August 29, 2009

Dorothy Corum where are you?

Over the last quarter century I have had the pleasure of corresponding with hundreds of wonderful people relating to the research of my great grandfather. Over that period my memory has subsided a bit due to the passage of time thus I would have forgotten many of my old contacts from years ago had it not been for my almost obsessive filing of everything pertaining to Soapy Smith. One lady in particular stands out from the rest of those contacts. When I received an email from this person 17 years later I did not need to look up her file to remember this special person. Her name was Dorothy "Dee" Corum. I was so excited to receive the email from Dorothy that I wrote her immediately. Stupidly, while cleaning up my files I accidentally erased her email and my response. I did not hear back from her and posted something about it here on August 20 that I feared my email to her might have been received as "spam." So here I try once again hoping she sees this post as I would love to hear from her.

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met Dorothy when she responded to an ad I published in the February 1987 issue of Alaska magazine asking for anything relating to Soapy Smith. Dorothy lived in Massachusetts and wrote me the following letter.

February 2, 1987

Dear Mr. Smith:

... I have long had an interest in your great-grandfather and have done a lot of research on him. I have been to Alaska 9 times—with Skagway always one of my stops. Gold Rush Cemetery has always been a destination—and in '82, '83, and '84 I carried flowers from Massachusetts to place on "Soapy's" grave. (The natives wondered where they came from). I feel a very special affinity to him. (I am enclosing a picture of myself taken in '82 at his grave—showing the first bouquet I placed there for him). [see above photo].

I wrote a lengthy article about "Jefferson Randolph Smith" a few years ago and submitted it to Alaska magazine, but they said they had recently published material on him and were not interested at that time in another article.

I am a high school teacher and travel a good deal. I travel in a motorhome with my mother as my companion. On every trip to Skagway, we hoped that Jeff Smith's Parlor (Museum) would be open, but it has been closed for many years. Before my last trip there in '84, I wrote to the owner of the museum [George Rapuzzi] and asked if it would be possible to visit the museum that coming summer. I got a letter back saying he would be glad to open it for my mother and me—but that it was not open to the general public and probably never would be again. He is a very elderly gentleman—a native of Skagway, born in 1899.

The highlight of that trip to Skagway was going through those doors into yesteryear. We stood at Soapy's Bar and had a drink (root beer) with Soapy (a mannequin that turns its head and raises its arm as its eyes light up when you enter). This building was your great-grandfather's and was moved from its original location to its present site. The bar belonged to Soapy, and the entire display is quite a tribute to him and his era.

In addition to taking us through this treasure, he played an original Martin Itjen (early Skagway showman) recording of that fateful July 8 that reenacts the entire scene. He is a wealth of information and memorabilia, and he would probably be glad to share his knowledge with you. He is a delightful person with whom I have corresponded ever since. ...

I personally don't think your great-grandfather was the scoundrel that history makes him out to be, and some of my research verifies that. A fictionalized account of Soapy's dealings in Skagway and Dawson City is well written in a novel that was hailed as "The Gone With The Wind of the Yukon." It is Tara Kane by George Markstein. I have read it at least a dozen times and will, no doubt, read it a dozen more. It portrays Jeff Smith as a lovable rogue who is charmed by a young lady. It is a fantastic character study, though fictionalized, and gives the reader a lot of food for thought. Though Markstein completely changed Soapy's ending, it is an excellent account of those wild, tempestuous times. I would love to see this book made into a movie.

I wish you luck in your quest for information and relics from your great-grandfather. I certainly look forward to any book you may publish. ...

Dorothy and I began corresponding by mail carrier and I learned a passion of hers was poetry. She sent me a poem about Soapy she simply entitled, SOAPY SMITH.

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by Dorothy Corum

Along with the poem Dorthy also sent me a copy of her manuscript that she had sent to Alaska magazine. I learned that she had written to George Markstein, author of Tara Kane and visited Creede, Colorado and even my hometown of Anaheim, California the year I graduated from high school. I eagerly invited her back to Anaheim to visit the private museum/saloon my father had built in honor of Soapy but sadly Dorothy no longer had the wish to travel much since the loss of her beloved mother and travel companion.

The last letter I received from Dorothy was in January of 1992 in which she enclosed the poem below. I hope she sees this post as I would love to hear from her.

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by Dorothy Corum

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