Itjen was a Klondike stampeder in 1898, he is more known as a character of early twentieth century Skagway,
Alaska. He held many distinct titles, including that of miner, railroad employee, hotel operator, hack service, the
town's undertaker, Ford motor car dealer, and a tour guide. He is
most famous for
being Skagway's unofficial director of tourism. In the latter
role he helped keep the legend of Soapy Smith alive. He held
Soapy in high regard, telling his tour bus customers the views commonly
held by friends of Soapy. Often, he told stories that cast a
favorable light on Soapy's methods of doing business. This was in
contrast to the usual outlaw tales associated with the bunco man.
Martin Itjen holds the distinction of being Soapy's first publicity
He honored Soapy in many ways, and kept the legend alive. It is
for this reason that Martin is honored here.
Martin Itjen came to Skagway from Jacksonville, Florida in the spring
of 1898, when Soapy was at the height of power. Martin took up
employment working for the White Pass & Yukon Railroad, while
seeking his fortune in gold prospecting. Becoming overly
neither, he went into the undertaking business. Between 1915 and
1917 He ran a hack service. It was a wagon that he used as a taxi
and a coal hauling business.
business was slow he built a tour bus from an old Ford bus.
Martin referred to it as a street
car. He began giving tours of the gold rush town. By the
1930's he became Skagway's premier tourist agent. In
1938 Martin published a
book and an LP (long playing) record, The Story of the Tour on the Skagway, Alaska Street Car. Martin's
tours were theatrical productions, complete with motorized
mechanical actors, poetry and humorous ancedotes, all relating to the
colorful history of Skagway and its' inhabitants.
Martin Itjen with one of his home made "street cars," complete with a machanical Soapy effigy that salutes people on command as Martin drives. Jeff Smith and his family had the great pleasure of riding in the bus in 1974's July fourth parade, just before it was
put into storage for safe keeping.
Itjen took it upon himself to retouch old photographs. He did so
by cutting out photographs of Soapy and adhering them to other
photographs. Unfortunately this casts doubt on the authenticity
of everything in his book, including his comments and stories. As much as we hate such practices. Martin's admiration for Soapy was
anything but fake.
ownership of Jeff
Smith's Parlor. After remodeling the front and insides to reemble
the original saloon, he opened it up to the public as a Soapy Smith
In 1935, as a great publicity stunt, Martin took his "street car" to
Hollywood to promote Skagway tourism. He called on sexy starlet
of the big screen, Mae West, to "come up and
visit him sometime." The pair were popular with newsmen and
photographers. Martin attracted numerous screen queens to his side while in the movie capitol.
branched out to become the caretaker of the city cemetery. Here,
a postcard of Martin showing off the world's largest nugget, chained to
a tree for safe keeping. Martin made it his responsibility to
care and maintain Soapy's numerous grave markers. Martin passed away December 3, 1942, and is now resting near his "world's largest nugget." The Itjen home has been
restored by the National Park Service and is used as a Trail Center for
those wishing to hike the gold trails.
Thank you Martin!
Martin at Soapy's grave
For more information on Martin Itjen, be sure to visit Wikipedia's page devoted to him at
To reach the descendants of Martin Itjen contact
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