SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

The Day I Came To Ketchikan
By Dave Kiffer


February 13, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - I was really impressed when my SITNEWS colleague June Allen wrote about her first day in Ketchikan, all those years ago.

I can't remember my first day here or my second or even my third. I was born in the old hospital on Bawden Street. I remember playing in the snow on Jefferson Street when I was three or so and nearly drowning while trout fishing near Ella Lake when I must have been four. That's about it.

I suppose I could always just ask my mother what was going on, on that personally auspicious day in 1959, but when I was in college a friend asked her mother what it was like the day she was born without a lot of success.

"Was it sunny that day?" she asked

"I was in great pain," her mother answered

"What where all my relatives doing?

"I was in great pain."

"What was happening in the world?"

"I was in great pain."

And so on.

So even though my Mom seems to clearly remember things that happened fifty years ago better than I remember what I had for lunch yesterday, I decided to opt for the most reliable - and least painful - memory joggerthe local newspaper.

I suppose I could have spent $39.99 and received a rich Corinthian leather bound "On the Day You Were Born" presentation copy of the New York Times, but it's just cheaper to troll through the micro fiche copies of the local papers at the Ketchikan Public Library.

Usually, I like to look at both Ketchikan Comical and the Ketchikan Daily Fish Wrap to get a balanced picture of historical events, but by the time I shuffled onto this mortal coil in the last gasp of the Eisenhower Administration, the Daily Comical had laughed its last and slipped into history.

So I was left to check out the February 5, 1959 issue of the Daily Fish Wrap to find out how Ketchikan was on the day I was born.

The weather that day was cloudy with rain and snow showers. The high was in the mid 35 and the low 28. Ho hum.

The big national headline was a missive (missile) of the Cold War. An American plane had crashed on the border of Turkey and Armenia with 17 men killed. The USSR claimed that bad weather did the plane in, but the US counterclaimed that it had survelliance recordings of Russian fighters sighting and shooting down the plane.

The other significant national story that day also concerned a plane crash. An American Airlines jet crashed near La Guardia airport in New York City killing most of the 73 passengers on board. Nixon (the VP at the time) likely saw Communist involvement in that one too.

The US postal department announced that day that is was dropping plans to move first class mail by air between Seattle and Alaska on a permanent basis. Based on how long it takes first class mail to get to Ketchikan after it has left the Black Hole of USPS "Federal Way," it is nice to finally understand why.

The paper reported that President Eisenhower was seeking stronger laws to enforce civil rights. Primarily, he wanted Congress to make it a crime to use force or threats of force to obstruct court ordered school desegregation. Locally, the result was that the Point Higgins School got desegregated right into the soon to be created Gateway Borough School District.

Statewide, Governor Bill Egan was convalescing in Seattle after an emergency abdominal operation in late January. The newspaper reported that he was well enough to working with his office in Juneau over the phone. Today, he'd be text messaging before the surgeons even closed up.

The new state legislature was engaged in a war of wills with the administration over how much legislative pay should be in the new state budget. Legislators wanted a salary of $3,000 plus $40 a day expense money for the proposed 62 day legislative session. But some in the administration wanted to the continue the nominal $1 a payment that had been in place previously.

It's tempting to say that even a dollar a day would be an overpayment, but I'd be happy to give them $3,000 if they'd just stick to that 62 days (it's nearly twice as long today).

Locally, there was a lot of interest in building a community pool near the relatively new (five years old) school on 4th Avenue in what was then referred to as the Heath Addition. Prince Rupert had recently built a pool and Ketchikanites were bound and determined to keep up with the Jones' (or in this case the Smyths', MacIntoshes', and the Overwaiteas').

Natch, even a good idea with little opposition still took nearly 15 years to come to fruition.

The city council announced that it was shifting maintenance of the fire department alarm system from city staff to the fire department. The alarms were attached to random telephone poles and also operated like a community early warning system. I was too late for the "Duck and Cover," but I did get the thrill of hearing those fifties era air-raid sirens crank up during my youth.

Race Downtown Drug was undergoing a major remodel. The story was celebrating its 30th anniversary at its downtown location and was expanding to include toys, gift items and greeting cards. Seems almost prescient now. I wonder if the toys included barking husky dogs and tanzanite key chains?

