One fan's journey to follow Balto's legacy in the lower 48 states.
(This is a partial mirror of my topic on the special exhibit in Cleveland, but this also contains lots of new information and pictures.)
It was the dead of winter in Indiana when I decided, for reasons unexplained, that I would spend my spring break chasing my childhood hero, Balto.
It seems odd to begin where Balto ended, but it was the closest to our starting point. My mother and I piled into our rented car with our sights on where Balto's journey ended; Cleveland, Ohio.
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History
We began at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where Balto's body was mounted and put on display. It was heavily air conditioned, as most museums were, enough to raise goosebumps on anyone. At the time, a special exhibit was running, entitled "Balto and the Legacy of the Serum Run." The exhibit is no longer up and Balto is now elsewhere in the museum.
A timeline of events, starting with the initial Diphtheria outbreak and ending with Balto's death.
The bottom right case contains the lifesaving serum the dogs were racing to retrieve and syringes from the same era. The case on the left is a medication kit and diagram of how the serum was administered and how diphtheria was treated. I'm not entirely sure what the thing that looks like a blowtorch is for, but it doesn't look fun. Chopped off above the serum is the telegram message that sparked the race.
The end of the timeline, included is Balto's rescue from obscurity in Los Angeles, the unveiling of the statue in Central Park (photos at the end of this article,) and euthenasia at the Brookside Zoo (now present day Cleveland Zoo.) The orange sign is the headline from the Cleveland newspapers the day Balto and the team arrived.
Balto himself! You can see the musher's set-up behind him through the glass. As far as mounts go, Balto is very old and has seen better days. The harsh lighting has changed his fur from black to chocolate and his face shows signs of aging (those are natural and not due to mounting.)
Merchandise picked up from my visit. (Books obviously not included, just there to prop up Balto and show size) You can order online if you can't make it to Cleveland. You have to call the shop to order the plush, though.
(There are other pictures from the museum that were not shown here for the sake of making this article less picture-heavy. You can see them at the link at the top of this article.)
The Cleveland Zoo
The Cleveland Zoo had an interesting set-up. Due to construction, visitors had to take a seperate tram to the Arctic and North American animal section, where Balto and the team lived their last days in peaceful retirement.
The enclosure that Balto and his team lived in is now Wolf Lodge, a cabin-like setup that houses the zoo's Mexican wolves. The references to Balto are fleeting, but they are there if you look hard enough.
When you enter the cabin, it's a very large single room with rustic furniture, desks with information on wolves, woven blankets draped on chairs and couches, bulletin boards with maps and flyers, a musty smell lingering in the air, and dusty wood plank floors that creaked when you stepped on them.
Upon closer inspection of the bulletin boards, there's a small placard on Balto.
If you go through a door in the back of the cabin, you enter a small observation room with rocking chairs, where you can see into the wolf exhibit.
My mother and I took a seat in the chairs, rocked back and forth as the floor creaked with every sway of the chair, watching the wolves dart about and weave between the trees in their exhibit.
Exit through the side of the observation room and you reach a smaller room that looks like a mock-up of a pantry or storage room. Here is a model of the harnesses used on the dogs in the Serum Run.
A closer view of the sign underneath the model.
Go out the side door and you will be outside Wolf Lodge. To your right, you will see two statues of the heroes themselves, Balto and Togo. (Balto is the one on the right, Togo is on the left.)
Let's get a closer look.
Balto's back. His name is shaded by the tree branches.
Togo's back. His name is much more visible.
We caught the tram back to the main part of the zoo, and thus ended our tour of Balto's legacy in Cleveland, Ohio.
But the journey is not over yet. The next step would take us several months later into the dog days of summer and several hundred miles away in the Big Apple.
New York City, New York
Central Park, Manhattan, New York
New York City. One imagines a sprawling metropolis with crowded subways, streets filled with people, and where businesses flourish. But in the middle of the din of a large city, is a green oasis known as Central Park. Here, we find Balto's most famous monument, his statue.
Balto himself was present at the unvieling of the statue all those years ago. Since then the statue has been polished down to a lovely patina due to the attention he gets from children climbing on him (myself included.)
It was almost twilight, about 95 degrees with 90%-100% humidity. A dreadfully hot summer evening. With my camera bag now pawned off on my dad to carry, we set out to find Balto in Central Park. After wandering a bit aimlessly and chasing pigeons, we did indeed find Balto.
Alert and perched atop a rock, Balto stands proudly keeping watch over Central Park.
The famous memorial to the dogs, summed up in three powerful words; Endurance, Fidelity, Intelligence.
Detail on the head of the plaque.
On a rock to Balto's left. "Endowed" means that someone (In this case, Karen and Richard LeFrak) paid for the upkeep of the statue.
Balto will continue to stand guard over Central Park for many more years to come.
We did not search for Togo's statue, also located in Central Park, as it was getting dark and we were exhausted from the heat.
Balto's legacy is very much alive and well in spots across the nation. From the huge cities of Los Angeles and New York, to the heart of Ohio, to small towns in the great wilderness of Alaska, one dog has impacted the way we view canidae and has shown tried and true loyalty. As long as those who know his story continue to pass it on, the legend of Balto will continue to touch the hearts of many and show what the dogs who risked their lives to save others stood for;
Endurance. Fidelity. Intelligence.
All pictures in this article are my own and are copyrighted to Sora-kun (myself.) Please ask permission before using or reproducing any part of this article including text and pictures.
Questions, comments, and corrections to any factual errors are absolutely welcome. I hope you enjoyed this article and I will answer all questions as promptly as I can.