Monday, March 7, 2016

Alaska State Archives releases Iditarod collection

The Alaska State Archives recently posted a collection of records of Territorial Governor Scott C. Bone relating to the 1925 serum run to Nome, which served as the inspiration for today's Iditarod sled dog race.
Governor Scott C. Bone, 10th Governor of the Territory of Alaska, 1921-1925. Alaska State Library Historical Collections, PCA 274-3-1.

The story of the serum run is well-known throughout Alaska. Diphtheria hit the isolated town of Nome during the coldest part of winter, sparking an epidemic that killed five people and had the potential to infect the region. The area's lone doctor, Curtis Welch, sent out telegrams pleading for fresh supplies of the diphtheria antitoxin. Bad winter weather discouraged the use of planes, so the serum was delivered by sled dog relay, running the 674 miles from Nenana to Nome in a record 5 days, 7 hours. Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog, Balto, ran the last leg, bringing the serum into Nome on February 2, 1925.
Gunnar Kasson [Kaasen] & Balto in their race to Nome. Alaska State Library Historical Collections Portrait File.

Archivist Zach Jones writes, "These records consist of the original correspondence files of Territorial Gov. Scott C. Bone, whose telegrams and correspondence provide day-by-day documentation of the 1925 Serum Run and those who participated." The urgency of the correspondence is palpable in the terse telegrams and one can only imagine the helplessness that Gov. Bone must have felt trying to aid his constituents from far-away Juneau.
Telegram from Nome, January 27, 1925, requesting that the dog team continue beyond Ruby until meeting the next team. "OUR TEAM LEAVING NOME TODAY WITH LEONARD [Leonhard] SEPPALA SWEEPSTAKES RACE WINNER DRIVING LIGHT." Alaska State Archives SR726-VS243

Primary source records like these add a rich dimension to the story of the Iditarod. Although improvements in transportation and information technology have made Alaska seem like a smaller place, the challenges of providing access to health care, resources, and information to its far corners persist today.

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