Midnight sun shines on Nome’s solstice festivities
By Peter Loewi and Megan Gannon
When the day lasts forever, why shouldn’t the festivities? The 2022 Midnight Sun Festival ran from Wednesday, June 15 through Sunday, June 19, and featured food, bank robberies, and the raft race down the Nome River. Residents from across the Seward Peninsula came to celebrate, sporting t-shirts and sweatshirts saying “Teller,” “White Mountain” and “Koyuk.”
The exact start date of the festival is unknown, but the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum’s director, Dr. Amy Phillips-Chan, said that there is a 1909 train ticket, for one dollar, to a Midnight Sun excursion and panic on King Mountain in the collection.
The festival dates back to at least the early 1960s. The Nome Nugget archives document past Miss Midnight Sun pageants, baby contests for the loudest cries and most durable smiles, and reindeer barbecues on the beach. In the 1990s, the Folk Fest began and coincided with Midnight Sun activities and included a headliner band from outside of Nome and local vocal and dance artists performing at open mic events.
While the Folks Fest was held inside, Briday Green, who organized the current Midnight Sun events said, “I wanted to bring it outside, with more people, more Native.” The Golden Goose Lot next to the Armory hosted a blanket toss on Wednesday night, NYO Games on Tuesday night, three Native dance groups on Thursday night and a street dance on Saturday night.
Wednesday’s weather was a little windy to be flinging small children high into the air —many gleeful, others afraid— but plenty of people still came out for the blanket toss. The weather cooperated better throughout the rest of the week, and the line to participate in the One-Foot High Kick stretched across the lot. Similarly, the lot was packed to watch Native dancers from Teller, the Nome King Island Dance Group and the St. Lawrence Island Dance Group.
Saturday was action-packed, and started early, with the Gold Dust Dash starting at 9 a.m. sharp. Forty-three people registered to participate, and there was at least one straggler who skipped registration in order to catch up with the others. Tobin Hobbs narrowly beat TJ Wright in the men’s division, and Rosa Wright ran away for the win in the women’s.
The Midnight Sun Parade had the audience spread out down the length of Front Street to watch as Pride flags, horses, and high school class reunion trucks drove by, flinging candy. Just an hour later, however, that same audience would pack together tightly to watch as three bandits, played by Ken Shapiro, Briday Green and Andrew James, tried to rob the bank. Louis Murphy’s Wyatt Earp, however, was there to stop them. Perhaps inspired by the vigilante spirit of the reenactment, a group of children who felt they did not get enough candy from the bank robbers started loudly chanting “Go to jail!”
The crowd then flocked eastward to the beach for the Rotary Club’s annual Polar Bear Swim. At 2 p.m., dozens of people ran willingly, if screaming, into the calm and bracing sea. Others were carried in fully clothed. Several dogs joined their owners for an invigorating dip. Stacks of old shipping pallets fueled the roaring beach bonfire, which was dying down by the time some kids finally got out of the water to claim their certificates of participation.
Throughout the afternoon, Nomeites emptied their pockets to support kids selling sweets and drinks for this year’s version of Lemonade Day, now locally rebranded as Mizuktata, which means “Let’s drink juice!” in Iñupiaq.
After a busy Saturday, what better way to spend an equally sunny Sunday than floating down the Nome River? Only three rafts lined up at mile 13 of the Kougarok Road for the Lion’s Club River Raft Race. The T/V Middy Johnson’s captain Derek McLarty claimed they had the most people – Summercise interns – onboard in race history. These reporters were unable to independently verify that. More people, it seemed, were interested in waiting for them at the Nome River Bridge and dousing them with water balloons as they passed underneath. Onlookers made sure that each racer was soaked from head to toe when they finished, a requirement of the event. The rules also stated that rafts had to be homemade, could not have a pointed bow or motor, and should be approximately half as wide as they were long. After three leisurely hours on the river, the Howling Dawg arrived first at the finish line in Dexter. The legendary Howling Dawgs raft established a quarter-century raft race dominance in 2017 and this year again proved its undefeated champion status. It is owned by Steven Longley but was crewed by Bubba McDaniel, Ada Harvey, Brandolyn Ahyakak and Taylor McDaniel.