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Johnson, Edwin Carl & Mary Elizabeth (Cockburn)

by Mary Elizabeth Johnson

Edwin Carl Johnson was born at Arlington, Washington, in 1915 graduating from Lake Stevens, Washington, high school in 1933. He first came to Ketchikan in 1935, and worked in the sawmill. He attended the U. of Washington for two years and headed back to Alaska the spring of 1938. There were no jobs in Ketchikan so he came to Juneau. His first job was cutting halibut cheeks and running the hoist unloading fishing boats at the Juneau Cold Storage.

Mary Elizabeth Cockburn was born at Leavenworth, Washington, in 1918. The family moved to Lake Stevens, Washington, in 1922, where she graduated from Lake Stevens High School in 1936. She attended the U. of Washington for two years. The end of July 1940, she came to Juneau on the Alaska Steamship Aleutian where Mrs. Albert White shared the stateroom. Ed met the ship and jumped aboard before the gangplank was even put out as the people on the dock gasped. They were married on August 1, 1940, at the Northern Light Presbyterian Church on 4th and Franklin by Rev. John A. Glasse and Mary Simpkins Metzgar was Matron of Honor and Milt Nyman was Best Man.

Ed had rented an apartment in the Fosbee that had a Murphy bed for $45 a month. He was working at the Juneau Cold Storage and Mary Lib, as she is known by many, went to work for Elwood McClain at the 1st National Bank on Front Street.

Juneau in 1940, would best be described as “busy” day and night. The Johnson’s charged at all the stores, their monthly grocery bill was $20 at the 20th Century Market in the Juneau Young building at the corner of Front and Seward. The City Cafe was never closed. The A-J Gold Mine was working three full shifts, the Juneau Lumber Co. had a sawmill, the Juneau Cold Storage was busy year round freezing, handling and shipping fish.

When the halibut fishermen arrived with their loads, a chalk board was used by the buyers to track the auction. The buyers were Wallis George and Elton Engstrom and Billy Carlson. There were others later.

The sawmill made shipping box parts, delivered them by a horse drawn wagon to the cold storage where they were made up. They were lined with a heavy waxed paper, filled with frozen fish according to species, size and weight. Then strapped with metal bands by a unique machine. Using two-wheeled hand trucks, the longshoremen took the boxes from the cold storage rooms to the ships.

Don Hanebury was an expert fish splitter—he split the two sides of red king salmon from the backbone. These sides were salted down with fine salt in hogsheads or barrels which held 750 pounds and were eventually sent to New York as lox for the Jewish trade. The barrels were made in Vancouver, B.C., the staves were numbered with chalk and disassembled for shipment. They were reassembled here which was a “trick” and took patience.

Ice was made all winter in blocks of 330 pounds and stored—the older the ice, the longer it lasted. In the spring, when the boats were getting outfitted to go fishing, the 330 pound blocks were sent through a crusher and piped to the fish olds.

Wallis George bought the Coca Cola franchise and set up a bottling plant in a wooden building next to the cold storage. The syrup was sent in big barrels. Wallis had Ed delivering Coca Cola around town and ice to the bars and the Baranof Hotel.

The Johnsons were both homesick to see their families and friends at Lake Stevens and took the Princess Louise to Prince Rupert. From there they went by train across Canada to Winnipeg and south to New Rockford, ND, to visit Mary Lib’s grandparents arriving there the morning of December 7, 1941. Her grandfather asked if they were afraid of the Japanese. They were so isolated in Juneau that they didn’t understand why he was asking them that.

The Johnsons lived in Seattle where Ed got a job at Boeing in the “jig” department for the building of the B-29 and Mary Lib worked at the Pacific National Bank. In the spring of 1943, Wallis George of the Juneau Cold Storage found Ed and asked him to come back and be the dock foreman. Ed left only his dust to go back!

It was war time and before Mary Lib could join him, she had to have a job. She wired Mr. McClain at the bank to see if he had a job for her. He said he needed a bookkeeper and to bring another one also. Minnie Lu Horning Krugness Hunt was working at the same bank as Mary Lib and she wanted to come to Alaska. They were able to get Coast Guard clearance to make reservations to Juneau. They finally found a house on 10th and C to rent for the three of them. In the states, coupons were needed for many rationed items but in Alaska, the only thing rationed were tires.

In August 1943, the Johnsons bought a house in Douglas from Val and Alice Poor at 1302 Fifth Street. Their son, Carl Edwin, was born in 1945, at St. Ann’s Hospital.

The spring of 1946, Ed took a job with the Whiz Fish Co. in Pelican and that fall, Carl and Mary Lib were able to join him. The spring of 1949, they moved back to Douglas where Ed bought fish for the Halibut Producers Co-Op at the Juneau Cold Storage and Mary Lib went to work again at First National Bank.

Life settled down and they became part of the Douglas community. Their daughter, Florence Elizabeth was born in 1951, and son, Paul Evert in 1952, both at St. Ann’s Hospital and delivered by Dr. Joseph O. Rude, as was son Carl earlier.

In 1955, Mary Lib was president of the Douglas Island Woman’s Club and they chose as a project, to number the town. The streets were already designated and they numbered every 25 feet. Years later, Mary Lib was told by a Borough official it was the best numbering in the whole Borough.

In June 1960, the Johnsons bought a house at Pearl Harbor just beyond the Shrine of St. Therese. They left the city amenities of electricity, telephone and city water. For thirteen years they had their own generators. For their refrigerator that first summer, Ed put a small barrel inside a barrel the Coca Cola syrup came in with sawdust between them. The children and Mary Lib went once a week to the glacier to get ice for the barrel. For 21 years, their communication was by radio before the telephone line was extended beyond Tee Harbor. The television cable is still two miles away!

Ed retired from the cold storage in 1983. He had a thyroidectomy in 1992, and there were complications. They were medivaced to the Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle. His vocal chords were paralyzed so more surgery and he now had a permanent trachea tube for breathing and had no voice. They moved into town to their Parkshore Condo in 1995 which they had purchased way back in 1988. By 1996, Mary Lib could no longer care for him and Ed went into the Juneau Pioneers Home. He died there in 1998, from staphylococcus aureus infection which he had picked up at the Virginia Mason Hospital and fought for over six years.

Ed was the member of the family who was the most involved in the community. He was the first president of the Douglas Lions Club; on the Douglas City Council; a member of the local Fish Advisory Board; on the Glacier Highway Electric Assn. Board; appointed to the State Employment Security Advisory Council by Gov. Hammond and Gov. Sheffield. He was a Deacon in the Northern Light Presbyterian Church.

Most of Mary Lib’s community involvement was with the Girl Scouts and especially with the camp at Eagle River.

M.E. and Ed Johnson on Calhoun with their 1935 Ford, 1940.

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