My trip to Alaska has made me think of a colorful member by marriage of my family tree. Her maiden name was Gudrun Anderson, and her nicknames were two: “The Little Sweetheart of the Yukon” and “The Pet of the Northwest Mounted Police.” The details of Aunt Guddie’s life belong in a book (one is actually being written). For now, I’d like to share some of its more colorful details.
Guddie with Her Prospector Father
Dawson Daily News
Klondike Promotion Piece
Guddie’s father was a Danish emigrant to Canada who once served as a captain in the Canadian army. When he heard cries of “Gold!” echoing from the Far North he traveled to Skagway, climbed over Dead Horse Pass and rafted down the Yukon into the Klondike, finally settling in Dawson City where he was one of the lucky few who struck it rich on Bonanza Creek. Soon after settling in Dawson City, he sent for his wife and daughter. At age 4, Gudrun (“Guddie”) became one of the first white children (some say the first!) to grow up in the Klondike.
A Shirley Temple-like blonde haired, blue-eyed beauty, at age 5 Guddie played the piano, danced and sang on stage to the delight of the town's denizens. The local contingent of Mounties took notice, adopted her as one of their own and gave her one of her colorful nicknames—“The Pet of the Northwest Mounted Police.”
Dawson City Mounties, 1900
At the turn of the century, Dawson City was home to hundreds of destitute miners who, having failed to strike it rich, had lost everything, leaving them so poor, they could not afford a ticket back home. Concerned citizens organized a series of fund-raising events to help support those who had nothing.
On one such occasion, Guddie appeared on the same billing with Robert Service, “the Bard of the Yukon,” who read his poetry, including his most famous poem of all, “The Cremation of Sam Magee,” whose concluding lines go like this:
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
Appearing on the same program along with Guddie and Service was Martha Jane Canary—a.k.a. “Calamity Jane”—who wowed her audience with her remarkable sharpshooting skills.
One of the songs Guddie sang that evening was “A Bird in a Guilded Cage” with a chorus that went:
She's only a bird in a gilded cage,
A beautiful sight to see.
You may think she's happy and free from care,
She's not, though she seems to be.
'Tis sad when you think of her wasted life
For youth cannot mate with age;
And her beauty was sold for an old man's gold,
She's a bird in a gilded cage.
While a student at the University of Washington in Seattle during World War I, Guddie met her husband-to-be, Emil Hurja, a sourdough veteran of Alaskan affairs belatedly pursuing a university degree. They married in 1919 and immediately set off for the oil fields of Southern California and, later, to the Texas oil boom town of Breckenridge, which in 1921 produced over 31 million barrels of oil from 2,000 derricks erected within its precincts. They lost everything they had when an oil rig caught fire and burned down much of the town.
Emil Hurja on Cover of Time Magazine - 1936
Oil Rigs in Breckenridge, Texas, 1021
Eventually, Guddie and Emil landed in Washington, DC, where he has been credited with creating modern, statistics-based public opinion polling as we know it today while serving as pollster and close adviser to Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the early years of the New Deal. His exploits won him a front page cover story on Time Magazine.
The memory of Guddie’s Dawson City performances lived on for the Pet of the Northwest Mounted Police. In her days as a noted Washington, DC hostess—"the Perle Mesta of Washington before there was a Perle Mesta,” one writer called her—she won fame for presiding over “sing for your supper” dinner parties at which guests gathered around the piano and sang along as Guddie led them in what a Washington Post scribe called her “tiny soprano voice.” Guests could not eat until they performed in similar fashion. Such figures as Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, Nuremberg Trials judge Robert Jackson, General of the Army Omar Bradley and many a member of the capital’s diplomatic corps partook of this eccentric bit of pioneer sentimentality. A song frequently sung?
“A Bird in a Gilded Cage.”
Emil Hurja with Egyptian Diplomats During a Radio Broadcast - 1948
Guddie and Emil had many friends in the diplomatic community. I have her copy of the 1951 edition of “The Social List of Washington and Social Precedence in Washington.” The book includes contact information for ambassadors and their staff from every major foreign power represented in DC. For Saudi Arabia, the information given is:
2800-C Woodland Drive
Sheikh Assad Al-Faqih, Ambassador E. and P.
( FYI, the letters “E” and “P” stand for “Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.” )
Right next to Ambassador Al-Faqih’s name Guddie placed a large check mark in blue ink. I wonder what it means. They must have been acquainted. Perhaps the Hurjas hosted him at one of their “sing for your supper” evenings. I’d like to think so, but it’s only speculation.
Emil Hurja worked as Washington liaison to the government of Egypt in the years between the end of World War II and the ovethrow of the Egyptian monarchy by the forces of Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1952. Hurja was known at the time on Capitol Hill for his championing of Arab causes and his support of the petroleum industry.
If you wanted to telephone President Harry S. Truman that year, his number at the White House was National 1414.
Guddie with Eleanor Roosevelt
Guddie with Harpoon
In another telling incident, in December 1935 Guddie and Emil attended a masked ball at the White House hosted by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Their invitation advised that “three people will be chosen for the appropriateness of their costumes and will be asked to perform onstage before the guests.” Guddie attended dressed in full regalia as an Eskimo from the frozen north, wearing a white fur parka, mukluks and carrying a genuine harpoon. No account exists of what the Secret Service agents guarding the White House thought of the harpoon. Judges chose Guddie as one of the three winners, and a Washington Post article the next day featured a photo of her proudly holding her harpoon and wearing a quizzical smile. Inhibition never prevented Aunt Guddie and Uncle Emil from expressing their loyalty to Yukon traditions whenever possible.
They remind me a lot of some Aramcons I’ve known over the years from Texas.