Feb 02 2011

On This Day in History February 2

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 2 is the 33rd day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 332 days remaining until the end of the year (333 in leap years).

On this day in 1925, dog sleds reach Nome, Alaska with diphtheria serum, inspiring the Iditarod race.

During the 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the “Great Race of Mercy,” 20 mushers and about 150 sled dogs relayed diphtheria antitoxin 674 miles (1,085 km) by dog sled across the U.S. territory of Alaska in a record-breaking five and a half days, saving the small city of Nome and the surrounding communities from an incipient epidemic. Both the mushers and their dogs were portrayed as heroes in the newly popular medium of radio, and received headline coverage in newspapers across the United States. Balto, the lead sled dog on the final stretch into Nome, became the most famous canine celebrity of the era after Rin Tin Tin, and his statue is a popular tourist attraction in New York City’s Central Park. The publicity also helped spur an inoculation campaign in the U.S. that dramatically reduced the threat of the disease.

The sled dog was the primary means of transportation and communication in subarctic communities around the world, and the race became both the last great hurrah and the most famous event in the history of mushing, before first aircraft in the 1930s and then the snowmobile in the 1960s drove the dog sled almost into extinction. The resurgence of recreational mushing in Alaska since the 1970s is a direct result of the tremendous popularity of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which honors the history of dog mushing with many traditions that commemorate the serum run.


The only doctor in Nome and the surrounding communities was Curtis Welch, who was supported by four nurses at the 24-bed Maynard Columbus Hospital. In the summer of 1924, his supply of 80,000 units of diphtheria antitoxin (from 1918) expired, but the order he placed with the health commissioner in Juneau did not arrive before the port closed.

Shortly after the departure of the last ship of the year, the Alameda,[when?] a two-year-old Alaska Native from the nearby village of Holy Cross became the first to display symptoms of diphtheria. Welch diagnosed it as tonsillitis, dismissing diphtheria because no one else in the child’s family or village showed signs of the disease, which is extremely contagious and can survive for weeks outside the body. The child died the next morning, and an abnormally large number of cases of tonsillitis were diagnosed through December, including another fatality on December 28, which is rare. The child’s mother refused to allow an autopsy. Two more Alaska Native children died, and on January 20 the first case of diphtheria was diagnosed in three-year-old Bill Barnett, who had the characteristic grayish lesions on his throat and in his nasal membranes. Welch did not administer the antitoxin, because he was worried the expired batch might weaken the boy, who died the next day.

On January 21, seven-year-old Bessie Stanley was diagnosed in the late stages of the disease, and was injected with 6,000 units of antitoxin. She died later that day. The same evening, Welch called Mayor George Maynard, and arranged an emergency town council meeting. Welch announced he needed at least one million units to stave off an epidemic. The council immediately implemented a quarantine, and Emily Morgan was appointed Quarantine Nurse.

On January 22, 1925, Welch sent a radio telegram via the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System and alerted all major towns in Alaska including the governor in Juneau of the public health risk. A second to the U.S. Public Health Service in Washington, D.C. read:

“An epidemic of diphtheria is almost inevitable here STOP I am in urgent need of one million units of diphtheria antitoxin STOP Mail is only form of transportation STOP I have made application to Commissioner of Health of the Territories for antitoxin already STOP There are about 3000 white natives in the district”

Wings versus paws

At the January 24 meeting of the board of health superintendent Mark Summers of the Hammon Consolidated Gold Fields proposed a dogsled relay, using two fast teams. One would start at Nenana and the other at Nome, and they would meet at Nulato. His employee, the Norwegian Leonhard Seppala, was the obvious and only choice for the 630-mile (1,014 km) round trip from Nome to Nulato and back. He had previously made the run from Nome to Nulato in a record-breaking four days, won the All-Alaska Sweepstakes three times, and had become something of a legend for his athletic ability and rapport with his Siberian huskies. His lead dog Togo was equally famous for his leadership, intelligence, and ability to sense danger.

Mayor Maynard proposed flying the antitoxin by aircraft. In February 1924, the first winter aircraft flight in Alaska had been conducted between Fairbanks and McGrath by Carl Eielson, who flew a reliable De Havilland DH-4 issued by the U.S. Post Office on 8 experimental trips. The longest flight was only 260 miles (420 km), the worst conditions were – 10 F (- 23 C) which required so much winter clothing that the plane was almost unflyable, and the plane made several crash landings.


The death toll is officially listed as either 5, 6, or 7, but Welch later estimated there were probably at least 100 additional cases among “the Eskimo camps outside the city. The Natives have a habit of burying their children without reporting the death.” Forty-three new cases were diagnosed in 1926, but they were easily managed with the fresh supply of serum. (Salisbury, 2003, footnotes on page 235 and 243)

All participants received letters of commendation from President Calvin Coolidge, and the Senate stopped work to recognize the event. Each musher during the first relay received a gold medal from the H. K. Mulford company, and the territory awarded them each USD $25. Poems and letters from children poured in, and spontaneous fund raising campaigns sprang up around the country.

