Image: Carden and Palin
Mark Thiessen  /  AP
Lyn Carden, right, executive director of the Greater Wasilla Chamber of Commerce, stands behind a cutout of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in in Wasilla, Alaska. The chamber keeps the cutout in the chamber office so tourists can have their picture taken with it.
By
updated 7/21/2010 9:47:36 AM ET 2010-07-21T13:47:36

Anyone who doubts Sarah Palin's celebrity need only talk to Lyn Carden.

As head of Wasilla, Alaska's chamber of commerce, Carden tends to be the frontline for tourists wanting to see Palin, perhaps even grab a cup of coffee at her house. And she's heard it all.

When Palin makes news, or carries a snazzy purse women want to buy, Carden invariably gets a call, or flurry of calls. Some callers have left credit card information, hoping to get that purse. Others send fan mail, or money for Palin's political action committee.

There are those, too, that just stop in, off a train and hoping for directions to her house — which they do not get — or eager to learn as much as they can about Wasilla's most famous resident. Many snap a photo of themselves with Palin's cardboard cutout.

"Of course, every single question is about her and where she is and where she gets her hair done and what she eats and what she's doing," Carden said.

Image: Mocha Moose
Mark Thiessen  /  AP
A woman walks in front of the Mocha Moose coffee shop where a Palin Fever banner hangs in Wasilla, Alaska.

A year after Palin's abrupt resignation as governor, interest in her and the small Alaska town she put on the map hasn't gone away. While it's not at the fever pitch it reached during Palin's run for vice president, there remains a steady stream of pilgrims. At least one tour company builds old Palin haunts into a trip that includes a musk ox farm visit.

Some in Wasilla don't see what the big deal is. To them, Palin's just a local-girl-made-good, a former mayor and current resident who hits her favorite running trails when she's in town and runs her own errands, seen at the Fred Meyer, gas station or library, dressed down, without immaculate hair and makeup.

But she's also one of the most popular, and polarizing, political figures in America — revered by supporters as a God-fearing Everywoman, who fights for what she believes in, and derided by critics as a political lightweight and quitter.

"There's no gray area," Carden said.

There's also no denying the fascination with her.

John Coale, who's no stranger to celebrity — he's married to Fox News' Greta Van Susteren and considers the Clintons friends — recalls a scene in Boston earlier this year when he took Palin and her husband, Todd, to a pastry shop.

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Within "seconds," he said, people started asking for photos, and seemingly out of nowhere, a crowd of almost 100 amassed outside. It took about 45 minutes to get through, he said, with Palin stopping for autographs and photos, never complaining or acting a diva.

"It was like being with a Beatle," said Coale, who set up Palin's political action committee.

In Juneau, the state capital where Palin spent as little time as possible while governor, preferring to stay nearer home and work out of Anchorage, the occasional tourist will still ask about her on tours of the Capitol or visits to the governor's mansion.

Just the fact she once occupied the mansion was sufficient for Julie Pitre and Lucille Godin to hike Juneau's hamstring-working hills for a quick perusal of the stately home's grounds.

"It looks more like a family (home) than a big government mansion," declared Godin, of New Brunswick, Canada. "She had a beautiful yard," travel companion Pitre said, camera around her neck.

Back in Wasilla, there aren't many typical tourist-type places. But many diehards, well-versed in all-things-Palin, already have an idea of where they want to go, Carden said.

For those who don't, there are guides like Barbara Adams.

She generally drives between 12 and 24 tourists a week around town, stopping at places like city hall, Palin's old high school, the house she grew up in and pointing out Palin's current home — from a respectful distance, she said, across Lake Lucille.

"If someone's famous where I visit, I like to see a little bit about that person," Adams said. "There are some politicans or famous people I don't like but if they're buried somewhere or something, I'd like to see it."

The Palin stops are part of a larger trip Adams' guiding business offers for $199, and she makes them as brief — or detailed — as her customers demand. Many, she notes, are more interested in the train ride, sled dogs or other wildlife that are also part of the trip. But everyone — and she's had people from as far away as Australia, Israel, Singapore and Taiwan in her van — knows who Sarah Palin is.

