Monday, July 19, 2021

Chicago's Very Own, Bud Billiken's Day Parade History, Since 1929.

In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM introduces present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. Presentism is a form of cultural bias that creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. Historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present fact-based and well-researched articles.

Facts don't require one's approval or acceptance.

I present [PG-13] articles without regard to race, color, political party, or religious beliefs, including Atheism, national origin, citizenship status, gender, LGBTQ+ status, disability, military status, or educational level. What I present are facts — NOT Alternative Facts — about the subject. You won't find articles or readers' comments that spread rumors, lies, hateful statements, and people instigating arguments or fights.

When I write about the INDIGENOUS PEOPLE, I follow this historical terminology:
  • The use of old commonly used terms, disrespectful today, i.e., REDMAN or REDMEN, SAVAGES, and HALF-BREED are explained in this article.
Writing about AFRICAN-AMERICAN history, I follow these race terms:
  • "NEGRO" was the term used until the mid-1960s.
  • "BLACK" started being used in the mid-1960s.
  • "AFRICAN-AMERICAN" [Afro-American] began usage in the late 1980s.


The Chicago Defender Newspaper was founded by Robert S. Abbot as a weekly periodical for the Chicagoland negro population in 1905.

Bud Billiken day was named by David W. Kellum, editor of the Defender Newspaper, specifically for "The Bud Billiken Children's Club," his page for children. Kellum used the pen name Bud Billiken.
David W. Kellum

David was born in 1903 in Mississippi. In 1917, when David Kellum was 14, a group of white kids attacked him in his hometown in Mississippi. That very night, David’s grandmother put him on a train to Chicago to live with an aunt in the north.

While in high school, David joined the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) and became the first Negro Cadet Major in the program. He married Annie Mae Stewart in 1921. David attended Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Illinois, Chicago's north suburb. He graduated in 1923. 

Kellum accepted a job at the Chicago Defender newspaper in 1923. He asked the newspaper if he could print a children's column. He explained his idea. He thought that most children would jump at the chance to join a free club for people their own age. Their parent(s) would buy the Defender newspaper for their child, increasing sales.

A "Billiken" was thought to be a Chinese idol of good fortune (aka the Patron Saint of Children); "Bud" is short for "buddy" or "friend." The parade and picnic was Mr. Abbot's idea
as a way to thank the Newsies who sold Chicago Defender newspapers. 
The First Bud Billiken Day Celebration, August 11, 1929.
Kellum devoted much of his energy to educating children about unity. Kellum's fictional character, Bud Billiken, encouraged kids to be honest, listen to their parents, serve their communities, and treat all people with respect. Kellum wrote that Bud’s purpose was “to bring the children of the world closer together and show that all the world is kin.” He said that the club was “the only organization of this kind in the world.”
The 16th annual Bud Billiken Day celebration in Chicago,
on August 11, 1945. In less than a month WWII will
end on September 2, 1945.

By 1930, more than 65,000 kids had joined. The club connected kids with pen pals around the world. When Kellum's son received letters from friends in other countries, He told him, “This is the way it’s supposed to be.”
The Bud Billiken Club and the Chicago Defender newspaper sponsored a parade in 1929 that turned into an annual event for youngsters and their families.
Saturday, August 14, 2021, is Bud Billiken's 92nd Year.

The first mention of "Bud Billiken" in the Chicago Tribune:
"A program dedicated to Americanism has been arranged for the 50,000 Negroes expected to join in the 10th annual picnic sponsored by the Bud Billiken Club, an organization for children, on Saturday, August 10th in Washington Park. The ceremonies, which will be held near the swimming pool at 55th Street, will include patriotic addresses by Mayor Kelly and other civic leaders..."

"Preceding the picnic there will be a parade along South Park Way beginning at 11 o'clock. Led by Joe Lewis, the world's heavyweight boxing champion, the parade will go from 32nd street to 55th street and into the park. Refreshments for the children will be donated by local business leaders of the south-central district."
                                                                    —Chicago Tribune, Sunday, August 4, 1940.

In 1955, David married Kathelynea Ford. Over time, she showed David why she loved the Bahá’í Faith. Kellum joined the congregation in 1963. He started giving public speeches at 'Race Unity Day' events. Kellum held discussion groups at the Baháʼí House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. He served as chairman of the Chicago Spiritual Assembly, the governing council for the North Shore's Bahá’í community. 
Baháʼí House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, was built as a “gathering place for all humanity” by Canadian architect Louis Bourgeois in 1953.

