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Thread: The Smilin' Eskimo - Jerry Garcia? - Fact or Fiction?

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    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    The Smilin' Eskimo - Jerry Garcia? - Fact or Fiction?

    FICTION!! And it is NOT Alaska’s most SENIOR Flight Attendant either.

    But for you, loyal CloudDancer StoryBook readers, I shall solve the mystery and you will know something even a majority of their own employees don’t know. WHY does this face adorn the verticle stab/rudder assembly of all the Mad Dogs and Boeings flown by “Seattle Air”? How LONG has he been there? Learn too how he survived some smart airline management’s push.....
    (huh, “”smart airline management” ....now THERE’S an oxyMORon for ye’) to be rid of the Eskimo, fearing he had outlived his “usefulness”. And now....we begin.

    Once long ago and far away, the Territory of Alaska at the end of the 1940's to be exact, the predecessors of today’s Alaska Airlines along with the old Wien Consolidated Airlines were flush with airplanes and scraping for revenue.

    Good Ol’ Uncle Sam , true to his word, had bequeathed upon them (as well as ALL airlines in America) war surplus DC-3s and C-46 Curtiss Condors to replace and make up for all the passenger liners that the government had “commandeered” in the days and weeks immediately following Pearl Harbor.

    ********
    Sidebar here for our “under 30" readers. If, when you first read the words “Pearl Harbor”, you were puzzled and wondered briefly if it was some obscure heavy metal or Pacific NW “grunge” band......PLEASE..... Google it, and you will find it was an extremely sigNIficant American naval battle which....oh, nevermind. Just go ask your Grandpa.

    ********

    At the same time Alaska’s young, but well established already boom ‘n bust cycle was in the “bust” portion following the “boom” years of World War Two. And the airlines were looking under EVERY rock to find revenues to pay the employees and keep the fleets going.

    Someone, and I confess I know not who, came up with the clever idea of marketing Alaska and her charms as a TOURIST destination, complete with day and overnight trips to the undiscovered hinterlands of Barrow, Nome, and Kotzebue so that people could “see how the natives lived”. But after having that initial flash of brilliance, which would lead to one of today’s three largest in-state industries and sources of employment; all were totally at a loss as to what to do with the “tourists” if and when they came.

    Turning their gazes south and westward their attention was drawn to another American Territory, the Islands of Hawaii. Realizing that THIS paradise and it’s native peoples had been successfully exploited for well over two decades already, with ever increasing numbers of visitors; I suspect that, sensing an opportunity to learn much, a “business trip” to the Islands was hastily arranged for these ‘visionaries” to conduct “research”.

    Now fast forward to the late 1960's and early 1970's and think of ANY episode of Hawaii Five-O or newsreel footage showing the arrival of tourists at the airport. There were ALWAYS two GORgeous “Hula Girls’ complete in grass skirts standing at the bottom of the airstairs.

    **********

    ANOther sidebar for our younger readers - Prior to the invention of jetways, airline passengers boarded and deplaned using external “airstairs” mounted on wheels or pick-em-up trucks, or in some cases (such as Lockheed Electras or Convair products) using integral fold up/down stairways which, in either case meant you started and ended your journey at ramp level.

    (Sheesh....whoda’ thunk I’D ever be teaching HISTORY just to write!!)

    **********

    Why I’ll never forget MY first trip to the islands as just a mere “tadpole” CloudDancer; one of the privileges of being an “airline brat”. I was all of seven precocious years old in 1961.

    I emerged from the front of the Newnited Douglas DC-8 front door into the brilliant tropical afternoon Pacific sunshine and was IMMEDIATELY overwhelmed by the salt water and multi floral scented air that had rushed into the cabin the instant the door was opened to replace the artificial environment of the pressurized tube in which we had been cocooned for the last seven hours.

    Totally awestruck by the beauty of the almost completely green and heavily forested nearby hills and mountains, I unconsciously let Momma CloudDancer grasp my hand tightly as we descended the heavy diamond plated metal steps toward the tarmac. My head spun on a swivel from the geographical beauty around me to the sky over the runway where Intercontinental Boeing 707s and DC-8s lifted off one after another with their pure turbojet engines roaring like God’s own thunder and spewing four trails of greasy black smoke as they depart for points around the globe.

    Therefore I was down to about the last two steps as Mother CD jerked my arm and told me to watch where I was going.

    Now, the “job” of the two aforementioned “Hula Girls” was to greet EACH and every arrivee, male and female alike with a garland or necklace of fresh flowers (called a “lei”, and pronounced “LAY”). This was placed by the “Hula Girl” around the person’s neck and at the same time the girl would lean over, give the recipient a short and polite “peck on the cheek” followed immediately by saying cheerfully and warmly “ALOha! And Welcome to our Islands!”

