d put your money in -- I think it was -- it could’ve been even like thirty-five cents -- and then you had to take the bottle of pop and kinda go through all the things to get it -- to buy it.
And it had a lot of parts to it, so across the boardwalk in this covered-over place, was -- there was a liquor store, and then where you buy the paint and stuff like that. So it could outfit a lot of different things.
And at one time we had a really nice bakery. So you would go down to that middle part of town where there was the Linwood Bar and the Surf Club Bar, and the Coffee Cup restaurant, and then there was a hotel.
And I wanna say it was like -- it wasn’t the Boardwalk Hotel, but it was Mrs. Lloyd’s hotels, and somebody else’s after that.
And then the Colbergs lived right there. Well, the Colbergs were the ones that had the wonderful bakery. So when you would walk through that area of town, you’d just smell the bakery and it was -- it was really nice.
And we had a nice dress shop. And Mrs. Lipke’s store was down there. Mrs. Lipke’s store had dry goods as far as you could see, you know -- just all kinds of fabric, and then she had clothing, too.
And then we had a place we sent telegrams. So you’d go down and Mr. Lipke would send the telegraph. So that was our means of communication for a long time for emergencies.
And it wasn’t always something you liked to get, you know. When you got a telegram, it was probably not a good thing.
And we had the little hospital that didn’t always have a doctor, but quite a bit of the time when we lived here it had a doctor. And my sister was born in that hospital, and it was December 13th when she was born and so it was a real icy, snowy year.
And the hill was so icy you couldn’t walk down it to get to the boardwalk. So my father -- we took my mom up there and she had the baby, and to bring her home he borrowed an aluminum sleigh from Henry Erickson, who lived up the slough in a place called Valhalla.
And he built this aluminum sleigh and he let my dad use it. So my dad put my mom and the baby in the sleigh and then -- and me to get down the hill.
And then he hopped on the runner and went down that icy hill and got us to the boardwalk. And then pushed my mom home on the boardwalk.
JAN YAEGER: That sounds like a lot of adventure for the day or two after having a baby. You’d have to make that corner.
LAUREL BAIRD: Yes. And he did. He’s pretty good at that. That was a fun time for us.
My -- my brother -- two brothers grew up in Seldovia, Glen and Larry Suydam. And they played with Eric and -- Eric, mostly, and Frankie -- Eric Nordenson, Frankie Kashevarof.
And they used to wait for my brother to have dinner, and they’d be waiting outside so you’d hear these howls, like -- or birdcalls -- and we’d just think it was a bird outside and it was them, and that’s how they communicated with each other.
So my brother would jump up from the table, run outside, and give a birdcall -- would call back to ‘em. Sound like a bunch of wild animals out there.
They had a lot of fun playing. And we played in the dark. It was fun. We sledded on the hill in the wintertime. That was so much fun. We skated at the skating lake, and we’d have a big bonfire out there.
JAN YAEGER: Is that Lake Susan? LAUREL BAIRD: Yeah, Lake Susan. And that was --
JAN YAEGER: And the hill, was that Cap’s Hill where you’d sled? Or was that somewhere else?
LAUREL BAIRD: No, it’s actually where -- and I don’t know the name of the street, but let’s see, the Lindstedt’s, and you come down by where Lake Ter -- or Seldovia House is now. So that used to be a real steep hill.
And we would sled down that. So the whole -- like, all the kids in town would come with their sleds, and there was a lot of us. Birthday parties were fun. Our parents always made ‘em fun.
They had these -- the ladies in town had a lotta fun things going on. But they’d have, like, see how they could catch people first thing in the morning, so like, really early in the morning they’d go knock on somebody’s door and then you’d have to go to somebody else’s house for breakfast in whatever you were wearing.
And they’d always try to catch my mom, like, in her pajamas or something. But they never could ‘cause she got up so early and she was always meticulous.
So Mom had a reputation for that. My mom did the haircutting in town. Other people did it later on, but my mom would cut all the fishermen’s hair. So she’d come home from work and they’d be lined up, ‘cause they’d come in from fishing and they’d feel shaggy and stuff, and she’d clean ‘em up, fix their hair.
JAN YAEGER: And did you say your grandmother was Florence Hammelbacher? LAUREL BAIRD: Mm-hm.
JAN YAEGER: And she was kind of a midwife in town, wasn’t she?
LAUREL BAIRD: She -- she delivered three hundred and sixty-some babies. I don’t have the exact number in front of me, but she delivered a lot of babies.
And they came -- the people came from all over in the villages, and she spoke several Native languages.
She came from -- originally from Afognak, and then lived on Wood Island, and actually grew up on Wood Island, but lived on Afognak, too. And learned to midwife at a young age.
So she was -- she started when she was about thirteen years old being a midwife and delivered all these babies. And she’s in that quilt book because she gave a -- she made a quilt for the babies that she delivered.
And she went through several husbands. Her first husband and her child died in an epidemic in Afognak. And then she met my Grandfather Olssen and he died early.
He was a dory builder here in Seldovia. And then she married Hammelbacher after that. And she lived here until the thirty -- late thirties -- and moved to Seattle, like, in 1939.
JAN YAEGER: Did she come here after the Katmai eruptions also?
LAUREL BAIRD: Yes. She came on that Coast Guard cutter "Manning," and she’s the one that delivered my Uncle Dick on the boat on their way over here.
My -- my father was very young. He was like three years old when he came here. He -- he was a great storyteller and knew a lot about Seldovia, so sometimes the stories he told will come to me, but I -- I forget.
And being away for a long time, you don’t think -- you don’t think about those things. And so this is wonderful to be able to come back and reminisce.
It’s fun to sit with people that you grew up with and watch how things come out when you’re talking, you know. It's wonderful.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah, well thank you so much for taking the time with us today. LAUREL BAIRD: Oh, you’re welcome. JAN YAEGER: I really appreciate it.
LAUREL BAIRD: Thank you.