Just miles northwest of Eagle Beach, the relic of the Princess Sophia sits awash in the icy waters of Lynn Canal.
Vanderbilt Reef claimed the 245-foot vessel 100 years ago on Oct. 25, 1918. It was the worst maritime disaster in Alaska history; every one of the Sophia’s 350 passengers was lost that day.
While the sea claimed them forever, memories of the dead were planted firmly ashore Saturday: a memorial, in the form of a 10,000-pound slab of granite and quartz, was dedicated at Eagle Beach State Recreation Area.
Igloo 6 of the Alaska Pioneers had worked on the project for about five years, raising funds and developing the concept. Finally in place Saturday, Igloo members unveiled the memorial rock and an accompanying informational placard next to it.
Through a steady rain, Alaska Pioneers Igloo 6 King Regeant Fred Thorsteinson read a commemoration.
“A century ago, Juneau was a town of less than 3,000 people. When the bodies arrived, the territorial capital received a deluge equal to more than 10 percent of its population,” Thorsteinson said.
It’s a mission of the Pioneers to preserve Alaska history, Thorsteinson said. The Sophia tragedy had ripple effects, he said.
“It was a major event in the history of the Yukon Territory and Alaska. It had lasting effects,” Thorsteinson said. “It was just a forgotten event. A lot of people didn’t know about it, so we thought it was an important thing to do.”
Two people who had felt that ripple attended the dedication. Maxine Harper Richert and Toni Mallott, wife of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, are both relatives of Sophia passenger Walter Harper, an Alaska Native man famous for his mountaineering and outdoor skills. In 1913, Harper became the first person to reach the summit of Denali, the highest point in North America.
He died with his wife on the Sophia at the age of 25. They died hand-in-hand, Harper Richert said of her great uncle.
“I just thought, what could he have accomplished?” she said.
Harper Richert, a Juneau woman, said she didn’t know how hard rescuers worked to try and save the Sophia’s passengers.
“My mom had heard stories of when they brought the bodies back, how hard it was on the people. I am happy that 100 years from then they are still paying tribute,” she said.
The dedication is part of a year-long series of events marking the centennial anniversary of the Sophia disaster. A full list of events can be found at rememberthesophia.org.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.