    Well, I was about somewhere between four-and-a-half and four-and three-quarters feet in those days, I guess. So when I finally focused my attention straight ahead to “watch where I was going” the couple that deplaned ahead of us had received their welcome, moved out of the way, and there I was, eye-to- BEAUtiful, soft, laughing, and dancing eye with my very first “Hula GirL”. And she was SMILING....at ME!!

    Continuing the last two steps of the descent, I raise my cherubic baby-face upward to take in the glowing white orchid protruding from her coal black and wavy long hair which cascaded down over her shoulders to frame the multi-colored and blossomed floral lei that hung around her slender and tapered neck.

    Now finally on the ground I was no longer eye-to eye- with her, but rather my view was more of....um.....um......the bottom of the circular flower garland I noted rested on and between two half coconut shells which could not fully contain.....oh...my...GOD!! HalleLUjiah!

    Filling my vision as I wrenched my hand free of Momma CloudDancer’s grasp ( I mean a MAN doesn’t go around holding Momma’s HAND!!) My eyes were filled with WONDER as I beheld for the first time in my young Catholic life (oh, I’ll SUREly be going to hell after THIS) two of the most supple, firm, and naturally sun-bronzed bountiful BREASTicles I had ever SEEN!!

    hallelujiah! HalleLUjiah!!

    HAAA-LAAAAAY-LOUUUUUUU-YEAAAAAH!!

    Now...I’m not sure exACTly how it happened. I SWEAR...I mean HONest I didn’t do NUTHin’!! But as I staggered the last two steps toward this Polynesian Goddess, this ...this VISION of South Pacific loveliness, her arms extended outward toward me holding the flower necklace out......me bug-eyed and mouth surely agape.....(ya’ catchin’ FLIES again boy???) hypnotically mesmerized by those two.... COconuts....well........SOMEhow she acciDENTly tripped it seemed and fell forward!!

    Fortunately for HER, even at that age, I possessed the lightning quick reflexes that would so often in the future save my ass upon hearing some man’s voice booming “Honey....I’m HOME!! as I lay in some strange bedroom I did not recognize) AND Momma CloudDancer had already raised her young’un to be nothing if not courteous, gallant and self-sacrificing.

    Ergo, giving NO thought to the personal risk involved I immediately spread my legs slightly and braced myself as I grasp her lower forearms when she grabbed mine. And I’m SURE my scrawny seven year old legs must have trembled, threatening to buckle under most of the full weight of this girl who must have been twice my own weight. But FORtunately for all concerned the laws of physics had come into play here as I, leaning somewhat forward, now supported the majority of the “load” with my upturned FACE which had SOMEhow wound up wedged earlobe deep beTWEEN those luscious lobes, mouth still agape. :P ( No Dad! A’hm NOT a’catchin’ flies THIS time!!)
    :P :P
    Now, over the decades, yer favorite aviator extraordinaire has had many, MANY opportunities to explore similar valleys. Some, young and aglow with the vibrance of youth while some were less some. Some with the lingering scent of recently sprinkled lilac talc and some sweaty. And, of course, so many with the added attraction of a vaRIety of tasty “toppings, be it caramel, chocolate or my PERsonal all time favorite....Reddi-Whip!!

    But. As long as the breathe of life remains I shall never....EVER forget that brief ACCIDENTAL encounter so long ago on the HNL tarmac. The combined scents of coconut oil, flowers and natural musk, which buried themselves so DEEPLY in my young olfactory memory banks that day.

    Hmmmmmmm. You know what, loyal readers. Telling this story has FINALLY made me realize just exACTly why it is I love COCONUT MILK so much!! Maybe...just maybe this may ALSO resolve an embarrassing life-long problem as well You see.... on the very RARE occasions that my local grocery has fresh coconuts for sale in the produce section.....I get this exTREMEly RIGID........





    Oh yeah. So anyway....where WUZ I????

    So these guys come back to Alaska from their “fact-finding” mission to Hawaii in the late 1940's and the Territory-wide search is ON for the “official greeters” (native-type) who will welcome the hordes of soon to be (hopefully) invading tourists.

    Now, far, far from ANC, way up in Pt. Hope (which by the way IS the farthest most NORTHWESTERN point of land and human habitation on the North American continent) resided a handsome young twenty-something Inuit hunter and his soon to be blushing and quite attractive bride. Their names were Chester and Mary and they toiled day-to-day in complete obscurity as life for the indigenous natives back in the forties was every bit as demandingly difficult as it had been for their ancestors centuries before. Little did they dream that they would become two of the most well known faces in North American Native history....yet..

