Soak Up This State's 24 Straight Hours of Daylight This Weekend
For over 100 years Fairbanks, Alaska has been celebrating the summer solstice with a midnight ball game.
This Sunday, June 20th, you may celebrate the summer solstice by throwing a barbecue, or using the longest day of the year to work on your tan at the beach. 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—Sunday also happens to be 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 the winter solstice in December 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 celebrate the solstice across the state. In Anchorage some partake in the Solstice Festival downtown, others run the Midnight Sun Half Marathon or hike for the views and festivities on picturesque Flattop Mountain, in Chugach State Park.
In Fairbanks this weekend, there’s a Midnight Sun Run, and the Midnight Sun Festival with pony rides, gold panning, and break dancing. Here the sun dips below the horizon at around 12:48 a.m., rising shortly after at 2:48, with a rosy glow of twilight in between. And for the past 114 years, Fairbanks has been marking the occasion with the Midnight Sun baseball game, one of the most famous games of baseball in the 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 21st, 1906, thanks to a bet made between two bars, there’s a baseball game. 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 114 years, the annual Midnight Sun Game, aka the “High Noon at Midnight Classic” has become one of the most unique ball games 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 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, three years after the first World Series.
The Alaska Goldpanners assumed hosting duties in 1960. The northernmost baseball team in the world, they’ve cultivated some heavy-hitting collegiate talent, sending over 200 players to the majors 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, where crowds topped out at 5,200. (The Taiwanese coach apparently couldn’t understand why the game had to be played without the aid of electric lights, even on a cloudy night when it was difficult for the players to see. The answer really is just “because.” Also rumor has it the lights don’t even work.)
On game day doors open at 8 p.m., with the first pitch thrown out at 10 p.m., with the sun still bright. It wraps up around 1:30 a.m. but games have been known to go 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 serves as a backdrop, its eight gold stars in the constellations of the Big Dipper and Polaris the only stars seen that night.This June 21st if you make it up to Fairbanks, you’ll see the Goldpanners take on the Everett Merchants, from Everett, Washington. 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 the action, also some night vision goggles for the twilight hours. Or get ready to squint.