Betty Conklin, organizer and 22-year-participant of being an 1860s greeter for Sitka's Alaska Day Festival.
Story last updated at 10/16/2013 - 7:18 pm
Travelers disembark from airplanes into Sitka's airport - some wearing jeans, T-shirts and sweat shirts, while others don 21st Century business attire - and are greeted by an array of women and girls dressed in their finery, reminiscent of the 1860s.
Betty Conklin has been a period greeter (and organizes the group) for the past 22 years. Twice a day starting the week before Alaska Day the women greet people arriving at the airport, and they also make appearances at official Sitka Alaska Day Festival events.
"Back in the days when they started the festival, if you weren't dressed in 1840s gear or have a pin on you'd get kissed by a Keystone Kop," Conklin said. "And of course we do the (Alaska Day) Ball with 1860s ball gowns."
There are 6-8 women participating this year.
"We're basically the background to promote the 1867 spirit," she said.
Conklin dressed up on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 9, when the ladies first started greeting visitors.
"I was just getting ready to put on my hoop and hair and heels," she said. "I was seriously considering wearing my fashionably incorrect Danskas, because my feet really hurt."
Some of the ladies purchase their outfits, and others build them - that's right. Build.
"You don't just sew them," Conklin said. "The outfit I'm wearing this year is a new outfit. It's got a walking jacket, a vest, a blouse, and a skirt with a hoop underneath. I have a brand new hat bonnet that I built at Gayle Hammond's, she's an instructor at UAS. She puts on a hat class to build Alaska Day hats."
Conklin also has a new coat and hat.
"Sometimes I wear my cape if it's too blustery," she said. "And of course I wear my gloves, because nice ladies don't go out without their gloves."
Conklin enjoys the dress up part the most.
"A lot of people that come up here say, 'oh can I take my picture with you with all your old fashioned dresses?' People asked if they were real dresses - the genuine article."
But they're just an artful reproduction.
"This is when you see the reticules, the bonnets, the bustles, the hoops - much feathers and flowers - there are shawls," Conklin said.
She started when she came to Sitka as a Coast Guard wife in 1988.
"A girlfriend asked me to become a greeter," Conklin said. "I said 'OK, that looks like fun.' I really like planning and the old fashioned stuff and the Victorian stuff."
Conklin said it's getting harder to find women who are interested in participating because she used to be able to draw from an ever growing pool of Coast Guard wives. Now that she's no longer connected with the Coast Guard, and is a jailer, it's harder to find young women to dress up and look cute. That said, she's also hoping to pass the reigns over to her protégé and assistant organizer, Erin Wamsley.
Sarah Day is the editor for Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check http://alaskadayfestival.org/events.html for a full events list of celebrations in Sitka in honor of Alaska Day now through Oct. 19.