Our large family group sailing on the Holland America Westerdam to Alaska thought it would be nice if we could all get together on at least one shore excursion during the trip. It’s hard to get so many people to agree on one thing though. Ketchikan offered a very inexpensive trolley tour as one of the shore excursion options. It’s definitely easier to get a group of people to agree on something if it’s not too hard on the pocketbook, so 7 out of 9 did sign up before the cruise. The other two didn’t come so we didn’t quite get everyone, but close. Almost everybody also took the Glacier Gardens tour in Juneau, but we never did get an excursion with the entire group.
The trolley tour ran several times throughout the day. We had a mid-range time. Since the ship docked fairly early my sister and I set out to explore the town a bit before the tour. Not much opens in Ketchikan early in the morning even with a couple cruise ships at the dock. We did get to see Creek Street without crowds, though none of the shops had opened yet. We found the furnicular to the hotel overlooking the town from above, with a sign saying it was out of order. We hiked a trail up instead hoping to get a good photo view of the ship, but never found one. The touristy shopping area of Ketchikan only covers a few blocks so it didn’t take long to get back to the ship in time for our tour.
We all grouped up together before boarding the trolley so we could get seats near each other. The trolley driver mentioned the major sites of town like Creek Street and the shopping district and then headed out to Saxman Native Village.
This park is in an area where the natives live. They display their totem poles, each which tells its own story. Low man on the totem pole is an expression from people who don’t know much about totem poles as the bottom of the pole has no less honor than the top. The pole tells a story and the height of it determines its value even if the majority of the pole has nothing carved on it. The story can honor or mock a person or relate a tale of events real or imagined. Some totems are mortuary poles or mark the entrance to a building.
Shaming poles are rare, but this park had one. William Seward, the former Secretary of State responsible for purchasing Alaska from the Russians (known at the time as Seward’s Folly) did some traveling in his later years. When he came for a visit to see the great lands of his Alaskan purchase locals of the Ketchikan area had a potlatch in his honor. In their tradition he should have returned the favor and thrown one for them. When he never returned to do so they repainted the figure of him on top of the pole they had carved of him in a mocking manner so it became a pole of ridicule instead one of respect.
Seward is not the only former politician carved on top a totem pole at Saxman. Abraham Lincoln makes an appearance there as well, with short stubby legs as the totem pole carver had only a photo to go by and it showed him from the knees up. A ship named after Lincoln played a role in a peace treaty, but as the pole can’t be topped by an inanimate object they used Lincoln the man to commemorate the occasion instead.
Another pole there told the story of Kats who left his human wife in the village to marry a bear wife with whom he had a family. When he visited the village to help with a hunt he broke a promise to his bear wife and angered her by looking upon his human wife. When he returned to his bear family his three bear sons devoured him in loyalty to their mother.
The park also had a building where people could watch artists in action carving poles and a gift shop. Some tours even include native dancers in the village clan house.
At the end of the tour the driver gave people the choice of getting off at the ship where we got on, or out at Creek Street to spend some time in town.