U.S. Rep. Don Young thinks about William Henry Seward every time he flies over Alaska. Now, he’ll be able to see Seward every time he goes to the Alaska State Capitol.
Young was one of six speakers who introduced the long-awaited Seward Statue on Monday. The statue, which depicts the former Secretary of State who engineered the country’s purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867, was installed in the Dimond Courthouse Plaza across the street from the Capitol.
A crowd of well over 100 people gathered in the drizzling rain Monday afternoon, and heard politicians and a professor wax nostalgic about Seward and express their pride in the 49th state. Young said that whenever he flies into Alaska from Washington, D.C. and elsewhere he thinks about Seward and the purchase he orchestrated.
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott spoke along similar lines, expressing hope for Alaska reaching the potential that Seward saw when he negotiated the Treaty of Cession to purchase the territory.
“I just can’t help but believe that his vision will be realized over time,” Mallott said, “as Alaska more and more becomes a place in which the kind of America that we can be, the kind of America that we aspire to be, the kind of America that can take riches and create opportunity for every single one of us, will truly be realized.”
The statue is almost four years in the works, costing about $250,000 and traveling 4,500 miles from New York to its final stop in Juneau. The statue was mostly funded by grants and donations, including a $25,000 donation from the City and Borough of Juneau. The 6-foot bronze statue is meant as a tribute to Seward and his vision for Alaska, also commemorating the 150-year anniversary of the Treaty of Cession. The statue holds the treaty in one hand and a straw hat that Seward was known to wear in the other.
In addition to politicians from around the state, seven of Seward’s descendants were in attendance as well. Seward’s great, great, great, great, great grandchildren Jayden and Joy Dates, stood just a few feet from the statue as the sculptors — David and Judith Rubin of Ketchikan— removed the plastic covering to reveal the statue.
Robert Venables, whose father John Venables led the charge for the statue prior to his death in 2015, also stood nearby, smiling as his father’s vision became a reality. Wayne Jensen, the co-chair of the Seward Committee along with Mary Becker, was pleased with the turnout Monday and with the final product.
“It’s very rewarding,” Jensen said. “The outcome is just incredible. I think it’s just an incredible piece of public art to add to Juneau’s historic tours. We’re very proud of it and very happy with the outcome.”
Becker and Jensen both spoke briefly, but left the majority of the talking to Mayor Ken Koelsch, Mallott, Young and University of Alaska-Anchorage Professor Emeritus Steve Haycox. Koelsch and Haycox (who specializes in Alaskan history) spoke mostly about Seward’s life and accomplishments.
Mallott and Young, on the other hand, spoke much more about current politics instead of 1860s politics. Young in particular spoke about the importance of working together in a time where political divisiveness is dominating the state and the country. In seeing the statue go up, Young thought of everything that the state has to offer and said that sometimes Alaskans don’t appreciate all of the different aspects of the state.
“I encourage Alaskans that, before you go to Europe or you go to Hawaii,” Young said, “go see part of Alaska.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at email@example.com.