Book Review: Clams on the Beach and Deer in the Woods

Taking its title from the phrase best describing the “good ‘ol days” in Ketchikan, Clams on the Beach and Deer in the Woods is a collection of 19 oral histories originally collected in the early 1990s and published in 1999.

The stories mostly cover Ketchikan and its surrounding area from about 1900 through the Second World War with a few stories going up into the 1950s and 1960s. This book will be valuable for anyone looking for first person insights about what it was like to grow up mostly self-reliant in Southeast Alaska in the early part of the last century.

All of the stories are both informative and entertaining. Some cover trapping, homesteading, fishing, others cannery work, and a few cover retail work. Some mention Ketchikan’s red light district and several have anecdotes from World War II. One story (Inga Hanson Brinck) denounces the Sears stores of the early 1900s in terms one might hear of Wal-Mart today, “Sears, they’re no good, absolutely no good. They take all the business out of town, and they hurt all the small people, and they’re absolutely no good.” There’s even a memory of a Soviet spy (Del Richardson)!

One touch about this book I especially appreciate is that with few exceptions, the compilers chose to use current photos of their subjects at the beginning of each chapter. Looking at the faces of these elders reminds me that the most unlikely seeming people might have lived out some fantastic story and that I mustn’t dismiss them out of hand. Thanks for the needed reminder.

The following individuals were interviewed to make this book:

  • Stanley Bishop
  • Inga Hanson Brinck
  • Patricia Charles
  • Torlief Dale
  • Hilda Durbin
  • Ken Eichner
  • Bob Gore
  • Marie Henn
  • Ralph “Scooty” Homan
  • Merta Kiffer
  • Herman Ludwigsen
  • Conrad Mather
  • Margaret Griffin McCombs
  • Del Richardson
  • Maxine Robertson
  • Bob Roppel
  • William Stensland
  • Josephine Stack Welfare
  • Emma Williams

My huge thanks to the publisher of this book, the Friends of the Ketchikan Public Library, for sharing these stories with us. tags: AlaskanLibrarian:BookReviews

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