"Hopes shattered!" promises the street sign for the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, and there is indeed schadenfreude involved in visiting a place that documents the fortune Seattle made by suckering out-of-towners. Murray Morgan in Skid Road describes the way Seattleites outfitted Gold-Rushers with exploding stoves and 50-pound "water purifiers." In the museum you can examine similarly useful items in the cupboard of a meticulously recreated prospector's hovel. I can only imagine how some poor bastard felt as he slowly froze to death while contemplating the chocolate-flavored laxatives sold to him by some Jackson Street merchant. As if the sad-sack fortune-hunters in the oversized wall photos don't look miserable enough, diagrams explain exactly how close-to-impossible gold mining actually was. (The four layers miners had to penetrate: snow, moss, frozen muck, and frozen gravel.) To me, the continued existence of this free, brightly lit historical museum feels like a small miracle of civic-mindedness and prosperity. To tourists, the "park" (called such because it's operated by the National Parks Service) is a welcome reminder that the worst Seattle is likely to inflict on them these days is a Nirvana T-shirt and a ride on the Duck.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, 319 Second Ave. S., 220-4240, www.nps.gov/klse. Free. Open daily, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.-- Read more of David Stoesz's The Slutty Eye.