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  • Treasure of the SS Islander

    by Johanna Blume, Eiteljorg assistant curator of Western Art | Aug 03, 2015
    The SS Islander was a steamship owned and operated by the Canadian-Pacific Navigation Company during the Yukon-Klondike gold rush. It offered luxurious accommodations for bankers, tycoons, wealthy business owners, and others. The steamer weighed 1,519 tons, measured 240 feet in length, and was made of steel. It frequently made the trip along the inside passage to Alaska, serving the needs of those headed for the Klondike gold fields. The ship left Skagway, Alaska, on August 14, 1901, carrying 168 people and a reported $6 million in gold. The next day, south of Juneau, it struck an iceberg, took on water, and sank. The treasure and forty lives were lost. Salvage efforts soon began, continuing off and on until recent years. 

    The most successful recovery of treasure from the SS Islander took place in the last five years, with more than 1,000 ounces of gold being recovered. You can see gold and three full gold pokes – the small leather bags used to hold and transport loose gold flakes and nuggets – that were recovered from the shipwreck in Gold! Riches and Ruin. This is the first time these artifacts have been publicly exhibited, and pieces of their original seals are still intact.
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    Canadian Pacific Navigation Company Ship
    S.S. Islander, ca. 1900
    Photographer: Major James Skitt Matthews
    Image courtesy of City of Vancouver Archives
    AM54-S4-: Bo N215

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     15 Days’ Clean Up by the Gold Run (Klondyke) Mining Co., 1886–1913
    Image courtesy of the Alaska State Library, Wickersham State Historic Site Photos, 1882–1930s; ASL-P277-001-166

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  • Hard Rock, Hard Luck

    by Johanna Blume, Eiteljorg assistant curator of Western Art | Jul 05, 2015

    Come to camp with our Spirits way down dont [sic] like the looks of the country. [A]nd I dont [sic] like the looks of the men dont [sic] believe there is a claim on the creek that will pay wages. —Jerry Bryan, 1876 

    The general character of my mining has been to get the ore out, reduce it to bullion, and sell it . . . [I]n other words, we were engaged in what is called legitimate mining . . . On the whole, I think that mining is about the best business of all. —George Hearst, in his 1890 memoir

    In 1876 approximately 10,000 fortune seekers poured into Deadwood Gulch with dreams of easily gotten gold. For most, these dreams were quickly shattered when reality hit. The canyon terrain was extremely rough and difficult to navigate. The most profitable claims were scattered haphazardly throughout the Hills, isolated from one another. The richest deposits of gold were veins running through hard rock, which necessitated the use of heavy machinery like stamp mills to extract the gold.

    None of these conditions were conducive to success for individual miners or small mining companies, and it didn’t take long for larger companies to squeeze out the competition. In the latter part of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries, gold mining in the Black Hills underwent rapid industrialization, with the Homestake Mining Company dominating the field.

    The Homestake claim was first filed in April 1876 by brothers Fred and Moses Manuel, but soon after was purchased from them by George Hearst. A veteran of the California gold rush who had made his fortune running a general merchandise store and investing in mines, Hearst rapidly expanded the mine’s operations. The city of Lead (pronounced “leed”) developed with the mine and was a company town. It was the largest and deepest gold mine in North America, and until it closed January 2002, one of the most productive. The mine has since been converted into a deep underground science and engineering laboratory, renamed the Sanford Underground Research Facility, and is used by physicists to study neutrinos and dark matter.

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    Between Pluma and Lead in 1890, 1890
    Image courtesy of Historic Deadwood, Inc., Adams Museum Collection; 0070.220.001

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    Homestake Workings, ca. 1920
    Image courtesy of Deadwood History, Inc., Homestake Mining Company Collection; 61-16

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    Carpenter Crew, ca. 1900
    Image courtesy of Deadwood History, Inc., Homestake Mining Company Collection; 25-1

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  • The 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition

    by Lyndsey Blair, Curatororial Intern | Jun 03, 2015

    AYP Gold_bricks from Scandinavian American Bank,_A-Y-P,_1909
    Gold Bricks from Scandinavian American Bank inside A-Y-P’s Alaska Building

     In 1907, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Klondike Gold Rush, Seattle’s civic leaders decided to organize a world’s fair.  World’s fairs (or international expositions) played a prominent role in American and European society from the late nineteenth century until World War I.  These events provided fairgoers the chance to experience the latest cultural, educational, and technological trends from around the world.  Expos also offered host cities the opportunity to demonstrate their importance within the international community.  Seattle’s civic leaders used theirs to promote the city as a gateway to the resources of Alaska, the Yukon, and Asia. 

