Saturday, June 25, 2011

Skagway Walking Tour

Today was overcast and cool, a perfect day for wandering through Skagway's shops and tourist traps.
  • This is the Arctic Brotherhood building (1899), billed as "the most photographed building in Alaska." The facade consists of 8800 driftwood sticks taken from Skagway Bay, and is called a prime example of "Victorian Rustic Architecture." It is now the Visitor Center.
  • The Golden North Hotel (1898) is now retail stores. The dome, which one would think stemmed from the Russian influence in Alaska, was actually made by a Montana carpenter for the express purpose of providing an easy way to direct visitors to the hotel's location.

  • We saw vanity license plates for sale (my favorite is the last one on the second row):
  • We also passed a lot of very nice jewelry stores. They seemed to either be hawking a deep bluish-purple stone called Tanzanite, or a pearl-like gemstone called Ammolite that picked up a prism of color when the light hit it at the right angle. The stores were geared towards selling quickly -- almost 100% of their customers were from cruise ships and so a customer walking out the door was a sale lost.

    They both played on their exclusivity and the rarity of their product -- the Tanzanite sellers implied that they were the only place to buy the African gem (and an investment gem could be had for only $47,000), and the Ammolite sellers boasted that Ammolite was even rarer than Tanzanite. We bought neither.

  • We saw what can only be described as ornamental rhubarb:
  • We had halibut and fries. Yum!
  • And, finally, we visited the Skagway Cemetery:

    The man who did the most to provide tour guide fodder for Skagway was one Jefferson R. "Soapy" Smith, who became the town's leading con man sometime in the late 19th century. He'd get a crowd together and let them watch him put bills -- from ones to hundreds -- around cakes of soap. He'd then wrap the soap in plain paper and mix them in with non-moneyed soap. The crowd would get frantic, hoping to buy the cake with the money. Those, of course, only went to confederates whose "good fortune" would further stoke the buying frenzy of the crowd.

    He eventually moved up in the ranks of criminals, to running dishonest poker games, high end swindles, protection rackets, and other assorted cons.

    He finally was gunned down on July 8, 1898, when a vigilante group came after him for refusing to return $2700 to a miner he had swindled in a fixed three-card monte game. Both Smith, and a vigilante named Frank Reid, fired simultaneously. Smith was killed instantly; Reid lingered for 12 days and finally died from a bullet to the groin (guys, feel free to grimace here).

    Reid and Smith are both buried in the Skagway Cemetery. The woman at Reid's grave is a tour guide -- we happened to get there just when three tour busses pulled up, so we stayed long enough to hear her presentation.

    This cemetery is also home to the "Largest Nugget," in reality a huge gold-painted rock.
    Good thing they thought to chain this one down!


Anonymous said...

Skagway Cemetary OOOOHHHHH. scary hey... glad you visited the place..thou the Gold Nugget seems SMALL!! the Skagway VC was very Unique Indeedy..Tourisim you gotta love it hey? birdladyd

Sharon Del Rosario said...

Great review of Skagway. Looks like there are two OLDLADY license plates, with an OLDFART between them. Is that a message?