May 31, 2016

New 1898 Decoration Day photo found

Holly Street, Skagway, Alaska
May 1, 1898

Courtesy of Alaska State Library - Historical Collections
(Click image to enlarge)



Holly Street, Skagway, Alaska
May 1, 1898
Courtesy of Alaska State Library - Historical Collections
(Click image to enlarge)









ecoration Day 
Skagway, Alaska, May 1, 1898





     Historian Diane Purvis of the Facebook group Pacific Northwest, Alaska, California, and British Columbia has located a second photograph of the May 1, 1898 parade. Because there are only slight variations in the two shots it is obvious that they were taken just seconds a part. The bottom photograph was located previous to 2009. It is in my book Alias Soapy Smith. One key difference is that the photographer etched in "Decoration Day Skagway" twice in the latest find. This determines with certainty that this photograph is from May 1, 1898.
     In Alias Soapy Smith I recorded that the date of the photograph was May 1, 1898, but according to E. J. "Stroller" White of The Skaguay News the parade took place on Monday May 30. However, the Denver Evening Post reported on the parade in their May 24 issue, six days prior to the festivities. The article is copied from the May 2 edition of the Skagway News that mentions the parade occurring "last Sunday," making the date of the parade May 1.

Why such a wide variation in the dates of Decoration Day and Memorial Day?

Decoration Day is what Memorial Day was first called. Today we celebrate it on the last Monday in May, but in the 19th century Decoration Day was celebrated on different dates all across the country, between late spring and early summer. 


The following is from the Denver Evening Post May 24, 1898.

By 7 o’clock … upwards of six hundred men and many ladies could be seen on the streets wearing red, white and blue badges which read: “Freedom for Cuba! Remember the Maine! Compliments of Skaguay Military Company. Jeff R. Smith, captain.” At 7:30 o’clock a procession nearly two blocks in length formed on Broadway, led by a carriage containing Dr. Hornsby and Moore, Walter Church and Deputy United States Marshal John Cudihee, and headed by the Skaguay Cornet band. Standard Bearer Tanner of Denver, Colo., proudly bore a large silk flag on which is inscribed the words, “First Regiment of Alaska Militia.”
     Beside him marched Captain Jeff R. Smith of the Skaguay guards.
    Following were members of the United States Army, the Skaguay guards and citizens in all upwards of four hundred men, to say nothing of a number of women, who [being] patriotically inclined, donned male garb, and joined in the procession. Along [the way] were seen many banners and transparencies on which were inscribed such mottoes as “Death to Weyler,” “Down with Spain,” “Freedom for Cuba,” etc. To the soul inspiring strains of “Marching Through Georgia,” the procession headed up Broadway to Seventh avenue thence west to Main street and to the post office, where the nation’s flag was saluted, and with bared heads, the gallant members of the procession and upwards of two thousand sidewalk escorts listened to the melody of that old tune so dear to the heart of every American, “The Star Spangled Banner.” From the post office the march was continued to the United States customs house on State street, when heads were again bared and that time-honored American melody, “Yankee Doodle,” floated out on the evening breezes.
     From the customs house the procession headed for the city hall, where Captain Smith gave the order to “break ranks.” And a general round-up took place on Fifth Avenue before the city hall, but the avenue was crowded the entire distance between State and Broadway. By previous arrangement Dr. J. A. Hornsby had been selected as chairman of the “spread eagle” portion of the exercises, and for ten minutes he entertained the large crowd with the kind of patriotic speech that causes a man to want to take the next steamer for the scene of action. Dr. Hornsby retired by introducing the well known attorney, Walter Church, who, in his usually happy, eloquent and pleasant manner, delivered an address aptly appropriate and pointed. He was followed by Attorney I. N. Wilcoxen, a battle-scarred veteran of the last war. Mr. Wilcoxen is still able and willing to battle for the stars and stripes, and before his able address was concluded all his hearers were ready to enlist in the good cause. F. T. Kellar followed in a speech rampant in vim, vigor, humor and patriotism. He is only a “boy” but the war spirit is strong within him.
     Jeff R. Smith, captain of the Skaguay Guards, made the closing address.
     While Jeff’s eloquence is not of that style which is said to make arches of Irish oak resound, yet he has a manner which causes his hearers to vociferously applaud. He closed his address by asserting that he had actually captured Weyler, and had him then and there in custody.
     The Seattle Post Intelligencer quoted Jeff’s closing remarks.
    “There is one man, who in this terrible strife, has transcended the bounds of fair war. He has murdered the helpless and weak, debauched women and starved little children. Mr. Chairman, this man we have with us today. I have him here, and now we will proceed to hang and burn Butcher Weyler.”
     The Denver Evening Post continued.
     At that moment “Weyler” was run up on a pre-arranged wire and properly hooted at by the crowd. A big bonfire was at once started, and Weyler was burned in effigy amid the deafening yells of upward of two thousand enthusiastic Americans.



