June 20, 2012

The innards of "Dangerous Dan" McGrew: Parlor restoration part 12

Preparing to X-ray "Dangerous Dan McGrew" 
Dahl Memorial Clinic (Skagway, Alaska)
(L to R) Med. Asst., Sarah Phillips, Interns N. Peters and K. Bonanno, Med. Asst., Melissa Horman
photo courtesy of Sarah Phillips

knew from visiting inside Jeff Smith's Parlor back in 1977, how the animatronic figure of Soapy Smith functioned. Using auto parts, gears, and chains tucked neatly beneath the floor, Martin Itjen made the effigy of Soapy come to life when visitors opened the front door to enter. The internal workings made Soapy's head turn towards the front door and his eyes, made of light bulbs, would light up. At the same moment his right arm (holding a mug of beer) would raise, in a welcoming toast to the visitors to his saloon. I did not, however, know how "Dangerous Sam" operated. Several books have given descriptions of the little play that is performed each time the door is opened, which includes Soapy shooting Sam. From what I have learned thus far I do not believe there was a shootout of any sort. I am beginning to believe that the shootout scenario came to be in the fertile imagination of someone who probably never imagined that the animatronic figures would ever be operating for the public again. It surprises me that no one from the old days in Skagway can or has given a full play-by-play account.

The Soapy automaton was carefully removed from the Parlor and made a trip to the State Museum in Juneau for a temporary exhibit. It now resides in storage in Skagway awaiting completion of the Parlor restoration, so that it may once again welcome visitors. I hope they can set up the mechanism so that modern visitors can see them perform. "Dangerous Dan" remained pretty much a complete mystery to me, until recently.

Jeff Smith's Parlor Museum

Animatronic figures of Soapy Smith and Dangerous Dan McGrew
photo courtesy of the KGRNHP
(Click image to enlarge)

I was browsing through Facebook one day when I came across the photograph at the top, with the following comment by Sarah Phillips.

Melissa Horman and I got to x-ray this guy for the Parks Service last week. He came out of Soapy Smith's Parlor on 2nd Ave. Martin Itjen made him a long time ago and the NPs are fixing him up to put him back into the parlor when it's done getting renovated. Shandra L. Nelsen and Julie Ann; you jealous? We got to x-ray history.

Another angle of "Dangerous Dan" and his crew
photo courtesy of the KGRNHP

I contacted Sarah to find out what I could about the X-ray project and she sent back the following.

Hey Jeff,

The National Parks people brought over some of the mannequins that Martin Itjen made and had put into your Parlor.

We X-rayed them at the clinic so the curators could see what was inside and figure out how they worked since it appeared they had moving parts. It was a big deal and I was really excited to be a part of it. We figured out the guy we were working on (Dangerous Dan McGrew) had tapping feet and it looks like he nods his head as well. Fun little discoveries thanks to the X-ray.

They took several pictures of the process and we gave them a disc with the X-ray images we took. It wasn't perfect but we took enough that they may be able to figure it out once all the images are printed and layed out like a puzzle.

They also invited us to go over to their shops and see the other fun things that were in your parlor that they are restoring and will put back into the building once restorations are complete.

I am taunting Shandra a bit because I know how much she loved your parlor and history in Skagway.
Sarah, I must admit, I very envious too! Oh how I would love to have been there for the X-ray and for the coming visit to the storage building where they are keeping and working on all the items that were once housed in the Parlor.

X-ray of "Dangerous Dan's" head
photo courtesy of KGRNHP

Sarah was also kind enough to send me the news release put out by the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park which furnished me with the following information.
  • The animatronic figures were made by Martin Itjen in the 1930s.
  • They were certain that "Dangerous Dan" moved but not in what capacity. The X-ray showed that he moves his head, taps his foot, and his eyes light up.
  • There were three animatronic figures, the third being "Lady Lou." Nothing about X-raying her was mentioned.
  • The re-opening of Jeff Smith's Parlor is scheduled for 2016. 

Jeff Smith's Parlor restoration

February 4, 2009 (Part 1)
February 19, 2009 (Part 2)  
March 31, 2010 (Part 3)  
August 7, 2010 (Part 4) 
February 11, 2011 (Part 5) 
April 5, 2011 (Part 6)
May 8, 2011 (Part 7)
May 17, 2011 (Part 8)
November 20, 2011 (Part 9)
March 30, 2012 (Part 10)

1782: The U.S. Congress approves the Great Seal of the United States. 
1793: Eli Whitney applies for his cotton gin patent. The cotton gin initiated the American mass-production concept. 
1863: West Virginia becomes the 35th state to join the Union. 
1863: The National Bank of Philadelphia, PA, becomes the first bank to receive a charter from the U.S. Congress. 
1867: Major Frank North leads a company of Pawnee Indian scouts against the Sioux in Black Hills, Dakota Territory. 
1876: George A. Custer and the 7th Cavalry begin the march towards the Little Bighorn River, Montana Territory after scouts inform Custer that 2,000 to 4,000 warriors are camped on the Little Bighorn. 
1876: General Crooks command is joined by Crow and Snake Indians at Goose Creek, Montana Territory as they begin marching, to find Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. Crow scouts report a large Sioux village on the Tongue River. 
1887: Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show performs for Queen Victoria in London, England. 
1889: Soapy Smith’s Tivoli Club receives its first newspaper report of a swindled victim since its opening in 1888. 
1898: The U.S. Navy seizes the island of Guam in route to the Philippines to fight the Spanish.

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Thank you for leaving your comment and/or question on my blog. I always read, and will answer all questions left here. Please know that they are greatly appreciated. -Jeff Smith