The 1925 Serum Run to Nome
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What might have been the most important "sled dog race" that will ever be run in Alaska ended in Nome on February 2, 1925, when Gunner Kaassen drove his tired dog team down an almost deserted First Avenue.
At stake were the lives of countless Nome children who had been exposed to the dread disease, diphtheria. Kaassen was one of the 20 drivers who took part in the record 674 mile relay race from Nenana to Nome. He delivered 300,000 units of antitoxin serum to Dr. Curtis Welch. The serum arrived in Nome just one week after leaving Anchorage and 127 1/2 hours from Nenana.
It was on January 21 that Dr. Welch first diagnosed the diphtheria outbreak in Nome, and immediately sent telegraph messages to Fairbanks, Anchorage, Seward and Juneau, asking for help. The only serum in Alaska was found in Anchorage, where Dr. J.B. Beeson had 300,000 units at the Alaska Railroad Hospital. The problem was to get it to Nome in the shortest time possible.
The only two planes available were in Fairbanks and had been dismantled and stored for the winter. A pair of pilots offered to attempt the flight if the planes could be made ready, but it was left to Alaska's governor to decide. Many thought dog teams were the only reliable answer.
In Juneau, Governor Scott C. Bone decided on dog teams. He ordered an additional supply of antitoxin from Seattle. Then he called on the Northern Commercial Company, as the largest organization in the Yukon River area, to arrange for relay teams. Men of the Army Signal Corps, at their scattered telegraph stations, also assisted.
In Nome, Dr. Welch and the mayor, George Maynard, discussed ways to get the serum to Nome. They suggested sending the serum to Nenana by rail and then sending a team to the rail line, or asking a fast team to start the antitoxin down the Tanana and Yukon Rivers and have a team from Nome meet it about half way.
At Anchorage, Dr. Beeson packed the serum in a cylinder, which he wrapped in an insulating quilt. The whole parcel was then tied up in canvas for further protection. The parcel left Anchorage by train on Monday, January 26, in charge of conductor Frank Knight of the Alaska Railroad. It was at 11 p.m. on Tuesday that the train reached Nenana and Knight turned over the parcel to the first driver, William "Wild Bill" Shannon.
Shannon carried the serum 52 miles to Tolovana, where he handed it over to Dave Green. Green carried it 31 miles to Manley and handed it over to Johnny Folger. Folger went the 28 miles to Fish Lake. Sam Joseph picked it up there and carried it 67 miles to Tanana. Titus Nickoli carried it 34 miles to Kallands and Dave Corning carried it 24 miles to Nine Mile. Edgar Kalland picked it up at Nine Mile and went 30 miles to Kokrines and Harry Pitka carried it another 30 miles to Ruby. Billy McCarty carried it 28 miles to Whiskey Creek and turned it over to Edgar Nollner, who carried it to Galena. George Nollner carried it from Galena to Bishop Mountain, 18 miles. Charlie Evans went the 30 miles to Nulato and Tommy Patsy went the next 36 miles to Kaltag. At Kaltag, Jack Screw picked it up and took it 40 miles to Old Woman. Victor Anagick carried it 34 miles to Unalakleet and Myles Gonangnan carried it 40 miles to Shaktoolik. Henry Ivanoff started from Shaktoolik to Golovin with the serum.
Leonhard Seppala left Nome intending to rest at Nulato and return with the serum. But Seppala met Gonangnan at Shaktoolik where he took the serum and turned around, heading back for Nome. He carried the serum back over Norton Sound with the thermometer 30 degrees below zero. Seppala had to face into a merciless gale and in the darkness retraced his route across the uncertain ice. When Seppala turned the serum over to Charlie Olson in Golovin, after carrying it 91 miles, he and his team, including the famous lead dog, Togo, had traveled a total of 260 miles.
Olson turned the serum over to Gunnar Kaasen, who took it the remaining 53 miles to Nome.
Balto, Kaasen's lead dog, owned by Seppala, was memorialized with a statue in Central Park in New York City. Seppala always felt that his lead dog, Togo, didn't get enough recognition for his 260 mile effort. After Togo died, Seppala had him custom mounted and he is now on display at Iditarod® Headquarters in Wasilla. Balto is on display in Cleveland at the Museum of Natural History.