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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sneak Peek from the Stacks: Four-legged Heroes

Balto, Frederick G. R. Roth, cast 1925
January 27th marks the anniversary of the start of the 1925 Serum Run, in which over a dozen dogsled teams risked their lives to transport a much needed serum to the town of Nome, Alaska. Cases of misdiagnosed tonsillitis were first brought to the attention of the town doctor in late December 1924; by the end of January, Nome was in the middle of a diphtheria epidemic. Given the winter travel conditions, restocking the town's supply of antitoxin before the entire population was infected appeared hopeless. Airmail within Alaska was in its infancy and flying in below freezing temperatures was deemed too dangerous. Instead it was suggested that the serum be transported using a relay of mushers and their dogs. The first team was to leave Nenana, Alaska on January 27th, in the hopes that the serum would make it to Nome by the beginning of February. The teams exceeded expectations and the antitoxin was delivered to Nome on February 2nd.

The statue above was cast in the likeness of Balto, the lead dog from the final team. The monument was commissioned to recognize all the participating dogs, many of which lost their lives in the relay. The accompanying plaque reads, "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."

Commemorated in December 1925, Balto now stands watch in New York's Central Park near the Children's Zoo.

-Rachel Brooks, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Photograph Archives

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