The story of Benny Benson and the Alaska State Flag are a great way to see Seward with Kids

We had a great day yesterday in the beautiful port of Seward. We met with local vendors and got an up close look at all there is to see and do there. Whenever I do a research trip somewhere I always try to find a variety of options for all different travel styles, interests and budgets. In particular for travelschooling units I love to find local stories to make history come alive for kids. In Seward it’s the story of Benny Benson and the Alaska state flag that really captured my imagination.

Who was Benny Benson?

Benny Benson was a boy who, in many ways, represented the diversity of the state’s unique history. The child of a Swedish born father and an Aleut-Russian mother, Benny was born in a small fishing village on the Alaska peninsula. After the death of his mother, Benny’s father was unable to support his children and had to send them to orphanges. While Benny’s sister headed to Oregon he and his brother were sent to the Jesse Lee Home in Unalaksa in the Aleutian islands.

The home, run by the Methodist Church, cared for hundreds of Aleut boys. It gave them a safe place to stay and an education. Soon after Benny’s arrival, the Church relocated the boys to Seward. There, the Jesse Lee Home was able to serve even more children in need.

The Alaska Flag Design Contest

It was while Benny lived in Seward that in 1927 the territorial governor of Alaska ran a contest for schoolchildren. They were to submit designs for a territorial flag. Benny, age thirteen, designed a simple and yet powerful flag. He composed it with bright stars for the Big Dipper and the North Star on a dark blue background. It was an image which was familiar to all Alaskans as they gazed up into the night sky. As Benny explained to the judges it represented more than simply a familiar image. “The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska flower. The North Star is for the future of the state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union. The dipper is for the Great Bear – symbolizing strength.”

The thirteen year old Aleut orphan boy had somehow managed to capture the essence of Alaska in this simple image. Benny Benson’s flag would go on to represent the territory through to statehood. For his part, Benny won $1000 and a trip to Washington, DC.

“The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska flower. The North Star is for the future of the state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union. The dipper is for the Great Bear – symbolizing strength.”

Benny Benson

Benny Benson’s Story and a Visit to Seward, Alaska

Unfortunately the great earthquake of 1964 damaged the Jesse Lee Home . The church relocated the children to a new home in Anchorage. The abandoned buildings where Benny had designed the first flag of Alaska have fallen into disrepair. The city has decided to demolish the entire complex of buildings. However, in their place Seward will build a new memorial and monument to the boy who designed the Alaskan flag. While I was glad to catch a glimpse of what is left, I can’t wait to see what they build in it’s place in the future.

Other fun things for families in Seward to expand on the story of Benny Benson include a visit to Benny Benny Park where kids can stretch their legs and run around a bit.

For now I think as part of any travelschooling Alaska trip that visits Seward the story of Benny Benson is a must. Kids love contests and to hear such a compelling story captures their imaginations. Benny’s own history is also a great jumping off point to study indigenous peoples of Alaska as well as the subsequent influx of Russian and northern European settlers.

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Other great things to do with kids in Seward include visiting Exit Glacier and a Kenai Fjords cruise. Or visit the Alaska SeaLife Center and/or enjoy a dog sled experience with real Iditarod winners. Fantastic food options from Alaskan seafood to simple cafes line the quaint streets in this great port town. There is no shortage of fantastic things to do in Seward with kids.

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About Mary

Mary Stephens is a long time homeschooling mother of four: two still at home, one in seminary and one graduated from college. Mary holds a degree in international affairs from Georgetown University and a Masters in Teaching from the American University. Passionate about both travel and education she offers homeschooling tips and tricks as well as free travelschooling units on her website Mary also owns Christopher Travel, a luxury travel company specializing in exquisite vacations around the globe.

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