By GENE STOUT
Those who live in Alaska’s interior endure months of dark, wintry days. But when the summer solstice arrives in late June, the state lives up to its reputation as the land of the midnight sun. And in Fairbanks, it’s party time.
Fairbanks celebrated the 2014 summer solstice on the weekend of June 20-22 with its annual Midnight Sun Festival, the largest festival of its kind in the state’s interior, as well as late-night baseball featuring local team the Goldpanners, a 10K Midnight Sun Run and the Midnight Sun Cruise-In, a gathering of vintage car buffs from many parts of Alaska.
It was my first trip to the subarctic playground, where it warms up nicely in the summer months.
This year’s Midnight Sun Festival included such bands as The Twilight Sloan, American Nomad and the popular Sweating Honey, an indie-Americana band formed by a group of students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1999 (see video below from Alaska Live TV).
“For one weekend in June — one crazy, bleary-eyed, go-go-go, no-sleep weekend — we celebrate the pinnacle of summer,” Gary Black wrote in the June 20 edition of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
“Solstice weekend is a gathering of all that is Fairbanks: the quirk, the camaraderie, the fun, the sleep deprivation. It’s what we live for in the summer.”
Aside from the downtown festival, midnight baseball, live music and a chance to visit friends who call Fairbanks home, the biggest draw of the summer solstice weekend was the Midnight Sun Cruise-In and Car Show held at two family owned Fountainhead Hotels, Wedgewood Resort and Bear Lodge, and the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, which features more than 60 pre-1936 automobiles and vintage fashions. Helping to organize the car meet was the local Vernon L. Nash Antique Auto Club.
The museum is a local treasure operated by Tim and Barb Cerny, whose meticulous displays of cars and fashion are world-class, surprising many first-time visitors. Read more about it here.
Among the cars displayed is a 1919 McFarlan Type 125 Touring that won “best in class” at the Pebble Beach Concours in 2012. The car was restored by Al and Paul Murray of Murray Motor Car, a restoration shop in Monroe, WA. Al Murray gave a talk at the June 21 Cruise-In and Car Show awards banquet about his 40 years of auto restoration, which has resulted in many award-winning cars.
The Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum currently features an exhibit on “Extreme Motoring: Alaska’s First Automobiles and Their Dauntless Drivers” continuing through March 31, 2015. The exhibit traces the history of cars in America’s Last Frontier in the early 20th century and Alaskans’ enthusiasm for the automobile when good roads were scarce. Historic Alaskan cars include a 1917 Model T Ford Snow Flyer, with skis in place of front tires.
Among the early cars on display are a highly prized 1906 Pope-Toledo and a 1905 “runabout” crudely built from scratch by Skagway resident Robert Sheldon.
All of the cars in the museum are lovingly maintained and gently “exercised” by museum manager Willy Vinton and museum founder Tim Cerny, president and CEO of Fountainhead Development Inc. of Fairbanks. Cerny got the car bug as a boy growing up in Virginia and later bought his first car, a 1951 Dodge Wayfarer, in 1974.
More than 30 years later, Cerny began construction of the new museum after acquiring a part of the J. Parker Wickham automobile collection. Cerny’s collection now includes more than 85 cars.
The 30,000-square-foot museum opened in 2009. Many of the cars in the current collection feature advances in design that marked the rapid development of the automobile in the first few decades of the 20th century.
The amazing display of vintage clothing, shoes and accessories curated by Barb Cerny reflect the eras of each car’s manufacture. Most remarkable is an exhibit on the history of feathered hats, which were highly fashionable in the Edwardian era, but fell from grace when the public began to protest the destruction of birds by the millinery trades, launching the conservation movement. The exhibit is titled “Beauty and the Bird: A Tale of Feathers, Fashion and Our Fowl Obsession.”
Mark your calendar for the 2015 summer solstice weekend in Fairbanks. Whether you’re attending the street fair, listening to live music, watching a baseball game at midnight or driving around in a vintage car, the solstice weekend is an enchanting time of year in Fairbanks. Just be prepared for ’round-the-clock sun — and fun.
Below, watch Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum manager Willy Vinton in a video about the museum’s 1910 Whiting roadster, one of many unique cars in the collection:
And here’s a video of local band Sweating Honey, which played the Midnight Sun Festival as well as local bar Blue Loon: