August 26, 2020

Soapy Smith souvenir spoon

Soapy Smith Spoon
American Historical Spoons: The American Story in Spoons
Page 273

(Click image to enlarge)

oapy Smith souvenir spoon

In the late 1990s someone mailed me a xeroxed page from the book, American Historical Spoons: The American Story in Spoons, 1971. At the time, the photo was very poor and too dark to see, and the book title was not correct, so for the next 30 years I blindly sought that spoon and the book, finding neither, until recently.

In looking at the spoon and the description, I am left to ask, why is it called the "Soapy Smith" spoon?

"No one hates trouble more than I do. I would walk a block at any time to keep out of trouble."
—Soapy Smith
Forty Years of Hardware, 1924

August 4, 2020

The Web of Arachne, colorized.

The Web of Arachne
by Fernand Le Quesne
(1856 - 1932)
Colorized by Curtis Byrne
(Click image to enlarge)

It's great to see what this painting may have originally looked like.

     As I recently hung my framed print of The Web of Arachne, by Fernand Le Quesne (1856 - 1932), in my new place, I wondered why the artist didn't colorize it? Then I pondered if the original was not indeed in color? Once again, I returned to researching this art piece. At the same time I imagined what the print would look like colorized, and recalling that numerous people on Facebook make a hobby of colorizing old photographs. I decided to publish a request for someone to colorize The Web of Arachne, and within one day, Curtis Byrne rose to the occasion and created a stunning color version of the print (see top pic).
     The print that Soapy purchased hung in Jeff Smith's Parlor so we know that without any question that Fernand Le Quesne painted The Web of Arachne at some point previous to 1898. Ads for the print and others like it, are reported to have sold at the Columbian Exposition in 1893, so it's likely that Le Quesne painted it at some point before the opening of the fair. Guessing that he started painting by age 20, it is conjecture that the The Web of Arachne was painted sometime between 1876-1892.


     I have always found the decor inside Jeff Smith's Parlor in Skagway, Alaska of great interest. Each picture hung on the walls had special meaning and were hung there for specific reasons. The ones on the west wall, behind the front bar in the three photographs of the inside of Jeff Smith's Parlor (see photo below) are dedicated to patriotic war promotion during the Spanish-American War. But what about the pictures on the side and back walls? Was there any meaning in them, or were they simply hung strictly for decor?

The Web of Arachne
hanging inside Jeff Smith's Parlor
North wall, small office room
(circled in yellow)

(Click image to enlarge)

     One framed picture held special interest for me, as it appeared to have female nudes in it. In one photograph of the inside of Jeff Smith's Parlor the print is hanging on the north wall, inside the small office in the back end of the Parlor (see photo above). In another photograph the framed print has been moved to the east wall, opposite the front bar wall. In the photograph above you can see it directly behind Soapy's head (see photo below).
     In looking at the two photographs with the framed print, you can see that the details in the print are extremely difficult to make out. In 2011 I began searching to identify the art piece. I compared thousands of paintings online, in hope of finding a match, but had no luck. After months of searching I had pretty much given up on ever finding it, but then one day I stumbled upon it, completely by accident.

     One day while searching through my daily eBay saved searches I came across a postcard of what appeared to look like a typical saloon painting of a reclining nude female. In fact, it was Russian art from the 1890s. I love saloon nudes so I noted that the postcard was in the 19th century art category of "risque art." That created a new search topic, and I was looking through the many thousands of "risque" works when I came across one that immediately had a familiar look to it. It did not take but a second to realize that I had found the missing artwork I had been looking for. With the aid of historian Steve Stapp, I was able to gather my first bit of information about the mysterious painting and it's creator, including hints of where Soapy may have purchased the print.
The Web of Arachne
hanging inside Jeff Smith's Parlor
East wall
(just behind Soapy's head)

(Click image to enlarge)

     I found the painting but the information about it was very vague, and information on the painter was even more barren. My first found data was that the painting was titled either Nude Nymph in Net or Nude Nymph in Spider Web, and that the artist was a Russian painter named P. Le Quesue or Le Queysen. These were English translations, and in time I learned that the correct title of the painting is The Web of Arachne, but I still could not find anything about the artist, and for good reason. I recently discovered that the artist was not Russian, but a French painter named Fernand Le Quesne (1856 - 1932). Although I now had the paintings title and correct artist, I have still yet to find much about either.


