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'An Excited Commotion, A Fish, A Rock Band In Maryland:' MOTA Education Manager Explores Ballyhoo

Courtesy of Thomas Drennan McLenigan

Since late June, Unalaska's Museum of the Aleutians has been publishing a series of Instagram posts about historically and locally significant places on the island.

Museum Education Outreach Manager Thomas Drennan McLenigan started the series shortly after he arrived on the island this summer, and said the posts were inspired by some of the hiking he had done in the past.

"When I was hiking the [Appalachian] Trail, there were a lot of places that I remember, which don't have a name," said McLenigan. "So little ridges, or trails, or streams, or all these little places, which are easily forgotten or forgotten in the grander picture, but are still important, and are still places that I remember — so I kind of wanted the series to also reflect that."

While the posts were originally a simple way to familiarize himself with the island's history and geography, they became a way to discuss and share those lesser known parts of Unalaska.

"There's this really neat waterfall that's just up the valley," said McLenigan. "And I know a lot of locals know about it because people go there to hang out, but I don't know if anyone who's not on this island would ever hear about it. So that was the general idea. I wanted to learn about the place I had just arrived. And I also wanted to just highlight these various places of the Aleutians."

But in his first post from June 24, McLenigan chose a much more notable landmark.

"It was the first piece of Unalaska I ever set eyes on," he said. "I was sitting on the left side of the airplane. And in our approach, we were coming down Unalaska Bay, going into Captains Bay — I look out the window and there's Mount Ballyhoo with the airport and all of the industry around it."

McLenigan said he was immediately interested in Mount Ballyhoo — everything from its unique shape, to its history as part of the Iron Ring of defenses during World War II, to the meaning of its name.

"If you just Google 'ballyhoo,' all sorts of things come up: an excited commotion, a fish, a rock band in Maryland," said McLenigan.

McLenigan moved to the island in June from North Carolina, where he had just finished his master's degree in history with a concentration in museum studies. And he said, because he moved during the pandemic, he had to quarantine for two weeks after arriving. And even after that, because islanders are mandated to socially distance and limit contact with anyone outside of their household, meeting new people has proven difficult.

He said he was doing a lot of hiking when he first arrived, and these posts were, in part, a chance for him to share some of his experiences while in isolation.

But McLenigan also said that they are an important way of documenting the island as it is right now. 

"We don't know how the island might change over the next 20, 30, 50, 100 years," explained McLenigan. "So I think it's also important just to record some of these really cool places as they exist now."

Overall, McLenigan said he hopes that these social media posts will inspire other community members to reach out and share their own favorite places on the island.

For more information on how to contribute your own local place to possibly be featured on the museum's Instagram, email

Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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