Totem Bight State Historical Park near Ketchikan, Alaska, ca 1960
Originally there was a Native village or fish camp near Ketchikan, Alaska called Mud Bight but the buildings and totem poles fell into disrepair in the early 1900s as the people left to find work in other communities. In 1938 the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began reconstruction of the site under the direction of Alaskan architect, Linn Forrest. Skilled Native carvers were hired with the older members teaching the younger ones the art of carving totem poles.
The plan was for the U.S. Forest Service to salvage and reconstruct as many of these large cedar monuments as possible. Rotting totem poles were repaired or duplicated. Every attempt was made to copy the originals in a traditional manner right down to using handmade carving tools. Samples of the dye colors made from natural materials like clamshells, lichen, graphite, copper pebbles and salmon eggs were then duplicated with modern paints.
The project slowed down with the advent of World War II but by then 15 totem poles and the community house were in place. The name of the site was then officially changed to Totem Bight. Before statehood in 1959 the 33-acre park was under the management of the federal government after statehood it transferred to the Sate of Alaska. Then in 1970 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
There may not have been a community house, such as the one seen in the center of the postcard, when it was called Mud Bight but such houses, large enough to house 30 to 50 people, were typical in many early 19th century Indian villages. The interior is described as being one large room with a central fireplace. The floor was smooth wood with removable boards so house wares, blankets and treasured items could be stored below. Food was hung from the beams and rafters. Several related families would have lived in such a dwelling with a house chief as the leader. The totem poles reflected the nature that surrounded the people and told stories since there was no written language. Totem Bight is generally thought to be Tlingit but there is also evidence of Haida myths and legends in the carvings.
The postcard was a product of Pacific Northern Airlines which later became Western Airlines in 1967 and then merged with Delta Airlines in 1987. The stamp is a 7 cent airmail stamp. Airmail stamps were used within the United States from 1918 to 1975 and internationally until 1995.
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