Star the Reindeer- An Anchorage Celebrity of a Different Breed

Anchorage Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association

Star and Albert, out for a walk 11/24/13  Photo by J. Polak

I was born
and raised in Anchorage and as far back as I can remember, Star the Reindeer
has lived downtown, in a large fenced area off the
west side of a house at 10th
and I Streets. 

That’s just a few blocks from our B and B breakfast table, where Star is a
frequent source of questions. ”Hey.  What about Star the Reindeer? 
What’s her story?”   The questions have made me realize that Star has
been an Anchorage icon all my life, but I don’t know much about why.  I
did a little research to be able to
share her story with you.  

To start, a little background on reindeer. Unlike their cousin the caribou,
reindeer are not native to Alaska. They closely resemble caribou but are
shorter and stouter and don’t migrate over long distances like caribou.
Reindeer -including Star’s ancestors – were first imported to the Seward
Peninsula (537 air miles northwest of Anchorage and home to Nome, Alaska) from
Siberia in 1892, as part of a federal program to provide sustainable food
to the Bering Strait Eskimos and other people of the area.

Star’s story begins with Mr. Ivan and Mrs. Oro Stewart opening
Stewarts’s Photo Shop downtown on 4th Avenue in Anchorage’s oldest building in
1942. True Alaskan pioneers, they were known to be the type to accomplish their
goals, no matter how unusual the goal might be. Mrs. Stewart wanted to adopt an
Alaskan pet. There were no laws against adopting reindeer and the
original Star came to Anchorage in 1962, selected for Mr. and Mrs.
Stewart by reindeer herder Larry Davis of Nome.  She was named for the
starburst of white fur between her eyes.  Star I lived to be 23 years old
– roughly 15 years longer than the average reindeer.   Larry Davis
selected every Star to follow (except the current one- who came from a
farm near Palmer) to look like the first Star. 

The Stewart’s were assisted in Star care over the years by Albert Whitehead.
Whitehead came to Alaska in 1960 with the military. Shortly after his arrival,
he met Ivan and Oro Stewart and began working for them part time. Over the
years he evolved into their reindeer caregiver, moreso after Mr. Stewart died
in 1986. On her death, Mrs. Stewart left Albert Whitehead a life estate to help
take care of her reindeer. 

Beautiful as she is, Star has not been without her controversies.  In
October of 1973, she was ordered
evicted due to changing zoning laws.  The
Stewarts appealed and won.

Including the current Star, there has been six.  Star II died
in the mid-1980s when a newcomer to Alaska broke into her pen, killed and
butchered her, and sold the meat. He spent a year in jail for his
crime.  Star III died in 1986 when she ate plastic
bags. Star IV enjoyed 14 years under Mrs. Stewart’s
care.  She suffered from arthritis and could only tolerate weekly walks.
She was assaulted in 1987 when a man climbed into her pen and broke off one
antler. She survived that and died in May 2002. Star V was 2
months old when she came to Anchorage from Nome, arriving in July 2002. Sadly,
she passed away 
unexpectedly of a bacterial infection, not long before Oro Stewart
herself died that fall.

Star VI, the current Star, was born in April 2001 at the
reindeer farm north of Anchorage. Originally named Noel, she was renamed Star
by Albert Whitehead, who fell in love with her at first sight. Rejected by her
mother, her growth had been stunted.   She is only four and a half
feet tall, which makes her about six inches shorter than others her

In April 2006, Star VI was nearly kidnapped. Whitehead found a hole in the
pen’s fence with a trail of hay leading out to the sidewalk.  Star had
stayed in her cage, however, and was not hurt.  

You can often
find Star VI and Mr. Whitehead on walks around downtown Anchorage, and kids
visiting Star at her home. She may be a symbol of Christmas, but she’s also a
symbol of Anchorage, and as it turns
out, our founders and our rich

The following sources were used in the writing of this article. Links to those
and more about Star: 
·      A beautiful photo of Star and
Albert can be found here…
·      Watch this fun video…  among
other things; you’ll see Star visiting our friend Terry Potter in her downtown
wine shop, where there’s a lot of expensive wine.  Now, Star in a wine
shop-  that’s Alaskan bravery!
·      A great article about Star, and
some old photos, can be found here.
·      This article contains information
about Star’s attempted eviction.,941094
·      And totally off topic but fun-
this article tells the story of the Stewarts, their amphibious car (which is
still seen in Anchorage parades today) and a 1968 drive 165 miles down the
Yukon River, from Eagle to Circle City.
·      Star also has her own Facebook
page.  You can friend her at

Marilyn Kasmar, owner and
innkeeper of the 11th Avenue Bed and Breakfast, is a member
of the Anchorage,
Alaska Bed and Breakfast Association. 

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