Story Time with Aunt Phil: Cordova's famous iceworm
Cordova’s iceworm, created during the winter of 1960, was a fitting descendant of that famous invention first born full grown from the fertile mind of Dawson City’s pioneer newspaper man E.J. “Stoller” White. His invention was the result of a dearth of news and a demand from his editor to go out and rustle up some news that would make headlines and sell papers.
As White pondered what sort of news might attract readers, a huge storm hit the Canadian gold-rush town. That’s when a great idea hit the newsman – he announced that new creatures had emerged after the storm: iceworms.
White described them as cold-loving creatures that had crawled out of their holes in a nearby glacier following the unusually chilly storm and their chirping was interfering with the slumbers of Dawson’s residents.
Soon the town was abuzz with talk of these worms and sales of the Nugget soared. People traveled on expeditions to find the elusive creatures, listening carefully for their chirps. Bartenders even created drinks called Iceworm Cocktails, complete with iceworms (pieces of spaghetti) pulled from blocks of ice.
Cordova’s iceworm, the brainchild of Ohmer Waer, was a gallant effort to attract tourists to Cordova and combat midwinter doldrums. Waer, manager of the historic old Windsor Hotel, looked around the empty lobby one fall morning as he drank a cup of coffee.
“What this town needs is an iceworm,” he told his wife.
Waer and several businessmen got together and bandied the idea around, then formed the Cordova Visitors Association and collected money for the project. Cordova’s first iceworm was made from wooden hoola hoops, aluminized cotton cloth and cardboard.
When the first festival got underway that February, children screamed as the more than 100-foot dragon-like creature undulated its way down the street. It took eight legs belonging to local teens to carry the head and many more for the body. Then and there, Cordova’s iceworm became an inseparable part of Cordova’s history and the annual Iceworm Festival was born.
The length of the Cordova Iceworm has grown since the creature’s first debut. I understand that those who participated in weaving it through town over the years still look at old photographs and gleefully point out which legs are theirs.