Saturday, August 28, 2010

Skagway, AK – Searching for Authenticity

Monday Aug 23rd. After spending a couple of hours watching the bears feed by the Chilkoot River, we caught the 2:30 pm ferry (with our car and camper) from Haines to Skagway. This 1 hr ferry ride would save us 350 miles of driving. Skagway is a little town of 850 full time residents that was considered “the gateway to the Klondike gold rush”. It was here that thousands of would-be gold miners came to begin their 5oo mile journey to Dawson city looking for gold. It was here in Skagway, that these miners were charged ridiculous prices for the necessary equipment for mining and it was here, also, that they were often swindled, or out right robbed, of what little gold they had found.

Our plan was to spend the afternoon seeing what Skagway had to offer, then spend the night at the Historic Skagway Inn, a Bed and Breakfast in a restored 1887 building that had, at least for a time, been the local brothel. Then, Tues we would be heading on down the road. 


The Skagway Inn’s garden  which supplied fresh greens and vegetables for the restaurant.


This is downtown Skagway. The guide books all talked about Skagway as still having that “old-time gold rush” feeling with cute store fronts and wooden board walks. And it did…....but Skagway has become just another cruise ship destination, with all these downtown stores being set up by the cruise ships and looking more like “Six flags”. They all close as soon as the ships leave port.


This is Skagway at 6 pm, after one of the two cruise ships has left.


This is the Skagway visitor’s center in an 1898 building, completely covered in driftwood. This is, at least, unique.


This is a rather unusual pairing – a jewelry store and coffee shop…..Hmm…..maybe not such a bad thing.       : )


Out back of a rock shop………VERY authentic rhubarb.


Monday evening, we went to the only show in town, “the Days of 98” – a play that has run 85 years, first put together by the community, and re-telling the story of Jefferson “Soapy” Smith- one of Skagway’s most notorious con men.The play was cute – and interestingly, the actors were mostly hired from other traveling road shows, and just stay for the summer season. One girl we visited with was from Gonzales, Louisiana (just south of Baton Rouge) and she had been doing theatre in Pennsylvania when she heard about this show. The lead man, however, lived in Skagway full time and he and his wife were teachers at the local school where he taught music.

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Tues morning, on the way out of own, we stopped at the old cemetery where the real life “characters” from the play were buried. Jefferson Smith was killed in a shootout at age 38 – the townspeople had gotten tired of him taking their money and of his “mob rule”.


Frank Reid was the well liked town leader who shot Smith, but was also killed in that shootout.


Deputy Marshall James Mark Rowan – was killed in the line of duty – helping a townsman to get his change back from a bartender who was trying to cheat him. Both men where shot to death by the bartender. The Deputy was in town that day looking for the doctor to help his wife in childbirth. His wife gave birth to their first child just hours before he died. Rowan's great-granddaughter was researching the family history, and discovered that Rowan had not been given the honor that he deserved as a fallen US Marshall.This monument was erected just this year.

And so I puzzled………..what IS the essence of the “authentic” experience.  Are store fronts and tourist hype less “authentic” than nature and wildlife. Maybe, for Skagway, it is in keeping with their history of fleecing the poor travelers. I know that WE prefer those areas where the tourist industry grows more naturally from within the local community and there is more local “flavor” in the experience.

We search for the “authentic”……Is the history of a place more authentic than it’s present reality? It is hard to discover the “reality” of a community when one is just passing through. Though one may more often find it in the groceries, and neighborhoods, community centers, and libraries. As we were using the library in Haines on Mon morning, we noticed young mothers with small children (everyone clad in the prerequisite rubber boots and hooded sweatshirts) heading into “story hour”. Some things are universal……

We search for the “authentic” in nature……. There is something so rewarding about “feeling” the landscape of a place while hiking or just quietly sitting and appreciating the beauty. And amazing – when one of God’s creatures sticks his head out to remind you that nature is teeming with life that we are mostly unaware of. But gone are the days when people could travel freely and stop for the night wherever there was a flat spot to park their wagon. Thank goodness – we now have roads, but  also restrictions of where one can pull over to see the view, and we now have to stay the night in campgrounds and RV lots.We have seen such amazing country – pristine lakes with nothing built around them…..and they are so untouched because they are inaccessible – no roads or access down to them, not even a pull-off on the road. So…we content ourselves with just looking as we drive on………..

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