     Fernand Le Quesne (1856 - 1932) was a known French artist, but yet only two surviving examples of his work are known to have survived. Interesting to note that both of these are in color, meaning that there is a good chance that The Web of Arachne was also in color. Le Quesne died in 1932, before the start of WWII. The number of paintings and art destroyed in Europe during WW2 was a staggering loss to the world. To top the loss was the fact that most of the art destroyed, had not been photographed using color film, thus there are mostly black and white photographs of the works destroyed during the war devastation. I believe that much of Le Quesne's work, including the original painting of The Web of Arachne, was destroyed. As most art book authors tend to use color photographs of the known artists of the world, the photographed works of Le Quesne was likely passed over, and his history became "lost." 


     Where did Soapy possibly see and purchase a print of The Web of Arachne? There is a good possibility he either found a copy at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition or in Denver.

Collection of prints sold in Denver by
The White City Art Company
(circa 1893)

(Click image to enlarge)

     It appears that the print of The Web of Arachne was first offered for sale in the United States in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition. As Soapy Smith did attend the fair, it is possible he purchased the print there. In 1897 it was offered for sale in Denver, and Soapy may have purchased it there, though he was a "wanted man" by the county court for running out on a bond in 1895, and there is no confirmed evidence that he returned to Denver after 1896.
     The White City Art Company, 611 Manhattan Building, Chicago, Illinois was founded in 1893 to supply souvenirs to the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, they continued to publish prints, illustrated souvenir books, and postcards in the years that followed, until they closed their doors in 1909 (source: Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City).

White City Art Company
ad for The Spider's Web
published in the book Out West
(Click image to enlarge)

     According to the William J. Jenack Auction house The White City Art Company also had a location in Denver but at this time the years of operation are not known.
     In 1897 The White City Art Company published Out West, the photographic story of four women who traveled across the country. On the very last page of the book is an art ad by the art company (see pic above).
     The above ad offers an 11" by 14" print of The Spider's Web, which is without a doubt, The Web of Arachne, for $1.00 from the Chicago store. The Denver location is not mentioned. The framed print shown hanging on the wall of Jeff Smith's Parlor appears to be 11" by 14."

The Web of Arachne
by P. Le Quesne
black and white as originally sold

(Click image to enlarge)

      In 1902 The White City Art Company published the book, Master Paintings of the World, Edited by Dupont Vicars. On page 184 is a print of The Web of Arachne. The photograph above was taken from this book.

"Welcome to my parlor," said the spider to the fly.

     Besides being a fun painting of nudes, why would Soapy be interested in this particular print? Is it just pure coincidence that the painting shows victims caught in a web, just as victims to Soapy's swindles were caught? I believe his interest in the print is it's obvious connection with the poem, The Spider and the Fly published in 1829 by Mary Howitt. I also believe that the print and the poem influenced his use the term Parlor when naming his Skagway, Alaska saloon (Jeff Smith's Parlor).
     Though there certainly there must be others, I can say that to date, I have yet to run into another saloon that included the term Parlor in its name. It is likely that the poem was an influence for Soapy's use of Parlor.
     Soapy had a good sense of humor and consistently utilized hidden, subliminal, messages in his endeavors, such as using the address of his Skagway saloon (317 Holly) as the membership computation of his law and order society, when countering the vigilante committee of 101. Another great example is the "Seal named Jeff" story published in a Spokane, Washington newspaper. It centered on a seal, named "Jeff" who found it's way back "home," believed to be a brilliant ruse published by Soapy to secretly let his friends in Spokane, including saloon owner "Doc" Brown, know that he was in town, perhaps during a power struggle there, or Soapy's attempt in avoiding the law. It is my belief that Soapy and his Soap Gang referred to catching victims much as a spider catches bugs in a web. Jeff Smith's Parlor was one of Soapy's "webs," so it would be natural to take a liking to the poem, The Spider and the Fly.

     The poem is a cautionary tale of a cunning Spider who ensnares a naive Fly through the use of seduction and flattery, much like the Soap Gang ensnares their prey. The tale is a warning against those who use flattery and charm as a front for potential evil. The opening line "Will you walk into my parlour?", often quoted as "Step into my parlour" or "Come into my parlour", has become an aphorism, often used to indicate a false offer of help or friendship that is in fact a trap. The line has been used and parodied numerous times in various works of fiction. Following is the 1829 version of the poem in its entirety.

The Spider and the Fly
by Mary Howitt

"Will you walk into my parlor?" said the Spider to the Fly,
"'Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlor is up a winding stair,
And I have many curious things to show you when you are there."
"Oh no, no," said the Fly, "to ask me is in vain;
For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down again."

