With the Iditarod Sled Dog Race past the halfway mark, and Two Rivers musher Aliy Zirkle already through the Nulato checkpoint, I thought we’d look back at the Grand Doggy of them all: Balto.
Balto, sometime after the serum run in 1925
Balto, originally from Nome, Alaska, became famous as the final lead dog, bringing the serum into Nome during the diphtheria epidemic of 1925.
There were several dog teams that made the relay run from Nenana to Nome, but Gunnar Kaasen and his team, which was led by Balto, were the ones who came into Nome with the serum. Balto proved invaluable on the Iditarod Trail, keeping his team on the trail in the dark and in whiteout conditions.
Gunnar Kassen with Balto.
In Nome, Kassen told the press to give credit to Balto, and America fell in love with the photogenic Husky. Kassen and his dog team made the rounds to satisfy the adoring public, and it’s safe to say that Balto’s popularity was second only to Rin Tin Tin at that time.
When Kassen wanted to return home, the tour group sold Balto and his team to the highest bidder. They ended up chained and mistreated in a freak show & novelty museum in Los Angeles. A businessman from Cleveland, George Kimbell, was dismayed to find the famous dog team there, so he worked with a Cleveland newspaper to collect donations to bring Balto & team to Ohio. Eventually, the dog team was brought back to Cleveland to a hero’s welcome. They spent their remaining days at the Brookside Zoo.
Balto died on this day, March 14, in 1933. His remains were mounted by a taxidermist and can be found on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
His statue, sculpted by artist Frederick Roth, can be found in New York’s Central Park. Another is near the Ceremonial Starting Point of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage.
Balto & Kassen at the dedication of the Roth sculpture. NYC Central Park. 10 months after the Nome serum run.
Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the Winter of 1925.
Endurance · Fidelity · Intelligence