Skagway Monkey Business

In her book of stories from the Gold Rush, Ella Lung Martinsen in “Trail to North Star Gold” remembered an organ grinder in Skagway in 1898.
She said the monkey was putting on a “Soapy Smith street show”. It was dressed in a tiny man’s suit, a red striped vest, a derby hat and high topped boots. Across his chest dangled an imitation nugget watch chain, and in his belt was stuck a toy pistol.
“…His little green eyes roamed furtively over the crowd, as he kept up his odd little jig. The gypsy organ grinder energetically pumped out lively, bouncy tunes, but “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” seemed to be a favorite with the crowd. It greatly pleased the monkey too, who almost went berserk when the tempo was increased to a fever pitch. Jumping up and down, flapping his arms, he grabbed up tiny pieces of soapy from a container and flung them in wild frenzy at the audience, just like a jungle beast throwing coconuts! Of course his antics hightly pleased the crowd, They dodged and grabbed and got souvenir soap. At quick intervals, the little fellow hopped down from his box and passed his hat among the crowd for donations. When the hat was full of nickles and dimes, the monkey would rush back to his master. Greedily, he would sweep the contents into a small tin box, then he would pat the little fellow and give him peanuts.”

I haven’t seen an organ grinder with a monkey since about 1969 and that was at Knott’s Berry Farm in Anaheim. As kids, I remember my brothers and I would beg pennies from our dad to give to the monkey who would grab them and put them in his little bag. Seen above is a picture from 1892 but not from Skagway.

Trail to North Star Gold by Martinsen p 24-25.



2 Replies to “Skagway Monkey Business”

  1. Great story!

    Speaking of Knott’s Berry Farm, the train engine #41 hauled passenger cars to and from Creede, Colorado in 1892. Of the passengers were Soapy Smith and his “associates.”

    At Knott’s do you remember the chicken in the box that played (pecked) a piano when you put a nickle in the slot. After a few pecks at the keys the chicken was rewarded with some food.

  2. Yes! I had forgotten about that – it was in Old MacDonalds Farm! I especially liked the gumball machines where the little man took your coin and moved it around and then gave you your gumball. Also, rode the train whenever we could, I just loved putting pennies on the track to get squished too… We would go to KBF every Sunday after church and just hang out until they started charging to get in. (My mother cursed Russel up and down for that). – And it’s Buena Park, not Anaheim, sorry…

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