"I'm sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high;
Will you rest upon my little bed?" said the Spider to the Fly.
"There are pretty curtains drawn around, the sheets are fine and thin;
And if you like to rest awhile, I'll snugly tuck you in!"
"Oh no, no," said the little Fly, "for I've often heard it said
They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed!"

Said the cunning Spider to the Fly, "Dear friend, what can I do
To prove that warm affection I've always felt for you?
I have within my pantry, good store of all that's nice;
I'm sure you're very welcome - will you please take a slice?"
"Oh no, no," said the little Fly, "kind sir, that cannot be,
I've heard what's in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!"
"Sweet creature," said the Spider, "you're witty and you're wise;
How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes!
I have a little looking-glass upon my parlor shelf;
If you step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself."
"I thank you, gentle sir," she said, "for what you're pleased to say;
And bidding good morning now, I'll call another day."

The Spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly Fly would soon come back again;
So he wove a subtle web in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready to dine upon the Fly.
then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing,
"Come hither, hither, pretty Fly, with the pearl and silver wing;
Your robes are green and purple, there's a crest upon your head;
Your eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are as dull as lead."

Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little Fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by;
With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer drew, -
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue;
Thinking only of her crested head - poor foolish thing! At last,
Up jumped the cunning Spider, and fiercely held her fast.
He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den
Within his little parlor - but she ne'er came out again!

And now, dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly, flattering words, I pray you ne'er heed;
Unto an evil counselor close heart, and ear, and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale of the Spider and the Fly.

     In Greco-Roman mythology, Arachne was a great mortal weaver who boasted that her skill was greater than that of Minerva, the Latin parallel of Pallas Athena, goddess of wisdom and crafts. Arachne refused to acknowledge that her knowledge came, in part at least, from the goddess. The offended goddess set a contest between the two weavers. According to Ovid, the goddess was so envious of the magnificent tapestry and the mortal weaver's success, and perhaps offended by the girl's choice of subjects (the loves and transgressions of the gods), that she destroyed the tapestry and loom and slashed the girl's face. “Not even Pallas nor blue-fevered Envy \ Could damn Arachne's work. \ The brown haired goddess Raged at the girl's success, struck through her loom, Tore down the scenes of wayward joys in heaven.″ Ultimately, the goddess turned Arachne into a spider. Arachne simply means "spider" in Greek (source: Arachne, Wikipedia).

With the poem in mind I believe Soapy came across a print of the painting The Web of Arachne and decided that it belonged on the wall of his saloon, as an inside joke. It should be noted that if Soapy purchased this print previous to 1895 then it possibly hung on the walls of the Tivoli Club in Denver, as well as others he operated before the opening of Jeff Smith's Parlor.

~ My sincere thanks go to Steve Stapp and Curtis Byrne for their help ~

Feb 1, 2012
Mar 4, 2012

"Then,” said Soapy, “I got the reputation of being a gunman, and of course after that whenever there was any little difficulty it was simply a question of the man who could draw the quickest and shoot the straightest. So here I am now, marked as a bad man when as a matter of fact I have a very gentle disposition and an affectionate nature."
—Saunders Norvell, Forty Years of Hardware, 1924


1735: Freedom of the press is established. acquittal John P. Zenger, of the New York Weekly Journal is acquitted of charges dealing with seditious libel by the royal governor of New York.
1753: George Washington becomes a Master Mason.
1790: The Revenue Cutter Service is formed. This is the beginning of the U.S. Coast Guard.
1821: The Saturday Evening Post begins publication.
1859: After failing to kill the editor in a duel, Sylvester Mowry aggress to buy the Weekly Arizonian and publish it in Tucson, Arizona Territory.
1873: The “Packsaddle Mountain fight.” A band of Indians stealing horses in Llano County, are followed by a posse for twenty-five miles. The two groups clashed in a gun battle at the top of Packsaddle Mountain. Three Indians were killed and four of the posse were wounded. The battle is the last known Indian fight in the county.
1882: Fort Larned, Kansas is abandoned. It was originally established in 1859 to protect traders along the Santa Fe Trail.
1886: John “Doc” Holliday is arrested in Denver, Colorado for vagrancy. The Denver Tribune-Republican writes that Holliday’s “…only means of living is gambling in its worst form and confidence work.”
1889: Spokane, Washington business district burns.
1895: Outlaw Zip “Dick Yeagar” Wyatt is shot and captured by the Anti-Horse Thief Association of Sheridan, Oklahoma, five miles southeast of Marshal, Oklahoma Territory. A gun battle ensues in which Deputies Ad Polk and Tom Smith hit Wyatt in the pelvis and stomach, before he surrenders.