Herein is a fascinating and tragic family story of one of the foremost Historians of Skagway and the Gold Rush written and posted online in 2006 by Heidi Gurcke Donald.
In the summer in Skagway the best free tour is the ranger led walking tour of downtown. They leave about every hour, just like Old Faithful, and the groups are limited to 30, so people have to go in and get a free ticket for the next available walk. As you can see from their attire, a cool windy day is not uncommon and so a light wind breaker and rain hat is a good idea. If you’re lucky you may get a smart and handsome ranger like Arlen!
Mr. Graves was born in 1852 in Chicago, Illinois. He came to Skagway as the President of White Pass in 1898. He drove the ceremonial golden spike which finished the railroad line from Skagway to Whitehorse. This happened at Carcross on July 29, 1900.
So much has been written of him and his work supervising the 35,000 workers who built the railroad that I would not know where to begin.
Seen above is the administration building that once housed the offices of the White Pass President and staff. Today it is the administration building of the National Park Service. Graves’ office is the corner office overlooking the station and the harbor and is now the park’s Superintendent’s office. The office next to that was the railroad’s chief of operations but is now the park’s chief of administration (my husband, Reed). Some winter evenings when I go over to meet him for our walk home, the office is quiet and yet the ghosts of those great men linger on, I can almost smell the cigar smoke…
Graves died on this day, November 11, 1911 of a heart attack in Ottawa but is buried in the Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.
On the White Pass Payroll by Graves, 1908, Chicago; Minter
Born on this day, September 22 1879 in North Carolina, Ellen Orr was married to William Burt Batson the town butcher in Skagway. They were here at least from 1910 to 1915 but probably longer. William managed the Frye Bruhn Meat Company.
Ellen Orr Batson died in 1967 in Randall Washington and is buried in the Silver Creek Cemetery there.
There were actually two buildings associated with the Meat Market, one is on 5th, seen above, and this summer was the “Bombay Curry” Restaurant. This was the actual store and is being considered for historic building status, the other is the building on 5th and State. This building, the Frye-Bruhn’s cold storage building, was once used to refrigerate the company’s meat products. It has been recognized as historically significant by the National Park Service, which took ownership of the building in 2004. A contributing element of the Skagway and White Pass National Historic Landmark, this building is also in the process of being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places by the Park Service.
Late breaking news about the restoration of the cold storage building:
a revolver was found in the walls of the building last week, no news on its age, but a photo of it is flying around Skagway. Earlier in the summer one of the archaeologists was impaled in the eye by a flying nail but she is now recovering. Who knows what other evil spirits the building hides?
Alaska Library Archeaology; 1915 directory, family website, Silver Creek Cemetery list, Skagway News, Skagway Museum Record.
An ironic story. In 1899 White Pass had a strike by its workers wanting some basic worker’s rights-a long history of issues preceded this event. (Minter, in his book The White Pass describes those.)
The leader of the strike was a young man born on October 10, 1879 in Reading, England, John Robert White. He had joined the Greek Foreign Legion in 1897 and then came to Alaska in 1899. In Skagway, the confrontation with White Pass Engineer Mike Heney and Dr. Whiting resulted in Dr. Whiting striking White on the head with a shovel. White was sent to Sitka and jailed for 6 months.
After that, White joined the military and served with the 4th Infantry in the Phillipines where he rose to the rank of Colonel. He retired from the U.S. military in 1914 and went to Europe and served for the Red Cross and the new Rockefeller Foundation (establishing medical proceedurs). He then joined the A.E.F. in WW 1.
Now here begins the ironic part:
In 1920 he joins the U.S. National Park Service. He started as ranger, then chief ranger, then Superintendent of such parks as Grand Canyon, Sequoia, and Death Valley. He then became Regional Director of two regions in the Park Service in 1940-41. White died in Napa, California in 1961 at the age of 82.
Today in Skagway the White Pass and National Park work amicably together, unaware of the history of John Robert White.
The photo above shows the Washington staff of the National Park Service in uniform in 1926. Left to right: Arno B. Cammerer, assistant director; Harry Karstens, superintendent of Mount McKinley National Park; Stephen T. Mather, director; Charles G. Thompson, superintendent of Crater Lake National Park; Horace M. Albright, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park; John R. White, superintendent of Sequoia National Park; Arthur E. Demaray, assistant director; Ernest Leavitt, assistant superintendent of Yosemite National Park; W. B. Lewis, superintendent of Yosemite National Park.
(This is from the John Robert White papers collection at the University of Oregon.)