David W. Kellum, the legendary 'Bud Billiken,' died in Rush-Presbyterian St. Lukes Medical Center in Chicago on Friday, March 20, 1981. He was 78. Kellum died after he developed pneumonia while in the hospital. He was admitted about two weeks earlier after he fractured his leg in a fall. Mr. Kellum is buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Blue Island, Illinois.

Kellum received numerous awards for community service over his lifetime.

The Bud Billiken Parade is still held every August, except in 2020 which was canceled due to COVID-19. It's attended by more than a million people now. 

 Politicians: and civic leaders: Both Mayors Daley; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Senator and as President Barack Obama, President Harry Truman; Chicago Mayor Harold Washington.
U.S. Senator Barack Obama walks with wife Michelle during the Bud Billiken Parade in 2006.
Entertainers: Roy Roger, James Brown, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, Chaka Khan, Spike Lee, L.L. Cool J, Diana Ross, and the Supremes, Oprah Winfrey, Donny Osmond, Queen Latifah, Tyler Perry.
The Bud Billiken Club Hosts Duke Ellington in 1933.
Athletes: Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Joe Louis, former Olympian Jesse Owens and Floyd Patterson.
Former Chicago Alderman Charlie Chew, left, and boxer Muhammad Ali ride in the Bud Billiken Parade in 1975.
The Defender organized a variety of events for the Bud Billiken Club. Kellum was a director and Grand Marshal of the Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic. It grew to become the third-largest parade in the country next to the "Tournament of Roses" on New Years Day and "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade" in New York City.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Billiken Research. It was so confusing.
Along with the horseshoe, the rabbit's foot, and the four-leaf clover, the Billiken is one of America's favorite good-luck pieces. Those who think it is only an Alaskan souvenir made by Eskimo carvers will be surprised to learn that it originated in Kansas City, Missouri—not Alaska—and that it is still being made in media other than ivory elsewhere in the world.

On October 6, 1908, Florence Pretz, an art teacher and illustrator, was given a seven-year patent for her "design for an image," but the name "Billiken" is not mentioned. Despite numerous inquiries, I have been unable to learn what it means or who named it. Possibly Miss Pretz left the naming up to the principal manufacturers of Billiken objects, The Billiken Company of Chicago, The Craftsman's Guild, and the Billiken Sales Co., all of whom used the date and patent number of Miss Pretz's invention on their objects. 
The Billiken Company of Chicago Token - Carry The Luck In Your Pocket.

I saw my first Billiken in Nome in 1945, but no one could tell me its history or origin ("It's something the Eskimos always made," was a common remark) until 10 years later when my fieldwork in contemporary ivory carving introduced me to Big Mike Kazingnuk, a Little Diomede Island man. Big Mike told me that his brother-in-law, Happy Jack, or Angokwazhuk, the famous ivory carver of Nome's early days, had made the first ivory Billiken in 1909 at the suggestion of a merchant who was called Kopturok ("Big Head") by the Eskimos. 

Happy Jack had copied it from a figurine brought from "the States" that summer. This information clearly established that the Billiken was not a traditional Eskimo object, but there remained the mystery of its origin. A trip to a Seattle antique shop only a few weeks later solved this final problem when I found one of the original figurines, a cast-iron bank. The number 39603 on the back of my discovery led to Miss Pretz's patent and her identity as the creator of the Billiken. 

My interest in the Billiken had begun merely as an inquiry into one of the enduring and staple items of Eskimo ivory repertoire but continued on as a fever of collecting original Billikens and their later-day copies from the United States, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Japan, and of tracking down all available information, I could about it. As I saw more and more Billikens, it seemed remarkable that so many of the physical characteristics and meanings of the original invention had been retained over such a long time span and in so many media. Thus I set out to compile a history of this unique example of American folk superstition. However, I must confess that I have never been overly fond of the Billiken itself. 

Unlike Rose O'Neil, who designed the related kewpie figurine, Miss Pretz wrote nothing to my knowledge about the Billiken. Still, she obviously had borrowed the shape from an Asian figure, possibly a Buddha or one of the many Taoist gods. However, her illustrations for children's books include pixy-like figures similar to the "Brownies" that were invented by Palmer Cox in 1887, and these brownie-like figures, which floated on oak leaves or nestled on downy tree trunks look very much like her own tour-de-force, the Billiken.
Billiken sketch by Florence Pretz. Miss Florence Pretz sketch by Marguerite Martyn, 1909.

