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Everything You Need to Know About Denali and Mt. McKinley

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Pajiba Storytellers | September 1, 2015 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Pajiba Storytellers | September 1, 2015 |

The tallest mountain in North America has been named Mount McKinley for quite a number of decades. It has now been renamed Denali.

Or rather, it’s be un-renamed back to Denali, since it was called Denali for like a thousand years until some dude in 1896 hiking the thing decided to rename it in honor of soon-to-be President McKinley. Actually when the Russians owned Alaska for a while they called it Bolshaya Gora, which literally translates as “Big Mountain”. Before you mock their creativity in naming, remember that we called a hole in the ground “Grand Canyon” and two-thirds of Californians live in an apartment complex containing some combination of the words “mesa”, “verde”, “carmel”, “heights”, “mar”, “rancho”, and “santa”.

History buffs and ever-popular ranking lists will tell you that McKinley was an above average president, but let’s be honest, he’s mostly remembered for the fact that he got assassinated, which put Theodore Roosevelt on the throne. If you asked Theodore Roosevelt who died and made him king, he’d say “some mountain in Alaska” and you’d think he was hardcore instead of just having a weird sense of humor.

Stuff gets named and renamed all the time historically. If you want to have real fun with historians, invent a time machine, and swap the names of major rivers every couple of hundred years. They LOVE that sort of thing. But this is a little bit different because it’s not (like the detonation of right wing radio is saying today) one of those cases where the native inhabitants called a mountain Mount Torta and then invaders came in, wiped them out, and named it Mount Ham Sandwich. And naturally people from then on call it Mount Ham Sandwich because they never called it anything else anyway. And really using the other name at that point out of respect is the most misguided half-assed sort of fake apology imaginable. “Hey, we stole your hill, killed your entire family on that hill, now pump oil out of that hill, but to say we’re sorry we’re to keep calling it the same thing you did. We good, bro?”

No, because see, nobody has ever called the damned thing McKinley in Alaska. The park it’s in is called Denali. The mountain’s name was officially changed back to Denali by the Alaskan government in the seventies. And it is just called Denali by Alaskans themselves, you know those overwhelmingly Republican ones who would cut their own foot off before having anything to do with political correctness. Turns out that even after over a hundred years they still refuse to recognize that the name was changed by some fucking tourist as a campaign stunt back when Alaskans themselves weren’t even represented since they weren’t a state yet.

Obama announced the federal government would change the name officially back to Denali. Naturally, this has led to cries of outrage that socialist tyranny was again rearing its angry head by announcing that the federal government would stop telling a bunch of Republicans what to do in their own backyard. Huh, it’s almost like it doesn’t matter what he does.

So if the Alaskans of both parties have wanted the name changed back for generations, why has the federal government been stubborn about it until now?




Turns out that Ohio is mortally offended by the mountain named after one of the EIGHT presidents from their states being changed back to its original name. They insist that this is an assault on the very fabric of respect for Ohio. (I assume, I do love some hyperbole in the morning). So the next time you talk to someone from Ohio, yell that they’re a cultural imperialist, and if they protest say “you can’t spell denial without Denali”, slap them, and then run off into the hills chanting DEN-AL-I! DEN-AL-I!

Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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