Thursday, May 17, 2018
Ep. 258 - Haunted Skagway
Moment in Oddity - Appenino Sculpture
The Appenine Colossus is found near a pond at Villa di Pratolino in Florence, Italy and seems to be emerging from the mountainous rockwork. The Villa di Pratolino was a Renaissance villa built by the Grand Duke of Tuscany for his Venetian mistress, Bianca Capello. The villa was mostly demolished in 1820 and what is left is part of Villa Demidoff. The sculpture, known as Appenino, is like a half-man, half-mountain squatting over a snake from which water flows, with his head bent as though he is looking down at the snake. His left hand rests upon it. Appenino was created by Flemish sculptor Giambologna in 1579-80. He created works in the Mannerist style, which exaggerates balance and proportion. While the work is amazing in and of itself, what really makes it wondrously unique is that it has several hidden caves inside. These caves are decorated with frescoes and a small marble statue of “Venerina” is inside one of the caves. One of the really bizarre features was reputedly a space in his head that had a fireplace which, when lit, would blow smoke out of his nostrils, and that, certainly is odd!
This Month in History - Pop-up Toaster Invented
In the month of May, on the 29th, in 1919, the pop-up toaster received its patent. Humans have been eating bread for over 6,000 years and for most of that time, bread has been toasted to preserve it and to make it tastier. Before the electric toaster was invented, people used fire to toast bread. Charles P. Strite was a master mechanic in a plant in Stillwater, Minnesota and he was becoming increasingly frustrated with the burnt toast that was served in the company cafeteria. The cafeteria staffing was not adequate enough to keep a continuous eye on the toast. So Strite decided to invent a toaster that did not need supervision. He incorporated springs and a variable timer into his design and this created the first pop-up toaster. He figured that the device would only be sold to the restaurant trade, but as we all know, nearly every home has a pop-up toaster today.
Skagway, Alaska is a popular destination for cruise ships hosting Alaskan cruises and it was one of the settings for Jack London's "Call of the Wild." And Skagway does have a wild history due to its location during the Klondike Gold Rush. The Red Onion Saloon not only provided a place for prospectors to get a drink, it also was a high class brothel. Today, the saloon is a restaurant and bar that serves up more than just food and drinks, it serves up some haunting experiences. The Golden North Hotel dates back to the gold rush as well and plays host to two apparitions. There are buildings for fraternal organizations and government and a couple of houses that also play host to spirits. Join me as I share the history and hauntings of Skagway, Alaska!
The word Skagway is the nickname of Kanagoo. Kanagoo was the mythical woman who transformed herself into stone at Skagway Bay. She is the cause of the strong winds on the bay. The people who lived here originally were the Tlingit People and they named a mountain now known today as Face Mountain a name that translates to Kanagoo's image. And it does look as though the profile of someone is looking up from the top of the mountain. The Tlingit were hunters and fishermen. The tribe still exists today, but much of their heritage was lost when Russian missionaries brought Russian orthodoxy to the area. The indigenous people lost their faith in their own medicine men and ways when small pox devastated them.
Very few white men came into the rugged area. A former steamboat captain named William "Billy" Moore conducted surveys over the Coast mountains because he believed he would find gold through there. Similar passes in South America and British Columbia had revealed that they had gold, so his belief was backed up by facts. He claimed an area of land measuring 160 acres with his son Ben in 1887 and this was near the mouth of the Skagway River. After staking their claim, they built a sawmill, wharf and log cabin. Billy just knew that prospectors were going to be flocking to the area and he was going to be prepared. Billy only had to wait about ten years before the Klondike Gold Rush started. In 1896, gold was found in the Klondike region of Canada's Yukon Territory. Soon, Skagway was flooding with prospectors. This would be the entryway into a 500-mile journey to the gold fields in Canada. This would seem like a dream for Billy as the population swelled to 30,000. But his lot was jumped and his land was stolen.
The official resident count was marked at 10,000 and this made Skagway the largest city in Alaska. Skagway grew into a modern city with fine hotels, electric lights, water works, a telephone system, street grading, a city hall, jail and residential districts. The city's government stepped in to regulate gambling and saloons. One of those saloons still stands today: The Red Onion Saloon. The Red Onion opened for business in 1898 when the Klondike Gold Rush was at its height. The building was constructed from planks cut by Billy Moore. As was the case with so many drinking establishments of this time, the main form of entertainment hosted at the saloon was the bordello. And this was not just any bordello. The Red Onion was the most exclusive bordello in town. Alcohol was served on the first floor, with the brothel being on the second floor. The business only ran for two years as the gold rush waned and prospectors moved on to other areas.
