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
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.
Palmer, AK - USA
Related story & photo:
Close Encounters of the Squirrel Kind story by MC Kauffman; photo by Kathy
Saturday - September 20, 2003
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