    Seems they were discovered by....oops!

    Well committed CloudDancer Cronicle perusers (and I’m sure many of you SHOULD be committed ) it seems that, yet again, I find myself short on time and somewhat LONG on THIRST!! So....as one of MY favorite storytellers (Paul Harvey) likes to say...be sure and come back LATER for the REST of the Story!!

    Yes, YES! Oh-KAY. I hear you already!! I.....PROmise I will finish BOTH this story as well as “A Good Day’s Work” by..... NEXT Monday.

    There! Satisfied??!! I PROmised. And CloudDancer’s word has ALWAYS been his BOND!!

    Now exCUSE me. My children NEED me! Well, I mean...ACTually...the kids belong to a pair of AC/DC strippers, a cocktail waitress and a bartender and NONE of them are biologically MINE!! And, to be TRUTHful, it’s actually their mothers that call me “Daddy”......

    I’mmmmmmmmm.OUTTA’ HERE!!

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    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    Seems they were “discovered” by.....well actually....once again....I’m not certain of WHO exactly brought Chester and Mary to the attention of the “powers that be” in the fledgling Alaskan tourism business. Nevertheless they were noted to be exceptionally attractive and very pleasant. So a deal was struck.

    As to the exact terms of the original or any subsequent deals, again I confess ignorance. However I learned through later friendships with both the local Wien station manger as well as a couple of Chester and Mary’s granddaughters, that the deal involved a salary, and more importantly, travel benefits, which are all but priceless when living in rural Alaska. (Today’s price for a R/T ticket tomorrow between ANC and OTZ (Kotzebue) is SIX HUNDRED NINETY-SEVEN DOLLARS ($697) for a one hour and twenty minute coach seat on a beat up 35 year old 737-200. Although you CAN get it down to three hundred ninety-three dollars ($393) for the same seat purchased for a month in advance travel. (The pricing power of a monopoly route.)

    Anyway, sometime starting in the early 1950's the new Alaskan Ambassadors of welcome met the first organized group of Alaskan tourists. And for decades to come, every summer from May 15th to September 15th, (the “official” tourist season in Alaska) Chester and Mary would meet each and every Alaska and Wien jet arriving in Kotzebue, whether there was just one couple or a full boatload of tourists on the airplane.

    In August of 1973, as I groggily descended the aft airstairs of the Alaska Airlines “Golden Nugget” 727-100 jet for the first time; until the Cessna 185 made the overhead “low pass” (see - “If You EVER Do THAT Again”) Chester and Mary were the first two of MANY smiling faces to greet me that day.

    They stood not more than a dozen feet from the bottom of the steps and both, as they always were and would be, were completely garbed in authentic hand made Alaska Eskimo Native clothes from head to toe. Each wearing huge bulky muskrat parkys with wolfskin ruffs and also traditional caribou skin mukluks (boots that go to mid-calf or knee high) with sealskin soles and unwieldy mittens made of moosehide, lined with rabbit fur, and with the most intricately beaded embroidered designs, again all done by hand.

    They laughed with the tourists in greeting, posed for pictures, and handed out these little fake VERY lightweight parkys (windbreakers, really with a fake fur ruff). The purpose was dual-fold as far as the jacket. It helped put and keep the tourists “in the mood” as well as provide a slight respite from the daily breeze and summertime temperatures somewhat cooler than the Lower 48 folks were used to. I remember it was 58 F degrees on July 31st 1973 when I rolled into town.

    Over the years Chester and Mary must’ve posed for thousands of photographs for so MANY people from all around the world. In addition, they have appeared on the covers of both Alaska’s and Wien Air Alaska’s timetables from time to time. And if you walk into almost ANY souvenier store , particularly in ANC or FAI you will find one of their most well-known pictures on....the POST CARD rack!!

    There are quite a few ubiquitous Alaskan postcards. One is a time lapse photograph showing a sunset becoming a sunrise. This card has about eight multiple exposures of the same sun moving along the horizon, and was shot off the back porch (or dock/pier) behind the Nu-Luk-Vik Hotel on Front Street in Kotzebue. Another card that’s been around forever is the “blanket toss” card.

    But surely, one of the MOST enDURing is the plain picture of Chester and Mary from shoulders up, all dressed in their parkys, with the radiantly blue cloudless Arctic skies behind their heads. And then somewhere along the way, it was decided that decided that Chester’s face should replace the other traditional Alaska Airlines “totem pole” logos on the vertical stab of all the airplanes since his was about the best known eskimo face in the world by the early 1980's.

