BEYOND THE 1925 SERUM RUN TO NOME

Seppala & Huskies Toured America - Part II

By:  Lance Jensen

Leonhard Seppala's dogs had very little time to train for the upcoming races after their arrival in New England in January of 1927.  They were out of shape as they had been on tour for a couple of months.  One press report referred to the dogs as a "run-down team."

Seppala entered two teams in the two day Poland Spring Cup Race, which was scheduled for January 28 - 29, 1927.  Mrs. Elizabeth Ricker, a sponsor of the race, also entered a team.  Mrs. Caryl Peabody was a dog driver who was present at this race, but was not an entrant.  Seppala would drive one of his teams and Theodore Kingeak, an Alaskan dog handler, would drive the other.  The leader of the Seppala driven team was a dog named Billiken.  Togo was the leader of the Kingeak team.

Seppala's team won the first day of the race - a distance of 25 miles.  Theodore Kingeak finished in sixth place and Mrs. Ricker finished last.  After she crossed the finish line, Ricker told spectators that Seppala had stopped along the way to help untangle her team.  The second day of the race was initially postponed due to bad weather and was later cancelled when the weather did not improve.  Seppala was declared the winner.

After the first day of the race, Caryl Peabody approached Leonhard Seppala and offered to buy his team.  He agreed to later outfit her with some of his dogs.  Mrs. Peabody was successful in buying Seppala's parka.  But when she asked about buying Togo, Seppala replied that he "would not sell Togo for anything in the world."  That night, at a reception hosted by Ricker, Seppala entertained a group of people by telling them the life story of Togo.  The next day, while waiting to see if weather conditions would permit the race to continue, Seppala announced that he would give Togo to Elizabeth Ricker after the race was over.  Ricker would make sure that Togo lived comfortably in retirement at the newly formed Seppala-Ricker dog kennel.

The lack of adequate training time for the dogs was not without consequences.  In a subsequent newspaper interview Seppala was quoted as saying that Billiken was "stoved up.....so badly that he was useless in all other races."  He was also quoted regarding one of his other famous dogs:  "Fritz....was badly stoved up.  He came out of it all right, but was never of any account as a leader again."  Fritz was 12 years old at that time.

After successfully competing in the winter racing season of early 1927, Leonhard Seppala made arrangements to return to Nome, Alaska.  He would take a dog team with him from his newly established kennel at Poland Spring, Maine.

Meanwhile, in another part of the country, seven dogs who were veterans of the first serum run, and who once belonged to Leonhard Seppala, were on display at a dime-a-look museum in Los Angeles, California.  Seppala resented the lead dog of this group.  His resentment had started shortly after the conclusion of the first serum run.  He had referred to this dog as a "scrub" and as the "newspaper dog", primarily because of the attention and fame given to him over Togo.  This so-called scrub newspaper dog was the leader of the last relay team that delivered the diphtheria medicine to Nome - Balto.

It was now a little more than two years since the race to save Nome.  But Seppala's disdain for Balto had not diminished.  He was interviewed by a newspaper reporter in Boston, Massachusetts on March 8, 1927.  At that time, he was in the process of returning to Poland Spring after delivering one of his dogs to Northeastern University.  The name of this yearling dog was Sapsuk, and he would become NU's first mascot.  From there, Seppala would start his trip back to Nome.

Leonhard Seppala told the reporter that a thoroughbred husky by the name of Fox, and not Balto, was the leader of the dog team that delivered the antitoxin to Nome.  He went on to say that Balto had erroneously been proclaimed the hero by the overzealous press.  The reporter informed Seppala that Balto and six of his teammates (including Fox), had recently been discovered at a dime museum in Los Angeles.  Seppala replied: 

"I don't know where Balto is now.  But I do know that after the race to Nome he was sold with some other dogs to a man named Sol Lesser of California." 

Leonhard Seppala was the person who sold Balto and his teammates to Sol Lesser, a Hollywood film producer.

Within a week of this interview Seppala was making his way across the country to return to Nome.  At the same time, an urgent rescue effort to save the serum run dogs in Los Angeles was coming to a successful conclusion.

On March 24, Seppala arrived at Seattle, Washington with 14 of his dogs.  At first, he encountered difficulty in booking passage on ships going to Alaska.  This was due to the number of dogs he had with him.  His fortune changed when he spoke with the passenger traffic manager of the Pacific Steamship Company.  Arrangements were made whereby Seppala would have a stateroom for himself, and the dogs would be quartered in a kennel below decks.  The group left Seattle at 10 AM on March 30, aboard the Pacific Steamship Company vessel, Admiral Watson.


Leonhard Seppala in Seattle, WA on March 24, 1927.  The dog on the right is Fritz.  This photo was taken by Seattle P-I staff photographer (Frank) Slim Lynch and is the property of the Museum of History & Industry, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection, Seattle, Washington

Seppala spent the rest of that spring and the summer in Alaska.  On October 27, he left Nome with his wife, daughter and 20 dogs.  They made the trip back to Seattle on the Alaska Steamship Company liner, Alameda.  The Alameda docked in Seattle at 2:30 AM on November 5.  Even though it was the middle of the night, a crowd was on hand to greet the ship.  The Seattle papers noted the arrival of the Seppala family and the twenty Siberian dogs.  Several of them had been on his serum run team.  The Seppalas announced that they would spend a few days in Seattle before continuing their trip eastward.  They planned to make stops at Grand Rapids, Michigan and Dayton, Ohio.

During an interview aboard the Alameda, Leonhard Seppala told a reporter from one of the Seattle papers about a dog he had brought from Nome:

"The Seattle people have always been very considerate during my visits here and I have decided to name my finest dog after the city.  He has speed and endurance and is the finest Siberian sled dog I have ever owned.  My other lead dog I call Fritz.  I feel sure that Seattle and Fritz will lead the winning teams in the races in Maine and New Hampshire."

Years later, Leonhard Seppala would make a similar comment about Togo.

©2009 Lance Jensen

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