The story begins at a boxball reunion game on Revere Beach, and then takes a detour to the Chelsea Public Library, and begins anew in Alaska, the largest state in the U.S.A., by area – thousands of miles from Chelsea.
Thus was the interesting and circuitous journey that Stuart Feinberg, the former Chelsea schoolteacher, took in meeting former Chelsea resident Basil Nickerson, who now lives in Juneau, Alaska.
While making plans for the boxball game, Norman Spracklin asked Feinberg if he were planning any trips for the summer.
Feinberg replied that he and a friend would be traveling to Alaska on a vacation. Spracklin then told Feinberg that he was watching the Travel Channel recently and there was a program featuring the state of Alaska.
“Normie said he was watching a show about Alaska and they were interviewing this gentleman,” recalled Feinberg. “They asked the man if he was originally from Alaska. He said, no, ‘I’m from a little town called Chelsea, Massachusetts.’’’
Spracklin tells Feinberg about the man who is now living in Juneau, Alaska. “What’s his name?” Feinberg asks. But Spracklin can’t recall the man’s name.
In June, Feinberg is in attendance at the post-boxball game cookout at Mike Sullivan’s home in Winthrop. During a conversation with Eddie Karacek, Feinberg mentions that he is heading to Alaska and tells the story about Spracklin seeing a man on the Travel Channel who lives in Alaska but once lived in Chelsea.
Karacek then says to Feinberg, “You’re not going to believe this but [Chelsea Library Director] Bobby Collins met this guy.”
Feinberg was incredulous and the next day he traveled to Chelsea to see Collins at his office at the Chelsea Public Library.
Collins picks up the story from here.
“Approximately 15 years ago, I got a phone call from Basil Nickerson of Juneau, Alaska,” said Collins. “He wanted to show his new friends in Juneau where I came from in Chelsea, Massachusetts. I told him ‘Basil, I have a whole roomful of information about Chelsea.’’’
Collins accommodates Nickerson’s request and sends him a portfolio of information about the City of Chelsea. “Basil called to say he was very grateful for all the information I had sent him,” said Collins. “He told me that he was going to send me things from Juneau because he was a tour guide in Juneau. He also said to “look me up if you’re ever in Juneau.”
Collins put a business card sent by Nickerson into his wallet, but never expected to journey to Alaska.
Two years later, Collins journeys to Juneau by cruise boat [Alaska’s capital city has no highway into it], and he takes a leisurely walk to downtown Juneau. “There was the library and a place called the Red Dog Saloon,” said Collins, who now tells his friend that he knows someone living in Juneau. “I have Basil’s business card in my wallet, so I call him at his home. Basil told me that he’d be at the Red Dog in 30 minutes.”
Sure enough, Basil Nickerson pulls up to the saloon in a Volkswagen bus. “It was something right out of Woodstock,” said Collins. “I knew it was Basil. We connect right away and it was a fun time. All I could think of is that only people from Chelsea could do this – have the warmth and the feeling and camaraderie of growing up in the same place where you go 6,000 miles and connect with someone you don’t even know.”
Nickerson gave Collins and his friend a complete tour of Alaska including the Mendenhall Glacier, the spawning of the salmon, and an up close at eagles.
Nickerson said for ten years afterwards, he would receive Christmas cards from Nickerson, but the cards stopping arriving a few years ago.
Concerned about whether the now 86-year-old Basil Nickerson were still living in Alaska, Stuart Feinberg calls Information and asks whether Nickerson was in the phone book.
“There was a B. Nickerson listed, so I called him up and older gentleman answers the call,” said Feinberg. “I said to him, ‘you don’t know who I am, but you’re going to love this telephone call. I told Basil my name and that I was from Chelsea, Massachusetts. Basil was so excited. You couldn’t believe his reaction. He asked how Bobby Collins was doing.”
Feinberg told Nickerson that he would be visiting Alaska in August and promised that he would call him upon his arrival in Juneau. In the conversation, Feinberg learned that Nickerson lived in Chelsea and attended the Shurtleff School. He remained in Chelsea before entering the U.S. Navy. He then lived in Maine and California before traveling to Alaska. “Basil told me that he saw Alaska and loved it and he never came back to Chelsea,” said Feinberg.
Upon his arrival in Juneau, Feinberg made good his pledge to call Nickerson and the two met at the Red Dog Saloon.
“I recognized him immediately,” said Feinberg. “I walked up to him and he immediately said, ‘Stuart.’’
Feinberg generously gave Nickerson a Chelsea T-shirt and Chelsea hat “and he just loved it.”
Nickerson, Feinberg, and his friend visited the top floor of the library that oversees the entire city. “I asked him when the last time he was in Juneau and he said, ‘eight to ten years ago.’’’ “Basil wanted to take us on a tour but we had to get back to our cruise ship.”
Feinberg said he got a little emotional after saying good-bye to Basil Nickerson. “I kind of filled up. There was a tear in my eye. Here was a Chelsea guy and you could feel the Chelsea pride. I made a promise that I would keep in touch with Basil.”
And Stuart Feinberg has been in touch with Basil Nickerson.
“He told me that if I knew of anybody from Chelsea that was coming to Alaska, ‘you make sure that they look me up.’’