After eight years of painstaking restoration by the National Park Service, Jeff Smith’s Parlor Museum opened to the public last week in Skagway. The grand opening drew around 150 history lovers to the event. After tours and speeches, the crowd was treated to a historical reenactment of Soapy Smith’s final moments.
“Don’t shoot! Ahhhh! Bang! Bang!”
Just three people attended the funeral of Jefferson ‘Soapy’ Smith after a wharf-side gunfight ended his life in 1898. His opponent, Frank Reid, also died as a result of that scuffle and 2,000 mourners showed up at his service to pay their respects.
Smith left behind quite a legacy in the Gateway to the Klondike. And now remnants from that legacy and the Klondike Gold Rush are on display at the restored Jeff Smith’s Parlor Museum in Skagway.
“This is a momentous occasion,” said Mike Tranel is the Superintendent of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
“This building here, the Jeff Smith’s Parlor, is one of the most interesting historic buildings in the entire National Park system.”
Despite the rain, a large crowd gathered on Saturday for the grand re-opening of the museum. It’s chockfull of artifacts from the bygone era of gold seekers, swindlers and dancing girls. The building and assortment of relics were donated in 2008 by the Rasmuson Foundation as part of the George and Edna Rapuzzi Collection, which includes clothing, tools, signs and newspapers, totaling 30,000 gold rush era objects.
The parlor became famous in 1898 as the base of operations for Smith, a notorious crook, and his gang of hooligans. In 1935, Martin Itjen (Itch-en) converted the building into a museum, a homespun tourist attraction featuring robot versions of the gold rush’s famous characters. Prior to that, the building had been used as a saloon, restaurant and a fire station.
Skagway residents George and Edna Rapuzzi operated the tourist attraction in the mid ‘60s and it was available, on and off, to the public until George’s death in 1986. A relative gave up the collection the Rasmuson Foundation, and the Klondike Historical Park acquired it in 2008. Then came the challenge of the restoring the delicate structure, and setting up the artifacts for display to the public.
Dr. Bert Frost is the Regional Director of the National Park Service for Alaska.
“Now that it is owned by all Americans and managed by the National Park Service on your behalf, it will be preserved in perpetuity.”
Frost said the Klondike Park is one of 23 in Alaska and, alone, it brings in $15 million annually to the local economy. It’s also the most visited national park in the state.
“We know that visitors come to Skagway for many reason and among them is this charming little town with the authentic buildings,” Frost told the crowd. “The park staff and the park itself takes pride in protecting this authenticity and inspiring community-wide preservation efforts to protect it. This building in particular, everyone in the community had a role in that.”
The opening of the museum is part of an ongoing celebration of the National Park Service’s centennial.
Ben Hayes is the chief of interpretation and education for the park in Skagway. He said park staff are looking forward to sharing the rich and sorted history of that era with the world for years to come.
The museum will be open for guided tours during the week and unguided visits on Saturday and Sunday.
(Audio from the museum opening was provided from the National Park Service.)