Long before ‘the Donald,’ his stampeder grandpa’s seedy restaurant gave birth to a glittering dynasty
There’s not much left of Bennett Town today: just the old wooden church high up above the blue water of Lake Bennett and the empty mountains and sky all around. In summer, the White Pass and Yukon Route train, its engine painted bright green and yellow, still chugs through the space where the tent city used to be. In winter, the whole area is quiet, layered in snow.
The abandoned townsite is more than 4,600 kilometres by road from Chicago’s Trump Tower – the 11th tallest building in the world. It’s a cool 6,000 kilometres from Atlantic City, New Jersey, where the Trump Taj Mahal, a neon parody, sits above the waves. And it’s 4,300 kilometres from Las Vegas, where the Trump International Hotel’s 64 storeys are sheathed, appropriately enough, in glass that’s tinted gold.
It’s a very long way from the Yukon to any of Donald Trump’s glittering properties, scattered across the major cities of the world. But that abandoned townsite at the end of the Chilkoot Trail is where the Trump empire was born: in a makeshift restaurant patronized by thousands of Yukon stampeders. More than a century before ‘the Donald’ first coined his catchphrase, “You’re fired,” his grandfather carved out an opportunist’s fortune from the mayhem of the Klondike gold rush.
Friedrich Trump departed Seattle for the Yukon in the late winter of 1898, when he was just 29. Slight and dark-haired, with a thin face dominated by a broad handlebar mustache, he was already a worldly and business-savvy young man. He’d arrived in the United States in 1885, at 16, the younger child of a German family with too many mouths to feed.
After six years in the chaotic bustle of New York City, working as a barber and moving from one pocket-sized immigrant apartment to the next with his older sister and her husband, he’d decided to head for an even newer “New World.” He changed his name to Fred and went west, across the continent.
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