“Ho! for the Klondike. Stick to the trail and mush on!” Those were words to live by in 1897 and 1898 when more than 100,000 fortune-seekers used Skagway, Alaska as their “jumping off point” to the Klondike gold fields some 600 miles beyond. The Discovery Channel’s Klondike mini-series on Monday, January 20, 2014, chronicles the lives and adventures of those fighting for survival and wealth in the remote Yukon Territory. But to gain insight into that extraordinary Gold Rush which culminated in the Klondike, you should first visit Skagway to see where it all began. No need to stock up on pickaxes and bags of beans and flour beforehand as was required of the first stampeders, but you might want to bring a spirit of adventure and a camera.
Back-dropped by snow-capped mountains, Skagway today is the year-round home to about 920 Alaskans. The small town’s gold rush era architecture and history are well preserved. Six blocks of downtown have been designated as the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic District and are managed by the National Park Service, so there’s a good bit of yesteryear mixed in with modern gift shops and museums. Join a free ranger-led walking tour of the historic district, or pick up a self-guided walking map. It’s easy to explore on foot— just head down Broadway along the rough-hewn boardwalk.
The best place to begin your visit is at the Klondike Gold Rush Visitor Center, housed in the historic White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad Depot at Second and Broadway. Watch the 30 minute film "Gold Fever: Race to the Klondike" in the auditorium, then take a look at the exhibits and artifacts on display. Nearby at Third and Broadway is the Mascot Saloon— an authentic saloon museum containing more interesting displays and dioramas. To learn about Skagway’s founder, visit the historic Moore House and Cabin at Fifth and Spring Streets. The driftwood-encrusted building on Broadway bearing the letters AB for Arctic Brotherhood dates to 1899. It once was the first social order established by gold miners, but now it’s the most-photographed place in town. It’s also pretty impressive to note that a few businesses such as Kirmse’s Curios, first opened over a century ago, and are still thriving. Look for their advertisement painted high on the rocks above town.
If you get thirsty for more than knowledge while in Skagway, stop in for a sarsaparilla or other cold beverage at the lively Red Onion Saloon. It used to be a brothel, but now you’ll just find good, clean fun. Have a look at the museum on the top floor, or better yet, take a walking tour of the town with a “working girl” and learn about the ladies’ very important role in the Klondike Gold Rush, as well as hear a few ghost stories. You are certain to learn a thing or two from the likes of “Madame Lacy Knickers” or “Madam Ella Vagoodtime” or another talented actress turned tour guide!
For an amusing encounter with Skagway’s history, board a sunny yellow Skagway Street Car on Second Avenue. The authentic vehicles were created in 1923 for President Warren Harding’s visit to Skagway. Since then, tourists wishing to see “all points of interest” (as proclaimed by the advertising painted on the side) hop aboard for a 90-minute narrated tour. While driving in and around town, a costumed guide brings Skagway’s wild and lawless past to life. The stories are amazing!
Shop for gold mining equipment at GoldRushTradingPost.com