Sitnews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


A Ketchikan 'Character'
By June Allen


April 4, 2002
Thursday - 3:35 pm

Ketchikan has always had its share of 'characters,' but I think it's safe to say that Ketchikan's characters from the past have a certain resonance, a kind of fascination, perhaps a dollop of class so that they stand out among characters from other places in Alaska. Some never had their names in the paper except maybe in the police report or in an obituary, but they had their own sort of renown.

One character who stands out in memory of the 1950s and 1960s is Howard Gallagher. It's certain that present Gateway Borough Assemblyman Dick Burton would remember him. Burton was a State Trooper back in the '60s when the Trooper office was located in part of the present First City Saloon building. City policeman from that era, who are still in Ketchikan, will remember him, too. Count on it.

Howard Gallagher. The name sounds like an Irishman, doesn't it? But this Howard was an Aleut, a little man no taller than five-foot-three and maybe 130 pounds. But he was strong as an ox and worked on the docks as a longshoreman, when he wasn't in jail. The Japanese ships were in port regularly in those days, picking up loads of cants from the Spruce Mill, and Howard collected Japanese yen from the sailors.

Howard always wore heavy sweaters, a wool cap and a smile so warm and big that it covered the whole lower half of his face. I 'met' him one day when I was working at the newspaper and was assigned to cover the bidding for halibut in the old Fish Exchange building located on what is now the concrete dock, behind the present Tongass dock store. I was leaving the Fish Exchange to return to Front Street when I dropped the steno pad I always carried to make notes. Howard Gallagher was, at that moment, coming toward me from Ryus float. I was juggling my purse and pencil when I saw that this little man was gallantly bending down to retrieve my notepad.

As his body bent far enough forward for his hand to reach the notepad on the wet dock, a stream of red liquid came pouring through the knit of his sweater, chest high, and splashed on the dock! He straightened up and handed me my notepad with a little bow and that huge smile that actually reached up so far it closed his eyes. Howard, you see, was not the least bit ashamed that he kept an open bottle of wine tucked in the waistband of his pants so he could take a swig when he thought no one was looking.

But sometimes someone was looking and reported him, back in the days when simply being drunk in public was a crime. Howard, I suspect, was always drunk. And as a result of Howard's being reported lies Howard's claim to fame. Policemen would roll their eyes and groan when they caught a dispatch to pick him up. It took at least two and better yet three officers to subdue that little man and get him to jail.

Howard was a fighter! He was so short that his flailing fists and booted feet were in a position to inflict serious pain to the lower half of taller men. But there's more. Once Howard was safely subdued and due to come up in court the next morning, the lobbying started! The troopers, city police and the fire department all wanted Howard on community service release. What a worker he was! He could clean, wash, and polish those police cars better than anyone. He was often seen laying out the fire department hose next to the curb up the length of Main Street, so the hose could drain. Howard also a man who knew what a broom and mop and polish rag were for.

Then one morning when I was covering magistrate's morning court there was Howard, being nudged to stand up when his name was called. Howard was deaf as a post. The late Doris Volzke, then the clerk of the court, walked over and handed him the hearing aid that would allow him to hear the proceedings against him. Howard gave her that famous smile, put the earpiece in his ear and looked expectantly to Magistrate Rick Lauber. The District Attorney, the late Dick Whittaker, tried to hid a smile behind his mustache. Howard just loved his day in court, and that hearing aid.

As he was later escorted out of the courtroom he saw me and gave me the smile. I learned that Howard died in 1970, when I was living in another Alaska city. I don't remember the cause of his death. I just hope someone smiled at him when he reached his afterlife destination.

He is buried in Bayview Cemetery, an apostrophized "Kodiak" written as a middle name in city cemetery records. Howard is buried in a plot that has ladies buried on either side of him. I think he'd like that. Howard Gallagher was always a gentleman.



E-mail June...
--Contact June...


Post a Comment -------View Comments

Submit an Opinion - Letter

Stories In The News


Copyright © 2002 June Allen
All rights reserved.
Not to be reprinted in any form without the written permission of June Allen.