Looking at Prettylady's Tabulas about the 8 Husky dogs featured in the movie Eight Below her niece just saw, got me thinking about Balto, the very famous sled dog who saved many lives in Alaska by delivering medicine during blizzard weather conditions where no machine could operate. There's a statue of him in New York's Central Park. Here's the highlight of his story:
Through blinding snow and hurricane force winds, the desperately needed serum was passed from Seppala to Charlie Olson (25 miles) and then to Gunnar Kaasen. Had Kaasen an inkling of how wild the storm would rage, he would not have chosen Balto to lead his team out of Bluff. Although Balto was one of Seppala's dogs, he simply was not thought of as a very good leader. But Balto proved his mettle when he plunged into the roaring blizzard, at one point halting to save driver and team from instant death in the Topkok River.
No one believed Kaasen would make it through the storm, so when he arrived at the Safety Shelter, 21 miles from Nome, he found the next driver asleep. The team was running well and so they forged ahead. Their endurance was tested even further when a sudden, fierce blast of wind lifted both sled and dogs into the air. While fighting to right the sled and untangle the team, Kaasen's heart sunk – the serum was gone! Only after frantically searching the snow with his bare hands did he miraculously find it.
Before daybreak on February 2, 1925, Balto led Gunnar Kaasen's team into Nome. The town was saved! Exhausted and nearly frozen after the 53-mile run, Kaasen, Balto and the rest of the mushing team became instant heroes across the United States. The 674-mile trip was made in 1271/2 hours, considered by mushers to be a world's record.
The glory showered on the dogs was short-lived. Hollywood movie producer Sol Lesser brought the dogs to Los Angeles and created a 30-minute film, "Balto's Race to Nome." Kaasen and his team then toured the U.S. during the summer and fall of 1925. But later Balto and the rest of the dog team were sold to an unknown vaudeville promoter. Two years later, Balto and his famous companions had become lost in the world of sideshows and the whirl of the roaring twenties. It seemed the world had forgotten the "Heroes of Alaska." Then, on a visit to Los Angeles, Cleveland businessman George Kimble discovered the dogs displayed at a "dime" museum and noticed that they were ill and mistreated. He knew the famous story of Balto and was outraged at seeing this degradation. A deal was struck to buy the dogs for $2, 000 and bring them to Cleveland – but Kimble had only two weeks to raise the sum. The race to save Balto was on!
A Balto fund was established. Across the nation, radio broadcasts appealed for donations. Headlines in The Plain Dealer told of the push to rescue the heroes. Cleveland's response was explosive. School children collected coins in buckets; factory workers passed their hats; and hotels, stores, and visitors donated what they could to the Balto fund. The Western Reserve Kennel Club gave a needed finantial boost. The people had responded generously. In just ten days the headlines read, "City Smashes Over Top With Balto Fund! Huskies To Be Shipped From Coast at Once!"
On March 19, 1927, Balto and six companions were brought to Cleveland and given a heroes' welcome in a triumphant parade through the Public Square. The dogs were then taken to the Cleveland Zoo to live out their lives in dignity. It was said that 15, 000 people visited them on their first day there.
Balto died on March 14, 1933, at the age of 11. The husky's body was mounted at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where it has been kept as a reminder of the gallant race against death.