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Storybook pole occupies special place in heart of North Pole

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Posted: Saturday, December 10, 2011 10:32 pm | Updated: 1:33 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — There is a North Pole in North Pole.

It is a red and white striped affair mounted on a concrete base on Fifth Avenue.

After visiting the Christmas in Ice event to see the ice sculptures Saturday, I took a side trip to see the pole, finding a group of young people posing for pictures with the icon of North Pole.

The 9-foot steel pole is one of two made in 1951 as part of a campaign to place a real storybook pole at the geographic North Pole. The Northern Commercial Co. machine shop made the poles.

Alaska Airlines agreed to fly a pole to the North Pole in a DC-4, dubbed the “Polar Express,” and the federal Civil Aeronautics Board gave its blessing to the pole jump.

Stan Garson, an employee of Arctic Contractors at Barrow, came up with the idea of getting a barbershop-like pole deposited on the Arctic Ocean ice.

In the months before the polar flight, the pole and its promoters toured parts of the United States and collected nearly 5,000 letters to Santa Claus that were to be included as part of the air drop.

Carolina Cotton, a singer and actress known for yodeling in Westerns with Gene Autry and others in the 1940s and 1950s, traveled to Fairbanks for the flight of the Polar Express.

Cotton had planned to make the trip to the North Pole herself, along with Audrey Vance, the Fairbanks columnist who went by the name “North Pole Nellie.” They expected to become the first women to fly over the North Pole.

“We’re gonna fill this great big pole with letters to Santa Claus and then I’m going to drop it right smack-dab in his backyard, so there’ll be no question about him getting them,” Cotton said in a radio interview with the show “It’s Fun to be Young,” shortly before her trip to Alaska.

But the Navy would not allow women at its Barrow facilities, where a refueling stop was planned, and the CAB didn’t want anyone but crewmen aboard, so Cotton and Nellie stayed in Fairbanks.

The Alaska Airlines DC-4 took off 60 years ago today with a crew of eight men, along with 4,585 gallons of gas, two gallons of coffee, 10 gallons of water and emergency rations for six months.

Pilot Larry Flahart told a News-Miner reporter later they tied a flashlight to the pole so they could watch it drop in the December darkness after it was pushed out the back of the DC-4 at 15 below. He said they could see it for about 15 seconds before it vanished. After falling for more than a mile, the pole must have hit the ice like a missile.

The trip ended a two-month campaign, as the News-Miner put it, to “properly mark the top of the earth.”

Joe Kozloski, the foreman of the N.C. Machine Shop, is believed to have made the pole on display in North Pole, but it was too heavy for the trip and a lighter model was made to go in its place.

The pole that didn’t make the trip ended up in a junkyard after the flight, but it was rediscovered in 1972 and placed on display on July 4, 1976. The original plaque said the pole was “recovered” from the North Pole, but this error was corrected in a rededication ceremony eight years ago.

Dermot Cole can be reached at cole@newsminer.com or 459-7530.

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