January 21, 2016

Jeff Smith's Parlor to re-open.

Skagway, Alaska
Circa 1940

Courtesy of Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park
(Click image to enlarge)

pening May 6, 2016

Since December 2008 Soapy Smith fans have awaited the restoration and reopening of one of Skagway, Alaska's most famous buildings. the date is May 6, 2016. KHNS Radio interviewed Karl Gurke, a historian with the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. 

Jeff Smith’s Parlor is set to open in Skagway on May 6. The museum will feature thousands of Klondike Gold Rush-era artifacts, bringing visitors and locals back to the wild days in the Gateway to the Klondike.

Jefferson Randolph ‘Soapy’ Smith was perhaps the most notorious character in the motley crew that dominates history books about the Klondike Gold Rush.

“So, he was involved in prostitution, gambling and he was involved in a several saloons, but he was also involved in some interesting cons.”

That’s Karl Gurcke, a historian with the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. Gurcke says Soapy Smith came to Skagway in 1897 with no intention of staking a claim in Dawson City. He simply saw a chance to make a fast buck off hopeful, gold-seeking Cheekchakos.

Gurcke says one of his most famous scams was his telegraph company. Weary would-be gold miners could send messages and, if needed, money home. Smith would charge for each message out and each message received.

“Of course, as it turns out, that the telegraph wires just went a little bit beyond the house. They never went down to Seattle, so it was all a con.”

His nickname ‘Soapy’ also came from a con. He sold soap with the lure of a $10-bill wrapped inside, causing a frenzy. Of course, there was no money, and Smith’s soap stand was long gone when the mob came to protest. Remnants from those days and much more are set to be housed in the renovated museum, opening in May.

Ben Hayes is chief of interpretation and education at the Klondike Gold Rush Historic Park. The Park Service has been working since 2008 to restore the old parlor and refurbish a large collection of artifacts.The building dates back to 1897 when it was built to house the Bank of Skagway.

“In 1898, it was leased to Jefferson Randolph ‘Soapy’ Smith, who ran his con artist … his gang of nefarious people who were fleecing some of the stampeders from that very building until he was killed in a gun fight on July 8, 1898,” says Hayes.

The building served several different purposes over the decades, including as a bar, a French restaurant, and the Skagway Volunteer Fire Department’s Hook and Ladder Co. garage. Long after the death of Skagway’s top con man, the building was acquired by a German tour promoter. It became Jeff Smith’s Parlor museum in the late ‘30s and, back then, was even complete with working robots.

“Like robotic Jefferson Smith who would stand at the bar and greet you when you came in,” says Hayes. “He had a gun in one hand and a beer in the other. There’s this guy in the corner sitting, his name is Dangerous Dan McGrew, he kind of looks like Slash from Guns ‘n’ Roses. He would greet you as well and then there was Lady Lou in the restroom, who, when you open the door would scream at you.”

When the overhauled museum opens in the spring it will include those old robots, though they’re past their gun-waving, bathroom-screaming primes.

“Unfortunately, at over 80 years old, we can’t operate them, but we did some interesting work with the community to figure out how they once worked, including we took them over to the Dahl Memorial Clinic and had the m X-rayed to figure out, without taking apart these handmade, delicate machines, how they functioned,” says Hayes.

The building was moved in 1963 to its current location on 2nd Avenue, across from the Red Onion Saloon. Hayes says refurbishing it has been a painstaking process.

“This building helped preserve that legacy and build a legend.”

The collection that came with the building includes 450,000 items. It was acquired, along with the building, by George and Edna Rapuzzi after the original museum proprietor died in the ‘40s. The Rapuzzis ran the museum in the ’60s and ‘70s. It then went to the Rasmuson Foundation, which transferred it to the Park Service and the Borough of Skagway in 2008.

Tours of the museum will be guided and cost $5. The fee to enter helps with cost recovery, Hayes says. The Park Service held a community forum last month in Skagway so people could weigh in on the decision to charge for a tour. The comment period is open until the end of January. But, Hayes adds that 19 free days are planned over the summer, including the entire first week of May and a week in mid-August when the Park Service celebrates its centennial.

Hayes and Gurcke agree that the rough and tumble Gold Rush history is still very much alive in Skagway, and with the opening of the revamped museum, visitors and locals will be able to experience it for themselves, without the menacing con men, of course.
Source: Legend of Soapy Smith lives on in Skagway

Restoration of Jeff Smith's Parlor
(This link contains posts since 2009, be sure to scroll) 

Kindhearted, generous Soapy Smith is known to many men. Many know him, too, as a man who would stand by his friends to the end. Many others know him as a bitter enemy. When he thinks he is right, he stands by it, and when it is the other way, he stands by that, too.
Denver Republican
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 213.


1789: W. H. Brown's Power of Sympathy also known as the Triumph of Nature Founded in Truth is the first American novel to be published.
1812: The Y-bridge in Zanesville, Ohio is approved for construction.
1846: The first issue of the Daily News, edited by Charles Dickens, is published.
1853: Dr. Russell L. Hawes obtains the patent the envelope folding machine.
1861: Jefferson Davis of Mississippi resigns from the U.S. Senate. Four other southern senators also resign. Davis goes on to become president of the Confederacy.
1865: An oil well is drilled by torpedoes (dynamite) for the first time.
1872: In the excitement of his first kill of the day in Kit Carson, Colorado Territory, Russian Grand Duke Alexis kisses George Custer.
1874: Alfred Packer leads a group of prospectors from Utah to the valley of the Uncompahgre River in Colorado Territory. They arrive starving and out of food. Ute Indians find them and take them to Chief Ouray, who replenished their supplies.
1891: Bob Ford, killer of outlaw Jesse James, is shot and wounded in the foot during a shootout in Walsenburg, Colorado by J. D. Harden, who was shot twice, the should and the hand, by Ford. The two men were standing at a saloon bar when they started arguing. The two men were so close that Ford received powder burns on his face. Sixteen months later Ford will be shot and killed in Creede, Colorado. It is believed that bad man Soapy Smith had a hand in Ford’s death.
1908: The Sullivan Ordinance is passed in New York City making smoking by women illegal. The measure is vetoed by Mayor George B. McClellan Jr.

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