DAWSON CITY, the Yukon Territory — The first tourists to Dawson City arrived in July of 1898, a few weeks before the boomtown’s second birthday.
Mrs. Mary E. Hitchcock (widow of a U.S. Navy officer) and Miss Edith Van Buren (niece of the former U.S. president) swept into the new gold-mining settlement, 170 miles south of the Arctic Circle, with opulent cargo: a zither, a parrot, canaries, a portable bowling alley, crates of fancy foods (pâté, truffles, olives), a movie projector, an exhaustive wardrobe (silks, furs, starched collars, sombreros), two Great Danes and a 2,800 square-foot marquee tent for their lodgings.
Their arrival was strange — and strangely appropriate. Dawson had been hastily founded in 1896 after a party of four prospectors (a Tagish and Tlingit woman named Shaaw Tláa, her brother, her nephew and her white husband George Carmack) discovered a promising amount of gold at nearby Rabbit Creek, filled an empty shotgun shell with the stuff and registered their claim, telling people as they went.
Soon, swarms of hopefuls poured up and into the Yukon — over mountain passes, through rapids, across glaciers, with sometimes-fatal results — to get in on the action.
Much of that action involved mining the miners, selling goods and entertainments to the insta-rich and aspiring insta-rich: roulette, exotic-dance revues, Champagne, porcelain chamber pots, Persian carpets, mahogany furniture.