For youths living in Kodiak in 1959, July 12 of that year was a defining moment in their lives.
It was the day 12-year-old Carl Paul Coon — the mayor’s son — stumbled off a cliff at Fort Abercrombie and died hours later at the local hospital.
“I still remember it like it was yesterday,” said David Olsen, who played Little League with Carl. “It was a beautiful summer day. Nice and warm out.”
Carl was at Fort Abercrombie with his younger brother, Corky, Roger King, and Merrill, his father. Carl and his friends were picking up empty rifle cartridges at Miller Point. According to an article in the July 16, 1959 edition of the Kodiak Daily Mirror, Carl reached for something close to the cliff’s edge, lost his footing, and plunged 100-feet to the bottom.
“The first the father knew of the accident was when Carl’s little brother, Corky, came to him and said the older boy lay at the bottom of the cliff,” the article read.
News spread across the island that someone had fallen at the Fort. Olsen was with his family across the bay at White Sands Beach and remembered his dad — a commercial fisherman — attempting to help in the child’s rescue. The only way to White Sands Beach was by boat, as it was years later that a road was built connecting the town to Monashka Bay.
“We didn’t know who it was at the time,” Olsen said. “They wanted my dad to go over and pick him up in a skiff. The outboard wouldn’t start — that alone was something because we had never had any problems with the outboard.”
Two men at the park — George T. Clark and Calvin R. Weinheimer — scaled down the cliff to retrieve Carl. While the rescue was happening, Merrill drove to the nearest telephone and summoned an ambulance.
Carl was taken unconscious to the hospital and pronounced dead at 1:50 a.m. Monday by Dr. A. Holmes Johnson — also known as Dr. Bob, who recently passed away at the age of 94.
“He had a severe concussion. We examined him and had no way of treating concussions,” Dr. Bob told the Daily Mirror in 2008. Johnson said Carl slipped into a coma after arriving at the hospital.
According to the 1960 census, the population of Kodiak city was 2,628. When somebody died back then, it impacted the entire town.
“Certain things will bring that (incident) to memory,” Olsen said. “Over the years, I have never forgotten it. It wasn’t something that happened every day, especially somebody that you knew as well as you did.”
For many of the youths in Kodiak, the first funeral they attended was Carl’s. They went from playing baseball and doing group Boy Scout activities to seeing him in a casket at the Community Baptist Church. Bob Spencer, who now lives in Idaho, said Carl was buried in his Boy Scout uniform. Spencer was 11 at the time.
“I can see him as clearly today as if it happened yesterday,” Spencer said. “It was just that impressionable.”
Carl was a dedicated Boy Scout, always studying, and was “adamant about how things got done,” Spencer said.
Carl was also a local ballplayer, suiting up for the Outdoorsmen — one of six Little League teams in 1959. The Outdoorsmen was one of the top teams in the league. Jerry Markham told the Daily Mirror in 2008 that Carl was a pitcher who was rumored to have authored a nine-inning complete game.
“He was a real standout ballplayer,” Markham said. “He was real good. I had a hard time hitting, that is a fact. I think everybody did. He had a variety of pitches. I don’t know how he learned them.”
Carl had dark hair and was a decent size for a 12-year-old.
Marvin Frost, an all-star pitcher for the Merchants, recalled how the death affected the rest of the season. The season ended with the Merchants beating the Outdoorsmen in a best-of-three championship series.
“Forgive me for saying this, but it was like it was gone. We didn’t talk about it because you didn’t want to talk about it,” Frost said.
The Little League Field on the corner of Powell Avenue and Mill Bay Road was later named Coon Field in honor of Carl Paul Coon. In 2008, the Parks and Recreation department hung wood cutout letters on the back of a dugout that introduced his name to newcomers to Kodiak. To this day, people still ask who Carl Paul Coon was.
“There are so many things that people don’t realize about Kodiak,” Spencer said.
Spencer — and possibly Carl — lined up at the Kodiak Daily Mirror office and bought stacks of papers for a nickel, then would sell them at the bars for a dime apiece. They would also collect soda bottles and turn them into the local bottling company for a nickel.
Besides being the mayor of Kodiak, Merrill ran the fuel dock for Standard Oil. The Coon family lived between Griffin Memorial Hospital and the Russian Orthodox Church in a house that was bordered by a white picket fence.
“They were just a good Kodiak family,” said Marian Johnson, Dr. Bob’s wife. “I moved here in 1952, and I think they preceded me. They were doing lots of nice things.”