Despite COVID fears, Ruth and I decided to experience an Alaskan cruise to explore the Inside Passage, see some receding glaciers, and visit some heretofore unseen towns like Ketchikan. It was lots of fun. In our first port, which was this Alaskan town, we sought to visit several attractions and thoroughly enjoyed our visit to a house of prostitution operated by a woman named Thelma Copeland.
There is lots of fantasy connected with this madam and not much on the internet about her. The following facts seem reliable, and the woman who hosted seemed to really know her subject well. Her name was Karen, and she was dressed like a lady of the night. Ruth wanted her photo as did I. Karen’s a grandmother who obliged us as you can see from the picture above. She had lots of stories to tell us about Thelma, an old fashioned name that happened to be the real name of Ruth’s mother who was absolutely nothing like her Ketchikan counterpart.
Thelma Copeland became a prostitute at the age of 19 and ran a house of ill repute in this Alaskan town until 1954. It was situated among other businesses like it in a neighborhood called Creek Street. This was the actual residence of Thelma Copeland for many years, and it was her idea to turn it into a small museum after an era when Ketchikan had 100 men to one woman. She was said to have a salty tongue and was given to swearing. She was known for her temper and her love for small dogs. She became a diabetic who stood five feet and nine inches tall. She weighed 250 pounds at some point and loved wearing hats. Born in Idaho, she moved to Montana before coming to Ketchikan and putting down deep roots. She never married but had a boyfriend named Lefty for 26 years. He was a longshoreman. She lived to be 88 and died in 1975, 21 years after retiring. Her house is now full of antiques, and she had secret hiding places in closets for concealing illegal liquor. Prostitution was legal but drinking was not, and Dolly became a bootlegger. Her theme was “get hammered and nailed for 5 bucks at Dolly’s”. On display today are her vibrator and several silk condoms hanging from a shower curtain.
In an era in a rough town where the chief of police had his own brothel, Dolly was a well-known resident. There were several unsuccessful attempts to shut her down. Karen is now a respectable grandmother and an affable host in an interesting tourist attraction.