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Seppala & Huskies Toured America!
Part I @ WorkingDogWeb

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By  Lance Jensen

Leonhard Seppala and his famous lead dog, Togo, traveled the longest distance of all the teams in the valiant relay effort to combat an outbreak of diphtheria in the town of Nome, Alaska, early in 1925. After this historic event, known as the 1925 Nome Serum Run, Seppala and his Siberian husky dogs were one of two teams that toured the United States.

The first section of this story covers the major tour stops of Leonhard Seppala and his dogs as they crossed the nation to great acclaim in late 1926. The second part covers aspects of Seppala's first racing season in New England, his return to Nome in 1927, and his trip back to the Lower 48 later that year. Also included are some names and numbers of dogs who were reportedly with him during this period.

SEPPALA & SIBERIANS: NATIONWIDE TOUR

Leonhard Seppala left Nome, Alaska on October 13, 1926, aboard the Alaska Steamship Company freighter, Tanana, to start his nationwide tour of the lower 48 states. The local newspaper reported he had "about 40 dogs" with him. Seppala said that he left Nome with 42 dogs. The tour was to start at Seattle, Washington.

While enroute to Seattle, the Tanana stopped at Port Hobron, a whaling station on Sitkalidak Island, Alaska, to take on provisions. During this stop Leonhard Seppala bought some whale meat for his dogs.

The Tanana arrived in Seattle at noon on November 2, 1926. The Seattle papers varied slightly in their accounts as to the number of dogs Seppala had with him. One report said 40, another said 42.

Bellingham, Washington

Seppala soon learned that the sponsors for his nationwide tour had gone bankrupt. He and his dogs were taken in by the local Norwegian community for a few days. The dogs were put up in a horse barn. Seppala accepted an offer of $1,500 from an agent to do a one-week tour at Bellingham, Washington. He and a reported "twenty huskies" arrived at Bellingham on November 5.

The photo below is of Seppala's dogs taken at Bellingham. The dog in the foreground and lead position, facing away from the camera, is Togo. The light-colored dog to the left of Togo, standing perpendicular to the rest of the team, is Fritz. Other dogs identified in this photo are Matte, Nurmi, and possibly Sugruk.

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Photo courtesy of Whatcom Museum of History & Art, Bellingham, Wash.

At least 14 dogs are in this photo. The sled's handrail is visible just in front of the car on the street in the background. The church in the back was the Swedish Baptist Church on Champion Street.




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The Bellingham paper covered Seppala and his dogs' activities on a daily basis. Some accounts said there were 20 dogs, others said 22 dogs. Leonhard Seppala later said he had two teams, for a total of 20 dogs, while at Bellingham.

One event documented was a visit by the team to the Normal School, a teachers' college, located at what is now Western Washington University. The newspaper reported, in part: "With him in the sleigh, Mr. Seppola (sic) carried a young dog that has not yet been broken in. It is....... all white dog, its only black spots being the pupils of its eyes."

Kansas City

Seppala and his dogs left Bellingham on November 12. Next stop -- Kansas City. They arrived there on November 16.

While Seppala was enroute from Bellingham, the Kansas City papers created a mystique surrounding this fur-clad stranger and his dogs who were coming to their city from "Icy Cape, Alaska" to deliver a message from Santa Claus. Sightings of this mysterious stranger were reported at Billings, Montana; Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Denver, Colorado.

The stop at Kansas City was a huge event. One report said Seppala and his dogs drew larger crowds than those of a recent visit by the President of the United States. The local newspapers reported that Seppala had "twenty-two Alaskan huskies" with him. Twelve of the dogs were reportedly veterans of the 1925 Serum Run to Nome. One article provided the names of all the dogs as follows:

Togo
Chinik
Momo
Bonjo
Grootje
Mukluk
Bijoux
Duska
Roald
Snigruk
Jan
Oomak
Lucky
Russky
Suggen
Nurmi
Biro
.
Paavo
Scotty
Wolfen
Boris
Riiser
.

It is known that Fritz, the co-leader of the team, was one of the dogs on the nationwide tour. There were photos of several of the dogs in one of the Kansas City papers, taken at the time of the tour stop there. The dog identified as Mukluk in one of the photos looks very much like Fritz.  Nurmi, an all-white male, was prominently featured in the local papers.

The last day of the scheduled events at Kansas City was November 20. The next stop for the tour was Dayton, Ohio.

Dayton, Ohio

The tour team ".......made their official entry into Dayton Thursday morning and will be on exhibition in Dayton and surrounding cities......." according to a Dayton, Ohio news report. The Thursday morning referred to was Thanksgiving Day, November 25. They were scheduled to be in the Dayton area for six days.

Again, as in Kansas City, Seppala and his dogs were met by immense crowds. One article reported that Seppala had with him "his famous 20-dog team." Another article, which included a photo, referred to Seppala "..........and His 22 Siberian Animals." The Rike-Kumler Company was a large department store in Dayton and was the sponsor for Seppala's tour stop there.

The group also made a whirlwind tour of the outlying areas around Dayton. One report said that Seppala and his dogs "took in 50 towns in three days" and "he gave a ten minute talk" at each stop.

Detroit, Michigan

The Newcomb-Endicott Company, a large department store in Detroit, Michigan, sponsored the next stop for the tour team. Seppala and his dogs arrived at Detroit on December 2. The article which announced the pending arrival of the team said that Santa Claus had forgotten a special bag of toys in Alaska. Santa didn't want to disappoint the little boys and girls of Detroit, so he immediately sent for Seppala and his team to deliver this bag to him.

