With 24 Hours of Daylight, This State Throws the Ultimate Summer Solstice Party
For more than 100 years, Fairbanks, Alaska has been celebrating the longest day of the year with a game of midnight baseball.
This Tuesday, June 21, you may choose to celebrate the summer solstice by throwing a barbecue, or using the longest day of the year to work on your tan. Maybe you’ll do some balcony gardening in hopes of a good harvest, dance around a bonfire to banish demons, or don a flower crown before base jumping off a cliff. Perhaps you’ll gather at Stonehenge in England and watch the morning sun shine right into its heart. Or, drive to Carhenge in Nebraska, where nothing really happens on the solstice, but it looks cool and you can invite your dad—it's right around Father’s Day.
But if you really want to go big, head to Alaska. There you can bask in almost a full day of sunshine, thanks to the northernmost state’s positioning near the Arctic Circle (conversely, on December's winter solstice, when the sun is at its lowest, you’ll enjoy nearly 24 hours of darkness).
Norway isn’t the only Land of the Midnight Sun; Alaska also gets in on the nickname, and they take advantage of the extra rays all across the state. In Anchorage, there's the Solstice Festival and the Midnight Sun Half Marathon on June 18, and a music festival running all weekend. Or you can just hike up Chugach State Park's picturesque Flattop Mountain to take in the views and festivities.
In Fairbanks, they've got a Midnight Sun Run and a Midnight Sun Festival, both on June 18, this time with pony rides, gold-panning, and break dancing. Here, the sun dips below the horizon at around 12:48 am, rising shortly after at 2:48, with a rosy glow of twilight in between. And for the past 116 years, they've also been marking the occasion with the Midnight Sun baseball game, one of the most famous games of baseball played in the entire world.
Picture it: It’s the turn of the century in Fairbanks, a former trading post incorporated just three years earlier, with a population of miners who trekked up north in search of gold. In the isolated town, only reachable by boat, there’s nothing to do—and the longest day of the year is more like the day that never ends.
Except on June 21, 1906, when, thanks to a bet made between two bars, a baseball game is organized. And not just any baseball game—by decree of the bet, a midnight baseball game, a full nine nocturnal innings. Who knows the outcome of that first game, but in the ensuing century and change, the annual Midnight Sun Game—AKA the High Noon at Midnight Classic—has become one of the most unique renditions of America's Pastime you can witness, played through the hour of midnight without the aid of any artificial light.
Every year, 3,500 to 5,000 spectators gather to watch the game on June 21 (or thereabouts) at Growden Park, with its wooden walls, salvaged box seats, and artificial grass infield. With hot dogs for sale and, because it’s Alaska, raffles with ATVs as prizes, it’s steeped in Americana—though its origin dates 52 years before Alaska even became a state, and just three years after the first-ever World Series.
The Alaska Goldpanners assumed hosting duties back in 1960. The northernmost baseball team in the world, they’ve cultivated some heavy-hitting collegiate talent, sending over 200 players to the Major Leagues including Dave Winfield and Barry Bonds. Rivals for the Midnight Sun game have come from as far as Taiwan, in 1984, and Japan, in 1967, when crowds topped out at 5,200. (The Taiwanese coach apparently couldn’t understand why the game had to be played without electric lights, especially on a cloudy night when it was difficult for the players to see. The answer? “Because." Not to mention that rumor has it the lights don’t even work.)
On Tuesday's game day, doors open at 8 pm, and the first pitch hurls across home plate at 10 pm, the sun still bright in the background. It wraps up around 1:30 am, but games have been known to stretch past 2. There's a break right before midnight when, in lieu of "Take Me Out to The Ballgame," they sing the "Alaska Flag Song" (“Alaska's flag to Alaskans dear / The simple flag of a last frontier”). A large blue Alaskan flag blows in the wind, its eight gold stars marking the constellations of the Big Dipper and Polaris the only stars visible that night.
This June 21, if you make it up to Fairbanks, you’ll see the Goldpanners take on the San Diego Waves. Tickets are $25 to $75, purchased in advance or at the gate. The website instructs attendees to bring kazoos, so maybe pick up a kazoo. And if you’re keen on following every second of the action, snag some night vision goggles for the twilight hours. Or get ready to squint.