After the Red Onion shut down, it served a number of other purposes. During World War II the building was used as a U.S. Army barracks to board soldiers. It later served as a union hall, laundry, bakery, television station and gift shop. The building was bought by Jan Wrentmore in 1980 and she turned it into a restaurant and bar that hosts a museum dedicated to the prostitution past. There is more than just a bordello museum hosted here though. The saloon is reputedly haunted and has such a reputation that many paranormal investigators have come to visit and investigate and the location was featured on the TV show "Alaska Haunting" in October of 2015. There is more than one ghost haunting the building.
Investigators have reported picking up EVP. Guests and employees have felt cold spots and seen apparitions. Glasses have moved around on the bar. Disembodied footsteps are heard up on the second floor. When people go to see who is wandering around up there they find nobody. Several times though they would "find" something else and that would be the scent of perfume. One time, the police were called because the disturbance upstairs was so loud. The police showed up and as they approached the stairs, they claimed they saw what was a shadow figure running down the hall and into a room that had belonged to the former madame. They found no one in the room. A musician who played in the saloon once lived on the second floor and one night he awoke to see a shimmering light in his room and he felt a very strange sensation. One of the local town leaders was upstairs once and claimed to feel a strong presence that felt hostile.
One of the most well known spirits in the Red Onion Saloon is that of a former prostitute named Lydia. Lydia likes to water the plants apparently. When the owner goes around to water the plants, she sometimes finds the soil to be wet. There are no plants in the madam's room and yet an apparition has been seen walking around as if it is watering plants. No one knows why Lydia is here because there is no record of a Lydia dying in the bordello. But she is hostile towards men, so maybe something did happen to her.
One employee said, "I have worked here 13 years and can tell you that there is SOMETHING here. We’ve had employees see her, have witnessed things flying off the back bar, have customers see her… All sorts of events. It’s definitely more ‘active’ in Spring and when the building is quiet. Or at least, we notice it then."
Another business that opened in Skagway was The Golden North Hotel. The Golden North Hotel was built at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898. It is three-stories, painted white and has a gold painted cupola. The hotel closed in 2002 to guests. The building is currently occupied by Frontier Excursions & Adventures. In its heyday, around 1,000 prospectors would pass through the doors every week. One of those prospectors was named Klondike Ike and he arrived in Skagway with his fiancé Mary. The couple rented Room 23 at the hotel. Ike left Mary there to make his fortune in the gold fields. Mary died while Ike was away. Some say she had been ill with pneumonia, others say she grew depressed waiting for Ike and starved herself and still others say she died of a broken heart. She was found wearing the wedding dress she had bought for her future nuptials.
Mary's spirit is believed to still be in the building to this day. She has been nicknamed "Scary Mary" by those that have experienced her. Guests who stay in Room 23 have occasionally woken up because they were feeling as though they were being choked. Their lungs feel tight, almost as though they were sick with pneumonia. Other guests have reported seeing the apparition of a woman roaming the halls or watching out a window. The owner and one of the maids were together when they saw Mary standing by the window in Room 23. Blasts of cold air are felt as though something very cold has walked by and mysterious noises have been heard. Mary also seems to have made an appearance in a photograph when a singer from Juneau had his girlfriend take his picture while standing in the then empty third floor Hall. After the picture was developed, they saw that a woman was standing next to him who was clearly not there when the picture was taken.
There may be another ghost here as well that reputedly haunts Room 14. A mysterious light has been seen by both guests and staff in that room. It has a sparkle quality to it and others claim that it is a twinkling orb. No one knows exactly why it would be in this room, but it moves around and seems to be non-threatening. Some hotel guests have felt really sick when staying in Room 14. It gets so bad that some have nearly passed out. They claim to see a grayish light manifest at the same time that they are feeling ill. As it fades away, they start to feel better. Some ghost hunters claimed that they found a dark ring around the tub the morning following their overnight stay. It was as though someone had taken a bath during the night, but none of them had. And they were sure that the tub was clean when they checked in.
The Eagles fraternity first met in Skagway in 1899. They moved into the Eagles Hall in 1916. The hall was formed by bringing together two old hotels that were built in the 1890s. The Mondamin Hotel was moved here in 1916 and the Pacific Hotel was added to the rear in 1920. The building is two stories and painted maroon with white trim. During the summers, the hall hosts a popular show called Days of '98 Show. This is Alaska's longest running theater production and dates back to 1927. The show was originally started as a fundraiser for the hockey club and is a variety show. The second floor seems to be host to several friendly ghosts. They manifest as cold spots and people have seen apparitions throughout the second floor.
