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1997 - 1998
Centennial Celebration
of the
Klondike Gold R
ush
 &
The Demise of Soapy Smith

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Plaque at spot where Soapy Smith died

PART ONE

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The centennial (100 years) celebration of the Klondike Gold Rush took place in Seattle, Washington, Juneau & Skagway, Alaska and Canada between the years 1996 - 1998. The Smith family was invited to participate as representatives of Soapy Smith in Seattle and Skagway.


Reenactments and official events for the centennial began August 12, 1996, exactly 100 years after the discovery of gold in the Yukon. Although Soapy had traveled to Alaska in 1896 our participation did not begin until 1997.

 

 

Jeff Brady of the Skagway News
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Brady walks the gang plank with Yukon gold

            
1997
 
Jeff Smith was involved early on with plans being made in Seattle, Washington and Skagway, Alaska. He loaned the Washington State Museum in Tacoma, several artifacts for their exhibition display on Soapy Smith and his connection to the Klondike gold rush. Jeff was also in attendance on the Seattle docks on July 19, 1997 when the Spirit of 98 reenacted the arrival of the steamer Portland and its first boat load of miners and gold from the Klondike, starting the gold rush stampede. The ship had just completed a full trip reenactment of the voyage from Skagway, Alaska carrying nearly two tons of gold, the amount the Portland had in cargo in 1897.

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The REAL gold was well guarded

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Jeff attempts Seattle's finest

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Jeff Smith worked the crowds and even tried to "win" some of the gold from one of the security men guarding the two tons of gold but the North West Mounted Police who had come with the gold from the Klondike quickly put a damper on his activities.

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Jeff Smith met sculpture artist Pat McVay who had been commissioned by the city of Seattle to create a series of statues representing important figures of Seattle at the time of the gold rush. Naturally Soapy had his hand in the underworld of Seattle and was one of Pat's creations, "There is a carnival-like arcade at one entrance, and that's where we put Soapy," recalled Pat McVay.

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In 1996 well known author, Sue Henry (Murder on the Iditarod Trail) was writing,  Death Takes Passage, a fictional murder mystery novel based around the reenactment of the two tons of gold transported aboard the ship, Spirit of 98 from Skagway, Alaska to Seattle, Washington in 1997. The original passenger list included Jeff Smith and Sue Henry contacted Jeff for information and permission to use him as a suspect character in the murder mystery that takes place on the ship. Unfortunately Jeff’s commitments with the museum in Tacoma, Washington prevented him from taking the voyage. The book came out in 1998 with Jeff’s character included.

Fictional character, Alaska state trooper Alex Jensen is placed in charge of the ton of real gold being used in the reenactment aboard the ship. In a master-mind attempt to steal the gold, and place blame elsewhere, there are a series of unexplained robberies, along with the disappearance and probable murder of a ship crew member. Trooper Alex is placed in the position of unraveling the crime before all hell breaks loose.

Jeff Smith writes,

I play myself in the book, a reenacting passenger who portrays his great grandfather, infamous outlaw Soapy Smith. I am there to speak on Soapy and then perform some of his old swindles with my tri-pod and keister. In one such episode, a watch, that was stolen the day prior, falls out of my keister in front of everybody. My character is the intended target of a set-up, to draw attention away from the real crime. The robbery of the ton of gold.

 

I spoke with Sue Henry at great length while she was writing the book. She did a wonderful job describing me. At first my character was to be partially involved with the robbery. I really liked the idea, but she was very concerned with legal issues, so innocent I am.

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