History of the 1925 Nome Serum Run


"History has always had the power to absorb me utterly,
but it wasn't until my film
Titanic thatI worked with a historical subject.
I learned a lot about the nature of history during my research for the screenplay,
not least of which was the revelation that even
the most respected history of
an event is at best an approximation.  After reading so many accounts of the
famous disaster, and
finding a great number of disparities, contradictions,
and unresolved mysteries, I decided to probe deeper."
James Cameron,
Hollywood Director.  From the preface to The Titanic Disaster Hearings: The Official
Transcripts of the 1912 Senate Investigation
©1998 Pocket Books.

Those who have perused this site, and with whom I have had direct contact (in person or by phone or e-mail) know that I have engaged in painstaking, thorough efforts to research the information posted on this site.  Those with whom I have worked in the historical community know that I take great pride in accuracy, details, and correcting mistakes - when they can be documented as such.  I have already said, on my home page, that I am happy to receive any contacts about what are perceived as errors on this site, and will correct them if they are documented.  I never claimed to be a know-it-all, or to be the authority on the serum run, what happened before and after, and its participants. 

However, I will make this crystal clear: I do not respond to condescending statements about my work.  I take great pride in it and, like anyone who puts a great deal of time and effort into that work (with no remuneration in this case), I take offense at callous, holier-than-thou, petulant, patronizing and boorish attacks leveled at my work, my site, or myself.  And I will give no space or creedence to such behavior or the individuals who engage in matter what they claim to be their intent.  If they cannot behave and approach me in a decent, courteous and mature fashion, they will not be given a forum on my guestbook or...the forum.  And I've had one individual already, in the past, who joined as a member of my forum, and soon displayed such a poor and confrontational attitude, and argued with various other members - including myself (he was since permanently banned from the forum, and his hostile e-mails were blocked, resulting in subsequent harrassment which borders on the ridiculous...even though he has his own website which has serum run material on it.  Strangely, his efforts at undermining this site have resulted in only a momentary and minor setback, which has had the positive result of allowing me to develop a good working relationship with the Peabody Museum of Natural History of Yale University.  Amazing, isn't it?).  There was also at least (so far) one woman who posted on my guestbook with the same unacceptable behavior.  And I had to delete her comments and block her subsequent sarcastic e-mails. 

That I have to say this is unfortunate.  However, it is what it is.  Sooner or later, anyone who posts a site like this will draw at least a small amount of debate, contradiction and even hostility.  This is the only place where I will respond with how I feel about that.  To the rest of my visitors, I am very sorry to have had to post this.

I have listed my source materials on this site in various places.  I don't post ANYTHING that is "fiction" or "fantasy", created by my own wild imagination.  I post material after it has been researched, and which has been posted in MORE than one source.  These sites, books and places are reliable resources, and I have complete faith in them.  I spent a great deal of actual time not only in the Carrie M. McLain Museum in Nome, but also in the Iditarod Trail Headquarters, actually perusing materials, transcribing original documents, and getting photocopies (or electronic copies I gladly paid for) in order to facilitate my work.  I've done this kind of work before, at such places as the National Archives in Washington D.C., the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton, NJ, and other such places.  I am quite familiar with the process of historical research, and where to look (and whom to talk to).

Those sources include:


The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic, by Gay & Laney Salisbury (
© 2003 W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY)

The Adventures of Balto: The Untold Story of Alaska's Most Famous Iditarod Sled Dog, by Patricia Chargot (
© 2006 Publication Consultants, Anchorage, AK)

The Race To Nome: Alaska's Heroic Race To Save Lives, by Kenneth A. Ungermann
(© 1963 Press North America/Nulbay Associates Inc., Sunnyvale, CA)

Seppala: Alaskan Dog Driver, by Elizabeth M. Ricker (
© 1930 Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, MA; reprinted © 1996 Hoflin Publishing, Inc., Wheat Ridge, CO)

Nome: "City of the Golden Beaches", quarterly issue, Vol. 11, No. 1, by Terrence Cole (
© 1984 Alaska Geographic Society, Anchorage, AK)


The Iditarod: Commemorating the 1925 Emergency Delivery of Diphtheria Serum to Nome, Alaska

Leonhard Seppala
: Father of the Seppala Siberian Sleddog

LEONHARD SEPPALA: The musher legend from Norway

Leonhard Seppala, All-Time Great of Alaskan Dog Drivers

The Story of Leonhard Seppala and Arthur T. Walden


Balto and the Hero Dogs of Alaska | From the 1925 "Serum Run" to the Iditarod of Today

Togo: The Sled-Dog Overlooked By History

University of Washington Libraries: Digital Collections

Alaska State Library: Alaska's Digital Archives


Carrie M. McLain Museum, Nome, AK

Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, CT

Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland, OH

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Cleveland, OH

Iditarod Trail Headquarters, Wasilla, AK

Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, New York, NY

Palmer Museum of History and Art, Palmer, AK

The following information was moved from the main page of this site, and contains older information regarding the minor issues I have been having with an internet troll or two, whose malcontent and desire for attention and satisfaction are quite disturbing and, unfortunately, relentless.  I moved it here because, while I hate to give any press to such individuals (and I refuse to identify them in more than the vaguest terms), the explanations contained in this material are worth demonstrating just how serious I am, and how committed, to fact-checking, historical accuracy and the truth.  And how I absolutely refuse to change anything just because one or two people insist upon it...especially when they do so in a callous manner and consistently refuse to provide their resources and references so that those can be checked and verified.  No matter their griping, complaining, trash-talking and libel (on various internet forums and probably offline as well). 

