Alaska and Russia are intimately connected by land and history but are also distant — separated by water, language, war and politics.

Ridiculed by Congress and the press as Seward’s “ice box” and President Andrew Johnson’s “polar bear garden,” the 1867 purchase of Alaska from Russia was controversial at the time.

The U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia for less than two cents an acre, or $7.2 million. Opponents to the purchase called it “Seward’s Icebox,” Seward’s Folly,” and “Polar Bear Garden”

Today, ice, ambition, oil and commerce continue to define the complex relationship between Alaska and Russia. Talk abounds of Russia claiming for itself both Alaska and Crimea; of a bold Russian-led transcontinental railway project linking Siberia with North America; of traversing the Bering Strait through what could become the world’s longest tunnel. Alaska and Russia’s northern regions share more than propaganda; they are known for record cold, fur, ice cream, huskies, and the hardiest and most adaptable of people.

Objects in the exhibition include the historic treaty and the purchase check, on loan from the National Archives, as well as Balto, the Siberian husky who led his team on the final leg of the 1925 serum run to Nome. Balto and his story is contrasted with the story of Laika, the Soviet space dog.

Archival and contemporary photographs combine with nesting dolls, cartoons, feature-length films, and Cold War propaganda to take viewers on a journey between Alaska and Russia since the purchase — exploring stereotypes, language, storytelling, boundaries and crossings.



Alaska Historical Commission
Jan and Jeri van den Top
Nicholas and Rebecca Van Wyck



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Celluloid Wednesday: Bride of the Monster

7 p.m. Wednsday, March 29

70 minutes, 1955
Because of Hollywood’s anti-trust law suits from the late 1940s and early 1950s, many Hollywood writers and directors had to find inexpensive ways to make films, creating the B movie genre. B movie titles from the 50s often had a sub plot of Cold War paranoia, which helped create a decade of low production quality sci-fi cinema. Ed Wood (often cited as Hollywood’s worst director from the 1950s), wrote and directed of The Bride of the Monster. Wood casted Bela Lugosi (Hollywood’s original Dracula from the silent era of cinema) as a mad doctor who is conducting experiments to turn people into super-beings through the use of atomic power. Print provided by the Wade Williams Collection. Free.


Polar Nights: Speaker: David Ramseur – Melting the Ice Curtain

7 to 8 p.m. Friday, March 31

Russia and U.S. relations is a daily media topic. Hear author and University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research visiting scholar David Ramseur share his current work on the thawing relations between the Russian Far East and Alaska during the 1980s and 1990s. His book on this subject, Melting the Ice Curtain, is slated to be released in June 2017. Ramseur’s presentation coincides with the exhibition Polar Bear Garden: The Place Between Alaska and Russia on view through Sept. 17. Select galleries and spaces are open late with discounted admission Fridays through April.


This exhibition is a part of the Anchorage Museum's Polar Lab.