Updated 4:52 p.m.: The famous "Into the Wild" bus may soon find a new home at the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks.
“Bus 142" gained notoriety through the book and subsequent movie "Into the Wild," which popularized the story of Chris McCandless, who died there in 1992 after a 114-day stay at the site, about 25 miles west of Healy.
Many travelers have visited the bus over the years. Some were unprepared and many were rescued. At least two people died on that journey.
The bus is the property of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and was resting on state land. On June 18, with help from the Alaska Army National Guard, the state had the bus moved to a secure location while the state pondered where it should go next.
The state received dozens of suggestions and offers from museums, institutions and individuals across the state and even across the nation, all with plans to preserve, exhibit, monetize or memorialize it, according to Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige.
A proposal from the UA Museum was selected as the best option.
It was chosen, according to Feige, for several reasons. It’s an official state depository and the only one in the Interior that can curate state-owned historical items, she said. The museum has experts on staff who can help restore, curate and display the bus, and the museum can legally accept nonprofit donations to help pay costs of the bus. This also allows the department to retain legal ownership of the bus.
The bus has a long history, playing an important role in many Interior lives over the decades, according to a department news release. It moved Fairbanks residents around the city in the 1950s. It housed mining road construction crews in the early 1960s. It sheltered hunters and adventurers in the 1970s and 1980s. Finally, it became a destination for adventurers and fans of the "Into the Wild" book beginning in 1992.
The museum and the Department of Natural Resources will now develop an agreement that will detail responsibilities of the museum regarding the bus.
Angela Linn, senior collections manager of ethnology and history, will spearhead the preservation and display of the bus. She said plans are underway to bring in expert conservators and automobile preservationists. The idea is not to renovate the bus but to preserve it.
“The ultimate goal,” she said, “is to have it on exhibit, on public view, on campus, so people can access it freely, experience it safely.”
The education component is equally important, and the museum will endeavor to tell the story of the bus and include the many diverging opinions about it.
“The museum’s goal is to capture the story of any object and tell those stories,” Linn said. “I think that’s what we do really well.
"Think about it as an object that witnessed a long history and how do we tell those stories?”
A community advisory committee will be formed to help tell that story.
“The community advisory committee will involve people with a lot of different viewpoints about the bus,” said Patrick Druckenmiller, director of the museum. “It will take a lot of involvement from the community. And we will formulate a plan.”
The museum submitted its proposal without any public fanfare, and that was deliberate, Linn said. Museum officials believe the museum is best qualified to preserve and display the bus.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly recently passed a resolution proposing the bus be placed at Pioneer Park, and the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum also proposed preserving and displaying the bus.
“That is a state-owned historic object,” Druckenmiller said. “We are a state repository and the only one, in fact, that resides in the Interior of Alaska.”
The museum plans to use the bus as a centerpiece for an outdoor public exhibit that will be free to the public for viewing. The museum will share the bus’s entire history, not just the 114 days that Chris McCandless spent there. An exact location has yet to be determined.
“We plan to do this in a way that is very respectful to the multitude of different viewpoints about the bus,” Druckenmiller said. “We want to respect all those opinions.”
“What a great opportunity for us here in the state of Alaska to share this with the public and do it in such a way that you don’t have to hike across a river to see it,” he added. “We are very excited to play our part in the story.”
The bus is expected to be moved to Fairbanks by the end of September so preservation work can begin.
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.