Alaska Mystery (Port Chatham; Portlock)

Kondoru

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portlock,_Alaska

Wiki doesnt add much except references.

And the Alaska mag is a tourist rag. No references.

I dont get it. Why would a good natural harbour be abandoned? Or are they so common in Alaska it doent matter if you lose one?

Certainly Bigfoot is known from Alaska. But this doesnt seem like him at all.
 

Bigphoot2

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There's a documentary about it on Amazon Prime called In Search of The Port Chatham Hairy Man

Nice scenery but not much happens - a member of the team thinks they heard something and another member thinks they saw something but that's about it.
 

Bigphoot2

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It sounds singularly unthrilling.
Yep, that's about it. They should have had some lessons from the Mountain Monsters team - the proper way to hunt a creature like that is to shout, wave guns about, shout, panic, wave guns, shout and then repeated what the person shouted at least three times, then someone else repeats what was shouted, build an elaborate trap that doesn't catch anything and at least one of the team should fall over.
 

EnolaGaia

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This October 2009 local newspaper story about Portlock / Port Chatham gives an overview of the place's spooky history. The article is no longer available at the publisher's site. The text below is salvaged from the Wayback Machine:
Port Chatham left to spirits

Nantiinaq’ sightings and spirits led to desertion of Alaska village

Malania Helen Kehl, Nanwalek’s eldest resident, is frequently called upon around the village to impart her memories of how life used to be on this southern-most tip of the Kenai Peninsula.

Among her remembrances are medicines used to heal the sick and ways of preserving sea lion meat in barrels for winter. She also is one of the last to tell the ghostly story of how the village of Port Chatham came to be deserted; why the abandoned town was shunned, and those who once lived there vowed never to return.

Malania was born Jan. 25, 1934 at Port Chatham, then a small village founded at the edge of a peaceful moorage. The village once offered shelter for many people, including Capt. Nathaniel Portlock’s ship on his 1786 Alaska expedition. But when Malania was a baby, the family abruptly moved away from Chatham, leaving the house and every board of its frame behind.

What frightening situation caused John and Helen Romanoff to take their children and flee to Nanwalek?
“We left our houses and the school, and started all new here,” Malania said in a recent interview, speaking in her traditional Sugt’stun through translator Sally Ash. “There was plentiful land here for gardening and people. My parents built a house on the beach.”

What had frightened Malania’s parents hadn’t been a single event. Over a “long period of time,” a nantiinaq (Nan-te-nuk) – or big hairy creature – was reportedly terrorizing villagers. And Malania also told of the spirit of a woman dressed in draping black clothes that would come out of the cliffs.

“Her dress was so long she would drag it,” Malania said. “She had a very white face and would disappear back into the cliffs.”

The goose-bumped terror felt when people encountered these spirits was nothing compared to what happened to Malania’s godfather, Andrew Kamluck. He was logging in 1931, when someone or something hit him over the head with a piece of log-moving equipment. The blow reportedly killed him instantly.

Malania isn’t the only one to tell of strange events at Port Chatham. Port Graham Elder, Simeon Kvasnikoff, said he remembers when nantiinaq was blamed for the disappearance of a gold miner.

“This one guy over there had a little place where he was digging for gold,” Kvasnikoff said. “He went up there one time and never came back. No one found any sign of him.”

Another story recounted the experience of a sawmill owner named Tom Larsen, who had a job cutting wood for the old fish traps. He told of spotting nantiinaq on the beach once. After going back to his house to get his gun, he returned to the beach and “the thing looked at him,” Kvasnikoff said. For some reason, Larsen decided against firing a shot.

In an April 15, 1973 issue of the Anchorage Daily News, a feature article told of the abandoned cannery town of Portlock near Port Chatham. The writer had learned the story during an evening spent with the school teacher and his wife at English Bay (Nanwalek) while on a boat trip.

The story is told:

“Portlock began its existence sometime after the turn of the century as a cannery town. In 1921, a post office was established there, and for a time the residents, mostly natives of Russian-Aleut mix, lived in peace with their picturesque mountain-and-sea setting.”