(03/18/11)  Okay everyone.  Well, as of today, I have had three distinct conversations, two by e-mail and one by phone, with three of the about seven or so people I e-mailed originally about the item I posted at length about below.  The people I e-mailed have done extensive research into the 1925 Nome serum run, and most of them work directly in the field in the historical community.  Out of respect for these individuals, because I do not have their permission to do otherwise, I shall not identify them by name or employ, but I can tell you that they are utterly impeccable sources, each of whom I respect completely.  To date, none of them have been able to offer any conclusive resolution of these issues that are in debate, and in fact all but one of them haven't yet even put forth a reasonable opinion.  I would like to paraphrase that one person's opinion here:

"You know, the question of what is known--and what cannot be conclusively
proven, regardless of the degree of historical research attempted, regarding the history
of the 1925 Nome serum run--is entirely disproportionate...balanced heavily towards what
cannot be proven conclusively.  So much of the history of the serum run consists of personal
observations, conjecture, newspaper accounts and even contradictions, that we may never know
exactly what is a matter of fact, and what can only be construed through our best efforts, and
the balance of available historical material, most of which is neither easy to find, nor readily
available to the general public or the average researcher."

I would like everyone to know that, while I take the greatest pains to present here what information is documented, and to present as little conjectural material as possible, the quote above reflects a phenomenon about the 1925 Nome serum run which will never, EVER change--the problem of conclusive, irrefutable evidence to resolve every single incident, photograph, account, newspaper story, etc.  NO ONE PERSON or group of people, regardless of whether they are professionals or amateurs, will likely ever be able to change that.  Even the books and other materials I have listed on my Acknowledgements page are not entirely flawless.  They have contradictions and even errors in them.  Even the Salisburys' book The Cruelest Miles, which I praise as the exhaustive resource on the serum run.  It is, and it isn't.  Not exclusively.  Certainly Ken Ungermann's book The Race To Nome is comparable.  And even IT contains contradictions and some errors (some of which were corrected in a later printing).  Ungermann himself stated in his epilogue (specifically referring to the contradiction over Gunnar Kaasen's passage of the Point Safety Roadhouse, and denying musher Ed Rohn and his team of their contributions to the run) that "the story was further clouded by distorted and highly colored news accounts of the episode."  Ungermann's conclusions can be further applied to the entire body of press coverage of the serum run and the events leading up to it and following it.  Such is the nature of relying upon the often inaccurate (and sometimes outright fictitious) nature of newspaper accounts and stories upon which, quite ironically, many amateur and even professional researchers and historians love to rely.  The particular heckler who caused this recent conflict is an example of one who foolishly believes that newspaper accounts are good and primary resource materials.  Typical.

So folks?  When you see an obscure malcontented criticism thrown out by someone who has a bitter axe to grind over not being able to condescendingly debate the material presented here, or elsewhere, remember the quote above...and what I have said here.  I and the quoted individual are hardly the first persons to point this fact out with regard to certain periods or events in world history.  And while anyone who produces an historical website, book, documentary, or film will likely find themselves saddled with naysayers and hecklers, and even with more respectable and knowledgeable contradictory persons (which is not the case with regard to the person who has created the recent brou-ha-ha), I am thankful that this particular heckler is in such a substantial minority, against the many compliments I have received, and good and respectable contacts I have made in the community of those who research and enjoy the history of the serum run.  And that makes that heckler an insignificant nuisance unworthy of further refutation.

In the meantime, if I can get the permission of the person I paraphrased in the quote above, I shall post his identity there.  No promises, but I shall try.

(03/12/11)  Well, it's been a while, certainly.  And I am truly sorry to those of you who have been expecting me to do what I said I was going to do, and get back to updating the site.  Real life issues have kind of pushed their way into the forefront, and there is nothing like dealing with such issues to take one away from his or her interests and hobbies!

