Creek Street, a row of piling-perched buildings in Ketchikan, Alaska, was once an infamous red light district where local men could go for a good time. Today, it’s where tourists go to buy stuffed grizzly bears and smoked salmon.
So when a “prostitute” soliciting $5 tours of Dolly’s House caught our attention, we figured we’d go for it. Sure, a brothel tour sounded gimmicky, but at least it would get us out of the gift shops.
It turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. Not only was Dolly’s House a window into the life of a particularly interesting prostitute, it was also a look into a nearly intact early 20th Century home.
Being from California, I tend to link legal prostitution with the Wild West. But unlike in the rest of the states, brothels operated legally in Alaska until 1953, and Dolly Arthur – the owner and madam of this home – lived here up until she died in the 70s. So everything was surprisingly well-preserved – especially the kitchen. Apparently she was a great cook.
Cooking wasn’t all she was good at. Prostitution was a lucrative business, at least for Dolly, who was able to pay off her mortgage just two weeks after purchasing her home in 1919 – and at just 26 years old.
But what really helped seal her success was timing. Prohibition went into effect just months after she moved in. Men waiting in her parlor could drink all the bootleg liquor they wanted – at 50 cents per teaspoon.
The booze was passed underneath the house at high tide, and received via the trap door in the bottom left of the above photo. To the right is a hidden bar. See the ceramic dog? Despite the seedy nature of her business, Dolly had some pretty tame hobbies. She collected dog statuettes (she loved animals) and books (reading and writing were her passions).
Oh, and she also collected flags.
Maybe most fascinating were the bathrooms. I did not know that round-tanked toilets existed.
But even more bizarre was the downstairs bathroom Dolly had fashioned especially for gentleman callers (because guys should always have their own separate bathroom).
Gotta love the contrast between the dainty wallpaper and the pee-stained metal. But then, contrast was kind of a theme of the tour. On the one hand, you’re peering into a cozy vintage home. On the other hand, you’re paying for a glimpse at a profession that, despite being romanticized, could be pretty gruesome.
Still, it was the best 5 bucks I’ve spent in awhile.