It’s not graffiti when it’s historic, so don’t call it that.
Ask a Tour Salesperson: “What are those paintings on the rocks?”
Tourists are a curious bunch. When they arrive in Skagway, Alaska on their cruise ship, they are filled with wonder (and fried foods). As they stare up at the majestic mountains covered in ancient azure ice, questions begin to formulate in their caffeine-addled minds. Answering those questions is their highest priority, so they will find the nearest local to pose their query in the hopes that it can be answered. Tour salespeople are often some of the first locals they encounter, which is lucky because tour salespeople are some of the smartest and best looking people in Skagway.
In Skagway, the mountainsides next to the cruise ship docks are covered with graffiti. Not that pretentious Bansky stuff, mind you. Skagway’s graffiti has a more down-home, hillbilly backwater vibe to it. When the tourist catches sight of that graffiti, they turn to the local tour salesperson and ask, “What are those paintings on the rocks?” For us tour salespeople, this is our moment to shine.
A brief history of Alaskan graffiti.
You may think that graffiti is a modern thing, but you would be totally wrong. The earliest recorded vandalism in Alaska happened in Wrangell about 8,000 years ago. Cheeky miscreants carved all sorts of images on various boulders scattered along the beach well before King Tut walked like an Egyptian over the North African Delta of primeval civilization. It’s worth noting that old graffiti is not called graffiti because nerdy types prefer the word “petroglyph.”
What is the graffiti carved in the Wrangell rocks supposed to be? Nobody knows for sure, but some speculate it’s an early Alaskan language. When translated the sayings say things like, “Bob was here.” and “For a good time call Nancy!”
Other renowned local anthropologists say that the graffiti isn’t human, but was most likely created by randy Bigfoots trying to find a mate. Others say it could be alien. Whatever the truth is, it’s some old rock graffiti that people pay money to go look at because it’s very old.
Klondike Gold Rush graffiti started a grand tradition of Skagway vandalism
Back during the Klondike Gold Rush, someone made this mistake of giving gold miners a bunch of paint. This proved to be a big mistake because they took that paint and slapped on just about anything they could get their grime-encrusted fingers on. Eager to paint stuff, they pretty much walked off of the boat after it docked in Skagway and started painting. Since most of them couldn’t spell, they just copied their ship’s registry onto the rocks.
One guy had so much paint that he painted a big skull on the mountainside. People still take pictures of this graffiti today. This is interesting because if you were to start painting skulls on rocks for no reason, you would make people angry and likely get arrested. However, once the skull graffiti is 100 years old, it becomes very interesting and makes for a great photograph.
120 years of malicious mischief
Because so many Gold Rush delinquents painted graffiti on Skagway’s rocks, it became a “tradition” carried on for the next 120 years. Even today, random vandals will spray paint things on the rocks over the dock because it’s something people do now. Interestingly, locals caught spray painting graffiti on those same rocks face a hefty fine and a potential charge for malicious mischief, which is a felony. However, if that same local traveled out of town and came back to town on a ship, they could then legally paint on the rocks.
As you can see, tour salespeople are some of the smartest people on the planet. If you’re curious about Skagway, the cosmos, quantum physics, the weather, ancient civilizations, the afterlife, god, or the history of alien Bigfoots, we have the answers you’re looking for.