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Flying Squirrels
by June Allen


September 20, 2003

One summer many years ago I was leaving work at the Ketchikan Daily News and went out the street level side door at the foot of Edmonds Street. It must have been in 1964 or 1965. An old man was sitting on one of the bottom steps trying to catch his breath and his daughter was saying, "Are you sure you're all right, dad?" I had to go by him so I stopped to chat with them.

The daughter told me that they were visiting Ketchikan for the day because her father had been in Ketchikan back in 1900 and left again in 1905. And he wanted to revisit the scenes of his childhood before he died. He told me about living in "housekeeping rooms" upstairs over a cafe on Dock Street. The back door of that building opened onto what I realized even then must have been about where the backdoor of today's Main Street fire station is located. He told me that there were goats tethered out there and chickens underfoot. A man sold milk there, he told me, but he and his mother couldn't afford much of it. He also said he went to school up Main Street before the street was planked and that his mother got mad at him if he strayed off the wooden walkways and scrambled up or down the hill through the mud and berry bushes. I know now that street wasn't planked until 1902. He also told me about sleeping in an attic "loft" of the cafe building, under a cozy and, to him, elegant if gamey-smelling quilt made of the skins of flying squirrels.

Then in 1980, I think it was, I was living in Anchorage but came back to Ketchikan to visit a daughter. I was rubbernecking like a tourist downtown when I ran into Rayetta Hackstock, who was working at the fire department then. She told me about the department's having dug a basement under the station and that they had found very old kitchen crockery in the debris. I got excited thinking that maybe it came from that old cafe! She also let me go out the station's back door where I saw for myself that backyard the old man must have been talking about. After all that time there was an obviously very, very old wooden walkway still there. It was so old and soggy that the heels of my shoes sunk into it and I felt like I was in a time warp!

That old man's was one of the stories I heard back in those years that made me so curious about Ketchikan's early days. I never forgot him, and I think I may have written a piece about that interesting encounter for the paper back then. I have a visual memory and I can still picture the things the old fellow described sort of like a video in my head. But I never again had heard another word about flying squirrels from anyone and was beginning to doubt their existence - until this morning, on Sitnews!

Thanks for writing it, Mary. It's always a thrill to discover little nuggets from the old days. They're like jigsaw puzzle pieces to me, part of the huge, colorful puzzle that will be solved and completed someday.

June Allen
Palmer, AK - USA



Related story & photo:

Close Encounters of the Squirrel Kind story by MC Kauffman; photo by Kathy Stack...
Saturday - September 20, 2003


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