Monday, November 28, 2011

Spotlight on Camp #4, Dawson

It's ironic to think that I've been living in Skagway, the gateway to the Klondike, for four and a half years and i've never been to Dawson City. For the last two and a half of those years I've been completely immersed in the history of the Klondike Gold Rush and Dawson is the city that was built up around the gold fields of the Klondike itself. As plans begin to fall into place and I may be working on my first trip to the place that brought hundreds of thousands of people northward, many of them through Skagway, I thought it would be pertinent to post an entry spotlighting Dawson's camp of the Arctic Brotherhood.

Over the years, the four major consistent camps of the AB became Skagway #1, Dawson #4, Nome #9, and Fairbanks #16. That's mainly due to the fact that many of the cities that the AB made its home were transient, temporary mining camps that rose and fell fairly quickly. In 1899, when the Arctic Brotherhood was founded, Dawson's population had fallen from 40,000 to 4,000. It's a significant drop, but the city was still surviving. Being on the Yukon River made it an important stop for those headed westward into Alaska's interior.

The Klondike Nugget was one of Dawson's main sources of news. Its publisher was a man by the name of Arnold F. George. While in Skagway, George was initiated into Skagway's Arctic Brotherhood, which at that time only had two other subordinate camps in Atlin and Bennett. George was initiated during the first meeting of Skagway's club in their new hall. During the meeting, George and another new initiate, E. J. Fitzpatrick, discussed the fact that Dawson could use its own chapter of the AB.

After the meeting, George boldly asked the officers of Camp #1 if he could be granted authority to be a deputy organizer. That would give him the power to organize camps without receiving prior permission each time. In the days when, if possible, mail moved slower than it does today, it was important to be able to get these things done without having to rely on the postal service.

Arnold George was a brand-new member to the club so it might seem like he was overstepping his bounds in making such a request so early. The rest of the men already present knew him to be a reputable man, and his business was well-respected in Skagway and elsewhere. And so Arnold George was given the authority to organize camps.

On November 24th, 1899 (just nine months after the AB was initially created), Dawson became home to Camp #4 of the AB. The first few meetings only had a few men present, but the camp grew fairly quickly. The first officers of the camp were George himself, Fitzpatrick, Stroller White, Rudy Kalenborn (whose descendent I was lucky enough to meet in summer 2010), Max Kollm (who allegedly discovered AB Mountain), Dr. Everett, Fred Atwood, Henry Fulda, and L. Orville Wilcoxen.

In October of 1901, Dawson's club began working on having its own building. In four days, the group collected enough money to begin construction. It cost over $16,000 in total but was known as the first building of its kind in the north, the finest hall north of Victoria. (Today, that building is Diamond Tooth Gertie's, one of very few AB halls to still stand.)

In December, the club had a formal dedication of the building. It entailed a ceremonial dedication, dinner and dancing. The club had put together an orchestra. One journalist claimed that initially dancing was hardly possible due to the fact that the building was so crowded; it ended up lasting from 10 PM to 4 in the morning. When the orchestra stopped playing, it was only because they were so exhausted that they physicaly could no longer play.

The dedication ceremony was the first of many events to be put on at Dawson's AB Hall. Over the years Dawson's club would prove to be the most creative of all 32 camps. They had their own orchestra and often housed theatrical productions. The club wrote, produced, and starred in an opera entitled "The Island of Kokomolo." In the ragtime era, Dawson #4 even put on minstrel shows in blackface.

One of the most prominent events to happen to the Dawson Arctic Brotherhood occurred when they met with Canada's Governor General, Earl Grey. (Incidentally, this Earl Grey is not the same Earl Grey after whom the tea was named, which made research a little confusing.) It seems as though the Eagles club of Dawson had received Grey at their building. As he left the Eagles to head to the dock, the AB had their own reception for him. That meant they whisked him away and led him in a parade down to the wharf. Later, when Grey sent a letter to the city of Dawson thanking them for their hospitality, he said that the AB's parade was one of the highlights.

