February 7, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 5

Festooned phone booth a roadside attraction

There are no pay phones in the Chilkat Valley, but a phone booth at 25 Mile has become a roadside attraction.

Natasha Coleman\'s phone booth at 25 Mile.

Resident Natasha Coleman salvaged an old GTE phone booth two years ago, around the same time Alaska Power and Telephone was disconnecting the town’s last pay phones.

She planted it by the road in front of her recycled-parts cabin and decorates it with holiday themes, and with flowers and flags. “I like phones. I’ve always been fascinated by them. When they were pulling them out of town, I thought, ‘How sad,’” she said.

There’s a real phone in the booth, and others mounted on trees around the property and a collection of antique ones inside. None of them work, however.

Coleman, a school janitor, doesn’t have phone or electric service at her cabin, due to the cost of connecting to utilities along the highway.

That’s been an issue for some motorists who stop at her place, hoping to place a call. They’ve left angry messages on a visitor’s log she has in the booth. But mostly the response she gets to the attraction she calls “The Last Call” is positive. She leaves business cards with her email address inside.

Visitors send her photos they’ve taken at the spot. One that Coleman has posted in the booth shows a team of women riders from the Kluane-Chilkat bicycle relay crammed inside.

“That’s one of my favorites. People from all over the world have signed (the log) or taken a card or emailed me,” Coleman said. They also leave lapel pins or bar tokens from the Lower 48 and overseas.

Coleman, who built her place in 2009, said she grew up with yard art and she realizes some people think her display is over the top. “Luckily, I have a cool boyfriend who helps me with the decoration. He looks at me funny and shakes his head and says al-right-ee. He’s a big help. I make the stuff and he climbs the ladder.”

Coleman decorates the booth for Christmas, Fourth of July, Easter and Valentine’s Day, using generator power to light her displays. This year, at the request of students she sees at work, she’ll also be creating a St. Patrick’s Day scene.

Her favorite is Halloween. Her displays have included headstones, illuminated skulls and bones coming up out of the ground, scary noises and lifelike figures. She once created a ghoulish scene of a body being split by a saw blade, then decided against it. “I work on the elementary side (of the school). The kids think (my displays) are cool, but I don’t want to freak them out too much.”

Coleman and her boyfriend also helped resurrect the “Honeymoon Hotel,” the façade of an old, roadside cabin near 25 Mile that the late Haines businessman Dennis Miles used to prop up. She said she was not responsible for a Christmas tree at 7.5 Mile Haines Highway that for years was decorated anonymously in different holiday themes, but she did add ornaments to it a few times.