The interview took place in the summer of 2018, when I went to Alaska for research and to lecture on my book subject, Eliza Scidmore, to rangers and members of the public at Glacier Bay National Park. Michael Portillo, a former minister of Parliament who now hosts the popular BBC2 travel series, interviewed me.
The producers of the TV series, then in its fourth season, had tracked me down because the Alaska episodes of the program drew heavily on Eliza Scidmore’s 1893 travel guide, “Appleton’s Guide to Alaska.” Michael has a copy of it in his hand in the photo here.
It was the second Alaska book Scidmore published. Her newspaper reporting and books helped fuel the birth of the Alaska cruise industry at the end of the 19th century.
For the Alaska filming, I had been advised by the producers to pack for rain, which is frequent in the region in mid-summer. “We’ll film regardless of the weather,” they informed me. So my carry-on bag contained a parka and a waxed hat I tracked down at L.L. Bean, expecting the conditions to be soggy. But on the Sunday evening when we did the filming at a bay a few miles outside Juneau, it was 90 degrees! Something that almost never happens, I was told.
Michael Portillo, who was quite charming and an excellent interviewer, is quite the peacock. Check out the program’s website and you’ll see he owns a whole wardrobe of candy-colored sports jackets.
A nice incident that didn’t make it into the segment occurred when Michael asked me how Eliza Scidmore would have traveled to Alaska, since there were no railroads at the time. Of course, she went by steamer–the only option. She traveled by mail steamers, until excursion steamers were introduced in the late 1880s.
I happened to know, from my research at the Library of Congress, that the “Appleton’s Guide-Book” that he referred to repeatedly throughout the series had a pocket in the back inside flap containing a beautiful colored fold-out map of the Alaska steamer route in the 1880s. He was thrilled to discover it, and the film crew did several takes of Michael and I opening the map atop a boulder and tracing Scidmore’s route along the Inside Passage.
Alas, the segment got left on the cutting room floor for lack of time in the 30-minute program.