Skagway ’s first July 4th, in 1898, was celebrated with the outlaw Soapy Smith leading the parade on a white horse; he was dead four days later. July 4th is still a big day, with a huge parade (locals call it the best in Alaska) and other events.
Soapy Smith’s Wake on July 8 toasts the con man’s life and death at the Eagles Hall. The less savory aspects of the wake have been (officially, at least) deleted from the program, but certain individuals may still join in after massive consumption of cheap champagne.
The Klondike Road Relay (www.klondikeroadrelay.com ) takes place in early September, with more than a 150 teams composed of 10 runners each competing over a grueling 110-mile course from Skagway to Whitehorse .
The main winter event is the Buckwheat Ski Classic, a cross-country ski race that attracts both serious competitors and rank amateurs (including the “lazy and infirm”) each March.
Skagway ’s best-known boozing establishment, the Red Onion (2nd Ave. and Broadway, 907/983-2222, www.redonion1898.com ), delivers live tunes most summer afternoons courtesy of musicians off the cruise ships. The bar, mirrors, and stove are from the time it served as both a saloon and a brothel. But don’t believe any tall tales about ghosts; they’re all made up for the tourists. The Red Onion is now entirely nonsmoking.
If you want to get down and dirty and start drinking with the locals at 10 a.m., head across the street and up the block to Moe’s Frontier Bar. Bonanza Bar & Grill (3rd Ave. and Broadway, 907/983-6214) has pool tables, microbrews, and sports on the TVs—if you can tolerate the pall of smoke.
The most fun thing to do at night is to attend the Days of ’98 Show (6th Ave. and Broadway, 907/983-2545, www.thedaysof98show.com ) at the Fraternal Order of Eagles building. The great-granddaddy of them all, this production is the oldest running theater in Alaska—for over 80 years! Matinees are offered most summer days at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2:30 p.m., and full evening performances start at 7 p.m. Warm-up gambling with “Soapy money” comes first, then the show goes on at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 adults, $9 for children under 16. Splurge on this one—it’s worth the cash.
“Buckwheat” Donahue, a memorable local character (and head of the Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau), occasionally recites “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” and other Robert Service ballads at the Park Service building on Broadway. It’s a first-rate show, and Buckwheat always knows how to make people laugh; it’s free and worth every penny.