SCOUNDREL SCANNED – ‘Dangerous Dan McGrew,’ one of three automatons from Jeff. Smith’s Parlor, is X-rayed at the Dahl Memorial Clinic to find out what makes him click for restoration by Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. From left are: Medical Assistant Sarah Phillips, park interns Nicole Peters and Katie Bonanno, and MA Melissa Horman. Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Dan McGrew not so dangerous on the inside
By KATIE EMMETS
The mechanical greeters at Jeff. Smith’s Parlor can hide nothing now. Like Hugo’s friend in the movie, Skagway’s automatons have a story to tell.
On June 6, Dahl Memorial Clinic medical assistants Sarah Phillips and Melissa Homrman X-rayed “Dangerous Dan,” and allowed NPS artifact conservation interns Nicole Peters and Katie Bonanno to look inside the old mannequin that once turned to greet visitors at the old museum which is being restored by the National Park Service.
Peters said Skagway entrepreneur and showman Martin Itjen created three automaton mannequins: Dangerous Dan McGrew, Lady Lou and Soapy Smith.
“The automatons are all one-of-a-kind,” she said. “Itjen constructed and wired all of them himself without plans. He made it up and figured it out as he went.”
Though the museum team knew the automatons moved when they were installed in Marten Itjen’s museum, the exact mechanism of movement was unclear.
“We’re not doing this to try to get them to run again because it would destroy the objects,” she said of the X-raying. “But we want to reveal their interior mechanisms to give us a better idea of how they were constructed.”
Peters said no one has an exact plan or list of materials Itjen used, and knowledge of them is necessary for both restoration and safety of conservators.
Dan’s head showed electronic connections for his eyes. Dahl Memorial Clinic
The X-ray revealed that Dangerous Dan’s face was painted with a lead-based system.
Because the paint system is secure, there is no immediate danger, but it could be dangerous to future conservators if the paint chips became airborn.
The X-ray also revealed that Dangerous Dan’s eyes were lit with light bulbs, and he had an interior mechanism that moved his foot.
“He looks like a toe tapper,” Peters said.
Peters said she is unsure of Lady Lou’s future plans for an X-ray.
“Right now Lady Lou is undergoing treatment,” Peters said.
Along with stabilizing all textiles and cleaning her, conservators are doing a consolidation of paint layers on Lady Lou’s face, which will secure lose paint chips so nothing else will come off.
Peters said Lady Lou has a hole near her mouth on her lower left cheek with papier-mâché coming out of it, and Peters said she and Bonnano will use a product called PolyFix to fill in the loss.
Soapy Smith, the third automaton, has already gone through an extensive conservation treatment by Alaska State Museum’s Ellen Carrlee.
Carrlee and her husband Scott, Alaska Museum Curator of Museum Services, are supporting and mentoring the conservation interns during their internship.
Peters and Bonanno plan on teaming up with KGRNHP curator Samantha Richert soon to piece together the scans and analyze them.
“Identifying how they function is critical to understanding these objects,” Peters said. “And after further analysis, we’ll be able to piece together how everything functioned.”