December 31, 2012

Pencil safe for Soapy Smith?

Pencil safe
Jeff Smith collection

(Click image to enlarge)

t  is well-established that Soapy Smith wrote an enormous amount of letters during his lifetime. He also kept daily notes in notebooks and made notations on business cards he collected. Some of these scribblings are in ink (another post for the future) but many are in pencil, away from home and sometimes from civilization. It seems rather logical to assume that he carried a pencil on his person, rather than constantly asking and hoping others had one he could borrow. Today, we take pencils and writing paper for granted as most households have drawers filled with them. Looking at the Soapy Smith collection of documents there is one known surviving sample of business stationary for the Tivoli Club in Denver but the greater portion of the letters are written on the business stationary of other firms, justifying the fact that Soapy was probably not at home when writing the many of his letters.

Close-up of pencil safe relief
Race-horse and wine bottle
Jeff Smith collection

(Click image to enlarge)

      Did Soapy carry a pencil? If he did he probably picked up, or was given, a "pencil safe" like the one shown above. The safe protected the sharpened pencil lead from breaking, as well as protected the clothing, other documents, and the body itself, from puncture. I had never given Soapy writing utensils much thought until I saw and purchased the one shown. Any opinions on this?

Close-up of pencil safe relief
Dancing girl (belly dancer?) and playing cards
Jeff Smith collection
(Click image to enlarge)


“No one should be ashamed to admit they are wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that they are wiser today than they were yesterday.”
—Alexander Pope

December 27, 2012

First bill issued by The First National Bank, Creede, Colorado, 1892

First bill issued by The First National Bank
Creede, Colorado March 29, 1892
Auctioned off for $101,790.
(courtesy of Bonhams auction firm)

(Click image to enlarge)

thought I had lost that, may I have it back please?

                                                                - Soapy Smith

      Ok, Soapy really didn't say the above quote but I bet he would if he were alive today! Perhaps some of these same bills, if not this very one, passed through his fingers?  I would not mind having a few of these stashed somewhere, especially considering the price ($101,790.) it fetched at auction just two weeks ago! 
      Follow is part of the description from Bonhams auction firm.
New York – Bonhams is pleased to announce a stellar result for its December 13 auction of Coins, Medals and Banknotes in New York. During the winter sale, the auction house was privileged to offer several rarities including "Property of a Gentleman: An Important Collection of English Coins," an exquisite collection of 45 lots English coinage struck between the 14th and 19th centuries and a newly discovered $5 Series 1882 "Brown Back" National Banknote from Creede, Colorado that sold for $101,790.
      The previously unreported note was the first bill issued on March 29, 1892 by The First National Bank of Creede, Colorado on its first day of charter, the date of issue on this note. The institution only existed until December 31, 1895 when it was liquidated. In addition to the fact this is the only known example from Creede, it presents with bank serial number 1 and is accompanied with a paper envelope stating: "FIRST BILL ISSUED AT THE FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF CREEDE. SIGNED BY JOHN MCDONOUGH PR J.W. MERRITT CASHIER." All currency from this bank, Charter 4716, was issued as $5 notes in vertical sheets containing four subjects. As of 1910, only $255 face appraise (total) was still outstanding making this issue virtually unobtainable, even then.
      Creede is a small town in Colorado with a population of only 290 people in 2010, located in Mineral County in Southwestern region of the state. It became a "boom town" in 1889 when large amounts of silver were discovered in nearby Willow Creek. Creede's boom lasted until 1893 when the Silver Panic overtook mining towns in Colorado. The price of silver plummeted and many of the silver mines were closed. Colorado is a popular Western state for National Banknote collectors; many of the charters are considered scarce or rare. There are a number of unreported (unknown) issues, Creede previously being one. Collectors and connoisseurs alike will pay close attention as this note becomes available at Bonhams in December.
      Paul Song, Director of the Rare Coins and Medals Department at Bonhams, said of the banknote: "We were pleased to offer such a rare example in our winter auction. The previously unreported $5 banknote is 120 years old and holds a storied place in American history."


"Soapy Smith, bunco steerer, thief, gambler, desperado, holdup, marshal of the town of Creede in its early days, a big man in Skaguay, and who has played numerous other roles during his eventful life, has at last handed in his checks and passed over the snowy range with a cigar in his mouth, a curse on his lips still wet with the firey liquor, and his thick-soled boots tightly on his feet."
Denver Times, July 17, 1898.


December 19, 2012

Soapy Smith in Hope, Alaska 1896.