Gunnar Kaasen and his team became celebrities and toured the West Coast from February 1925 to February 1926, and even starred in a 30-minute film entitled Balto’s Race to Nome. A statue of Balto by Frederick Roth was unveiled in New York City’s Central Park during a visit on December 15, 1925. Balto and the other dogs became part of a sideshow and lived in horrible conditions until they were rescued by George Kimble and fund raising campaign by the children of Cleveland, Ohio. On March 19, 1927, Balto received a hero’s welcome as they arrived at their permanent home at the Cleveland Zoo. Because of age, Balto was euthanised on March 14, 1933 at the age of 14. He was mounted and placed on display in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

506 – Alaric II, eighth king of the Visigoths promulgates The Breviary of Alaric (Breviarium Alaricianum or Lex Romana Visigothorum) a collection of Roman law.

962 – Translatio imperii: Pope John XII crowns Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor, the first Holy Roman Emperor in nearly 40 years.

1032 – Conrad II, Holy Roman Emperor becomes King of Burgundy.

1207 – Terra Mariana, comprising present-day Estonia and Latvia, is established.

1461 – Wars of the Roses: The Battle of Mortimer’s Cross takes place in Herefordshire, England.

1536 – Spaniard Pedro de Mendoza founds Buenos Aires, Argentina.

1536 – Spaniard Pedro de Mendoza founds Buenos Aires Argentina.

1542 – Portuguese under Christovao da Gama capture a Moslem-occupied hill fort in northern Ethiopia in the Battle of Bacente.

1653 – New Amsterdam (later renamed The City of New York) is incorporated.

1812 – Russia establishes a fur trading colony at Fort Ross, California.

1848 – Mexican-American War: The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is signed.

1848 – California Gold Rush: The first ship with Chinese immigrants arrives in San Francisco, California.

1876 – The National League of Professional Baseball Clubs of Major League Baseball is formed.

1887 – In Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania the first Groundhog Day is observed.

1899 – The Australian Premiers’ Conference held in Melbourne decides to locate Australia’s capital city, Canberra, between Sydney and Melbourne.

1901 – Funeral of Queen Victoria.

1913 – Grand Central Terminal is opened in New York City.

1920 – The Tartu Peace Treaty is signed between Estonia and Russia.

1920 – France occupies Memel.

1922 – Ulysses by James Joyce is published.

1925 – Serum run to Nome: Dog sleds reach Nome, Alaska with diphtheria serum, inspiring the Iditarod race.

1925 – The Charlevoix-Kamouraska earthquake strikes northeastern North America.

1934 – The Export-Import Bank of the United States is incorporated.

1935 – Leonarde Keeler tests the first polygraph machine.

1943 – World War II: The Battle of Stalingrad comes to conclusion as Soviet troops accept the surrender of 91,000 remnants of the Axis forces.

1946 – The Hungarian Republic is proclaimed.

1957 – Iskander Mirza of Pakistan lays the foundation-stone of the Guddu Barrage.

1966 – Pakistan suggests a six-point agenda with Kashmir after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965.

1967 – The American Basketball Association is formed.

1971 – Idi Amin replaces President Milton Obote as leader of Uganda.

1972 – The British embassy in Dublin is destroyed in protest at Bloody Sunday.

1974 – The F-16 Fighting Falcon flies for the first time.

1976 – The Groundhog Day gale hits the north-eastern United States and south-eastern Canada.

1980 – Reports surface that the FBI was targeting allegedly corrupt Congressmen in the Abscam operation.

1982 – Hama Massacre: Syria attacks the town of Hama.

1987 – After the 1986 People Power Revolution the Philippines enacts a new constitution.

1989 – Soviet war in Afghanistan: The last Soviet armoured column leaves Kabul.

1990 – Apartheid: F.W. de Klerk allows the African National Congress to function legally and promises to release Nelson Mandela.

1998 – A Cebu Pacific Flight 387 DC-9-32 crashes into a mountain near Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, killing 104.

2004 – Swiss tennis player Roger Federer becomes the No. 1 ranked men’s singles player, a position he will hold for a record 237 weeks.

2007 – Three tornadoes hit Central Florida, killing 42 people.

2007 – Widespread flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia, begins, eventually killing 54 and causing more than US$400 million in damages.

Holidays and observances

   * Anniversary of Treaty of Tartu (Estonia)

   * Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple or Candlemas (Western Christianity), and its related observances:

         o A quarter day in the Christian calendar (due to Candlemas). (Scotland)

         o Celebration of Yemanja (Candomble)

         o La Chandeleur or Crepe (Pancake) Day (France)

         o Our Lady of Navigators (Brazil)

         o Virgin of Candelaria (Tenerife, Spain)

   * Christian Feast Day:

         o Cornelius the Centurion

         o February 2 (Eastern Orthodox liturgics)

   * Constitution Day (The Philippines)

   * Earliest day on which Shrove Monday can fall, while March 8 is the latest; celebrated on Monday before Ash Wednesday (Christianity), and its related observances:

         o Bun Day (Iceland)

         o Fastelavn (Denmark)

         o Rosenmontag (Germany)

   * Groundhog Day (United States and Canada)

   * Imbolc in northern hemisphere, Lughnasadh in southern hemisphere (Neopaganism)

   * Inventor’s Day (Thailand)

   * World Wetlands Day (International)

1 comment

  1. TMC

    Dalai Lama

    It is not enough simply to wish that love and compassion should increase in us, we need to make a sustained effort to cultivate them.

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