‘Skagway Bill’ and ‘Aunt Jane’

The first part of this post is from a recent event, followed by the original post from Aug. 26, 2017. Then there is a pretty massive update.  

“Two tickets, one book.”

I’m in line at the local bookstore, buying tickets to Samantha Power’s upcoming talk about her new book.

“Your name?”

I tell her.

As she starts to write it: “Like Henry?”

Or maybe it was Peter.


This is the original post.

William “Skagway Bill” Fonda lived a life interesting enough to merit statues in Sitka, Alaska and Seattle, but one apparently without the kind of controversy that would cause my employer to engage in a well-meaning-but-misguided attempt to protect me that winds up being fodder for someone’s hammer-and-nail approach to the people I work for.

I’m named after my father, so I’m a junior, and my father has the same first and last name as his father, with a different middle name.

Although I’ve been in Seattle, and my father went to Alaska this year, I didn’t know about the Bill Fonda on the statue until I searched for my own name on Google for some reason.

Here’s hoping no research finds a reason to make “Skagway Bill” inconvenient.

“Yes … and no, I’m not”

When I was a kid, there was another Fonda family in my school district. We knew each other, but we aren’t related.

And even though it’s near where I grew up, and I’ve been to the racetrack, I also have no connection to the Town of Fonda.

No, really … I don’t.

And, no, I’m not related to Peter, Henry, Bridget or Jane Fonda, even though I’ve jokingly referred to her as “Aunt Jane” (and Ted Turner as “Uncle Ted,” when they were married), and I thought she was awesome as Leona Lansing in “The Newsroom.”

People asking me if I was related to the acting Fonda family — my wife used to suggest I say I was only related to Bridget, just to mess with people’s heads — until I moved to Massachusetts.

You see, no one in Massachusetts can say or spell my name. Their accent can’t process the letter.

We’ve had trouble getting people to spell our name right at a HONDA dealership.

And that’s where Peter and company come in handy.

My job requires me to call people, and needless to say, sometimes I have to leave messages.

“OK, can you have them call Bill Fonda?”

“What’s the last name?”

“Fonda.” (At this point, I know where this is going.)

“Can you spell that for me?”


At this point, someone literally once responded, “Oh, OK … Fawn-der.”

But every now and then, there would be that moment of recognition, and I could almost see the light bulb come on, even though I was on the phone.

“Oh, you mean like Peter/Jane/Henry?” (No one ever asks about Bridget.)

“Yes … and no, I’m not.”

Upon saying that, people — particularly older, more conservative ones — have expressed relief that I’m not related to Jane.

People have long memories.


My brother recently found a website about the Fonda family’s genealogy, in which I found out there have been a lot of William Fondas throughout history — I believe it was more than 50, although I don’t know if Skagway Bill was one of them.

But also, according to the site, we are actually related to the Fonda acting family.

Based on the family tree, Jellis Adam Fonda was Henry Fonda’s great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. (Coincidentally, Henry’s father was named William.)

Jellis’ brother Isaac Douw Fonda was my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.

I don’t know what that would make us, other than very, very distant.

However, I still wouldn’t mind a Christmas card.

The photo of William Clark “Skagway Bill” Fonda at the Sitka Pioneer Home in Alaska is from Wikipedia.





One thought on “‘Skagway Bill’ and ‘Aunt Jane’

  1. Pingback: Reaching back into the archives – A Silly Place

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