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Martin Itjen

Itjen, Martin
Born January 24, 1870
Dorum, Germany
Died December 3, 1942
Skagway, Alaska

Martin Itjen (January 24, 1870 - December 3, 1942) is most famous for being the unofficial premier tour director of Skagway, Alaska in the early 1900s. He held many distinct titles, including that of miner, railroad employee, hotel operator, hack service, the town's undertaker, Ford motor car dealer, and a tour guide. Much of Skagway's early history was saved from destruction because of his interest in the city.

Martin was born in Dorum, Germany. He arrived in the United States on February 5, 1891 in Charleston, South Carolina. Relatives say Martin denied his German citizenship, claiming he was from Austria, possibly to evade the German draft of the era. From Charleston, Martin went to Jacksonville, Florida and set up shop as a storekeeper. It is assumed by Martin's descendants, that Martin met his wife, Lucille Petitclare here, as Lucy's death certificate also notes that she had several cousins in Florida.


  • Introduction to the Klondike (1898) 1
  • The Skagway "Streetcar" 2
  • Opens Soapy Smith museum 3
  • Sources 4
  • External links 5

Introduction to the Klondike (1898)

Martin Itjen came to Skagway, Alaska from Jacksonville, Florida, as a stampeder, in the spring of 1898, at the height of the Klondike gold rush. He later sent for his wife, Lucy, to join him in Skagway. He tried his luck at prospecting. Martin took up employment working for the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad, while seeking his fortune in gold prospecting. Becoming overly successful at neither, he went into the undertaking business. Between 1915 and 1917 He ran a hack service. It was a wagon that he used as a tour taxi and a coal hauling business.

The Skagway "Streetcar"

When business was slow he built a tour bus from an old Ford bus. Martin referred to it as a "streetcar." He began giving tours of the goldrush town. By the 1930s he became Skagway's premier tour agent. The most picturesque car carried a bear cub on the front, the bear growling and pointing to the right or left as the car turned. A small mannequin on the front was operated by foot pedal. He nodded his head, waved a flag, rang a bell, and puffed exhaust smoke through a cigarette. One of the buses had an effigy of Soapy Smith that at the pull of a handle, Martin would make Soapy salute walking pedestrians as he passed them. The buses toured the streets of Skagway and visited the Gold Rush Cemetery and other Skagway attractions. Martin's tour was quite a show: He recited poetry, told stories, and related humorous anecdotes of Skagway during the gold rush.

In 1935, as a great publicity stunt, Martin took his "street car" to Hollywood to promote Skagway tourism. He called on big screen starlet, Mae West, to "come up and visit him sometime." The pair was popular with newsmen and photographers. While in the movie capital, Martin attracted numerous screen queens to his side for photographs. Skagway had become a tourist stop, thanks to Martin.

In 1938 Martin published a book and an LP (long playing) record, entitled, The Story of the Tour on the Skagway, Alaska Street Car. Martin's tours were theatrical productions, complete with motorized mechanical actors, poetry and humorous ancedotes, all relating to the colorful history of Skagway and its inhabitants.

Opens Soapy Smith museum

Martin branched out to become the badly needed caretaker of the city's gold rush cemetery. This included badman Soapy Smith's grave, who was at the height of power when Itjen arrived, and was killed in Skagway at the Shootout on Juneau Wharf. A postcard from the era shows Martin, just outside of the graveyard, showing off the world's largest nugget, chained to a tree with a huge chain. In reality, it was just a huge bolder Martin had painted gold. In 1935 Martin purchased and restored Soapy's saloon as part of his streetcar tour. Guests, upon opening the front door to enter, were greeted by an effigy of Soapy Smith standing at the bar. With Martin's mechanical artistry, the front door made Soapy's head turn towards the entering guests, as his hand, complete with beer mug, raised in a toast of welcoming.

Martin Itjen died on December 3, 1942, and Lucy died December 27, 1946. They are buried very near Martin's "world's largest nugget". Their home has been restored by the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, and is used as a Trail Center for those wishing to hike the gold trails.


  • Bob Wieking, a descendant

External links

  • Bob Wieking, descendant of Martin Itjen
  • Klondike Goldrush National Historic Park- Point mouse onto Martin Itjen house and click
  • [1], Skagway Street Car Company - Martin's Street Car Tour Company Revived!
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