In 1991, the movie White Fang debuted in theaters across the country. Before it hit the big screen, crews brought sets, actors, and jobs to Haines for the filming of the production. The movie brought an estimated $2.6 million to the town. Now, 25 years after its release, a local museum is reliving memories of when Hollywood came to Haines.
White Fang follows Jack Conroy, a gold prospector played by a young Ethan Hawke. It tells the story of the friendship between Conroy and a half wolf, half dog. It’s set in the Alaskan wilderness, and filmed in Haines.
While most people only see the finished product of the movie, many in Haines have memories from that year when actors and film crews took over town.
“My name is Tom Andriesen. I worked on White Fang from late September of 89, until the end of the production one year later in August of 1990…The whole sled crash with the coffin sliding out on the ice and the corpse sliding out, that was formed in like four different locations, one of which was the pool…”
The Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center’s White Fang Exhibit is filled with memories including oral histories recorded by community coordinator Madeline Witek.
“I didn’t want it to be an exhibit about the story of White Fang, the movie itself, but of the production and what its impact was in Haines,” says Witek.
“I am Jonathan Danford Green, probably much better known as Jono…It dropped some millions of dollars that the town definitely needed and brought some definitely needed notoriety and exposure to this town.”
Photos, newspaper articles and set pieces fill the exhibit. A script is propped open, revealing production notes. On a tour of the room, Witek starts at a wall dedicated to location scouting.
“One of the hardest places for them to find was Jack’s father’s claim,” says Witek. “Because he wanted a stream with a place for a cabin. And they wanted a waterfall, like with the woods, and they’re like ‘oh god, where are we going to find that?’ And it was deep in the Kelsall is where they ended up filming Scottie’s claim.”
Photographs from the set cover a large portion of one wall. But many of the images picture unidentified people. Witek says she wanted to give the community a chance to change that, welcoming them to come label the photos with more information. A number of pictures have already been updated, helping to piece that history back together. But Witek says there are some things that are probably lost to history.
“We have a couple of pictures of these gentlemen holding a sign that says ‘pinky and the nice guys, reunion tour 1990.’ I have no idea,” says Witek.
Witek shares one important part of the production, with photos taken of a scene imitating the famous golden stairs of the Chilkoot Trail. She says the weather did not always cooperate.
“You can see in the pictures the difference in the days,” says Witek. “This is what the day looked like, it was this beautiful day and they wanted it to be stormy, so they had to make a storm.”
For Haines residents, the filming not only brought Hollywood to town. It also gave many the opportunity to be a part of Hollywood. Hundreds of people from Haines were extras in the production. So one section of the exhibit is about just that. It includes costumes pieces, photos, and a pay stub for around $44.
“This is Cheryl Mullen’s hat that she wore when she was dressed up as a man on the pass,” says Witek. “This is John Carlson’s coat, it’s still filthy 25 years later.”
When the filming was complete, the movie premiered in Alaska. But it couldn’t happen in Haines, because like today, the town didn’t have a movie theater. So, they headed to Juneau.
“A whole bunch of people piled on the ferry so they could make it that night,” says Witek. “And then the bridge it was like horrible cold blustery ferry ride down to Juneau and the bridge froze and they almost missed the start of the movie because they couldn’t get off of the boat in Juneau.”
Aside from many memories, there’s still a physical reminder of the movie in Haines. The Dalton City film set from White Fang still stands in town. It’s a popular tourist attraction and part of the Southeast Alaska State Fair.
Witek says she wants community members to be a part of the exhibit just like they were a part of the movie.
“I wanted it to be casual,” says Witek. “I didn’t want it to be this sort of starchy, hands-off history exhibit. Because history is fluid, it’s living and it’s something I want people to participate in.”
The temporary exhibit is open through February 24, reliving the year that Hollywood left its mark in Haines for years to come.