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How The World Wags

Times change.
By Dave Kiffer

July 24, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - I was reminded of that this week when a gentlemen off a cruise ship gave me a copy of The Alaska Sportsman from 1942. The copy had belonged to his father who had always wanted to visit Alaska but never had. The son - well past retirement age himself - was clearly fulfilling his father's wish.
jpg Dave Kiffer Column

As many of you know, The Alaska Sportsman was published right here in Salmon City for many years before it became "Alaska" magazine and moved first to Anchorage and then Seattle (and then back to Anchorage, sort of).

This particular copy had several Alaskan features (Climbing Mt. St. Elias, the death of Soapy Smith, canoeing into Alaska via the Yukon Territory) which you could probably find if you trolled through enough copies of Alaska magazine. We still want to read about the historic efforts of our forbearers to tame this savage land, even though these days it only seems like a "frontier" around here when People Magazine is a few days late.

Where you really see the "inexorable march of time" is in the advertisements in the old magazine. Granted, the audience of the Sportsman was a little more into hunting , trapping and fishing than the current readership of Alaska magazine. But be that as it may, looking at 60 year old magazine ads is like opening a time capsule from a far different time.

"Join the Mystic and Auroral Order of Alaska Cheechakos," one proclaims. The membership certificate proclaims that the bearer has "tracked a salmon to its den, eaten a totem alive, dug ice worms, dehorned a mosquito and salted the tail of a Kodiak bear."

You could join for only 50 cents and no further additional dues for lifetime membership! No indication whether the fee covered any hospitilization incurred as a result of the bear tail "salting."

On the same page is a little less "breathless" ad from the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce

"Do you enjoy FISHIN?" it shouts and then goes on to describe the various trout you can hook along with the "silver thunderbolt," the king salmon.

"Best of all," it concludes, "no license for sport fishing in this paradise is required."

Times have changed.

In other ads, you could buy western "Frontier-Style" gabardine shirts  and "Genuine Native-Made Miniature Totem Poles." There was a big ad (a lure, get it?) for the "Flatfish: Silly looking but what a (fish) killer!"

There were a remarkable number of advertisements for gun and ammunition, both local and national. The Alaska Sportsman was clearly a big fan of the second amendment. And of course, there were meat processors who would be very happy to take care of your fish or venison when you got back to town.

Your successful bear hunt could be turned into "furs for the Women, trophies for the Men." And "any woman would be delighted with one of these Alaska (genuine totem pole design on the cover!) leather deer skin compacts, designed for carrying loose powder."

I don't suppose that was gun powder, although the right dusting of "Midnight on the Tongass" or "Betcha can in Ketchikan" on the cheek could be "explosive" in its own way.

You also learn a lot of important things, especially from the local advertisements.

For example, The Blue Fox Café is "Alaska's leading restaurant and headquarters for discriminating dancing." I suspect that there should have been a period after discriminating, but maybe they did mean that their dancing was more discriminating than at Ketchikan's other entertainment establishments. Who knows?

The New Laundry and Cleaners in Ketchikan "specializes" in Yacht Laundry. It must have had a pretty potent "spin"-aker cycle.

There were dueling hotel ads on one page. Both the Gilmore and the Ingersoll touted the fact that they were "modern." Since the Ingersoll was a block "south" of the Gilmore it claimed to be Alaska's FIRST hotel as well. That and it was also "fireproof.".

On a different page the Stedman Hotel went for variety as it advertised itself as the Stedman Hotel, the Stedman Restaurant, the Stedman Card Room, the Stedman Liquor Store and the Stedman Totem Room. Talk about full service!

There were also a pair of dueling advertisements for different locate  "that certain someone" clubs. No doubt these were popular with Ketchikan's unhappily unweds. But doesn't the "Cytherea Club" sound just a little less desperate than the "Lonesome Club?"

In general, there was a certain personalization to the ads that you don't often see today, as if the modern merchants don't want to have to really stand by their products by putting their names on them.

"Henry Erwick's Marine Hardware" and "Margaret Curtis' 'Totem Lunch' (Deliciously different)" were both happy to be of service in 1942.

But my favorite ad in the entire magazine was for Herb Coleman. Or more specifically "Herb Coleman, The Flying Dress Salesman" complete with a cartoon of a man waving and flying a float plane. I would love to know more about this interesting character from Ketchikan's mercantile history. Talk about your speedy delivery!

Just imagine. A tailor who obviously made "house (dress) calls."


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

Dave Kiffer ©2005

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