A local newspaper reported that Seppala had "His Famous Team of 20 Siberian Dogs" with him. He and his dogs would be on display every day from 2 P.M. - 5 P.M. at the "Greater Toyland" section of the store.

While in Detroit, Seppala was challenged to participate in a race covering a distance of a mile and a half. The name of the challenger was listed by a local paper as "Boy-o-Blubber" - - further described as an "Eskimo who came down from Icy Cape with Santa Claus and his reindeer..........to assist Santa at Greater Toyland."

Seppala told his opponent to pick out any ten of his dogs to use in the race. Seppala would use the remaining ten dogs. He also gave the challenger a 200-yard head start. The Seppala team won the race, with Togo in the lead. An estimated 10,000 people attended this race.

The afternoon of December 8 was the last day of appearances by the team at the Newcomb-Endicott store.

Providence, Rhode Island

The next stop was Providence, Rhode Island. Before leaving Detroit, Seppala sent a telegram addressed to "Santa Claus, Outlet Happyland, Providence, RI." The Outlet Company department store was the largest store in Providence and was also the sponsor for the tour team. Part of that telegram said "Leaving........with my twenty dog team........and they are tugging at their harness anxious to be off to Outlet Happyland."

While enroute to Providence, Seppala sent another telegraph to Santa Claus at the Outlet Company. This telegram read, in part: "........all packed up now and........off again - - Oakee got into the dolls last night and licked the paint off one little rubber boys head - - Rexeoff my older dog who has made himself overseer of their conduct gave Oakee a severe scolding and himself carried the little rubber boy to the place where...........he could be fixed."

The tour team arrived at Providence on December 10. The first assignment for Seppala and the dogs was to visit some children at the Rhode Island Hospital. Seppala brought all 20 dogs to the hospital, but ended up only taking four into the children's ward. The local paper covered this event and the coverage included a photograph of Seppala and the four dogs with Santa Claus and some of the children.

Seppala and his dogs were on display at the Outlet Company on a daily basis - - from 10 A.M. - 1 P.M. and from 2 P.M. to 5:30 P.M. On a particular day, the store recorded an attendance of 50,000 people who had come to see the tour team.

Seppala Invited to Race in New England

Arthur Walden, of Wonalancet, New Hampshire, was an acccomplished breeder and racer of the Chinook dog breed. During the tour stop at Providence, a reporter from the Boston Transcript newspaper introduced Walden to Leonhard Seppala. Walden extended an open-ended invitation to Seppala to come to his farm and dog kennel at Wonalancet to train for, and possibly participate in races in the New England area.

The team's last day of scheduled events in Providence was on December 18.

Togo Honored with Gold Medal in NYC

New York City was the last major stop for the tour team, where they spent about ten days. Seppala and his dogs paraded around various locations in the city, including City Hall and Central Park. They made appearances at Madison Square Garden.

During one of these events, Roald Amundsen, a famous Arctic explorer, presented Togo with a gold medal in recognition of his role in the 1925 Serum Run.

While in New York City, Seppala decided to accept Arthur Walden's offer to come to New England and participate in the dog race circuit there. More on that in Part II.

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Togo, Seppala's famous lead dog
Photo from webmaster's collection

End of Part I
Check back soon for Part II

Sources: Author Lance Jensen credits the following as his major sources for this article on Leonard Seppala and his famed sled dogs touring the Lower 48 in late 1926 and then racing in New England:

Nome Nugget
Seattle Daily Times
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Bellingham Herald
Kansas City Star
Kansas City Times
Dayton Herald
Detroit News
Providence Journal
Boston Herald
New York Times

Copyright 2008, Lance Jensen

About the Author:

Lance Jensen is a Siberian Husky fancier who is interested in learning and writing about the early history of the breed in the U.S.  He and his wife live in a rural farming area of Oregon with their Siberians and Kuvasz.  You can contact him via email at: sibekuv @ msn.com [remove the spaces]. WorkingDogWeb.com is grateful for the opportunity to publish his articles online.

Read Lance Jensen's story of "Togo's Final Journey," click here.

Read Lance Jensen's story "Balto & Togo: Goodby Nome!," click here.

Fritz, one of Seppala's lead dogs, was part of the Lower 48 Tour described above.

To read the full story of the return of Fritz, the Siberian Husky, influential in helping establish this breed of northern working dog, click here.

Fritz-Nome.jpg (25110 bytes)
Photo courtesy of the Carrie M. McLain
Memorial Museum, Nome, Alaska


Other resources:

  A detailed Leonhard Seppala biography and a brief biography of
   Leonhard Seppala, the famous Alaska musher from Norway
  Togo
: entry in Wikipedia
  Photo of Togo at Iditarod Headquarters, Wasilla, Alaska, included
   on this blog page discussing the Serum Run [scroll down]
  Fritz, another of Seppala's historic Siberian Husky, now displayed
   at a Nome, Alaska, museum
  Balto and Togo: guide from WorkingDogWeb.com
  Sled Dogs Were Lifesavers in the Serum Run
  The Heroes were Huskies,
on the Serum Run, New York Times
  Siberian Husky World Online
, guide from WorkingDogWeb.com
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