Out West where the North Begins: Harold McCracken in Alaska and the Arctic, 1916–1928
June 3, 2017 – February 4, 2018
As part our Centennial celebration in 2017, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and our McCracken Research Library opened a special exhibition to share the remarkable story of Harold McCracken and how this adventurer ultimately found himself in Cody, Wyoming. Yes, the Center’s McCracken Research Library is named for him.
Locally, many people know of Harold McCracken as the first director of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, now the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. When hired in 1959, McCracken was 65 years old and had been publishing books on western artists like Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell for almost twenty years. But many people do not realize that this art historian and New York-based writer had been in his youth a wilderness adventurer and wildlife filmmaker in Alaska.
Harold McCracken earned fame over the course of twelve years, from 1916 to 1928, in several expeditions to the territory of Alaska and the Arctic. These adventures were well-publicized quests with scientific goals. In honor of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Centennial, we present this largely unknown chapter in the career of our first director. This special exhibition, Out West Where the North Begins, must necessarily condense the story and emphasize only the highlights of this “Roaring Twenties” tale. The Alaska story began just over 100 years ago.
McCracken’s first trip to Alaska in 1916 to collect specimens of northern big game for a museum at Ohio State University was much more than that to him. He wanted to know the world of Alaska, its landscapes, native peoples, and wild creatures. As a writer, he hoped to represent it, as in re-create it for others; as a public personality, he sought to embody it himself.
The exhibition told this American tale—one of adventures, failures, successes, and the forging of a heroic identity based on frontier experiences. It invited comparison to the story our museum tells of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Out West where the North Begins opened in the Center’s Special Exhibitions Gallery on June 3, 2017, and closed February 4, 2018.