The Singles Bulletin Board


Note: Paperback includes map, Kindle digital version does not, suggest getting map below.


In the 1950s, the only outside contact for 19 isolated native and Eskimo villages along the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands, was the 114 foot mailboat Expansion, which made regular round trips from Seward, skippered by owner Neils “Cap” Thomsen, one of those entrepreneurs Alaska seems to attract. One of the first things “Cap” noticed on his trips was how some native villages seemed to have a lot of single young men, while another, just forty or fifty miles away, single women. But owing to their isolation, neither group of singles was aware of the others.

“So I bought a Polaroid camera, and started taking pictures of the unmarried natives. I’d write their names and towns on them like: ‘Nina Poplook from Gambrel Bay,’ etc. I put the pictures on two bulletin boards, one for men, the other for women. Pretty soon after that the word got around, and as soon as we’d come around some point to enter some harbor where a native Captain Thomsen with iced up ship.village was, the singles would be jumping into their boats and paddling out to the Expansion as fast as they could to meet us even before we got the anchor down. They’d come right aboard and head for the singles bulletin boards. And back in those days to get legally married, you had to go all the way east to Cold Bay, a long way, even today. So I got a Justice of the Peace license so that I could marry them right on the boat.”

In the summer “Cap” would advertise for bird watchers to come with him out to see the Aleutians and its abundant birdlife. His brochure should have also read: “And help the Captain work on his floating processor,” as trips would usually include a two or three day stay in Dutch Harbor so that “Cap” could do a little scraping and painting on his crab processor. When king crabbing started to get big, he bought and processed crab, riding that boom, eventually selling out to buy a small resort hotel in the Carbibbean.

Photos: icing was a frequent problem on winter mailboat voyages as you can see from these photographs. In extreme conditions vessels could become top-heavy with ice and capsize, unless the crew could knock the ice off. Author’s collection

These are Eskimo ‘shoppers’ aboard a trading vessel like the Expansion, probably around 1920. Vessels would load up in Seattle with supplies like rifles, ammunition, kerosene, sewing supplies, etc. and travel to remote native and Eskimo villages. Natives like this group of Eskimo gals would come aboard, usually bringing ivory and furs to trade for supplies. UW 1762