There are, as Robert Service noted, strange things done ‘neath the Midnight Sun. There have also been some strange things written, not the least of which would be some of the poet’s own verses and a few of the saltier tales of Jack London.
The story told by “Diamond Lil” in her memoir, The Tragedy of the Klondike: This Book of Travels Gives the True Facts of What Took Place in the Goldfields Under British Rule, is one of the strangest things I have read in some time.
While she would later be known as Diamond Lil to the residents of St. Augustine, Florida, where she founded and operated the Fountain of Youth tourist attraction and “fabricated stories to amuse and appall the city’s residents”, Lil arrived in the Klondike as Dr. Luella Day.
She was a practising physician in Chicago when she caught Gold Fever in 1898 and travelled here with her St. Bernard, Prince Napoleon. That she had guts and gumption is certainly indicated by the fact that she was a doctor at a time when colleges were reluctant even to train women as nurses.
About three months into her residency here she married Ed McConnell and they operated the Melbourne Hotel, while she continued her medical practice.
She left here in 1901 or 1904 (sources vary), travelled to Alaska and California and arrived in St. Augustine “with cash and a diamond in her front tooth” (from a marker honouring her legacy in St. Augustine).
Other sources indicate that the acquired the diamond during a side trip to Harare, Zimbabwe, in between California and Florida.
Her memoir, published in 1906 and available through our Public Library system in a facsimile edition, ends with a plea to the American government to intervene and rescue the hard-done-by citizens of the U.S. who were being trampled under corrupt British rule in the Klondike.
Day’s book is a litany of complaints and exposes of corruption and malfeasance on the part of criminal minded and bigoted colonial officials who were, in her opinion, taking the territory for everything they can get in collaboration with agents of the American Northern Commercial Company.
She claims to have been prevented from practising medicine and chronicles a variety of attempts made by officialdom to take her hotel away from her.
Worse still, she claims that agents of the government or the National Capital Commission (NCC) attempted to murder her at least twice, once by introducing arsenic into quinine capsules she was taking for another ailment and the second time by direct injection of Fowler’s solution of arsenic while she was semi-conscious.
Oddly, the book never mentions her marriage, as far as I can see, though someone named Eddie is referred to a number of times during one of the attempts on her life. He is not mentioned as part of her harrowing escape down the Yukon River, during which she is pursued by people who were not satisfied with having driven her from town, and harassed by NCC officials.
Day died in St. Augustine in 1927 but her legend lived on. Mae West embellished her as “Diamond Lil” in a play and one source indicates that she has a whole list of things named after her, including a large commemorative Air Force B-24 plane, a well-known wrestler, a red-headed female Marvel Comics cartoon character, a 3.5 star hotel in Montana, a rock band, a American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) champion cutting horse, a casino in Seattle, and numerous bar/grills in South Dakota, Utah, Idaho and other states.
Of the book, I feel that one of the online antique booksellers has the best description of its contents. While it was fun to read, it cannot be taken seriously as history.
“Known in the Klondike as Mrs. Luella Day McConnell, the author had this book privately printed. Apparently the book was never circulated in the Klondike and there is doubt that it gives a true accounting of matters and may have even related events that never happened. Colourful descriptions and improbable events abound.”