“Surf Rocker” and “A Serious Case of Gold Fever” in Nome, Alaska: Photographs by E.A. Hegg

Eric A. Hegg (1867–1947), “A Serious Case of Gold Fever, Nome Beach, Alaska,” ca. 1900

Eric A. Hegg (1867–1947), “Rocking on Nome Beach, Alaska,” ca. 1900

Eric A. Hegg (1867–1947), “Surf Rocker, Nome Beach, Alaska,” ca. 1900

Eric A. Hegg (1867–1947), “Landing Passengers, Nome, Alaska,” ca. 1900

Eric A. Hegg (1867–1947), [Loading freight and passengers onto lightering scow from the beach during winter, Nome, Alaska], ca. 1900

Eric A. Hegg (1867–1947), “Beach Scene, Nome, Alaska,” June 1900

Eric A. Hegg (1867–1947), “Front St., Nome, Alaska,” ca. 1901

To begin at the end:
Eric A. Hegg, photographer, died in 1947. When the Klondike gold rush (1896–1899) ended, the Nome gold rush (approximately 1899–1909) began. At the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth century, gold was discovered on the beach in Nome, Alaska. Around thirty thousand of people hotfooted it to Nome; the population more than doubled. People lived in tents on the dark sandy beach along the Bering Sea. Apparently, “there was no place like Nome.” The relatively easy availability of gold (and at first, little equipment was needed) contrasted with the fact that the beach could only be mined from June to October. In the summer months, with 24 hours of daylight, the search for gold went on around the clock. (Presumably this was also advantageous for photography.) Entering and leaving Nome was at times troublesome, because there were no docks, nor a harbor. (There was no sewage system and clean drinking water was in short supply.) Of course the Nome gold rush was a disaster for native Alaskans and the environment. Hegg spent about two years, beginning in August, 1899, photographing in and around Nome. Although he photographed until his death, Hegg’s gold mining photographic practice ended in Nome.

These prints, made from the original glass plate negatives, were exhibited at ICP – “Alaska Gold Rush, The 1897–-1901 Historical Photographs by E.A. Hegg,” June 11 through July 18, 1976. It was one of many exhibitions to celebrate America’s bicentennial. In some ways these photos are an antecedent to photos in the current exhibition, “Generation Wealth by Lauren Greenfield.” Bookending the twentieth century, and located primarily, or at least initially, on the west coast of the United States, both exhibitions offer examinations of the pursuit of dough, bread, and Benjamins. Thousands of people hightailed it to the Klondike and Nome in an attempt to strike it rich, most were bitterly disappointed, fought or succumbed to frostbite or starvation, yet a few succeeded and became fabulously wealthy and left with lucre. And in the end, a few writers (Jack London) and photographers (here, our hero Hegg), created important artifacts and made much more than moola.

Eric A. Hegg (1867–1947), “Surf at Nome, Alaska,” ca. 1901

Sources, great links, and a pair of books:
University of Washington Library, Eric A. Hegg Photographs.
University of Washington Library, Digital Collections, Photographs.
University of Washington Library, Digital Collections, The Klondike Gold Rush.
Wikipedia: Nome Gold Rush.
City of Gold,” film.
The New York Times, “American Argonauts,” Marshall Sprague; August 27, 1967
The New York Times, “1920’s Revisited In 170 Portraits,” Jacob Deschin, December 17, 1967
Portland, Oregon: Binfords and Mort; Klondike ’98: Hegg’s Album of the 1898 Alaska Gold Rush, Ethel Anderson Baker, 1949
Seattle: University of Washington Press; One Man’s Gold Rush: A Klondike Album, Murray Morgan, photographs by E.A. Hegg, 1967

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