You may not know the name Joshua Clark, but unless you were hiding under a rock last month, you’re no doubt familiar with his headline-grabbing stunt.
At the end of August, Clark, a 38-year-old American author and Hurricane Katrina survivor, gulped down the famed Sourtoe Cocktail—a concoction garnished with a mummified human toe—in Dawson City, Yukon. Though tens of thousands of people have joined the so-called Sourtoe Cocktail Club, allowing the toe to touch their lips, Clark upped the ante, swallowing the entire thing.
Then he skipped town without so much as a word.
Now, in his first interview since the bizarre incident, Clark speaks with Maclean’s from his home in New Orleans and tells why he ate the toe, whether or not he considers himself a cannibal, and where the infamous digit lies now.
Within hours of arriving in Dawson City, Clark, who was visiting for the summer, had already heard an earful about the Sourtoe. “I’d get into conversations with people on the street,” and, upon asking them what he should do in town, they’d inevitably say, “You’ve got to go do the Sourtoe Cocktail.” So, a few nights later, he headed to the Downtown Hotel’s Sourdough Saloon, plunked the toe in a glass of Yukon Jack whisky and chugged away, giving the toe a brief kiss. “It was great,” he says. “It’s kind of gross cause the toe is all black and shriveled and it’s very clearly a human toe, you know? But it was fun.”
The first time around, the drink, which originated in the 1970s, costs $5, but after that it’s free. So weeks later Clark gave it another go when a friend was in town. Then, while flipping through a book on the history of the cocktail one day, he noticed a large photo of someone who had broken the rules by swallowing the toe.
“I was talking with some friends of mine that evening, and I’m like ‘I can be an adventurous person but I kind of draw the line at cannibalism,’” he says. “As I was saying that I was thinking, ‘Well, wait a minute. That might be kind of a neat thing to do’.”
The $500 penalty for consuming the toe only made it all the more enticing, he says.
“I don’t know, it’s like climbing a mountain—you do it ’cause it’s there.”
Clark tentatively scheduled the deed for his last weekend in town, a plan that was cemented when he received his rent deposit of exactly $500.
On the night of Aug. 24, a Saturday, he went to the saloon with some friends who knew the Heimlich maneuver. Faced with the toe, however, he started having second thoughts. Even with a history of winning eating contests in Louisiana, this would be a challenge.
“I was really nervous, I really thought I was probably going to end up choking,” he says. “How lame would that look?”
In the end, though, he says it went down “like a bullet.” He took a few swigs of beer, and slapped $500 on the table.
Bar patrons were ecstatic, but the “toe captain” on duty that night, Terry Lee, didn’t share their enthusiasm.
“We were very upset,” says Lee, who immediately called the pub’s manager to inform him that they were out a toe, leaving them with only their back-up toe to serve 30-50 people a night.
“We like to give them a rest because they get pretty soggy after a while.”
Sensing hostility, Clark, who was leaving town early the next morning, made his way toward the exit. Friends in town later told him that they were approached by the bar manager, who had an interesting plan for recuperating the toe.
“Apparently he came up to them individually and said, ‘I need to find Josh. I need to make him throw the toe up and give him his money back, ’cause we need that toe.’” (Lee denies that claim.)
The toe did, in fact, make Josh feel violently ill a couple of days later, but only briefly. That aside, his body digested it without consequence. Incredibly, among the hordes of media requests and fan mail he received were offers from people wanting to examine his waste. He declined, but says he knows where the toe ended up.
“It’s in this crazy little Porta Potty in the Arctic Circle on the way up to the Arctic Ocean.”
Meantime, the Downtown Hotel is still seeking new toes, although according to the “rumour mill,” says Lee, three people have come forward offering replacements. The establishment has also upped the fine for swallowing one to $2,500. Clark, who insists he hasn’t developed “a taste for human flesh,” says he wouldn’t pay that, but doesn’t think it’ll stop others from trying the stunt in future.
“If they don’t want anybody to do it, they need to raise it to $25,000. To me they’re just asking for somebody to do it again,” he says, adding he hopes more people will now flock to the place he refers to as “the greatest town on earth.”
“What an awesome way to entice people in there and what a unique thing to do.”