Flashback Episode Part III
After hiking the Chilkoot Trail, I stayed at a B&B in Dyea and explored the Skagway area for a few days and took in the July 4th celebrations.
Skagway is a peculiar, little town. In many ways, it is two towns in one. The downtown, historic Skagway is now mainly tourists shops all owned by the large tour companies like Princess and Holland-America. The old buildings still stand, but for the most part, they no longer house the businesses they were intended for. Call me sentimental, but I’d rather see hardware sold in the old hardware store, instead of knick-knacks and t-shirts with a picture of a giant mosquito and the words “Alaska’s State Bird”.
Just outside of the core town, the legitimate businesses lie. By that, I respectfully mean, the ones that the locals use in their daily lives. I’m sure some swing by the Red Onion for a beer and a meal from time to time, and I am also sure there are a few other worthwhile businesses that escaped my tour, but for the most part I don’t see the locals buying too many made in China, Alaskan license plates with their name stamped on it.
Skagway made me think of the old company town, that had another town grow up right next door… one that supplied all the items that the company town couldn’t or wouldn’t supply. I started to think of Alaska Skagway and Tourist Skagway as modern day versions of what Kennecott and McCarthy might have been like back in the day.
As I walked around Skagway, I ran into the Crazy Eights doing laundry at the laundromat. We agreed to meet up at a bar/restaurant right in the middle of Tourist Central. At the time, the town was pretty quiet, and getting around was rather easy.
When we were eating and drinking, the bartender came up to us and asked if there was anything else we needed ASAP. He explained that the cruise ship was due to dock soon, and the place would be so busy that it would be best to get any order in now. We saw the logic in this and doubled down on the beers.
I had never seen anything like the sight after the cruise ship docked. A tsunami of people came upon the town. It really was a wall of people coming up the main street. Suddenly, there wasn’t any available space in the bar, and true to his word, we only caught a glimpse here and there of the bartender. It was pure mayhem.
A few hours later, the crowds disappeared just as fast as they arrived. A couple of toots of the ship’s horn, and the town was eerily silent. Crazy to deal with that on a regular basis.
I ventured out to the Skagway Gold Rush Cemetery just a little ways outside of town. The notorious Soapy Smith is buried out there, as well as Frank Reid. Both men were fatally wounded in a shootout on Juneau Wharf in Skagway. I spotted Soapy’s grave first, then followed the trails that weave throughout the cemetery. At one point, I ran into a group of tourists who had not been able to find Smith’s grave. I found that odd, because they had just passed it, but I directed them anyway. One woman argued with me, because none of the graves had the name of “Soapy”. I explained that his first name was Jefferson, and the woman actually called me “daft”. “Everyone knows his name was Soapy,” she exclaimed to what was probably her husband. I mean seriously, outside of Hollywood, who would name their child Soapy?
Interestingly, Soapy Smith has had five grave markers since his death in 1898. The first one was believed to have been stolen soon after 1901, and has not been seen since. The second, placed around 1908 was the victim of endless graffiti. It seems to have been in place at the time of the 1919 flood, which carried Jefferson Smith’s corpse out to sea. The second marker was taken to a Skagway museum until 1947, then handed down within the museum owner’s family, eventually auctioned off, and is currently in the possession of Jeff Davis, Soapy’s great grandson. The third marker, a marble headstone, was put up in 1927. Due to vandalism and gun practice, it was eventually encased in a wire cage. It was finally blown up with dynamite in the 1950’s. The forth marker seems to have simply passed on from old age. The fifth marker, installed in 1997, is a reproduction of the second marker, and still stands at the psuedo grave site.
As I was driving back towards Whitehorse, I saw the Crazy Eights one last time. They had stopped alongside the highway to take pictures, and I pulled up alongside in the ’74 Bronco. They were quite vocal on my driving such an old vehicle, and could not get over the fact that it had canvas doors. I reminded them that I had also installed the rear heater out of a Suburban, but that did nothing to quell the histeria. We shook hands one last time, and I left them to their sightseeing, as I traveled into an increasingly smokey countryside.