Whittier Alaska Flag Report by Paige Esterly

Updated: Jul 26, 2019

To research for this play, I first reached out to those on Whittier’s city council and port

and harbor committee, whose emails were posted on the town website. I was able to

get some interviews from that, and through those connections I was able to reach out

further to other residents.


One thing that surprised me was how open the residents were to the idea of me writing

a play about their town. I am used to a certain level of reluctance or a desire for privacy,

but those I interviewed jumped at the chance to tell me all about their lives and their

experience living in Whittier. I was intrigued by much of what they told me, particularly

by the sense of community they described and the hodge-podge of people who make it

up. I was a bit disturbed by some of the things described to me that are commonplace

in Whittier, such as alcoholism and domestic abuse, as well as how it is handled by

residents. Due to the close proximity of the apartments, when there is an issue at hand

everyone is aware of it but most of the time people turn the other cheek and stay out of

things, unless the issue escalated significantly or a child is involved.



The lore of Whittier is interesting to me because it is such a specific place and the

lifestyle is unlike anywhere else in the United States, while at the same time residents

know what it’s like to experience “regular” American culture. It is such a new town that

there is a lack of older tradition-- what one normally associates with folklore. In fact,

nearly everyone I interviewed for the project started off by insisting vehemently that

there was no lore to be found. This is, of course, not true at all; Whittier has its own

traditions, stories, and culture. This is powerful because it certainly challenges the

common assumption that folklore has to be “old.” Artistically, there is a long tradition of

stories revolving around small, insular towns so getting to explore that with the help of

real people in a real place was very intriguing to me.



Because many of Whittier’s residents are unaware that they are, in fact, part of modern

lore, we were able to consider this idea aloud together during our interviews. Much of

what I consider cultural lore about the town revolves around community-- town-wide

holiday traditions, for example. It became clear to me that community is at the heart of

nearly every facet of life in Whittier.

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