The 1940s-era Fairbanks public transit bus made famous by the book and movie “Into the Wild” is back in Fairbanks.
Under an arrangement announced in June when the state had the bus airlifted from the Stampede Trail north of Denali National Park, the University of Alaska Museum of the North will develop an exhibit about the bus.
UA Museum director Pat Druckenmiller explained the future exhibit idea.
“The UA Museum of the North will be the long-term stewards of the bus so that we can allow people to see it, to see it for free, in an outdoor exhibition,” Druckenmiller said. “And tell the whole story of the bus, not — you know, there’s the famous part of the story with Chris McCandless — but there’s also a lot of other interesting aspects that we want to share with the public.”
UA Museum curator Angela Linn says a historic automobile conservator will be brought in to assess any safety issues with the bus — along with how the museum can improve its interpretive value for visitors.
Linn says the next step will be developing an actual exhibit.
“That’s really gonna be a challenging part,” she said. “Obviously there’s lots of divergent opinions about the stories that are associated with the bus, most dramatically with the Chris McCandless story, and so we want to be sure that we represent all those voices.”
Over the last 20-plus years, the bus regularly attracted visitors, including two who died trying to cross the Teklanika River. There have also been injuries and numerous search-and-rescue operations.
State Department of Natural Resources land manager Diana Lineberger says removing the bus from the wilderness has two benefits.
“Hopefully save lives and reduce the number of rescues that are required,” Lineberger said. “But I really think the other part of this is the museum having it and telling that story and making it available for some many more people to see.”
Originally towed out the Stampede Trail as a work crew camp, the bus later became a temporary shelter for hunters and other backcountry travelers. In the summer of 1992, Christopher McCandless used the bus as shelter when he tried to live off the land alone.
Developing the bus exhibit is expected to take 2 years of work, including significant fundraising. The plan calls for an outdoor exhibit site in the woods north of the museum parking lot. In the meantime, the bus will be stored at an undisclosed university facility.
Christopher McCandless’s sister, Carine McCandless, is working with the museum on the exhibit.
“You can look at the bus as, well, as just a bus,” she said. “But it’s also a symbol, for a lot of people, of kind of breaking free of societal norms.”
McCandless says the bus can be a powerful educational tool, including about the mistakes her brother made that led to his starvation in the wilderness.
“He wasn’t prepared,” she said. “And I don’t want people to gloss over that fact.”