According to the ADN story, sometime in the beginning years of World War II, rumors began to seep along the Kenai Peninsula that things were not right in Portlock. Men from the cannery town would reportedly go up into the hills to hunt Dall sheep and bear, and never return. Worse yet, sometimes stories would circulate about mutilated bodies that were swept down into the lagoon, torn and dismembered in a way that bears could not, or would not, do.
“Tales were told of villagers tracking moose over soft ground. They would find giant, man-like tracks over 18 inches in length closing upon those of the moose, the signs of a short struggle where the grass had been matted down, then only the deep tracks of the manlike animal departing toward the high, fog-shrouded mountains …”

The article goes on to tell how the fed-up townfolk decided to move en masse, and by 1950, the U.S. Post office had closed there.

Even into more recent times, nantiinaq reports haven’t stopped entirely. A man who prefers to remain anonymous tells his story online at http://strangestate.blogspot.com/2007_09_01_archive.html

“In 1990, while I was working as a paramedic in Anchorage, we got called out on an alarm for a man having a heart attack at the state jail in Eagle River. He was a Native man in his 70s, and after I got him stabilized with IVs, O2 and cardiac drugs, my partner and I began to transport him to the Native Hospital in Anchorage.”

En route to the hospital, the paramedic and the Native man, an “Aleut” from Port Graham, talked about hunting. The paramedic had been to Dog Fish Bay and was once weathered in there.

“This old man sat up on the gurney and grabbed me by the front of my shirt. He got right up to my face and said, ‘Did it bother you?’ Well, with that question, the hair just stood up on the back of my head. I said, ‘Yes.’ “Did you see it?” was his next question. I said “No. ..Did you see it?” He said “No, but my brother seen it. It chased him.”

In August of 1973, Ed and two others were bowhunting for goats and black bear when a storm forced them to take shelter in Dogfish Bay Lagoon.

“We beached our skiff and let the tide run her dry. After a dinner of broiled salmon we turned in to our tent. Back in those days, the best tent I had was a dark green canvas job with a center pole and no windows or floor. We left the fire burning and cleaned the pots and pans so as not to attract bears during the night and turned in,” Ed wrote.
The sky was clear, but the wind was howling through the old growth timber that lined the shore. Sometime around 2 a.m., Dennis woke Ed after hearing what sounded like footsteps outside the tent. It wasn’t a bear. Ed said the walking – or rather creeping – continued until it half circled the tent.

“In August, there is still some light in the sky until about 10 or 11. I recall that we all were embarrassed about being afraid about the coming night. We had a flashlight and the rifle in the tent between us, locked and loaded. I finally dosed off but woke right up when Dennis squeezed my leg. The illuminated hands of my watch showed it was 2:30. Joe was already sitting up and had the rifle in hand. I heard the first step, not more than about 10 feet from the back of the tent. Slowly. Then another and another. Whatever this was, it sounded like it was walking on two feet. It made the same semi-circle around the tent. When we finally got enough courage to crawl out of the tent and turn the flashlight on, we saw nothing. No tracks, nothing. The third night we decided if it bothered us again, we would come out of the tent shooting. We were actually scared. It never came back the third night and the following day we had a break in the weather and got the heck out of there.”

Though Sasquatches became something of a popular phenomenon in the 1960s and ‘70s in the Lower 48, the nantiinaq in Sugt’stun culture has been around for a long time. According to the culture, he might be a different kind of creature, a tragic half-man, half-beast who wasn’t always in this condition. He perhaps used to be fully human.
Elder Nick Tanape said he doesn’t discredit the stories about nantiinaq, but says he’s never seen one.
“I think there’s something to them,” he said.

Malania said that, once her family moved to Nanwalek, the nantiinaq stayed far away and left them in peace. It didn’t follow them, and for that they were grateful. She grew up, raised 13 children and remains one of the few regional elders who can pass on the old traditions.

Malania – a favorite among the young people of Nanwalek, especially when she tells stories – learned many things from her grandmother, who was a traditional healer.
SOURCE: https://web.archive.org/web/2009110...une.com/2009/10/port-chatham-left-to-spirits/
 
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gerhard1

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EnolaGaia

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EnolaGaia

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The various retellings of this story don't always agree, and they can cause confusion - even with regard to basic facts about place(s) and time(s)..

Portlock and Port Chatham were two separate, but adjacent, communities / settlements. Some accounts claim or treat them as if they were one and the same, but this wasn't the case.

