Balto was one of the most famous dogs in the 1925 serum run to Nome that saved the local community.
Who was Balto
Balto was a Siberian Husky born in 1919 in Nome, Alaska (died March 14, 1933 in Cleveland). He was named after the Sami explorer Samuel Balto and he became one of the most famous sled dogs ever. His owner was the musher Leonard Seppala although Balto’s name is often connected also with Gunnar Kaasen who ran the last part of the crucial serum run.
On January 22, 1925, Curtis Welch, a doctor in Nome, Alaska, reported a diphtheria outbreak among the young people of Nome Eskimo Community. He urged the delivery of the serum. However, delivery by ship or plane wasn’t possible in winter and there was ultimately only one option how to get the 20 lb metal box with the serum to the patients – via multiple sled teams.
The box travelled by ship from Seattle to Anchorage and from there by train to Nenana in continental Alaska. From there it was picked up by the first of more than 20 mushing teams on January 27, 1925. On the 674 mile (1,085 km) run the teams had to face extremely low temperatures as well as blizzards and white-outs.
The last musher to take over the serum was Gunnar Kaasen who was driving a team of Seppala’s dogs including Balto. They arrived to Nome on February 2, 1925 just after 5 AM with all serum ampules intact.
Balto Later in Life
The mission had news coverage all over the country and because of its success Balto became a national hero. His bronze statue was unveiled in December 1925 in New York’s Central Park. This rose a controversy since there were hundreds of dogs participating in the serum rum and Balto’s position as leading dog was often disputed. Seppala himself stated: “Balto was never in a winning team“, and called him a “scrub dog“. Many experts agree that there were several dogs of much bigger importance to the mission, the most important probably being Togo who lead the largest leg of the run in Seppala’s team.
Balto, together with other dogs, were sold and chained in a small area in a novelty museum and freak show in Los Angeles. George Kimble, a businessman from Cleveland raised funds to bring Balto and his six companions to Cleveland which finally happened in 1927. Balto lived out his days in Brookside Zoo (now the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo) where he died on March 14, 1933. He lost sight and hearing and was put to sleep. His remains are mounted in Cleveland Museum of National History. Despite the efforts of Alaska, Cleveland denied its requests to return Balto to his home. However, in 1998, his remains returned to the Anchorage Museum of History and Art for five months and in 2017 as a part of another exhibit.
Balto in Popular Culture
Margaret Davidson wrote a children’s book called Balto: The Dog Who Saved Nome.
Balto’s life inspired the 1995 animated movie Balto.
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