Another event that Camp Dawson put on was a masquerade ball for New Year's of 1901. The writer covering the event for the newspaper said that the occasion was well attended by Dawson's high society. He also noted that often, in these types of events, after masks were removed women might find that they had less dancing partners when their faces were revealed. Apparently sometimes it happens that a mask is prettier than a face. The writer made sure to point out that that was not the case at this event, as everyone there had plenty of dancing partners both before and after their true appearances wer revealed.

I can't be sure when Dawson's camp went under, but it was one of the longest-lasting chapters of the club. They contributed a lot of creativity and enthusiasm to the club, and their events were covered in a lot of detail by Dawson's newspapers. If you find yourself in Dawson, visit Diamond Tooth Gertie's and take a moment, look around, and imagine the building packed to the max with people attempting to dance at the first event ever to be held there.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Welcome back to winter,.

As I look out the window and see the sun shining at me from the south, it's starting to feel like winter is here again. That means a lot of things (as opposed to "that can only mean one thing..."), but for this blog it means more posts. For the men of the Arctic Brotherhood over a century ago, winter would have meant hunkering down and, in a lot of cases, being cut off from ingoing and outgoing transportation. They were quite a bit more rugged than we are today in the north, but their legacy still lives on in a big way.

This summer I put the Arctic Brotherhood on hold, just as the men of the Arctic Brotherhood may have put things on hold during the months of working their butts off. Just before the season started, i did a little bit of research in old newspapers and found over forty new pieces of information I'd never seen before. Some of them were small and only added to things I'd already uncovered, but a good deal of them related to things I had been struggling to piece together. And then there were some articles which brought up new things altogether.

For instance, the Arctic Brotherhood and YMCA of Nome, traveling under the name Arctic Brotherhood, toured extensively the lower states, territories, and Canada in winter of 1907. Why? They were a basketball team playing against local clubs in just about every corner of the country. Whether or not the team performed well is yet to be seen, but at least two newspapers reported on the upcoming events.

Newspapers reporting on the Arctic Brotherhood weren't limited to the north. Sure, most of the coverage comes from papers in Skagway, Dawson, Nome, and other locales that had active camps; but the AB name was dropped in papers all over. There is a good representation of the club in Washington and British Columbia. As the Grand Camp of the AB met in Seattle, Tacoma, Victoria, and Vancouver, it wasn't surprising that "Arctic Brotherhood" was a common enough term to show up in papers. Also, with the proximity to Alaska, the cities of Washington and southern BC were natural meeting places of those giong to and from the North. A good deal of men and women who had headed north during the gold rushes found themselves leaving after not striking it rich and ending up in Seattle or Victoria.

Even so, the Arctic Brotherhood was somehow important enough to be mentioned in farther away places. The Bisbee Daily Review from Arizona reported on them several times, as did the Minneapolis Journal. Even papers in Missouri and Louisiana mentioned the AB in one regard or another.

Finding all of these newspaper articles accomplished a main goal of mine in diong this research, which was to find out what became of the Arctic Brotherhood after 1909 (stay tuned on that one). Beyond that, it emphasized beyond any shadow of a doubt that, without newspapers and magazines, the story of the Arctic Brotherhood would now hardly exist. One of the most important sources for telling the story is a serial article by Dr. Moore of Skagway in an Alaska magazine. Coverage of AB events, from presidential receptions to building dedication ceremonies and galas, would not exist without newspapers. And, most importantly, the cliffhanger of the Arctic Brotherhood story which occurred in 1909 would have gone unresolved in my mind without newspaper articles covering the aftermath.

The story of Alaska itself, the development of the north, the gold rushes, is all well documented. Journals, diaries, and letters all have survived the decades to provide insight into the events that shaped our northern corner of the continent. Yet the secret society of the Arctic Brotherhood is, in so many cases, left out of these first-person accounts. A majority of the sources that I've found in this year-and-a-half-long quest to write the story of the organization have been from newspapers and magazines.

So, as you go through your day-to-day life from this point onward, I hope that at some steps along the way you take time to acknowledge that the writers of newspapers, magazines, internet news sites, even blogs (current-events blogs, not historical blogs) are documenting the contexts of our lives so that future generations will be able to experience them first hand.