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.

In any worthwhile exercise in historical research, it is only right and proper for the researcher to give proper acknowledgement to the sources of his material.  Certainly I did not fabricate this stuff, nor do I own ANY of it (except the text in the documents themselves which are not directly attributed to a certain writer or speaker).  And I feel proud and privileged to give credit where credit is certainly due for the information I have placed on this site, and what I have learned from it over time.  It is the people who have preserved this information, for posterity, who keep alive the memories of Togo, Balto, Leonhard Seppala, Gunnar Kaasen, Curtis Welch, and countless other dogs and humans, who sacrified their lives for so many sick people in and around Nome back in 1925.  

First, to Gay and Laney Salisbury, for the incredible and exhaustive research they put into their book The Cruelest Miles ( 2003 W.W. Norton & Company, Ltd.).  This book serves as THE resource for researching the 1925 Nome Serum Run and its participants and bit players.  It is easy to find, inexpensive to purchase as a paperback, and a very interesting and sometimes entertaining read.  If you really want to know what happened back in Alaska in early 1925, you simply CANNOT be without this book.  This book is available in most book retailers, or through

To Patricia Chargot, for researching and writing the only other book currently in print (of those I have read or looked into, at least), The Adventures of Balto ( 2006 Publication Consultants), which provides a generally RELIABLE look at the history of the serum run, and focuses specifically on Balto...what little information there is about him before the serum run, and then his history during and after.  Ms. Chargot has done an excellent job and, despite the fact that this book appears to be aimed at a younger audience, it is an interesting and entertaining read for adults as well, and a handy research tool.  To purchase this book, you'll need to go directly through the publisher's website (this book is fourth down on the list on the linked page).

To Elizabeth Ricker, for collecting the writings and stories of Leonhard Seppala into her 1930 book Seppala: Alaskan Dog Driver ( 1930 Little, Brown and Company, reprinted 1996 Hoflin Publishing, Inc.).  This book presents great missing gaps of information about Leonhard Seppala, including his youth in Norway, his arrival and early life in Alaska, and his later participation in the various dog sled races and events leading up to the serum run of 1925.  And it has a little bit on the serum run itself (though not as much as you might think).  The last chapter is devoted exclusively to Togo, Seppala's great serum run leader.  This is first-hand information, told by Seppala himself, and is another great research tool for anyone interested in the serum run and, more specifically, the life of this noteworthy Norwegian!  And this edition includes the signatures of Leonhard Seppala and Elizabeth Ricker on the cover!  To purchase this book, you'll need to go directly through the publisher's website

To Kenneth A. Ungermann, for his excellent book The Race To Nome: Alaska's Heroic Race To Save Lives ( 1963 Press North America/Nulbay Associates, Inc.).  This book, which is currently out of print and a little difficult to find (I purchased my copy recently on my trip up to Nome), was edited by no less a historian than Walter Lord, Titanic expert and author of A Night To Remember (as well as historical consultant on the James Cameron movie Titanic).  It rounds out quite nicely the series of books which accurately and methodically cover the 1925 Nome serum run.  What's nice about this book is that Ungermann covered areas of the serum run history that the previously-listed books did not (even though the Salisburys', and Patricia Chargot's, were published much later).  If you can find a used copy, I highly recommend it!  It fills in many gaps left open by the other books. does have a listing for it, where you can purchase used copies.

To the Alaska Geographic Society, and author Terrence Cole, for the amazing book Nome: City of the Golden Beaches ( 1984 Alaska Geographic Society).  This was a quarterly periodical, in paperback form, released by the society that year (Volume 11, Number 1).  The book covers the history of Nome from its founding all the way up through a bit on the 1970s, and has tons of great historical pictures from the 1890s through World War II (including some not seen elsewhere).  There is a listing for it on  If you're interested in Nome's broader history, THIS is an excellent resource, if you can manage to get hold of a copy (as I have done...again, on my recent trip up to Nome)!

Next, to the many fine people who created reputable, well-researched websites about the serum run, or about individuals involved in it.  They are listed in my links section.  Each deserves credit for their hard work...and I certainly know how tiring and time-consuming it is to do the background work, and then data entry, for such a site!  My hat's off to you all!  You also helped to make this site possible!

To the Carrie McLain Museum in Nome, Alaska; the Cleveland Museum of Natural History; the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo; the Iditarod Trail Headquarters in Wasilla, Alaska; and the New York City Parks and Recreation Department...for all their help and gracious assistance in my research efforts.

To the Alaska State Library, the University of Washington Library and the Cleveland State University Library, for the historical images they keep in their vast collections, which have been made available on the internet for those wishing to make use of them (with appropriate acknowledgement) for research and publishing.

To Shelley Smith-Curtiss, for assisting me with information about her sculpture of Togo now on display in Seward Park, NYC.  Shelley's a wonderful, gracious woman!

To my friends, both online and off who, like me, have an abiding interest in the true history of the 1925 Nome Serum Run, for encouraging me to keep at this until finished, and for supporting me in it completely.  It couldn't have seen its completion without you!  Thanks so much!

Most the 150 dogs and 20 mushers of the 1925 serum run teams...ALL of you.  For risking your lives for people most of you had never met.  For facing weather and ecological conditions even most other experienced mushers and even many of their dogs would not.  May your gallantry and your selfless sacrifices never be forgotten.  Ever.  In a way, I know I'll meet you all someday...and we'll have lots to talk about!  Thanks for touching my heart, and inspiring me.  

The following music is heard on this website:

Homepage: "Elysium", from the Gladiator motion picture soundtrack
Serum Run Synopsis: "To Go Beyond (1)" by Enya
The Serum Run Teams: " 'Si
Do Mhaimeo I ", by Altan
Leonhard Seppala: "Dan Y Dwr
r" by Enya
Togo: "
Aingeal an Oileain" by Altan
Balto: "Epona" by Enya
Fritz: "Mallai Chroch Shli" by Altan
Monuments & Mounts: "The Road To Durham" by Altan

Acknowledgements: "Donald
Agus Morag/The New Rigged Ship", by Altan
About Your Host: "Thirsty Work", by Gaelic Storm