When Happy Jack made his first ivory Billiken in 1909, the commercial ones were at the height of their success—having taken the country by storm—but by 1912, they had plunged to oblivion. Original Billikens were made into a variety of forms: bisque dolls, clay incense burners, marshmallow candies, and cardboard jigsaw puzzles and postcards. There were metal banks, hatpins, watch fobs, and belt buckles, and glass bottles, and salt and pepper shakers. A coin-like token had a Billiken in the center with "Grin and Begin to Win" printed around the edge. Young women set plaster-of-paris or alabaster Billikens on their dressers for good luck and said, when things went wrong, "Don't blame me, blame the Billiken." The Billiken was celebrated in the songs "The Billiken Man" and "Uncle Josh Gets A Billiken," and dances with Billiken dolls were performed on stage.

Blanche Ring sings "The Billiken Man" (1909).

"Uncle Josh Gets A Billiken" by Cal Stewart, 1909.

Other similar objects, like the kewpie doll, Gobbo, Silligan ("God of Laughter"), Joss, Billycan, and the subsequent "Billikant," which flooded the market around that time, apparently were inspired by Miss Pretz's Billiken. 

The Kewpie Doll was copyrighted by Rose O'Neil in 1909—a year after Miss Pretz's Billiken—and her kewpie trademark was not taken out until 1913. Miss O'Neil also designed a cheerful figurine that she called Buddha Ho-Ho. 

Gobbo, a cherubic figurine with a tilting head, a huge smile, and fat hands resting on fat knees, was made to be placed on an automobile radiator cap. An advertisement in The Scientific American for May 15, 1909, said, "THIS IS THE MASCOT that has brought good luck to the Maxwell during the entire 10,000 mile non-stop engine run. Attach one to your radiator cap, and you will have no hoodoo." 

Silligan and Billycan apparently were names and objects changed merely enough not to infringe on the original copyright. 

Joss was a seated figurine, skull cap on its head and a pigtail down its back, with hands clasping drawn-up knees. It was patented by the Florentine Alabaster Co. of Chicago the same year as the Billiken, and one writer on dolls thinks that this figurine was the inspiration for the Billiken, but it may have been the other way around. The name, Joss, was merely a pidgin English corruption of the Portuguese word for god and referred to Chinese gods and shrines in general.

Slogans and verses were distributed with the original Billiken to advertise its magical qualities, thereby increasing its sales. These ads and verses suggested that placing faith in this man-made object could easily work wonderful changes in one's life, but its poor record as a manipulator of destiny may have had something to do with its short life outside Alaska. Occasionally it has been suggested that the Billiken performed the same function as the traditional Eskimo amulet, but the "luck" that was supposed to emanate from the possession and manipulation of the Billiken was not at all comparable to the old Eskimo custom of wearing amulets, which were protective devices to keep away bad or undesirable spirits.

Slogans that were associated with the original Billiken were "The God of Things as They Ought to Be" (a reinterpretation of Kipling's L'Envoi: "Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They Are!"); "Grin and Win"; and just plain "Good Luck."

Some pretty bad verses were printed for distribution with both the original four-inch high, red-headed alabaster figurine and the soft-bodied doll with the Billiken face. The leaflets containing these verses are now very rare, but I found some that had been pasted to old postcards, which, when steamed off, told me considerably more about the advertising schemes for the Billiken.

One of the leaflets has an eight-line poem on one side and an explanation of the miraculous Billiken on the other. This leaflet calls the Billiken "The Good-Luck God" in addition to the "God of Things as They Ought to Be," and its owner is instructed to "Tickle His Toes and See Him Smile." The Billiken was also billed as an amateur psychiatrist, as he was "A Sure Cure for [listed]: The Blues, That Solemn Feeling, The Grouch, The Hoodoo Germ, Hard-Luck Melancholia, The Down-and-Out Bacillus." The recommended "dose" to make life rosy again was "One smile every ten minutes."