    And that’s how he GOT there. But can he withstand the test of time?

    Epilogue;

    Somewhere in the late 1980's around 1987 I believe Alaska Airlines bought out a company which had been building a pretty good presence on the West Coast of the US. Called Jet America, it operated a fleet of MD-80s which, just by chance Alaska had just committed to as well to replace their fleet of aging and fuel guzzling 727's.

    That purchase and Alaska’s own previously planned expansion into the Lower 48, QUICKLY earned the company the distasteful nickname “Seattle Air” amongst it's detractors.

    In what I’m SURE was believed by an overwhelming majority of the now Seattle based airline's management to be pure GENIUS, a decision was made that it was time for a corporate makeover. No expense was to be spared as Alaska was leaving the stodgy and quaint “bush”airline image far behind as it spread it’s wings up and down the west coast and on to Mexico. Yep. Ol’ Chester had had his day, but it was OVER now. He was representative of everything the corporate entity wanted to put behind it.

    Months and (more than just) a FEW million dollars later the good folks at corporate communications tipped off the media that Alaska Airlines would have a LOT to show the world tomorrow.

    In January of 1988, the great secret was revealed. Beaming airline executives are handing out new business cards that had been printed, along with of course stationary, envelopes, timetables, napkins, bags for peanuts.....ANYwhere the Alaska Airlines name and logo appeared on ANYthing....new china for first class and all. And, oh yes! By the way. Here is our FIRST BRAND NEW Mad Dog 80 fresh from the factory assembly line and paint shop. And ALSO (just in case you didn’t Notice)....we got RID of the Ol’ Eskimo guy...whoEVER he was offa’ the tail....heh..heh..”

    In place of Chester’s smiling countenance was now some.....some....I dunno’.....hashish inspired version of some..... mountains??!! (Later rumored to be the basis for the short-lived Reno Air logo.)

    This whole project had been Alaska’s well kept secret ; which was too bad. Maybe if they’d ASKED folks what they liked they could’ve saved themselves a little embarrassment. Cause THIS deal went over with ALL the fizz of say...”New Coke”. If fact, I’ll beat the two guys who came up with the idea of New Coke and dumping the Eskimo BOTH have different jobs today. (And I’m betting NOT in advertising or promotions!!)

    The brouhaha this unleashed traveled quicker that a speeding jetliner. Starting on the North Slope of Alaska and traveling downward through the west coast of America and eventually leaping across the continent to land in New York. On WALL Street.

    Well when the uproar made it’s way to the financial capitol of the world and onto the pages of TIME magazine’s business section I’ll bet SOMEbody’s head rolled. But in any case, on the advise of their Wall Street expansion backers, Seattle Air’s management came to their senses. Chester was saved and lives on, most probably as long as there IS an Alaska Airlines.

    Another humorous and equally little known factoid is that a number of new MD-80s (I think about a dozen or so) were DEDICATED aircraft, ONLY operating service up and down the coast of California and into Mexico from Alaska’s bases in SEA and PDX.. On these few aircraft only, Chester could be seen for a few years wearing.... black Foster Grant Sunglasses!

    Although Chester passed away in the mid-1980's, his wife carried on their traditional greeting job for many years afterwards. It was truly, truly an honor to call them both my friends.

    CloudDancer

  3. #3
    fatcub's Avatar
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    Well Cloud, a very interesting story of Chester and how he came to bless our beloved tail. You are truly a wealth of knowledge and I always enjoy your colorful stories. Most of us aviators have volumes of stories locked away in the old vault but we lack the charisma to put them in writing (That is in a way of doing it without putting the reader on the expressway to REM sleep.).

    I have been occupying my little square of eskimo seat cushion for the better part of two decades now. I’ve seen the MO go from a small west coast north/south carrier to a,,,,, well small coast to coast “major airline” (Kinda oxymoronic huh) with HNL and coconut bras on the horizon before years end.

    I started here when the “New Coke” logo debacle was just winding down. The powers to be finally got the message when legislation (albeit mostly symbolic) was past in Juneau preventing Alaska Air Group from putting Chester out to pasture. From that point on Chester has a permanent home up there on the vertical. He has received a face lift that happened when the new script was implemented, he now sports a more prominent smile.

