Saxman or Totem Bight: Which One to Visit?
|the top of a pole at Totem Bight|
Ideally, I think visitors to Ketchikan should see both Saxman and Totem Bight, along with the Totem Heritage Center and the other totem poles around the city. But, if you only have a limited time in my hometown, as most visitors do, which should it be—Saxman or Totem Bight?
Saxman Totem Park and Totem Bight State Historical Park came into being around the same time, back in the '30s and '40s as projects directed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC ran programs with Native American groups in many places around the U.S., and in Southeast Alaska, Tlingit and Haida men went to work on massive monuments exhibiting their artistic and cultural heritage. Many of the poles originally carved over seventy years ago have now been replaced: At Saxman, many of the new versions in the last few decades were carved by Nathan Jackson, while at Totem Bight a few were carved by Kinstaadaal (Israel Shotridge). Both are famous Tlingit carvers, although Jackson has greater national recognition.
|totem at Totem Bight|
displaying the story of
While the CCC was involved at both sites, Saxman was a pre-existing Tlingit community, founded in 1894 by members of the Taant'a Ḵwáan (Tongass People) and Sanyaa Ḵwáan (Cape Fox People) who lived in the area. Totem Bight park, meanwhile, was built at a location next to Mud Bight that did not have any historical settlement, at least as far as anyone knows. Nevertheless, Mud Bight (renamed Totem Bight) would have been a great place for a traditional Tlingit winter village, given its geography.
|new raven pole at Saxman|
|clanhouse at Totem Bight|
One essential difference between the two is ownership, as Saxman Totem Park is managed by the Cape Fox Corporation and the City of Saxman, while Totem Bight is overseen by the Alaska State Park System. Another factor is cost, since Totem Bight is always free to visit (once you get transportation there) while guided tours at Saxman can be around $30 for an adult, or you pay a $5 fee for going in independently. The cruise lines and other companies sell bus tours to both parks, but both are also accessible by means of Ketchikan's borough bus, which charges only a dollar each way, or fifty cents if you're aged between 5 and 12 or over 65. In terms of time and distance, visitors will find it faster to visit Saxman, as it's only two and half miles from downtown Ketchikan, while Totem Bight is about ten miles in the other direction.
|Two Saxman pole tops: Seward on the left, Lincoln (actually the "first white man") on the right.|
|Saxman Totem Park|
|house poles portraying Duktoothl|
inside the Totem Bight clanhouse
|some of the poles at Totem Bight|
Note: All photos in this post are my own, taken in July of 2013. Please correct me if any of the information here is inaccurate or misleading. I depended largely on my general knowledge from growing up and working in Ketchikan in order to write this post. Disclosure: I did work at the Alaska Geographic bookstore at Totem Bight for one summer, which is now just a visitor center.