Another leaflet, also with a poem on one side, declared in 1908 (when the Billiken had scarcely begun its life) that "the country is ringing with stories of men and women who claim that Billiken has turned the tide for them and opened the way to wonderful strokes of fortune." Furthermore, it gave the comforting information that "He throws a spell over you that has the same effect as mental healing. You feel that you can do anything—and back of all achievement lies confidence. That is why Billiken brings luck." It further added that "Billiken is not sold. That would break his spell. He is loaned to you for 100 years for a hundred cents, paid in advance."

The verses held promise of great expectations. One exploited a "happy" theme, and another, a "lucky" theme. The two verses were also used together as one poem:

I am the God of Happiness,
I simply make you smile,
I prove that life's worth living
And that everything's worth while;
I force the failure to his feet
And make the growler grin,
I am the God of Happiness,
My name is Billiken.

I am the God of Luckiness,
Observe my twinkling eye—
Success is sure to follow those
Who keep me closely by;
I make men fat and healthy
Who were quarrelsome and thin;
I am the God of Luckiness,
My name is Billiken.

One of the verses printed on the doll's box also contained the familiar lucky theme, embodied, however, in even more forgettable poetry:

I'm Billiken whose lucky grin
Makes gloom run out and joy run in
I'm fond of little boys and girls
I love to nestle 'gainst their curls
And so that it could be arranged
Into a doll myself I've changed.

The Billiken doll has the earliest known patent on a complete doll (July 22, 1909) with a "Can't Break 'Em" head of a substance invented by Solomon Hoffman and used on numerous dolls at that time.

Postcards were printed with drawings of the Billiken and with one or more of the various slogans or verses. A favorite couplet that was also used beneath the picture of a Billiken on the box cover for a Billiken jigsaw puzzle was:

As long as I smile at you
bad luck can't harm you.

The Gobbo radiator cap was also advertised with information written in the form of a poem:

The smiling god of good fortune,
The original divinity of optimism,
Whose cheerful countenance
Brings good luck
And happy days to all who
Observe this rule of life:

Early 20th Century
carved Ivory Billiken
from Alaska.
The first Billikens in ivory were made to carry in the pocket or display on a table, but they were later made into a great variety as the original Billikens. I have seen Billiken gavels, salt, and pepper shakers, paper knives, pipes, cigar and cigarette holders, keyrings, cocktail picks, handles for bottle openers, lariat ties, pendants, cuff links, earrings, zipper pulls, pickle forks, tie tacks, pawns in an ivory chess set, and links in necklaces, bracelets, and watch bands. They have also been made in bas relief on several objects like cribbage boards and napkin rings. 

During World War II, men stationed at Marks Field across the Snake River from Nome often commissioned carvers to carry out their ideas about souvenirs, among which were the Milliken (a female Billiken) and the "Billiken in a barrel." The latter had a movable penis that popped out above the top of the barrel when the Billiken, which was fastened to the barrel with a lacework of rubber bands, was raised. 

The diagnostic features of the original Billiken have endured in ivory to this day: the grinning mouth, peaked hair, large eyes, jaunty eyebrows, hands plastered to the sides of the body, and feet stuck straight out in front. However, since Eskimos were unable to make the Billikens in molds like the original ones and had to carve within the limitations of walrus tusk ivory-and often in a hurry, they devised stylized gashes or dots for the fingers, toes, nostrils, eyebrows, mouth, nipples, and navel. These features were often colored with India ink. The head was pointed to represent the original peaked hair. These characteristics were retained for many years, no matter whether the Billiken was big or tiny, fat or thin until commercial carvers in Seattle began to make Billikens from sperm whale teeth to send back to Alaska for sale. The pointed bent shape of the sperm whale tooth dictated a willowy creature without ears and with an elongated and peaked head. This style has recently been adopted by a few Alaskan carvers in walrus ivory. Another new and quite different interpretation of an ivory Billiken has extremely large ears and pronounced legs in a sitting position, almost like the old Joss figurine. Other variations are constantly tried—like the Milliken-Billiken back to back and a Billiken with a bright red Tam-O-Shanter—but few succeed. The carver finds that it is easier to carve the old-style Billiken, which the tourists prefer anyway. The Canadian Eskimo's success in soapstone sculpture after 1945 spurred carvers both in Alaska and Seattle to make Billikens in stone. 

