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Marcus Jensen
Marcus Jensen
Marcus Jensen talks about the fire department in Juneau fighting a fire in the school house. He also talks about a Boy Scout camping trip, life in Douglas, and the small community there.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2010-06

Project: Juneau Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Nov 17, 1995
Narrator(s): Marcus Jensen
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
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Story about school house fire

The Islander accident

A Boy Scout camping trip

Douglas school and their basketball team

Native community in Douglas

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WALLY OLSEN: Who was born and raised here and lived her entire life in, Juneau and Douglas and Mark who came here as a guide.

So I'll leave it up to you who'd umm rather begin first here. Mark or Mamie?

MARCUS JENSEN: Well we were just talking about it. But anyway in a few months I'll be 88 years old and I have 20 stories to tell you.

And tonight I'm only going to touch on two of them.

But anyway, if you want to get excited and have something to consider just feel that you're in a town with 52 buildings burning, a 70 knot wind that you can't stand up against and you don't know where to turn.

On top of that I think that the Weekly here paper has given a good rough coverage of what that fire happened.

And tonight I'm just gonna add a little story about one guy trying to fight for his house.

But, this all started when the big building schoolhouse caught on fire and that was a big building and the flames would just shoot out of every window when the, when the wind would hit it at that 70 knots.

Tommy Cashen's (phonetic) house was right across the street from it and he and Edna had improved it and owned it for quite a while.

When the flames were intense, Tommy happened to be behind a snow bank close to the house.

Shingles burning, timbers and stuff like that would be flying through the air and land against the house and he'd throw snowballs and throw snowballs until he got them out.

But anyway, the Coast Guard people had come over during that period of time and were told to help people get their stuff out of the house, if the house was gonna burn.

It looked very much like Tom's house, he was gonna loose it because the way the flames would spread right across the street when winds would hit it hard.

He's throwing these snowballs, the Coast Guard people work into his house without asking anybody and start removing everything that was movable.

They moved out of that house way across the street.

And the thing that I can never get over and realized it was a miracle. They had a cabinet, a china closet, china umm -- yeah --

MAMIE JENSEN: A china cabinet.

MARCUS JENSEN: Cabinet that was full of glassware, beautiful glassware with circular glass windows on the outside.

They took that and moved it across that street without breaking a thing.

On top of that they took the rug out of the front room after everything was piled on the other side of the house and covered it.

And the only damage done when the, when the building, big building caved in, the school building caved in, then the flames went down and were so intense.

At that time Tommy thought he needed to rest, he walked into the house and he was just staggered there wasn't a thing, there wasn't a thing to you know -- I mean.

You know what they did, they even went downstairs in the basement and cut the, cut the furnace loose from the, the burner, the burner loose from the furnace and took that out and he didn't even have a chance to heat the house.

The remarkable thing is and I often looked at that cla-- glass -- case that they had there when they brought it back in there was still nice cut glass in there and set it just like it had never been moved.

I thought that was really a miracle.

The next story I'd like to tell is not too many people I think have heard of the Islander.

Now in 1900 the Islander left Skagway with 200 people on board and two of them were children.

When they come around the point here in, in the north end of Douglas, south end of Douglas Island, they hit a heavy fog and it hit a glacier that sank the boat.

Out of the 200, 40 were lost. 40, the two babies were lost, too.

And the waves and stuff were so intense that some of the furniture and stuff were washed ashore.

Mame's dad was still in the business on Front Street then and some of this furniture was brought in to him and, and he bought it.

35 years later because of this impact of the gold in that boat, they brought two old boats up from Seattle and put cables underneath this Islander and raised it and took it across the Baranof on a, on a beach over there.

The word got out very quickly when they beached that boat that there were big barnacles on it and so I run my boat down there and took a look at it and there were barnacles all over.

I knocked off three or four of them and took them back to Douglas and went down to the shop there and I told her dad.

I said, "I want to make a candle stick holder out of this, this big barnacle"

and he says, "you know when you mentioned that Islander," he says, "it seems to me 35 years ago when they brought some of that old furniture in I bought some from them."

We went way back at the end of his shop and he started pulling out lumber and stuff like that.

He pulled out a long banister and he pulled out a back, a back of a couple of chairs and, and between all the stuff he pulled out I decided to make a lamp out of it.

