One in a Hundred

Sensational Skagway Centennial Celebration

By April Busch and Dimitra Lavrakas
Although the City of Skagway turned 100 years old on June 28, it celebrated its birthday and dedicated the renovated McCabe Building four days early with balloons, beer, bands, barbecue, dignitaries and dance hall girls.
Nothing ever takes place in this historic Klondike Gold Rush town without a floozy or two.
The first incorporated city in Alaska, by a filing fluke, Skagway beat Juneau for first place by one day on June 28, 1900.
“Skagway Is The Only Real City In All Alaska,” proclaimed the Daily Alaskan the day after incorporation.
“Skagway is today the only city in Alaska. Juneau may become one before the day is over, but Skagway will remain forever the first city of Alaska. Such is the satisfactory result of yesterday’s balloting and the Daily Alaskan extends its congratulations to the progressive people who have again demonstrated their capacity to intelligently govern themselves.”
“A hundred years ago, Juneau was upset that we beat them to the punch by being the first incorporated city in Alaska,” Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue said with a sly smile. “And nothing’s changed. We’re still beating them to the punch. Let’s party.”

About 150 people kicked off the event around the McCabe Building at noon. The day marked the culmination of 13 years of centennial celebration activities including the dedication of the Centennial Park and sculpture, a time capsule, the Ton of Gold re-enactment, the Dyea to Dawson races, the Klondike Gold Rush Centennial stamp and state license plate, and other commemorative events.
Jeff Brady, Skagway Centennial Committee secretary, opened the ceremony to applause, under breaking sun and a slight breeze.
White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad trains carrying tourists blew their whistles as they passed behind the newly-renovated, but not quite finished, McCabe Building, which houses the city government, court system and the Skagway Museum. The McCabe, built in 1899- 1900, is the first granite building in Alaska.
Hungry celebrators lined up from the balloon-festooned, red- and white-striped food tent to the tree line 200 feet away, clutching their red plastic plates in anticipation. The many-colored 100th birthday balloons floated on strings over huge metal bowls of Greek salad, green salad, cold noodle salad, flat bread, buns and beans.
Lively period music from the Skagway Community Band and the Jubilee/Red Onion Jazz Bands filled the air as thickening crowds surrounded two grills manned by Skagway fire fighters, and filled with smoking bratwurst and burgers. Coolers were full of soda, and a beer garden beckoned adults with “centennial suds” donated by Skagway Brewing Co. and Alaskan Brewing of Juneau. The beer garden, organized by local businessman Dennis Corrington, raised $1,040 to help build a local senior center.
As everyone finished their first pass for food, Centennial Committee Chairman Carl Mulvihill introduced representatives from the first people to live on this land and pioneer Skagway families.
Lance Twitchell spoke about Tlingit history in Skagway and Dyea, on behalf of the Dennis family.
“The Tlingit thought (the first white settlers) were a little off,” Twitchell said. “Because it’s very windy here, but you made it through 100 years. Congratulations.”
Twitchell, who is president of the Skagua Tribal Council, said the Lukax Adi Tlingit clan has been around Taiya for at least 400 years and the Dak’ Lawedi-Shgagwei clan has been here for 15,000 plus years.
Barbara Dedman Kalen spoke about her family’s part in the initial white settlement of Skagway. Her grandfather George Dedman ran the Golden North Hotel and fathered Henry Alaska, the second white child born in Skagway.
Irene Soldin Henricksen shared the Hukill-Soldin families' participation in the historical construction of the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad and Kathy O’Daniel took rapt listeners through seven generations of Hillery-de Gruyter history in Skagway.
Maxine Selmer delighted the audience with stories from her Pullen family’s six-generation span in Skagway since 1897, and Wayne Selmer talked about his family’s migration from Norway, five generations earlier.
Representatives from the Rapuzzi and Feero families were unable to speak at the celebration.
Gerald Pennington remembered his father’s story about climbing the Chilkoot trail in the stampede of 1898.
“Climbing the Chilkoot and then coming back down they had a slide,” Pennington said. “They slid back down on tarps and things like that. He said he did that one time and no more because it took him about half a day to get to the top and about two seconds to get back down.”
Stan Cohen who wrote the book, “Gold Rush Gateway,” said, “(Skagway) is an integral part of the whole history of the gold rush. The history is so rich here.”
The cost of celebrating was minimal to the appreciation it brought to the people whose lives are living testaments of Skagway’s history.
Stan Selmer, Centennial Committee member, said the event took around $5,000 to stage after all of the tent and bathroom rental, travel, food and beverage expenses were figured in
The money came from several fund-raisers that had been held since the committee’s inception in 1987, city budgetary allowances and very generous contributions from individuals and local businesses, Selmer said. The committee figured it fed approximately 700 people, 200 more than expected.
Brady continued the speeches to commend Skagway businesses that have existed or been rejuvenated since the turn-of-the-century. Barbara Kalen pointed out proudly that only her business, Dedman’s Photo Shop, has been owned continually by the same family. Brady then asked Lorene Gordon, former city clerk and daughter of the late Virginia Burfield, to be the first to sign the guest register. “Virginia is on a lot of our minds today,” Brady said.
Lucky for the winners, only three people entered the centennial writing contest, and they all walked away with $100 donated by National Bank of Alaska and the Skagway Public Library. Zachary (Quinn) Weber won the childrens’ division, Steve Hites and Kerry Kilcoyne both won the adult competition.
Speakers praised the legal history of the McCabe Building, in addition to the genealogical and business history of Skagway.
Judge Thomas Stewart, who appointed and oversaw Skagway magistrates from 1966-1981, spoke to a growing crowd of enthralled revelers. Sunny, smiling listeners passed murmured chuckles among themselves at his light speech commemorating his time here.

