Who is John Trigg?
John Trigg was a local resident known for his skill at tying knots and telling yarns. He was a good friend to many in the village of Ester, and started a book exchange at the local watering hole–the Golden Eagle. After he passed away in 2000, it seemed fitting to the libarians to honor him by adding his name to the Ester Library’s. His family has generously donated many of John’s books to the library over the years, in addition to books in the subject areas of science, technology, science fiction, literature, history, and those books you just know should be in a library but that we didn’t have. The books are stamped “Donated by the family of John Trigg” and tagged “Trigg” in our online catalog.
John Trigg: sailor, artist, carpenter, and storyteller
by Deirdre Helfferich
John Trigg first came to Alaska more than 55 years ago, when his family moved up from the Lower 48 in August of 1949. He was born in 1939 in Chicago, and was about nine or ten years old when Bill and Barbara Trigg brought their family to the territory. John had polio when he was young, which gave him a bad back, but that didn’t prevent him from joining the Coast Guard when he was 18. He signed up in Alaska and served tours of duty in Ketchikan, the Great Lakes, and in Viet Nam. Upon arriving in Viet Nam, the sailors piled down the gangplank, and John fell off and broke his leg—but he ended up serving four years there. He spent most of his time in the Guard on the Great Lakes, and lived for several years on Neebish Island, at the northern tip of Lake Michigan, near Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
John married in 1958 to Marilyn Cover. She and John had one child, Bob, who now lives near Ester. Bob remembers the tiny community on Neebish Island—only 40 people live there in the winter—and picking mushrooms, making homebrewed beer, and tapping the trees to make maple syrup. Bob also remembers how helpful his father was to his neighbors—one time, when it had been pretty hot for a while, the ferryman’s beer started popping corks, and he had to call all his friends for help. John, like others, was only too glad: the only way to save the beer was to drink it. Unfortunately there weren’t quite enough men to do the job properly. John and the others came home completely plastered on warm beer.
John was good with his hands, and liked history. He became an expert at knot tying in the Coast Guard, and made a large sampler for the Smithsonian Museum which stands on display today. He could even make a knotted anchor completely from rope. One of the ships that he served on, the lightship Huron, was decommissioned in 1970 and turned into a Coast Guard museum in Port Huron, Michigan. Lightships were anchored in areas that were too deep or impractical to construct a lighthouse. Eventually, lighted buoys replaced lightships. The Huron was the last one in active duty on the Great Lakes. In 1989, she was designated a National Historical Landmark. John knew every inch of the Huron, and made her the subject of one of his models. Model building became another of John’s passions, particularly after he retired from the Coast Guard and had more time to devote to it, although he’d begun building motorized model boats in the ’60s. It’s a time-consuming hobby: The model he built of the steamship Mt. Washington, for example, took over a year to build.
In his thirties, Bob discovered that he had a sister, Susan Patton, who is three years older than he. John had had an earlier romance, prior to marrying Bob’s mother. Susan tracked her father down after she had a baby and discovered that she needed John’s medical history. Susan had inherited her father’s artistic bent, and later became the artist for the Yukon Quest poster in 2000 and 2001.
John retired from the Coast Guard in 1977, with the rank of Chief Boatsman’s Mate 1st Class, and returned to Alaska and the Fairbanks area, where his parents and sister had remained. He worked as a carpenter for another 20 years, building his own house in Cripple Creek. He became a member of the Pioneers, Igloo #4. He was a regular at the Golden Eagle, and known for his stories and love of a good book. He would bring his paperbacks down to the Eagle, and after a while a regular book exchange got going, to the proprietor Gene Reed’s annoyance—that paperback or two turned into a big box or two of books. John could be counted on to buy a beverage for the winner of the Eagle’s snowflake pool. He and Thela Clayton had an ongoing difference of opinion about which snowflakes should signal proper snowfall: John held that it was the first falling flakes seen through the Eagle’s windows, while Tee was firm that it had to be snow that stuck in order to count. He was also an excellent barbecue chef. The Claytons would head over to his place on the Fourth of July when everyone else was at the park.
He fell ill and after a long battle with the disease, died of cancer July 17, 2000 at his home. That August the Ester library was renamed the John Trigg Ester Library in his honor. He left behind good stories, beautiful works of craftsmanship, and many friends and a family who loved him. What more can one wish for from a good life?