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MailTribune.com
  • Following the Klondike Trail

    Miners leaving Seattle found themselves in Skagway, Alaska
  • Editor's Note: Last month Paul Hadella visited the spot in Seattle where Klondike gold miners prepared for their trip to the Alaska gold fields. This month he writes about their landing spot in Alaska.
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  • Editor's Note: Last month Paul Hadella visited the spot in Seattle where Klondike gold miners prepared for their trip to the Alaska gold fields. This month he writes about their landing spot in Alaska.
    Skagway, Alaska, has the sheen of a theme park. This little town, situated at the tip of Lynn Canal about 100 miles north of Juneau, played a central role in the Klondike gold rush of 1897-98 — a heritage that it wears handily to this day.
    Its old buildings are fixed up to look the way they did at the end of the 20th century, though they were probably not so neat and spiffy back then. Gone is the gauntlet of saloons and brothels of yesteryear. There's a fascinating ivory museum now, courtyards with manicured flower gardens and a National Park visitor center dedicated to the history of the gold rush.
    "Working girls" wave to tourists from second-story windows, but they're just college students in costumes, of course. It's all good, clean fun in Skagway these days — with plenty of opportunities to shop for T-shirts, jewelry, native crafts, etc.
    I arrived in Skagway by boat from Seattle, just like thousands of hearty "stampeders" who took part in the gold rush. The similarities between me and them end there.
    My vessel was an enormous cruise ship, a spacious floating city complete with restaurants, a theater, sitting lounges and nightclubs. Theirs was a crowded steamship without enough private cabins to accommodate all passengers. Besides, if a stampeder could afford such luxury, he wouldn't be crazed to find gold in the first place.
    I came as a loafing tourist, they as desperate dreamers. The Panic of 1893 had thrown America into an economic depression. Going on an epic journey for a chance at striking it rich actually seemed like a good idea for people without secure futures.
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