Thursday, January 19, 2017

ALASKA! SKAGWAY AND THE GOLD RUSH CEMETERY

Our next cruise destination was the booming metropolis of Skagway, population 1,000 in the winter, which grows to 2,000 in the summer to serve the 900,000 tourists who come through town.

The rocky hill across from the dock is covered with all kinds of interesting graffiti:


Some of it looks like ads for local enterprises:


My favorite was this little poem: "I've seen shops and mountains, and roads that are pretty, / But now I must return to my own home city. / When I get there I'll tell them all,  "Skagway is GREAT." / I know 'cause I've been there in '78." Top-notch poetry, right?

The Man in the Purple Coat and the official signage:

This photo pretty much sums up Skagway--lots of kitschy tourist shops:

We picked up a rental car and headed northeast, deep into the Yukon. (See my next post for details.) 

When we got back, we had just enough time to explore the Klondike Gold Rush Cemetery, which is about 10 miles outside Skagway.  I am fascinated by cemeteries and their promise of so  many stories. If only graves could talk . . . 
Other than the members of two families, all the burials occurred here in one decade: 1898 to 1908. Of the 133 graves that have been located, 60 have been identified.

The Gold Rush Cemetery has a lovely setting on a wooded hillside . . .
 . . . and next to the bay:

From 1896-1899, about 100,000 prospectors made their way to the Klondike region of northwest Canada, just east of the Alaskan border. Only about 30,000 of these actually made it to the gold fields. Women comprised eight percent of the population. Skagway was one of the portals to the Klondike. Winters in this area are long and harsh, and the mining itself was very difficult. Only a handful of prospectors actually became rich.

Some of those who died were buried in local cemeteries like this one rather than being shipped back to their home state. I'm guessing that this particular guy found a REALLY big gold nugget and thought he might take it with him to heaven. Too bad it is staked to a nearby tree:
His name is Martin Itjen (1870-1942). He and his wife Lucy (1864-1946) are two of the few buried here who died after 1908. (See their headstones  below.) They were part of the Klondike Gold Rush. When Martin didn't get rich from prospecting, he became an undertaker, and when business slowed down he converted an old Ford into a tour bus and put a mechanical bear in the front seat whose movements he could control with a foot pedal. He became the premiere tour guide in Skagway and was no doubt responsible for much of the tourism at the time. Later, he also became the caretaker of this very cemetery. This painted rock was the closest he came to striking it rich in the Klondike.

See? Some of the best stories can be discovered in cemeteries.

I wish I knew the stories of all these graves. These belong to the other couple who died after 1908: Nellie Susan Mulvihill (1874-1919) and William John Mulvihill (1872-1949):

The stone on the left reads "Ida, Wife of Charles Olsen, Born July 5, 1889, Died June 24, 1908. R.I.P."  The stone on the right reads: "James Meehan, Died Dec. 14, 1907, Age 42 Yrs."
 

I love this fern-adorned stone with the engraving "Mother, Annie Moulton Cameron, Born Battle Creek, Mich., July 4 1860. Died: Skagway, Alaska, June 21, 1908."  Some quick research revealed that Annie died of a pelvic abscess. I don't know what that is, but it sounds horrible, especially in Skagway in 1908.


"Clara Amelia Patton, Born May 19, 1875, Died Dec. 13, 1904." Only 29 years old. Someone loved her enough to surround her grave with this picturesque--if somewhat run-down--fence:

Jefferson R. "Soapy" Smith has an unpretentious marker, but he's one of the most famous residents of this slumbering hotel. He was a con artist, a saloon owner, and the crime boss of Skagway. He earned his nickname because of a trick he played in Denver where he would set up a display selling bars of soap on a busy street corner. As a crowd gathered, he would wrap a few of the bars in paper money ranging from $1 to $100, then wrap all the bars in plain paper to disguise which ones were wrapped in money. The crowds lined up to pay $1 for a bar of soap. Of course Soapy Smith used sleight of hand to remove the moneyed bars, and of course he had a plant in the audience who "bought" a money-wrapped bar and shouted excitedly, waving his prize for all to see. Soapy was clearly perfect material for the Klondike Gold Rush, and when he got to Skagway in 1897, one of the first things he did was put the marshals on his payroll. He died the next year in a shootout after cheating a prospector out of a sack of gold. Crime just doesn't pay--at least, not forever.

Frank Reid, one of the men shooting AT Soapy, got a much nicer resting spot. Judging by the inequity in grave markers, I think there were just a few hard feelings towards Soapy, don't you?

As in any cemetery, the graves of the children are the hardest to think about. These two markers are for "Child McIntyre died March 2, 1898, Age 10 yrs" and "Frances C. Blanchard, age two years":


There is a great recounting of James Mark Rowan's life and death on this website, but just the thought of a woman giving birth to her first child and losing her husband on the same day, as noted on Rowan's grave marker, is enough to make me cry:

Or how about the epitaph on the monument to someone's sister named Mrs. Carolina Hilly, born in Germany on Apr. 1, 1854, and died in Skagway on Sept 15, 1906: "Could she too soon escape this world of pain, or could eternal life too soon begin?"

The light was waning rapidly, creating an appropriately eerie atmosphere in the Gold Rush Cemetery. This photo could be the illustration for a horror story by Edgar Allen Poe--or even by Stephen King:

Stories are everywhere.

3 comments:

  1. Great post. Love the Stephen King photos and tie-in and all of the personal stories from the past. When we visited you were ready to leave much quicker than I'd expected. I thought you were disappointed in it. Now this. You never cease to amaze me. Thanks for being such a great travel companion!

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    1. It was almost completely dark when we left. Many of my photos were completely black, and I only discovered the great pictures when I lightened them. I do love cemeteries, but this one in the dark WAS just a bit creepy!

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  2. I remember visiting this cemetery when we were in Skagway. I, too, like to imagine the stories of people who died before their time.

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