Davis, Carol Beery
by Constance Davis
Carol Beery Davis was born in Ohio in 1890, to Henry F. and Sarah Beery. Her family moved around Ohio, Tennessee, and Alabama during her childhood. At age nine, Carol began to study piano at the Chattanooga School of Music. Music lessons were not always possible with the moving and lack of money. At age 12, upon leaving Alabama, she wrote her first poem. When Carol was 17, the family moved to Washington State where they homesteaded for a short while. Then, they moved to Seattle. Carol was a member of the first graduating class of the new Lincoln High School and graduated as the class poet.
Carol had a summer job at the Alaska-Yukon Pacific Exposition. Little did she realize that she gazed upon paintings by her future mother-in-law. After Carol’s father’s death in Seattle, Carol went with her mother and sister to their homestead in northeastern Washington near the Canadian border. Carol moved back to Seattle in 1917, and studied theater organ and silent picture playing while developing a piano class. In 1920, she was offered a temporary position as silent movie organist in Juneau. This offer came through the Wurlitzer Company, whose people were installing organs in many theaters, where Carol was practicing. Her fare was to be paid both ways with a promise to install a new organ in the theater where she was employed upon her return. She procrastinated for a short while and thought, “...what would it hurt to see what it was like.” This temporary job extended from three months to seven years.
A crescent glow of lights beckoned Carol’s ship up Gastineau Channel. By the time the Jefferson docked, clocks showed 2 a.m. Mr. Spickett of the Palace Theater greeted the boat. It was a Sunday morning in December and although a Taku wind was howling, Mr. Spickett took Carol to the theater, announced her Sunday schedule, beginning that afternoon, and then settled her into the hotel.
Carol continued at the theater until silent movies ended. She began teaching piano and organ. As she became a little acquainted with the Tlingit culture, she wondered if the native tunes could be dying out. With this concern, she worked with Curator Rev. A. P. Kashevaroff in understanding and taking down motifs of songs, calling her collection Songs of the Totem which later became Totem Echoes. She enjoyed writing her own songs of the north called Aurora Images.
The young City of Juneau was ripe for organizational beginnings. Carol was founder and President of the Alaska Poetry Society and the Juneau Creative Writers, and charter member and President of the National League of Pen Women, Juneau branch. She wrote many articles for magazines and newspapers in the “lower 48” as well as in Alaska. Publishing her first poetry book and receiving many awards in poetry, she was honored as State Poet Laureate from 1967- 69. She served as President of the Juneau-Douglas Concert Association, and was on their Board for 25 years. As co-founder of The Alaska Music Trail, she brought many national and international classical musicians to Alaska. She, herself, toured throughout towns and villages with well-known musicians. There were stories to tell of out-of-tune pianos and broken keys but with the most appreciative audiences in the world! Carol served for 35 years as organist for the Northern Light Church, initiating string and organpiano duets into the Sunday programs.
Life was not all work. Carol loved the Sunday and holiday boating trips in the summer. Eventually she became an avid fisher through rain, high seas, and arthritis! On the beach, or on the long trek home at twelve knots, she would entertain visitors by telling their fortunes. Carol’s “temporary” Alaskan adventure lasted for 70 years. Her autobiography was published in 1983. She was 93 years old and wrote the story of her life a year or two earlier. Carol died in July 1990, two months short of 100 years of age and is buried at the Evergreen Cemetery in Juneau.
Carol Beery Davis