"Party of Gold Miners"
Hope, Alaska 1895

(Click image to enlarge)

ou may recall reading here or in my book that Soapy Smith visited Sunrise and Hope, Alaska in 1896. You might remember I posted here that it had been confirmed that he performed the prize package soap sell racket there, or the letter (artifact #11) he wrote to his wife while on board a steamer headed to the gold fields on Resurrection Creek.

Hope, Alaska
from aboard a ship
circa 1895-96

(Click image to enlarge)

      I found three "new" photographs (on eBay) of Hope, Alaska, circa 1895-96 that I want to share with you. One thing that struck me hard is the fact that Soapy successfully performed and won cash and gold from the miners and in this very rough country. It certainly removes any belief that the prize package soap sell racket is a "big town swindle only." It seems obvious to me that one would have to be an amazing master of human nature to convince anyone in this completely primitive and lawless setting, to gamble on buying cash laden cakes of soap in the middle of no-where. Not only did he con the locals, but he freely sailed away without being chased by those who realized they had been taken. One slip-up and Soapy could have found himself swinging from the nearest tree branch.

Hope(ful) miners
Hope, Alaska 1895

(Click image to enlarge)

Sunrise and Hope, Alaska
June 9, 2010
December 13, 2010 

Sunrise and Hope, Alaska: pages 411-13.

"Every crowd has a silver lining."
—P. T. Barnum

December 16, 2012

Soapy Smith museum restoration: part 19

Ticket for the Martin Itjen
museum in the Meyer building
circa 1920

(photo courtesy of Bob Lyon)

ur very fine friend, Bob Lyon, historian over at the National Park Service in Anchorage sent me another gem of information. You may recall in past posts that there was a possibility that early Skagway tour guide icon Martin Itjen may have started a museum in the Meyer building previous to opening one in Jeff Smith's Parlor. Bob now states that,

We can be quite certain Itjen operated a museum in the 1920s, probably the one I mentioned in the Meyer Building at Fifth and State. Attached are a ticket [see above] for that museum (no address given--darn that Martin!) and an ad [see below] from the Skagway Alaskan in the 1920s (also no location). The signs Becky Shaffer and I uncovered, as well as the sign at the docks, all named the museum, "Museum of '98." To complicate the story, Rapuzzi and one of his brothers had a museum in the Pantheon building in the 1920s, as well. It's mentioned in Clifford's book, The Skagway Story--but no address. One of our interns, Aaron Wood, discovered a photograph taken in the 1920s with a large sign on the corner where the Pantheon is, saying "MUSEUM," with an arrow pointing west along Fifth. I've also seen a photograph of a dogsled displayed in front of the Pantheon, but not enough of the building shows to tell if it was part of any sort of museum at that time. Too many questions!

Itjen Museum of '98 ad
Skaguay, Alaskan
circa 1920s

(photo courtesy of Bob Lyon)

      The Meyer block was constructed in 1899 by Herman Meyer for his Arctic Meat Company. The gymnasium on the far end was constructed between March-May 1900. It closed in December 1901. In 1902 Meyer purchased the gym to expand his meat market. In 1903 Meyer's meat business closed and the buildings closed to renters in 1910. By 1914 the buildings were listed as abandoned.

My original post had the following passage. 
Before 1920 Martin Itjen purchased the buildings and opened his Museum of '98. Later, he purchased and placed his collection inside Jeff. Smith's Parlor. 
Mr. Lyon sent me the corrections and additional information below (thanks Bob!). 
Actually, Rapuzzi bought these buildings in 1921 and 1922. The YMCA he bought from the city (unpaid taxes, I'm guessing) for $60 in gold. Doesn't say if it was dust or coins (I really wanted to record it as 60 pieces of gold or doubloons or something, but NPS wouldn't go for that sort of joke). The Meyer Building he bought from Carstens Bros. Packing Company of Tacoma--a meat packing company that bought the building and business (Arctic Meat Company) from Herman Meyer in 1902. They must have kept up the taxes on the Meyer Building. Itjen didn't own them at any time, but, considering his friendship with Rapuzzi, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Itjen had a museum in a Rapuzzi building.
    There's a very convoluted history of Meyer and Carstens. Meyer bought the lot from Carstens in 1899 for $1. He'd been a partner with Frye-Bruhn Co., another meatpacking firm from Seattle. As such he was sued by Carstens for not paying for a shipment of meat. Then Carstens bought the business from Meyer in late 1902, but didn't actually buy the lot from Meyer until a year later, for $1. When Meyer left Skagway for Valdez in 1903, he was a partner with Carstens in a local trading venture. In 1918, he was back in Seattle and a partner again with Carstens in a nut importing business. There's more, but I'll spare you. Actually, if you look at who owned what in early Skagway, at one point Meyer owned the lot that Soapy's is on now. Lots were divided and sub-divided and it can be very difficult to figure out who owned what when.
      When Itjen passed away George Rapuzzi inherited the business and kept the museum in the Parlor going, while using the Meyer building as storage. The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (National Park Service) now owns all the Meyer buildings and Jeff. Smith's Parlor and his restoring them.

