Ketchikan is home to plenty of supernatural phenomena. That’s the theory, at least, behind a new venture: Ketchikan Ghost Tours.
“Do you ever feel like someone is watching you?”
On a dark and misty night, ghost-tour guide Kelli Klees leads about a dozen people to some of downtown Ketchikan’s haunted spaces. We start on Creek Street, the city’s historic and rather shady red light district built along the shores of Ketchikan Creek.
Klees explains that in its heyday, Creek Street boasted more than 30 brothels. And this was during prohibition. So, many of the houses had trap doors to bring in bootlegged liquor for their male clientele.
“A lot of those men also found themselves being thrown out of those trap doors,” she said. “So part of the history of this creek is there were an awful lot of dead salmon and dead bodies.”
Klees says when she first arrived in Ketchikan, she was warned to never walk on Creek Street alone at night. She didn’t heed that warning.
“I’m from Chicago, I’ve got a knife, we’re fine,” she said, recalling her reaction at the time. “So, I proceeded to walk down Creek Street alone at night one night and I’ve never been more scared in my life. Because there were about three different people that came out of nowhere. They might as well have gone, ‘Boo!’ There’s shadows everywhere; there’s a weird energy happening in this place.”
For example, Klees says there are reports of ghostly shadows and noises inside Dolly’s House. That Creek Street home, now a private museum, belonged to Dolly Arthur, Ketchikan’s most well-known sporting woman.
Other former brothels on the creek, now shops, reportedly are home to ghosts that move displays around during the night.
As we walk along the boardwalk, a light suddenly flickers.
“Ghost,” Klees says. “Light just came on. Ghost.”
Or, maybe, a motion-activated security light?
“You gotta open up your imagination on a night like this,” she said. “What’s real? What’s not? What’s ghosts? What’s automated lights? You never know.”
The ghost tour is the brainchild of Diane Fast, a musician who recently moved to Ketchikan. She says she had taken ghost tours in other cities, and always had fun.
“I just noticed how many people enjoy ghost tours,” she said. “And I enjoy them myself and I was like, ‘Wow, you could totally do one here.’ And that spawned the idea for an entire walking tour company.”
Some of the other walking tours Fast offered over the summer got more interest from tourists. But the ghost tour appealed mostly to local residents. And that’s who was on the tour with Klees.
The next stop after Creek Street is Ketchikan’s original hospital, next to the Episcopalian church on Mission Street. That 100-plus-year-old building was vacant for a long time and fell into disrepair, but now is under renovation by Historic Ketchikan.
Klees says people don’t like to go upstairs alone.
As Klees finishes up her story about the old hospital, a woman on the tour tells her own story about the former Bon Marche building across the street, where she worked in the late 1990s.
She didn’t want to give her name, but said it was OK to use the story.
“(A) couple of us would work after hours and would hear kids running,” she said. “More than once, we came upstairs — because we worked belowground. More than once, we came upstairs trying to see who got into the building. To the point where nobody worked after hours by themselves.”
Another stop for a future ghost tour.
Fast says she’s not absolutely sure ghosts are real, but she is sure there are things in the world that we don’t or can’t understand.
“I’ve had experiences that I can’t really quite explain,” she said. “I don’t know what it is, but I don’t know what it isn’t. I don’t claim to know if it’s an actual person that’s haunting a place or just residual energy like when you take a Polaroid photograph. I have no idea. But it’s fascinating and people are interested in it.”
One of the last stops on the ghost tour is the Gilmore Hotel, where there are reports of actual ghostly people. Klees says a man in a top hat and a woman make regular appearances, not at the same time.
“This top-hat man is apparently pretty friendly, but likes to creep people out in one specific room. I believe it’s 208,” she said. “He just sits there very peacefully. There’s another woman who sits in a chair very peacefully.”
Klees says it’s not clear who the Gilmore ghosts were. They’re in good company, though, with all the other ghosts haunting Alaska’s First City.