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Harry Townsman of Kupreanof Island, AK


Back in the day and across the way unKupreanof lived retired school teacher, we will call Harry.  Kupreanof then as now, is a grant-grabbing berg, a slip of a village.  That upon incorporation outlawed motorized vehicles no the public thoroughfares. Then they outlawed public thoroughfares .   Harry was the first mayor. At the time of this story he was  of average height, average weight for a man of his age, average build, of a peculiar gait and a head of luxurious white hair.  He was a character.


He had taught school and remembered ever adult in Petersburg from their school days.  Those he didn’t know he went out of his way to meet.  He carried a small spiral-bond notebook in this pocket.  Which is why many people crossed the street to avoid talking to him.  When talking to Harry if you told a good story  he’d take notes and repeat it on his radio show with far more exaggeration ad strong opinion than the original version, to the delight of half the town and embarrassment of the other half.


When I asked my son, the founder of Alaskan Seafood Guys, what he recalled about Harry, he said, “The geese!”  In 390 BC geese alerted the Praetorian guards to a sneak attack upon Rome.  Harry’s geese must have been direct descendants of these.  The generations later the children of Petersburg still recall the viciousness with which they guarded Harry’s private dock on Petersburg Creek and having to fend them off with oars when drifted too close.  Petersburg Volunteer Fire Department was invited to a party at his house as a thank you for responding when his family’s hone caught fire in Kupreanof.  A few neighbors who helped foolishly brought their dogs.  Two angry gray geese with seven foot wingspans , loud honks and chopping bills quickly chased the off the property.


With their home rebuilt the Townmans opened it to various Petersburg and Kupreanof community activities.  (The old house was crowded with books, newspapers for re-reading on the air during his radio show manuscripts and a pot-bellied pig.) At the time a young artist made quite a name for herself taking dynamic and intimate family portraits.  Some the crowd in her set also discovered that she took empowering nudes of young mothers. But where could they gather for the shoot?  Mrs. Harry Townsman gladly opened her house to  these young women and told Harry (foolishly?) when he should be elsewhere.  The day came. The gaggle of girls boated over form Petersburg .  They were a little surprised to find Harry still at home . But with a little teasing he eventually jumped in his skiff and was away.  And so the shoot began.  At some point when all the women were nude or in the process of undressing,  Harry  returned with a boisterous “Hide your eyes!  I’m coming through!”


Harry for all his legendary gruffness was well known and well respected around town.  I got to know  him a little better through his son Harry Jr.  At the time Harry Jr. and I were in our late twenties.  He was above average in height, slim, handsome (as apparently his father was at that age) and had a head of luxurious prematurely white hair. 


Junior and I were walking down the street one day, when a slight younger man approached.  He was of medium weight and build with a peculiar gait.  He was also of medium height which means Junior looked down upon him.


“Mr. Townsman do you remember me?  I was Frederick Ericson, Rickie, in your fifth grade class.”


No one ever called Junior “Mr. Townsman”. He’d been a fisherman since he was fourteen.  But Rickie would have been crushed not be remembered by his childhood hero. Junior was grace itself.  Accepting Rickie’s kind words and flattering comments with humility and a seemly practiced responses. When Frederick departed, I looked at Junior amazed and questioningly.


“It happens all the time,” he responded.


Author -William Moulton