episode 9

Journey's End

Episode 9

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Ephemera Amos Burg
American Folklife Center
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Audio Transcript - Episode 9

Journey's End

MP3 - Mollie Satko

Journey's End

From The Pittsburgh Press, Aug 2, 1940
IS ANYBODY tired of reading about Paul Satko? We hope not. We've written of him again and again. but it seems important. Paul Satko, the jobless Richmond, Va., welder, has a full-time job at his regular trade. Juneau, Alaska, welcomed him...Why? Because he had the courage to build a crude boat, haul it all the way across the country, sail it with his wife and seven children on a 97-day voyage from Tacoma, Wash., and bring all safe to far-off Juneau. Satko knew what he wanted. He went after it with a fierce determination that laughed at obstacles. And he got it.

Tacoma News Tribune Nov 1940
A home in the wilderness, with the picturesque name of 'Journey's End,' is slowly rising out of the forest near Juneau on the 122 acre homestead recently acquired by Paul Satko and his family of eight...Satko has never shown resentment at the treatment he received at the hands of authorities in Seattle...'I have cut out a house site and so far have blasted out about half the stumps,' continues the letter from the modern day Columbus. 'I drive out here in the car and am still living aboard the Ark in Juneau. I am calling the homestead 'Journey's End.'

While newspapers across the country declared the Satko family to have reached 'Rainbow's End'—and Paul the modern day pioneering hero who got them there in one piece - the truth of the family's fate was more complex.

They arrived safely in Juneau after a few typical misadventures along the route - heavy weather, running aground again - and it's in Juneau, while still living on the Ark, that Mollie gave birth to a baby girl. They called her North Sea Meridians Satko -

Paul: After we'd been there—after we built our house—we decided to have a little get together, a housewarming and get acquainted with the people of Alaska. So I and the wife talked it over and we decided that an opportunity would present itself by giving our Alaskan born child a birthday party as well as having a housewarming party combined, an invite just the general public—anyone who will come.

We had a very pleasant party—we had practically everybody in Juneau including the wife of the Governor of Alaska who cut the cake for our Alaskan born child North Sea Meridians Satko who celebrated her first birthday on October 9th. And I find that Alaskan people are very sociable, likable people who are very easy to get along with and our farming project I am very much enthused over it.

I don't see where I could have done any better I don't care where I went. I see a future now I didn't see before. No other way of accumulating an estate any faster than I did. I have an estate farm of 122 acres, a house, 8 acres under cultivation and I don't owe anybody any money. So I think I am far better off than I could hope to be where I left from. The family homesteaded and survived on hunting and fishing, as well as income from growing vegetables which they sold in town. But life was hard—maybe even harder than Paul anticipated. And eventually Paul and Mollie decided, after nearly six years, to go back to mainland USA.

It's hard to know exactly why they left Alaska—stories swirl about like leaves in the wind—one says that Paul filed claim to the land the family had built their cabin on, but that the money to pay the filing fee was stolen by a desk clerk and the papers were never processed. So they lost the land, and all the work they'd put into it counted for nothing. The Seattle Times from Wednesday July 3, 1946 carried the following report:

Juneau, Alaska: Officials of the regional forest service here declared Wednesday that 'Ark' pilgrim Paul Satko who piloted his family to Alaska in a home-made ark never filed application for title to the homestead he claimed the interior department had 'arbitrarily refused.' Satko recently returned to the United States and said publicly that his 'Alaskan Dream' had been shattered by the interior department's arbitrary refusal to grant him land title to the homestead after 'six years of sweating with an ax in my hand to hew the farm out of the wilderness.'

The Governor of Alaska at the time, Governor Gruening, apparently offered to intervene on the family's behalf to resolve the issue and to save them from having to leave Alaska. Why Paul Satko wouldn't have taken the Governor up on that offer, it is difficult to know. NorthSea Meridians, Paul and Mollie's daughter, explained it this way:

He didn't want to be special, to be sought out with special favors. If it didn't work it didn't work.

One way or the other, in 1946 the Satko family moved back to Virginia via the west coast, leaving Juneau on board the ship called the North Sea. Only their oldest daughter Hazel stayed behind in Juneau, Joe by this stage having left to join the US Army.

It almost seems like something of an anti-climax after all the tribulations of GETTING to Alaska. There's a sense that the journey itself and the manner of it was almost as important as the destination. The journey was the grandest of acts—after which everything else would pale in comparison. Nothing would contain the same mix of drama, determination, public fascination and precarious engineering. The story happened at a time when it was needed—it filled a space in people's imaginations that desperately needed filling. Even though, to the Satkos themselves, it wasn't a story. It was life—doing what you have to do to get by.

After several years in Virginia—where they'd originally set out from seven years before—the Satkos were drawn back west by the lure of Puget Sound and Tacoma. The city whose people had turned out in the thousands ten years before to cheer them on in their quixotic odyssey. And the Pacific Northwest's where Paul and Mollie lived out the reminder of their lives—Paul dying on April 4, 1957 at the age of 68, his passing marked in local papers and in the New York Times. And Mollie, deeply loved by her children and grandchildren, who was ninety-one when she died near Seattle on May 2, 1995.

Journey's End for the Ark of Juneau—the forty foot vessel that, with God's almighty luck, had carried the family 2000 miles from Tacoma to Juneau—journey's end was the sea itself. Anchored and abandoned alongside a rocky beach beneath the cabin owned by Alaska's then Governor Gruening, the Ark fell victim to the waves and the weather. All that remains of it can be found—still there on the beach—on the kidney colored rocks high above the tide line. A circular cast iron disk one inch thick and twelve inches in diameter. A length of angled, rusted metal about four foot long. And what was once the beating heart of the Ark of Juneau—the rusted hollowed shell of the 1926 Buick engine. Right there, on the beach, day in day out, week in week out, year in, year out.

Eventually that too will disappear into the waters of the Auck Bay, Alaska, and all that will remain of the Ark of Juneau—a cheese tin on a raft as it was once described—will be photographs, stories. And the voice of Paul Satko himself, scratchily coming through the fog between 1941 and the present day.

Paul: What really got me to come to Alaska is, during the depression, the depression seemed to get worse—from bad to worse, and worse still worse—and I couldn't see where it was ever gonna get any better...especially a man that had taken on years. So I was just taking into consideration, as the animals do for instance when they graze the pasture down in one particular field, while they look out for new pastures.