A Rose by Another Name

Some of the historic nicknames from the gold rush and pipeline days of Fairbanks were quite flamboyant, as were the personalities they were attributed to:

Fairbanks Daily News Miner September 25, 1976

Jo Anne Wold’s Column- Nicknames

Nicknames, verbal shorthand, have colored the pages of Alaska history for many a year. During the gold rush, for example, certain flamboyant characters made a “name” for themselves that outlasted the original. Does anyone around here remember Jefferson Randolph Smith? Some history buffs, no doubt, will know that was the infamous “Soapy Smith” of Skagway fame. Soapy, as the story goes, was a con artist who practices sleight of hand tricks with bars of soap wrapped in five dollar bills.

NOTHING STICKS LIKE A NICKNAME. “Burning Daylight” comes immediately to mind. Jack London like that so well he used it as a book title and patterned the book after former Fairbanksan Elam Harnish. There was “Eat ’em up Frank” who had a lodge of sorts along the Chena River where he fed and bed hunters, fishermen, letter carriers and the like. Frank, who rushed madly from stove to table, urged his customer to “eat ’em up” the beans.

A man’s trade, some defect or an idiosyncrasy can inspire a title “Waterfront Brown,” the bill collector, prowled the banks of the Chena when the boats came in, ready to nab those who had neglected to settle their debts. The “Malamute Kid,” needless to say, had lots of dogs. No one but the postal clerk knew his real name was Frank Torondo.

“Doc” Weatherby was not, as you might assume, a doctor. He worked on the docks. “Ham Grease Jimmy” earned his handle in the dance halls in Dawson where he clapped time to the music. To soothe the palms of his hands he used ham grease. “Short ‘n Dirty”-no need to explain that one. There was “Hatless Joe” who went bare headed even when the thermometer sat at minus 60 degrees. Still remembered are old “Two-Step Louie;” “The Scurvy Kid;” “Brown Gravy Pete;” Doc Stearnes, the “Gambler Ghost,” an emaciated surgeon turned faro player; “Sparerib Jimmy,” and “Two for a Quart,” the bootlegger.

Note: Burning Daylight, Waterfront Brown, Eat ’em up Frank, and Two Step Louie were all members of Men’s Igloo No. 4.

WHEN IT CAME TO THE LADIES OF THE NIGHT, they had their claim to fame, and nicknames that linger on- the “Utah Filly,” “Oregon Mare,” “Grizzly Bear,” a gargantuan woman with one eye missing, “Sweet Marie, and the girl they called “Ping Pong.” Don’t forget “Diamond Tooth Gertie” (she had a diamond fastened between her front teeth), and the “Baby Elephant,” “Texas Rose” and “Three-Way Annie.” Some still talk about “Gussie,” “Limejuice Lil,” and “Spanish Delores.” Another notable was “No Nose Nelly.” She lost her nose, according to those who know, to a customer who had a particular passion to bite.

Just as nicknames embellished the stampeders, so today some pipeliners fall heir to some memorable handles. Some of those pseudonyms are now coming to light. At one camp the electrician is known as “60 Watt,” or, on his slow nights, “50 Watt.” How many “Highblade” Cat operators are there? One bull cook, with an Asian name no one can remember, or pronounce, has a beautiful smile. They call him “Sunshine.”

THERE ARE SO MANY MEN NAMED JOHN that an identifying tag- usually one that coincides with his job-is necessary. There is “John Weinie” who works for Wein and checks passengers on the “Weinie Bird.” Along with the nicknames goes the pipeliner lingo. For instance, a worker does not say five more days until R&R; it’s so many “get ups” and one more “stay up.” There is a night waitress at one camp with a lifetime of rough living, and the language to prove it. They call her “Mother Superior.” And if the nicknames in the pipeline “Campfollower” are to be believed, there are some adorable creatures who sign themselves “Big Mo Mo,” “The Duchess,” “Mr. Whipper Will,” and “Your Pregnant Bubble Judy,” and address their messages to “Zing,” “Fueler Joe,” “143 Kat,” “Galvanized Pipe,” and “Worm.”

To illustrate the power and persuasion of nickname, we pass this story on to you. Not long ago a young woman was arrested in downtown Fairbanks. She was taken to the police station and booked for loitering. When told she was entitled to one phone call, she said, “But I’m new in town, I don’t know anybody.” After thinking a minute, the woman placed a call to a popular Second Avenue bar. She said to the bartender, “Hey, yell out the front door and say that “Fuzzy” is in trouble at the police station.” Ten minutes later “Fuzzy” was bailed out.

Note: Many folks to this day are known by only their nicknames. Recently, one character known as “Pirate” made the news headlines here in Fairbanks. This amusing history lesson brought to you, or whatever you answer to, courtesy of Mens’s Igloo No. 4 and Women’s Igloo No. 8 of the Pioneers of Alaska.

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