By Melinda Munson
A 10-year treasure hunt might end in a women’s restroom in Skagway.
Jack Suess and Nicholas Smith, both immigrants from Germany, tried to make their fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush during the 1890s. Originally based in Chicago, the two friends settled in Seattle after their mining aspirations fizzled. Instead of gold, they turned to glass. Suess & Smith Co. opened in 1901. Their stained glass creations graced the city, ranging from a representation of recently killed President William Mckinley to the intricate cupola for the Coliseum theater. Smith and Suess closed their business around 1951.
In 2010, the families realized one of their ancestors’ art works was missing. The window, a gold toned, three-piece panel, measuring seven by 10 feet, features a Bavarian couple. Once located in Seattle’s Frye Hotel, the work hadn’t been seen by the families since Curt Green, great grandson of Nicholas Smith, had a photographer friend, Bart Atteberry, photograph the panels at the Frye hotel in the 1980s.
Seattle writer Clay Eals published an article in the May 7 edition of The Seattle Times asking readers for clues regarding the whereabouts of the window. Eal’s article suggested that the elusive stained glass might be located in Skagway, AK.
Diane White, proprietor of Skagway Sculpture and Flower Garden, suspects she now owns the window.
“I do believe the glass windows are in Skagway somewhere but we don’t know exactly where,” she said.
“We have two boxes in the ladies restroom that have never been opened.”
While the Smith and Suess families believe the windows were crated into three boxes, White said she has multiple storage sites in Skagway.
White and her husband, Dr. Robert White, travelled Southeast Alaska by boat during the 80s and 90s, inviting prominent artists from across the country to accompany them. In return for the couple’s hospitality, artists left behind paintings and sculptures which the Whites eventually moved to their Skagway property.
Dr. White purchased the stained glass panels when the Frye Hotel closed in the late 1990s, intending to display the artwork behind an espresso station. He died in December of 2016.
Diane White still returns to Skagway each summer from Washington State. Waylaid by the pandemic, she will arrive in the Gold Rush town in late July. She intends to search for the panels.
Green is excited for White’s return to Skagway.
“We are all anxious to learn the results of her investigation,” he said.
According to Green, readers responding to Eals’ story suggest the building in the stained glass scene is Heidelberg Castle, and the man in the window is a German prince, possibly based off the 1901 play, “Old Heidelberg.” Green wonders if there is a connection between the window and Heidelberg beer, which was produced in Tacoma, WA.
Depending on the outcome of the search, Green said Skagway might expect a visit from the Smith and Suess families when it’s safe to travel.
A few sculptures in the Skagway Sculpture and Flower Garden – photos by Melinda Munson