“On January 28, 1925, newspapers and radio stations broke a terrifying story — diphtheria had broken out in Nome, Alaska, separated from the rest of the world for seven months by a frozen ocean. With aviation still in its infancy and one of the harshest winters on record, only ancient means — dogsled — could save the town. In minus 60 degrees, over 20 men and at least 150 dogs, among them the famous Balto, set out to relay the antitoxin across 674 miles of Alaskan wilderness to save the town. An ageless adventure that has captured the imagination of children and adults throughout the world for almost a century, the story has become known as the greatest dog story ever told.”
The 1925 Serum Run is a legend, a heroic testament to the human spirit, and to the indomitable achievements of the dogs of the far north. But beyond the legend lies a tale that is far more complicated, filled with irony, tragedy, and myth.
The documentary Icebound, narrated by Sir Patrick Stewart, took director and producer Daniel Anker eight years to film and involved hundreds of people — researchers, crew members, scholars, archivists, mushers, and citizens throughout the state of Alaska, particularly in the villages of Nenana, Galena, Unalakleet and the town of Nome. The film premiered in Anchorage’s Bear Tooth Theater in December, 2013, and was presented as part of the 2013 Anchorage International Film Festival.
After the Bear Tooth showing the film was described in an article for Alaska Dispatch by Megan Edge: “While ‘Icebound’ takes a tone that’s more dismal than some of the more kid-friendly retellings that have been produced in the years since the epidemic, it doesn’t lack for good storytelling. The film presents the facts in a straightforward manner, focusing on ghastly details and little-known facts.”
A 2016 article I wrote for Alaska Dispatch focused on the ’25 Serum Run commemorative running, and an eerie incident involving the first Serum Run musher, “Wild Bill” Shannon. “Even before the train came to a complete stop, conductor Frank Knight jumped onto the platform with the 20-pound package of serum and ran over to Shannon.” The article is available with my original photos at this link.
I also wrote about the three-time All Alaska Sweepstakes champion Leonhard Seppala’s crucial role in the Serum Run, and the heroic achievements of his peerless lead dog Togo, in 2015.
When I had allowed as much time as we could spare I came out to the dogs and began putting them back on the line. An old Eskimo stood by as we hitched up, and observing the increase in the wind he cautioned me: “Maybe ice not much good. Maybe breaking off and go out. Old trail plenty no good. Maybe you go more closer shore.”
The video Icebound is available on YouTube:
Filmmaker Daniel Anker died of pneumonia in 2014, at the age of 50.