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Alaska's Black History: Mattie Crosby

Mattie at Flat, in front of Tootsie's Tavern, 1971
Courtesy of Sandy Miscovich
Mattie at Flat, in front of Tootsie's Tavern, 1971

Mattie Crosby was a musician and restaurateur in the gold mining community of Flat City. She wrote a ragtime love song called “Oh you beautiful Pink,” in 1916. She sold several of the pieces she wrote, to record producers in the American states and even to Hollywood for movies.

Mattie Wade first came to Alaska from Maine at age 16 with her adopted parents. Later, she married a Fairbanks miner by the name of Crosby, who was working Goldstream Creek near Fairbanks, but the marriage didn’t last. In 1911, she moved to the community of Iditarod. She was a tenacious and astute businesswoman who became known for her great cooking. Her lunch counter was popular year-round.

She took up several business ventures, including hauling supplies by boat and dog teams, boarding sled dogs and miners, prospecting, catering, and establishing a bathhouse called The Crosby. She never smoked or drank, but during the Prohibition era, she dabbled in bootlegging, and it got her arrested. She spent six months in a Fairbanks jail.

In the 1920s, she moved to Flat, where she worked for the next four decades. She ran Tootsie’s Tavern, renowned for its food, music, and genial atmosphere.

She wrote letters of her life in the gold camps to newspapers in California, where they were published regularly. So was her music. You can see it in the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame on Cushman Street in Fairbanks. In 2021, a Christian book company published some of her letters.

She died at the Fairbanks Pioneer Home, in 1972.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.