Story last updated at 12:41 AM on Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Meet Homer Pennock New book about Kachemak Bay

communities gives details, illustrations of beginnings


For all that has been said about Kachemak Bay, few authors have written comprehensive books about the prehistory and history of the land from Homer to Port Graham. With the release this month of "Kachemak Bay Communities: Their Histories, Their Mysteries," Janet Klein expands on her earlier works on what she calls Kachemak Country, "A History of Kachemak Bay: the Country, the Communities" (Homer Society of Natural History, 1987) and "Archaeology of Kachemak Bay, Alaska" (Kachemak Country Publications, 1996).


In her new book, Klein answers these questions (see answers, end of story):

A: What did Homer Pennock look like?

B: Where is Homer Pennock buried?

C: What is the earliest European settlement in Kachemak Country?

D: What happened to Soonroodna?

E: What person's nickname and last name became geographic place names?

"Kachemak Communities" includes some chapters from Klein's "A History of Kachemak Bay," but where the earlier book gave a detailed historic account, the later book illustrates a lot of the people and places associated with Homer -- including Homer Pennock, the man who gave our town its name. Pennock was 56 in 1896 when he came to the Spit to manage a crew with the Alaska Gold Mining Company.

As Klein tells the story in "A History of Kachemak Bay," the mining company had to come up with a name for the town. Della Banks, the only woman in the group, later wrote, "J.E. Guillbault exclaimed, 'Why not call it "Homer" after you, Pennock?' Everyone agreed. Thus Homer was named after a not-too-successful promoter."

The first ever published full-face photograph of Pennock came to light after Pennock's granddaughter, Joan Pennock Craig, e-mailed the Homer Public Library seeking information about her grandfather. The library put Craig in touch with Klein.

"You have the town of Homer, and now you have the person that goes with it," Klein said.

Pennock's 1912 obituary in the New York Times mentioned only one widow, Lillian, and their two surviving sons. In talking with Craig, Klein discovered Pennock had a first wife, Annie Hardcastle, and four sons, one of them Jerome Pennock, Craig's father. In comparing details with Craig about her grandfather, Klein confirmed he was the Homer Pennock for whom the town was named.

"We found out the information she had about Homer Pennock and the information I had correlated beautifully," Klein said.

Those kinds of personal stories and photographs distinguish "Kachemak Communities." Klein has tracked down photographs of Maxwell Cohen, Sarah Elizabeth Eldred and Sir Thomas Hesketh, namesakes of Kachemak Bay features. Homer artist Lee Post has drawn an illustration of Eldred based on a damaged photograph.

"The illustrations were to me far more exciting than the new information I have," Klein said. "Nobody had ever seen that dandy before," she said of Hesketh.

Klein joked that she's been working on "Kachemak Communities" since she moved to Homer with her family in 1978, but really has been gathering information since 1997. She describes herself as a museum consultant, field archaeologist and researcher. For the past three years Klein has been doing consulting work with the Anchorage Museum on an exhibit about Yupik science.

"I love the research. I love the learning. That's why I do it," she said. "The writing is a real struggle. The discovery -- that's my pleasure."

If Klein struggles with her writing, it doesn't show in her breezy, easy to read chapters. Well organized and indexed, the book can be read in one sitting or re-read section by section. Illustrations by Gary Lyon, Lee Post and Kay VanDervoort complement the historic photographs.

As much a story about the people of Kachemak Country, "Kachemak Communities" also tells the story of how Alaska Natives and Western settlers used -- and used up -- resources.

"What's important to me is how people used the land and the resources, how they connected -- how Native people utilized the resources," Klein said. "Our history is really based on resource extraction, whether it's coal or fish or fur."

A chapter on the herring fisheries and the saltries of Halibut Cove shows the lost richness of one such resource. One photo shows men pulling in 2-foot herring. Another shows a cannery at the base of the Saddle Trail spanning the length of a beach -- a beach now littered with just posts from the cannery.

"People come in and they take these things away. That bit of our history is not left locally until we start digging for it -- literally," Klein said. "Not only were resources extracted, the information was extracted, too."

The Soonroodna collection is one example. In 1883 Johann Jacobsen excavated the lost village on China Poot Bay, and took 65 artifacts back to Berlin, including the only known masks from Kachemak Bay. Klein looked at the artifacts on a visit to the Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, and includes photographs of them in her book.

Some treasures remain for the bay to give up, like mammoth teeth Klein writes about. Could more mammoth bones lie waiting to be discovered on the Spit? Will somebody find another barrelhead stencil like one found by Marti and Rick Anderson in Halibut Cove?

"Watch for mammoths, watch for stencils," Klein said. "Every little thing that tells us more about our history and our connection with this place."

"Kachemak Communities" is $14.50 and available at the Homer Bookstore, Old Inlet Books and the Pratt Museum.

(Answers. A: A bit like Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top with his chest-length beard; B. New York City; C: Alexandrovsk, or Fort Alexander, founded in 1786 by Russians at Nanwalek; D: Located in China Poot Bay, the village was abandoned in 1794 after Russians abducted the women and children; E. Sarah "Sadie" Elizabeth Eldred, for Sadie Cove and Eldred Passage.)

Michael Armstrong can be reached at