Dolly’s House, a Brothel

One fun historical place to see if you go to Ketchikan is the famous brothel, Dolly’s House.    Thelma Copeland was born in 1888 in Idaho, left home as a teenager and eventually worked her way up to Ketchikan. Having learned early on that she could make more money by serving up more than just food to men in a restaurant she put her ‘people’ skills to good use and set up a thriving business on Creek Street. Thelma started working in The Star, the largest brothel in Ketchikan. She changed her name to Dolly Arthurs. After one and half years she bought a house and set up her own business. It operated from 1919 to 1954 with Dolly being the only girl working there.

In 1919 there were roughly 100 men to every woman in Alaska and the average salary was $1 a day. Dolly bought her house in 1919 for $800 and paid it off in two weeks! She was a busy girl! In 1917 Prohibition came to Alaska and Dolly didn’t like moonshine so she brought in bootleg Canadian whisky and kept one bottle and one glass in a little hide-a-way built into the wall. It was easier to dispose of in the creek if she was raided that way. She charged 50 cent for a half shot and $200 for a full. The charge for three minutes with Dolly was $3 and it was often said of her establishment that you could ‘get hammered and nailed’ at Dolly’s for $5.

Creek Street is the infamous ‘Red Light District’ in Ketchikan. It operated from 1903 to 1954. It’s origins lie in a 1903 city ordinance banishing brothels from the city center to the ‘Indian Town’ area on the east side of the creek and it operated until the brothels were outlawed and shut down in 1954. Numerous houses of prostitution sprang up on this difficult terrain, supported by wooden stilts. Winding behind the houses into the hills behind the houses is Married Man’s Way, a trail used by patrons of the brothels to escape raids. Creek Street is now a tourist shopping district and the only brothel is  Dolly’s House, left as it was and now a museum. Creek Street was put on the National Register of Historical Places in 2014.

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You can see the house is not in very good shape! The siding is missing outside where that sign is hanging. The owners don’t seem to take very good care of it. The guide said it was all original, everything  just like Dolly left it when she moved out and into a nursing home. They have only replaced some wall paper in one area because it was coming off the wall so bad. It was $10 a person to go in and you can roam around all you want and take any pictures or video you want. There was a guide at the front room to tell us a little history of the place and she was dressed in costume. It probably wasn’t worth the $10 dollars, but it was fun and I love ‘going back in time’!

One of the ‘big’ selling points in the tour is the shower curtain in the upstairs bathroom. The flowers on the top of the curtain are made from silk condoms! The guide told a  story about a Frenchman who developed them, named Joseph Condom, thus the name condoms. That is a lot of hooey! You can read the quite interesting history of the condom HERE if you want. No telling what other info the guides told us was really true or made up! Check out the cool, round toilet tank!

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Dolly plied here trade until she was 72! Can you believe that! She did end up lonely in a nursing home, she died just two months before her 88th birthday.

You can check out the ‘men’s restroom’ in this short video I found on Youtube and see her 1910 model vibrator and other paraphernalia in a case in her bedroom on this video by the same man.

I’ll leave you with a lunchtime in Ketchikan shot…



IMG_2569 Ketchikan is Alaska’s First City, the first city along the Inside Passage and our first stop on the cruise. A lovely town, wet though, they get an average of 200 inches of rain a year! Their record rainfall was 202.55 inches in 1949! Can you imagine that much rain!? Their average low in January is 32.6* and high in July 57.5*. In the 2010 census the population was at 8,050 and it is the fifth-most populated town in Alaska. Flat near the harbor the land slowly starts raising up and a lot of homes are built going up the side of a hill or mountain. Everyone parks on the street in front of their house and most of them have several sets of steps up to the house from the road. The houses seemed crowded into each other. We noticed that because it is so wet there the houses and even old cars that haven’t moved in awhile were covered with green algae or something. The roofs of houses had thick moss like growth on them. You would have to be ‘on top’ of that I would think to keep your roof in good condition! I took several pictures of neighborhoods as we walked around outside of the ‘touristy’ area… IMG_2546

