Day 699: Toe Touching

Most of Dawson City’s 1,300 residents refer to it simply as “Dawson.” In 1898, during the heady days of the Klondike Gold Rush, its population swelled to 40,000. When the stampede ended in 1899, this number dropped precipitously to 8,000 and gradually declined over the years, reaching a low point of less than 1,000 during the 1960s and 1970s. Today population numbers have recovered slightly, due in part to mining, but mostly to tourism.

Laetitia and her group joined the throng of 60,000 tourists who come to Dawson each year. Her guests panned for gold, made an excursion to the Forty Mile Historic Site, and went to the Dawson City Museum. Author Jack London lived in Dawson for a while and later wrote novels and short stories about the gold rush. So did Robert Service, known for his tales of the gold rush written in verse. Service was transferred to the bank in Dawson in 1908. Though the gold rush was over, Service distilled stories he heard from the local folk into ballads, which were immensely popular and commercially successful, although they did not win critical acclaim.

Visitors returning from a visit to Dawson can gross out their drinking companions back home by having—or claiming to have had—a libation called the “Sourtoe Cocktail,” which allegedly contains a preserved human toe. Though it has no real connections with the gold rush, “doing the toe” has become a Dawson ritual popular with tourists. The tradition began when a local fellow named Captain Dick Stevenson found a human toe pickled in alcohol—said to have been the amputated appendage of a frostbitten miner in the 1920s—while cleaning a recently purchased cabin. Though the toes are pickled in salt and reused, they don’t last forever and sometimes need to be replaced with new amputations. Apparently one was even swallowed. The motto accompanying the drink is, “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips have gotta touch the toe.”

“Doing the toe” wasn’t part of Laetitia’s tour, but some of her guests said they tried it during free time. It spawned the limerick of the day.

With friends back home you’ll be a star
When you tell them of a Dawson bar
Where you “did the toe”
Though some that you know
May think you’re a trifle bizarre.