Sources:
Wikipedia: Decoration Day










Decoration Day, May 1, 1898
April 1, 2010










Decoration Day: pages 500-502.





"He died with many good deeds to his credit, as well as the other kind, but it is always the bad things he did which people remember."
—Henry “Yank Fewclothes” Edwards
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 592.



May 31


1854: The Kansas-Nebraska Act is passed by Congress.
1859: The Philadelphia Athletics are formally organized to play the game of Town Ball.
1867: Two soldiers on escort duty from Fort Dodge are killed by Indians near the Bluff Ranch, Kansas.
1870: E. J. DeSemdt patents asphalt.
1877: Colonel Nelson Miles reports that 2,300 Sioux Indians have surrendered in the last two months, at the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail Agencies in Nebraska.
1879: Madison Square Garden in New York opens.
1880: The League of American Wheelman, the first U.S. bicycle society is formed in Newport, Rhode Island.
1883: Soapy Smith purchases a street vendors license to sell his prize package soap in Washington City, Iowa.
1884: Dr. John Harvey Kellogg patents flaked cereal (Corn Flakes).
1889: More than 2,200 people die after the dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania collapses. In Denver, Colorado Soapy Smith donates to a charity drive to help the survivors.
1900: Carry Nation goes on her first saloon wrecking rampage in Kiowa, Kansas.





14 comments:

  1. Two separate parades were held in Skaguay in May 1898, one on the first and one on the 30th.

    Wikipedia states that starting in 1868 and ending in 1970 Decoration Day was held every year in the United States on May 30. Decoration Day in Skagway in 1898 was also held on May 30 (Stroller White, Tales of a Klondike Newsman, page 35). So I’m curious why the photo you have here labeled here “Decoration Day” you think is from May 1 rather than the 30th?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Do you have a copy of ALIAS SOAPY SMITH handy?

    As of this time the two dates of the two parades in 1898 are May 1, and July 4, according to my research and sources.

    Decoration Day did not become a federal holiday until 1971, and not everyone town and state observed it on the same date, the day being decided by each individual town.

    I would guess that the May 1 date was decided upon because of the mass excitement of the recently declared war with Spain in April. Soapy created his private militia and was likely eager to show them off, improving his image in Skagway. There was also news and predictions that the war would soon be over. There was no time to wait if Soapy and the town wanted to take advantage of the war.

    There are several sources that the May 1 date is based on:

    1) The Skaguay Military Company ribbon (made for the May 1 parade and celebration page 499, Alias Soapy Smith)that Soapy sent to his wife is dated May 1, 1898 (see https://soapysmiths.blogspot.com/2016/06/soapy-smith-in-skagway-alaska-may-1-1898.html).

    2) The parade and speeches afterwards are reported in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on May 9, 1898. Two Denver newspapers have reports on May 24, 1898, BEFORE May 30. As it took about five days for ships to reach Seattle from Skagway a parade date of May 4 would seem to be the latest possible date, if the newspaper published the report immediately. (see pages 500-01, Alias Soapy Smith.

    Does that help? Thanks for writing, I enjoy taking detailed looks into Soapy's history!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I can’t help but think you’re trying to force a square peg into a round hole here. You say that “Decoration Day was celebrated on different days all across the country” at the end of the 19th century, but I have found no evidence of that. Rather, in 1898 in Alaska, it was uniformly held on May 30. It was held on that date in Juneau, Sitka, Wrangell, and Dyea, and it was also held on that date in Skaguay according to Stroller White.

