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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Ketchikan in Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Alaska — The American West (Northwest)
 

Creek Street

‘Cat’houses & Sporting Women

 
 
Creek Street Marker image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, June 1, 2010
1. Creek Street Marker
Inscription. Ketchikan’s notorious Creek Street, early Alaska’s most infamous red-light district, still retains traces of the gaudy rouge of a half-century of speakeasies and sporting women. Here the fame of Black Mary, Thelma Baker and Dolly Arthur outlived the turnover of many of the girls with “stage” names such as Frenchie, Prairie Chicken, Deep Water Mary and Dirty Neck Maxine. The glow of their porch light globes—inscribed with their names—lured the crews of the North Pacific halibut and salmon fleets like rows of beacons in the night. The bold sailors swaggered across the Creek Street footbridge near the Star dance hall; others more timid slunk to the Creek behind the screen of brush on the hillside “Married Men’s Trail.”

Alaska’s First City northbound was transportation and supply hub first for mining, then fishing and later to timber industries. Ketchikan’s male-worker populations sometimes seemed to match its local census and prostitution flourished for more than 50 years. And then, in 1954, it was banished.

City Council planted the Creek’s red-light roots with a 1903 formal edict ordering all bawdy houses moved to a single location in the Creek Street area. Ramshackle sporting houses built upon pilings sprang up on both sides of the creek. Fourteen operated in
Dolly's House - open for tours. image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, May 30, 2010
2. Dolly's House - open for tours.
1914; in 1920, 31 “female boarders” occupied 21 houses, and after World War II some 33 houses were listed. Starting upstream, numbers ran No. 1 to No. 24 with exceptions like unlucky No. 13, dubbed simply— “The End.” Houses burned or collapsed over the years and some were replaced. Several abatement efforts closed the Creek for brief periods in the 'teens and '20s. With great irony, final closure came in 1954 after a lengthy federal grand jury investigation exposed police graft and city tolerance. There are people still angry to this day over the closure that put 22 girls and 18 houses out of business.

It was a bazaar of red-light vice for half a century, but Creek Street also served as a clearinghouse, news and job center for the fishing fleet. After weeks on the fishing grounds, fishermen appreciated Creek Street parlor as places for socializing and after-hours drinks as much as for the favors of the girls. Nonetheless, the district’s by-products of scandal, mayhem and occasional corpses joining empty hootch bottles floating downstream indelibly assured its sordid far-flung reputation. Today, no longer “Uncle Sam’s Wickedest City,” shades of Ketchikan’s Creek Street past still trod the wet boardwalk in the damp night air.

(sidebar)
No. 5 – “The Star”
More than two “female
Creek Street "Dolly's" in 1995 image. Click for full size.
By Mike Stroud, July 6, 1995
3. Creek Street "Dolly's" in 1995
boarders”
constituted a house of prostitution under Territorial Alaska law, so most Creek Street ladies lived in pairs or alone. The exception was No. 5, the Star Dance Hall. Two stories, 12 rooms, with live music and dance partners for various types of entertainment, the Star’s operation was allowed via larger “protection” payments. A five-pointed darkwood star inlay still graces the old dance floor of the “nice” establishment. Its famous proprietors were “Black Mary” Thomas who bought it in 1917 and her successor Thelma Baker, who took over in 1924. Black Mary died not long after, in a rocking chair in her nearby home, counting her money. Thelma died in a fire in the Star in 1972, 18 years after the Creek was closed. The gutted Star remained boarded up until 1991 when it was restored.

(sidebar)
“I liked it here because the men came in bunches.”

Thelma Dolly Copeland —whose “stage” name became Dolly Arthur—was born in 1888 near McCall, Idaho, but fled west at age 13 to escape a troubled family life. By age 18 she found selling her favors more lucrative that waiting tables. In 1914, after plying her trade in Spokane, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., she scouted Alaska for a new location, bypassing the cribs of Juneau and settling on Ketchikan’s sporting atmosphere.
Creek Street . image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, May 30, 2010
4. Creek Street .
Dolly preferred to work alone. She neither smoked nor drank but could swear with a knack when tested. Neither proud nor ashamed of her profession, she wanted the money that bought her “chippie” lovers, devoted pets and travel. After a stint at Black Mary’s Star dance hall, she bought her own sporting house in 1919 at No. 24 Creek Street, which she still owned at her death in 1975. Her last words: “I’m going on a long trip...”
 
Erected by State of Alaska Division of Tourism & Historic Ketchikan, Inc.
 
Location. 55° 20.478′ N, 131° 38.475′ W. Marker is in Ketchikan, Alaska, in Ketchikan Gateway Borough. Marker is at the intersection of Creek Street and Stedman Street (Alaska Route 7) on Creek Street. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Ketchikan AK 99901, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 2 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Chief Johnson Totem Pole (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Chief Kyan Totem Pole (about 600 feet away).
 
More about this marker. On top of the panel are period photos of Creek Street with the caption, "Viewing NE from Dolly's No. 24.-Circa Late 1920s". In the middle are photos of "The Star" and "Thelma Dolly Copeland".
Creek Street, where both fish and men go upstream to spawn. image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, May 30, 2010
5. Creek Street, where both fish and men go upstream to spawn.
On the lower right is an advertisement with the caption, "This advertising flyer hit Ketchikan streets early in WWII, prior to USCG-pressured closure in the interest of National Defense." On the lower left is a photo of "Miss Violet and friends waiting for company..." Photos courtesy of the Tongass Historical Society, Rainforest Publishing, and Creek Street Historic Properties, Inc.
 
Also see . . .
1. Historic Ketchikan. (Submitted on May 23, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.)
2. Creek Street Ketchikan Alaska. Experience Ketchikan website (Submitted on May 23, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.) 
 
Categories. EntertainmentIndustry & Commerce
 
Star Dance Hall. image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, June 1, 2010
6. Star Dance Hall.
The Married Man's Trail image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, May 30, 2010
7. The Married Man's Trail
Creek Street image. Click for full size.
By Mike Stroud, July 6, 1995
8. Creek Street
Creek Street image. Click for full size.
By Mike Stroud, July 6, 1995
9. Creek Street
 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California. This page has been viewed 776 times since then and 4 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on , by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California.   3. submitted on , by Mike Stroud of Bluffton, South Carolina.   4, 5, 6, 7. submitted on , by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California.   8, 9. submitted on , by Mike Stroud of Bluffton, South Carolina. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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