The Anchorage Film Caper

The Anchorage Film Caper takes you on a dangerous, but humor-filled journey through the basement of the deserted and badly damaged McKinley building in Anchorage following the 1964 Good Friday earthquake.

By Michael R Dougherty

"I loved this story.

It really caught my attention and held me through the entire read. I had myself a good laugh. You are a true Alaskan author." AlaskaGirl81

"This is hilarious! Very well written" Karla

There was someone lurking in the dark, empty corridor of the spooky abandoned building in downtown Anchorage, Alaska... or was there?

With a 16mm film can clutched tightly under my left arm and a 357 magnum in my shaky right hand, I was ready for action as I nervously made my way to the KTVA channel 11 TV station film processor located in the all but empty basement of what was left of the downtown McKinley building following the 1964 Great Alaskan Earthquake.

At 19 years of age, I went to work at KTVA channel 11. It was after the earthquake and the downtown McKinley building, where KTVA and KNIK-FM were located, had been badly damaged. Following the quake, the building was unoccupied except for the studios and offices of channel 11 and KNIK-FM radio where both were located on the building's first floor.

Not long after the earthquake, homeless people, drunks and others would sometimes make their way into the building.

One night during KTVA's 10:00pm live news, an intoxicated man actually managed to make his way into the TV studio where he parted the curtains and stumbled onto the live TV news set. The man saw the lights and the cameras pointing at him and, said "huh?", then turned and left the same way he stumbled in. And all on live TV.

My Anchorage Film Caper began one late afternoon.

Franklin Butte, the stations Chief Engineer, handed me a metal film can containing unprocessed 16mm news film and told me to take it to the film processor which was located in the depths of the building.

I wasn't thrilled with the idea, but I took the film can and started for the basement when Frank stopped me with "hold it Mike... you may need this" and with that, he handed me a leather holstered 357 Magnum pistol.

Wide-eyed I asked "what do I need this for?"
Frank shrugged his shoulders and said "there may be drunks, burglars or who knows what down there".

I managed a hard gulp, turned and started for the door to the basement, trying to act like what Frank had just said didn't bother me. But it did. A lot.

A few minutes later as I reached the door to the basement, my imagination had kicked into high gear. What if I opened the door and someone was hiding in the stairwell? I nervously reached out and grabbed hold of the door nob.

Slowly I gave it a turn.

Gradually I opened the door and peered into the beginning of the stairwell. The few shafts of dim light played games with my teenage mind. It looked like I was about to descend into the bowels of a dark, terrifying world.

Quickly I stepped into the stairwell, put the film can down on the floor, then stood back up and strapped on the gun holster. I bent back down and snatched up the cold, metal film can, took a deep breath and started my slow descent. One reluctant step at a time. 

In no time I found myself in an all to dark, dusty and very vacant hallway. I was breathing hard as I pulled the trusty 357 Magnum out of it's holster and pointed the barrel toward my imaginary terror.

Then just like the all the detectives in movies and TV shows, I started making my way down the hall, darting from side-to-side, pasted myself up against the wall at each corner of every hallway. Then I would jump out from the wall with my trusty gun in hand and still raised.

Like an idiot I did that all the way down one hallway and then the other.  I don't know how, but I eventually found my way to the film processing room.
A strange sort of relief came over me as I ripped open the door and ran into the room where I quickly and nervously threw the 16mm film can on the counter, spun around and ran back out into the hall.

Then I ran as fast as I could like the scared chicken that I was. I ran down the halls and then up the stairwell as fast as my wobbly legs would carry me.

At the top of the stairwell once again, I grabbed the door knob, pulled the door open as fast as I could and leaped into the lobby like a gun-toting ballet dancer.

I was safely out of the basement, composed myself as best I could and even unbuckled the gun belt in case someone saw me.

Moments later I was still breathing hard but I was safely back in the KTVA studios.
What a combination for disaster. A dark, earthquake ravaged, vacant building, a nervous, gun-toting 19 year old idiot and whoever the poor soul was that my teenage imagination might encounter.

Thankfully, I was never asked to return to that spooky basement again. But I still have nightmares. Only now I'm the Anchorage, Alaska version of detective Sam Spade... no one would dare bother me.


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