Happy Birthday, Robert . . .
January 25 is the birthday of the Bard of the North. To add to the continuing lore of Robert Service, here’s an epistle found in a Yukon Archive search.
It’s a newspaper clipping without a byline, and the content, a tad questionable perhaps, suggests maybe the editor, or the publisher, was on a bit of a lark? Anyway here is A Stiff Story from the 7 May 1899 issue of the Daily Alaskan.
“A man from Iowa, who went prospecting in the Klondike last winter was, in the course of chilling events, frozen to death. His friends had the body brought home for burial.
“When the body arrived, it was found to be so drawn out of shape to forbid it being placed in a coffin. To bring the limbs down to a natural pose the frozen man was placed in a baker’s oven and a strong heat turned on.
“In the course of an hour, one of his friends opened the coffin door, when lo and behold the corpse rose slightly from it’s reclining position, and shivering perceptibly, remarked petulantly: ‘Shut that door! I think I feel a draft.’
“A large number of miners and prospectors who arrived on the Laurada yesterday, after hearing of this incident, immediately went around to Peterson & Co.’s on Holly street and bought a lot of Klondike blankets, clothing, and other hot things to take with them on their journey to the Klondike.”
What brought this to our attention is the question beside the item which, written in a tiny, but clear, hand: “Service’s inspiration for Sam McGee?”
If I were with it, I’d now provide one of those “Ten Lists” which are buzzing around our media world like a horde of mosquitoes in the bush.
Ten Ways to Interpret a Newspaper Clipping is, possibly, one of the subjects not yet covered by this outbreak of expert advice.
Just when I thought I’d found the last of them, I mean when they’ve reached Ten Reasons You’re Attracted to Jerks. There was! Ten Ways to Relish Solitude jumped off the page at me.
That’s our turf, it had to be read.
Our rural/urban split widens since the closest any of the 10 pieces of ‘wisdom’ came to real solitude was to “get lost in an unfamiliar part of town.”
I’d challenge anyone to find true solitude in a city.
Alone beside a lake in the land of the midnight sun, a crackling campfire, a grayling rising on calm water, an eagle’s evening cry as it settles in a pine, the call of a loon, and the howl of a wolf wraps up real Yukon solitude.
Can words, indeed can anything but the heart, grasp it fully?
“The freshness, the freedom, the farness—
O God! How I’m stuck on it all.”
from The Spell of the Yukon.
The McGee story cont’d …
To answer the penned question on the news clipping, in Robert Service’s own words, I present, from his autobiography Ploughman of the Moon, the rest of the story. He was in his second year in Whitehorse.
“One evening I was at a loose end, so thought I would call on a girlfriend. When I arrived at the house I found a party in progress. I would have backed out but was pressed to join the festive band. As an uninvited guest I consented to nibble a nut. Peeved at my position, I was staring gloomily at a fat fellow across the table. He was a big mining man from Dawson, and he scarcely acknowledged his introduction to a little bank clerk.
“Portly, and important, he was smoking a big cigar with a gilt band. Suddenly he said, “I’ll tell you a story Jack London never got.” Then he spun a yarn of a man who cremated his pal. It had a surprise climax which occasioned much laughter. I did not join, for I had a feeling that here was a decisive moment of destiny.
“I still remember how a great excitement usurped me. Here was a perfect ballad subject. The fat man who ignored me went on his way to bankruptcy, but he had pointed me the road to fortune.”
Service tells us that he left the party, and “took the woodland trail, my mind seething with excitement and a strange ecstasy.”
He ends his tale with the revelation that “My moonlight inspiration was secure and, though I did not know it, ‘McGee’ was to be the keystone to my success.”
A tip of the hat to Robert W. Service!