The Carnival Comes to Sitka

After a 31 year absence, the Carnival came to Sitka over the weekend – not the cruise ship Carnival, but the cover-your-kids-in-cotton-candy carnival. Golden Wheel amusements brought 14 rides, games, funnel cake, and corn dogs. Sitka was ready.

KCAW’s Rich McClear sent this audio postcard from the midway.

Awesome – This is fun, do it again next year – cool –I haven’t seen a lot of people gathering like this for a long time, very active, good for the community – my kids were born and raised here so they have never been to a carnival before, They’re super excited, right (Yeah) Is it awesome? (Yeah) way cool.

When my kids were small the carnival came to Sitka almost every year, then it stopped, I asked the carnival owner, Jacqueline Leavitt why.

“You know, the ferry is logistically difficult, it’s also very expensive.”

And the timing has to be just right, you can’t load a carnival on a ferry in a very low tide.

“If the tide gets too low, and the ramp is too steep for our larger loads, we’ve got, you know, 42 foot loads, then it will jackknife on the ramp and we won’t be able to get the loads down into the hold.”

So Jacqueline Leavitt has not been here since she was a teenager working for her mom. Now she owns the carnival. You could say she was born to it.

“I’ve been in the carnival business since my mom brought me home from the hospital in 1964. She was a worker in a game, she went to the hospital and had me, she brought me home and put me in a box, which was my first crib, I guess, under the counter of one of our games. Yes sir.  I was born into it.”

All you’ve got to do is ring the bell, ring the bell and win a prize. Kid’s 12 and under always win here.

Jacqueline’s family came to Alaska from Washington State in the winter of 1967 to buy a carnival ride, an “Octopus” repossessed by a bank. Her mom fell in love with Alaska and never took that Octopus ride south but started Golden Wheel Amusements. Now her grandchildren also work at the Carnival.  The founder’s oldest grandson, Chase Eckert, says that this carnival is really a multi-family business.

“Everybody in our upper management is a husband and wife team. We find that they balance each other out and keep each other accountable more than single people may. — This is not the reputation that a carnival normally has. — No, and we kind of are moving against that reputation – If anybody’s ever been wronged here the entire community will shun you. It’s not good business.”

And because it’s not a very big carnival, there’s room for some attractions that might not appear in a more traditional venue. Tucked among the inflatable bouncy houses is an inflatable internal organ that you can walk through.

Nolan the Colon, I’m promoting colorectal cancer screening. – So is a carnival a good place to do that? – I would say so, everybody’s here and I say, Why not?

That was Maria Yields from SEARHC, promoting good health. Nearby, in the break dancing tent, was Captain Jack Hansen, an evangelical from Oregon, promoting spiritual health.

One for the money, one for the Lord, I give him what I got and not just what I can afford. Rise with me…

Harvey Brandt was standing next to me, smiled, and said “These are not the carnies I remember from when I was a kid in Plymouth, Nebraska” and he reminisced about the carnivals of his childhood.

“Every small town in the Midwest had a carnival. It was a lot of fun, my cousin and I, after the first night, early the next morning we would pick up beer bottles and sell ‘em back, I have forgotten if it was a penny or two cents, and we’d walk around all the rides, and pick up the half dollars and quarters that were lost by the people at the carnival, and the carnies would get mad at us because we were picking up their loose change.”

I can’t imagine these carnies getting mad. This was one laid back carnival, and everyone, those operating the carnival rides, running the games, selling the cotton candy, and those attending had big smiles. Rides, Games, cotton candy, health messages, memories and a little gospel, it was a happy weekend.

This is the text of a Raven Radio News story form May 19, 2014.

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