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:
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:
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.
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":
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?"
Stories are everywhere.