Of the many schemes to get rich, Sylvester Scovel’s was unique.
Scovel was a reporter for the New York World, but he also brought two tons of blasting powder to Skagway in Sept 1897 for White Pass Trail construction. He arrived in Skagway with his wife, Frances Cabanne and went over the Chilkoot Pass with their provisions. When he and Frances reached Lake Bennett, they had intended to float up to Dawson, but when he heard that only three mail deliveries would make it to Dawson that winter, Scovel came up with an idea. Why not organize a regular dog team mail delivery service from Skagway to Dawson and thus deliver the “New York World” to miners who would happily pay for news? He told Frances that they would certainly get rich.
Skeptics pointed out that the 600 miles of snow covered trails, frozen lakes and sub-zero conditions would take 25-30 days.
Still, Scovel told his wife that it would be like an extended honeymoon with nothing to do but “hunt, fish, prospect for gold and write correspondence…”
He left Frances in a tent at Lake Bennett while he hiked back to Skagway and took a boat down to Seattle to wire his employers for support in this venture. The World took three days to respond and then turned him down flatly and ordered him back to New York immediately. He wrote to Frances to return to Skagway and take the first boat down to Seattle as he was returning to New York. He also wrote to William Saportas, an acquaintance and fellow reporter in Skagway (also friend of Soapy) to please go find the “madame” in Lake Bennett and take her down south. Meanwhile poor Frances had not heard from her husband yet and so related in a letter to her mother that Bennett was “awful, awful without him and in this hole – it is death.”
Sylvester’s relatives in Chicago were amazed and told him he should not have left Frances. His Aunt Belle even boxed his ears! To make matters worse, the World was not happy and accused him of “gross extravagance” having wasted too much money. Oddly, the only reason he was not fired was because Hearst was courting him to come work for the New York Journal. Scovel went on to be the World’s “man in Havana”, but died there in 1905 following an operation to his liver.
In the end the only one who came out ahead was William Saportas. He married the lovely widow Frances in 1917 and they presumably lived happily ever after.
Seen above are Scovel and his wife Frances in Skagway promoting his newspaper!
The Year that defined American Journalism: 1897 and the clash of paradigms by W. Joseph Campbell; Edmond Hazard Wells, Magnificence and Misery, page 32.
NY Times Sept 6, 1897