Carden and others say the attention Palin continues to bring to Wasilla has been good for local businesses, and Alaska, generally.

The Mocha Moose is one beneficary.

The coffee shop sells Palin paraphernalia: sweatshirts, buttons, bumper stickers and Ts, with slogans like "Wasilla, Alaska, where men are men and women are vice president" and "Don't blame me, I voted for Palin."

It has the added distinction of being a place Palin frequents when she's in town, owner Ben Harrell said. Her usual: "90 percent of the time, a skinny white chocolate mocha."

"Financially, yes, she helped me, or the whole thing helped me," he said, adding: "I don't know if it's called excitement or what it is, but it's still there. She stirs the pot."

And love her or hate her, Wasilla Mayor Verne Rupright believes she's done a lot for Alaska's image.

Now, people know where Wasilla is, he said, and with the lake and mountains often serving as a backdrop for filming or live shots Palin does for Fox News, where she's a contributor, people get a different view of the Last Frontier.

"That kind of exposure," he said, "how can that hurt?"

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Sarah Palin

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  1. A scene from the TV show Sarah Palin's Alaska. Sarah Palin ready to head up the river in Todd's boat to see the fish counting in Dillingham, where the Palin family usually spend 4th of July. (Gilles Mingasson / TLC via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Sarah Palin is handed Sophie, a 10-week-old puppy, for a signature during the kick-off of the Tea Party Express bus tour at a rally on Monday, Oct. 18, 2010, in Reno, Nev. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sarah Palin talks to supporters at an "Evening with Sarah Palin" event on Wednesday, May 12, 2010, in Rosemont, Ill. (Jim Prisching / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. People walk by a window display of "Going Rogue: an American Life", a book from former Republican vice-president candidate Sarah Palin, as it hit stores on November 17, 2009, in New York. Palin's book has already become a bestseller, with pre-release sales knocking Dan Brown's latest thriller off the number one spot on Amazon.com. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. In the November 23 issue of Newsweek: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sarah? She’s Bad News for the GOP - And For Everybody Else Too, Evan Thomas looks at the impact of Sarah Palin on politics. The cover sparked controversy with Sarah Palin blasting the "out-of-context" cover as "sexist" because the photos were originally published in 'Runners World.' Palin took issue with Newsweek using a photo from an article about fitness to promote an analysis piece contemplating her relevance in politics. (PRNewsFoto via Newsweek) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. This photo taken Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009 shows talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, second from right, with former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her daughters, Willow, right, and Piper, left, during the taping of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in Chicago. Although Sarah Palin didn't answer Oprah's question about whether or not Levi Johnston was invited for Thanksgiving dinner, Sarah told Oprah that Levi is "still part of the family" and "he needs to know hes loved. When Palin was asked about a 2012 run, Palin said, "It's not on my radar screen." (George Burns / Harpo productions via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin announces that she is stepping down from her position as Governor in Wasilla, Alaska on Friday July 3, 2009. The former Republican vice presidential candidate made the surprise announcement, saying she would step down July 26 but didn't announce her plans. (AP Photo/The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Robert DeBerry) (Robert Deberry / The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Susan Wynalek, right, of Coltsneck, N.J., her daughter Stephanie, center and son Brett participate in a "Fire David Letterman" rally across from the Ed Sullivan Theater, on June 16, 2009 in New York. The protest was held in response to jokes he made on "The Late Show" about Sarah Palin and her teenage daughter. (Mary Altaffer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Sen. John McCain concedes victory during an election night rally in Phoenix, Ariz., on Nov. 4, 2008. The Republican and running mate Sarah Palin were defeated by a wide margin. (Mike Blake / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Sarah Palin accepts the vice-presidential nomination before a packed house at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. In her speech, she criticized the “Washington elite” that had raised questions about her qualifications. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Sen. John McCain, center, greets Bristol Palin and her boyfriend Levi Johnston as running mate Sarah Palin looks on. (Charles Dharapak / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. This picture provided by John McCain's campaign shows his running mate Sarah Palin, left, meeting with first lady Laura Bush, center, and McCain's wife Cindy in Minneapolis on Sept. 2, 2008. (Johnmccain.com / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Sen. John McCain greets supporters as he arrives with running mate Sarah Palin, center, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at a campaign rally in O'Fallon, Mo., on August 31, 2008. (Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Bristol Palin, 17, holds her brother Trig during the campaign rally where Sen. John McCain introduced her mother as his vice presidential running mate in Dayton, Ohio, on Aug. 29, 2008. (Stephan Savoia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. An enthusiastic crowd greets Sarah Palin at the rally where Sen. John McCain introduced her as his running mate. (Matt Sullivan / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Palin and her family: son Track and husband Todd, in the back, daughters Willow and Bristol on each side and daughter Piper in the front. (Alaska Governors Office via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, seen here on Aug. 13, 2008, describes herself as a "hockey mom" and an occasional commercial fisherwoman. She oversees a state that’s hardly shy about admiring her swept-back hair and celebrated smile. Bumper stickers and blogs have proclaimed Alaska and Palin: "Coldest State, Hottest Governor." (Marc Lester / AP ) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Sarah Palin visits Army Pfc. John Kegley at a U.S. military medical center in Landstuhl, Germany, on July 26, 2007. (Airman 1st Class Kenny Holston / USAF) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Sarah Palin chats with Alaska-based troops serving at a desert camp in Kuwait on July 25, 2007. (Spc. Wesley Landrum / US Army) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Laurie Serino, left, talks about high food and energy prices with Sarah Palin in Barrow, Alaska, on June 30, 2008. Palin had proposed that state lawmakers approve $1,200 emergency payments to Alaska residents to help deal with rising costs. (Al Grillo / AP ) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Sarah Palin and her husband Todd hold their baby boy, Trig, in Anchorage on April 23, 2008. Palin's fifth child was born with Down syndrome. (Al Grillo / AP ) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Appearing at the state elections office in Anchorage on March 14, 2008, Sarah Palin announces her endorsement of Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, center, in his run for Alaska's congressional seat. Parnell had just filed to run against incumbent Republican Don Young. (Michael Dinneen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Typically seen in black or red power suits while reading text messages on Blackberrys in each hand, Sarah Palin has appeared in Vogue, the fashion magazine. (Win McNamee / Getty Images ) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Sarah Palin is sworn in as Alaska's governor on Dec. 4, 2006, in Fairbanks. Alaska's first female governor, she took office on an ethics reform platform after defeating two former governors in the primary and general elections. Holding the Bible is her husband, Todd Palin. (Al Grillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Sarah Palin, along with one of her daughters, poses with the caribou she shot in Alaska. Palin grew up hunting and fishing and is a member of the National Rifle Association. (Heath Family via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Sarah Palin, then Sarah Heath, worked as a news anchor in 1988 for KTUU-TV in Anchorage, Alaska. (KTUU-TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Sarah Palin poses for a photo after she won the Miss Wasilla beauty pagent in 1984 in Wasilla, Alaska. She went on to compete in the Miss Alaska competition, where she finished as a runner-up. (Heath Family via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Sarah Palin, a star basketball player in high school, stands with her brother, Chuck Heath, and sister, Heather Heath, in Wasilla, Alaska. (Heath Family via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. This undated photo provided by the Heath family shows Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, then Sarah Heath in Alaska. (Heath Family via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. This undated photo provided by the Heath family shows Sarah Palin, then Sarah Heath, holding shrimp her father, Chuck, caught in Skagway, Alaska, where he was a school teacher for 5 years. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. This 1964 photo shows Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin with her mother, Sally Heath, in Wasilla, Alaska. Palin was the first Alaskan to run on a national ticket. (Heath Family via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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