    In the book Stroller White, Klondike Newsman, the Stroller makes it very clear that there were two separate celebrations in Skaguay in May 1898. The first, celebrating the announcement of war with Spain, featured Smith’s Alaska Guards and the ribbons and is detailed on pages 14-17. The second celebration, Memorial Day or Decoration Day, the Stroller describes on pages 34-37. Since the Stroller was chairman of the Decoration Day Committee, it seems unlikely he would get his facts wrong in this regard.

    The final argument that this photo is from May 30, Decoration Day, rather than May 1 is that the American flag is being flown at half mast. This was typical of Decoration Day which honored the nation’s dead military veterans. Celebrating the declaration of war with Spain by flying Old Glory at less than its pinnacle makes no sense at all.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow! Did you read what I wrote?

    1) I did plenty of research on Decoration Day.
    2) You INSIST that everything happened on May 30th ignoring the fact that the Seattle and Denver newspapers reported on Skagway's parade and events WEEKS BEFORE May 30th?
    3) Odd how Soapy Smith wrote "May 1" and not "May 30th."

    ReplyDelete
  5. Let’s reset the conversation.

    I am not INSISTING that everything happened on May 30. I completely agree with you that there was a parade in Skaguay on May 1, and as you note, the Seattle and Denver newspapers reported on it, and Soapy sent a ribbon to his wife Mary about the event, confirming the event occurred on May 1. Even the Stroller acknowledges the May 1 parade, so there is no controversy about that at all.

    Getting back to my original question, however, is if the Stroller said there was also a Decoration Day celebration in Skaguay on May 30, and every other Southeast Alaska town had a Decoration Day celebration on May 30, and the photograph of Skaguay says Decoration Day on it, why is the picture not from May 30?

    If you INSIST that the photo is from May 1, then I guess you must believe that Stroller White was lying about Decoration Day being held May 30 in Skaguay. Is this a correct assumption?

    It’s unfortunate that no Skaguay newspapers survive from the era to give us futher clarification about the town’s Decoration Day activities, but until I see something more definitive, I’ve got to believe that Skaguay’s Decoration Day happened on the 30th as the Stroller said it did, and that the labeled photograph is from that date.

    ReplyDelete
  6. You are most welcome to consider that there were two parades in May 1898. However, there are no newspaper accounts that I have seen that state this, let alone that anything matching a celebration happened on May 30th. If you found something then I hope you will share it with us.

    In the mean time, you are basing your entire theory on Elmer J. "Stroller" White, a newspaper reporter who is believed to have added fictional accounts in his writings. I have the DeArment biography and several of White's accounts are included in my book ALIAS SOAPY SMITH, but White is not considered to be a solid, reliable source by most Skagway historians. Am I saying White "lied," as you accuse me of doing? No, but he did write about the event many years later, and likely was mistaken or couldn't remember, considering the evidence. I note in my book that while Stroller reported on some amazing events of that day that no one else reported on, White never reported on some of the amazing events that others DID report on, such as the effigy burning of Weyler.

    While I definitely keep White's stories close at hand in my files, unfortunately, much of what he wrote has little to no provenance.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Mr. Smith,

    Thank you for your thoughtful and measured response.

    I’m going to try a new tack in our discussion. Let’s go back to the Decoration Day photograph that instigated this conversation in the first place. In this blog and in your book you describe the parade on May 1 as a hastily arranged event starting in the evening between 7 and 8 o’clock with 600 people initially lined up and the crowd swelling to two or three thousand later in the evening. During the raucous parade frequent salutes were given to the flag, a brass band enlivened the show, and many banners were in evidence saying “Death to Weyler,” “Down with Spain,” and “Freedom for Cuba.” Women patriotically donned men’s clothes to express their solidarity, and the event culminated in speeches, the hanging of an effigy of Weyler, a bonfire, and more than a little to drink.

    So let’s look at that photograph closer again.

    Why are there less than 200 people in the photo rather than 600 or more?

    Where is the brass band?

    Why are there no banners criticizing Spain?

    Why are there no women in men’s dress?

    Why would the crowd be saluting a flag at half-mast?

