Ship Signature Wall, Skagway, AK

Just yards from where cruise ships dock in Skagway, Alaska, there’s a unique “guest book”.  Beginning in 1928, ship crews began “signing” the granite wall across from the ship dock with the ship’s name, the date of the visit and the name of the ship’s captain. The idea caught on and the wall is now covered with the names and logos of visiting ships.

One of the most famous paintings on the cliff face is “Soapy Smith’s Skull”, which was painted on the wall in 1926.  Alexander “Soapy” Smith was a con-man and a crime boss who had earned his nickname through a con involving soap bars that supposedly gave buyers the chance to buy a bar with a $100 bill inside the wrapper.  Unfortunately for purchasers, the only people who ever “discovered” the money were Smith’s cohorts.

Smith had moved to Skagway in 1897 when the Klondike Gold Rush began.  He quickly set himself up as head of the gambling syndicate in Skagway as a means of taking the hard earned gold from miners.  Several efforts were made to expel Smith from Skagway, culminating, eventually, in a shootout between Smith and vigilante Frank Reid which left both men dead.  Reid was buried in the city cemetery, but citizens refused to allow Smith to be interred in the cemetery.  His grave is a few yards outside the cemetery and is a popular tourist stop.

The skull became a landmark in Skagway and the space around the painting prime real estate for the ship signatures.  Today the painting, quite faded but still visible, is still slightly creepy and is a popular draw for visitors to Skagway.

Soapy Smith's Skull
The Ship Signature Wall.  Soapy Smith’s Skull can be seen in the upper right.