The Meyer block
Fifth Street and State
Skagway, Alaska

(photo courtesy of Jim Wayne)


     I've mentioned this probability but selfishly hoped something would change in our favor. We knew this day was coming, but still, I am sad to report that we are losing Mr. Bob Lyon as a contact for Skagway, Alaska restoration progress. Mr. Lyon writes,
I'm done with Skagway for now, working on a National Register nomination for the first NPS building at Glacier Bay National Park.
We are so thankful for all he has done for us, and of course we hope the very best for him in whatever he does. He is always welcome here!


Bob Lyon and museum 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 21, 2012 (Part 10)
March 30, 2012 (Part 11)
June 20, 2012 (Part 12)
August 8, 2012 (Part 13)
August 29, 2012 (Part 14)
September 1, 2012 (Part 15)
September 26, 2012 (Part 16)
October 4, 2012 (Part 17)
December 6, 2012 (Part 18)

Today's quote is in honor of Bob Lyon
"It is frustrating as hell, yet exhilarating at the same time, to know that historical research never ends."
—Jeff Smith

December 14, 2012

Reversing Soapy Smith photo of him on horseback.

ne of the new bits of information to come from Cathy Spude's book "That Fiend In Hell": Soapy Smith in Legend is the fact that the famed photograph of Soapy on his horse has actually been published in reverse since 1898. The photograph itself has always been somewhat of a mystery to begin with. Reverend John Sinclair is probably the person who snapped the picture on July 7, 1898 however, his son James claims the picture was taken on Broadway. New information shows this photograph to have been taken on State Street. Over the decades various copies of the photograph have been published with the date "July 4th, 1898" etched into the negative as seen in the photographs shown here. other versions show "July 4th 1898" in larger size across the side of the picture by the horses head. Up to now, no one had properly identified exactly where in Skagway the photo had been taken.

Soapy on his mount
as published since 1898
Is it reversed?
note: someone wrote "July 4th 1898"
Alaska State Library, William R. Norton Col. ASL-P266-067

Never having seen a copy in the reversed (correct) fashion I cautiously looked into Mrs. Spude's claim. In her book she published a cropped closeup of a photograph in the Frank Barr collection at the Fairbanks University. In that photograph Mrs. Spude points out the location of a very similar looking building in the background and identifies the street as being Fifth Avenue. Before agreeing with her conclusion I found and examined my copy of the non-cropped Barr photograph to verify that the street is actually Fifth Avenue, and it is. The building she points out sits on the s.e. corner lot of Fifth and Main Street. In the photograph above that same building appears to be on the n.e. corner which is incorrect, therefore Soapy would have to be have been riding north rather than south as always believed.

Skagway, Alaska June 1898
Note the edits in yellow.
The red X indicates where Soapy was when photographed.
Soapy's saloon (Jeff. Smith's Parlor) is also noted
University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Barr Coll.

(Click image to enlarge)

Before seeing the entire Barr photograph of Skagway (see above) I wrote to Karl Gurke of the Skagway unit of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park (NPS) and asked him to look on,

page 65 of Cathy Spude's book in which she describes that the photo of Soapy Smith on his horse is actually reversed. I'm still undecided about this possibility as I have not looked closely enough at other photographs of the street to see if more of the buildings line up correctly. Perhaps the one main issue I have is that there are no other "non-reversed" photos known to exist.

Soapy on his mount
In correct direction
Alaska State Library, William R. Norton Col. ASL-P266-067

I consider myself very fortunate to have such willing member of the Park Service in which to help gather additional information. I learn a lot from Karl and in this instance he was up to par as usual. He replied that,

... regarding reversed photos - yes we have a few - some I was able to catch - pretty obvious - and some not so obvious. For example there's a photo of the Sunset Telephone Office in Dyea. Although you can read the caption, all the signs are reversed. We had to scan it, reverse the image, and now the signs are right but the caption is reversed. I know of at least two Skagway waterfront images that are reversed. Dave Neufeld, the Canadian historian, has pointed out one or two reversed historic images on the Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail that I had not been aware of. There are others - so while reversed gold rush era images are not common, they are known to exist and perhaps more common than you would suspect. I know of at least 11 reversed images not counting this Soapy one, that we have in our collection and I'm sure if I closely inspected every image we had, I'd find more. 
Karl Gurcke

Close-up details
Fifth Avenue
Skagway, Alaska June 1898
Red "X" and arrow show location and direction of Soapy
University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Barr Coll.

