From August 21 – through the night of August 29, 2013 I had the good fortune to visit Alaska’s Matanuska Valley / Anchorage area. As part of the trip, I took a self-guided walking and driving Sarah Palin History Tour. This US for Palin special series provides a photographic journey into the life and times of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, specifically the buildings and spaces that were and remain an integral part of her life. My personal adventures unrelated to Gov. Palin will be covered in a new travelogue / adventure site I created: Mine Eyes Have Seen. That site is currently empty, but it will built out in the coming days.
True North to Her Birth Place…
Lake Hayden, ID as seen out the window of my flight from Newark to Seattle. Sandpoint, ID – where Gov. Palin was born – is 37 miles straight-line distance due North from the lake. I cross-referenced this point with the GPS map that I enabled for the flight on the airline’s IFE system.
The Heaths’ Original Wasilla House…
As seen on August 23, 2013, the Mocha Moose Coffee Company at 340 North Lucille Street is where Chuck and Sally Heath – Gov. Palin’s parents – once lived. The two-story house now serves up Gov. Palin’s favorite coffee blend – Good Morning Alaska – and the business is a proud supporter of the Heath and Palin families.
Charting Her Life’s Course…
The sign for Wasilla High School as seen on August 23, 2013.
As seen on August 23, 2013, Wasilla High School at 701 East Bogard Road is a massive building. I didn’t think to do an iPhone panorama and this would have been the perfect application for it. The top photo is the east end and the bottom is the west end of the school. In March 1982 Sarah Heath scored a victory point on a broken ankle sealing the Warriors’ victory against the larger and favored Service High School out of Anchorage. The Anchorage school was named after Robert W. Service, the “Bard of the Yukon.”
In Going Rogue, Gov. Palin wrote:
Maybe God didn’t give me natural athleticism – other athletes could run faster, jump higher, and hit the basket more often – but I loved competition. I loved pushing myself and even relished pushing through pain to reach a goal. I realized that my gift was determination and resolve, and have relied on it ever since (pp. 27-28).
That victory changed my my life. More than anything else to that point, it proved what my parents had been trying to instill in me all along: that hard work and passion matter most of all (P. 41).
Everything I ever needed to know, I learned on the basketball court. And to this day, my right ankle is a knobby and misshapen thing, a daily reminder of pushing though pain (P. 41).
See Gov. Palin’s complete Athletic Accomplishments.
August 27, 1988: The Day Bristol Bay Nearly Claimed Todd Palin
Two days before Sarah Heath became Sarah Palin, another woman – the sea – almost claimed Todd Palin’s life. As recounted by Luke Dittrich, of Esquire in this exclusive interview with Todd Palin:
He fished for weeks, in near constant rain, as wet as a fish himself. On the morning of the day he’d promised to be back, he headed home, but the sea roughened and the rain fell harder, and he had to take shelter in a little cove. He anchored the skiff and got to shore and found an empty cabin there, where he dried off and had a bite to eat and a little nap. When he awoke, it was low tide and the skiff was high and dry. He had to wait a few hours before it was floating again, and by that time it was eleven o’clock at night, and though the summer days in Alaska are long, they’re not that long. Looking back, he knows he should have stayed in that cabin for another eight hours. But he was twenty-four years old and in a hurry.
As Todd maneuvered the skiff to open water, he got caught in a violent storm. The wind and the rogue waves pounded his boat for several hours. In the raging storm and the pitch blackness, Todd had to keep the skiff between the shore and the shoals. One wrong move meant that Bristol Bay, not Sarah Heath would claim him. He saw the lights of Dillingham – his home port – and made it back.
Two days later, on August 29, 1988, Todd Palin and Sarah Heath got married.
Sarah Heath…Sarah Palin
As seen on August 26, 2013, the Alaska Veterans and Pioneer Home at 250 East Fireweed Ave, Palmer, AK is where Todd Palin and Sarah Heath got two witnesses so their wedding in the Palmer Courthouse could proceed.
According to a historian at the Palmer Visitor’s Center, who spoke with me on August 26, 2013, the Tree of Life Nursery – still under construction during my visit – was Palmer’s courthouse for many years. It could be the building in which Todd Palin and Sarah Heath were married. It is, however, next door to the Alaska Veterans and Pioneer Home. As documented in Going Rogue, the courthouse was across the street.
As seen on August 26, 2013, the Alaska Bible College at 248 E Elmwood Ave, Palmer, AK is diagonally across the street from the Alaska Veterans and Pioneer Home, but the Palmer Visitors Center historian said the building was never used as a court house. Buildings in Palmer were re-purposed several times in the 25 years that passed since Todd and Sarah Palin were married, but one of these two buildings is quite likely the courthouse.
One of the Palins’ first houses was on Wasilla Lake across from this park, as seen August 26, 2013.
Close-Up: One of the Palins’ first houses, as seen August 26, 2013.
The Palin Houses Today
A low cloud suspended over Lucille Lake and the Palin compound as seen August 28, 2013 from Lake Lucille Park. The white house to the right is not owned by the Palins.
Left to Right: The Palins’ house and shop, studio, family guest house as seen August 28, 2013 from Lake Lucille Park.
Mat-Su Regional Hospital Birthing Center
As seen August 23, 2013, the Mat-Su Regional Birthing Center is where Gov. Palin became a mother for the fifth time, giving birth to Trig. Bristol delivered Tripp in this facility, thus Gov. Palin also became a grandmother here.
Veterans Wall of Honor
Though not part of Gov. Palin’s history per-se, the Wasilla Veterans Wall of Honor and the Visitors Information Center are located across from the Birthing Center. The hospital, memorial and visitor’s center are up on a hill and they are the last buildings drivers see before AK-3 – George E. Parks Highway – joins with AK-1 – Glenn Highway. They are the first buildings that herald a driver’s entrance into Wasilla from the South and East. Gov. Palin is such a strong supporter and advocate for our military and veterans that including this memorial as part of her history tour is proper, appropriate, and fitting, especially given its proximity to a facility where she gave birth to a child and became a grandmother.
As seen August 23, 2013, The Wasilla Veterans Memorial faces south toward Pioneer Peak. It consists of a central panel honoring all branches of our military; an inscription from the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Dedication, eight panels of names and a flowerbed.