A cruise on this small luxury ship has been something of a family reunion for descendants of Klondike gold stampeders who set out in search of riches 100 years ago this week.
Accompanying a gold shipment out of the Yukon were sons of stampeders, grandnieces and grandnephews of a wealthy prospector, even a great-grandson of the newspaper reporter whose story captured the country’s imagination and touched off the gold rush.
“The gold rush was what Woodstock was to many of our generation,” said Beriah Brown, whose great-grandfather and namesake, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter, covered the arrival of an early Klondike gold shipment so creatively that people quit their jobs and struck out for the Yukon. “The idea of instant wealth was like dangling a carrot, but for many, the carrot never panned out.”
The week-long voyage of the Spirit of ‘98, which ends Saturday when the ship docks in Seattle, is part of a series of events this year and next to commemorate the gold rush centennial and the hardships the stampeders endured.
“This is to remember them,” said Judy Gingell, commissioner of the Yukon Territory and a great-grand-niece of Skookum Jim, a Tlingit Indian who found the first gold nugget that put the Klondike River on the map.
“Sometimes you have to look back and not repeat history, but think back on it and what it means today,” said Gingell.
Relatives of Clarence Berry, who went to the Klondike with three brothers and found one of the richest gold claims, were among those on the cruise. Berry was among 68 miners who came south to Seattle aboard the steamer Portland, whose arrival in Seattle on July 17, 1897, sparked gold fever and sent 100,000 stampeders north.
Most never found gold, and those who did generally blew it on wine, women and gambling or lost it through bad investments.
Berry, though, went on to find more gold near Fairbanks then invested in oil in California and built a fortune that supports the family today. He even set up a retreat for family members in need, relatives said.
“He had good values,” said Wanlyn Bejach, a grandniece of Berry.
Descendants of another rich prospector, Thomas Lippy, also joined the cruise. Lippy wound up losing his fortune through a combination of bankrupt businesses and a variety of good causes, lavishing money on a hospital and participating in charities and an anti-saloon league.
“I’m just glad he was a cleancut person,” said Marilyn Morris Lippy, a grandniece. “He was very big in his heart.”
The Lippys and Berrys said the cruise brought their families together for the first time in a century.
“We’re all such a diverse group,” said Gail Berg, a great-grandniece of Clarence Berry. “Other than our connection to the gold rush a hundred years ago, we all sure have gone our own ways.”
One descendant, Gerald Pennington, is trying to keep tabs on gold rush families. He has published a registry of prospectors and organized the Klondike Stampeders Relatives Association.
Unlike Clarence Berry and Thomas Lippy, Pennington’s father never found gold in the Yukon.
“He went up and like a lot of the 100,000 stampeders, he came back the same way he went,” Pennington said. “Broke.”
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