(Click image to enlarge)

In her book Mrs. Spude makes the claim that a building blocking State Avenue just north of Fifth was intentionally blackened out so that it would appear that Soapy was heading south. She states that it is part of the Soapy legend, but I disagree for the following reasons. The Sinclair archives in Victoria, British Columbia noted in a 1979 letter that some photographs from the collection are "latern slides," thus most likely Glass. In searching many photographic collections of Skagway and the Klondike during the gold rush I noted many photographs in glass form, and many had blackened sections just as Soapy's mounted on horseback photograph. Sinclair sold about 20 of his photographs to another photographer and others were stolen so it's reasonable to assume that some of these photographers published the photograph in reverse. What is most strange to me, as I had mentioned to Mr. Gurcke, is the fact that thus far no correct non-reversed examples of photograph have surfaced in any known collection, nor have any been published anywhere.

Close-up details
Holly Avenue (Sixth Avenue)
Red arrow points to Jeff. Smith's Parlor.
University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Barr Coll.

(Click image to enlarge)

It is always exciting to find new information on Soapy. Cathy Spude deserves recognition for figuring out the error. Well done Cathy.


Rev. John A. Sinclair: pages 17, 437, 452-53, 505, 513-14, 522-23, 542-43, 546-47, 557-61, 565-66, 576, 595.

"My name is Smith—Soapy Smith—an' when
you’re in trouble say so an’ I'll help you."
—as said to Cy Warman in 1892
San Francisco Call September 4, 1898.

December 6, 2012

Jeff Smith's Parlor restoration: Martin Itjen, part 18

Left, believed to be the original Packard engine from the first
Martin Itjen Skagway Street Car shown in the photo on the right.
  George & Edna Rapuzzi Collection, Klondike Gold Rush NHP

artin Itjen is a hero with the fans of Soapy Smith, for without him Jeff. Smith's Parlor would not have been saved, along with many other Skagway historical artifacts. The National Park Service continues to research the items along with the Rapuzzi Collection. One recent find is believed to be the original engine to his famed tour bus. The story is told in the following article published in The Skagway News.

Original Itjen Street Car engine located in Rapuzzi Collection
     Local Skagway car restorer Tobias Parsons recently identified the original motor to Martin Itjen's Street Car #1 while assisting National Park Service and Municipality of Skagway museum staff with the inventory of the George and Edna Rapuzzi Collection. The Rapuzzi Collection contains a wide variety of vintage automotive parts, which sparked Parsons’ interest.
      NPS Curator Samantha Richert asked Parsons to examine the Street Car, which is in the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park museum collection, to see if he could identify any useful parts. His inspection of the Street Car’s 1908 Packard chassis led to his identification of a matching 1908 Packard engine in the Rapuzzi Collection inventory, which Parsons and the park’s museum team believe is the original Street Car engine.
      “This is an exciting discovery and we’re happy that Tobias has been able to help Samantha in looking through the auto parts of the collection,” stated Superintendent Mike Tranel in a press release.
      The Rapuzzi Collection, which includes an estimated 30,000 items and five historic buildings, contains many artifacts related to Martin Itjen, a stampeder who later led Skagway’s developing tourist trade. After Itjen’s death in 1942, many of his belongings passed to his long-time friend, George Rapuzzi, who was a tourism promoter and guide as well as a consummate collector in his own right.
      The Rasmuson Foundation purchased the collection in 2007 and donated it to the Municipality of Skagway with the understanding that it would be processed jointly with Klondike Gold Rush NHP. Staff from both museums have been inventorying the collection for five years, and just tallied the 11,000th item, the release said. Skagway Museum director Judy Munns and the park’s curator jointly review the inventory for items that would be appropriate for their collections, and approximately 6,000 items have been included in either the municipality’s or the park’s museum collections. Inventory and research will continue on the collection this winter.
      The buildings donated as part of the Rapuzzi Collection have also undergone significant restoration work since the Rasmuson Foundation’s donation. The National Park Service has poured foundations and erected new roofs for the YMCA, Meyer’s Meat Market, and Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum.
      The municipality has installed underground power and made safety improvements to the Commissary and has made minor stabilization repairs on the Rapuzzi/Dahl house. When restoration is completed, some buildings will include museum space for the Rapuzzi Collection to be prominently displayed. Jeff. Smith’s Parlor will showcase many artifacts from both the Itjen and Rapuzzi eras as they contribute to the “Soapy” story of Skagway’s gold rush history, the release states.
      Artifacts will continue to be featured in exhibits such as the upcoming Yuletide seasonal window display at the park headquarters, located in the historic White Pass and Yukon Route Railway Depot on 2nd Avenue.
      “I’m currently recruiting volunteers with expertise on trains,” Richert said. If you would like to help to assist with identifying train-related parts and equipment in the Rapuzzi Collection, please contact her at 907-983-9222. The park has a new Facebook page, which also features many of the Rapuzzi Collection artifacts. It can be found at:
The Skagway News
November 21, 2012

