Skagway Museum Homecoming

Bob Banghart readies the lighting for the Skagway Museum opening at the McCabe Building on May 4. DL

Skagway Museum reopens in McCabe
New digs display historical collection with classic style,

familiar names started museum 40 years ago

By DIMITRA LAVRAKAS
It was a pretty typical scene before the opening of the Skagway Museum in its new home in the McCabe Building on May 4 – Bob Banghart was up on a ladder adjusting lights, Debb Hewlett was polishing the glass on the display cabinets, and people were bringing in food for the reception.
After months of hard work, the contents of the museum are either nesting comfortably in new, compact mobile storage units, thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Rasmuson Foundation, or displayed in a way where they are better seen than ever before.
Finally, the Tlingit canoe is close enough to the floor for you to see the carving marks.
And just in time for the museum’s 40th birthday.
It’s kind of strange how nothing changes much in this town. Jennie Olson Rasmuson, Elmer Rasmuson’s mother, was on the museum commission, so his family helped the museum in the beginning when it was first in the McCabe, and again this time.
In 1955, a group of citizens formed the Skagway Museum and Historical Commission to begin the task of getting a collection together. The members included Mrs. Rasmuson, Dr. R.E. Harrell, Ethel Sipprell, Agnes Sincic, Vic Sparks, Edna Rapuzzi, and Cyril A. Coyne.
Their task wasn’t very hard in a town of pack rats.
There were some losses though over the years. The community could not afford the Ma Pullen and Rasmuson collections. The Pullen collection moved to Seattle and was later auctioned off, and most of the Rasmuson collection moved to Anchorage.
The museum was housed in the upper floor of the McCabe in 1961.
In 1961, Hans Soldin was on the board, so was Jack Lee, Vic Sparks, Agnes Sincic, Bill Matthews, George Rapuzzi, and Everett Smith. Paul Sincic was the curator. Marvin Taylor was the mayor.
Myrtle Keller gave the museum $1,500 start-up money.
Back then, the Garden Club offered to landscape the grounds using Alaska native plants – exactly what’s being planned now.
Museum Director Judy Munns didn’t have much time to talk at the opening, but she was beaming.
Banghart, who has worked in just about every community in Alaska that has a museum (except Nome), designed and directed the construction of the new space. When the museum was in the Arctic Brotherhood Hall, the displays were designed so they could be moved into the new space. They slipped into place just fine.
Banghart said he uses local crews so the community has a feeling of ownership.
“Any kind of museum like this will only be successful if it can tap a root in the community,” Banghart said.
This one has for decades.


Deb Sanders cleans glass in the special exhibit room before the museum opening. Now on display "Dolly Spencer: Inupiat Doll Maker" and "Quyaq: Kayaks of Siberia and Alaska" are from the Alaska State Museum traveling exhibit program. Right, familiar objects like the Tlingit canoe and winter sleigh are now prominently displayed in the front section of the Skagway Museum. Photos by Dimitra Lavrakas