Saxman Totem Park, Secretary of State Pole (Seaward Pole) – Saxman AK


The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) relocated the Secretary of State Pole (Seaward Pole) from a village in Southeast Alaska to the newly established Saxman Totem Park. The CCC set up a totem restoration project in 1938 and Tlingit carvers enrolled in the CCC lead the work.

In the 1961 volume, The Wolf and the Raven, anthropologist Viola Garfield and architect Linn Forrest describe the visual characteristics of the Secretary of State Pole: “Standing near the carving of President Lincoln in Tongass Village was the figure of his Secretary of State, William H. Seward. Seward, perhaps more than any other one person, was responsible for the purchase of Alaska from Russia.

In the summer of 1869 Seward visited the Territory and stopped at Fort Tongass. While there he was entertained by Chief Ebbits, who spread luxurious furs for him to walk on. A handsomely carved and painted chest covered with furs was his seat of honor, and Ebbits presented him with an ornamented hat, the furs and chest, and other gifts.

Some years later, probably about 1885, the Seward pole was carved to commemorate the visit. The Secretary of State is shown sitting on the carved chest, wearing the spruce-root hat with ringed crown that is the mark of an influential and wealthy man. According to tradition Seward did not repay either the courtesy or the generosity of his hosts, and the pole served to remind the Tongass people of the fact. No crest or other symbolic carvings were added to the slender shaft on which Seward sat for so many years above the deserted village.”

The photographic material published here by the Living New Deal was provided by courtesy of Linn A. Forrest (1905-1986), a practicing architect who photographed the totem poles at the time of their restoration, between 1939 and 1941. Forrest oversaw the joint program of the Forest Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps to recruit Alaska native carvers in the restoration and recarving of totem poles throughout Southeast Alaska. Employed by the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon, Forrest transferred to Juneau, Alaska in 1937, where he undertook the totem restoration as one of his first projects. Under his supervision, indigenous carvers preserved and restored 103 totem poles and three Tlingit and Haida community houses. Forrest documented the restoration process and maintained notes and a photo record of a significant portion of the work. He used a Leica camera designed for the then new Kodachrome 35mm color slide format.

Source notes

Garfield, Viola and Linn Forrest, 1961, The Wolf and the Raven, Seattle: University of Washington Press, p. 13-56.

Saxman Totem Park, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, 1979, accessed July 1, 2017.

Project originally submitted by Linn Forrest and Steve Forrest on July 12, 2017.

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Location Info

Saxman Totem Park
Saxman, AK

Coordinates: 55.31977385882524, -131.59604775270918

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