Old Kasaan Totem Pole, Steamship Spokane, Alaska August 25 1908
In the early 20th century, tourists to Alaska enjoyed luxury trips on board ships like the Pacific Coast Steamship company’s Spokane.
A popular destination was the one noted on this 1908 menu –the village of Old Kasaan, a Haida Indian settlement about 30 miles west of Ketchikan in southeastern Alaska.
Spread over 38 acres, the village had once been a thriving community, noted for its 69 totem poles. The most precious totems stood outside the home of the village’s Chief Skowal, a fierce and uncompromising village elder who despised missionaries and other white incomers.
He died in 1882 and his followers remained at the settlement until 1904 when the entire village decamped to a settlement on the southwest coast – named New Kasaan –attracted by the offer of jobs and accommodation at a salmon packing plant.
The villagers left everything behind, including the totem poles. One 40-foot totem was topped by a flying groundhog. There was a frog totem, a bear totem and one with a thunderbird figure on top.
This would have been the sight that greeted visitors from the SS Spokane in 1908.
Sadly, a fire swept through the abandoned village in 1915 and burned many of the vacant houses and destroyed or damaged many of the totem poles.
Though Old Kasaan was briefly proclaimed a National Monument, and five of the totems were removed to a different site to preserve them, the remote location of the settlement proved difficult to manage.
The US Forest Service administers it today as part of the 17 million acre Tongass National Forest but all that is left of Old Kasaan are a few charred buildings.
This colorful die-cut menu shows one of the totem poles - on the back is the sumptuous lunch served to passengers.
Courtesy Private Collection.
Each print is accompanied by a copy of the interior menu where available.
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