    AYP Aerial_view_of_the_Alaska-Yukon-Pacific_Exposition_-_1909
    Aerial View of A-Y-P Expo

    Seattle’s world’s fair, officially known as the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (A-Y-P), opened on June 1, 1909.  Organizers rescheduled to avoid conflicting with the 1907 Jamestown Exposition in Norfolk, Virginia.   This decision proved advantageous as it gave developers two extra years to plan the expo, which was held on the University of Washington’s campus.

    A-Y-P was not only a celebration of Seattle’s recent growth but the development of the larger Pacific Northwest.  Several counties, territories, and states from this region had their own exhibits and/or buildings to educate three million fairgoers about their resources.  For example, the Alaska Building had information about the territory’s timber, whaling, and petroleum industries.  It also featured several gold displays, including a heavily fortified case with more than one million dollars in gold bricks, nuggets, and dust.

    AYP Official_guide_to_the_Alaska-Yukon-Pacific_Exposition_-_Seattle,_Washington,_June_1_to_October_16,_1909_-_Cover
    Official A-Y-P Guide Book with Logo

    AYP Klondyke_Dance_Hall_and_saloon on Pay Streak,_A-Y-P,_1909
    “Klondyke Dance Hall” on A-Y-P’s Pay Streak

    Gold played an important role throughout the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.  For example, A-Y-P’s official logo featured a goddess holding gold nuggets.  Meanwhile, AYP Souvenir_Taft_Day_official_program_-_Front_cover
    the fair’s midway (or entertainment zone) was called “The Pay Streak.”  This term is a mining reference to the location in a stream where gold has deposited.  Even President Taft got into the spirit (Pictured: “Taft Day Official Program” from A-Y-P Expo). During his two-day expo visit, the president mined for gold in the Alaska Building and also received an honorary Arctic Brotherhood degree.  The Arctic Brotherhood, a fraternal organization of Klondike gold- stampeders formed in 1899, played a large role in organizing the fair.  

    A-Y-P officially ended on October 16, 1909.  While most of the expo’s buildings have since been demolished, the fair’s memory lives on. 

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  • No Place For A Lady? Think Again

    by Johanna M. Blume, Eiteljorg assistant curator of Western Art | Jun 01, 2015

    While men may have outnumbered women in gold camps throughout the West, women were very much a part of the fabric of community life. Some came to the gold regions with their husbands, fathers, sons, or brothers; some struck out on their own; some made their livings by doing tasks traditionally done by women at the time, such as cooking and laundry; others ran hotels or prospected for gold. Prostitutes plied their trade from the brothels and dancehalls that proliferated in gold rush towns. Middle- to upper-class women were often at the forefront of efforts to elevate the moral character of their communities, spearheading campaigns to build libraries, schools, and hospitals and to provide relief to those who had fallen on hard times. Women’s experiences in the gold rushes were nothing if not diverse.

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    Barge on Yukon River, Klondike Gold Rush
    , 1898
    Image courtesy of the Washington State Historical Society; 2009.0.1900

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    Woman’s Ensemble, ca. 1885
    Silk, lace
    Loan courtesy of Deadwood History, Inc., Days of ’76 Collection

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  • Forging Community | What life was like in Gold Rush towns

    by Johanna M. Blume, Eiteljorg assistant curator | May 29, 2015

    This is the only hotel in this vicinity, and as there is a really excellent bowling alley attached to it, and the barroom has a floor upon which the miners can dance, and, above all, a cook who can play the violin, it is very popular.
    —Louise Clappe, Indian Bar, California, October 7, 1851

    In California the richest diggings were isolated in the northern ranges of the Sierra Nevada. The gold camps were often temporary, as most gold seekers did not intend to stay in California after making their fortunes, and this in turn contributed to a rougher character overall. However, these communities were not without their luxuries. Most gold camps contained a sampling of shops and businesses, roadhouses, and drinking and gambling establishments. The camp at Rich Bar even had a bowling alley!

    San Francisco served as a hub of social and business activity for the thousands of people coming in to and going out of California during the gold rush. Many who made their fortunes, whether through mining for gold or “mining the miners,” settled in the city and became part of the city’s elite class.

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     Untitled (Eliza Jane Steen-Johnson), ca. 1852
    Image courtesy of the Collection of the Oakland Museum of California. Gift of Barbara Smith; H96.44.1

    Eliza Steen-Johnson and her husband settled in San Francisco after emigrating from Ireland in 1850. They owned and operated a dry goods store and hat shop in the city.

    On Saturday May 30 at 2 p.m., join Gold! curator, Johanna Blume, for a gallery talk that explores what life was like in gold rush communities, with a special focus on the stories of women in the California, Black Hills, and Yukon-Klondike gold rushes.

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