A legend out of the common
For several decades, the visitors of Central Park, one of the largest parks in New York , can admire a bronze statue, the only one in the city to the effigy of a dog. It represents Balto, this husky which made the pride of the American nation in the middle of the Twenties...
The epidemic broke out in nome (a little town with only 1500 inhabitants) on Jan. 19th 1925, and the local hospital had run out of antitoxin (the last supply had arrived in 1918). The first child who got ill was a five years old Inuit boy, at Holy Cross; doctor Curts Welch (nome's only doctor) said it was only tonsillitis, since none of his relatives had similar symptoms. The child died the morning after, and since then many others got ill. The mother of the Inuit boy didn't let the doctor exaxmine the corpse for an autopsy, which made it a lot harder to find out what was happening.
The first official case of diphteria was recorded on Jan 20th 1925 on a boy called Bill Barnett. The day after a 7 years old girl got ill (Bessie Stanley) who died the next day, and so on. At this point, after a concil, Nome was quarantined and a million doses of vaccine were ordered. The closest supply (300,000 units in total) was located in Anchorage, the capital of Alaska, 1,500 miles away from Nome. Planes couldn't take off due to the snow storm and the dock was blocked by the ice, so all the could do was to ship the cargo to Nenana, 674 miles away from Nome.
Unlike the cartoon says, it wasn't one team only who brough the vaccine from Nenana to Nome, but a series of 19 different teams. The first one was led by Bill "Wild" Shannon who arrived to Tolovana for a total of 52 miles, where Edgar Kalland with a fresh squad took the vaccine and brouth it to the next man, Manley, who took it for 31 miles. The others were: Green (28 miles to Lake Fish), Johnny Folger (26 miles), Sam Joseph (34 miles) Titus Nikotai (24 miles), Dave Corning (30 miles), Hewnry Pitka (30 miles), McCarty (28 miles), Edgar Nollnerr (24 miles), George Noller (30 miles, he was Edgar's brother), Tommy Patsy (36 miles), the native Koyokuk (40 miles), Victor Anagik (34 miles), Myles Gonagnan (40 miles). After this it wsa Leonard Seppala's turn, the owner of Balto and best musher of Alaska with his lead dog Togo, the fastest dog in the whole state. He led his team for 91 miles across the dangerous Norton valley, where the ice was very thin. Anyways, the next mushers were Charlie Olson (25 miles) and finally Gunnar Kaasen, who entered nome after 53 miles with another Seppala's dog: Balto, on Feb 2nd 1925.
Actually there was a 20th team after Kaasen, who should have brought the medicine to Nome, but Gunnar said that they were asleeep when he arrived and decided to go on by himself. Other sources claim that it's not true and Gunnar wanted to take all the credit, but we will never know. The other dogs in Balto's team were: Fox, Ske, Billie, Tillie, Old Moctoc and Alaskan Slim. The total distance of 674 miles was covered in only 127 hours and a half (around 5 days) with a temperature of 40 degree below zero. A normal team usually took around 25 days to cover the same distance.
That's right! Only because he was the dog who entered Nome, Balto took all the credit. They made 30 minutes long movie called Balto's Race to Nome (where Balto's role was greatly enhanced) to celebrate the new hero, and they took a tour around the United States that lasted over 2 years (that's when, in 1927, Balto's statue was build by Frederick George Roth In Central Park, New York). But Seppala didn't give in: he knew that it was him and his dog Togo who did the hardest job, and thanks to his friend Ronal Amundsen (a famous explorer) he became famous too. Kaason went back to Alaska, but first he sold all his dogs including Balto, for an unknown reason, to Sam Houston.
Balto was now in a small museum of oddities in Cleveland, probably starting from 1927. For several months they starved in a dark room, neglected and even abused, until they were noticed by George Kimble. After speaking with Houston he arranged to buy them for $2,000 USD; but he didn't have the money, and he only had two weeks to raise them. He managed to do it thanks to donations, and he bought the dogs. Balto lived until the age of 11, and died on March 14th 1933 in the Cleveland Brookside Zoo.