    Over the years we have learned about our history, from the beginning 75 years ago of McGee Airways up to today. I must admit though the story of Chester has been lacking from all of the books and videos that has been force fed to us through the years. As a matter of fact he has always been portrayed a fictional character of the marketing department. It must be a royalty scam or something! Those bean counters are a crafty bunch, but it does make one wonder about the motives of wiping Chester from the Alaska Airlines history books. Oh well with any luck the National Inquirer will pick up on this and give the answers we all deserve.

    OK, I got more Cloud Dancer chronicles to go read and as always I am anxiously waiting for our next installment.

    Scott..
    PA-12 Fat Cub

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    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    Hiya FatCub-

    Nice to hear from you sir. Verily Verily I say unto you. Indeed Chester and mary were real true people. In fact, their real countanances still gaze lovingly and happily from one of Alaskan tourist's most popular and long enduring post cards.

    It's simply a picture of Chester and his wife in their parkies with a blue skie behind thier upper heads and bodies shot upward from about waist level at a right angle. Next time you get an ANC or FAI 3hr 58 minute "airport appreciation break" (*) , as we call them at MY airline, go check out the postcard racks in the gift shop. I bet you'll find 'em.

    Enjoy your daily dose of Chronicles and thanx again for writing. I always wave when ATC calls the "Smilin' Eskimo" for traffic.

    CloudDancer


    For you NON-Airline pilot-types
    (*) 3 hr. 58 min "airport appreciation break" . If the company "parks" us (killing time between flights), usually our union contracts require them to provide us with a hotel room if we are SCHEDULED to be at an airport for 4:00 or more. You can only spend SO much time exploring the gift shops and if it AIN't your home base.....there is probably no CREW lounge....for YOU.

    Hence the THREE hour and fifty-EIGHT minutes SCHEDULED
    %$^#ing " airport appreciation break "

  5. #5

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    CloudDancer
    YOU OLD DISPENSER OF TRIVIA
    What ever happened to the gold panner and totem pole and other images on Alaska's tail? And what years were they there?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dennis Blankenbaker
    CloudDancer
    YOU OLD DISPENSER OF TRIVIA
    What ever happened to the gold panner and totem pole and other images on Alaska's tail? And what years were they there?
    Remember Seahawk 1......
    Tim

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    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    Seahawk One was indeed special. I even got to sit in Coach Chuck's seat one day between the Emerald City and the Big Village on the Cook Inlet.

    Speaking of "Cook Inlet" I am hammering away at a keyboard in the business center of the CAPTAIN COOK hotel this evening. GODfrey what a GLORIOUS evening in the Great Land.

    As to the gold panning miner and totem pole (and don't forget the flying samovar stewardii) I'm am a little LESS clear on the origin thereof and the dates in use.

    I do remember (see "If You EVER do THAT Again....") that I arrived initially in OTZ aboard an Alaska Airlines "Golden Nugget" B727-100. And that was in 1973. I think quite possibly both the Gold Miner and the totem pole motiff were used simultaneously.

    I shall however, have to consult my official history of Alaska Airlines to see if it can be nailed down any tighter than that.

    CloudDancer

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    CloudDancer

    There was a terrible helo accident in Phoenix on Friday. two news copters had a mid air. I think that they were in a class B area. I am not sure of the verbage. I think that they were in direct control of the tower. If this is so wouldn't they be assigned altitude. Just a question;

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    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    Hiya Rocket98 -

    Saw it on the news.

    Air Traffic Control generally clears them a stationary or sometime "moving" or "moveable" "block" of airspace ranging from the ground to some upper limit say, 1000 feet for example.

    The choppers are then required to remain within that airspace but within that three dimensional "block" they communicate directly with each other on a SECOND "discrete" VHF frequency, while STILL continuing to monitor the official Air Traffic Control frequency on a second radio....listen to the police frequency on a third radio (the POLICE copter is up there TOO in the same "box")....listen to the anchor desk/producer at the station on a fourth radio....simultaneously with watching out visually for airborne friends and foe AND FLYING the chopper.

    I think there is a good possibility that this may lead to new self-regulated "pool" film footage for "MOVING" crime scenes....wherein one station's chopper (on a rotating basis) will feed it's film footage to ALL the stations. And only a "gaggle" will be allowed when the crime scene or "emergency" is NON-MOVING such as fires, collision remnants.

    Often when there is an emergency landing at some airport be it PHX, LAX, or ORD you will see news copters from four or five different stations hovering in PLACE around the airport to provide footage. But they are essentially stable and motionless.

    I am NOT a HELICOPTER qualified pilot. I have flown about a dozen hours as unofficial copilot on two or three different choppers....I am just trying to point out that some to MUCH of the information contained in this response is my best speculation/understanding.

    CloudDancer

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