The Sourtoe Cocktail gets a mixed reception in the world abroad.
Thousands of people have touched their lips to Captain Dick Stevenson’s inventive libation and have swallowed the notion that it is part of Dawson’s quaint charm. A few have gone further and swallowed the toe itself, and that’s exactly what happened recently.
The news of the swallowing flooded Facebook, was shared from the CBC report (complete with video) and reached me on vacation in Terrace, BC.
The Downtown Hotel couldn’t have asked for better free worldwide advertising.
I haven’t done the Toe, though Captain Dick did offer me a freebee when I interviewed him back in the spring of 1986.
I don’t drink alcohol and putting the desiccated digit in a shot glass of 7-UP just wasn’t kosher. The rules have changed, but I’ve never had a desire to take up the glass, having looked at too many of the toes over the years.
Even in 1986, it wasn’t the original toe, which Dick found in an old miner’s cabin. The nasty looking things have been swallowed, stolen and accidentally thrown away during the clean-up shift in the bar – and replaced by donations from people who have lost toes to lawnmowers, axes, frostbite and other mishaps.
The Sourtoe has inspired art.
Last year a Dawson newbie, Adonika Clark, was so caught up with things Klondike that she made a casting of her own big toe and had a late December exhibition called “I Offer You My Toe” at the ODD Gallery. There were hundreds of toes covering the floor. Then she went door to door and gave toes to every resident in town. Three are sitting on a shelf at our house.
It has inspired literature.
American journalist Ron Franscell produced a memoir called The Sourtoe Cocktail Club, all about the journey he and his estranged son — from his broken marriage — took to Dawson City to seek out and taste the Toe. It was a life changing experience for both of them and gave Franscell the nerve to marry the woman he had been living with.
The opposite reaction is exemplified by journalist Simon Winchester.
His wanderings during the research for his book about North America’s tectonic plates (called A Crack in the Edge of the World ) took him through the Yukon and up past Haines Junction, but he mentions the Toe as the biggest reason why he avoided Dawson. He couldn’t stomach a place where a blackened digit was a tourist attraction.
There are two books about the Sourtoe. One of them is Captain Dick’s Au’toe’biography: One Toe of a Tale, and the other is The Saga of the Sourtoe compiled from writings by Stevenson and others by Dieter Reinmuth.
You can join the Sourtoe Cocktail Club at any time of the year. After all, Dawson City doesn’t even wait for the Midnight Sun to do strange things.