SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska
Column - Commentary

The Key West of Alaska


September 24, 2021
Friday AM

Ketchikan, Alaska -
Ketchikan: We've all seen that "map" that superimposes Alaska over the Lower 48. Ketchikan is near Savannah, Georgia. Point Barrow is somewhere in way northern Minnesota. The Aleutian Islands stretch all the way to California.

jpg  Dave Kiffer

It reminds us, and others, just how big Alaska is. That it is NOT some little place down next to Hawaii, like it is shown on most US maps.

The maps showing Alaska in the little box in the lower left-hand corner have always royally cheesed me off. We come off about the same size as the big island of Hawaii. No wonder Outsiders have the way wrong impression of how big Alaska is ("Can I drive from Ketchikan to Denali and back in one day?").

You even get some pretty strange conclusions. We've all had someone ask us what it is like to live with igloos and polar bears. But I once had someone insist to me that Alaska was a "pretty warm place."

Obviously, my astounded expression gave her pause.

"But, but, but " she stammered. "It's right next to Hawaii."

But, but, but I digress.

Recently, say the last couple of years or so, a new map has started popping up on social media. It shows how 17 other states - of varying sizes - can fit inside Alaska. For example, Indiana covers most of Cook Inlet and the Kenai Peninsula. Alabama and Georgia take up much of the YK Delta. West Virginia covers most of the Fairbanks area and Denali National Park.

Although, truth be told, I think West Virginia is a much better "comp" for the MatSu.

But I digress, again.

Anyway, one thing on the map really got my attention. It was something that had never occurred to me before. Southeast Alaska is roughly the same size as Florida.

Wow. Just wow.

That means that Ketchikan is sort of the Key West of Alaska.

I can't even begin to tell you how happy that makes me.

I love Key West.


Some of you may remember that I pretty much learned how to write by studying all the works - and all the false starts - of Ernest Hemingway. In college, I poured over his manuscripts at the Kennedy Library in Boston. I read virtually everything by him and about him. I even interviewed two of his kids. If I had not ended up with a journalism degree, I would have ended up with an English degree with a concentration on 20th Century American literature. As it was, that was my minor.

If got so bad, that for the longest time, I couldn't write a line of fiction without it sounding like a Hemingway knockoff. And believe me I tried really hard to break that influence. Don't think I ever did.

Anyway, Key West.

Naturally, I spent the better part of one summer there in the mid 1980s, researching several Hemingway manuscripts that had been found in a storage room in one of the bars. I also swam in the Gulf Stream (actually the Florida Current) and imbibed more alcohol than in any other part of my life. It remains one of my fondest memories.

Although Key West is a major tourist destination, it also retains a bit of its funky, working-class underbelly, with a serious hint of artistic weirdness. It is much like Ketchikan. Only the weather is so, so , sooooo much better.

So, the idea that Ketchikan could market itself as the "Key West of Alaska" has merit in my book ("For Whom The Rain Tolls?").

Key West is also known for several attempts in its history to secede from Florida and the rest of the country, because it really doesn't like much of the rest of the world's "politics." (see MatSu above).

Key West has its own flag, printed some of its own money and calls itself "The Conch Republic." Conchs being how the lifers refers to themselves. In some box, somewhere, I have a certificate proclaiming me an "Honorary Conch." Much alcohol was somehow involved in that process.

Cogitating a little (always a dangerous practice) led me to the idea of Ketchikan as "The Stump Republic," as a nod to our logging days, when any new development was joking called "Stump Ranch."

But maybe that isn't quite the right tone.

Although some see "stumps" as a sign of economic development, others would think of stumps negatively. And most "stump ranches" aren't so pretty to look at for the first years until the trees start growing back. Which they always do in these here parts.

On the other hand, what do we "stumps" care about what others think?

We could take a cue from the Irish who believe in "Sinn Fein" which roughly translates to "we ourselves" or sometimes less accurately as  "ourselves alone."

Although here, in the Florida-sized Southeast Alaska, it would probably be something like "Sinn Rain."

But that is a whole 'nother digression.

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

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