After hiking to Thunderbird Falls and Twin Peaks, both in the Eklutna
Lake area, I stopped at the historical Russian Orthodox Church and
picturesque cemetery in the old village of Eklutna [ee-KLOOT-na].
I'd read about the
unusual "spirit houses" in the cemetery at this historical park but
hadn't seen any pictures of them.
I was curious what they look like.
Some were even more elaborate than what I had envisioned:
many different styles of spirit houses. I'll show more of them in a
The old and new St. Nicholas churches are located just west of the Glenn
Hwy. at the Eklutna Lake exit (MM 26.5) in the Eklutna Historical Park.
The original log church was built sometime between 1830 and 1870
according to the official website. It seems a little odd to me that no one knows for
sure. Regardless, it’s deemed the oldest building in the Anchorage area
and is on the National Register of Historic Places:
The new church was built in 1962 and is currently being used for
The two churches and the Russian Orthodox-Athabascan cemetery are
located behind an attractive white picket fence.
Visitors enter through a gift shop, pay $5 each, and either tour the
place alone or with a guide.
went alone because I was tired from my two hikes, in a hurry to get back
to the campground, and Cody was in the truck (sunny and about 70 F.
-- I left the windows open). Only two other folks were on the
grounds besides the guy in the gift shop.
I went inside both churches and read some of the historical information.
This Russian-Native Alaskan cultural mix still intrigues me even after
all the information I’ve read since we’ve been in Alaska.
NO ORDINARY CEMETERY
What I was most interested in, however, were the “spirit houses” in the
The cemetery we wandered through on the Kenai Peninsula didn’t
have spirit houses. They are a custom unique to the Athabascans who settled around
what would become the Anchorage-Eagle River-Chugiak-Eklutna area.
I wondered if they’d be like some of the above-ground structures in
cemeteries in New Orleans but they aren’t. They are brightly-painted
wooden boxes (and one elaborate model of a house) on top of the graves:
This one is painted in more
feminine pastel colors for the woman buried there:
That's also one of the newer graves in the cemetery; she died in 2005.
Many of the graves have the Russian Orthodox three-barred crosses with
the lower bent bar:
I took several photos of the spirit houses and wish I’d taken more,
especially after seeing the angle of the photo in the official website
with the church in the background:
I was in too big of a hurry to get that creative.
My favorite had to be this scale model of a
house. It is about three feet high. I assume it is a replica of the house
where the woman buried here lived before her death in 2003:
This moose dressed as a monk (I think) made me
He was in the farthest reaches of the cemetery,
near the house shown above.
Check out the official church/park
website for more historical and
cultural information, the origin of the Orthodox three-barred
cross and Native spirit houses, and more photos.
POSTSCRIPT ON A FULL DAY
I really enjoyed my day. Cody and I are tired tonight but we had a good
time on our hikes near Eklutna Lake.
Jim seemed to enjoy his day, too, especially since it was sunny. He had
a good, long bike ride on base this morning and got to watch some of the aircraft
that will be flying in the huge Arctic Thunder Air Show on Friday,
Saturday, and Sunday. In the afternoon he cleaned the carpet and did
some other work around the camper. In the evening we both relaxed and
shared our experiences.
I like all
the individualism displayed in this cemetery.
With the air show
coming up, the
Black Spruce FamCamp is getting pretty full. I hope there is at least
one available campsite on Monday so we can extend our stay another four
or five days. There are so many things to do in the Anchorage area!
Next entry: a memorable bike ride on the Coastal Trail
with (finally!!) views of Mt. McKinley AKA Denali
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil