“Nome calling . . . Nome calling . . .” On 20 January 1925, that message flashed over the airwaves with special urgency, since an outbreak of diphtheria threatened to devastate the population of the isolated and blizzard-bound city. Shortly thereafter, in one of the most heroic episodes in the history of the Arctic, 20 mushers and 150 sled dogs set out with serum on an adventure that would take five and a half days and traverse 674 miles of Alaskan wilderness. Despite incredible hardships, the men and their equally indomitable dogs delivered the serum on 2 February 1925, and thereby prevented an epidemic.
The most famous member of this heroic group was the sled dog Balto, who became one of the best-known canine celebrities of his era. What makes Balto’s story even more remarkable is the fact that he was not considered an especially apt candidate for team leader, but as is frequently the case with human beings, his talents and courage merely awaited a moment suitable for their expression.
After their rescue mission, Balto and his fellow sled dogs disappeared from history for a time, but when a Cleveland businessman named George Kimble discovered them ill and mistreated in a museum in Los Angeles, he determined to perform a rescue of his own. He was given two weeks to raise $2,000 – and thanks to newspaper articles and radio advertisements broadcast across the nation, he succeeded. After giving the dogs a parade and a heroes’ welcome, the good people of Cleveland allowed them to live the rest of their days in comfort and dignity in the Cleveland Zoo.