As a Superior Court judge he was never required to preside directly over a case in Skagway.
“The building wasn’t suitable for felony cases, which is what I dealt with mostly,” Stewart said. “And I can’t even remember a felony case here in Skagway or a large civil case either.”
He did travel to Skagway about twice a year on business and said he always looked forward to those times.
State Rep. Albert Kookesh said he also looks forward to his visits in Skagway, both on official business and in the past to support his sons in basketball competitions. This was the first time he and his wife, Sally, were able to be just tourists in town. Kookesh wished good will toward the people of Skagway in celebrating 100 years of growth.
Both Kookesh and Mayor John Mielke were dismayed at the governor’s absence from the celebration. As Mielke took the podium he suggested that when Kookesh return to Juneau he might point out to Governor Tony Knowles which direction Skagway is.
Mielke revealed that in his youth he spent some time in the McCabe jail so he was entitled to sign the special register for those who had a history with the building.
As the mayor finished his address, family members of past mayors who are deceased came forward: Blodwen Reed, wife of Morgan Reed; Beverly Feero, wife of Bill Feero; Paul Taylor, son of Marvin Taylor; and, Martha Moore, wife of Rand Snure. Mary Lou Moe was unable to attend to represent her husband, the late Malcolm Moe. Former mayors in attendance included Skip Elliott, Stan Selmer and Sioux Plummer.
After Mielke unveiled a special memorial plaque for the McCabe Building, the group moved to the top of the steps and cut the inaugural red ribbon for the renovated building. However, they were unable to enter because it is still a construction project.
A reflection of the entire building was then revealed on a large half chocolate, half vanilla cake by Nancy Schave, decorated with the McCabe edifice.
Before the cake was devoured hand over fist, about 200 people lined up around it for the town panoramic photo by Juneau photographer Ron Klein.
On a day celebrating so many firsts, it was the same challenge as always when he climbed the ladder to take the panoramic photo of the town’s inhabitants. Because the camera pans slowly, people jump from the end of the line as the camera passes them and run to the other end to be in the picture twice. No matter how hard he tries, Klein can never get people here to behave and has to do two takes. It’s another town tradition, and one that will probably be carried on well into the next century.

The photograph was a favorite event for many participants. “The group photo has so much longevity,” said Tina Cyr, Centennial Committee member. “I mean the beer garden’s fun and all the balloons, the work parties organizing things, but really that group photo will be around for a 100 years. And people will relive the memories from that.”
Guests also were able to purchase special McCabe College Station postal cancellations with the centennial event logo. They were personally stamped by postmasters Elaine Brumett of Skagway and Wayne Selmer of Haines.

Susan Jabal who co-designed the centennial logo with Pete Lucchetti said the town photo was definitely a highlight of the event.
“It’s just great to see everybody get together, the locals as well as the summer people – a good group of us having a good time with the sun shining,” Jabal said.
“All of the centennial events have been received by the community very well,” Selmer said. “I’ve seen this event as a celebration for the residents of Skagway, not so much the tourists, but I think everyone got something from it.”
The Rev. Neal Down Band brought the party to a close as volunteers broke down the tents and cleaned up. Kids rode over the balloons with their bicycles and sat on them until they popped. As things wound down, adults wanting to stretch the festivities wandered into the beer garden, drinking and laughing until the very end.

Retirement Board to send investigators again
Unions credited with swaying board

By Dimitra Lavrakas
White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad workers just may get back on track with the Railroad Retirement Board.
Bill Poulos, public affairs officer for the Board, said from Chicago that the two original investigators will arrive within the next few weeks to look at the numbers again.
The Board decided in March that White Pass was no longer a railroad carrier under the Interstate Commerce Act and therefore, its workers would no longer be covered under its retirement and unemployment program effective from 1988 when the railroad ceased to haul ore shipments after the closing of the Faro mine. The Board also said the railroad did not carry enough through passengers to qualify as a commercial carrier. It declared White Pass – “an excursion railroad.”
In April, after reconsidering the situation, the Board returned coverage up to March 2000.
Workers were stunned that a decision affecting their lives came after 100 years of operation and with such short notice.
“They do care,” said Poulos of the members of the Board. “I know this is my mantra, but they really do.”
He credited Teamsters Union Local 959, with the United Transportation Union Local 1626 adding its weight, with turning the Board around by presenting convincing evidence.
“The information they took back was obviously misinterpreted,” said Tim Sunday, Teamster business representative. He pointed out that the investigators reported to the Board that only .62 percent of White Pass’s passengers were through ticketed. The union contends it is 25 percent.
The company has continued to bid for freight contracts, said Sunday, even though business has slowed in the Yukon.
“They’re bidding on freight all the time,” said Sunday. “We have the equipment to haul freight, the economy’s just not there. It is not just an excursion railroad.”
So far, the WP&YR board of directors has not responded to the RRB’s action, said Fred McCorriston, WP&YR president.
“We’re encouraged by their coming out,” said McCorriston. “We have not made a formal decision as to whether or not to appeal as of this date.”
The original investigation was brought on by White Pass pleading guilty to three misdemeanor charges of devising a scheme to avoid paying seasonal employee taxes as required by the Board from 1995-1997. The Board became suspicious, said Poulos, and sent the investigative auditors to Skagway.