Funny Kind of Forest
September 4, 1992: Carl K. Lindley returns to Alaska. The Alaska Highway or the ALCAN Highway (Alaskan-Canadian Highway) was built during World War II. The goal was to connect the contiguous United States to Alaska via Canada in order to have access for moving war materials, should the need arise. The road was completed in 1942 to a length of 1,700 miles. The road has been reconstructed and shifted over time and today, ALCAN is 1,387 miles long. Originally only for the military, it was opened to the public in 1948. It is a tough, challenging drive but at least today, the entire way is paved. There are some major stopping points along the route with historic mileposts. While the road was first under construction, Alaska was a territory of the US but did not become a state until January 1, 1959.
The US Army was responsible for construction and the 341st Army of Engineers was busy in 1942. Lindley was assigned to Company D of the engineers. While there, he was injured and sent to the Army Aid Station in Watson Lake to recover. At the time, it wasn’t a town, but a Military Air Base and airport. While recuperating, his commanding officer had him repair and repaint a directional post from the worksite. Lindley was homesick and while fixing the sign, decided to paint a second sign. It read DANVILLE, ILLINOIS – his hometown. Other people liked the idea and began adding signs for their own hometowns.
And so began a tradition. Today, the area is covered with signposts. Lindley’s original sign has disappeared as well as the post it was nailed to. But the Sign Post Forest is a part of the small town of Watson Lake. On this day, Carl returned with his wife for a ten day celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of building the Alaska Highway. While there, a replica of his original sign and directional post were placed. He returned home and died in 2002, still at home in Danville, Illinois. Visitors to Sign Post Forest can add their own signs now and there are already over 100,000 signs there.
Watson Lake is located in the Yukon region of Canada. The town was named for an American born trapper and prospector who settled in the area in the late 1800s. There is still an airport there which used to be serviced by commercial airlines but is today used only for corporate and charter services. The economy is based on forest industries now. It used to be a service center for the mining industry, especially the Cassiar asbestos mine. The Sign Post Forest isn’t the only tourist attraction. The Northern Lights Centre is also located at Watson Lake. In the last census, 802 people called the Town of Watson Lake home, living in 417 homes. The population had dwindled from 2006 when 846 people lived there. And twenty years before, 912 folks had called it home.
You live overseas, you see these exotic places and you want to know about them. But, weirdly, it also made me homesick for all these very prosaic places in America. – Ken Jennings
People of a certain age look back on the Mayberry of ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ and become almost as homesick for that simple fictional hamlet as they do for their own home towns. – Tom Shales
Home is a place not only of strong affections, but of entire unreserve; it is life’s undress rehearsal, its backroom, its dressing room. – Harriet Beecher Stowe
Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to. – John Ed Pearce
Also on this day: Ginger or Mary Ann? – In 1967, the last Gilligan’s Island show aired.
Smile – In 1888, George Eastman patented his camera.
Seven Golds – In 1973, Mark Spitz won his seventh Olympic gold medal.
The South – In 1950, the first Southern 500 was held.
Early Aviation – In 1923, the USS Shenandoah took her maiden flight.