The Mulvihill House was built in 1904 for W.H. Case who was a partner in the well-known photographic firm of Case and Draper. The house is named for a man who lived in it from 1914 to 1949, White Pass and Yukon Railroad dispatcher Mul Mulvihill. The house is Victorian in style. He died in 1949, but his spirit is still in the house. He reputedly taps out messages on a phantom telegraph, opens and closes doors and walks throughout the home stomping around in what sounds like heavy work boots. Today, the Mulvihill House is a private residence. Not sure if the current owners have experienced the haunting activity.
The City Municipal Building was built in 1899. This was the first territorial court in Alaska, but today it serves as Skagway’s city hall and department of tourism. There is a museum on the second floor. There are reports of strange noises coming from this floor and the source has never been discovered.
The White House is a building on the edge of town that is fire damaged and abandoned. It was originally built to be a private home, but during World War II it became a hospital. Later, the house was used as a small hotel, then a day-care center and then a home for families once again.People who have stayed or lived in the house have reported supernatural activity. A commercial fisherman was staying there with his family and he and his wife awoke one night to see a the apparition of a woman standing at the foot of their bed. They also experienced their toddler daughter chatting away with someone they could not see in the kitchen. They occasionally saw this apparition in the kitchen and she matched the description of a woman who used to run the day-care center.
There's no hauntings going on at this location that I know of, but it is one of the most unique buildings in the city and that is the Arctic Brotherhood Hall. It is said that this is the most photographed building in Alaska. The building was constructed in 1899 as headquarters for arctic brotherhood Camp Skagway No. 1. The facade is made up of more than 8,800 pieces of driftwood collected from local tidal flats. Sticks have been shaped into a mosaic of letters, a gold pan and square patterns. The Trail of '98 Museum is inside and features Native artifacts and relics of the gold rush, including gambling paraphernalia from the old Board of Trade Saloon.
*Rabbit Hole: Soapy Smith
I first heard of Soapy Smith in Colorado. Doing research for this episode, I read that Soapy had ended up in Skagway and it is here that he died and was buried in the City Cemetery. He was quite the character and I thought you would enjoy hearing about this infamous con man. Soapy had been born into a rich plantation family in 1860, but as was the case for so many southern families, the Civil War changed their fortunes. His family relocated to Texas and it was here that he began his career as a bunko artist. He gathered together some other rogues to help him out with his scams. They used the typical shell games, three card Monte and other little cons. Soon Soapy was known as the “King of the Frontier Con Men.” He moved on to bigger games and created his “Prize Package Soap Sell.” Soapy would set up a suitcase on a stand on a busy street corner. Inside the suitcase were piles of ordinary soap wrapped in plain paper. he made a big production of wrapping the soap in money from one dollar up to a hundred, then he would rewrap the bar in plain paper. He would then sell the soap $1-5 per bar. A shill in the crowd would buy a bar, unwrap it and find the hundred dollar bill. Of course the crowds of people would quickly buy some bars. Most would find only a bar of soap that cost Soapy 5 cents. He did this for two decades and it earned him his "Soapy" nickname.
In Denver, he added stock exchange swindles to his repettoire. Soapy had such a large group of men running his cons that he claimed to be the boss of Denver’s underworld crime empire. He opened the Tivoli Saloon and Gambling Hall in Denver. *Fun Fact: Bat Masterson worked as a dealer at the Tivoli for a time.* Sopay joined forces with Old Man Taylor in Leadville and the two operated a successful shell game upon the many unsuspecting miners. People in Denver were trying to shut down gambling and so Soapy took his operation to Creede, Colorado, another mining town in the mountains. He opened a club were he displayed a petrified man for the price of 10¢. He called the “petrified man,” “McGinty” and this was also a hoax, as it was actually nothing more than cement over skeletal remains. The oddity brought in lots of customers though. The club ran crooked card games and swindled many gamblers.
Soapy returned to Denver and eventually became a wanted man and so he moved further west until the Yukon Gold Rush grabbed his attention in 1897. He made his way to Skagway. He soon claimed to be the boss of Skagway. He opened a saloon called Jeff Smith’s Parlor and ran his cons out of there. Soon the people of Skagway were tired of Soapy and his ways. a vigilante group tried to force Soapy and his gang out but he claimed to have a bigger force of 300 men and the vigilante group backed down. The group would return in 1898 and they held a meeting to discuss what to do with Soapy. He showed up with a Winchester rifle over his shoulder. he argued with a guard at the door and a gunfight erupted. When the smoke cleared both Soapy and the guard lay dead. Soapy’s last words were reportedly: “My God, don’t shoot!” Soapy Smith was buried just outside the city cemetery. His grave and his saloon, which has since been moved from its original location, can still be seen in Skagway.
The city of Skagway looks much like it did over 100 years ago with wooden boardwalks and buildings dating back to the late 1800s. Several of these buildings seem to be housing an energy left over from the past. Is Skagway one of the most haunted cities in Alaska? Are these buildings haunted? That is for you to decide!