Well, while I certainly have better things to be talking about, and don't want to dwell on irritations, a particular troll has returned once again to try and push my buttons.  ROFL  I've been receiving e-mails from an individual whom I won't identify (because that would be giving it the attention it wants.  And that's what trolls feed on), who allegedly was asked by another person to review my website for them.  This malcontented individual contacted me about a year ago, if memory serves, with a list of "nineteen items" which he or she felt were in error or contradiction on this site, and arrogantly asserted that I needed to make corrections immediately.  Including a refutation about the Esther Birdsall Darling poem in the Leonhard Seppala article, which was initially brought to my attention by another visitor (for which I had a good exchange with him, but which did not lead to any conclusive evidence which could refute the poem as has been published elsewhere and is in the historical record).  And an assertion that, because I referred to a series of books I used as my research (note, I did not indicate that I used them exclusively...and indeed did pay acknowledgements to other resources -- museums, websites, etc., and my own footwork and research time in various locations) that I have simply been "copying" information and posting it.  Not true.  I have not only drawn some of my own conclusions as posted in here, and written my own material (using the aforementioned research as a reliable platform), but have posted the researched material without resorting to plagiarism.  Besides, it is a foregone conclusion by any intelligent person that, when you research historical material, you are invariably going to be repeating material in the historical record which has either been published in a book (or online), or which may not be available to the general public in printed or electronic form.  That is what writing a book, or publishing a website, on an historical subject is all about.  ROFL  Strange that this troll doesn't seem to understand or acknowledge that where I am concerned.  But a troll is a troll.

Now, you will all note that I have stated, unequivocally, on this site that I am happy to correct any documentable errors on this site IF the person informing me of them will present me with their references so that I can then research them, discuss them with the individual, and come to a conclusion and take action if needed.  I also stated that I would give credit where credit is due.  I believe in that.  And I stand by it.  I did then, and I do now.

Problem is that this individual can't seem to provide those references and documentation, but simply expects me to take what he/she says at face value, and change it because he/she said I MUST.  Or face continued unprofessional attacks concerning this site and myself (which border on libel).  Now, granted, those attacks have not been in a public forum, so this is all just so much bluster by e-mail so far.  But after trying to discuss this with the individual originally, both respectfully and professionally, I was met instead with utter contempt and derision...lately only directed at me as he/she was addressing a third party in e-mail attacks about my site and I to another individual, in which I was included simply, I suppose, to continue the unprofessional trolling.

I've already given too much space to this.  But I have told the third party, who was e-mailed about this site and myself, that I would be very happy to discuss the matter with them, to address any concerns they had, and to continue the research to correct anything...using my contacts at the Carrie M. McLain Museum in Nome, Alaska; the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Cleveland, Ohio; resources in the National Archives, etc.  I await some direct response from that individual.

Everyone has their hecklers.  Their trolls.  I know someone of impeccable reputation who has worked on the regimental history of a New York volunteer infantry regiment which fought during the Civil War.  He has a background that lends itself to thorough research, honorable dedication to the facts of history, and ethical treatment of same.  And yet he too has to deal with his own malodorous troll who keeps trying to refute his material and efforts, without providing an intellectual counter position (which would include references and research to refute what he claims this person has done so erroneously) to bolster that troll's own arguments.  So it goes.  I certainly know what that's like.

Rest assured, my friends, I have presented the statements of this troll to those whom I trust in the historical field, and asked them to look into it (as I have done before with regard to this troll).  And those contacts of mine include some very noteworthy and peerless persons.  People IN THE KNOW regarding the serum run history.  We will see what needs attention, and what is just more of the same bluster and arrogance on the part of this person.  If I do have to change anything, I will do so only upon the verification of those of my contacts who KNOW...not some irritant who keeps refusing to identify his/her alleged source material.  Most of the "nineteen items" on this troll's list are already known to me to be irrelevant, unsubstantiated and not needing any correction.  However, to be fair to the true history and to all of you (I could care less about this troll), there are two actionable items which may need changing if my contacts verify that they need to be.  One is the photo of Balto posing in a posh room (which I have read, once upon a time, was a suite in the Biltmore Hotel which Sol Lesser rented for the dog while the movie "Balto's Race To Nome" was being finalized in post production; the other was the aforementioned question concerning whether or not the Esther Birdsall Darling poem about Leonhard Seppala and Togo indeed had anything to do with Togo or not).  If good and decent people, whom I trust, can verify that these need to be corrected, then they shall be.  And if they do not need correction (or if there is no historical source material to verify the troll's refutations), then nothing will be changed.  And that will put an end to it.

A final note too: As I have said on this site, no process of historical research and education is ever completed.  And NO ONE is an absolute authority on any historical subject.  That includes me, and any other person who has ever tackled an historical subject, either professionally or otherwise.  I never claimed that this site was the end-all, be-all, exhaustive end to any analysis or presentation of the history of the 1925 Nome serum run.  But I DO stand by what is in here, as it has been checked in several resources.  And I DO stand by my statements that, if any contradiction presented to me, to refute what has been presented here, can be documented in some verifiable resource or reference material, that I can SEE, I will gladly run a correction, and give appropriate credit.  And I have acted on that when it has been so presented.  But if someone cannot play nice, I refuse to provide a forum for their unprofessionalism.  Period.