Alaska Life

Alaska history Q&A: Suicide Peaks, pipeline movies and a low-tide-only ballpark in Ketchikan

Part of a continuing weekly series on local history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.

Every week readers submit questions, and I try to answer them as best I can. These are some of the most interesting submissions.

How did “Suicide Peaks” get their name? Were these two mountains somehow associated with suicide? Did they have previous names?

The U.S. Geological Survey claims “Suicide Peak(s)” was a local name first documented in 1951 and with an otherwise unknown origin. If the name derived from actual suicides, that information is likely lost to history.

Per the authoritative text on Dena’ina placenames, “Shem Pete’s Alaska,” “Ulchena Tich’qiluct” is “possibly Suicide Peak.” That is, by the time surviving elders were interviewed for the book, they knew there had been a mountain named “Ulchena Tich’qiluct” but were unsure which mountain specifically. “Ulchena Tich’qiluct” translates to “Where we killed Alutiiq People,” a Dena’ina versus Alutiiq battle site.

The name perhaps derives from the skiing and climbing slang, of “suicide runs” and “suicide climbs.” Suicide Six in Vermont, established in 1934, is one of the earliest ski resorts in the United States. According to legend, a ski instructor said, “it would be suicide to ski straight down” the hill known as Hill No. 6.

[The ominous true stories behind Alaska’s bloody and brutal place names]

Did the construction of the Alaska Pipeline inspire any movies?

Two debatably major movies of the 1970s attempted to capitalize on the public interest in the pipeline. I have previously written about the 1976 movie “Pipe Dreams,” singer Gladys Knight’s failed attempt to transition into film. In short, Knight plays a wife who chases her estranged husband north to Alaska, where he found work on the pipeline. They reconcile and have sex in a pipeline section stacked beside a road before leaving Alaska. Murky lighting, an inconsistent plot, amateurish acting and negative reviews doomed the project, which quickly vanished from theaters.

The other pipeline movie is the 1977 adventure film “Joyride.” It starred Anne Lockhart, Desi Arnaz Jr., Robert Carradine and a pre-stardom Melanie Griffith, perhaps each then more famous for their relatives than for their own work. Lockhart, who later starred in the original “Battlestar Galactica,” is the daughter of two-time Emmy winter June Lockhart. Arnaz Jr is the son of “I Love Lucy” stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Carradine is the brother of “Kung Fu” actor David Carradine. And Griffith is the daughter of model and actress Tippi Hedren.

In as much as there is one, the plot aimlessly accompanies the young leads as they abandon California for the chance to make their fortunes in Alaska. What follows are several itinerant jobs, robberies, a kidnapping, a car chase, and killing a bear for food, an inconsequential series of events that ends with an escape into Canada and the chance to do it all again someday. There is also a literal pissing contest.

In one of the few reviews, Richard Dobbins of the Pasadena Star News said the film “contains just enough automotive action to compose an appetizing trailer and just enough gratuitous nudity to get an ‘R’ rating. But the bulk of the film ... is at first moderately affecting, but ultimately downright pointless.” For the brave enough, “Joyride” is available through Amazon Prime.

“Pipe Dreams” was at least filmed in Alaska, primarily at Valdez with excursions to Anchorage and a pipeline construction camp north of Fairbanks. When the movie places the characters in a Valdez dive bar, they are actually in a Valdez dive bar. None of “Joyride” was filmed in Alaska. Most of the shooting occurred outside Seattle, in Roslyn and Granite Falls. Instead of the real pipeline, they used shots of water pipes sitting by a road. One of the producers said, “In the fog last week, it was perfect.” Reasonable people might disagree on that point. Exteriors for the 1990s television show “Northern Exposure” — set in the fictional town of Cicely, Alaska — were also shot in Roslyn.

The Alaska Pipeline also played a role in several television shows, most notably with “Good Times.” In the third season opener from 1975, “A Real Cool Job,” the father, played by John Amos, is offered a $500 (about $2,600 in 2022) a week job in Alaska working on the pipeline. The location is played for laughs, and the father reluctantly turns down the job since he does not want to spend a year away from his family.