The School Superintendent's Column that day (unsigned or attributed, anyone remember who it was?) was really interested in how other communities were limiting student automobile use. Obviously too many Ramblers, Edsels and Studebakers clogging up the parking lot at Kayhi..

In local sports news, the 13th Annual Ketchikan Bowling association tourney had just wrapped up. The winning team was Miners and Merchants Bank featuring Bob Wirth, Matty Ylanan, Pete Figueroa and Eddie Lucas. "Laughing Pete" Figueroa was the all-events winner and high game (257) went to Lindy "The Front Street Clipper" Lindstrom.

In national sports news, the Cal Golden Bears edged UCLA 60-58 on a last minute shot by team Captain Al Buch. The "eight foot set shot zipped though the basket as the final gun sounded." A set shot? How positively 19th Century!

There were a lot of homemakers' clubs in Ketchikan in those days and the Daily Fish Wrap kept up with all of them.

The Busy Dozen Homemakers were meeting at the home of Mae Powers to discuss rejuvenating old hats.

The Home Topic Homemakers were meeting at Agnes Housholder's home and would be exchanging homemade valentines.

The Mountain Point Homemakers club was meeting at Verna Thomson's home and would be discussing the smoking and curing of venison.

The Northend Homemakers were meeting at the North Tongass Community Club and would have a demonstration of a new knitting machine.

And finally, The Young Matrons were meeting at Mrs. P.K. Johanson's home to share new recipes.

I just hope the homebuilders were as studious in those days as the homemakers

The comics in the paper that day were Lil' Abner, Nancy, Rip Kirby, Blondie, Bringing Up Father and Dick Tracy. I remember when the Daily Fish Wrap finally pulled the plug Nancy in the 1980s. Only Blondie is still chugging along today.

We had 6.5 hours of TV each day in 1959.

The Ketchikan Alaska TeleVision (KATV) program (one channel!) schedule on February 5, 1959 was

4:30 Test Pattern and music

5:00 Jungle Jim

5:30 Lone Ranger

6:00 Steve Canyon

6:30 Wyatt Earp

7:00 Millionaire

7:30 Zorro

8:00 Bob Cummings Show

8:30 Glencannon

9:00 Local Newscast

9:10 Weather

9:15 UPI News

9:30 Feature Movie: "Another Dawn" with Kay Francis and Errol Flynn

10:45 Bedtime News

11:00 Sign Off

For those looking for a night out, Howard's Charcoal Broiler was offering its Thursday night special of "Pan Fried Disjointed Spring Chicken with Cream Gravy including soup, Our Famous Crisp Green Salad, Fresh Green Peas, Whipped Potatoes, Hot Biscuits and Honey and Fresh-Frozen Strawberry Parfait "all for the mouthwatering price of $2.50.

The Coliseum Theatre was showing "One of the Ten Best Pictures of the Year," The Young Lions featuring Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Dean Martin.

A little more cryptic entertainment was available at one of the local lodges. The ad simply read "Starting Thursday, you'll want to be at the Eagles at 8 p.m."

Of course it is always fun to take a peak at the grocery prices from an earlier era. Just remember that $2 a hour was a really good wage in 1959. It was still an era when a lot of local folks made nothing at all in the winter and lived on store credit until the Spring thaw.

Federal Market had some great meat values, Spareribs were 49 cent a pound, stuffed turkey was 69 cent a pound and you could get two pounds of bacon for 1.19.

Tongass Grocery had a special on Darigold butter at 74 cents a pound and AA Large Eggs were 61 cents a pound. For those needing a little starch, 100 pounds of "spuds" for be had for $3.89

There were quite a few apartments available in the classifieds. Three bedroom apartments were generally going for $80 to $100 a month.

There was a used Nash Rambler for sale for $300.. You could get a trolling boat for $500. Those prices seem about right, even today.

So, there you have it. A snapshot of Ketchikan on February 5, 1959. Our little town, our fair Salmon City, where all the men were king salmon strong, the women were Gravina good looking and the children were above Alaska average!


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2005

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