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Do Not Pass Go . . . Do Not Collect a Gold Nugget

From a frozen marsh to the “Paris of the North,” Dawson City, Yukon Territory, was a hustling, bustling city of some 40,000 people in 1898 thanks to the Klondike Gold Rush. In August 1896, three Yukon “sourdoughs” -- George Carmack, Dawson Charlie and Skookum Jim Mason -- found gold in Rabbit Creek, now called Bonanza Creek, and changed the history of the Yukon forever. Their discovery triggered what was arguably the world’s greatest gold rush stampede as nearly 100,000 souls yearned to strike it rich in the Klondike gold fields.

The Boston Post Publishing Co. “Post Klondike Game.” 1898 Photograph shows the actress Esther Lyons inserted into a picture of Chilkoot Pass

Unfortunately, getting there was half the battle. Prospectors came one of three ways: up the White Pass Trail or “Trail of the Dead Horses,” up the Chilkoot Trail or down the Yukon River from Alaska. Although it would probably be considered an extreme sport today, there was nothing fun and thrilling about the journey, which was fraught with dangerous weather, rugged terrain and almost impenetrable passes.

One of the worst impediments to the gold-rushers was the Northwest Mounted Police, who strictly enforced the rule requiring the “stampeders” to carry a year’s supply of goods — about a ton, more than half of it food — over the passes to be allowed to enter Canada.

Once on the other side, the only way to travel the 500 miles to Dawson City was by water – the cold, icy waters of Lakes Lindemann, Bennett and Tagish – forcing the stampeders to build their own boats and traverse many sets of dangerous rapids.

Those who survived the perilous journey mostly found disappointment once they reached Dawson City. Locals had already claimed all of the gold-bearing creeks, and claims of “gold for the taking” were grossly exaggerated. For many of them, this was the final blow; they sold their outfits and headed home. Those who stayed felt lucky to find jobs in the bustling town or work someone else’s claim.

Students participating in the second annual Junior Fellows Summer Intern Program discovered an item in the Library’s copyright deposits from the bygone era of the Klondike Gold Rush. A board game titled the “Post Klondike Game” was submitted for copyright in 1898 by The Boston Post Publishing Co. Players begin their journey from Boston, Mass., and experience many of the actual hardships awaiting prospectors on their way to Dawson City.

The interns found a gold mine of other treasures during their summer quest to sort these copyright deposits, including a series of photographs taken in 1894 by Veazie Wilson featuring actress Esther Lyons as “The Klondike Girl” on an expedition to the Yukon. According to the interns’ research, Lyons was touring the East and Midwest during that time and may not have been on the trip. The same photographs, without Lyons pictured, appeared in other publications later that decade, leading the interns to conclude, along with others, that her image had been superimposed on Wilson’s photographs.

The October 2006 issue of the Library of Congress Information Bulletin features an article highlighting the many other gems the students found. The year before was the inaugural year for the Junior Fellows Program. In October 2005, the LCIB featured an article marking the students’ first foray into the deposits, where they unearthed such items as an old home movie featuring Marilyn Monroe, rare baseball cards and the text of a lecture by Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher.

A. The Boston Post Publishing Co. “Post Klondike Game.” 1898. United States Copyright Office. Reproduction Information: Rights status not evaluated.

B. Summit of Chilkoot Pass. SUMMARY: Photograph shows the actress Esther Lyons inserted into a picture of Chilkoot Pass. Although Lyons wrote a series of articles about the expedition she claimed to have taken, and lectured about it for the rest of her life, later research indicated there is no evidence of her participation in the expedition and that, in fact, she could not have been on the expedition at that time. 1897. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-DIG-ppmsca-12624 (digital file from original item); Call No.: LOT 13810, no. 2 [P&P]