Story Time with Aunt Phil: The Alaska flag
On a trip to Washington, D.C. in 1925, Alaska Territorial Governor George Parks noticed that no Alaska flag hung among all the U.S. state and territorial flags in the rotunda of the old post office building. Upon his return to Alaska, he announced a flag design contest open to all seventh- to 12th-grade classes across the territory.
Benny Benson, who was born in Chignik in 1913, was living in Seward at the time. His Aleut-Russian mother had died when he was four and his father, a Swedish fisherman, could not care for him and his brother, Carl, so he put his boys into the Jesse Lee Home in Unalaska.
From the moment Benny moved into the home, missionaries thought there was something special about the serious little boy whose black hair, standing up all over his head, had earned him the nickname “Porcupine.” And when the brothers moved to Seward after the home was relocated in 1925, the superintendent predicted that someday the boy would become famous.
Benny spent many hours enjoying the clear view of all the stars during his evenings at Resurrection Bay, which gave him an idea for the flag contest. He grabbed a 10x14-inch piece of art paper and colored it dark blue. Then he drew the seven golden stars of the Big Dipper pointing to the North Star.
He explained his drawing in a childish scribble:
“The blue field is for Alaska’s skies and the forget-me-not, an Alaskan flower. The North Star is for the future state of Alaska, the most northerly of the Union. The Dipper is for the Great Bear, symbolizing strength.”
From 142 entries, Benny’s design was the unanimous choice of the judges. It was hoisted into the air for the first time on July 9, 1927, in Juneau.
The flag inspired Marie Drake, secretary to the Commissioner of Education, to write a poem based on Benny’s narrative. And in 1938, Elinor Dusenbury composed music for Drake’s poem and created the song we know today, “Alaska’s Flag.” It became Alaska’s official state song in 1955.
He died of a heart attack three years later on July 2, 1972. He was 58.
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