|Artists rendition of the Sv Nikolai by Jack Datisman|
By Irina Korosteleva
Washington’s historical and nearly forgotten story of Russia and its native peoples has attracted the attention of the Washington Generals, who have taken initiative to represent the cultural tie by constructing a monument to a Russian ship that became stranded off the Washington coast more than two centuries ago.
The monument, slated for construction in May, 2012, will stand by the Hoh River where Russian sailors retreated and where a story of epic survival took place.
In 1808, the Russian American Company sent the small ship Sv. Nikolai from what is now Sitka, Alaska to a few miles north of the Quileute village of LaPush on the northwest coast of the Olympic Peninsula. Rather than finishing the mission, heavy seas pushed the ship onshore just north of the Quileute River. Twenty-one men and three women aboard survived; other members of the crew were killed or captured by the natives, while some took refuge at distance and endured harsh winter conditions. A couple of years later, a ransom payment made by an American sea captain rescued 13 members of the original crew.
To revive and commemorate their story, the AWG sought donated land located beside the Hoh Rain Forest interpretive center in the Olympic National Park- a popular tourist route and believed to be at or near the original location where Russian settlers once took refuge.
Commanding General Bill Sperry, who is coordinating the memorial project, went before the Jefferson County Planning Commission in February to propose that the county assume ownership of the memorial when completed. However, he was told Jefferson County is under pressure to not add more parks to its system and in fact scale back its inventory of parks, which put it in a tough position to assume ownership of the Nikolai project. Despite the setback, however, Commission did approve the initiation of the project while long-term ownership and maintenance responsibilities are still being worked out.
In hopes to fundraise and build the monument, the Generals set a lecture on May 15 held at the Russian Community Center in Seattle. The wreck of the Sv. Nikolai ship informed the Russian community of the ties between Russian history and the native peoples of Washington, Canada, Alaska, and Hawaii.
By informing the Russian community, the AWG helps the State of Washington maintain cultural ties to its history.
“AWG builds international relationships through projects like St. Nikolai,” said General Skip Dreps, “and it also plays a vital role in remembering our veterans contribution to our State and Nation.”
Commander Sperry added: “This is a significant incident on Russian and American History and is worthy of honoring the Russian sailors.”