In December 2008, Rasmuson Foundation donated the George and Edna Rapuzzi Collection, an extraordinary, one of a kind collection of artifacts encompassing the Klondike Gold Rush and early 20th Century life in historic Skagway, in portions to both the City of Skagway and the National Park Service. Working with these two partners, the Foundation sought not only to protect the 450,000 items and five historic buildings, but more importantly to make them available for public viewing and research. The transfer concluded a six-year process.
The Foundation purchased the collection in April 2007. The unique collection was started by Martin Itjen, a stampeder who later led Skagway’s developing tourist trade. His longtime friend, George Rapuzzi, was a tourism promoter and tour guide, as well as a consummate collector in his own right.
Theresa Thibault, chief of resources at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, said, “We are absolutely delighted at the outcome. I think there were some who thought it would never happen, but I had faith all along that we’d see this day.”
Among the items in the collection are (thanks to the National Park Service for these descriptions):
The 1897 parlor that belonged to the famed Jefferson “Soapy” Smith. After the gunfight which caused his death in 1898, the saloon became a restaurant and then the home of the Skagway Hook and Ladder Company. Martin Itjen acquired the building around 1935, remodeled it, and re-opened it as Jeff Smith’s Parlor Museum. This landmark structure retains much of its 1898 appearance as Soapy Smith’s headquarters.
The 1900 YMCA Gymnasium and Reading Room and Meyers Meat Market complex, later used as an automotive garage and still holding many automotive artifacts from the 1930s.
Martin Itjen’s famous “Skagway Streetcar,” a home-converted 1906 Packard, used in early Skagway tours and still emblazoned with his marketing slogan “Nothing Like It In the World;”
The original silk banner of the Arctic Brotherhood, formed in 1899 by stampeders to provide mutual assistance, friendship, and social interaction in the northern communities. The Arctic Brotherhood Hall is owned by the City of Skagway, now operating as visitor center for Skagway’s 900,000 visitors each year.
Numerous objects representing Native Alaskan stories including Tlingit carvings and baskets and a unique “Native Packers for Hire” sign from the gold rush. The collection also holds scores of photographs, hotel registers and ship manifests that add depth, texture, and personality to the story already told by Skagway’s historic architecture.
Thibault continued, “Our intent is to make the collection publicly accessible as soon as possible. Our first step is to update the website, but we have already started two display cases in our museum which we’re putting temporary displays in. Objects can be seen in the museum and visitors center at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
Eventually the Meyer Meat Market will be rehabilitated as a Klondike Gold Rush Historic Research Center. That building will contain exhibit space where I’m sure a number of the Rapuzzi objects will be placed on permanent display.
Soapy’s Parlor will be rehabilitated as it was during Martin Itjen’s time. Martin was the first tourism promoter for Skagway and turned Soapy’s gambling parlor into a museum. We have really good photographs of it during that period of time, and by bringing it back to that time period we will be able to tell the story of both Soapy and Martin. We will recreate the interior as it was at that time. This building will be open to the public and interpreters will be there to enlighten the visitors on Skagway and it’s early days.”
The City of Skagway will add to its City of Skagway Museum collection those items that tell other city stories, including those of Native Alaskans, tourism, and its port. In addition, it received the Rapuzzi House and the World War II Commissary.
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