On this day in 1933, Balto, the famous sled dog, passed away at the age of 14.
Although Balto is remembered for being voiced by Kevin Bacon in the animated movie bearing his name, he’s probably better known as a REAL dog who led the final leg of the 1925 serum run to Nome to deliver a diphtheria antitoxin to combat an outbreak of the disease.
When a deadly diphtheria epidemic swept through Nome, Alaska in January 1925, the only antidote was almost 2,000 miles away in Seattle. With the engine of the only airplane that could get them there completely frozen, officials decided to use dog sled teams to deliver the medicine. The serum went by train from Seattle to Nenana, where the dog sled teams took over in a relay through blizzards and harsh cold all the way to Nome.
More than 20 mushers and more than 100 dogs took part, but it was Norwegian Gunnar Kaasen and his team, led by Balto, who brought the serum into Nome on February 2, 1925. Another musher, Leonhard Seppala (also Norwegian), and his team, led by Togo, actually battled the most hazardous (and longest – nearly 91 miles) stretch of the run. But it was Balto who received the glory and was eventually was rewarded with his own historically inaccurate animated movie.
When I was last in Alaska about 5 years ago, I saw the statue of Balto in Palmer, Alaska. Someone was nice enough to put a little coat on him so he wouldn’t get cold.
I also picked up this spoon, which was on sale with a bunch of Iditarod souvenirs. Seems fitting to post it today while the mushers in the Iditarod are about to enter their 8th day in the race.