On a quiet corner in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, in the former Cadillac Hotel, sits the Klondike Gold Rush national park. Inside the park, are photographs and exhibits to help visitors learn about the Klondike gold rush of 1987 and the role Seattle played in outfitting the stampeders.
I’ve heard stories about the gold rush for many years and even visited the museum in Fairbanks. Still, there were new things to learn and today’s current events give perspective to the happenings of 1897. Before visiting the park, I didn’t know
much anything about the panic of 1893. It thought that era was “the Gay 90’s,” but I learned instead that the period between 1893-1897 was for many the Great Depression. The collapse of the the country’s two largest employers, Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and the National Cordage Company, started a national crisis in banking. Over 500 banks failed, over 15,000 businesses closed, the New York Stock exchange crashed twice, and unemployment rates went up to 25% (1, 2).
Knowing this bit of history helped explain some of the Klondike stampede craziness. In desperate times with precious gold hidden away and credit non-existent, it’s easier to see why so people would abandon their homes and rush to the north.
The newspaper exhibit was another bittersweet stop. It was sad to see the Seattle Post-Intelligencer proclaiming Gold, Gold, Gold!, all the while knowing that the newspaper that began in 1863 will likely be gone in another 2 months (3).
Other features that make the museum interesting are the personal histories of stampeders posted about the museum and the stories about familiar Seattle establishments. You can read about the founder of Bartell’s Drug store and his stampede experience. Even Nordstrom’s has roots in the stampede, beginning as a shoe store when John Nordstrom returned from Alaska with $13,000 and started a shoe store.
1. Panic of 1893, Encylopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
3. Eric Pyrne, “P-I’s closure in Seattle would reflect U.S. trend,” Seattle Times, Sunday, Jan 11, 2009 .