They won’t be getting much sleep up in Fairbanks, Alaska this weekend.
For one thing, it’s light outside for much of the day as the longest day of the year approaches.
Moreover, since they are going to be up anyway, folks celebrate the occasion with the annual Midnight Sun Festival. This next week marks the halfway point for summer and the beginning of their descent into another winter, so they use this time to celebrate warm weather while they can. Or, as they say “Actually, we try not to sleep much all summer – we have to cram in all the fun we can before winter!”.
Activities abound to celebrate the Midnight Sun. Those who enjoy “spectator sports” can see a midnight baseball game played with no artificial lights, only the light of the “Midnight Sun.” Or, if you prefer to participate, you can take a midnight run or play a round of golf. Fairbanks has all of these if you can stay awake.
“A combination picnic, campout, and tailgate party” the News-Miner calls the small, impromptu, informal party held every year on a mountain top north of Fairbanks. Eagle Summit is the spot, 107 miles up the Steese Highway. It is a good place to set up your camera and tripod to take multiple exposures as the sun moves slowly across the horizon, never quite touching the Crazy Mountains in the distance.
The Midnight Sun Baseball Game:
This one of Fairbanks oldest traditions. It features the local semi-pro baseball team, the Alaska Goldpanners, a club from which has come such former major leaguers as Dave Winfield, Tom Seaver and Graig Nettles.
The first Midnight Sun game was played in 1906. The News-Miner wouldn’t give free publicity to the teams’ sponsors so the competing squads were identified to readers as “The Drinks” and “The Smokes.”
The annual game is occasionally moved to accommodate the weather. Sunset begins to the north when the game starts at 10:30 p.m. Before the end, the sun is back above the horizon.
Never once has artificial lighting been used for this event, and never has the game been postponed or delayed because of darkness. As best can be determined, the midnight classic originated in Fairbanks in 1906. Every year since it has become a ritual to play the game on the solstice.
The tradition was adopted by the Panners in 1960, their first season of operation. Through 1962, the Panners met the North of the Range All-Stars but, since 1963, a different opponent – usually from out of state – has been invited each year to participate in the symbolic event.
As always, play will be stopped at the half-inning nearest midnight for the traditional singing of the Alaska Flag Song. Fairbanks City Clerk Nancy DeLeon, often a Midnight Sun Game entertainer, led the celebration of the Midnight Sun with the singing of the Alaska Flag Song last in 2001 just before she passed away. She is still remembered, especially during this singing.
Midnight Sun Festival:
Celebrating the longest day of the year with music, shopping, crafts, special entertainment, and a downtown street fair. Many stores stay open until midnight. Organizers claim over 30,000 participated in recent years.
In the past, a total of 40 bands and live acts have performed between noon and midnight in the parking lot between First and Second avenues, between Cushman and Lacey streets. There are over 180 booths of arts, crafts, merchandise, information, food, and fun! Skateboarding, face painting, xtreme car racing, paddler’s river slalom race, break dancing, pony rides, vintage motors, BBQ cook-off, gold panning, break dancing, celestial shopping, fabulous food and so much more! Expect Alaskan-made arts and crafts. In 1998, the music, food and family fun was followed by a parade at 6 p.m. featuring the Red Hackle Pipe Band and Chinese Ribbon Dancers.
View the Midnight Sun:
If you would rather just view the Midnight Sun, or try your hand at photographing a sun that never sets, head out to Murphy Dome or Eagle Summit on the Steese Highway for a view of the Midnight Sun. Murphy Dome is located 25 miles outside of town and provides a spectacular view of the Chatanika River Valley and Minto Flats.
Weather permitting, Eagle Summit provides a clear view of the midnight sun. It’s the highest point on the Steese Highway with an elevation of 3,624 feet. This spot also provides a view of the Chatanika River along with the Chena River State Recreation Area and a pair of favorite local resorts; Chena Hot Springs and Circle Hot Springs.