SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Still 2 Much Vice in K-town?



June 09, 2016
Thursday PM

Ketchikan, Alaska -
The 1920s were a great time to be in Ketchikan.

jpg  Dave Kiffer

Or so I have been told, I wasn't here then.

Yes, there are days when “snap crackle pop” describes my joints more than my cereal. But I was not present for The Roaring Twenties in these here parts.

My mother used to pine on and on and on and on about all the canneries in operation and the booming local economy that briefly made K-town the largest community in the state during that decade.

But she was just a smolt in that decade so it all probably seemed a lot of fun.

I'm sure now we'd all be thrilled about "the smell of money" aka "the smell of fish stench" wafting throughout the community from the dozen plus canneries in operation. I gather residents avoided breathing in July and August in those days of yore.

I was here for the tail end of the 1950s and the 1960s, which was Ketchikan's second boom period and then the community just reeked of sawdust and tree stumps.

Well, maybe not the tree stumps. Most of the actual logging was pretty much out of sight and out of mind on Prince of Wales or the back side of Revilla. It is always easier to love the economic benefits of a clear cut when you don't have to look at it.

At any rate, I digress.

Just how much fun was Our Fair Salmon City in the 1920s?

Alaska's representative to Congress, Dan Sutherland, took to the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. to call Ketchikan the most "vice ridden city in Alaska, possibly the entire country."

"Wicked" was also the adjective describing Ketchikan in newspapers all over the county during those years.

So was "pest hole" but that's probably not something we want to make a big deal about.

Our national rep got a little better after the closure of the bawdy houses of Creek Street in the 1950s, but as the timber industry grew we also became known as a place where it was a little too easy to find a good stiff drink.

In fact, the rest of the world thought we were "a nice little drinking town with a fishing problem."

That was inevitable considering that, in the 1970s and 1980s, we were the national champion for alcohol abuse. Alaska had the highest rates in the country and we led the state by a wide margin several years running. High rates of alcoholism are inevitable when a town of 10,000 to 15,000 people has more than 50 liquor licenses in operation.

I remember those colorful days.

The days when you couldn't walk downtown without tripping over someone who had been overserved.

The days when the bars were closed for exactly one hour a day (between 5 am and 6 am) and the inebriants were forced to go stand (as much as it was possible to stand while overserved at 5 am) outside while the bartenders used fire houses to wash down the premises.

The days when every building was half painted because, well, because folks just kinda lost interest about half way through the job, deciding the "sun was over the yardarm" somewhere and it was time for another good stiff drink.

That was the town of my youth. I remember it with great fondness.

Speaking of which I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the idea that you can tell when someone has been overserved. As long as they are still conscious. I once had a beertender tell me that "overserved" meant that the person was "undercapitalized." In other words, only when the wallet was "bare” it was time to shut off the tap. That’s capitalism at its most basic.

Anyway, I try to explain to people that downtown isn't a lot different now, the main change is that all the jewelry stores they see were once bars. Newbies always seem surprised by that.

Hey, we haven't always been the Loose Diamonds Capital of World!

BTW, I am still pushing the "powers that be" to change the town motto to "From Loose Women to Loose Diamonds." We never go wrong when we trade on our history of vice.

Which - in a very, very round-about way - leads us to today's topic. Vice.

Vice is one of those quaint terms from the days of black and white movies.

Yeah, I realize that most big cities still have what are called "vice" squads. Groups of officers tasked specifically with protecting a community's morals. Good luck with that.

I was surprised to see a story recently in the LA Times about a vice squad in Long Beach taking on those who allegedly engaged in public hanky panky. I thought that sort of enforcement had gone out of style in the 1960s, when the phrase "public hanky panky" itself went out of fashion.

Of course, these days where a town's population is a factor on how much government money it gets, we should probably be encouraging all forms of hanky panky, public or otherwise.

But, once again, I digress.

Anyway, I understand even dear old Ketchikan once had a "vice" squad. Talk about 24/7 job security. Of course, according to the news articles in the 1940s and 1950s, it was apparently the Vice Squad’s job to encourage vice. Now that’s economic development in a nutshell.

But even disregarding Sutherland's 1920s comments as hyperbole, it would be hard to find a minute of Ketchikan's history that wasn't about "vice" of some form.

But those were the good old days, right?

Not so fast, puritans!

It seems that by one recent "vice" survey, Our Fair Salmon City is still among the top vice cities in America!

According to a website called, Ketchikan is the second most vice ridden community in America.

You would no doubt be unsurprised to hear that caters to those interested in finding "homes" throughout America. The website claims upwards of 100 million listings of properties just about anywhere you would care to be.

Apparently, they also have a lot a free time on their hands, because they have also developed a "vice" index to determine the "quality" of various communities around this great nation of ours.

They have created a complex formula using such things as adult businesses, liquor stores, tattoo parlors, casinos and other dens of inequity to decide whether a community has more or less vice than its neighbors. It's on a per capita basis, so having a small population (and lots of vice) helps.

FindTheHome says the listing serves two different markets.

One is the person looking to avoid vice, hoping to find a home in a community that mirrors Main Street USA, without all the danged Disney products.

The other is the person looking for a community with a bit of an edge, the type of place where the sidewalks do NOT roll up at 5 pm. The kinda place you read about in books like "Disney Confidential." Without people engaging in hanky panky while wearing chipmunk costumes, of course.

And so the website recently released its findings of each state's community with the most vice.

The same group also recently estimated the communities with the least vice, most of which seemed to be in Utah for what that's worth.

They listed 300 American cities with the least vice. None were from Alaska. Shocking.

As a state, Utah, was the least vice ridden, according to FindTheHome. About the only vice they detected in the Beehive State was the random tattoo parlor. I know I think "vice" when I see a "BYU" tat.

But we, of course, are more interested in the communities with lots of vice.

Oddly enough, neither Brasher Falls, New York nor Cameron, South Carolina make the list despite the fact that both have thoroughfares named Vice Street. Go figure.

Scanning the list you see some oddities. Lake Charles, Louisiana more vice ridden that New Orleans? Quel horreur!

Grants Pass, Oregon is more vice ridden than Portland? Rose City residents apparently too stoned to engage in any other vices.

Saratoga Springs, New York more vice ridden than New York City? I get the gambling, but really? There is more vice in one block of NYC than in all of Upstate. The Big Apple really, really loves its worms.

Olympia more vice ridden than Seattle? Sure, a casino or two. Maybe, they are counting bribery amongst the seven venal vices?

Natch I was puzzled to see "Paradise" Nevada listed above Las Vegas. Until I realized that the area called "Paradise" is actually what we all call The Strip. Get it? Pair-a-dice??? (Lake Mead Rimshot!!)

But even Paradise, Nevada, with its vice index of 11.34 doesn't hold a candleabra to Ketchikan which stands at 15.91. Due almost entirely, according to FindTheHome, to the high number of liquor stores and licenses.

And considering we have about a third as many operating liquor licenses than we did in the 70s and 80s, it's clear that once upon a time, we would have traditionally smoked (the list doesn't account for marijuana purveyors!) everyone.

For those of you playing along at home, the second most vice ridden place in Alaska is Wasilla, third is Fairbanks and fourth is the modern day Puritan-ocracy of Sitka.

As it is, Ketchikan only falls short of one community in America for sheer level of vice.

Atlantic City, New Jersey, has a gambling obsession, and a small population, that brings it in at 17.21.

Well, at least I'm sure we could still out "pest hole" them if we put our minds to it.

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