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I thought you might find that more interesting than the usual pictures you see in the tourist brochures! The downtown tourist shopping area, we found out quickly, is mostly jewelry stores! Very geared towards the cruise line ships. All of the towns along the Inside Passage were like that. A local jeweler in Skagway told us the cruise lines get kickbacks from the jewelry stores. On board they give a ‘shopping’ event where a gal tells you about all the jewelry stores and which stones are hot right now and gives coupons for free items to get you in. In a tiny town like Ketchikan there were multiple stores of the same brand of jewelers! We were a little disappointed.  We walked the back town streets and observed local life as best we could. Here are the photos from ‘downtown’… IMG_2530


Creek Street




Gilmore building and hotel. built in 1927 oldest hotel in Ketchikan

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We went in a small museum, Tongass Museum. It had some lovely exhibits of Tlingit native clothing and baskets etc. There was also a museum about totem poles which we didn’t go in.


This is all tiny beadwork!


An interesting day in all. They did have one small bookstore, Parnassus Books & Gifts. I picked up a free bookmark, that was all. There is a museum of Dolly’s house, she was the notorious ‘madame’ in town. She willed her house to be shown as a museum and it is just as she left it. It’s in bad repair, water stains on the walls and ceiling, but it was really like walking back in time. There are many personal photos scattered around and some stories the guide told us about. There are so many photos already in this post, I’ll do a post just on Dolly’s House.

I’ll leave you with a picture of a couple of Ketchikan natives!



We made it to Alaska and home again!  Thought I’d start with the pictures of what everyone goes to Alaska to see and that’s Denali, the mountain (formerly Mt. McKinley), and the National Park. Denali means ‘the high one’ in the native Athabaskan language. It fits the mountain so much better than Mt. McKinley! The mountain is amazing! 20,310 ft. high, covered in ice and snow all year.  You can see this mountain a good 200 miles away if the weather conditions are right, they say. On the other hand they also say its usually covered in clouds and if you see a small part of it you are very lucky. Most times you don’t see it at all. We hit the jackpot! As we got closer you could see its peak, but there was cloud cover. By the time we got as close as we were going to go it was completely visible, no clouds! Our guide was ecstatic. She said we were in a very small club of people that get to see it. Made up for the lack of wildlife ;( The only  wildlife we saw was in the wildlife conserve. We did see whale, sea otters and eagles, no bear, moose, dal sheep, muskox, wolves, foxes etc.



Stunning isn’t it? Pictures do not do it justice. Denali is in the Alaska Range. It is the highest mountain on the continent. It is three and 1/2 vertical miles above its base. Making it a mile taller than Mt. Everest! Denali’s base is 2,000 ft. above sea level and Everest’s begins on a 14,000 ft. high plain. So technically Denali is taller than Everest! The north face Wickersham Wall is one of the worlds highest continuous mountain faces and enormous glaciers spider out from its base. You can read more about this mountain and mountain range here.

There is a 92 mile road into Denali National Park. Private vehicles are only to drive in the first 15 miles. Any further and you have to have a group tour taking you in or you can get a shuttle bus that runs on a schedule and drops off and picks up for hiking. There are special permits for hiking and camping. They hold a lottery each June and 1600 names are drawn for September when the road will be open to these people to drive privately. It all depends on the weather how many miles of the road will be open to them to drive. You can read about the lottery here. We were on a tour of course so we went on an old school bus with a naturalist guide who told us interesting things on the drive and we stopped at a couple places. One spot we took a small circular hike and half way in she had some animal skins, horn/antlers and hoofs and did a little talk. It’s quite different from other national parks that way. I guess it’s a good thing for preserving the land and protecting the wildlife. The park is made up of tundra and boreal forest

Here are a few more pictures from inside the park…

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Black Spruce trees. The tops are loaded with pine cones!

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The Visitor’s Center

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