Thursday, August 29, 2013

Yesterday we took the fast ferry to Skagway for the day. For the first time in a week it was sunny and
warm. The ride was really pretty, water the color of aqua, sea birds soaring overhead, Humpback whales cruising past, glacier fed waterfalls cascading into the canal.
A crew member told us about  “Glacial Rebound?” As the glaciers melt an enormous weight is lifted of the land and the land actually rises (rebounding.)  In Haines it’s rising .760 inches a year, other places it’s an inch and half! WOW. This waterfall used to fall straight into the canal. It is not erosion at the foot of the waterfall, it’s rebound land rising up.


Our first stop in Skagway was the Red Onion for lunch. This is one of my favorite places in Alaska! After lunch we took the Brothel Museum tour. The tour was so much fun and our tour guide really got into her role. While the building has served many uses over the past 100 years it stilled retained much of its original “brothelness.” (I know that is not a word, but you get the idea, right?) Here are several of the saloon's working girls all tricked out for business. Jim enjoyed making "deposits into their treasure chests."


The Red Onion Saloon, was Skagway’s most exclusive bordello. It was the classiest dance hall and saloon in the bustling gold rush town of Skagway. The saloon served alcohol on the first floor while the upper floor satisfied more than the prospectors thirst. The brothel consisted of ten tiny cubicles, called cribs, each one was ten foot by ten foot. Each room had a hole in the floor which connected to the cash register in the bar by means of a copper tube.

In order to keep track of which girls were busy, the bartender kept ten dolls on the back bar, one for each of the girls in each of the rooms. When a girl was with a customer, her doll was laid on its back. When she sent her money down the tube, the doll was returned to the upright position signaling to the waiting prospectors that she was ready for business. The bartender safeguarded the girl’s earnings, usually $5.00 for a fifteen minute  trick, preferably in gold. The girls then utilized the loose floorboards to hide nuggets and private tips. After paying the Madam and the upstairs bodyguard their cut the girls made about $1.25 per trick.
Because the rooms were divided by single planks toe-nailed into the ceiling and floor not much sound-proofing was provided. To decorate their cribs, the women stretched linen across the rough planks, and then glued wall paper to the cloth. Remnants of the original wall papers still cling to those planks. When one of the crib walls was removed there were eighteen layers of wallpaper on it! 

In the parlor were period photos of half naked women. Our guide told the story of a local judge who volunteered to reduce the sentence of  any woman who had been arrested if they would provide him with a nude photo of themselves. When the judge passed away the nude photo collection was found in his home.

The museum is filled with many antiques from the gold rush days. Many of the items on display were found in the brothel including this Madam’s gown. The gown was found wadded up and stuffed beneath the floorboards. In its time it would have cost a small fortune for such a dress. It is made of silk and weighs ten pounds. It’s been beaded with tiny pieces of copper. Very shimmery.

The museum includes a crib room as it might have looked during the Gold Rush.

Here's Jim in the Madam's bedroom hoping to get lucky with our guide.

The Red Onions most famous madam was Diamond Lil Davenport. This Klondike Gold Rush madam ran one of the most lavish houses of ill repute, and her ostentatious nature showed in her personal demeanor. Lil stood nearly six feet tall; she was remarkably good looking and she always sported an elaborate diamond collection, one of which was implanted into her teeth.  Certainly nature had fashioned her into a perfect beauty and at first glance she did appear to be a person of real refinement. But Diamond Lil was a courtesan in the fullest sense of the word, only entertaining the obviously rich clients who could pay handsomely for what she had to offer. Nevertheless she was fully entrenched in the world’s oldest profession.

Skagway is a really cute gold rush town. It is an absolute must see when traveling in Alaska.


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