April 12, 2009

Soapy Smith's watch.

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Bruce Merrell holds the watch of legendary con man Soapy Smith in the Alaska collection of the Loussac Library. Merrell has retired from the Z. J. Loussac Library as the man in charge of the Alaska collection after 30 some years. The watch can be seen in the Alaska Collection of the Z. J. Loussac Public Library, 3600 Denali St. Anchorage, Ak. 99503.

Unfortunately while I was up in Anchorage recently I had completely forgot the watch was even there. You see, it's been 19 years since the subject of this watch has come up.

The story of the watch.

According to Harold R. Smith (see letter), Dr. Fenton Whiting gave him the watch that he had taken from the deceased body of Soapy Smith during an autopsy examination. At some point in time Dr. Whiting gave the watch to Harold Smith. In 1949 Smith gave the watch to Paul Clumpner and wrote him the following letter.

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Mr. Clumpner gave or sold the watch to the Alaska collection of the Loussac Library in 1952. The watch remained unknown to the Smith family until 1987. I had placed an ad in Alaska magazine searching for Soapy artifacts. Al Minnick, the Archivist of the Alaska Collection of the Z. J. Loussac Library sent me a letter informing me of the watch, but at the time there were no photographs of it to obtain. In another letter (June 8, 1987) Minnick informed me that they had a photographer set up to take photos of the pieces in their collection and that he would let me know when I could purchase prints. Two years later I found that Bruce Merrell had taken Minnick's place and still no photographs could be purchased. However, he put me in touch with an author, Charles Forselles of Anchorage, Alaska who had taken a photo of the watch and by August of 1990 I had seen the first photos of the watch (below).


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T
here is a huge hole in the story...

Probate book A, 1898 - 1903, pp. 53-54 specifically states that one one watch was listed in Soapy's estate and that it was "given to Mrs. Smith" (the widow). It is very possible that Soapy had more than one watch, which means that Dr. Whiting stole it. If there was only one watch then this would mean that Harold R. Smith's/Paul Clumpner's watch is not Soapy's. Either one of them were pulling a fast one or were duped by Dr. Whiting. It is known that this is/was not an uncommon practice. Guns and personal items were often given away and sold as having once belonged to the infamous.


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