Port Chatham was apparently abandoned first (by the mid- to late-1930s). Portlock began to experience strange events (e.g., disappearances), and it was also abandoned during the 1940s. The Portlock post office was officially closed in 1950.
 

Kondoru

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Right. Several things to note.

The original settlers were Russian-Aleuts working for the cannery? This was about 1900?

So, that would be about the time the sea otters were in decline...while the land dwelling fur bearers were still common. (I think they really declined in the depression era, when many desparate folk attempted to trap)

You have Aleuts working for the Cannery and one day they say "I was thinking of setting up a trap line in the hills this autumn."

A native Sugst`stun (name of language? of people?) gets to hear of this. They dont want no Aleuts in their woods.

So they start telling stories. The Aleuts come from treeless islands. They arent locals, and indeed probably many didnt want to be there. Maybe they find forests unsettling.

And perhaps the stories are reinforced by a nasty incident? Who knows?

-------

At any rate if there had been mysterious deaths where are the police? What are their records? What about the Post office records?
 

EnolaGaia

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This PDF presentation / 2001 book on the lives and history of the indigenous peoples around the Kenai Peninsula:

https://static1.squarespace.com/sta...8944/Salomon+et+al.+2011+Our+Changing+Sea.pdf

... paints a picture that clashes with the usual tale of mysterious sudden abandonments of Port Chatham and Portlock.

Check the section entitled Following the Fish, Then the Jobs (pp. 19 ff.). It describes a long process during which individual canneries dotted the Kenai shores and eventually consolidated into fewer facilities in the towns still operating today. The salmon operation was seasonal, with peak work occurring during the summer months.

The settlements to which the inhabitants of Port Chatham / Portlock would eventually migrate were close enough that people traveled overland to visit relatives or work the cannery jobs.

More specifically ... This text states more than once that the cannery facilities at Portlock remained in use until the late 1950s - more than a decade after (e.g.) Steiger claimed the settlement was abruptly abandoned.

I get the impression these two settlements weren't abandoned overnight, but instead shrank into oblivion over a longer timeframe. At some point their declining fortunes devolved them into seasonal processing / canning outposts before they became outright ghost towns. This general trend is noted for multiple sites on the Kenai Peninsula. This makes me think the oft-cited closure of the Portlock post office circa 1950 marked the point at which Portlock ceased to maintain a substantial year-round population rather than when it ceased to be occupied at all.
 

Spookdaddy

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Yes. I was going to say that I didn't think there's necessarily anything mysterious about a cannery closing down; the packing industry has always been inherently fragile - being a secondary service, it not only has to survive as an economic entity in its own right, but also has to rely entirely on another's ability to do so. It is also vulnerable to shifts in infrastructure - relatively small changes in logistics in another locale (improved harbour facilities - new/improved roads) can significantly reduce the economic viability of one place in favour of another. There's also nothing inherently mysterious about a settlement failing once its main source of employment goes down the pan. I'm not saying that this is definitely what happened, as, clearly, I'm no expert economic history of the region - but it's surely a strong possibility.
 

oldrover

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I don't know if the U.S. has anything similar to the Australian Trove newspaper archives, but if it has a search of the names or incidents given in that article would probably be useful.
 

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I'd recommend Sheila Nickerson's, Disappearance: A Map. The vastness of Alaska - the nature of the landscape and the environmental conditions - lends itself to loss. I remember seeing an interview with an experienced hunter who said that even those used to the enormity of the open spaces of places like Wyoming, Montana and Arizona could feel utterly intimidated by the Alaskan wilderness; he described it in terms of a kind of almost intolerable weight - and I think I can imagine what it is he was trying to convey.

My own Alaskan mystery of choice is the case of Boggs and Begich case. I started a thread on it once - but it disappeared mysteriously and without a trace in the howling wilderness.
 

Kondoru

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Yes its easy to get lost in the wilds.

Even experienced outdoorsmen can go missing. They have an accident, or they panic and what should be a minor adventure turns into a disaster

I think the Cannery closing was why the town failed.

Even in Britain with settlements going back to the Romans we think of villages as somehow permenent.

Yet we have vast numbers of Deserted Medieval Villages (DMVs) Some are even towns.
 
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