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Medical Technology Used To Decode Historic Artifact

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

National Park News

On June 6th, Skagway’s Dahl Memorial Clinic had an unusual patient – Dangerous Dan McGrew. No, not the one made famous in the poem by Robert W. Service, but an animatronic mannequin that was a local attraction in Skagway in the 1930s.

Staff at the clinic assisted the park’s museum team by X-raying the animatronic mannequin built by Martin Itjen for Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum in the 1930s. Although the museum team knew that the mannequin moved when it was installed in the museum, the exact mechanism of action was unclear. The images produced by the clinic’s medical assistants, Sarah Phillips and Melissa Horman, allowed the park’s artifact conservation interns a look inside the mannequin. 

“It looks like he’s a toe-tapper,” said intern Nicole Peters.  The images showed that Dan’s foot moved and his eyes, made from small electric light bulbs, lit up. 

Dangerous Dan is one of three mannequins that will go back on display in Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum in time for the museum’s reopening in 2016.  Skagway entrepreneur and showman Martin Itjen installed a complex mechanical system to animate the mannequins when he started the museum in the 1930s. 

This summer, Klondike Gold Rush NHP’s two artifact conservation interns, Nicole Peters and Katie Bonanno, will clean, repair and stabilize Dangerous Dan and his sister mannequin, Lady Lou.   The program is receiving technical support from conservators Scott and Ellen Carrlee of the Alaska State Museum. 


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