As the Alaska Marine Highway System works towards replacing the state ferry Tustumena, two Alaskans are working to preserve its history.
The Tustumena Oral History Project is the brainchild of Juneau resident Michael Sakarias and Lucy Peckham of Anchorage. They’ve been working with the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Marine Highway System to launch the project since 2013.
The pair plans to collect interviews about the vessel affectionately known as the “Tusty,” which will be preserved at UAF’s Elmer E. Rasmuson Library. Peckham and Sakarias say they became interested in the project after working on a documentary about the Marine Highway's fiftieth anniversary.
Peckham adds that they began collecting interviews about a year and a half ago.
“The Tusty is absolutely beloved. Even we didn't know the depth of feeling for this little boat until we started,” she said.
The pair has collected about 24 interviews so far. Sakarias said they plan to collect over 100 stories from current and former crewmembers, passengers and the communities the Tustumena has served since 1964.
“We've talked to people who left town on the Tustumena for example – that was their last view of Unalaska,” he explained. “The stories have been amazing, fascinating, interesting, humorous, touching.”
Each interview will be transcribed and cataloged at the Rasmuson Library. Photos and other documents will be available along with both audio and transcribed versions of the interviews. The first of batch should be available this fall.
Peckham and Sakarias plan to collect several more interviews later this month as they ride the Tustumena’s route from Homer to Dutch Harbor.
“Alaska is such a young state that all of our history as a state is within living memory, but we are aging,” Peckham said, emphasizing the importance of preserving the vessel’s history. “The people who can tell us these stories and share these memories are aging certainly.”
Peckham and Sakarias will be on the vessel Aug. 21 through the 28.
The timeline for the Tustumena’s replacement is unclear. The state Department of Transportation is waiting for the federal government to approve a waiver that would allow the ship to be built with foreign steel and other parts. DOT estimates that the Tustumena’s replacement will be ready about two years after construction begins.