Lillian Alling

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Lillian Alling was an Eastern European immigrant to the United States who, in the 1920s, attempted a return by foot to her homeland. Her four-year-long journey started in New York, and went westward across Canada, then north through British Columbia, the Yukon, and then west again through Alaska. It is unknown if she successfully crossed the Bering Strait to Russia.[1]


In 1926, Alling had been steadily working in New York, saving up for passage to Russia. However, finding she still couldn't afford a steamer ship, she instead chose to walk to Siberia. Her reasons were unknown. Alling studied books and maps in the New York Library, and had drawn a "rough outline" of her journey. She first walked to Buffalo, then crossed into Canada at Niagara Falls on Christmas Eve, 1926. When the customs official asked her the routine entry questions, she stated her last place of residence was Rochester, New York, she was a Catholic, she was 30 years old, and had been born in Poland.[1]

By September 10, 1927, Alling reached Canada's western edge, at Hazelton, British Columbia, having walked an average of 30 miles a day. Hazelton was the mouth of the Yukon Telegraph Trail, a 1,000-mile pathway to Canada's far north. Soon after setting out, however, Alling was stopped by a telegraph lineman, as they had cabins every 30 miles along the trail. The lineman noticed Alling's tattered & malnourished appearance, and, after hearing of her intention to walk to Siberia, he phoned the authorities out of concern.

Constable J. A. Wyman, of Hazelton, knew that the coming winter months would be deadly to someone on foot, and feared that letting Alling go would be unethical. Though she pleaded to continue, Wyman charged her with vagrancy.[2] She would spend the next two months in Oakhalla Prison, near Vancouver. After her release, she spent the winter working in a Vancouver restaurant, and saved up enough money to travel again in May 1928. By this time, her story had become known among the British Columbia police force, and she received assistance from each of the cabins on the Telegraph Trail, such as food, clothing, and even a dog companion.[2]

By October 1928, Alling had reached Dawson City, Yukon, where locals knew her story and anticipated her arrival. She again spent the winter working, and saved up enough money to purchase and repair a boat, which, the next spring, she would use to sail the Yukon River into Alaska.

The following is an excerpt from Calvin Rutstrum's book, The New Way of the Wilderness (1958):[3]

Starting out again, she hiked along the Telegraph Trail, over the wild mountain passes, finally reaching Dawson where she worked as a cook, purchased and repaired an old boat, and in the spring of 1929, launched it into the waters of the Yukon River right behind the outgoing ice reaching a point east of the Seward Peninsula. She abandoned the boat for overland travel, reaching Nome and later Bering Strait.

The last sighting of Alling was by an Eskimo outside Teller, Alaska, near North America's westernmost point, in 1929. At minimum, she had walked 5,000 miles. An excerpt from Susan Smith-Josephy's book Lillian Alling: The Journey Home (2011) gives one possibility for Lillian's fate:

In spite of strained relations between the US and the Soviet Union in 1929, the Native people of both countries still traveled regularly across the strait each year from June through November--when the water was usually ice-free--in order to trade and buy supplies. This traffic was either ignored or undetected by authorities on either side of the strait.

Travel between the two countries was common, and it would have been quite normal for someone to pay for a passage across the Strait. However, for several years, what happened to her once she reached Soviet Russia remained unknown.

In 1972, an author named Francis Dickie published an account of Alling’s journey in True West magazine. Shortly thereafter, a reader named Arthur Elmore wrote in, recalling a "peculiar" story told by a Russian friend. In the fall of 1930, Elmore's friend was on the waterfront of Provideniya, 150 miles west of Nome. On the beach were several officials interrogating a group - three Eskimo men, from the Diomede Islands, and one Caucasian woman, standing near a boat.[4] It is uncertain if this woman was Lillian Alling.

Fictionalized works[edit]

Alling's story provided the loose inspiration for Cassandra Pybus' travelogue Raven Road (2001) [5], for Amy Bloom's novel Away (2007)[6] and for Andreas Horvath's film Lillian (2019).

In 2007, the Vancouver Opera announced they had commissioned an opera based on Lillian Alling's story; composed by John Estacio, with a libretto by John Murrell, it premiered on 16 October 2010.[7]


  1. ^ a b Smith-Josephy, Susan (2011). Lillian Alling: The Journey Home. Extraordinary Women. Caitlin Press Inc. ISBN 978-1-894759-54-0.
  2. ^ a b "The Woman So Homesick She Walked From New York to Alaska". 2017-01-23. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  3. ^ Rutstrum, Calvin (23 August 2000). The New Way of the Wilderness: The Classic Guide to Survival in the Wild. Fesler-Lampert Minnesota Heritage. University of Minnesota Pres. ISBN 0816636834.
  4. ^ Pioneer days in British Columbia. Volume 2 : a selection of historical articles from BC outdoors magazine. Downs, Art,. Surrey, B.C.: Foremost Pub. Co. 1975. ISBN 0969054629. OCLC 605743670.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  5. ^ Pybus, Cassandra (2001). Raven Road. Australia: University of Queensland Press. ISBN 0702231665.
  6. ^ Bloom, Amy (2007). Away. USA: Random House. ISBN 9780812977790.
  7. ^ Lederman, Marsha (15 October 2010). "Lillian Alling: Vancouver Opera's mystery woman". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 5 December 2018.

See also[edit]