The Golden North Hotel – Skagway, Alaska - Atlas Obscura
Our new kids' book is on sale! Shop now.

Skagway, Alaska

The Golden North Hotel

A classic gold rush hotel can be expected to pick up some ghosts along the way, and the Golden North is no exception. 

The discovery of gold in the Yukon in 1896 set off the Klondike Gold Rush, which saw roughly 100,000 prospectors flood into the territory, all with the hope of striking it rich. Much of this traffic flowed through Skagway, which offered both a deepwater port and the most direct overland route to the gold fields.

The population of Skagway exploded, going from 700 residents in 1897 to approximately 10,000 in 1898, making it the largest city in Alaska at the time (then back down to 1800 two years later — it was a short-lived rush). These were chaotic boom times of ambition, corruption, lawlessness, shattered dreams, disease, and untimely death. It was, in other words, a fertile ground for ghost stories.

The Golden North Hotel was built in 1898, at the height of the rush, providing accommodations and refreshment to some of the 1,000 prospectors passing through the city every week. It was this stream of guests that helped provide the basis for the principal ghost story associated with the hotel. The tale involves a prospector — sometimes referred to as “Klondike Ike” — who travelled to Skagway with his fiancé Mary. Mary took up residence in Room 23 at the Golden North while Ike headed out on the 500-mile journey to the gold fields.

From this point, the story takes on a few variations: some say Mary fell ill with pneumonia; some say she grew worried when Ike didn’t return when he was meant to and locked herself in her room; some say, rather ambiguously, that Mary cloistered herself because she was hiding out from local ruffians. Whatever the circumstances, Mary died while waiting for Ike to return from his prospecting expedition (with some versions involving the hotel staff breaking down the door of Room 23 to find Mary dead, wearing the dress she had intended to wear at her wedding).

They say she haunts the building to this day, although reported sightings of “Scary Mary” vary widely, with some seeing a spectral woman roaming the halls or watching at a window for her fiancé’s return, some hearing mysterious noises or feeling blasts of cold air (in Alaska), and some guests of Room 23 waking up in the middle of the night feeling like they’re choking (as if they had ghostly pneumonia…).

Another supernatural event claimed by the Golden North involved Room 14, where staff and guests reported seeing a mysterious light that some described as a sparkle, others as a small twinkling light, and still others as an orb. The provenance of this light is unknown, but it is apparently non-threatening.

While the building is still there and still features the Golden North sign, the hotel closed in 2002 and thus the haunted rooms can no longer be rented by curious ghost hunters. According to a floor plan, Room 23 was located on the third floor in the northwest corner of the building, while Room 14 was (presumably) on the second floor. The building is currently occupied by Frontier Excursions & Adventures.