Monday, June 10, 2013



Along with the big cities like Juneau, Anchorage and Sitka, many cruise include calls at some of the smaller, yet more colorful, ports in Alaska. The town of Skagway is one of them.


This vintage frontier town, with its wooden sidewalks, false-fronted buildings and unpaved main street, recalls a time when a thimbleful of gold dust discovered in the Klondike sparked an invasion of greed that sent the population from 2 to 10,000 in one year.  

During the Gold Rush, Skagway had as many as 80 saloons at one time.  It was known as the "roughest town on earth".   The crusty lot of prospectors ultimately moved on, (today's population is less than 1000) but they left behind their colorful town and a host of tales that bring a blush to even the most sophisticated face. 
Skagway's most exclusive house of ill-repute was once atop the Red Onion Saloon. 


It then became a brothel museum which has now been moved to an ersatz Gold Rush Trail Camp just outside the city. Bus tours will take you to this trail camp called Liarsville which has been recreated exactly where it stood a century ago. 


Music will beckon you to the Liarsville Hippodrome where the madam tells tales of the notorious Red Onion Saloon and a "sourdough" (a native or one who has survived an Alaskan winter) lays out some of the best Robert Service poetry in the North.  


By the time you leave, you'll know more about gold panning than most of the Stampeders.  You'll even get a chance to pan for gold and you can keep whatever gold you find.


Back in town, you can relive the Gold Rush days in the Klondike spirit served up at the Red Onion Saloon.  The folks at the Red Onion thoughtfully remind guests not to "Timber the Bell".  A sign reads: "He who rings the bell in jest, buys a drink for all the rest".  


The Golden North Hotel, Alaska's oldest operating hotel, has a history as rich as Skagway's own.  The hotel was built in 1898 during the Gold rush, and served as a "first class hotel for a unique clientele of gold miners, business opportunists and argonauts."Originally the two story domed building was located at Third Avenue & State Street.  In 1908, it was moved to its present location (third Avenue & Broadway) by one man and a horse using a capstan.

Originally established in 1897, the ads for the Skagway Brewing Company, serving thirsty prospectors, touted "turning out a superior article of Beer".  Its Blue Top Porter and Red Star Amber were "absolutely unexcelled".  Though the brewery was forced out of business during prohibition, it has now been re-established several times.

Lunch at the Skagway Brewing Company must include Alaskan Halibut (halibut is the fish of Skagway) and a bowl of Brewhouse Chili simmered to perfection with their hand-crafted ale..  The latter should be washed down with a dark robust Blue Top Porter, the local favorite.

The folktale of Soapy Smith, the legendary con man of Skagway, has been told in books, poetry and musical comedy for nigh on  a century in Skagway.  Soapy Smith is buried just outside the boundary line of the Gold Rush Cemetery.  Being the con man that he was, the honorable citizens would not allow him inside their cemetery.  Soapy's simple grave marker reads: "Jefferson R. Smith; Died July 8-1898; Aged 38 Years". 

The Skagway of the 1890's was honky-tonk pianos, shady ladies and grizzled sourdoughs.  The false-fronted frame buildings, and the legends of Soapy Smith and his notorious gang, still live on in the Skagway of the 21st century. 

JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer and a Travel Consultant affiliated with The Travel Authority, Mariemont/Cincinnati, Ohio office.

No comments:

Post a Comment