Many of the old beliefs surrounding the Billiken have continued to this day, although the popular Alaskan superstition of rubbing the Billiken's stomach while making a wish was not devised by the early writers of Billiken slogans and verses but was probably borrowed later from the beliefs of Oriental Buddha-like figurines that were made as gift and souvenir items, also to bring good luck and happiness. The most common is the hotei (or hoti) figurine, made as statues or jewelry. Hotei is a standing figure with a huge drooping stomach; its arms are upraised, and it appears to be laughing uproariously. Advertisements for the hotei say that a person will have good fortune all day long if his belly is rubbed. 

Popular good-luck pieces in Hawaiian gift shops are similar gods of "happiness" and "good luck." They are quite unlike the Billiken in appearance, but the ideas connected with them are strikingly similar to those of the Billiken today. Made of lava, the two most common are Hauoli Akua (Happy God) and Akaaka, also a "happy god." Directions that accompany both of them say that happiness comes by rubbing the tummy. 

A popular belief in Nome during the 1940s and 1950s was a reinterpretation of the original "loan" of the Billiken for a hundred cents: an owner of a Billiken will have small luck if he purchased one himself, but considerably more luck if he received one as a gift. However, if a person wanted superlative luck, a Billiken had to be stolen. (At last report, I heard that this procedure had gone out of vogue.) 

Alaskan storekeepers have devised many verses over the years for brochures to accompany the ivory Billiken. A verse in the 1950 catalog brochure of a Nome curio shop said: 

Rub his tummy or tickle his toes,
You'll have good luck so the story goes.

The same catalog featured an erroneous story that the Billiken had been copied after a big wooden Billiken on Big Diomede Island. This publicity helped considerably to spread the false information that the Billiken had been a traditional Eskimo object. The wooden statue referred to actually existed but was a large driftwood stump carved into a face, which was fed a small amount of food whenever a person passed it so that its spirit would continue to provide good hunting.

The Alaskan Eskimo carver was not the only one to borrow the idea of the original Billiken. At the height of its popularity, it was also used as an emblem, trademark, and name by various enterprises, organizations, and publications. One of its earliest uses was as the patron saint for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle in 1909. 

In 1910 or 1911, the name became attached to the St. Louis University athletic teams when a fan put a picture of a Billiken in a campus hangout near the athletic field. Seeing a resemblance to the popular athletic director, John Bender, the public began calling the teams "Bender's Billikens. 

In 1910, an Ohio man named William I. Kin published a philatelic magazine, Billikens, the spelling with the ending -in resulting from the coincidence of his own name. This misspelling was deliberate, but others like "Chuck's Billiken Gift shop" in Nome in the 1960s; The Billiken '49er, the official publication of the Billiken Chapter of the National Secretaries Association (Anchorage); and The Billiken Courier, an espionage novel of 1958 by T. C. Lewellen are unintentional misspellings. 

In 1911, "The Royal Order of Jesters" was founded by a group of Shriners en route to a convention in Honolulu. They adopted the Billiken as their symbol and the phrase "Mirth is King" as their slogan. A Shriner must contribute many years' work to their philanthropic programs to be invited into the Membership of the Jesters. By the 1960s, the origin of their emblem had been forgotten, and one of its members, becoming curious, asked many members and wrote to numerous museums without finding information. Finally, he discovered my article in the Alaska Sportsman (September 1960) and read the section about the figurine in my book Artists of the Tundra and the Sea. In 1968, he bound copies of his correspondence and information about the Billiken into a report, which he presented to the Aloha Court in Honolulu for distribution to other courts. 

The Jesters recently copyrighted the Billiken, which members can purchase as gold-plated jewelry and statuettes, often with a crown on its head (i.e., "Mirth is King") and green glass eyes and a red glass navel.  

After a period of obscurity on the commercial market, the Billiken gradually reappeared, and many of the revivals—especially the hideous ceramic statuettes, banks, and salt and pepper shakers made in Japan—were probably copied after the Alaskan ivory Billiken. Many amateur sculptors have also tried their hand at making Billikens in wood, clay, soap, and ivory, and commercial companies in Japan, Europe, and the United States are continuing the output in a variety of forms. Some of the recent ones illustrated in this article: beads, apparently made in Czechoslovakia just before World War II; the Billiken-billikant figurines, which are very free interpretations of the originals; the concrete Billiken bought in Richmond, Virginia in 1970; the tin mold, in Chicago in 1972; and the two sterling silver charms, purchased at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport in 1964 and 1973. I also have a gold-colored metal bank, which had been copied from the original by a Paris, Illinois, firm in 1973. 

