Klondike Letters Project

Translating experience into memory through inspired creation.

Klondike Mike and the Unfortunate Piano

In February, 1898 Mike Mahoney aka “Klondike Mike” made a deal with Hal Henry. He would escort the Sunny Samson Sister Sextette and their luggage over the Chilkoot Pass and down to Dawson city for $3000 plus a share of the musical group’s proceeds once they started performing in the Dawson Saloons. The six blonde and virtuous sisters were sure to be a huge smash in the rough Klondike frontier, where feminine charms were worth their weight in gold.

There was just one problem – the sisters insisted on bringing their accompaniment piano. Klondike Mike, a strapping Canadian farm boy and champion boxer turned stampeder, duly hoisted the entire piano onto his back and went step-by step up the Golden Stairs and into Klondike fame. Fortune eluded him, however, because the Canadian customs officer at the top of the pass, seeing the piano, asked what he was about. When he heard that 6 delicate, ill-equipt showgirls were coming his way, he was aghast (this was only his second day on duty – he had yet to see the sort of folks trying to get to Dawson). Certain they would die on the trail! He refused to let the party continue any further.

Fuming, Mike stormed back to Skagway and left the piano atop the pass, where eventually someone hauled it back down and sold it for a tidy profit.

Animation: Corrie Francis Parks
Banjo Pickin’ : Ranger Kyle Kaiser
“Saloon Piano Gem No. 1” by Black Keys Bob Stevenson
References: The Hougen Group – Yukon Nuggets and Klondike Mike: An Alaskan Odyssey By Merrill Denison

Interviews recorded at the top of Chilkoot Pass.

This is part of a series of animated postcards from Chilkoot Pass. Read more about the project here.  These mini-documentaries are rooted in reality, with live interviews and photos from the Chilkoot Trail providing a catalyst for my personal memories and playful reinterpretations of history. As an artist, this is about as fun as it gets!

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  1. stuart lahey

     /  February 1, 2014

    you are totally wrong, mike was born in Mayo quebec, and was my mothers second cousin. not ohio.

    • What can I say? The internet doesn’t always get things right. I’ve read some sites that say he spent his teenage years boxing in Ontario as well. I bet your mother heard a lot of great stories about her second cousin’s exploits in the Yukon. Do tell us more!

  2. stuart lahey

     /  June 7, 2014

    my mother stella lived to be 103 years old. she said mike was a kind and unpretensious man, he came home from the Yukon to mayo quebec on occasion to visit his family and friends, apparently he was weathy at the time.