Scidmore’s Alaska Travel Airs on BBC

Thanks to the brief posting of a video on YouTube, I was able to see my cameo appearance on BBC2’s “Great American Railroad Journeys.” My interview with the program’s host, Michael Portillo, took place in Juneau in the summer of 2018. [Note: The online video has since been removed.]

My interview in Juneau in August 2018 with BBC2’s Michael Portillo. (Photo by Bruce Parsell)

I was in Alaska at the time for research and to lecture on my book subject, Eliza Scidmore, to staff and members of the public at Glacier Bay National Park.

The producers of the popular British TV series, then in its fourth season, had tracked me down because Michael drew heavily on Eliza Scidmore’s 1893 travel guide, “Appleton’s Guide to Alaska,” for several of the Alaska segments of the program. Michael has a copy of the book in his hand in the photo here.

The Appleton’s guide was the second book on Alaska that 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, a bright wool sweater 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, a former minister of Parliament, was quite charming, and an excellent interviewer. He is also 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.

She went by steamer, the only option for travelers at the time. During her earliest journeys, beginning in 1883, she traveled aboard the mail steamers that made monthly circuits along the thousand-mile Inside Passage bordering mainland British Columbia. By the end of the century, as tourism took off, special excursion steamers were added to the route.

I happened to know, from my research at the Library of Congress, that the “Appleton’s Guide-Book” that Michael 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. Michael opened the book and was thrilled to find it.

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.

For more information on my Alaska trip, see a related blog item.

I’ve also posted a gallery of photos on Scidmore’s historic Alaska trip in 1883, as well as a short video.

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