And so I got a piece out of the banister and then the thing that was original about this whole thing was that it in the middle of the chair of every chair was Canadian National Pacific Company.

And I asked him if I could cut that one out of that one chair, to make it mean a little bit more.

And just for, for, for a little bit of interest I brought this lamp along so that you can see, see what it's like.

But the barnacles were, were in pretty good shape. This is what the barnacle looks like, and here's the Canadian National Pacific there.

Have I got any more time?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Oh yeah, sure.

MARCUS JENSEN: Well anyway you've been sitting a long time I don't want to take ...there, there's so many things to talk about you know I could keep on going all night.

But umm for part of the time I was in Douglas in the late '30s and the '40s, I was scout master.

And we had some young fellows there that made up the scout troop that were really brilliant.

They were good at tying knots and were good at doing everything a scout should learn to do.

We used to take them on weekly trips at one thing or anther.

They earned enough money one year so that they had a problem of how to spend it.

And in about 1940 or something like that the first floatplane that I remember coming into Juneau was brought in by Wing Ding Irwin, if you've ever heard the name.

It was a floatplane. We finally made a deal with him to fly the scouts and our equipment into Young's Lake.

And we were going to have a two-day, two and half day deal there and then walk out to the beach and a boat would pick the boys and stuff up.

Well we spent a of time dividing up the workload between who would get this meal and what they would be and how it would be handled and it, and we finally had it all on paper and everybody knew their job.

We were flying the stuff in and I took the second trip in there because I had two big tents from the forest service that I was gonna help put up.

When the last plane comes in and we're sorting out stuff, I says, "Well where is the box with the all the utensils in it for cooking?"

That was left on the dock. I said, "You can't believe it."

Here we had about 35 kids and ourselves, five of us guys and not a thing to cook with. I'm not kidding you.

There was two scouts I remember this, there were two scouts that had this little aluminum frying pan on their side and they were really, they were really, they could sell anything, I'm telling you.

It was really something to see.

We just had meals going at all times and anything they wanted, put it together the best way you can. It was it was a scouting experiment.

But I remember that in the middle of the night we had these kids all lined up one after another you know, and some of them were pretty small.

A couple of them woke up and were talking in their sleep and one thing and another.

But it was, it was quite an experience and we did get back to the beach and the boat did, did pick us up. It was quite a, quite a, quite a deal.

Have you got time for another one?


MARCUS JENSEN: Anyway -- one, one thing that happened and my son's here so I can talk about it.

He graduated from the Douglas High School I think in '53 or something like that.

And that year there was enough seniors so that they had a basketball team that won the Southeastern Championship and they went to Fairbanks and they played hard but Fairbanks had been eating more and they won.

So that was the end of that. But the thing that's interesting about this story is the fact that at that time it became clear that Douglas could not keep an accredited school.

It just wasn't enough students there and we wanted to join with, with Juneau on that level of, of high school.

There was so much feeling in Douglas, in that small town of Douglas, that Douglas had to have that Douglas by Douglas and Douglas had to have the baseball team by Douglas and all this crud--- garbage about going together in school wasn't going to work.

They even raised some money and took us to court on that.

I couldn't believe it. No fooling, they did and you know they spent a little bit of money and tried this and that.

But anyway they lost and that's how that event happened.

But one thing I think we should mention tonight, Douglas at that time had a, quite a native community along the beach.

Most of them were gillnetters that went up Taku and they were very active.

One day I walked down to one of the houses there and here's a native woman making a basket and she would just started this spruce wood basket.

And the, the stems were maybe three feet long, she just had about that much at the base made out.

But they were professionals at it.

MamIe happened to have, her dad that was interested in this kind of stuff and, and she's got a couple are a hundred years old and the coloring in them today is just like it was done.

We have a picture here that I thought you might enjoy looking at that represented what took, took effect in Douglas.

You can just pass this around, but this is the, the Douglas store there and the, the, the umm --

MAMIE JENSEN: You want to pass this?

AUDIENCE: Now where was this at?


AUDIENCE: Where, where was it located?

MAMIE JENSEN: Front Street in Douglas.

MARCUS JENSEN: That burned up that burned up, burned.

MAMIE JENSEN: Is that it?


MAMIE JENSEN: You all through?

MARCUS JENSEN: I'm through.