    If this event were organized in the matter of hours, how is it that every one seems to be in their best dress clothes?

    Why are so many young children out at this time of night?

    Is this photo even an evening shot, or could it better be described as being taken in the afternoon?

    What I see in this photo is a relatively somber and serious group of people assembled to mark the sacrifices of the nation’s dead, not an emotional and fervent crowd ready to hang someone in effigy. But that’s what I see. Tell me what you see.

    Continuing on. In an open letter written at Sitka on May 5, 1898, Surveyor General William L Distin of Alaska, a past commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, invited “all soldiers and patriotic citizens of Alaska” to join him in celebrating Memorial Day [Decoration Day] on the 30th of May. From what I can tell all southeast Alaska communities did. Looking at period newspapers from Juneau, Sitka, Wrangell, and Dyea, you can find the extensive day long programs that indicated that this holiday was a big deal. Everywhere except Skaguay apparently if your conclusion is correct.

    So here’s the question that instantly comes to mind. How likely is it that members of the G.A.R. And the regular folks of Skaguay would sit on their hands and do absolutely nothing on May 30 while their arch-rival Dyea was celebrating the national holiday just 5 miles away? Isn’t it logical that there would be SOME kind of celebration?

    The photograph that we have been discussing has the words “Decoration Day” scratched into it which all over Alaska was celebrated on May 30. I have to take the creator at his/her word that it signified May 30 until I see compelling evidence to the contrary.

    You have concluded otherwise, that this photo proves that Decoration Day in Skaguay was held on May 1, a complete outlier to every other Decoration Day in Alaska and the rest of the country. Other than there was an anti-Spain parade in Skaguay on May 1, I don’t see any evidence to support that Decoration Day in Skaguay was also held on May 1, but maybe I’m missing something. I look forward to your response.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Wrote out a beautiful reply ... and lost it. Apparently I am allotted 4,000 digits for each comment. To fix this I will break up my comment into three or more parts. I don't know how many parts there will be exactly, and I have lost the ability to edit once published. Bare with me here. ~Jeff

    PART ONE:

    (I will guess that "Anonymous" is Cathy Spude. I have known Cathy for over a decade. We used to talk quite a bit before she started using unsavory tactics, lying, and intentionally falsifying information in her book [about Soapy and my book] in an attempt to disprove Soapy's well-sourced history, unsuccessfully trying to prove that his story is largely fiction. Occasionally, she unearths some factual tidbits and for that reason I welcome her questions as she helps me see the history from a different angle, as you will see below. Her primary interest has always been J. M. Tanner of Skagway fame. She once told me that she felt that "Soapy was on a pedestal, in the way of Tanner's fame," which might explain her obsession with trying to "dethrone" Soapy. I mention this so that the reader will take note.)

    I will now answer Cathy's questions.

    (CATHY): "In this blog and in your book you describe the parade on May 1 as a hastily arranged event starting in the evening between 7 and 8 o’clock with 600 people initially lined up and the crowd swelling to two or three thousand later in the evening. During the raucous parade frequent salutes were given to the flag, a brass band enlivened the show, and many banners were in evidence saying “Death to Weyler,” “Down with Spain,” and “Freedom for Cuba.” Women patriotically donned men’s clothes to express their solidarity, and the event culminated in speeches, the hanging of an effigy of Weyler, a bonfire, and more than a little to drink."

    (JEFF): I do not see in my book or in this blog where I say that the events of May 1 were "a hastily arranged event." The rest of your comment about what I wrote, come from the Skagway News, May 2, and the Denver Evening Post, May 24, 1898.

    PART TWO (see next comment)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. PART TWO:
      Answering Cathy's questions.

      (CATHY): Why are there less than 200 people in the photo rather than 600 or more? Where is the brass band?

      (JEFF): The photograph was taken on Holly Avenue (now Sixth). The parade took place on Broadway and moved through the street, but not Holly. Likely, as they did for the July 4, 1898 parade, this was a "staging area" Soapy decided upon, naturally being in front of his saloon, his base of operations.

      As photographers in Skagway needed the light of day to take photographs, I would imagine that these two photo were taken earlier in the day when not everyone was yet in place. This would also explain why there are no photographs of the later events, the speeches, the effigy burning, etc.

