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The Story of Mary Carey – A True Alaska Legend

Jean Richardson

In July of 2015 our Alaska and Glacier Bay Cruise tour experienced an extra special treat. On a stop at Mary’s McKinley View Lodge Jean Richardson, the daughter of legendary Mary Carey, hopped aboard the motorcoach and shared the thrilling story of her mother.

Read ahead to hear the fascinating tale, as told by our very own Cortney Stoner.


Mary Carey had always dreamed of an adventure to Alaska. The chance to stand in unspoiled land, a place where very few had traveled before. Her husband shared the same passionate desire to travel and in the early 1960’s they built a stunning solid mahogany boat. Their intentions were to sail down through the Panama Canal and then upward all the way to Alaska. This dream was tragically cut short when her husband died unexpectedly, soon after their boat was completed. Mary was so consumed with grief that she lost the ability to talk. Her doctors assured her it was shock and that if she left the hustle and bustle of the city things should improve. Perhaps if she got away from everyone’s sympathetic words and the devastating daily reminders of her late husband she would find her voice once again?

The Story of Mary Carey – A True Alaska Legend 3That was all the push she needed. She set off to the land she had always dreamed of. Once she arrived in Alaska she promptly applied to be a teacher. This was quickly shot down because she did not have the required training necessary in Alaskan Geography. Being the problem solver that she was, she had a great idea. She asked if she could be assigned to a small school and begin training as soon as she finished her geography course. She was placed in a tiny school in the middle of nowhere with just the exact number of students required for a high school – eight. There was one problem, however. There was nowhere to properly train these students. She found a local pub owner who agreed she could set up shop above the bar. He sympathized with Mary’s lack of support (and supplies) from the state so he bought her a set of encyclopedias. She was able to teach her entire curriculum with them!

A famous bush pilot Don Sheldon lived in this tiny town. Mary had a great desire to get up into the skies and fly with him so she insistently tried persuading him to employ her as a journalist to help document his riveting adventures. She was quite poor and could not afford to pay him for flights, so this was her clever way of finding an “in.” He repeatedly denied her request, stating he had only taken one woman up with him and it took him three weeks to clean his plane. She insisted she would not get sick, but he successfully avoided her for about a year. Quite a feat in such small quarters!

The Story of Mary Carey – A True Alaska Legend 1Mary eventually gave up hope until one day, right out of the blue, he marched right up to her and asked her if she was still ready to find her wings. She quickly gathered her warm gear, fancy new sunglasses, and camera. When she excitedly ran up to the plane, she was informed that she would not be flying with him. Her utter disappointment was quickly turned around when he went on to explain that his mate needed help with a job and if she was up for the challenge she’d find those wings. There was a group of hikers up on The Mountain that needed supplies and Sheldon’s mate needed her to push the boxes out of the plane at just the right moment. Once they reached the gorge where the supply boxes were to be dropped the plane would dive sharply, level out momentarily, then sharply rise straight up into the sky. It was at this postion, exactly, when she needed to push out the boxes. Easy enough right? Mary was so excited for the first drop that eagerly prepped herself for that exact moment she needed to push out the boxes. It all happened so quickly that she was caught off guard and was almost yanked from the plane. She managed to pull herself back in and successfully got the box out with perfect timing. Unfortunately, her expensive prescription sunglasses and camera were lost. The plane dove and swooped 18 times and Mary, though blind without her glasses, managed to drop every box perfectly. When they returned back to the hangar, Sheldon greeted them and asked how it went. As soon as her feet hit the ground, they turned to jello and she almost fell to her knees. So as not to let on to her predicament, Mary coolly leaned on the plane and told him she loved it. After that, Mary was an official journalist and she documented many wonderful adventures with Sheldon.

The Story of Mary Carey – A True Alaska Legend 2One such adventure took them to the very spot where the overlook is today. Mary fell so in love with the location and the breathtaking view of Denali, she decided that is where she wanted to build a home. The very first year she lived in a tent because she lost her building supplies when she tried to cross the neighboring roaring river. At that time, the Alaskan Highway did not go all the way to Denali National Park. She firmly believed the roadway should and would be expanded to the park and past her homestead. Years passed and nothing happened, so she decided to declare war against Governor Bill Egan. This plight led her to manage his gubernatorial campaign and win, completing the Parks Highway which now connects Anchorage to Fairbanks and also provides a direct connection to Denali National Park.

Written by Cortney Stoner


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Posted on March 29th, 2019 in Alaska

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