Alaska Day

800px-Flag_map_of_Alaska.svgAlaska Day is a legal holiday in the U.S. state of Alaska, observed on October 18. It is the anniversary of the formal transfer of the Territory of Alaska from Russia to the United States which took place at a flag-raising ceremony at Fort Sitka on Friday October 18, 1867 (11 hours behind St. Petersburg, Russia, half past midnight, Saturday 7 October, St. Petersburg time, Julian Calendar, or 3:30 p.m. in Sitka, 7 October).

Alaska Day is observed statewide, and is a paid holiday for State of Alaska employees. The official celebration is held in Sitka, where schools release students early, many businesses close for the day, and events such as a parade and reenactment of the flag raising are held.

It should not be confused with Seward’s Day, the last Monday in March which marks the signing of the treaty for the Alaska Purchase in which the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia on March 30, 1867.

Although the territory was sold to the U.S. in March, it was not until the 18th of October that year that the Commissioners arrived in Sitka and the formal transfer was arranged. The original ceremony included 250 uniformed U.S. soldiers, who marched to the Governor’s house in Sitka at “Castle Hill”, where the transfer was made. It was here that the Russian troops lowered the Russian flag and the U.S. flag was raised.

The official account of the affair as presented by General Lovell Rousseau to Secretary of State William H. Seward continues: “… The troops being promptly formed, were, at precisely half past three o’clock, brought to a ‘present arms’, the signal given to the Ossipee … which was to fire the salute, and the ceremony was begun by lowering the Russian flag … The United States flag … was properly attached and began its ascent, hoisted by my private secretary [and son], George Lovell Rousseau, and again salutes were fired as before, the Russian water battery leading off. The flag was so hoisted that in the instant it reached its place the report of the big gun of the Ossipee reverberated from the mountains around … Captain Pestchouroff stepped up to me and said, ‘General Rousseau, by authority from his Majesty the Emperor of Russia, I transfer to the United States the Territory of Alaska’ and in a few words I acknowledged the acceptance of the transfer, and the ceremony was at an end.”