      Delete
    2. PART THREE:
      Answering Cathy's questions.

      (CATHY): Why are there no women in men’s dress? Why are there no banners criticizing Spain?

      (JEFF): "Following were members of the United States Army, the Skaguay guards and citizens in all upwards of four hundred men, to say nothing of a number of women, who [being] patriotically inclined, donned male garb, and joined in the procession. Along [the way] were seen many banners and transparencies on which were inscribed such mottoes as 'Death to Weyler,' 'Down with Spain,' 'Freedom for Cuba, etc."

      These reports are from the parade, not what took place earlier in the day on Holly Street.

      PART FOUR: (see next comment)

      Delete
    3. PART FOUR:
      Answering Cathy's questions.

      (CATHY): "Why would the crowd be saluting a flag at half-mast?"

      If you read the newspaper accounts there is nothing about "saluting a flag at half-mast." I can only guess that you are assuming that the flag in the photograph, taken on Holly, is the one they saluted. That would be incorrect.

      "... the procession headed up Broadway to Seventh avenue thence west to Main street and to the post office, where the nation’s flag was saluted, and with bared heads, the gallant members of the procession and upwards of two thousand sidewalk escorts listened to the melody of that old tune so dear to the heart of every American, 'The Star Spangled Banner.' From the post office the march was continued to the United States customs house on State street, when heads were again bared and that time-honored American melody, 'Yankee Doodle,' floated out on the evening breezes."

      The next paragraph talks about the parade ending on Fifth Avenue, never going on Holly.

      "From the customs house the procession headed for the city hall, where Captain Smith gave the order to 'break ranks.' And a general round-up took place on Fifth Avenue before the city hall, but the avenue was crowded the entire distance between State and Broadway."

      (CATHY): "If this event were organized in the matter of hours, how is it that every one seems to be in their best dress clothes?"

      (JEFF): I don't believe that the day was "organized in a matter of hours." You stated that my book and this blog states as much, but I have yet to find it.

      (CATHY): "Why are so many young children out at this time of night?"

      (JEFF): Surely the children have parents. I do not see 7:30 pm as being late, and I do believe these photographs were taken earlier in the day.

      PART FIVE: (see next comment)

      Delete
    4. PART FIVE:
      Answering Cathy's questions.

      (CATHY): "What I see in this photo is a relatively somber and serious group of people assembled to mark the sacrifices of the nation’s dead, not an emotional and fervent crowd ready to hang someone in effigy. But that’s what I see. Tell me what you see."

      (JEFF): A photograph is a millisecond in time. Trying to decipher what people in photographs are thinking is just not possible. You wrote "What I see in this photo is a relatively somber and serious group of people assembled ... " That is correct, but the rest of what you said is simply a guess, and your guess does not correlate with the facts.

      PART SIX: (see next comment below)

      Delete
    5. PART SIX:
      Answering Cathy's questions.

      (CATHY): "In an open letter written at Sitka on May 5, 1898, Surveyor General William L Distin of Alaska, a past commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, invited 'all soldiers and patriotic citizens of Alaska' to join him in celebrating Memorial Day [Decoration Day] on the 30th of May. From what I can tell all southeast Alaska communities did. Looking at period newspapers from Juneau, Sitka, Wrangell, and Dyea, you can find the extensive day long programs that indicated that this holiday was a big deal. Everywhere except Skaguay apparently if your conclusion is correct."

      (JEFF): Having been written just five days after, it seems obvious that William L Distin's statement is directly related to Skagway's May 1st affair. Did Skagway also join in on the celebrations of May 30th? Perhaps. I did not say Skagway did not do something on May 30 too. I said that there are no newspaper reports, no provenance, no eye-witness accounts (other than White's description of the May 1st happening on May 30th) that anything happened on that date. Knowing that one of Soapy's goals was to build up Skagway as THE place to come to. Why would Soapy allow any sizable celebration in Skagway on May 30, to happen without him and the Skagway Military Company? At the very least I can imagine Soapy making sure he was interviewed, saying something witty like, "Skagway is so patriotic, that we celebrate Decoration Day TWICE!"

      Delete

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