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June 03, 2006

SKAGWAY

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The Unique Gold Rush Town

Relive the Klondike gold rush as you walk Broadway’s planked board-walks past false-front shops, drift-wood-adorned Arctic Brotherhood Hall, horse-drawn carriages and folks in 1890’s attire. Learn about “Ma” Pullen, Mollie Walsh, and the cribs (huts of ill-repute). Listen to Golden North Hotel ghost stories and quench your thirst at the Red Onion Saloon. Skagway is walk through history.

Think gold – a ton of gold. To get to the heavy metal, head north to Alaska and the Yukon. It’s easy. The reward: 24-pund gold nuggets weighing more than Thanksgiving’s stuffed turkey. Don’t know a gold pan from a bedpan? No matter. It will be the adventure of your life “Ho for the Klondike.”

Let the wild ruckus begin: When the SS Portland docked July 1897 in Seattle with a ton of Klondike gold on board, an estimated 100,000 men and a few stalwart women bolted north, visions of fist-size nuggets dancing in their heads. During the last grand adventure of the 19th century, 20,000 optimistic gold-seekers paddled and steamed up the inside passage, easiest of six routes, landing at the boom-and-bust tent towns of Skagway and Dyea, gateways to the Klondike.

By 1898, Skagway mushroomed from a homestead to Alaska’s largest metropolis. Soapy Smith saga: As Stampeders unloaded the Canadian mounty-mandated year’s worth of supplies – one ton of goods-onto Skagway’s mudflats, 18-foot tides stirred beans, bacon, flour and coffee into an unsavory stew.

Next problem: thieves. The daddy of all Skagway con-men, “soapy” Smith, and his motley crew, fed the hungry, then robbed them in their sleep. In Gold Fever, editor Art Petersen notes there was no honor even among thieves. “Cough up your pile,” one thief told another, “or I’ll blow your specs off.” With 70 bars, a bevy of bordellos and schemers fleecing dreamers, Skagway was “about the roughest place in the world,” said Canadian Mounty Sam Steele, “little better than a hell on earth.” Hell ended July 8, 1898, when surveyor Frank Reid, another character of dubious morals, put a bullet in Smith’s heart just as Smith shot Reid in the groin. Both now rest in Skagway’s Cemetery.

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Posted by Denise at June 3, 2006 10:07 AM

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