There are three types of people who came to Skagway in 1898. There were those who were looking for gold, those who were looking to make money off the gold stampeders and those who came for the sheer adventure of it. The same three types of people reside there to date. It is as though they are invoking the spirits of the past. Every summer is a resurrection of the Gold Rush days.
A town that once boasted 75 bars and 75 brothels, no church and no sheriff was surely a boisterous, if not dangerous place to live. It is sill vibrant with dealers, cons and adventurers, but 111 years later, the town has tamed some.
There are now only four public bars (in the summertime – but in the winter there are only two), four police officers and four churches (numerous faiths are practiced within peoples’ homes) – and no brothels. For many tourists who venture into Skagway off the cruise ships for a day, it is hard to imagine anything of social significance occurring once they leave in the evening.
“What do you at night?” they ask incredulously. They assume the town of a meager population of 800 must be a dull place once they leave.
With only a scant number of places to congregate at night, it would seem that Skagway is like any sleepy small town community in the Lower 48 that rolls up the carpets and locks the doors at dusk. But like many towns in Alaska, evening is when the town’s local flavor comes to life. In fine stampeder fashion, the summer locals brazenly relish in one another’s company.
Each bar boasts industrious activity at least one evening a week, if not all seven. Open mic, dance night, trivia night and live music are just the set calendar. Fundraisers that occur on a weekly basis, particularly as the summer progresses, have a huge draw; a corset fashion show to raise money for Little Dippers – the summer daycare center, a drag show for breast cancer awareness, and a wine tasting for someone’s emergency healthcare needs (the town has no hospital or doctor) are just to name a few of the social events.
As hailed by the local radio station, the social event of the year had a draw of about 600 people: a wedding at a waterside property between two grade school teachers who came up 10 years ago as tour guides from Minnesota. Everyone arrived in their finest evening attire and proceeded to drink and dance long into the night.
A bore, Skagway is not. It is also a host to numerous other activities that don’t entail alcohol and debauchery. Picnics, BBQs, softball games and theme parties are nightly norms.
With all of its glory there is also the peculiarity of living in a town that is only 23 blocks long and four blocks wide. It is the shape of a fishbowl. In most towns where friends and enemies don’t see each other for weeks at a time, in Skagway they see each other on a daily basis. When someone isn’t seen for a few days it seems like months. Events are tenfold bigger, better and worse in Skagway than they are in most places. Relationships are bold and devout in a week’s time, drama and gossip are blown out of proportion. Legends and myths are born, much like they were in 1898.