Editor's note: Freelance writer Morgon Olson recently wrote to The Stranger offering to do some of the things we recommended in our 2018 New to Town issue, as a new-to-town person, and report on what happened. Here is the first installment in a series.
Walking through a sea of people in Pioneer Square recently, I became very aware of just how alone I am in this city. Nonetheless, I had a list of suggestions for this very predicament—in the form of The Stranger's New to Town issue from January, in particular an article called "Seven Places in Seattle to Go When You're Lonely But Don't Want to Interact with Anyone"—so I wasn’t going to give up hope before noon.
As I entered the Klondike Gold Rush Museum, I approached the front desk and asked to walk through the exhibits.
“Okay, so, go ahead.”
It was an awkward moment, but lots of things are awkward when you're new. I came here unemployed (no, Amazon, I’m not looking), so free admission is always sweet.
Once inside the museum, the first step was to choose whose story I wanted to follow. As I tried to decide, I realized I’ve never actually read a Choose-Your-Own Adventure book. But I felt drawn to John Nordstrom’s backstory. He arrived in America at 16 with $5 in his pocket, not speaking a lick of English. I thought, “Yeah! I came here with no money and hoping for adventure too! We’re exactly the same!”
It helps that I at least speak the language of my new locality. Whatever, we’re both adventurous.
I noticed a political cartoon from 1896, portraying the wealthy class using the gold standard to keep the money in the hands of a few and away from the working-class poor. Some things never change.
At the next stage of the exhibit, Nordstrom and I were stocking up on provisions. Nordstrom gathered supplies sufficient for a year—literal tons. I had some almonds in my backpack, and off we went. Being new in town and feeling scared, defeated, and alone, Seattle humbled me. But in comparison to Nordstrom, my situation suddenly looked a lot more promising—a needed boost in morale.
At one point, after traversing the rivers and leaving the boats, it took Nordstrom and his crew 10 trips of 20-miles-each round-trip just to get their gear to the next town. My connecting flight being delayed no longer seemed like such a nuisance.
Nordstrom and I made it safely to the Klondike. He struck a claim that he worked until he ran out of money, producing nothing from it. He found work on others’ claims, and was able to earn enough to purchase a 50 percent stake in a new claim, with two other people. Just as this new claim started producing some returns, the legality of the claim came into question, and he was forced to sell. After all was said and done, he returned home with $13,000—not bad for the time period. But the claim he sold netted over $1,000,000 for the new owners.
I felt sorry for poor Nordstrom. Factoring in time spent, cost of equipment, and lost wages, he probably came out about even after risking his life.
I approached the last stage of the exhibit to learn what became of Nordstrom later in life, where I found out that he was the founder of that store with his namesake we all name-drop but few of us can actually afford. Maybe if I, too, come out of my adventure having gained nothing, my crowning achievement will be right around the corner. A guy can dream.
This museum turned out to be the most fun I’ve had since arriving here. If you choose only to follow one explorer at a time, you can have five vastly different experiences before having to repeat. Underneath the joy, this place taught me a lot, and it forced me to do a lot of self-reflection. I recommend it.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Museum is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm.