Homophone: a word that sounds the same as another word but has a different definition and spelling.

Our hosts at Red Eagle Lodge suggested that we might want to visit Kennecott and McCarthy during our visit to Alaska. Not wanting to waste a single moment of opportunity, Sarah, Pedro, and I got up early the next morning and headed out to the abandoned copper mine town.

Richard warned us that the trip could take between three and four hours due to the uncertain road conditions on the last 65 miles of the journey. They had tried to visit the previous summer with Sarah, but the bad road made the journey not worth the time it took.

We lucked out—the newly graded gravel road provided pothole-free driving and we arrived with all our teeth intact. The road for tourists ends in a parking lot across the Kennicott River from the town of McCarthy. We had a tailgate picnic at the Wrangell-St. Elias Park kiosk parking lot, and started hiking down to the bridge.

Tourists can reach the town of Kennecott by hiking, biking, or buying a shuttle bus ticket. We chose to take the shuttle so that we would have the energy to hike up to Root Glacier once we arrived. By the time our shuttle van arrived, the threatening clouds made good on their promise of rain.

We pulled on our rain jackets and wandered around the abandoned town (now one of the headquarters and visitor center sites for the largest National Park in the United States). We ducked into the visitor’s center and discovered that they had a free informational movie about the town’s history.

A Very Short History of Kennecott

“We just missed the town history one,” I told Pedro. “We can come back in 30 minutes after they show the park history movie.”

“Or,” he said, “we could watch the park history movie and stay out of the rain for a while.”

“Yeah!” Sarah chimed in.

We found a bench at the back of the theatre (the old storeroom of the general store), and leaned up against the wooden side of the building. The narrator’s sonorous voice and the dripping rain lulled me to sleep.

The five late nights and six early mornings of our vacation thus far had worn me out. I awoke with a start when I banged my head on the wall behind me. Funny thing, the same thing happened to Pedro.

We felt rested enough after the first movie to stay awake during the second movie. Kennecott has a curious history. The syndicate that wanted to mine the rich copper deposits in the early 1900s first had to figure out a way to reach the site. They formed steamship and railroad companies to develop a route to reach the proposed town site. Next, they planned a community that included everything anyone would need living in a remote area.

The charming town housed at least 600 people—ranging from mine workers who lived in bunk houses to managers and their families who lived in small bungalows. A 14-story processing plant covers acres of the mountainside, and an enormous power plant kept everything running.


The Homophone Saves the Day

In 1938, when the ore ran out, the residents loaded up and left the town. For the next 30 years, the town remained abandoned and the buildings fell into disrepair. The company that owned the land finally hired someone to “raze the town” in order to lessen their liability in the event that curiosity seekers started exploring and got injured.

According to the narrator of the movie, instead of ‘razing’ the town, the employee razed a building or two but decided that the town needed ‘raising’ instead of ‘razing.’

Eventually, the National Park Service purchased the land and buildings and incorporated the town into the newly established Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Community groups in conjunction with the Park Service have worked to preserve the salvageable buildings and preserve the history of the area.

That curious homophone caught my ear. One word means to level and destroy. The other word means to create and build.

By the time the owners of Kennecott hired someone to raze the town destruction would have cost less. To raise the town, on the other hand, required millions of dollars and untold hours of labor and planning.

But the result has become a thing of beauty, history and learning. It made me think about things in my life that I’d rather raze. Relationships I haven’t tended, people who constantly annoy me, good habits that I have let slide.

What would happen if we raised people instead of razed people? #write31days Click To Tweet

But if I choose to raise them instead, I invest in other and in myself in ways that will produce beautiful results. I can reinvest in relationships, I can purpose to learn more about the history of people who annoy me so that I understand them better, I can learn from my mistakes and reform good habits.

Beauty Tip #15: Learn to discern when you should raise and not raze.

Q4U: Do you have anything in your life that would be easier to raze but more valuable to raise?


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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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