I still do remember my travel around Alaska some years ago. I loved everything of that road trip: The landscape, the rough culture, the wide land and the hearty attitude of the people. Everything was totally new for me, even since I lived before in the US. But Alaska is different from many things what I was used to. And I remember the story of Klondike Kate, the most famous prostitute at this time! And the place, where she worked!
The Red Onion Saloon, now a national historic building, was Skagway’s most exclusive bordello. Built in 1897 with planks cut by Captain William Moore, the founder of Skagway, the Red Onion Saloon openend for business in 1898, serving alcohol on the first floor while the upper floor satisfied more than the prospector’s thirst. The brothel consisted of 10 tiny cubicles, called cribs, each 10 foot by 10 foot (3 x 3 meters) with 3 exits, one into the hallway and one into each of the adjoining rooms. Each room also had a hole in the floor which connected to the cash register in the bar by means of a copper tube.
In order to keep track of which girls were busy, the bartender kept ten dolls on the back bar, one for each of the girls in each of the rooms. When a girl was with a customer, her doll was laid on its back. When she sent her money down the tube, the doll was returned to the upright position signalling to the waiting prospectors that she was ready again for business. The bartender safeguarded the girl’s earnings, usually 5 Dollars, preferably in gold, while in the crawl space between the floors, loose floorboards hid nuggets and private tips.
Girls, like Klondike Kate, Birdie Ash, Big Dessie, Popcorn Lil, the Oregon Mare, Babe Davenport and Belle of Skagway, worked there. To decorate their cribs they stretched linen across the rough planks, then glued wall paper to the cloth.
By late 1899, business began to suffer. Most of the women moved north to Dawson which was closer to the gold fields and had big gambling casinos and dance halls.
During World War II the Red Onion was used as army barracks and later housed a laundry, bakery, union hall, television station and gift shop. In 1980, under a liquor license, it opened once more as a saloon.
Times are passing by …
Whenever you come to Skagway, have a Gold Rush Margarita in The Red Onion Saloon!