Story Time with Aunt Phil: Russian Jack
One early Anchorage settler has many prominent places named after him including a street, a large park, a bank branch, an apartment complex, a post office and an elementary school. But it turns out that this homesteader/bootlegger was also a convicted killer!
Several of Anchorage’s future prominent citizens moved to town during the 1920s and 1930s, including Polish immigrant David Green, who began a fur business; John and Marie Bagoy, who built a greenhouse that supplied the community with fresh-cut flowers and vegetables; and a young reporter named Robert Atwood, who married the Bank of Alaska banker’s daughter, Evangeline Rasmuson, and took over as editor of the Anchorage Daily Times.
Another individual, for whom many places in Anchorage now are named, also settled in the new railroad town. Jacob Marunenko, better known as Russian Jack, left a wife and two small children in Ukraine and began homesteading in the Last Frontier. He changed his name to Jack Marchin and operated the Montana Pool Room at 436 4th Ave.
He also made a pretty good living making moonshine in an illegal still on his homestead, about three miles east of the city center, and selling it to several of the town’s more prominent citizens. During the winters, he lived in a house located between A and Barrow streets off Fifth Avenue.
In the winter of 1937, when Anchorage had a population of about 2,200 people, Russian Jack attended a party at a nearby cabin that erupted into violence during which he shot and killed Milton Hamilton. Russian Jack – who was a man of medium size and sported a flowing mustache – explained to the court that he killed Hamilton in self-defense, as the taxi driver was trying to choke him.
Russian Jack was found guilty of manslaughter, but the jury recommended leniency. In fact, one source said the taxi driver deserved to be killed! The judge sentenced Jack to two and a half years in the federal penitentiary at McNeil Island, Wash.
He only served a portion of that sentence and returned to Anchorage. A few years later, it appears that Anchorage residents had totally forgiven him as they nominated him for the auspicious post of Mardi Gras King for the 1948 Fur Rendezvous. He lost the election to Kurly Braga, but he was named prince of the events.
That same year, the city got title to Jack’s 320-acre homestead. It turns out Marchin was not a U.S. citizen, so he put his property under the names of his friends and had been unable to “prove up” the land. Today it is a popular sanctuary, golf course and ski trail site known as Russian Jack Springs Park.
Russian Jack became a naturalized citizen in 1954, at age 70, and moved to California later that decade. He died in 1972 at age 88. Late Alaska historian John Bagoy arranged for a headstone to mark Jack’s grave in Arvin, Calif. near Bakersfield.