Returning to Charles Kuralt's America for Ketchikan, Alaska in June:
Right into the second half of this century, Ketchikan was a wild little burg given to temporary employment in the canneries and shingle mills on the harbor, and temporary pleasures for the gill-netters, loggers, and miners in the bars, bordellos, and dance halls on Creek Street. Part of the town's charm is that it doesn't seem quite respectable yet.
Creek Street is no street at all, merely old houses on pilings connected by a boardwalk along Ketchikan Creek. At the foot of the street, the mouth of the creek, I could see hundreds of salmon feeding, some of them leaping clear of the deep, cold, dark water, preparing for their annual journey upstream. The salmon were what attracted the Tlingit Indians to the spot hundreds of Junes ago, and when a prosperous Tlingit known as Paper Nose Charlie sold Ketchikan to MIke Martin, an Irishman from County Cork, it was the salmon Martin meant to be buying. Almost immediately, the rough-hewn pleasure palaces sprung up. Creek became known as the place where "both the fish and the fishermen go up the creek to spawn."
The old bawdy houses are jewelry stores, souvenir shops, and cafes now. All you get for your $2.50 at Dolly Arthur's famous establishment on Creek Street is a bordello museum tour. But it's easy to imagine the days of the "Alaska Bone Dry Law," two years before national Prohibition, when bootlegger skiffs slipped into the creek at high tide and unloaded their cargo through trap doors right into the parlors of the fancy houses. The Alaskan word for the cargo entered the American language. It was "hootch."
Logging and fishing are still the mainstays of Ketchikan's economy. When the local government needs money, it sometimes just goes out and cuts down some trees. The week I visited, the Borough Assembly voted unanimously to log five hundred forty acres it owns near Whipple Creek and use part of the expected receipts, seven million dollars, to build an indoor recreation center. Financially strapped places like New York City can wish they also had a few strands of Douglas fir to tide them over.
Tags: Charles Kuralt, America, Ketchikan, Alaska