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Graves of 1918-1919 Spanish Flu Victims Located

Ground penetrating radar survey conducted at Pilgrim Hot Springs


PRESS RELEASE: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE MARCH 15, 2023


Nome, AK – Kawerak, Inc., on behalf of Unaatuq, LLC., in partnership with the National Park Service, Cornell University, and Geotech Global, conducted a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey of the historic graves within the cemetery at Pilgrim Hot Springs in July 2022. The purpose of the GPR survey was to identify the location of two communal graves, as well as other unmarked graves. Recent burials from the past 30 years were avoided during the survey. The GPR survey results were analyzed by Thomas M. Urban of Cornell University/Geotech Global, and 89 anomalies were identified to be consistent with human burials. After the discovery of a historic cemetery diagram following the GPR analysis, the report was revised in January 2023 to include new evidence that brings the total number of expected human burials to 93, contained within the fenced cemetery area at Pilgrim Hot Springs.

Thomas Urban of Geotech Global performs a GPR survey at Pilgrim Hot Springs, Alaska.

The GPR survey confirmed the historically documented location of two communal graves from the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic. According to the historic cemetery diagram, one large grave contains 20 non-Catholic victims, and the other large grave contains 41 Catholic victims. As described in the GPR survey analysis key findings, “Many of the disturbances in the two mass grave sections of the cemetery are very closely spaced and sometimes overlapping, adding some ambiguity to interpretation, including uncertainty in determining the total number of burials.” (Urban, T.M. 2022. Ground-penetrating radar survey of the Pilgrim Hot Springs cemetery, Alaska. Geotech Global Consulting Technical Report: TR-1980.) At this time, the identities of the people buried in the graves are unknown. Kawerak is working to research documents housed at the Jesuit Archives Research Center in St. Louis to find out more information about these victims.


Drone aerial view of Pilgrim Hot Springs cemetery.

Currently, Kawerak is leading an effort to establish a new cultural advisory committee for Unaatuq which will examine the findings of this GPR survey, historic cemetery records, and other documentation, to identify, acknowledge, and honor those buried in the cemetery at Pilgrim Hot Springs. The culmination of this effort will be the installment of a commemorative monument, accompanied by interpretive signage, so visitors can learn about the historic cemetery, as well as pay their respects to those buried there.


Kawerak, Inc. is a co-managing owner of Unaatuq, LLC., along with Bering Straits Native Corporation. Unaatuq, LLC. is comprised of seven owner members in the Bering Strait Region: Council Native Corporation, Mary’s Igloo Native Corporation, White Mountain Native Corporation, Bering Straits Native Corporation, Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation, Sitnasuak Native Corporation and Kawerak, Inc.


NOTICE: The cemetery at Pilgrim Hot Springs is part of a public access easement, which allows any visitor to access the cemetery, without charge. The easement applies to cemetery visitations, only.


For more information about the cited GPR survey report, Pilgrim Hot Springs, Unaatuq, or visiting the cemetery, please contact Pilgrim Hot Springs General Manager Amanda Toerdal at atoerdal@kawerak.org or call 907-443- 4278. Website: www.pilgrimhotsprings.com

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