We docked right in downtown Ketchikan in the morning of June 12. Founded in 1885, Ketchikan is the 5th most populous city in Alaska with something over 8,000 residents. The town has dubbed itself the “Salmon Capital of the World,” and commercial fishing is its major industry besides tourism. Volendam was, during our visit, one of the tallest buildings in town.
We explored this town on our own on foot. First stop was the Tongass Historical Museum (which was, until recently, attached to the public library). Nearby was the first totem pole we encountered, the Chief Kyan pole. Totem poles were (and are) created for a variety of reasons: to honor a dead person, record history or social events, or to honor a clan or family. They were not religious objects & were never worshipped. Made of wood, usually tough Red Cedar, they deteriorated over time spent outdoors in the adverse weather conditions of Alaska, as they were expected to do. The Chief Kyan pole is the second reproduction, in 1992, of one that was carved in the early part of the 20th century. The figures on the pole, starting at the top, are the Crane, the Thunderbird & the Brown Bear.
This small museum was packed with vintage photos & artifacts arranged to tell the story of Ketchikan chronologically. Old photographs are always interesting to us. Many of the artifacts, including colorful & eye catching pottery, basketry & clothing, are quite beautiful & the older ones are well preserved.
We walked on to Creek Street. On our way we saw the “Raven Stealing The Sun” totem pole. Carved in 1983, it represents a story about how Raven released the sun, moon & stars from their boxes. The figures (top to bottom) are Raven, Sun, the Chief’s Daughter, a baby’s face & the Chief who had kept the heavenly bodies in boxes.
Creek Street is about a block of old but refurbished buildings on stilts above the Ketchikan Creek. A wooden boardwalk runs in front of the buildings above the creek. In season the creek is crowded with salmon fighting their way upstream to breed, but it was still calm when we were there. This street is famous as the center for houses of prostitution after they were outlawed in other parts of town in 1903. The brothels operated until 1954 when they were outlawed. The most famous is Dolly’s House, the blue house in the last picture, where one of the premiere madams lived unto she died around 1970. The largest establishment was the Star House, the pink building in the pictures below. Most of these buildings are now shops or boutiques. Running behind these buildings up the hill is a trail called Married Man’s Way, where patrons fled when the bordello’s were raided.
We walked up (and I do mean up) to the Totem Heritage Center. This is another fairly small museum dedicated to antique totem poles, many carved in the late 19th century, the high point of totem pole carving throughout the Northwest coast. The poles were retrieved from abandoned Tlingit & Haida villages. The villages were abandoned in the early 20th century when their people decided to live closer to churches, schools and places of employment. These vintage totem poles are being preserved, but have not been restored. Almost all of their paint is gone & the wood is weathered.
There are more totem poles stored horizontally in another room and yet more that are not on display, some 35 in all. They were photographed in their original setting before being brought to the museum. The totem on the left above represents Stone Ribs, a legendary shape-shifter of the Haida people, in the skin of a sea lion whose head faces the ceiling. The middle one has a brown bear looking down from the top holding a small person. The one on the right is a mortuary pole
The museum has other artifacts as well, and also operates a school to teach young Indians the traditional arts.
Outside were two large totem poles, commissioned to commemorate the opening of the museum. Leaving the museum we crossed a bridge over the creek & walked back toward town.
Along the way we passed many lovely Spring flowers. Here are a few examples.
We came to a bridge over a rapids in the creek. On one side was a salmon ladder, built to help the salmon make it up a particularly difficult portion of the creek. And, of course, there was the Salmon Ladder Gift Shop!
Down the creek from the ladder was a large sculpture of a salmon, pointing the way upstream. I guess this is to guide any salmon unsure of which way to go.
At this point we headed back to the ship, since it had been a lot of walking and one of us had a painful knee. We saw a lot here, but there is plenty left for next time.