Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum

Ranger guided tour

Tour the inside of one of the oldest museums in Alaska dedicated to "Soapy" Smith, early Alaskan oddities, and other curiosities now restored to its 1960s glory.

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Exterior view of narrow white building
Exterior view of the newly restored Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum.

NPS photo/B.Hayes

One of Skagway's most prominent buildings, the Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum is forever connected to the notorious outlaw Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith. Although Smith led his nefarious band of con men from its cramped rooms, he only occupied the building for three short months before his death in a gunfight. What happened to the building after Smith's demise is an unexpected story with a surprising array of owners, uses, and relocations. In 1935, Skagway promoter Martin Itjen converted the Jeff. Smiths Parlor into a home-spun museum with gold-rush era artifacts, folk art, strange taxidermy, and even animatronic manikins.
 
A group of men stand in front of a building
A group of men stand in front of the Jeff. Smith's Parlor in 1898.

Charles Bunnell Photograph Collection, 58-1026-1109, Archives, University of Alaska Fairbanks

From Bank to Parlor: 1897 - 1900

In July, 1897, boats began off loading thousands of crazed gold rush stampeders into the new town of Skagway. By September, businesses and wooden buildings began to appear. One of those early business, the First Bank of Skaguay (sic), constructed a small two-room building on 6th Avenue just off Broadway. By May, 1898, the bank moved out and Jefferson "Soapy" Smith set up his "business" inside the building. For less than three months, Smith and his band of robbers and con artists ran their schemes to fleece unsuspecting stampeders and intimidate the community. The use of the building as Jeff. Smith's Parlor ended abruptly on July 8, 1898 when Smith was shot to death in a gunfight and his band arrested. For the next two years others businesses tried their luck in the building including the Mirror Saloon, Clancy's, The Clancy Cafe, and the San Souci Restaurant. All of them failed.

 
Man holding a sign stands in front of an old building.
Martin Itjen holds what may be the original Jeff. Smiths Parlor sign in front of the original building.  In this photograph, the building is located on the south side of Sixth Avenue and is configured for use by the Skagway Fire Department.

National Park Service, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park George & Edna Rapuzzi Collection, KLGO 55695. Gift of the Rasmuson Foundation.

Skagway Fire Department Garage: 1900 - 1935
By 1900, Skagway's population was in decline and there were many vacant buildings as a result. With no businesses interested, the Skagway Volunteer Fire Department began using the building to store a hose cart and equipment. The building was transformed from a parlor into a garage with large doors. In 1916, the fire department moved the building across 6th street facing north.
 
Two women stand in front of a building
Two women stand in front of the Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum created by Martin Itjen circa the late 1930s.

National Park Service Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, George & Edna Rapuzzi Collection, KLGO 55919. Gift of the Rasmuson Foundation.

Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum (Martin Itjen): 1935 - 1950

In 1935, former gold rush stampeder and Skagway tourism promoter, Martin Itjen purchased the building. Itjen rebuilt the building into the "Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum" to help tell the story of Skagway's gold rush era and the legend of Soapy Smith. The exterior was renovated to resemble how it looked in 1898, two additional buildings were added to the rear, the interior was refurbished, and gold rush artifacts were placed on display. Itjen added strange taxidermy specimens and a large diorama of two moose locked in combat but his most notable additions were three animatronic manikins named Soapy Smith, Dangerous Dan, and Lady Lou. Itjen died in 1942 and his friend Jack Greisbach operated the museum until 1950.

 
People gathered around a ranger in front of an old building.
Visitors participating in a ranger led walking tour in front of the Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum building.  The building appears as it did when transferred to the National Park Service in 2008.

NPS photo

Jeff. Smith Parlor Museum (George Rapuzzi): 1963 - 2008

In 1963, the building's new owner, George Rapuzzi, decided to move and reopen the museum. Rapuzzi chose a lot on 2nd Avenue near Broadway to be closer to the water front and the increasingly important cruise ship visitors. The relocated Jeff. Smiths Parlor reopened in 1967. Rapuzzi and his wife Edna operated the museum for the general public until her retirement in 1975. George continued to look after the building and give private tours until his death in 1986. Over the next twenty years the neglected building began to fall into disrepair, threatening the unique and rare artifacts stored inside. In 2007, the Rapuzzi family sold the building and its contents to the Rasmuson Foundation. The following year the Rasmuson Foundation donated the building to the National Park Service.

 
Building interior with bar, manikins an artifacts
Inside the newly restored interior of the Jeff. Smiths Parlor with animatronic manikins "Soapy Smith" and "Dangerous Dan" built in 1935 by Martin Itjen.

NPS photo/B.Hayes

National Park Service: 2008 - forever

After the building was donated, the National Park Service began a series of projects to restore the building and save the artifacts inside. First steps included emergency stabilization, an historic buildings report, and archeological surveys. The artifacts, which suffered water damage and pest infestation, were removed, restored, cleaned, and curated. The entire building was lifted, rotted floors removed, a concrete foundation built and new floors added. New cedar roofing, wall supports, climate control, and security systems were installed. After 8 years of work, the National Park Service opened Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum to visitors in April 2016. Visitors can experience the building almost as it appeared in 1967 with many original artifacts on display.

Last updated: August 31, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
P.O. Box 517

Skagway, AK 99840

Phone:

(907) 983-9200

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