In 1920, a literary magazine, Billiken; revista illustrada, began publication in Caracas, Venezuela, with Lucas Manzano as editor, and continued until about 1946. Many whimsical Billikens with arms and legs were drawn throughout the magazine in each issue. 

In 1929, "Bud Billiken" became the "mythical saint" or godfather of black children when the Billiken Club for Chicago Children was founded. A parade and a picnic have been an annual event in August ever since. In 1968, 40 floats, 12 brass bands, eight drum and bugle corps, and 100 cars participated in the parade sponsored by the Chicago Defender Charities. A feature of the parade was marching on the newly-named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. 

Over the years, other institutions and organizations have adopted the Billiken name, such as the Billiken Lounge (Fairbanks), Billiken Ski Club (Seattle), and Billiken Theater (Anchorage). There are even children's shoes called Billikens. 

Probably the greatest heights to which a Billiken has soared was the top man on a totem pole illustrated on the cover of a Bureau of Indian Affairs pamphlet, "Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts of Alaska" (1966). This combination of figures on a totem pole had also been reported in the April 1959 issue of the Alaska Sportsman as having been carved by one of its readers in New Hampshire. It is understandable why a nostalgic Alaskan might carve such a pole, but what right does a Missouri Billiken have to be on a Tlingit Indian totem pole in a booklet that is supposed to contain authentic information about Alaskan Natives? 

But this is scarcely less bizarre than the place of the Billiken in the folklore of the Chukchi people of Siberia. In 1953, V. V. Antropova illustrated three ivory Billikens in her monograph, "Survey of Chukchi and Eskimo Carving," and in 1964, E. P. Orlova, four more in her book, Chukchi, Koryak, Eskimo, and Aleut Bone Carving. Called "pelikens" in Russian, these Billikens look exactly like the Alaskan-carved ones, and well they might, because this figurine was introduced to the Eskimos of Uelen, Siberia, less than 40 miles from Little Diomede Island, by Alaskan Eskimos shortly after 1909. But I had not realized how firmly the Billiken had become a part of the cosmic beliefs and carving repertoire of the Siberians until I read a short story, "The Sea Lion" by Yuri Rythkeu a Chukchi writer born in Chukotka.

The story concerns a young Chukchi girl, Emul, who, though offered a scholarship to a teachers college in Anadyr, had remained at home among her people, working as a waitress. Her father had been chairman of the local soviet, and her mother was head of a commission organized to abolish their old ways, but after World War II, her father lost his job, and the people resisted the new ways and had returned to their old way of living. 

When her grandfather died, Emul finished carving a number of ivory "idols" (Billikens), which had already been paid for. This figurine, it is explained, was a very popular souvenir: a "fat little god with screwed-up eyes [that] stood on shelves and desks and . . . even clipped to the ears of fashionable women." And, according to Chukchi mythology, this figurine originally had been used by every hunter who hung it on his hunting gear "so that everything bad in him would pass into the idol." That was quite a responsibility for a Billiken from Missouri. 

One day a young archeologist asked Emul to make him a dozen "idols" to take back to Leningrad. "It will be something to remind me of Chukotka and you," he said, " . . . carve me something that will make me want to come back again." 

But his words and something inside Emul prevented her from making the idol. Instead, she carved a sea lion—a rarity in that part of the country, but which she had once seen—with her whole mind and heart. When finished, it was a work of art like a walrus tusk engraved with beautiful scenes, which she had once found buried in her grandfather's toolbox, quite unlike the boring, monotonous "idols." 

The young man was sorely disappointed when he got the sea lion instead of the Billikens and asked Emul, "How will I be able to show my face in Leningrad without any?" Emul fled out to the tundra and to the cliffs of the sea as the ship prepared to take the young man and the sea lion away, but after her tears of bitterness had dried, she discovered that the gift of seeing things in their true perspective had been restored to her, and so she went home, renewed. 

This story, too, puts the Billiken in its proper Alaskan perspective because of all objects made by the Eskimo carver. Few present less of a challenge to make, except possibly how best to use small bits of ivory. Despite the contemporary carver's reluctance to try innovations—mainly because of economic reasons—carving the Billiken is regarded only as a necessity to make ends meet. The Billiken is really a caricature of the carver himself, but to the tourist, few souvenirs so readily connote "Alaska" even though it is a cartoon.

Published in The Alaska Journal, Winter 1974. 
Edited by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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