McKinley crossing the Westport Bar

The vessel McKinley is photographed crossing the Westport Bar in 1977. Image courtesy of Daniel Hanson

Daniel Hanson had grown up hearing — and later, recounting – the tales of the vessel McKinley, which had been in his family for three generations, but he had never seen the pictures that had been collected by the Tongass Historical Museum.

The McKinley was built in the 1920s by Hanson's grandfather, a fisherman who moved to Ketchikan from Norway.

The McKinley has a storied history — including two unfortunate sinkings and a conversion from schooner to seiner — and had always captured Hanson's attention.

While traveling from Washington to deliver a boat to a local hotel manager Steve Reeve in mid-July, Hanson decided to try and learn more about the family vessel.

"I've always been curious, you know, it's the family heritage," he said during a Tuesday phone interview with the Daily News. "And I've always been curious about the history of the boat."

Hanson explained that he reached out to staff at the Tongass Historical Museum at the urging of Reeve.

 "I thought, 'Well, as long as I'm here, I'll try to find some information on the McKinley," Hanson said.

To start the research process, Hanson connected with Hayley Chambers, the senior curator of collections at the museum.

Chambers told the Daily News during a separate interview that Hanson provided a description of his grandfather's boat as a launching point for the research.

Hanson also was able to pinpoint a rough time that his grandfather, who went by the name Barney Hanson, lived in Ketchikan.

"From that, we were able to look in our city directories and we found that person listed in our directories," Chambers explained. "But unfortunately, it was at a time kind of in the early years before addresses were printed in the directory, so I wasn't able to tell him where he lived, but just confirmed that he did live here."

Chambers and the museum staff next were able to find a number of pictures of the boat that was believed to be the McKinley, and Hanson confirmed it.

Hanson had never before seen any of the pictures that Chambers and the museum staff found of his grandfather or the McKinley.

"Nobody in my family had ever seen any of those," Hanson said, noting that his grandfather, the original captain, passed away in the 1960s.

"It would have been nice for him to know (the McKinley) was going to be in the family for another 50 years," he commented.

After the first portion of the research, Hanson was left with new knowledge of the McKinley's history, which he conveyed to the Daily News.

The ship's history began in the 1920s, when Hanson's grandfather, then known as Bjore Hansen, left the town of Melsvik, Norway — situated about 20 miles south of the northernmost Norwegian city of Hammerfest – with very little money.

Bjore Hansen was accustomed to fishing on the nearby Alta fjord, and kept up commercial fishing when he moved to the United States under the name Barney Hanson. Daniel Hanson noted that the name change was due to a paperwork mishap, but that his grandfather decided to keep the new moniker.

Barney Hansen built two boats upon arriving in the U.S.

"He built the first boat, (the) Reiner, after Mt. Reiner, and then in '27 he built the McKinley," Hanson explained.

The McKinley sank in the late 1920s while it was operating as a halibut schooner.

"I've had quite the story for years, but I've never seen the pictures of the wreck of the McKinley," Hanson said.

It was the first of two such events, and the pictures Hanson saw at the museum helped bring clarity to some aspects of the accident.

"I thought he hit the Spanish Island — which is at Cape Decision – I thought he hit it coming in with the halibut trip," Hanson explained. "But from the pictures, we can see that he hit the east side, so he must have been coming out from Ketchikan. And then it lay there for like a year and a half."

Hanson said that because the boat sank in the midst of the Great Depression, it took over a year for his grandfather to collect enough money to have the vessel raised from the water.

The McKinley originally served as a halibut schooner, but was eventually modified to work as a seining vessel, a move that saw the pilothouse repositioned from the stern to the bow, as evidenced by new pictures the museum helped Hanson locate.

Chambers noted that the repositioning of the pilothouse was likely done to make room for seining equipment on the ship's deck.

Chambers recalled that Hanson had explained his grandfather also participated in sardine fishing between Alaska and California during his time as the vessel's captain.

The next chapter of the McKinley's story brought Hanson's father, Bernard Hanson, to the helm of the ship at the age of 21. Bernard Hanson worked as the captain from 1949 to 1974.   

But in November 1974, Hanson himself took over the title of captain, at the same age his father was when he held the position.

"44 years later, it was still feeding the family, and I was the captain," Hanson said.

 Hanson served as the McKinley's captain through 1975 and during half of 1976. He again took over the role in 1978. After his time on the McKinley, Hanson fished pollack in the Bering Sea on the vessels Arctic Storm and Arctic Fjord.

In 1979, Hanson's father sold the vessel.

In 1985, the McKinley was based in Astoria, Oregon, and sank in the Columbia River after hitting another vessel.

After having the opportunity to share his family's history with staff at the Tongass Historical Museum — and bring a wealth of knowledge home with him after his few days in Ketchikan ended — Hanson said he thought the visit was "kind of a gold mine," and praised the museum.

"(Museum staff) were all over it," Hanson commented. "It was a pretty fun experience for me."

Now settled back home in Washington, Hanson still is hoping for even more information about the vessel's history.