He became famous in his role in a squad, that vanquished more than 600 miles of snow and ice to bring medicine into the diphteria stricken town Nome, in the fair north of Alaska. His bronzestatue still stands in Central Park, New York and bears the inscription "Endurance, Fidelity, Intelligence".
It started at the very northwest of Alaska, in the secluded town Nome, only 136 miles southern to the polar circle. Nome was completely marooned. Till today, no road leads to this town. Their official slogan is "a place like Nome doesn't exist". The abandoned money launderings at town's end are debris of an glorious past. 1900, gold was located in Nome. This discovery leads to Alaska's big gold rush. About twentythousand people, obsessed by gold fever build their tents and cabins, ca. 136 miles along the gold coast at the end of the Bering Strait.
the town was infested by a new, deadly fever. A eskimo child, that lived in an old gold digger cottage, sickens at diphteria. Only a few days later, four children died and 18 became deathly ill. It was during the deepest winter, the city was buried in ice and snow. There was only one doctor and no medicine. Today, only one person lives in Nome who could remember the dipthteria:
Frieda Larsen (see photo): "The teacher told us, that a badly disease, called diphteria, is spreading, from what you get sore throat and high fever, very high fever that even could kill. I told you, the parents where very worried. Everbody was afraid, because we got no medicine, except someone brought it to us. Everybody was worried."
because only seven years before, a flu epidemic raged in Alaska. In Nome, nighty-one children lost their parents. Dr. Michael Swenson (see photo): "Today, I'm one of the doctors here. When Dr. Welch was here in 1925, he was the only doctor. He witnessed the terrible flu epidemic from 1918, where thousands of eskimos died, because they had not natural immunity against the sickness. Of course, he was very anxious because of the diphteria. He never had seen a case before. Without natural immunity, the people would become heavily ill, and thousands could die."
The only way to Nome is through the post-system, that's used during winter - with huskys. Huskys are wild working animals, used by eskimos since the stone age to hunt musk oxen and polar bears and to carry their heavy sledges through the snowy land. Now, they should bring precious medicine to Nome.
The serum was delivered from Anchorage to Nenana by train. In Nenana, the first team of the relay collected it. Wild Bill Shanon, the first musher, excepted it. He tied the serum on his sledge and started towards west. The sled dog teams used the route for the american post, alongside the frozen Yukon River. It was more than 600 miles through Alaska. It snowed much and temperatures have fallen to minus 50°C.
the serum was committed to Leonard Sepalla, the best musher in Alaska. Sepalla took a dangerous shortcut above the Norton Bay, squalls whipped the seawater over the brash ice. Leonard Sepalla forwarded the serum to Charlie Olson. While the storm forces hurricane winds, Olson consigned the serum to Gunnar Kasson and Balto, his leader dog. Balto was considered as a inferior dog, only suitable for slow dog teams. But now, he buckled down at full tilt.
On February 2th 1925, early morning, Balto lead his team, nearly blind from the snowsquall, into the infested town. During the snow storm, Gunnar Kasson missed the last checkpoint. But the team struggles through the worst weather conditions of all time and traveled altogether a distance of 53 miles.
After 127,5 hours, the serum reached Nome. Not one vial was broken and what's even more important: The musher did transport the serum without letting it freeze.