Christmas in Skagway, 1898

Here’s an encore post while I’m spending time with family and friends. Wishing you and yours very happy holidays!


Skagway, like many Gold Rush towns, had some elements of civilization. While saloons and dance halls were prominent, some residents and passersby wanted the softer influence as well. The Union Church was founded in 1897, by a union or coalition of several different church groups who shared the building ( They even had an organ brought in by ship.


According to the website of the St. Therese of the Child Jesus Catholic Church (, “the first priest to visit Skagway was Father Paul Bougis SJ, from Douglas, Alaska (near Juneau). He arrived in the fall of 1897 and offered Mass in the homes of Catholic families that fall and the following spring. In August, 1898, Father Philibert Turnell SJ came to Skagway and established a mission. He made temporary arrangements to use the school for Sunday Masses, and his first Mass was offered on September 8, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Three months later the Catholic community purchased a large empty store, converting it into a church and naming it St. Mark’s. The church was filled to capacity for the first Mass which was offered on Christmas Eve, 1898.”

I like to imagine miners and townspeople attending that mass, dressed in their finest clothes whether it be a three-piece suit or a clean pair of trousers. Maybe they sang Christmas carols they learned in their hometowns thousands of miles away. Maybe they felt closer on that day, realizing that no matter where we come from or how much gold is in our pockets, we’re all human. We all share hopes and dreams and love for each other.

Wishing you the best Christmas ever, or solstice or whatever you celebrate. May the season bring you joy and peace.

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I love to share my passion for Alaska and its history in my writing for young adults and their grown ups.

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