July 01, 2007

Russian Sitka

Fine-boned and impeccably groomed, Betty Goldsbury looks like a princess and indeed she is. Her great-grandfather, Annahootz, was a famed clan chief of the Tlingit Indians, who once dominated almost all of Southeast Alaska. She describes her father as “one-quarter Russian.” His parents were active in the Russian Orthodox Church. Goldsbury is one of a number of Sitka residents of mixed Russian-Tlingit ancestry.

Every October 18, for nearly 30 years, Goldsbury donned a 19th-century styled dress and bonnet to portray another princess, Maria Maksutova, the beautiful, young wife of the last governor of Russian America. Despite hard October rains that pour down nearly every year, Goldsbury put on the dress and mounted steps 60 feet to the top of Castle Hill – the highest point in town and a commanding promontory that overlooks the islands and channels of Sitka Sound.

Princess Maksutova was one of the sad Russians on hand on October 18, 1867, when the Imperial Double Eagle was lowered from a Castle Hill flagpole and replaced by the Stars and Stripes. Russia’s 126-year adventure in North America had come to an end. The U.S. had purchased all of the Great Land – Alaska – for $7.2 million, or just two cents per acre. Princess Maksutova is said to have been so overcome by emotion when the Russian flag was lowered that she fainted.

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