Martin Itjen's Manikins

Martin Itjen, Skagway's first tourism promoter, created these three manikins to put on display inside his Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum in the 1930s. His creativity came to life with these animatronic manikins and entertained all who visited.

 
Maintenance staff load the Soapy Smith manikin onto a table to be X-rayed.
Soapy Smith gets loaded onto an X-ray machine to help understand how he was created.

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Soapy Smith

Who is he?

This likeness of Jefferson “Soapy” Smith in manikin form was created by Martin Itjen in the 1930’s. Soapy Smith was Skagway’s most famous con man of the Klondike Gold Rush. He stands inside of what was historically his parlor during the height of the gold rush in 1898. Since Soapy Smith was the man who leased and ran this building it is fitting that Martin decided on him as the main character watching over the parlor.

What did he do?

Historically Soapy was animatronic with a foot pedal, a metal pole, and wires running down his body under the floor of the parlor museum. Early visitors to the museum said that as you walked in the front door Soapy would turn and raise his glass to cheers you. Others reported that a different action in the room would trigger Soapy to turn with his gun and point it at Dangerous Dan McGrew in the corner. Martin Itjen may have even made Soapy more authentic by pouring beer into his glass.
 
A X-ray of Soapy Smith's manikin face.
X-rays helped park staff to better understand how Martin Itjen had created Soapy so many years ago.

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Conservation Efforts

Soapy was originally conserved in 2006 by the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, Alaska. He was on display in their Lure of Alaska: A History of Tourism in the Great Land exhibit from April 2007- February 2008. Not too many details are known about his original conservation, but in 2016 the National Park Service had Soapy X-rayed at the Dahl Memorial Clinic in Skagway to learn more about him. It took a team of workers to haul him to the clinic and onto the x-ray table to find out just how Martin Itjen had made this manikin.

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Dangerous Dan McGrew

Who is he?

Dangerous Dan McGrew is a character from a Robert Service poem, "The Shooting of Dan McGrew". An original manikin created by Martin Itjen in the 1930's for his Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum. Dangerous Dan has glass light bulbs for eyes and a somewhat surly demeanor. He sits in the corner with his full bear and cigar, in a solo game, like the poem says of him:

"A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune;
Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was his light-o'-love, the lady that's known as Lou."

What did he do?

Dangerous Dan lives in the corner of the front room of the parlor museum. Early visitors to the museum reported that the Soapy Smith manikin would turn with his gun to Dangerous Dan at which point Dan would hunch his shoulders forward as though he had been shot, giving him a fitting end to match his poem. After restoration of Jeff. Smiths Parlor the park curatorial staff decided he was unfit to be animatronic once again. Presently he sits on his barrel and joins Soapy Smith and Lady Lou in welcoming visitors in.
 
A drawing depicting Dan McGrew manikin and how he worked mechanically.
A drawing of Dangerous Dan McGrew depicts how he may have historically worked and moved.

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Conservation Efforts

Park curator and conservation staff at Klondike Gold Rush chose to have Dangerous Dan x-rayed to determine the mechanism by which he historically functioned. They decided not to open him up internally and set on the x-ray being the ideal option to learn more about him. This route kept the manikin intact, being that he was nearly 80 years old at the start of restoration. In the treatment report it was found that Dan was structurally stable, the main concerns about him came from finding lead paint on his face and dirt and grime at the microscopic and aesthestic levels.

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Lady Lou, a manikin, without her dress to show the rubber tires that make up her torso from restoration in 2012.
"But oh! so cramful of cosy joy, and crowned with a woman's love -
a woman dearer than all the world, and true as Heaven is true -
(God! how ghastly she looks through her rouge, -the lady that's known as Lou.)"

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Lady Lou

Who is she?

Lady Lou is Dangerous Dan McGrew's sweetheart in the Robert Service poem "The Shooting of Dan McGrew". In the poem she makes off with a strangers poke of gold after a shootout between Dan and another man.

"I'm not so wise as the lawyer guys, but strictly between us two-
The woman that kissed him and- pinched his poke- was the lady that's known as Lou."

What did she do?

Lady Lou sits in the bathroom of Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum. Some early visitors recalled an action that would trigger Lady Lou to let out a scream as she was sitting on the toilet. She has a pneumatic system running through her body and into her head that would have fit with this idea. The location of Lady Lou in the museum may have been considered risqué in the 1930's. The City of Skagway once cited Martin Itjen for Lady Lou being in the loo, committing a lewd act. This citation is framed and still on display in the museum.

Conservation Efforts

Martin Itjen got creative when making Lady Lou. Old rubber car tires make Lou's upper back and torso, something discovered during restoration. This tire was off-gasing and as a result Lou's clothing was degrading. Lou's original clothing got taken off and placed in curatorial storage to prevent any further deterioration and a replica dress was sewn for her. On her face there were many cracks and loose paint chips that needed extra attention and creativity to properly fix. Like the other two manikins, a combination of saliva and cottonswabs were used frequently as cleaning agents for sensitive areas.

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Last updated: September 27, 2017

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Mailing Address:

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

Skagway, AK 99840

Phone:

(907) 983-9200

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