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Mysterious American swallows Yukon bar’s last human toe, pays $500 fine


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A pickled human toe, the centrepiece of a bizarre Yukon drinking ritual, was swallowed last Saturday night in an apparent act of bravado by a departing American worker.

“It’s bragging rights, is what he wants,” said Terry Lee, the official “toe captain” who witnessed the deliberate toe-swallowing.

“The more we downplay that, the better, because we don’t want to give him any credibility whatsoever.”

Just before midnight, the man entered Dawson City’s Downtown Hotel and ordered a “Sourtoe cocktail,” a 40-year-old rite-of-passage in which a drink of the patron’s choice is served along with a preserved human toe.

Normally, the ritual calls for the drinker to merely touch the toe with their lips while downing the drink.

But, Mr. Lee said the man instead swished the toe into his mouth, washed it down with a beer chaser and then slapped $500 onto the bar — the Downtown Hotel’s going fine for toe-swallowing.

“I said ‘Where’s the toe?’ and he says ‘I swallowed it,’ and then immediately headed over to the bar and started bragging,” said Mr. Lee.

Mr. Lee said he quickly roused the hotel’s manager out of bed to negotiate for the toe’s return, but before he could make it to the bar the patron had disappeared.

Only through the Dawson City grapevine did they hear that the man, known to bar staff only as “Josh,” possibly hailed from New Orleans.

“I’ve never seen him before,” said Mr. Lee.

The strange tradition of the cocktail was the invention of Capt. Dick Stevenson, a former Yukon riverboat captain who is now retired and living in Whitehorse.

In 1973, Mr. Stevenson was cleaning a Dawson-area cabin when he found the preserved toe of the former proprietor, who had reportedly lost the digit in the 1920s due to frostbite he suffered while smuggling liquor to Alaska via dogsled.

Although the venue has often changed, ever since, for only the price of a drink and the $5 “toe tax,” Dawson City visitors have been invited to “do the toe.” Upon successful completion, they receive a commemorative certificate and join the estimated 60,000 people already in the “Sourtoe Cocktail Club.”

The ritual is a popular enough draw in Dawson that it has become a regular stop on Yukon tourism junkets and has even spurred imitators. For a time, the Dawson City casino Diamond Tooth Gertie’s offered customers glasses of champagne complete with an extracted molar.

In the 1990s, the Dawson Humane Society kicked off a fundraiser selling “Dogball Hi-Balls”; cocktails complete with recently removed dog testicles.

To date, as many as 15 “sour toes” have been lost, stolen or ingested, with the inaugural toe being accidentally swallowed in 1980 by gold miner Garry Younger.

“He had 13 beer glasses full of champagne, the toe was in his mouth, he fell over backyards and swallowed it,” said Mr. Stevenson, speaking from his Whitehorse home.

Donated replacement toes (which Mr. Stevenson insists all came with the consent of “living donors”) have been delivered following lawnmower accidents, post-mortem removal or amputations for diabetes and inoperable corns.

The largest donation, so far, was a collection of five toes donated by a miner who had his leg run over by a bulldozer.

Once toes are received, the bar mummifies the body part simply by storing it in salt.

Mr. Stevenson’s own toes, naturally, are due to be severed and sent to the Downtown Hotel upon his death. “They may not have to wait too long,” he said.

Currently, the Downtown Hotel has no toes in reserve, and expects to sustain a substantial financial hit without its most well-known attraction.

“It’s revenue loss,” said Mr. Lee, adding that the toe-swallowing fee was immediately raised to $2,500 following Saturday’s incident.

Previously, when the supply of digits ran dry, Mr. Stevenson said he improvised by serving drinks containing the testicles and penis bone of a black bear — although bear genitalia will remain in short supply until the onset of hunting season.

Said Mr. Stevenson, “any donor of a new toe would surely be appreciated.”

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Only In Murica!!

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I grew up in Whitehorse, YT, so I'm definitely familiar with the Sour Toe Cocktail. It was always one of my favourite things to tell tourists about. Hopefully they are able to acquire a new toe soon, it's quite the tradition.

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