What’s the backstory on that house at Ninth Avenue and E Street, on a diagonal from the train engine on the Park Strip?

The most common type of history question sent to me is some form of “what’s that building’s story?” In this case, the questioner was asking about 503 W. Ninth Ave., a former home currently utilized by the well-regarded team of Fringe Hair Design. Per the municipality’s records, it was built in 1950. For most of that decade, the home was shared by schoolteachers and known as the Green House for self-explanatory reasons.

As it was in most of the country at the time, the local expectation was for teachers to be unmarried. A 1945 Anchorage Public Schools teacher contract stated, “The School Board reserves the right to cancel this contract if the teacher enters the matrimonial state prior to, or during the school year.” The one-bathroom home typically housed four single women, often imports from the Lower 48 who spent a year or two in Alaska, married, and moved elsewhere. Per a 1958 Anchorage Daily Times story, a woman who had spent four years there was considered a veteran by her peers, a veritable old-timer.

In 1960, the home was sold and became a commercial property. Over the years, it housed an acupuncturist, accounting firm, travel agency and several beauty salons, including Chateau de Marie, which offered mysterious “Romanian beauty treatments.”

If you could travel back in time, where or when in Alaska history would you go?

This question was one of the more out of the ordinary inquiries I have received. There are countless moments or places in Alaska history that I wish I could visit if only to answer the question of what really happened at that time. Many of those moments and places are mundane and obscure. For example, how bad did the Monkey Wharf, an Anchorage bar with a tank of live monkeys, smell? Or what was shopping like in 1950s Anchorage?

That said, Ketchikan’s first baseball park is the place in Alaska history that I most wish I could see in person. Due to a lack of open, flat land, the field was situated in the tidal flats near the mouth of Ketchikan Creek. That meant it was only available twice a day at low tide. At high tide, home plate could be covered by more than 10 feet of water. A sawmill bordered one side, and the outfield extended into the waterway.

The setting required some unusual ground rules. Before each game, players had to clear the field of debris, the odd branch or gasping fish. Outfielders were expected to wade after balls hit into the water. If the ball carried too far for that, it was a home run. Balls hit into the sawmill area were doubles unless they landed on the kiln, which meant a home run. If a visiting team was late arriving, the game had to be postponed. There was no pitch clock, of course, but the tide meant that there were hard limits on game lengths.

This field was one of the most unique ballparks in American history, if not the most unique. Baseball games have been played in all sorts of makeshift settings, even in other tideflats. In the earliest years of Anchorage, games were sometimes staged on the flats below Potter Marsh. But that was a temporary field. There were no permanent structures, like the grandstand built in Ketchikan in 1909.

There are several surviving pictures and accounts of the Ketchikan ballpark, which was in use from 1903 to 1920. Yet, there are still questions that could only be answered by being at the scene. How did the ball play on that surface? What was it like running the bases or fielding? Did the field favor offense or defense?

• • •

Key sources:

Allen, June. “100 Years of Baseball in Ketchikan!” Sit News, April 26, 2003,

Cox, Rose. “Alumni Recall Green House of 1950s.” Anchorage Daily News, June 16, 2002, B-6.

Dehlin, Mary Ann. “Four Girls Lead Hectic Life in ‘Green House’; They Follow Weekly Work Plan Left by Alumnae.” Anchorage Daily Times, November 13, 1958, 9.

Dobbins, Richard. “‘Joyride’ Pointless, But Stars Show Talent.” [Pasadena] Star News, July 6, 1977.

Kari, James, James A. Fall, and Shem Pete. Shem Pete’s Alaska: The Territory of the Upper Cook Inlet Dena’ina, Revised 2nd ed. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2016.

Morrill, Greg. “How Suicide Six Earned That Name.” Stowe Reporter, January 7, 2016.

“Pipeline Movie Made Outside.” Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, November 19, 1976, 1.

David Reamer

David Reamer is a historian who writes about Anchorage. His peer-reviewed articles include topics as diverse as baseball, housing discrimination, Alaska Jewish history and the English gin craze. He’s a UAA graduate and nerd for research who loves helping people with history questions. He also posts daily Alaska history on Twitter @ANC_Historian.

Sponsored