©Bert Gildart: The girls at the old brothel (now known as the Red Onion Saloon) had retired for the evening, while passengers from the cruise ship had been chased off the streets by 40-mile per hour winds prompting most of the town’s other establishments to close their doors.
But the crowning blow was that Buckwheat Donahue did not appear for his scheduled performance. Of course with everyone secure in their homes and back on the boats, there was really no reason for the internationally known narrator to show. However, we’d been looking forward to hearing Buckwheat provide his recitations of Robert Service poetry, and his absence prompted instant despondency.
On docket for the night was to have been the “Cremation of Sam McGee” and the somewhat risqué ballad known as “Bessie’s Boil.” And if the man measured up to the recitations he’s provided on his many CDs and in his live performances before thousands on cruise ships, we knew it would be highly entertaining. But no folks, no show — and that increased our depression.
What do to; what to do? What could we possible find to do on a rainy Sunday night in Skagway, Alaska, when the wind was howling, rain was falling, clouds were scudding over the bay — and when there was no Buckwheat?
ADAM REVEALS GREAT IMAGINATION
We cast around, eyes settling on the one store in town that was certainly open. No Blue Laws here, and no policemen on the streets. Suddenly, with clarion vision Adam knew exactly what to do. Infused with a sudden surge of energy, my hero of several days ago (Adam, Sue and Stimee) proved himself in yet another manner. He was imaginative, and he quickly trotted over to the liquor store and just as quickly returned with a brown bag from which he pulled a pint of Yukon Jack.
“It’s all Buckwheat’s fault,” he sighed, motioning us with his hand into an alley where he uncapped the bottle and passed it around. Instantly, we knew we had found some powerful medicine — and that a cure for our despondency was possible.
For awhile, we wandered the streets, watching the Red Onion sign dance and reel in the wind. And every now and then we’d duck into another alley, secreting our intentions and our actions, necessary we felt, for although it appeared that no one else was out and about, who knew what secret eyes lurked from within some of the town’s historic old wooden buildings.
And so we braved the wind, studied buildings the National Park Service had preserved as part of its Klondike Gold Rush Historic Park. We walked by the railroad station where we’d watched earlier in the day as an old steam locomotive returned from White Pass. Over the wind we rehashed Skagways’ railroad history, comparing notes on how the White Pass and its train service (developed about 1900) put the Chilkoot out of business.
CLICK ON EACH PHOTO TO SEE LARGER VERSION. L to R: Wind batters sign over Red Onion Saloon; steam locomotive to White Pass returns passengers from cruise boats; cruise boats bring tourists who often attend readers provided by Buckwheat Donahue.
After the train with its services to Carcross, Yukon Territory, Stampeders no longer needed to brave the Chilkoot to access the Yukon River, something well over 40,000 men, women and even a few children had done between the years 1897 and 1899.
Our rehash of history was challenged by the harsh wind, and so (quick duck into another alley to fortify against elements) we walked back to the campground where our Airstream was parked. We loaded one of Buckwheat’s CDs into our Stereo, and tried to immolate the Scottish accent Buckwheat had mastered for this particular ballad.
The Yukon Jack helped a bit and I firmly believe as the night progressed that Adam gave a powerful reading, for he was fully immersed now into the spirit of the times. Before long, he was reading from “Bessie’s Boil.”
Says I to my Missis: “Ba goom, lass! you’ve something, I see, on your mind.”
Says she: “You are right, Sam, I’ve something. It ‘appens it’s on me be’ind.
A Boil as ‘ud make Job be jealous. It ‘urts me no end when I sit.”
Says I: “Go to ‘ospittel, Missis. The might ‘ave to coot it a bit”
Says she: “I just ‘ate to be showin’ the part of me person it’s at.”
Says I: “Don’t be fussy; them doctors sees sight far more ‘orrid that that.”
The poem continues and provides a satisfactory resolution to Bessie’s problem. We then changed CDs, inserting one from Credence Clearwater and their lively tune “Proud Mary,” a song all aging hippies will recall. And so our evening floated on, and though I’m hesitant (almost ashamed!) to admit it, the Yukon Jack soon disappeared.
POWERFUL INFLUENCES WERE AT WORK
Some, I’m sure, will find fault in our evening’s activities, but just remember, powerful influences were at work – and we needed a powerful cure, which Buckwheat’s absence forced us to find…
And now it is the day after Buckwheat’s no show and to prevent another occurrence, we sought out Buckwheat who has assured us he’ll be present this evening. He also said that he did show and that the park service posted the wrong time. He then asked me to participate in his upcoming recitation by playing the part of Sam McGee. Overcome with guilt from my false premise, I agreed, concluding, however, that before we get out of Skagway, this man really could be the cause of our downfall.
Adam, what can we do? What can we do? Come back and put your imagination to work.
THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO
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