*I wish to thank Bob Lyon, historian for the NPS for sending me the information.

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 21, 2012 (Part 10)
March 30, 2012 (Part 11)
June 20, 2012 (Part 12)
August 8, 2012 (Part 13)
August 29, 2012 (Part 14)
September 1, 2012 (Part 15)
September 26, 2012 (Part 16)
October 4, 2012 (Part 17)

Martin Itjen: pages 11, 12-13, 453.

"My business is selling prize packages. No one is obliged to buy."
—Jefferson R. Smith, Weekly Register Call, 8/2/1889.

December 4, 2012

An old swindle becomes new again.

"No one is a victim until he marks the con man as his victim."

age 64 of Alias Soapy Smith I provide a perfect example of the bunco man manipulating the greed of his victim. It comes from an article published in 1879. Yesterday, 133-years later, I received the identical swindle via email. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The swindle from 1879 reads as follows.
      A new swindle is reported as being perpetrated by “artful dodgers” in Pennsylvania…. They send a letter written in the familiar tone of an old acquaintance, reminding the recipient that when he left their boarding house he owed a little bill of, possibly, $2. He is further informed that they can readily sell the jewelry which, among other things, he left behind in a satchel, for $20 or $30. If he will remit the $2 they will send him the satchel and contents. The gullible one knows well … he never possessed such property, nor boarded in such a place, but he is willing to quietly obtain some other person’s valuable jewelry, and therefore sends the $2. He receives nothing. This swindle is based solely upon the idea that a large percentage of people are by nature dishonest enough to take that to which they have not the slightest just claim, if they have the chance. People … beaten by the trick are served precisely right. There is not the slightest danger that they will put officers of the law upon the track of the swindlers. Shame will keep them from exposing their own crooked intentions.
The con is that the greedy dupe will send in the $2 (the equivalent of $67.14 today) to obtain another persons valuable property. Below is the swindle I received yesterday that utilizes the same concept. I have to wonder how the sender learned of it?

Las Vegas, Nevada
Airport Shuttle Keeper

Good Day,

      Sorry for the delay in this message, On Friday we were checking over some files and packages in the office and we discover an ATM CARD which was address on your name, Home address and email (I think it is a winning funds) I believe you can remember a dealing that has to do with some cooperate body or individual about this said funds to be deliver to you through an (ATM CARD) but I do not have idea why it was on hold at our Airport up-to-date.
      So we contacted the Authorities and they asked us to get in contact with Senator Harry Reid, to get an approval to figure out what was in the package, After checking over the ATM CARD, we discover a total sum of $10,000,000.00 ($10 Million USD) through the router figurative machine who check on balance through the number on a ATM CARD, so we report back to the Senator Harry Reid and we were asked to deliver the package to you from this office. (Senator Harry Reid, Lloyd D. George Building, 333 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Suite 8016)
      We need you to reconfirm your full name and Home address if show as it is on the package we have here.
      If you want it to be delivered to you immediately, it will cost you just $450 which is the charges for the insurance certificate and delivery of the ATM CARD meanwhile your funds is save with our securities service so please have that in mind.
      Below is the payment information, payment should be made via money gram or western union and also send us your address as well for the delivery so that it won’t be deliver to the wrong address and someone else will receive a miracle he or she never worked so hard for to get.

AMOUNT: $450
The information above is where the ATM CARD was stop at McCARRAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT in Las Vegas, Nevada.


Supervisor Manager
MY SSN NUMBER: 016-38-1497
For: Airport Shuttle Keeper

Note the grammar errors as well as the ever present message that "this mail is not a spam or scam message." It has to be real because he gave you his social security number right? More than once I have seen a signature name that nearly gives the con away, such as Swinder, so close to Swindler.

"Smith may be a grafter, but he is one of the most generous, kind-hearted men I ever met in my life. He is always ready to help those in distress and he loves his family. To know Smith is to like him."
—Sylvester Scovel,
New York World
reporter, 1897.