Funter Bay History: Dick Willoughby’s Exploding Raven

Richard “Uncle Dick” Willoughby (1832-1902?) AKA “The Professor”, was apparently quite the local character. Known for various pranks and tall tales, he left a lasting impression on the history and geography of Southeast Alaska (he has both a street and an island named after him).


Dick had a cabin at Funter Bay and did some prospecting in the area, locating several claims around the bay in 1887 and even starting a small mining company. An apparently successful prospecting method was to carry a metal rod with a carbon tip. Willoughby would prod through the mossy muskeg layer covering much of Admiralty Island, hoping to find shallow bedrock. After some practice, he claimed to be able to tell the difference between quartz and other rocks by feel. Even after selling many of his mining claims, Dick spent much of his later life at Funter Bay.

Willoughby also prospected and explored around Glacier Bay and other parts of Southeast Alaska. Around 1885, he claimed to have photographed a “phantom city” above Muir Glacier. He made some money selling copies and guiding tours to see this supposed mirage (which no one else ever glimpsed, and was later revealed to look remarkably like Bristol, England). The ever-reliable and never-sensationalist Popular Mechanics magazine swallowed the bait with a full article in 1897, although most people list it as an obvious fake. As late as 1928, cruise ship passengers were still looking for the phantom city!

An 1887 Juneau Free Press article claims that Dick Willoughby had dug up “The Devil’s Skeleton”. Willoughby was occasionally mentioned in the papers as finding “monster bones”, as well as various mammoth skeletons, often around Glacier Bay.  He apparently had a “museum” in Juneau where you could “see the elephant” for 50 cents admission.

To get back to the title of this post, below is an anecdote from his time at Funter which appears (with slightly different details) in several period newspapers:

exploding raven

A slightly different version is mentioned here, in which Dick’s cabin at Funter falls victim to the nefarious bird. Who knows how much, if any, truth this story contains!

Chapter 7 of the 1909 book Through The Yukon and Alaska is devoted to Dick Willoughby.

A fairly comprehensive obituary of Mr. Willoughby is here.

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